Hunted

By jbartosh All Rights Reserved ©

Fantasy / Adventure

Blurb

It all started with a dream... Heracles Whiet, a young man who faced a tragedy that stole his memory only wants a normal life for himself. But a discovery in his youth as dragged him into a centuries-old war that could mean the fate of the world is left in his hands. With the aid of his siblings, Heracles must face an unknown enemy while he is forced to run for his life on a worldwide adventure to find the one person who can aid in this endeavor.

Dreams

I was running. I didn’t know why, I didn’t know where, but I was running into a white void. Out of the void, shapes began to form. Walls, archways, a wide staircase in the center of the room. Color started to fill in the blank room until I looked upon a familiar sight. I was suddenly standing in the middle of the foyer of my family’s home.

“Heracles!” I heard my name called from behind me. I turned, and where the common room should have been, there was another void. I started to take a step toward it, reaching my hand out to it when the voice shouted again. “Heracles, run”

A young boy with auburn hair barreled out of the void. I stepped out of his way as he fled from something behind him. He bounded up the stairs, two at a time...

...at least until he toppled over and landed on his hands and knees halfway up.

I blood-boiling scream sounded throughout the hall, ringing in my ears. The scream echoed through the hall. The boy turned, his bright green eyes wide with fright.

Run, I wanted to tell the boy, but I couldn’t find my voice. Run, you fool!

The boy turned back around and scrambled to his feet, quickly ascending the remainder of the stairs. He stopped for only a moment at the top, faced with a hall way that stretched several yards to his left and right. He turned and darted down the left end of the hall. I was compelled to follow.

He only lasted a few yards before he was stopped in the middle of the hall by a middle-aged woman with chestnut colored hair with streaks of grey starting to appear. Her eyes were frenzied as she saw her son running from something and her husband’s voice screaming out in pain.

“Heracles,” She said breathlessly, “Come along, dear, come inside.” She gestured to the bedroom behind her. The boy took a step away from her, looking between her and where he had come from.

Before the boy could answer, an older boy in his late teens. He looked uncannily like the young boy, but his face was more chiseled, his hair was slightly longer and well-kept. His eyes were a dark shade of green and burned with a frenzied fire. He held a wand made of white wood in his long, slender hand.

Their mother’s hand shot out faster than any of them – myself included – had thought possible. She grasped the elder boy’s shirt and pulled him back.

“Mercury Jupiter Whiet, where in the heavens do you think you’re going?!” She growled.

Mercury straightened up, staring down at his mother as he towered over her, yet her fury made her appear a worthy opponent to him. “Dad can’t take those beasts himself, Mum. He needs help.”

“And it won’t come from you,” She told him. “Now get back in there!”

“You can’t stop me, Mum...” Mercury told her apologetically.

“I will not willingly put any of my children in danger!” Mum snarled.

Mercury took a deep breath, and as he did, another scream sounded throughout the building. Everyone’s head snapped in the direction of the scream. Mercury turned back to his mother and shook his head slowly.

“Don’t you dare...” She nearly pleaded, tears were pouring down her cheeks now.

Mercury closed his eyes for a moment, his bottom lip trembled. Then, with a flash of movement, he broke her grip on his shirt and bolted down the hall as fast as he could.

“MERCURY!” She shouted after him. Tears fell to the carpet beneath her feet as she watched her eldest son go to what could certainly be his death. She turned back to the young boy who still had his head turned in the direction of his brother. “Come along, Heracles.” She held out her hand to the boy and he looked at her.

It was a long and chilly moment as they stared at each other. The boy shook his head, knowing something that she did not. Tears rolled down both of their cheeks as they maintained the eye contact.

It felt as if glass shattered as the eye contact broke and the boy shot down the hall like a bullet. I followed him, watching as he put every ounce of energy he had into running as hard as he could. He came to a door on his left, shouldered it open, and fell to his hands and knees. He was visibly shaking as he pulled himself to his feet. He looked around the room, trying to find something he could do.

We were suddenly in the boy’s bedroom. A small, twin-sized bed was pushed against the wall beside the small window opposite the door. A large wardrobe was against the opposite wall. The walls were bare, and the only hint that someone lived here is the footlocker at the base of the bed with the tail of a cloak sticking out under the lid.

The boy closed the door quietly, engaging the lock. He took a step away from it, then looked around again for only a moment. The young boy yanked open the doors of his wardrobe and stepped inside it.

