“Pha, Kit, Beam, Chiron is looking for you,” Pharm said as he peeked his head into the infirmary. The way Pharm’s hair and shirt were wet clearly indicated who he’d just seen prior to delivering the message. “He said it’s really important and you should head over ASAP.”
The three Apollo campers immediately stood up. Pha handed over his suture needle to one of their sisters to finish. Kit closed his book with a firm snap. Beam finished wrapping another camper’s ankle and fastened it off. The three then immediately walked out the door.
It was, of course, not the first time that the Wild Doctors had been assigned a quest as a team and it would not be the last. A quest for one of them usually ended up a quest for all three and growing up together had only firmly cemented their teamwork. But as they walked around the house to the front where Chiron waited, the three questioned who among them had bothered to see the oracle.
“It wasn’t me,” Beam insisted. “It’s honestly been ages since I’ve talked to Maprang.”
“She was doing fine last time I saw her,” Kit added. “Said her Engineering degree was going well.”
“Maybe it’s not a quest, maybe Chiron is actually going to give us time off from heading the infirmary.” Pha sighed. “Yo wants to go into the city to see One Piece on Ice. Maybe I’ll finally get to take him.”
Kit and Beam both rolled their eyes and managed to straighten out their expressions before they came across Chiron, horse half neatly folded into his wheelchair as he quickly tried to hide what appeared to be Aphrodite’s latest gossip magazine. Beam snickered, knowing exactly which campers had given it to him.
“Ahem, I’m glad you three came quickly.” Chiron wheeled himself away from the coffee table and the offending neon colored magazine which appeared to claim Cupid and Psyche were on the outs again. “I’ve received a call from Camp Jupiter. It appears Saifah has asked for your presence on a quest.”
“Saifah? Really?” Kit blinked. “What happened?”
“He claims it to be a matter of children of Apollo.” Chiron stroked his beard. “Lord Apollo himself has… Been quiet when I asked for clarification, but I would not expect him to have answered for his Roman half. Regardless, Saifah has already set off for Cleveland, Ohio. You’ll need to catch up quickly. I’ve booked your airplane tickets and Argus will be waiting for you to set off in an hour.”
“What did Saifah say it’s about?” Pha asked.
Chiron’s brow furrowed. “Klengkla.”
“That little bastard?” Beam clenched his fist. “How did he get all the way out to Camp Jupiter to start problems?”
“The first blow has already been struck,” Chiron said gravely. “Zon was injured before Klengkla could be stopped.” Pha opened his mouth to object but Kit pulled him back and Chiron raised his hand to stop him. “Zon will be fine. Saifah has seen to it. The praetors of Camp Jupiter have not mobilized. Saifah has insisted that if Klengkla and whoever has decided to employ him are handled, Camp Jupiter will not find us at fault.”
Kit nodded. “He’ll be handled.”
“Be safe,” Chiron warned. “Saifah left one last warning. Klengkla’s target was not Zon, but himself. Be on the lookout for Klengkla not just as your target, but as he is targeting you.”
As Pha performed his secondary check of his pack, soft footsteps alerted him. However, Pha could tell who it was by breathing alone. Pha waited for the last second before turning around and snatching Yo up into his arms.
“Pha!” Yo objected loudly, but his lips were still in a sweet smile. “Put me down!”
“Why? It’ll be a while before I get to hold you again.” Pha nuzzled the top of Yo’s head. “I need to get my fill before I leave.”
“There’s nowhere near enough time for that, you ravenous monster,” Yo said with a gentle push. “I heard you’re going after Klengkla.”
“Was Can listening?”
“No, this time it was me.” Yo tweaked Pha’s nose. “You were late for our lunch date.”
Pha made the most ridiculous pout and Yo wanted to kiss it off of his boyfriend’s face. “Wayoooo…”
“Oh hush, I’m not mad.” Yo gave in and pecked both of Pha’s cheeks with a kiss. “I came to give you something and to see you off.” Yo produced a vial of three golf ball sized pearls. “I worked on these with Cha’Aim.”
“Charmspeak.” Yo pushed the vial into Pha’s hands. “Break one and it’ll release a magic recording of my charmspeak song. It can help in a pinch against a few things.”
“Nothing beats the original,” Pha said as he kissed Yo’s forehead. Yo preened under the attention. “Thank you.”
“Be careful.” Yo straightened the collar of Pha’s t-shirt out of habit. “We’re lucky Type stopped Klengkla in time from doing anything to Techno while we were helping Team but…”
“He’s desperate.” Pha took one of Yo’s hands and pressed it to his cheek. “I’ll be careful.”
