They rounded the next corner, hoping to put the spiders as far behind them as possible. After walking for a little bit, they came to another opening on their left. They all turned to look down the pathway and saw that this one was different. At the end of the path was a wall made of rocks instead of trees, and about midway up this wall was a burning torch. This light allowed them to see that not only was this a dead-end, but there was a very large pile of snakes writhing over and around each other.

Ares slowly backed away and whispered, “We don’t need to go this way. Let’s just move quickly and quietly past it and hopefully, none of them will decide to come and play with us.”

Nike shivered and mumbled, “Thank Zeus.”

Just when they finally felt safe enough from the snakes, they found their way partially blocked by a hedge. Having learned their lesson previously about things that hide in the Deep Wild, the group moved carefully around it, only to find another choice: go through the opening on the left or keep going straight around another hedge.

Before Ares could run off around another corner, Hephaestus grabbed him by the back of his neck. “I know it’s going to be difficult for you to do, but think for a minute, Ares.”

Ares grunted and pulled away from Hephaestus’ grip. “It’s quick for me to check so we don’t go the wrong way.”

“And what happens when you disappear around a corner and don’t come back, huh? What are we supposed to do?” Hephaestus crossed his arms. “You would endanger all of us by having to go after you. Now stop being a flaming idiot and think!”

Ares grumbled. “Fine.”

Nike cleared her throat. “Guys, that was the first time we saw a wall of anything but trees. What if that’s the center where Lady Hera is?”

Hephaestus rubbed his chin. “It makes sense. If we follow that logic, then going forward would just take us further away from the center, so we should take the new path here.”

“And what if this new path is just a dead-end and the path going forward will take us around all that and into the center?” Ares jutted his chin out.

“Hmph. Fine. Girls, you choose. Which way should we go?” Both the boys turned to face Nike and Moxie, who just looked at each other and shrugged.

“What Nike said makes sense. I think that wall was part of where our mother is, so we should definitely try to go that way. If we follow that thought, the way that makes the most sense is through the opening.”

Nike nodded and Hephaestus shifted his weight. “Fine, the girls have spoken, Ares. We’re going through the opening and since you like to discover new things, you can go first, brother.” He offered Ares a wicked grin and bowed, his arm held to the side, allowing Ares to go first.

They walked through the opening and came face to face with yet another hedge and a choice of left or right. 

“Let’s go left. It’s the direction of that wall.” Nike started walking in that direction, knowing that everyone would follow after her. As she turned the corner though, she saw another rock wall with a torch about halfway up. Much to her relief, there were no snakes this time. She turned to face the others.

“Well, at least we’ve got the right idea about this. We just need to find another way in.”

“Fine, we’ll go the other way first. Surely there’s another way in.” Ares turned around and led the way. One by one, they passed the opening they came through and eventually came to another left-hand turn. Ares reached behind him and grabbed Moxie’s hand while Hephaestus followed. Nike paused for a moment and looked behind her with a worried furrow between her brows. When she turned back around, the others were almost completely out of sight. 

Not wanting to be left behind, Nike jogged over to her siblings. Just before she got to them though, she heard Ares shout, “Back up!” 

Nike raced around the corner and barely got out of the way as a thick vine reached for her. Ares was already wrapped from head to toe in the vines. Moxie, still holding onto Ares, was similarly stuck and trying to struggle free. The vines were crawling up Hephaestus’ legs and he kept trying to pull them off. 

He saw Nike over his shoulder. “Run, Nike!” The vines wrapped around his waist and started to pull him closer to the hedge. 

“No!” Nike drew her sword and with a sharp flap of her golden wings, rose up and sliced the vines attacking Hephaestus. 

Hephaestus dropped to the ground and rolled forward past Ares and out of the way. He drew his hammers, but couldn’t see a way to help his siblings, so he just stood there, out of the way, frustrated that he couldn’t help.

Nike flew closer to Moxie, slicing vines that reached for her and dodging the ones that she missed. The situation was about to get desperate as she saw the vines pulling Ares deeper into the hedge. His eyes were wild with fear, but she met them with as much confidence as she could muster.

“Don’t worry, Ares.” She swung at another reaching vine. “Moxie, can you help?”

Moxie struggled against her bindings. “I’m trying, but it’s hard to concentrate right now, Nike!”

“Fine, lean forward when I say.” Nike maneuvered her body toward the left, rolling out of the way as another vine reached for her. She ascended as high as she could and then looked down at Moxie. “Ready? Now!”

At Nike’s signal, Moxie strained forward from the hedge and tightened her grip on Ares, trying to pull him with her. Nike dove the short distance and sliced her sword along the back of Moxie. The vines fell lifeless onto the ground. Nike rolled and as she sailed onto the other side of Ares, she pushed Moxie out of the way and into Hephaestus’ arms.

“Keep her safe! I’ll get Ares!”

Moxie struggled to go to Ares, but Hephaestus’ grip was firm. Nike flipped around and as she hovered in front of Ares, she swung her sword around him, cutting the vines from his arms. Once his hands got free, Ares started to pull them away from his face. A quick slice from Nike and the vines fell to the ground.

A vine reached out from behind her and wrapped around her ankle. Nike tucked into a forward roll and sliced the vine from underneath. As she straightened out, she sliced the vines that were tightening around Ares’ ankles.

Ares was free everywhere but his neck, and the vines were starting to choke him. He gasped. “Nike!”

“I’ve got you, brother! Lean your head forward!”

Ares struggled for breath and did what he was told. Nike soared as high as the canopy would let her, then dove down towards Ares with vengeance in her eyes. In one breath, she slid her sword between Ares and the hedge, slicing him free and wrapped her other arm around him, lifting him up with her as she flew away from the vines toward the others.

“Follow me!” Nike flew to the end of the path and around the corner, not stopping until she got to yet another rock wall illuminated by a torch. She gently lowered Ares to the ground and Moxie rushed to him, fussing over him. Hephaestus gave Nike a grateful smile. 

“Thanks for the assist, Nike.”

“We were bound to be victorious. There was no other option.”  Nike settled her feet onto the ground and looked protectively over the others as they caught their breath. 

The four of them huddled together under the torchlight, trying to soak up the heat and the light into bodies that had gone cold with fear. No one said anything while they sat; they just kept touching each other with their hands, a brush of an arm, or the press of a leg. Movements designed to reassure themselves that they were still alive. After a while, they started feeling braver. The further away they got from that last experience, the more they were able to rationalize it as not as bad as it was. No one forgot Nike’s bravery, though.

Perhaps an hour passed with them breathing in the torchlight, perhaps less, until one by one they started to stand, ready to move on.

Hera (CJ Landry)
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