As he pulled the doors closed, my world went dark.

It felt like the darkness would last forever. I could hear heavy breathing. It took me a second to realize it was my own. It was silent. My heart pounded against my ribcage.

Another blood-curdling scream, this time it was female. It echoed through the void, continuously ringing in my ears, clear as day.

“I don’t know!” My mother screamed. “Please, leave them alone!”

“Mum, No!” I heard a new, male voice shout out. Then another scream.

I heard soft crying in the distance, then silence again. It lasted for a while...only broken by my breathing...

...BOOM!

I heard my door burst open and slide across the floor nearby, skidding to a halt in front of me. I suddenly felt my wand in my hand and held it out in front of me.

“Come out, little one...” A sinister, grumble of a voice sounded from all directions around me. “...I only bite a little...”

The black void turned white suddenly. Then pulsed red, accompanied by a howling shout of pain. Then the red faded to black again...

* * *

I awoke gasping for air, sitting bolt upright from where I had been laying. I was soaked with cold sweat. It took a moment to get my bearings. I was laying in the common room, a large room with a long couch I had taken a nap on opposite two high-backed arm chairs, all of which were covered in a shining, purple and gold fabric. A fire was burning in the hearth behind me, keeping the room comfortably warm. However, when you looked at it, the flames seemed to change color the longer you looked at it, changing from Red, to green, to blue, to purple, and back again. In a normal circumstance, the enchanted fire would be alarming, but there were far worse things in the world.

Outside the bay window opposite me, it was dark. Snow and ice were pounding against the glass, picked up from the ground by the wind, making it look like a blizzard. Typical weather for winter on the Antarctic tundra.

We had been here since I was young. I don’t remember much before we came here, to the south pole. I didn’t remember much before we came here. Images came to me in my dreams. Rolling green hills. Tall buildings of a city. Fishing on a lake that spread out for miles. Faces of people I recognized, as if from a past life.

My parents had told the story several times over the years, each time the tale changed slightly. One thing that remained the same was the isolation. Whether it was because we were hiding from something or someone, or if they just enjoyed the isolation. Being in the heart of a frozen tundra offered us a safe place to live and learn.

I started out the window for what felt like an age, watching the snow swirl around outside, ice hit the window with a soft, yet sharp, tap. My mind was racing, as it did every time the dream came.

Can I even call it a dream? I asked myself. It always seems to real, There was always a slight difference. Sometimes I saw the dream through the boy’s eyes, sometimes the house was more detailed. Sometimes I was sitting in the wardrobe, waiting for the doors to open.

Then, in a flash of light, the dream ended.

Every time.

I never got to see my attacker’s face. The dream always ends right before I see them. And it always frustrates me to no end.

“Heracles...” I heard my name spoken from the archway leading into the foyer. My mother was standing there, her stained apron tied around her waist. She had a dish towel in her hands, wiping the water from them. She was older then she was in the dream. Her hair had more grey in it. The lines around her mouth and eyes were deeper.

“I heard you shouting,” she told me, coming over to kneel at my side. She set the cloth on the table between the couch and the chairs. “What happened?”

I looked at her for a moment, still struggling to find my breath. My heart was trying to break free from my chest. I drew in as deep a breath as I could manage. “Dream...” I said softly.

She frowned at me, placing her lightly damp, yet still warm, hand on mine. “Was it the same?”

I nodded. “Exactly the same.”

She shook her head, letting out a sigh. “It’ll pass in time, Heracles.”

“Three years, Mum.” I reminded her. “I’ve had this dream for three years, I don’t think the time has anything to do with it.”

“Have faith, Heracles,” She told me. “Time heals all wounds if you let it.”

I let out a resigned sigh. “Right...” Then I started to look around the room, into the foyer and across into the kitchen, noticing the seemingly barren house. “Where is everyone?”

Mum’s frown turned up slightly to resemble something close to a smile. “Downstairs.”

“What?!” I exclaimed. “I was asleep for that long?!”

Mum stood and started to head back toward the kitchen. “Your father tried to wake you.”

I cursed under my breath, quiet enough that she wouldn’t hear me, and nearly leaped off the couch toward the foyer. I bore left and found myself facing a steel door off to the side of the staircase. I wrenched open the door, revealing a narrow and steep staircase deep below the house. Bounding down the stairs, using the walls to keep my balance, I make it to the bottom in a matter of moments.