“And keep Beam and Kit alive, please? Ming will be moping while you’re gone and I’ll have to beg Arthit to keep an eye on Forth again.”
“And what about you?” The corners of Pha’s eyes shifted just a bit and Yo scowled to be the subject of Pha’s mirth. “I seem to recall a little dove with an eagle looking over his shoulder, telling me how upset you were the last time I was gone for a while.”
Yo scowled and Pha finally laughed. “That gossipy bitch.”
“Ming, is this really necessary?”
Ming looked up from fine tuning Kit’s bow. “Of course it is! Kit, your bow needs to be in perfect condition so you’ll be safe!”
Kit frowned. “What next? Are you going to spend an hour sharpening my sword too?”
“You don’t have another hour, Kit. I’ll just spend a few minutes on it.”
Kit groaned and pulled his bow out of Ming’s hands. “I’ll be fine . Go worry about one of your new siblings or keep Yo from driving Pete up the wall again.”
“Heh… That was funny last time…” Ming’s eyes curved with his smile and Kit took it as the kindness it was that Ming wasn’t putting up a front. “I didn’t think I’d ever see Pete so frustrated with Yo.”
Kit took Ming’s face into his hands and rested his forehead against Ming’s. “I’ll be fine.”
Ming wrapped his arms around Kit’s waist. “Klengkla is targeting Apollo kids. How is that fine?!”
“It’s fine because we’re going to stop him. Don’t you have any faith in me, Moong Ming?”
“I have all the faith in Kitkat.” Ming rubbed the tip of his nose against Kit’s. “I don’t have faith in the guy you’re hunting down.”
“We’ll be back before you know it.” Kit kissed the tip of Ming’s nose before kissing his forehead. “I promise.”
“You still owe me a movie date, Kitkat.” Ming chided as he kissed the palm of Kit’s right hand. “You can’t die until I get that much.” Kit scoffed, but Ming knew that was as close to a yes as Kit was willing to offer.
Not too far away from them, Beam allowed Forth to tinker with the finer mechanisms of the shooting glove he’d made for Beam. As Beam watched a few beads of sweat from the heat of the forge behind Forth roll down his neck, his eyes strayed to something else.
“Another project?” Beam asked as he stared pointedly at the celestial bronze and leather quiver on the workbench.
“Mm… Just about done actually.” Forth closed up the panel on Beam’s glove before picking up the quiver. “I was going to ask you to test it later today, but a quest is as good a test as any.”
“Well…” Beam accepted the quiver and looked at it from many angles. “At least you’ve moved on from making me more bows than I’ll ever use.”
“My sweet marksman boyfriend deserves only the best.” Forth moved to hug Beam from behind and Beam squawked in protest.
“Forth! I have to go in a few minutes and you’re going to make me smell like sweat!”
“This part here…” Forth started without moving from holding Beam, “Will swap out your basic arrowheads with a couple of different special ones. Depends on what you think of. Blunt tips, smoke arrows, net arrows, sonic arrows… Unfortunately I haven’t gotten the balance right on Greek fire arrows yet…”
“That’s plenty, thank you.” Beam sighed and finally kissed the corner of Forth’s mouth. “I’ll use it well and report back to you.”
“I think you could show your appreciation a little better…” Forth tapped the center of his lips.
“And I think you should offer me one of your clean shirts considering this one is now covered in soot, grease, and sweat.”
Forth pulled away for a moment. “Yeah, okay, fair.”
The ride to JFK Airport was uneventful. Argus, silent as ever, drove carefully and smoothly. Having been campers for so long, none of the three even batted an eyelash as the eyes on the back of Argus’ neck would occasionally glance at them. The scenery around them passed as a blur, but the Wild Doctors kept their eyes on every passing shadow. Any dark spot, any moving body, any human-looking body behaving wrong could be an enemy in hiding.
By the time they reached the airport, their nerves were still calm. The crush and noise of the crowd did little to help, but the background noise of life did not hurt. As Pha handled the digital check-in kiosk, Kit watched their bags and Beam kept a lookout.
As Beam watched a small group of teens emerge from a coffee shop, he heard a faint whistling sound. One that was too familiar.
Beam fell into a combat roll, the spot where he had been standing marked with a single arrow. Beam rolled once more, pulling a bow-shaped keychain out of his pocket before digging a hand into the quiver strapped to his back, hidden behind a backpack. Somewhere to the side, Kit was yelling at Pha. Other travelers started screaming and running, making it difficult for Beam to take aim, but Beam did not waver.
Another whistling sound came, this time from Beam’s right. Beam turned and fired, the arrow coming at him shattered.
