Deep in concentration, my hand shot up over my head, catching a scroll. I looked up and stared at it, wondering where it had come from, and was suddenly pelted with scroll after scroll. My feet popped off the bench, and I did a rolling dive behind the nearest table. Knives in either hand, eyes darting about, I was ready to fight.
What I saw was a mountain of scrolls and books I had tossed onto precarious piles. The sound of books dropping to the floor was the only sound in the library. The scrolls rolling across the floor was the only movement. There I was, crouched in position and ready to take down an angry mob of scrolls. I sighed and then laughed, deciding that I needed sleep.
This mess would not clean itself, and I had to get it in some kind of order before one of the librarians saw it. They would have kicked me out for good this time, which I couldn’t afford. I had been there for two days and had not found anything about a creature that could obscure itself from me and create the increasing intense mind fog my maidens had reported. I picked up the books near me and started making neat piles for the librarians. They could be very touchy and vindictive. What else would you expect from Olympians?
Pile after pile was arranged just so. After sitting still for days, it felt good to move around. There was something satisfying about getting all the corners to line up. I laughed at myself, thinking about how most of my days were spent training in the dirt or crawling through mud. I picked up yet another stack of books I’d already gone through and saw a potion bottle on the cover of the top one. I tilted my head to the side as an idea started to form. What if the creature was not doing all of this with only its natural abilities? How could I have missed it? I abandoned my cleaning, leaving the scrolls strewn across the floor, and ran to the shelves holding books on positions and enchantments.
After hours of reading, I’d found many possibilities that could have caused each symptom. My mind was swirling with all the possibilities, combining ingredients created. My temper rose as I inched closer to an answer at a frustratingly slow pace.
Another scroll lost its balance and rolled across the table. I looked up to grab it and saw my old mentor. She stared at the fort of books I had created and shook her head. I could feel warmth rise in my cheeks as embarrassment flooded me. She walked over to the table and looked over my notes.
“Olive leaf will never work with this oil,” she said, pointing at a page and looking me directly in the eyes. “What are you doing, and why didn’t you come to me sooner?”
The only response I had was to shrug and say with unrivaled eloquence, “Uhh.”
She harrumphed and pushed me to the side. She picked up my notes and muttered something about goddesses who think they know everything. My shoulders dropped, relief spreading through me as my old friend took charge.
I ported out of the library and arrived beside Commander Siva just in time to see the phone in her hand vibrating. One of the maidens had spotted something and sent the signal. They’d pinpointed her location and moved into position around one home. A couple of them moved back to the tree line to ensure they had a broader range in case the monster bolted. I followed and smoothly inserted myself into their line.
The area was still except for the leaves dancing in a gentle breeze, tossing light around. The sound of children laughing from the next street was soft and warm, and darting squirrels kept our eyes busy as we waited.
A figure emerged from the forest and ran toward the house in stilted, jarring moments. It let out an odd growl. Bows pulled tight, the maidens in the trees waiting with discipline for confirmation this was their prey. I watched as the closest maiden ran silently along the fence line, just on the other side of the creature. When she was even with it, she lept over the wooden barrier and landed on its feet, pinning it to the ground. It went down surprisingly easily.
A couple of other maidens appeared next to them with swords and knives at the ready. A terrified, very human scream came from the cowering creature. The maiden on top of it looked shocked. As I got closer, I saw how small it was and that it was wearing something on its head. She froze with her knife raised over its head. Her expression changed and her head tilted. She pulled a mask off the monster’s head and saw a teenaged boy shaking in fear. This was a child! How could this have happened?
She jumped off him, raised the mask over her head for the other maidens to see, and slammed it on the ground. In frustration, she punched a hole in the fence beside them and screamed, “What the hell were you doing, boy?” He continued to shake in fear.
Commander Siva gestured for her to stand down as we walked up. She stomped away, and through clenched teeth, Siva said, “We need an explanation. Why are you in a costume and moving so oddly?”
When he did not speak, I gestured for the maidens to back away. Siva glared at him and said as evenly as she could, “I understand your fear, child, but we have no time. You need to swallow that fear, sit up, and tell us what happened.”
He gulped and sat up. He grasped his shaking hands and stumbled over his words. “I just, umm, I don’t know, it uhh.”