I find myself in what appears to be a sports locker room. Four polished lockers lined a wall, each with a name on it. A bench was bolted to the floor in front of them, used to dress and prepare for whatever horrors our father decided to throw at us that day. Across from the lockers was a large window, and I dreaded what lied on the other side as I looked.

A small hamlet was burning on the other side, muffled screams could be heard through the glass as well as shouts of rage and glee. An explosion erupted nearby, followed by more screaming.

I tore my eyes away from my window and focused now on my locker. I pried it open and searched through the contents within. Weapons of all shapes and sizes from daggers to swords to pistols were hanging on the back wall. From a bar at the top hung several sets of clothes, each set designed for a different scenario. Several sets of sturdy boots and sneakers.

I changed into a pair of dark jeans and a tee shirt, slipping on a pair of boots. I glanced over my shoulder and deliberated for only a moment before grabbing a short sword and strapped it to my belt. Then, the final piece, I grabbed a thigh holster with a thin, polished rod made of a birch wood sticking out. A handle fitted to my hand had been carved into the wood for ease of use.

I step toward the door to the left of the window, take a deep breath, and enter the village beyond.

* * *

I take a few steps forward, allowing the door to close behind me. I look behind me to see that the door and window had completely disappeared so that I was now looking at more of the burning village and the thick forest beyond. The smell of ash hits my nose. The heat emitted from the flames was intense. I can feel beads of sweat instantly start to roll down my face.

I trudged forward shielding my face from the heat of the flames. I navigated the village as I had a dozen times before, making my way to what I had come to learn was the south end of the village. If everything had gone according to plan...

I stopped in my tracks when I saw a gang of three men walking down the street. They were dressed in similar clothes, dark leather pants, brown hide boots. One was wearing a long-sleeved shirt with the sleeves rolled up to his elbows. Another was only wearing a thin vest. All three had their weapons sheathed, not expecting any resistance. The one in the middle took a step forward and leaned into the one on the right, cackling. The one on the left took the cork out of his bottle and stuff a bit of cloth in the cork.

I silently grabbed my wand and pointed it toward the bottle. Concentrating hard on the liquid within, I gave my wand a soft flick. The liquid in the bottle ignited, the glass shattered, and the bandit started to shout out in pain as the flame ran up his arm when the bottle exploded. The other the drunk one stumbled backward in shock. The third was trying to extinguish the flames of his comrade.

I took the opportunity to advance, I kept my wand drawn as I advanced. With a swish, I shot the aiding bandit away from the one that was burning. The burning bandit dropped to the ground as the flames continued to spread. The drunk on scrambled to his feet to face his attacker. He reached for the hilt of his sword, taking a few swipes with his hand before he finally found it. He drew it, pointing it shakily at me.

“I-I’ll gut you, I swear it.” He told me. “I’m not afraid to hurt a child.”

I grinned, drawing my own sword. I slid my wand back into its holster. I stepped back into a stance and brought the blade up to face the bandit.

He made the first move, making a powerful swing at me. I easily dodged, then ducked as he swung the blade backwards toward my head. I straightened up, leapt back as the blade came toward me again.

The bandit stumbled and fell to the ground again, his sword clanking away from him. I kicked it away, then swung my leg forward and kicked him hard in the sternum with the side of my foot. He groaned in pain.

I turned toward the other two, the one who had been burning had now managed to extinguish the flames, but was looking down as his severely burnt hand and forearm.

The other was peeling himself off the ground where he had landed. He eyed me with a murderous look. I unsheathed my wand again, pointed at the building next to him, and unleashed a shot of white light at the building next to him. The jet of white light collided with the brick. The brick exploded outward, spraying the bandit with debris, knocking him back to the ground, his form went limp.

The last bandit looked up at me, tears streaming down his cheeks from the pain. But, to my amazement, he still managed to hold a vengeful fire in his eyes as he glared at me. He got to his feet, never losing eye contact with me.

With his good hand, the bandit clumsily unsheathed his sword. I smirked at him, which caused his face to turn a deep shade of red. He dropped into a stance and I dropped back into mine. We started to circle one another, each taking a step to match the other.

I made the first move this time, aiming for his blade to disarm him. He knocked my sword away with surprising strength for his non-dominant hand. I managed to step out of the way of a sharp thrust with the pommel, I watched as the blade narrowly missed my nose as he followed through with the strike. I took a step away from him, then thrust my blade toward his abdomen, and attempt that was, once again deflected. I followed the momentum, aiming a sharp kick for his knee, connecting and knocking him off-balance. I aimed my wand at the sword and flicked it toward the street. The sword jumped from his hand and landed in the dirt.