Quick on the draw, Beam fired off three arrows in three different directions. His aim was true and all three bounced off of walls, the ceiling, and a baby stroller to convene at a figure attempting to run on the second level of the airport. The figure successfully dodged and rolled out of the way of the first two arrows. The third pinned them to a concrete pillar by the sleeve.
The figure struggled to free their arm as Pha burst out of the fleeing crowd, bronze knife in hand, to take a swing. The attacker abandoned their jacket and bow to dodge Pha’s assault. Passengers gave them a wide berth as they ran. Pha risked a moment to take a glance at the attacker’s face. It was covered with a mask and their hair hidden under a hat.
Kit pulled up besides Beam, whispering to an arrow in his hand before passing it over. Beam took aim with the now glowing arrow and fired the cursed shot. Pha tilted his head to the side at just the right moment, the cursed arrow missing his ear by a hair.
All three did not expect their assailant to also dodge, but barely. The cursed arrow nicked the assailant’s cheek, slicing the strap of the face mask before they turned and ran, getting lost in the crowd.
“Go after him!” Kit shouted from below. “It’s a slowing curse!”
Pha immediately gave chase.
The crowd had still not thinned and security was mobilizing. Pha struggled, even with his height to find what should have been someone now running slower and slower than everyone else. And then Pha spotted it, someone not running, slowly trying to hide their face as if their body was stuck in syrup or molasses.
Pha pulled out one of Yo’s pearls and fought his way over.
Only a few steps away, Pha found himself surrounded by security. Beyond them, the attacker was slowly creeping away into more shadow.
“Don’t move,” ordered the leader of the security detail. “Drop what’s in your hands!”
Pha slowly raised his hands in the air, prayed, then dropped Yo’s pearl.
The pearl shattered like glass upon contact with the floor and Pha quickly covered his ears. The melody and intent of Yo’s singing was incredibly strong and so Pha felt himself get drowsy for a second. A moment later, everyone within a ten foot radius around Pha dropped into a deep slumber. Pha uncovered his ears and ran for the dark figure slumped over by an emergency exit door. The figure did not run. Pha turned him over and groaned in frustration.
“Park. It’s fucking Park?” Pha fought the urge to punch the unconscious former camper.
Park had come to Camp Half-Blood a year ago. Initially, there had been no issues. He got along well with most and particularly seemed to enjoy the welcome initiation and education that Pete Pitchaya and Yo held for each year’s new batch of campers. However, it was after the welcome initiation that all problems had started.
It did not matter how many times Yo had politely refused, how many times Pha had pulled his boyfriend away, or how many times Pha had made sure Park’s infirmary visits had been unpleasant . Park continued to pursue and pressure Yo until Yo had reached his breaking point.
It was yet again, another day, that Camp Half-Blood learned that the co-councilor of Aphrodite Cabin was not someone to mess with. Yo had charmspoken Park into banging his head against the deck of the Big House while proclaiming all the things he’d done wrong. Chiron and Mr. D had not taken lightly to Yo’s actions, but they had decided that Park had done worse upon hearing his confessions. Park had supposedly had his memory altered by Mr. D and was sent away. Seeing him return was an issue Pha had not expected to deal with again.
By the time Pha had tied up Park, Kit and Beam had arrived and both were similarly displeased.
“This jerk again?” Beam prodded Park with the butt of his bow. “Unbelievable.”
Kit frowned. “If Park attacked us, then where’s-”
Kit and Pha both found themselves tackled to the ground by Beam as arrows just barely missed their heads. Kit immediately sat up and locked eyes with Klengkla, hiding in the rafters of the airport ceiling.
“I CURSE YOU WITH DISORIENTATION!” Kit shouted above the slowly fading din of evacuating people.
Klengkla moved to draw his next arrow but found himself wobbling as Kit’s quick curse took hold of him. Klengkla sneered and let himself fall. In a scramble, the Wild Doctors ran for where he should have landed but found no trace.
“Shadow travel?” Pha asked as he scanned the area.
“He’s not a son of Hades,” Beam said absently as he pressed his back to Kit and Pha’s to also look for threats.
“Was he ever good at using the Mist?”
“Can’t say,” Kit replied. “Aries kids don’t usually have the patience or imagination for that.”
“Attention, attention all passengers. Due to today’s sudden incident, all flights are currently delayed until further notice.”
Pha groaned. “It was a delaying tactic.”
“If only he’d use his tactics for war like the rest of his siblings instead of fucking with people,” Beam said as he turned his bow back into a keychain. “Come on, we’ve got to get out to Ohio ASAP or Saifah is going to be in trouble.”
