Some Kind of Wonderful (Part 4)
Comics Retcon Universe 010
Some Kind of Wonderful
Charlie Sandsmark and his mother, Helena, travel around the world from one archaeological dig to another, looking for evidence of the ancient Amazonian culture. So far they have found nothing, until Charlie discovers something wonderful about himself on a small island in the Aegean Sea.
Author's Note: Here's Part Four of a brand new Retcon. I started to develop an interesting concept for what I thought was going to be a Wonder Woman story but as I started looking for ways to make her a believable teenager, I came upon Cassandra Sandsmark. A lightbulb went off in my head. I'd like to thank djkauf for the lightning quick editing and DC Comics for the use of their wonderful characters.
The dream was on my mind when I woke up in the morning. It was hard not to think about. In the shower, I couldn’t help but wonder what She meant by all of that. There were so many questions and no answers. It was hard to believe I was so blessed, especially considering at least three Gods had visited me now. Yeah, three. I didn’t really pick up on it until I thought about the tiara and the man who sold it to us. I knew there had been something familiar about him and it nagged me the rest of yesterday. But it wasn’t until I was in the shower that I figured it out. His face was scarred and he had a limp, there was only one person he could have been. Once again, I couldn’t think of his name. I knew it but there was some kind of force preventing me from thinking and saying it.
The only name not forbidden from me was Hera. How strange was that?
I got dressed in a rush and ran down the stairs. Jay was sitting at the kitchen table, reading the paper. The headline read BILLIONAIRESS SURVIVES BOMBING. It was all over the news still. Once again, I was glad that I wasn’t Olivia Queen. My grandma fixed me some breakfast as I stared at the paper, seeing the mangled burning wreck that once was a car. I shuddered at the thought, remembering the two bastards that tried to cream Connor and me on Saturday. It still bothered me that the two trucks were nowhere to be found. I began to wonder there wasn’t something else at play, something a lot worse than a bunch of Greek terrorists trying to kill me.
I looked about, noticing that Jay was the only present this morning. “Where’s Kate?” I asked, forking some eggs.
He folded the paper and set it aside. “She went into the city today, said something about a spa she wanted to look in to.”
I nodded. The Spa had gotten on her radar yesterday. She must have thought there was something strange about it, too. Or maybe she was looking for a place to work out. “There was a pavilion for it at the Carnival yesterday,” I said as an explanation.
He nodded. We didn’t talk much after that. About ten minutes later, Connor showed up. He was still beaming over the truck. He kissed me on the cheek and grandma gave him some eggs, too. He talked about the truck for a bit and then he and Jay talked football some more. I toned most of it out. We left for school after that, Jay following us in a rental. Apparently, he wasn’t allowed into the school as per the agreement with the school board but he’d monitor things outside. I think I liked school and The Bee a lot more after hearing that. It was one thing to have him as a bodyguard---not that I needed it---but I didn’t want him lingering behind me as I walked to class. Besides I don’t think whoever had tried to kill me would be bold enough to do it with all those people around.
School went by particularly slowly. In lunch, I caught up with Cissie though.
“How’s our mutual friend?” I asked when we sat down.
She looked around to make sure no one was in earshot before answering. “He’s doing good. I stayed at his house for a complete of hours after you left.”
I nodded. “Does he think he’ll come back to school?”
She shook her head. “He can’t see how. I’m going to tutor him until his parents can find a more stable replacement.”
We quit talking as soon as Amy showed up. She took one look at me and smiled. I’m not sure what she was so excited about until she opened her mouth. “What’s this I hear about you telling Britney Jones off?”
I groaned. I was wondering when that was going to get around. Cissie’s eyes practically bugged out of her head. So I reluctantly told them what happened. I think Cissie was happier than Amy. Apparently, Britney and her cheer friends were constant tormenters of hers. I guess that made everything better for me. We talked a little more about what we all did over the weekend. Amy was kinda annoyed that I left her out of things---not that I wanted to drag her to either place. Hey, I like Amy but I think she might have freaked about Eddie and let’s face it, I wanted some alone time with Connor yesterday, especially after our crazy Saturday.