I pointed my wand at him, ready to finish him. In an act of desperation, the bandit straightened up and charged me. He caught me off guard, wrapped his arms around my mid-section and continued through until I found myself on the ground. The force of the impact caused me to lose grip on both my sword and my wand, both clattering away from me.

Before the shock could wear off, I was bombarded with three powerful, meaty fists straight to my face. I finally managed to bring my guard up, but he continued the barrage. I could taste blood in my mouth and spat into the dirt.

After a moment, I moved out of the way of one of his fists just enough that it flew past me, clipping my hear, but found the packed dirt under me. He grunted in pain. I took the opportunity to throw a series of punches at him. I grabbed him by his vest and pulled as hard as I could, using my knee to assist, and bucked him off me.

I rolled onto my hands and knees, attempting to shake off the disorientation. He dove for my sword. I dove for my wand. I grasped the handle, rolled over, looking up at the face of the bandit as he rushed me with the sword above his head. I pointed the wand at him and a jet of silver light shot out of the tip, catching him in his sternum. He shot backward and landed limply on the ground, struggling for breath.

I took a moment to catch my breath. Usually, I had no problem with these bandits, but this felt different. They were fighting differently. They were no longer swinging their swords like they had never held one before, relying on brute strength to win the battle. This one had a certain poise to his stance, unusual with your typical bandit. He only relied on his strength when he knew he was about to lose.

I stood, holstered the wand and sword, and kept going, keeping aware of my surroundings in case anything else had changed.

After a few minutes of walking, I came to the edge of town and saw a ruined building sitting at the edge of the forest, then sighed a breath of relief. The house acted as a haven, usually, part of the plan was to get the villagers out and to a safe place, and this was as safe as we could find.

I entered the building and flicked my wand at the trapdoor in the center of the room. It flung open with ease, revealing a dark hole and ladder leading down into it. I quickly descended, knowing what I would find below. I hit the ground softly and found myself in a dark void, the only source of light was coming from the hole above.

I drew my wand and flicked it slightly so that a light emitted from the tip. In the bright light, I found myself in a makeshift passage that seemed to have been designed for a situation like this. I took a deep breath, knowing full well what I would find at the end of the tunnel.

The tunnel was a long and tedious walk back to the end. The light at the tip of my wand illuminated the way through until I could see a lantern light ahead. With a flick, the light from my wand vanished and I enveloped in darkness. I walked toward the lantern light, slowly and carefully along the uneven ground.

As I approached, only several yards away from the source of the light, I had to dodge to the side as a jet of silver light shot toward me. I watched as it flew past me, arcane energy sizzling and crackling, threatening not to miss next time.

“Athens!” I shouted out into the darkness. “Athena, it’s me!”

My exclamation was met with silence for several long seconds. I half-expected another spell to be shot back at me.

“Heracles?” A young girl’s voice called out into the darkness. A sigh of relief escaped my lips. I stepped away from the wall and into the light. A young girl was standing in the opening to a spacious chamber. Women and children were sitting behind her of all ages and sizes. The girl stepped toward me, a relieved smile on her youthful face. Her auburn hair brushed her shoulders. Her dark green eyes were full of hope and wonder, even in the lantern light, surrounded by the sick and suffering. She was a full foot shorter than me and had to look up to see my face as I approached.

“Dad’s furious you know,” Athena said as I came into the light, “that you missed training.”

“I figured,” I told her. “Your aim’s getting better.”

She smiled and sheathed her wand. “It’s getting easier, I think.”

I smiled back at her, then looked around at the people staring at us. I looked over my shoulder at the dark chasm behind me. Knowing I had to go back through it.

“Athena,” I said. “Where are the others?”

Athena looked at me for a moment. “Is your head still stuck in the clouds?”

I turned back to her and smiled. “I guess...”

Athena shook her head. “I suspect they would be in the square by now, by this time they should be fighting off the last of the bandits.”

I nodded, remembering. After the evacuation, we left Athena to guard the townsfolk, while Mercury, Romulus and I would go to clear out the rest of the village. Since Athena still didn’t have the skill for true combat magic, she was too young, four years my junior at the age of ten.

“Thanks, Athens,” I told her and started to turn around to walk back to the hatch.