“What about Park?” Kit asked as he put his own bow away, turning it back into a mini flashlight.
“Send an Iris message to Chiron about him,” Pha said as he sheathed his knife in his holster hidden under his pant leg. “I need to find myself a payphone.”
“Tell Uncle Panitchayasawad we said thank you!” Beam and Kit said with glee before running off to secure Park.
“And make sure the jet he sends has the good snacks!” Beam added.
“Stop abusing my relationship with my future father-in-law!” Pha shouted after them. “I still need him to approve of me marrying Yo, damn it!”
A few hours, several explanations, and one or two phone calls to Yo’s father later, Pha, Kit, and Beam sat in a private luxury jet flying towards Cleveland, Ohio. Pha, as the one who had done most of the chasing, opted for a nap. Kit and Beam had decided to spend the next hour and a half catching up on TV shows they had missed while at camp for the last few weeks.
“Why would Klengkla get Park to help him?” Kit asked as he watched someone present a supposed bust of Marie Antoinette made of cake and rice paper to be judged. “And also, when are we going to get Pharm on this show so he can kick all their asses?”
“One, the question is how did Klengkla get Park to help him and two, you honestly think Dean would let go of Pharm long enough to let him compete in a baking competition in the UK?”
Kit shrugged. “But no seriously, Pharm could totally wipe the floor with these guys.” He pointed at the monstrosity that was supposed to look like Freddy Mercury on the screen. “Look at that! That’s HIDEOUS.”
“Pharm is really not an amature baker at this point, Kitty Kat.” Beam thought about it for another second. “But I totally agree.”
“We’d make tons of bank betting on it.”
“Huh…” Beam thoughtfully chewed on another few chips. “You know when you put it that way…”
“Why wouldn’t Park help Klengkla,” Pha groused as he turned to face his friends, finally giving up on his nap. “If Klengkla kills me, it means Park thinks he has a chance with Yo.”
“And what does Klengkla get out of it?” Kit asked.
“We’ll have to ask Saifah that.”
“And why Ohio of all places? There’s nothing in Ohio but corn.” Kit flopped back into his seat. “And father has never indicated that Ohio had any special importance to him.”
“Whatever Saifah thinks Klengkla is looking for is in Ohio,” said Beam as he finished the last chip in his bag. “Except Saifah didn’t expect Klengkla to come after us first.”
“Or…” Pha sat up properly. “Klengkla didn’t know what he’s looking for is in Ohio.”
The three Apollo campers looked at each other and groaned in unison.
“Tactics,” they then all said at the same time.
“Attention sirs, we’ll be landing in Cleveland, Ohio shortly,” the pilot announced. “Please prepare for landing accordingly.”
“We’ve got to find Saifah, fast.” Pha said as he buckled his seatbelt. “And get to whatever it is Klengkla is looking for first.”
It was late afternoon by the time the Wild Doctors caught sight of Saifah getting off of Khai and Third’s plane. The legionnaire saluted the three quickly before motioning for them to run with him.
“Saifah, what are we doing here?” Pha asked as Saifah waved down a taxi. “What is Klengkla after?”
“After Klengkla tried to kill me, Lord Mercury hinted that there are a few of us that Lord Apollo has blessed in particular.” Saifah frowned as another taxi ignored him. “It makes no sense for Klengkla to suddenly try to kill Apollo’s children, right?” Saifah’s expression turned darker. “But… if there was someone who hated Apollo, hated Apollo’s children…”
“And that someone offered Klengkla something to kill us…” Kit added.
“And that someone is?” Beam asked.
Saifah bit his lip. “Klengkla used… an arrow with Python’s poison to try to kill me.”
Pha moved in front of Saifah to stop him from waving down another taxi. “You can’t be serious. Father killed Python again years ago.”
“There is no other way Klengkla could have gotten Python’s poison if he wasn’t working for him,” Saifah argued as he knocked away Pha’s hand and finally managed to wave down a free taxi. “And we need to stop him before he actually manages to kill all of us.”
“How do you expect to stop him when you’re collecting all his targets in one place!” Kit said over the honking of the impatient taxi driver. “And how do you know Klengkla even knows where his next target is?”
Saifah paused in trying to shove Pha’s slightly bulkier frame away. “Wait, you don’t mean-”
“Saifah, Klengkla might have followed us here.” Beam waved the taxi driver off who in turn gave him the middle finger. “He attacked us at JFK Airport.”
“Fuck.” Saifah ran a hand through his hair. “Which god was Klengkla the son of?”
“Ares,” all three Wild Doctors said at the same time.
