“Welcome back, Avenger,” I say as Alastor stirs.
He propels himself forward, only to discover that I’ve bound him to a chair. The ropes cut into him, and he curses loudly. His blindfolded head darts from side to side as he tries to make sense of the situation. He tests each limb against the knots. They won’t budge. I made sure of it.
I clear my throat, and Alastor snaps his head towards me.
“Funny, last time it was me tied with the ropes, and you calling the shots,” I say, leaning against the wall.
He spits at me, but it lands a long way short.
“That wasn’t very nice. Now, let’s talk. Actually, I’ll talk, and you can listen for a change. I’d like you to fill in some blanks.”
“I’m not telling you anything,” Alastor snarls.
Brave but foolish. I walk up to him and slam one of his knives into his knee. The tendons in his neck bulge as he arches his back and screams from his chest. He stretches his fingertips, reaching for the knife. They can touch the blade, but can’t remove it. The chair rocks backwards and forwards as his entire body contorts.
“I have three more,” I tell him. I don’t have time to mess around.
Alastor opens his mouth to say something clever. His teeth are red from where he has bitten down and made his lips bleed. He licks them. “What do you want?” he hisses after a pause.
“Better,” I say. “I don’t have the box. The one you care so deeply about. I found it on Tiverna Isle, just like you said. Didn’t tell me it was Pandora’s Box, did you? And guess what? I opened it. They say it’s the hope that kills you. Except it didn’t. It filled me with a feeling of invincibility, made me feel like a…god. Which I am, of course, so the comedown wasn’t nearly as horrific as it would have been for a mortal. And—you’ll like this—a nice little side effect was that it burned away those toxins you put in my body. Gave me back my powers.”
Alastor jolts his head to the side as though I’ve slapped him.
“Here’s where I need your help. I’ve been thinking things through, and I’m still a little stuck. I know that when my father escaped from Tartarus, he put a price on my head, and that you agreed to provide your services. You’ve developed quite a reputation, haven’t you? Avenger!”
Alastor breathes deeply and clenches his jaw.
“First, you went to see Demeter under some legal pretense, and stole my file with my information. Then you started leaving me notes to get into my head. Make me think no-one wanted me back. Weaken me. And it worked, I was paranoid.”
“Then my father got caught, and any chance of you getting paid disappeared into the depths of Tartarus. But by then, you had a vested interest. You knew I was looking to help something you were seeking to destroy.”
Alastor growls at me. “Heracles’s blood is a curse. I’m doing the world a favour by removing every trace of him and his kin. Just ask your so-called friends in the Pantheon. See what they think of your little hobby trying to help them?”
I ignore him, but he has a point. Few would like me helping Heracles’s kin, but that’s a story for another day.
“And framing me for those deaths?” I ask.
“That was just a bonus,” Alastor says and smirks. “The Creator—hunted by those he created. Hated and despised. Rather ironic, don’t you think?”
“So you killed an entire family. Children—”
“Heracles didn’t care about killing innocent children, did he?” Alastor shouts, interrupting me. He would know. He was only a child when Heracles bludgeoned him to death, but that doesn’t excuse his actions. An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind…
“Why Derek? He didn’t have Heracles’s blood running through him.”
“No, but I knew that one would hurt you.” He grins.
I walk up to him and slap him across the face with the back of my head. The blow nearly topples the chair. It’s little recompense for what he did, but it’s something.
“And then you send me to get the box…but why? That one’s had me thinking for a while. Why take the risk?” I pause, waiting to see if Alastor will answer me. Instead, he ignores the question and scratches his cheek on his shoulder.
“I’ll tell you my theory then,” I say. “I think you found the box, but you couldn’t take it. The gods intended the box for Pandora and Epimetheus, and it rejected you. You knew, though, that it wouldn’t reject me. Not Epimetheus’s brother. We have the same ichor running through us. So you sent me to get it for you, thinking I was too weak to open it and claim what was inside for myself. Thinking I wouldn’t dare disobey you. Not after what you put me through.”
“That box is mine,” Alastor mumbles. “I found it over a year ago, and it belongs to me.”