“Can I come with you, Herc?” Athena asked suddenly. “Please, I’m so bored down here! I want to join the fight.”

“Not yet, Athens,” I told her.

"You were my age when you started to fight!” She protested. “Please, Herc?” Her eyes were like saucers as she looked up at me. I drew in a long, thoughtful breath, looking at her.

Then I shake my head. “Dad’s going to kill me,” I said, then thought about it again, “worse than he already is.”

Athena let out a squeal of joy and bolted off into the darkness. I shook my head and looked up at the ceiling. Then I followed her a moment later, catching up with her at the ladder leading into the ruined house.

We spent the following minutes walking down the streets, following the familiar path to the village square. The smile never left Athena’s face as we walked. She was so filled with energy and excitement her walk turned into a gleeful half-skip at my side.

We approached the square. The road turned from dirt to paved stone the closer we got to the square. In the distance, I could see the street open into the square. In the center, I could see a majestic, white stone fountain that wasn’t working. Chunks of the stone had been blown off from the battle.

However, as we got closer to the square, something seemed off. I expected to hear battle in the distance. I expected to hear Romulus and Mercury yelling instructions to each other, coordinating their attacks.

But it was silent. I couldn’t hear anything but the crackling flames all around me as they started to die out.

I slowed my pace and extended my arm out in front of Athena so that she would do the same. My wand was in my hand a moment later and I stopped. Athena stayed at my side but took a step back so that she was slightly out of view of the square.

Suddenly, from around the corner, two young men are running toward me. The taller was the same boy I had seen in my dream, but Mercury was a couple of years older now. His hair was short and well maintained, despite being matted by sweat. The other man looked completely different from any of us. He was shorter than Mercury but stockier. His hair was red rather than a dark auburn like the rest of ours. His stance was far more aggressive, his run was powerful and looked like he was trying hard to keep up with his elder brother.

Mercury waved his hand at Athena and me, beckoning for us to run. His voice hit me as they approached. “Run!” He kept yelling. I backed up a few steps, Athena copied me to keep from being knocked over.

Then, a moment later, I saw what they were running from. A bandit, at least twice the size of the ones I had fought earlier was running after them. I felt the earth move with each step he took. He wielded a claymore like it was a longsword. There was murder in his eyes. Whatever Romulus and Mercury had done had really pissed this abomination off.

“Run,” I repeated Mercury, “Athena, Run!” I turned on my heel and ran off, pushing Athena ahead of me. She bolted as fast as her shorter legs would take her. I slowed my pace so that I could keep pace with her.

It wasn’t long before Mercury and Romulus caught up with us. I felt Romulus’ hand find my shoulder as he gave a hearty laugh.

“Glad you could join us, little brother!” Romulus shouted as he ran. I looked over to the other side when Athena squealed. Mercury had scooped her up in his arms without breaking stride. I ran faster, easily keeping pace with the other two. We rounded a corner and broke into another sprint down the long, narrow alleyway we found ourselves in.

I glanced over my shoulder, just in time to see the large bandit skid to a halt to turn to follow us. He was gaining ground on us.

“This is new!” I said, turned back around to watch where we were heading.

“You’re telling us!” Mercury exclaimed.

I grinned. “Tell me you have a plan!”

Mercury shook his head. “Right now, we’re doing it!”

“We can’t run forever, Merc!” Romulus yelled. We turned another corner where there was a row of houses on either side of us, each engulfed in flames.

“We can’t fight it head-on, either.” Mercury reminded him. “Your bullets did nothing to him!”

“I’m more than a pair of pistols, Mercury!” Romulus reminded him.

“News to me, gunslinger!” Mercury shot back. Athena giggled. Mercury looked down at her, and then back at me. “And you! Why’d you bring her into this?”

I avoided his glare. “I didn’t expect this!” I pointed behind us at the ape of a man following us. I planted my foot, spun on my heel, and pointed my wand at the brute. Three jets of silver light shot from the tip, each finding its own spot on his chest. The bandit recoiled at the shots but seemed to shake them off and continue to follow us.

“We’re losing ground, Merc!” I called to him. “What’s the plan!”

“I’m working on it...” He grumbled, looking around. His eyes widened suddenly as we turned another corner.

“Heracles, Romulus, keep it busy!” He commanded.

Romulus scoffed. “And how the blazes are we supposed to do that?!”

Mercury stopped on the porch of a house and set Athena down. “Stay here,” Mercury told her in a soft, yet commanding, voice. He turned back to us. “Think of something!′ He ran around the side of the building, leaving us to face the brute ourselves.