“And if he’s working with Python… Prophecy.” Saifah rubbed his face with his hands. “So what do we do?”
Kit pulled Saifah down to whisper in his ear as Pha and Beam each hailed a taxi.
After a long day of assisting with mundane chores and hunting down a nasty bunch of karpoi, Kao had been ready for a nap before the retired legionnaires he’d been sent out to help called him down for dinner. For at least an hour or so, Kao had been successful. The sun was beginning to set as Kao heard the floorboards in his borrowed room creak with a cautious step, waking him from his nap. There had been no knock or friendly yell prior. Kao felt his hackles rise, his remaining exhaustion transmuted into alertness.
He had an unexpected visitor.
Kao chose to remain still, pretending to continue his nap. The next step was still just as light and cautious. Kao kept his breathing even. His innate sense of time for the rising and setting sun told him that he still had moments before the sun finished sinking beneath the horizon. Another step, this time more firm. Kao pretended to roll over, but in effect turned to face whoever was approaching. There was the shifting of cloth, the scrape of metal on leather, and Kao knew he had no choice but to respond.
It turned out he didn’t need to.
Pha burst in through the westward room window, bow and arrow drawn. “Step back, Klengkla!” This was followed by several shouts and the thumping of feet running up stairs.
Klengkla sneered and instead jumped out of the north-facing window, Pha’s arrow missing him by inches. As Kao and Pha watched Klengkla land in a pile of leaves and run off, Beam burst in through the room door. Beam pulled out an arrow with a strange tip on the end, shoved Kao and Pha out of the way, and fired it at Klengkla. As it approached its target, the tip exploded into a weighted net. Klengkla turned in time to slice it with a sword before continuing to run.
“Grab your things,” Beam said as he fired off another harassing shot at Klengkla. “We need to go after him.”
“What is going on?!” Kao sputtered. “Why are all of you here?! Who are you?!”
“Pha,” Pha said as he posted himself at the broken southern window. “Greek son of Apollo.” Pha gestured towards Beam. “Beam, another Greek son of Apollo. Saifah sent us here to stop someone from killing you.”
“We should give chase,” Beam said as he pulled back from the window.
“Well then we’re better off waiting for morning,” Kao insisted. “I’m not as useful once the sun goes down.”
“Well we have to get some place safer than this,” Beam insisted. “I hate flat prairieland, no decent cover anywhere.”
Kao huffed but started packing his bag anyway. “Where’s Saifah?”
“We sent him off with our friend Kit to be a diversion.” Pha frowned. “I guess it didn’t work. Send the signal,” Pha said as he relaxed his posture. “We need to figure out what’s next.”
Beam fired an arrow into the sky which burst like a small firework. Kao whistled in appreciation. “Why do Greeks have all the fun stuff? Can you give me one of those arrows? I bet Phu would love that!”
Pha and Beam looked at each other and sighed.
“Hephaestus cabin specialty,” Beam said as he sat down. “Don’t you guys at Camp Jupiter get anything special from your Hephaestus campers?”
“Nothing fun like that,” Kao insisted as he finished packing his bag. “All utility for war, nothing interesting or different.” Kao paused for a moment. “Maybe I should take it up with Fighter or Boss, they’re Vulcan kids. Fighter’s shield is kind of cool… Maybe he can make me a cool arrow.”
Kao managed to continue his rambling even as Pha and Beam pulled him out the door with hurried apologies to the retired legionnaires and well after Kit and Saifah came to meet them at the proposed rendezvous point. By then, Beam had simply offered Kao a chance to go through his quiver in hopes of quieting him, but to no avail.
“Are you sure you can’t use one of Yo’s gifts on him?” Beam asked as he waved Kit and Saifah over.
“That’d be a waste,” Pha said as Kao ooh’d and ahh’d over another arrowhead in Beam’s quiver. “But I am strongly considering it.”
“Saifah!” Kao ran up and threw an arm over the taller boy’s shoulders. “Look at the fun arrows the Greeks have! Why can’t we have fun arrows?”
“Because you’d use them all for impressing Phu,” Saifah replied without batting an eye.
“Oh, but what’s the point otherwise?”
“So what’s the plan now,” Kit asked, cutting through the chatter. “All Klengkla’s targets are in one place.”
“If we deal with Klengkla, it doesn’t mean we’ll find where Python is hiding,” Saifah said as he gently removed Kao’s arm. “We need him to take us there, and then we need to have a plan for getting rid of Python.”
“It took all of father’s gifts to kill Python,” pointed out Pha.