He shook his head, took a deep breath, and looked Commander Siva directly in the eyes. This clearly terrified him, and I thought they would have to start over, but his eyes seemed to clear a bit. “Okay. Okay, ma’am. It’s fuzzy. I was walking home when…I don’t know.” I guess I just felt silly and wanted to play around and scare my sister. I thought about jumpin’ out and screamin’, Boo! Then, I don’t know where or how, but I was putting on this.” He gestured at what he was wearing. “Then I stumbled, but maybe I was pushed.”
He shook his head again and gasped. “I felt big hands, and there was this smell. It was horrible. I think something was blown into my eyes. Oh, it was so bad.” His face scrunched in disgust. I wanted to ask questions to hurry this along but knew not to interpret this moment of clarity.
He concentrated hard and continued. The words were rushing out now. “It hurt, the smell and the touch. It was so close. I’d never had a smell hurt before, but it did. Then I can’t remember much, but I was so angry. I was running but kept going to the side. I think he pushed me from side to side. Then I was kind of pushed for a long way. It stopped pushing but was still there. I mean, the smell got less, and I kept going, but it was like it was still there following me. I don’t know how long I kept walking. Then there was light, and I got mad again and then, ouch.” He pointed up and said confusedly, “She was on top of me. Why? What happened to me?”
Commander Siva deflected the question by pulling out a map. “Show me where you were when this started.” He pointed, and she put a hand on his shoulder. “You did good, Son. Now, take this stuff off and give it to us.”
A whistle came from the tree line, signaling us to look toward the horizon. Smoke was rising from several buildings on the other side of the neighborhood. We ran as one toward the smoke. I signaled some of them to go around the edges of the neighborhood to watch for the actual creature. As we drew near, the smoke seemed unnaturally heavy. An entire street of homes was on fire. Bombs had to have been thrown into houses. A simple fire could not have spread so fast. Horrified, I directed the maidens to help the firefighters.
The maidens dived in to help anyone who needed it. I saw Talia’s head jerk as she noticed something out of the corner of her eye and followed her gaze. We went toward that familiar, distinctive vile perfume-tinted smell. I stopped her. “If we go directly toward it, the mind fog will kick in.”
I looked around for cover and found a car to slide behind. She sent a message to all the maidens, letting them know we were in pursuit. I snuck around the car and saw in the distance a tall, looming figure coming from the original house, carrying an unconscious child. It was headed toward the cave where half the team was waiting. This is what I had been waiting for. Since it had been obscuring our senses, I wanted to see what else it affected. I focused on it but could not get a lock it in. Typically, once I decided to track something, all I had to do was see it to set the lock. Then I could sense its location at all times. Predictably, I couldn’t get a lock on this infuriating creature.
Talia had already taken off to the side and followed it in an indirect path to the cave. Feeling handicapped, I messaged the cave team to let them know it was on the way. Several times I had the impression of that horrid smell. We kept it at a distance, keeping our wits about us. I sent another signal to our sisters in the trees when it neared, and they let us know they were in position and had it in sight.
Talia caught my eye, motioning me to stay and watch before running straight toward it. She had to know she would be caught in the mind fog quickly. She pulled her gun and took a shot at the creature, but missed. I could see that was the moment the scent invaded her nostrils. It must be heavier than ever at that range. She lept into the air, caught a tree limb, and did a flip into the creature’s path, just like in the ridiculous, unrealistic action movies she hated. As she fell, her expression changed to confusion. I saw that the mind fog would have obscured all her wits before she hit the ground. At the sight of her antics, the creature dropped the child in its arms, and Talia passed out.
As soon as the child hit the ground, arrows flew, each hitting its target. As the maidens surrounding it got ready to lose another volley, the monster ran. I started to pursue but lost concentration quickly, stumbling in the thick cloud of putrid perfume.
Sometime later, the maidens from town found their teammates sitting on the ground recovering from the close encounter with the monster while I paced at the edge of the group, reporting what I had learned to my mentor at the library. Talia held the crying but unharmed child. She looked up and said, “We hurt it. There is a trail of blood we can follow.”
Finished with my call, I walked up to them and asked, “What’s the damage?”
Siva grimaced, “There was no warning. Many homes are completely gone. There are a few dead, but we don’t know how many yet. Many were injured.”
Talia shook her head. “It was a trap for us. The monster did not need to do this. It was bragging about having the upper hand on us.”
I agreed. “Yes, it is playing with us.” She held the child tighter, looking angry. I kneeled and put a hand on her shoulder. “Not all is lost. You saved the child and helped me learn what I needed to know. I swear to you, we will have answers soon.”