Romulus and I turned around and watched the bandit charge toward us. Romulus drew his wand and one of his pistols, pointing both at our opponent. I followed suit, pointing my wand at him. We started firing everything we could think of at the brute. Stunning spells he shrugged off, binding spells he used brute force to break free off. Romulus’ bullets buried themselves deep into the bandit, but he didn’t seem to notice.

Romulus and I continued to back away from the bandit as we continued our barrage. Romulus groaned. “Mercury had better hurry up!”

As he spoke, I watched as Mercury appeared at the top of the building beside the brute. He caught my eye and gestured for us to keep going. I glared at him, then continued to fire spells as the bandit. I elbowed Romulus in the arm and pointed toward Mercury.

We continued to back away from the bandit, toward the building where Mercury had dropped Athena off.

Just when the Bandit had finally closed the difference, that’s when Mercury acted. He got a running start then leaped off the side of the edge of the building, straight toward the bandit’s back. Mercury wrapped his arms around the bandit’s throat and hung there for a moment. I watched as one of Mercury’s arms disappeared, then reappeared with a dagger in hand. When I realized what he was about to do, I ran over to where Athena was standing and quickly turned her around.

I heard the groan of the bandit behind me, then an earthshattering crash! When I turned back around, Mercury was climbing off the back of the bandit, his arms now coated in red liquid.

“Well...let’s not do that again,” Mercury said breathlessly, trying to wipe the blood from his hands.

* * *

Simulation Terminated...

A computerized voice sounded throughout the village as it started to dissolve into a room made of reflective, silver metal. We all stood there for a moment, watching everything vanish. The blood on Mercury’s arms disappeared with everything else in the room. Two doors materialized at the far end of the room, both with a large viewing window next to it.

A tall man with greying hair and bright green eyes stepped out of the door on the right. He wore a pair of tan slacks and a white, button-down shirt with the top two buttons undone. His hair was kept short, but long enough to look ever-slightly windswept. We all stared at him as he stalked toward us.

“Heracles, a pleasure for you to join us,” My father said, as he approached.

I scowled. “You could have woken me.”

He glared at me. “And you could have stayed awake. You know when training is.”

I wanted to argue further, but If there was one thing my father had taught me is to pick my battles. This one wasn’t worth it. “I apologize.”

“Not only that, but you risked the life of your sister! What in the heavens were you thinking?!” He scolded.

I scowled deeper. “She’s ready for combat training! You know that!”

Mercury took a step forward. “He’s right, she has improved greatly with combat spells.”

“That is for me to judge,” Our father snapped.

Romulus scoffed. “Yes, coddle your baby girl. She’ll be ready for anything, I’m sure.”

Our father turned on Romulus. “You watch your tongue, young man!”

Romulus steeled himself for a fight. Athena came up behind him and placed her hand on his forearm. Romulus instantly relaxed, but still glared at the middle-aged man before him.

“Aside from the obvious, well done.” Our father said, looking around the room, clearly visualizing something. Whether he was reliving the battle or planning what he can throw at us next time, we are never sure.

“The obvious?” Mercury asked.

“We will leave it at that,” Our father said pointedly. I saw him cast a sideways glance at me, and my fists clenched. “Come along, your mother says dinner is ready.”

Our father marched off toward the door to the left. Athena hurried along to walk beside him. Mercury, Romulus, and I stay a few steps behind.

Mercury clapped me on the shoulder and spoke in a hushed voice. “It could have been much worse. You could have gotten extra training, like Rom.” Mercury looked over at Romulus. “How many more sessions do you have?”

Romulus looked up into space for a moment. “Two weeks worth, now...”

“If you behave,” I told him.

Romulus shrugged. “I’ve never been one to take orders.”

Mercury let out a hearty laugh. “I know, it’s been both entertaining and frustrating for most of your life.”

The three of us laughed as we entered the locker room. We spent the next few moments washing up and changing out of our training gear. We ascended the stairs fresh-faced and starving and as we entered the foyer, the smell of cooked meat filled our noses.

The rest of the evening was spent lounging about. Shortly after dinner Dad and Romulus descended back into the training room for Romulus’ extra training. Athena was curled up next to the fire with a book. Mercury and I spent the evening playing chess. I was normally a worthy match for Merc, but my mind was elsewhere tonight. My gaze kept finding its way to the window, watching the snow fall again as my mind wandered again.