“And we’ve got all of them here,” Saifah insisted. He pointed at Pha. “Healing.” Then Kit. “Curses.” Then Beam. “Archery.” Kao was next. “The warmth and light of the sun.” And last himself. “Music. All five gifts. We can do it.”
“You forgot one,” said Kit. “Prophecy.”
Saifah faltered for a second. “Okay, so we’re short one. But we can overcome it!”
“How?” Beam asked as he took back possession of his quiver. “We’re all more experienced than Klengkla, but he’s been dodging us this entire time and using us instead.”
Kao looked back and forth between the other four boys before turning to Pha. “You’re good at healing right?”
“Ever cured death?”
Kao smiled. “Want to try?”
Morning came without too much fanfare. All five boys had slept well at a cheap motel while taking turns keeping watch. After checking out, Kao directed them to a diner for breakfast and insisted on outdoor seating. Saifah and Kao managed to make more than enough noise chatting and occasionally Kit would loudly object to something and Beam would laugh. Pha attempted to shush them to maintain some semblance of peace as the oldest one there.
It was the most obvious invitation.
So of course, Klengkla took it.
With a roar, several karpoi and at least ten cyclops descended upon them, all led by an empousa. With a glance at each other, the sons of Apollo went to work.
Beam took the high ground, staying on the diner’s patio, sniping karpoi whenever they stopped being whirling grains. Saifah pulled out his guitar, playing riffs that caused the cyclops pain until whipped back into formation by the empousa. Kit whispered into his celestial bronze knife, causing it to let off an acrid green-gray smoke. Any monster that drew close found itself sneezing. If they were cut, they nearly dropped in dizziness and fever. Easy pickings for Beam to finish off. Pha did his best to assist, covering Kit’s blind spots. Kao was the only one to stay back, closing his eyes to soak in the morning sunlight.
Beam’s attention was quickly drawn away as Klengkla attempted to snipe at him. Beam had no choice but to abandon his limited space on the patio to evade Klengkla’s shots from even higher ground.
“Are you seriously trying to out shoot me, you punk,” Beam yelled into the morning air. “Come on then!”
Several arrows flew towards Beam and Beam scoffed before firing back twice as many. Beam’s aim was true, splintering the offending arrows and the rest of his shots flushed Klengkla out of hiding right into a well placed net arrow. At the last second, Klengkla managed to just roll out of the way.
Right into a blast of intense light and heat.
Kao grinned at Klengkla’s singed eyebrows. “Let’s get you a tan!” Kao raised his hand, fingers forming a gun, and then fired off another ray of light.
With both Kao and Beam harassing him at a distance, Klengkla drew back to avoid line of sight from the ground. A quick glance confirmed that his ground forces were thinning. And then came the sound of sweet singing, followed by snoring. Klengkla growled and looked into his quiver. Nine arrows with black and green fletching lay amid many with plain brown fletching.
Klengkla closed his eyes. On the wind he heard hissing and shifting scales. The time had come. Quickly ducking out of cover, Klengkla fired off each of his black and green fletched arrows.
As expected, Beam fired the first few out of the air, but came up short on more arrows to use. He cursed in time to be hit in the thigh. Kao turned another arrow into ash with a shot of his own before he was struck in the chest. Saifah’s shoulder was grazed by one, but it was enough and the searing pain of poison took him down. Kit cursed another cyclops with some manner of illness before pushing Pha out of the way of the next arrow, taking it in his back. Pha cut one arrow out of the sky to be hit by the last, timed right in its shadow.
Klengkla’s laughter soon rang out, triumphant and euphoric amid roars of victory.
Klengkla walked with his head held high into an office building with a sign that said, “Delphi, Incorporated. Cleveland Branch.” The office workers paid him no mind. The deeper Klengkla traveled, the darker it became. The darker it became, the more concrete and plasterboard became cave stone. The more cave stone he saw, more strange mist covered the ground, hiding the gradual transition from carpet to dirt.
Deeper and deeper still, Klengkla walked. No longer afraid, Klengkla came face to face with his patron and dared to stare Python in the eyes.
“It is done,” Klengkla announced. “You saw it.”
Python shifted and his tongue flicked out to taste the air. “It appearssssss ssssso.” Python’s large head moved closer to Klengkla, dwarfing him entirely. “Desssspite your early failuressss, you appear to have pulled through thissss…”
“I kept my word.” Klengkla’s gaze remained defiant even with the large eye of Python evaluating him from up close. “Now keep yours.”
“Ah yessss….” Python pulled back. “A vissssion of the one you dessssire… How you might obtain thisssss mortal boy….” Python’s tongue tasted the air again. “But… what isssss thissss? I tassste the ssssun on the air…”
“It is nothing!” Klengkla yelled. “They got a lucky shot in. Give me the vision! Tell me how I can have Techno!”