“Why don’t you go get it then?” I ask. He drops his head to the floor, so I continue. “When I held the box, it whispered to me. Promised me things. Told me I would be strong enough to defeat Zeus. Told me I would regain all my powers. Told me the gods would want me as their leader. Its forked tongue licked my ear and gave me hope of achieving every ambition that has ever crossed my mind. So what did it whisper to you, I wonder?”
“What does it matter?” Alastor murmurs, the words catching in his throat.
“It matters,” I say, “because I think there’s still some good in there, lurking in the depths of your soul.”
Alastor doesn’t respond. He stares at the floor. I can sense his eyes are closed behind the blindfold. The pity of his enemy leaves a foul taste.
“I think the box promised you your family. It told you that if you opened it, your parents would come back, and all of your brothers and sister—”
“Stop it!” Alastor whimpers.
“It promised you would get to see them all again, and you would live out your lives as though Heracles had never visited your family on that day—”
“It gave you hope of the impossible. But then you couldn’t open the box, and it nearly destroyed you. You couldn’t stop thinking about it. You had to have it. You had to find out.”
“ENOUGH!” Alastor shouts. He takes a deep breath. “It was so clear,” he sniffs. “I could see it. I could see them right in front of me. I just had to open the box. It promised me. I could bring them back…” He trails off.
“False hope,” I tell him after a pause. “You would have believed that you could have retrieved them from the Fields of Asphodel, but you can’t. No-one can, and you need to understand that. Leaving that box was the best thing I could have done for you.”
I shudder at the thought of what would have happened had I of brought the box back and opened it. Better that it’s buried deep somewhere.
I sit down. The interrogation has exhausted me. A pool of blood has amassed under Alastor’s chair, although he seems to have forgotten the knife in his leg.
“This is what will happen,” I tell him. “I know all about that little business you’ve been running on the dark web. All your emails, clients, details of your accounts, how you clean your money; I have sent everything to the relevant authorities, and I expect they’ll be on their way soon.”
Alastor sits up, and his fists curl into balls. He spits blood onto the floor.
“I think they’ll be able to connect you to a whole host of crimes all over the world…”
“All those videos you took as evidence to get paid by your customers? You deleted them, I know, but not properly, so I recovered them and sent them too.”
“Bastard? Yes, you said.”
I hear the familiar sound of police sirens in the distance and smile. I open the window and let them in as they become more frantic and high pitched.
“Not long now,” I tell Alastor excitedly. “Although I should probably make myself scarce…”
Alastor makes a deep grunting noise, and then I hear a large thud. He’s thrown himself forward and is in a heap on the floor with the chair on top of him, flapping around like a seal. He’s a desperate man. He lets out an agonising scream, or was it a triumphant yell?
Then I remember: the knife!
It’s too late. By throwing himself onto the floor, Alastor loosened the ropes around his wrists, which freed his hands just enough for him to pull the knife out of his knee to cut the ropes binding him.
I got too cocky.
He points the knife at me, ready to throw. I have the gun pointed at him.
“You wouldn’t shoot me,” Alastor grins as he hobbles back towards the door, leaving a trail of blood behind him.
“You won’t get far,” I tell him. “They’ll hunt you down.”
“I’ll be fine,” Alastor assures me. “You, on the other hand. You’ll soon find out I’m the least of your problems. You’ll be wishing to be back on that rock by the time they’re done with you.”
“What do you mean?” I ask. “Who are you talking about?”
Alastor licks his lips and takes a further step back. “The time has come for a new order.” Alastor grins. “And you’re on the wrong side. They’ll get to you. They’ll get to all of you.”
“What are you—”
Alastor throws his knife while I’m mid-sentence, and I dive to the right. It misses me by an inch and thumps harmlessly into the window. I stand back up and dart out of the door, but he’s gone. There are splatters of blood on the floor, but then they disappear. It’s like he’s vanished.
The sirens are outside now. It’s time to leave. Alastor won’t disturb me anymore, he’ll be too busy hiding in the shadows, but his comments will. What did he mean?