Of all the ways to find yourself dropped into the Underworld, drowning was one of the worst. The portal had spat us out on the shore of the river Styx. I lay there, coughing up the frigid water, the slashes across my body seeping golden ichor onto the dark riverbank. The portal had opened because the Mahaha had succumbed to the water and was due to face his judgment. I had just been taken along for the ride by his fierce grip.
I sat up and summoned what was left of my powers, feeling empty and weak. The Mahaha hadn’t quite awakened to his new reality, and my ice shackle would not contain him for long. I worked slow and steady to create an icy prison that encased him from his waist to his bare feet, keeping his hands bound near his hips. I leaned in and plucked my dagger from his chest, wiping the black blood across his bare skin before securing it back into my headband. I sat down on the shore and admired my ice statue. It had been a long time since I had turned anyone to ice, and now depleted as I was, he was only half statue.
Charon’s ferry would be along shortly, and I didn’t really want to stay down here. There were two aurae and the God of the NorthWest Wind waiting on me, but I needed to rest a bit. I may be immortal, but that didn’t mean I was without flaws. It took an immense amount of my power to freeze the compound, and I needed to gain back some strength.
I heard a small cough and saw Hades peering curiously across the riverbank. I knew we must make quite the scene. A half-frozen demon with wide eyes, his maniacal grin still plastered to his face, and the wet Goddess of Snow sitting patiently beside it with a matching grin. If I weren’t so tired, I might have laughed.
“Two beings coming through a drowning portal isn’t normal, so I came to see who fell through this time,” he said. His smile grew as he recognized me. “A little early for the season-exchange with Persephone, aren’t you, my dear?” he asked as Charon’s ferry arrived at the small dock, his single lantern swinging with the river’s current.
“I’m just here to bring the gift of laughter to the Underworld,” I called back. “Maybe see if Thanatos needs a good laugh before you dispose of him.” Hades nodded, waved, and disappeared with the ferry’s arrival. I dug into my cloak, searching for the small pouch of drachma to give to Charon. His eyes narrowed as I dropped two wet and frosted coins into his outstretched hand, but he pocketed them as I loaded the demon.
“Thank you, Charon. I’ll even make you a ramp to get him out.” His mouth twitched slightly, but he was otherwise quiet. He waited, fingers tapping on his oar, before realising I wasn’t getting into the ferry, despite paying my fare.
“Point me toward the way out?” I asked, feeling the forced grin still plastered across my face. Charon obliged, silently pointing, before pushing off from the dock. I pulled my hood over my head and then made my way back to the surface. Exhausted and nauseated from the heat, I stumbled and leaned against a tree. I was still far from the girls. I closed my eyes, concentrated, and ported myself back to the compound in front of my uncle’s manor.
I opened my eyes and let out a heave, doubling over as the bitter cold surrounded me. As a condition of being essentially cold-blooded, my body healed much slower than other gods, and I had been sliced, poisoned, drowned, and experienced temperature whiplash after depleting my powers. On trembling legs, I walked to the north gate.
The two aurae were still on the lake, trying to melt the thick ice, but they weren’t strong, nor warm, enough.
“Föhn, Chinook, I’m here,” I called to them, my voice hoarse. They raced back to the compound, and together we ventured inside the manor.
My uncle’s manor was a wreck. The home had been destroyed. Slashes had torn through the walls and the doors had been pulled off their hinges. The furniture was broken and ripped apart, strewn haphazardly throughout the building. As I passed through the once familiar rooms, a sense of dread filled me. Uncle Skiron hadn’t left for a trip, and he hadn’t just gone missing. He had been taken.
The three of us found the least damaged room and some blankets. The mostly intact mattress lay on the floor, and we scrounged some blankets from the closets. Together, the girls and I huddled under the covers against the wall, shivering and resting, all of our powers depleted from today’s ordeal.
Guilt washed over me as I felt them fall asleep. These two had nearly used all their strength to melt ice that was much too thick. I squeezed their shoulders and whispered a thank you before falling into darkness as we rejuvenated our powers.
I awoke with a start, alone. The aurae had already gotten up and scampered off. I stood slowly and checked on my cuts. The wounds had stopped bleeding, but they were still open. In the nearby bathroom, I wrapped my arms, the pale ichor staining the clean bandages.
A small crash sounded down the hallway, followed by a small yelp. I raced toward the noise, pulling my dagger out of my hair, only to find Chinook standing over a broken pile of dishes.
“Sorry, Miss Khione, I didn’t mean to!” The tears were forming in her eyes as she saw the drawn dagger. I slipped it back into my headband and pulled her into an embrace, ignoring the ache in my skin from the sudden warmth.
“It’s okay, Chinook. We’re okay. I’m okay. The demon is gone, back to Tartarus. The animals will come back, and the place will return to normal.” I tried to reassure her.
“But what about Uncle Skiron?” Föhn asked from the doorway, her ashen face betraying her cool response. “What happened to him?”
I looked at the two of them and around the house. “There will be some clues here in this mess. We will have to check. The forest animals all ran off, including the birds. Birds don’t take off unless they can be attacked by a predator above them. So, whoever, or whatever, was around, had to have wings.” I reasoned aloud.
“So like…feathers?” Chinook asked tentatively. “I saw a pile of huge feathers in the lounge. I thought they were just pillows the Mahaha might’ve destroyed.”
I squeezed her tight, and we examined the pile of feathers in the lounge. Föhn picked one up and held it out. The feather was as long as her arm. “I don’t think this belongs to just any bird.”
Cheeky girl. I smiled as she grabbed a couple more and flapped them. “I could fly with these!”
I dug through the pile of feathers, hoping to find the one thing that would confirm my hunch. I pulled up two small nuggets of gold and sighed.
“Griffins,” I told the two girls, “from the mountains of Scythia.”