“Thissss… issss not ssssome lucky ssshhhhot…. Thisss issss…” Python’s hiss was cut off by an arrow flying straight for his eye. The giant snake reared back in a flash, the arrow bouncing off his scales.
“No!” Klengkla turned around to find an arrow readied to be fired into his face. “Impossible!”
“Klengkla was never the best marksman,” Kit pointed out. “He did better than most in Ares cabin, but he’s not a sniper.”
“With Python’s poison, any shot that makes some sort of contact should be a kill shot,” Saifah pointed out. “But Zon tried to fight it though and lasted at least four hours.”
“Even so, we don’t know that Python’s poison will be stronger on us as our father’s mortal enemy,” Beam pointed out. “Pha, at the very least, you have to get hit last. The less time the poison has to work on you, the more likely you’ll be able to heal yourself and then fix the rest of us.”
“We’re putting our lives in your hands, Pha,” Kao said in the most drastic shift in tone Pha had ever witnessed, and he’d seen Yo charmspeak an Ares boy into dancing Swan Lake for his amusement. “You can do this.”
As Klengkla’s assault started the next morning, Pha prayed harder than he’d ever prayed to Apollo.
“Please let me heal my friends,” Pha begged as he cut down monsters left and right. “Please let me cure Python’s poison. In your name, in order to defeat your mortal enemy, please let me do this.”
As each one of them was shot down, Pha felt the pain in his heart, a nightmare of watching his friends die come to life. And when the final shot came for him, it was almost a relief he wanted to give himself. The poison burned, a much faster action than Pha had anticipated given Saifah’s recounting of Zon’s struggle.
“So it is true,” Pha thought to himself as he tried to gather his strength to fight back. “It does hurt worse for the children of Apollo.” Pha grit his teeth. “But we’re not dead yet. I’m not dead yet.”
The cyclops began to drag their bodies away unceremoniously. Pha focused on the light of the sun, on hymns to Apollo he’d sang many times before, on the people he loved. Black smoke burned out of his arrow wound. The pain intensified and Pha almost lost his concentration. At last, sweet relief broke out and Pha slowly reached out and pulled the arrow from his gut. Pain broke anew, but this time, healing was swift.
Pha could not help the gasp of relief, drawing attention from the remaining monsters. He kicked away the cyclops dragging him along and pulled out his knife and the last pearl Yo had given him.
“For Apollo,” Pha breathed before he threw the pearl down.
“The word you’re looking for is improbable ,” Beam said with a smile as he took in Klengkla’s stricken expression. “Very few things are impossible.”
“No! Python’s poison is lethal! You should have died near instantly as children of Apollo!”
“Tell him the truth, Python.” Saifah said, his own bow at the ready. “You’re not at your best, are you.” The only reply was an irritable hiss. “You got played, Klengkla. Your patron didn’t give you the support you asked for.”
Klengkla turned in a fury to face Python. “You lied to me!”
“I did not lie… Rather I cannot lie…” Python reared up. “And I will tell you the future you assssked for foolisshhhhh boy….” Python’s eyes flickered from side to side. “You will never have the one you ssseeek!” In a snap, Python’s jaws closed around Klengkla and the demigod was swallowed whole.
In reflex, all five sons of Apollo fired off their arrows, but this time instead of bouncing off as Beam’s first shot had initially, this time they shattered on impact.
“Ahhh…. A sssacrifice….” Python’s body seemed to undulate and grow. “I feel sssso much better…” Python turned its gaze upon the remaining demigods. “And after I have you five… I’ll be back at full sssstrength!”
Python lunged, lightning quick despite his size and the group split, jumping to either side to avoid him. Saifah began to sing as he fired away as well, the song filling them all with strength after the exhausting ordeal of being healed from the brink of death. Beam fired off a barrage of arrows, pulling Python’s attention away from him. But when Python lunged, Pha jumped in the way, shouting in pain as he grasped Python’s venom coated fangs and then held his mouth open with his whole body.
“Pha!” Kit whispered into his arrows and fired several at once, but the curses failed to transfer as they hit Python’s scales.
Black smoke curled up from Pha’s palms and slowly began to pour from Python’s mouth. “His mouth! Aim for his mouth!” Pha shouted.
“No! What are you doing?!” Python began to toss his head from side to side, trying to dislodge Pha, but Pha held firm.