I decided to turn in early for the night, heading up the stairs and to my bedroom, which I felt like I had just left.

Tired from the long evening of training, and the sense of unrest from the dream earlier. It wasn’t long before I slipped into the warm embrace of oblivion.

* * *

A forest spread out before me. I could hear birds chirping in the distance. Light shone down from the canopy high about my head. The smell of pine and earth filled my nose and surrounded me. I walked down an uneven path until the forest opened into a wide meadow. Wildflowers dotted the tall grass. The sky was a clear blue with small clouds spread out among it.

It was easily the most peaceful sight I had ever laid my eyes on.

I walked to the center of the meadow and breathed in the fresh air. The wind swept across the meadow, blowing through my hair and gently brushing my skin.

I heard a soft, sweet laugh from behind me. I turned and saw a blonde-haired girl standing there. A white sundress flowed down to just past her knees. Her pale skin seemed to glow in the warm sunlight. Her hair flowed gracefully in the breeze.

“It’s beautiful here, isn’t it?” She said, her voice was like chimes. “I feel like I could stay here forever, don’t you?”

I nodded in response. The girl seemed familiar, but I could not recall any memories of her. I smiled at her, watching her as she stepped around me. She bent over and plucked a flower, then weaved the flower into her hair, giving her an even more innocent look.

“You do remember me, don’t you?” She asked. I was taken aback, wondering if she had read my mind.

It’s a dream, I had to remind myself. She stopped walking to turn toward me, her armed behind her back.

“You don’t do you?!” She accused, but with a dazzling smile on her face.

I ran my fingers through my hair and let out a soft laugh. “I’m sorry, I don’t.”

She let out an exasperated sigh. “How could you forget your best friend?”

I frowned. My best friend? I had a best friend? I tried to think, tried to recall memories of her from before. I studied her face for a long moment.

She laughed again. “It’s alright, I guess.” She turned, beckoned me toward her with her index finger. “Follow me, I want to show you something.” She started to walk away from me and then disappeared into the trees.

“Wait!” I called after her. I ran through the meadow after her and into the forest again. There was no sign of her as I ran. She had left no tracks for me to follow, no clues. There was no sign that she had passed through here.

Then, suddenly, snow started to fall through the canopy, landing on the forest floor. Within seconds, the ground was covered with a thick coating of powdery snow, making it harder to run. The trees seemed thinner and further apart the longer I ran, it was almost as if I was running back in time. In no time, the trees had disappeared altogether and I was standing on a snow and ice covered plane. In front of me was a tall tower that looked abandoned.

“Heracles!” I heard the voice of the girl from within the tower. The voice was no longer sweet sounding, but corrupted by panic and fear. She was in danger.

I hurried into the tower, faced with an empty bottom floor and a staircase leading upward. Torches lit with blue flames lined the walls along the narrow, spiraling staircase. I bounded up the stairs, two at a time until I reached the landing at the top.

The doors leading into the next room beyond had been left wide open and there I saw the girl from the meadow. Her dress was torn in places and one of the straps had fallen. She had been tied to a sturdy chair. Cuts and bruises ruined her otherwise perfect skin.

“Heracles...” She looked up at me. “Please, help me...”

I walked closer to her and kneeled before her. Tears streamed down her cheeks. Her ice blue eyes pierced mine. “Head to the west, you’ll find me here. Please...save me...”

I heard a noise from behind me and turned in time to see something large come crashing down on my head.

* * *

I awoke with a start. The room was still as dark as I had left it, but the cold wind from the open window was unwelcome. I looked toward the window...

...just in time to see a black cloak disappear through it.

I leapt out of bed and leaned out the window, looking down. The cloaked figure hit the ice-covered ground hard, then started running. I grabbed my wand and dashed out of my room. It took me only a moment to reach the front door, wrench it open, and step out onto the frozen tundra. I looked around, shielding my face from the wind as I searched for the intruder.

“Heracles?”

I turned to see Mercury and Romulus standing in the doorway in their sleep clothes. There wands were drawn as well, held down at their sides.

Mercury took a step toward me. “What are you doing out here?”

I turned back around and took one last look for the figure. “I think we had an intruder...and there was this girl...I think I had a vision.”

“A girl?” Mercury said, obviously confused. “Who?”

I drew in a deep breath of the frozen air, turned back to Mercury and spoke without thinking.

“Nora...her name was Nora.”

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