As Python moved, mouth forced open by Pha’s presence, Kao fired off the strongest bolt of light and heat he could muster. Python screeched as the inside of his mouth was burned. Pha took the chance to pull as hard as he could. Python’s fangs came free of the giant snake’s mouth with a horrifying squelch. Pha tossed them away before Saifah ran over to cover him as Pha tried to heal his own hands.
Taking the offered opportunity, Beam, Kit, and Kao filled Python’s mouth with arrows, piercing the charred flesh within. Python lashed out with his tail, but his body had begun to slow.
“A...curssse?” Python roared. “Imposssssible!”
Kit fired another cursed arrow into Python’s mouth. “There’s more where that came from!”
Python subsequently sneezed, sending shards of arrow, mucus, and venom in Kit’s direction. Kit was a moment too slow and found himself drenched in the fluids. He quickly ran to the side, pulling off his shirt to limit exposure as Pha fired his own arrows to cover his movement to help Kit.
Meanwhile, Kao dodged another slow swipe of Python’s massive tail to run to a section of cave wall. “Over here Beam! This one!”
Beam pulled out three firework arrows and let them loose at the wall. With a loud bang and a shower of sparks, the wall was demolished, letting sunlight into the cave. Kao let it wash over him as he drew his bow, concentrating the sunlight into a single arrow.
Python surged forward, Kit’s curses no longer a hindrance, and moved to swallow Kao whole. Saifah jumped into the fray, swinging his bow like a bat, knocking Python’s head back and away, exposing the underside of his jaw.
“Jackpot,” Kao said as he let loose a fully charged arrow.
The arrow struck true, burning a hole through and through. Python roared and screeched and hissed, his body thrashed from side to side. All five boys retreated to the opening from which they had initially entered and watched in fascination and horror as the once mighty Python slowly met its end.
At last, Python’s thrashing ended and his body lay still. The five sons of Apollo slowly approached, watching Python’s body turn to ash and sulfur starting from his tail.
“Hehehe…” Despite hearing his voice, Python’s mouth did not move and his eyes began to turn milky white. “Sssssso the blood of Apollo issss ssssstill sssstrong…”
Beam readied another arrow. “Do you dare still challenge it?”
“My time hasssss ended…” Python’s white eyes turned on Beam for a brief moment before turning to Kao, piercing him with a blind stare. “But for the onessss who have become victoriousssss… let me sssshhhhare ssssomething with you… I am not the firsssssst…. I am not the lasssst…. And even now… I foressssee misssssery is already at your door…” Python’s head disintegrated as the last of his voice echoed. “It hassss been there all along… Waiting to sssssstrike!” All five jerked back, but all that happened was a breeze blowing through the opening in the wall, dispersing Python’s dust and ash.
“It’s done…” Kit said as he collapsed to the ground. “It’s really done…”
“We… we actually slayed Python.” Kao looked at his hands.
Saifah sighed before standing up straight. “Wait! Klengkla!” They all spent a moment searching through the remaining dust and ash of Python’s body, but no trace of Klengkla could be found. “Target handled,” Saifah said firmly.
No one else said otherwise.
No one was particularly upset either.
At the airport, Saifah, Kao, Pha, Beam, and Kit all shook hands.
“We’ll report to Tutor about Klengkla,” Kao said with just a hint of his usual cheer that Pha was surprised to admit he’d become used to. “And we’ll be on the lookout for what Python hinted at.”
“Us too,” Kit said with a frown. “Chiron will want to know about both of them.”
“Be safe and come see us again soon,” Pha said with a small smile. “Without a disaster. Yo has been saying it’s been far too long since you and Zon came to visit. Come by when he’s recovered.” Pha turned to Kao. “You too. I think Can would like to meet you.”
“Can? Who’s Can?”
Saifah rolled his eyes, but managed a small smile. “I promise, we’ll come when Zon’s recovered.” He nudged Kao. “And I’ll introduce you. He’s as hyper as you are.”
With a last goodbye, the five went their separate ways.
Later that night, Saifah curled up next to Zon in his infirmary bed. Yo and Pha leaned against each other, tracing constellations in the sky through the Aphrodite cabin window. Kit shushed Ming for the fifth time since they had started watching the movie in Ming’s bunk. Forth and Beam swayed from side to side as they walked along the lake, drinking some of Forth’s not quite regulation spirits distilled right under Mr. D’s nose, ignoring the screeching of the harpies.
As Kao leaned against Phu’s back, playing the guitar while Phu listened and sketched, he listened and watched the area around them. The feeling of a snake coiling around his heart had started as soon as he’d seen Phu again and refused to fade no matter what he did.
A few days later, Kao woke up.
The constricting feeling was gone.
And so was Phu.