School went about at a more normal pace after that. When it was finally over, The Six were waiting for me at my locker. I groaned a bit at the sight of them, remembering that I promised to go to the spa with them today. Artemis was leaning against the lockers; the others were standing about, looking out of place. I don’t think any of these girls fit well in most social environments. They kept looking around and flinched whenever someone walking down the hall got too close to them. They were particularly twitchy today, jumping at everything. There was something else about them too, they looked agitated. Akila kept rubbing her arm while Persephone and Karna kept tapping their feet. It was almost as if they were going through some kind of withdrawal. I wonder if it had anything to do with not being near their Nameless Goddess and their nutty cult leader.
“Finally” groaned Laris “we’ve been waiting like five minutes for you.”
“Sorry” I said, opening my locker and exchanging some books.
As we walked, Artemis talked. “Change of plans about our trip to Bay City. Apparently going on Wednesday didn’t really go well with the authorities so we’ll have to do it on Friday instead. Luckily the concert will be there all week.”
“What authorities?” I asked as we walked out the front doors and toward the parking lot.
Karna groaned. “The Elders of the other tribes.”
“This is a Bana event?”
“Not really” said Artemis “but they fronted the cash so they dictate the rules.”
I caught eyes with Jay. He was parked across from the school in his rental. I think he was trying to decide to follow or not. We exchanged several glances but in the end, he decided to stay put. I think he knew what I was thinking. There was no reason for him to follow if Kate was already there. He watched me until I got into Artemis’ car. Akila and Persephone got into the back as usual. I tried not to think about much as we drove off, heading toward the big city.
There were already a lot of girls in white when we got there. Unlike the last time, we actually had to take the elevator down into what I’m calling the “secret” part of the spa. I stared at all their faces, trying to see if I recognized anyone. The last time they were all bowed over in prayer but now they were standing about, chatting. They were young, the oldest about Donna’s age, the youngest maybe thirteen. It floored me that there were so many. I didn’t take a full head count but there had to be at least fifty or sixty girls here. I groaned... sixty brainwashed cult nuts. They didn’t come across as brainwashed of course---I think I might have been harsh in that assessment---but they were definitely being led in the wrong direction. I wondered how many of them actually knew this was all shit.
“We’re going to get changed,” said Artemis as she stood at my elbow. “You want to come.”
Several of the girls nearby turned to look at us. They didn’t look brainwashed either, they looked normal. Maybe a bit happier but they weren’t glassy eyed or anything. But all of them staring at me kinda gave me the creeps. So I reluctantly agreed to go with Artemis, if only to get away from their staring. I followed her and Akila through one of the doors they disappeared through before. I found myself heading down the same hall that led to Antiope’s office but instead of going straight, we went through another door on the left. The room looked like a locker room except the floors were carpeted and it smelled faintly like flowers; I’m not sure what kind. There were three rows of lockers in the center but not large ones like school, small ones like you’d find in a train station or something. Artemis pointed out an empty one to me so I sat on the bench and started to undress. I didn’t want to wear one of their white cult dresses but I was afraid the crowd would stone me or something.
“Here” said Akila, coming over with a white dress.
I’m not sure where it came from but I took it reluctantly. It was light and airy, designed sorta like a toga. I finished undressing, stuffed my clothes into my little locker and slipped the dress over my head. The material was soft, like silk and felt nice against my skin. Artemis walked over and handed me a pair of gold sandals. They were designed to look like Ancient Greek ones; they even had straps that could wrap up your calf. I looked at the others, they all had them done up just like that. When I put them on, Artemis agreed to tie them for me.
“I’m so glad you decided to join us,” she said, tying. “Antiope was worried you might be a little resistant to some of our ideals but she was confident that you’d come around in time.”
I nodded. I bet she was. “So what’s the big plan?”
Artemis smiled. “We’re having a competition.”
“A competition for what?”
Akila answered. “We’ve been honing our bodies and minds for months now, all in preparation for the Time of Change.”
That didn’t sound good. “What’s that?”
Artemis shook her head. “We’re not supposed to know right now. That’s why we’re all gathered here today. Antiope has received a new vision from the Goddess and she’s going to tell us more about it today.”
I groaned. This woman had all these poor girls wrapped around her finger. It annoyed the hell out of me to see them all so easily swayed. Especially Artemis and her friends. They were so strong willed and confident away from this place. But here they came across as giddy and bimboish, like Britney and her stupid cheerleader friends. Clearly, they were the same people but there was something about them that rubbed me the wrong way. It was annoying to think that Antiope could change people this much and so easily.
“C’mon” said Artemis as she finished tying my sandals. “It’s going to start soon.”
She pulled me to my feet and the three of us went outside.
The girls were already on the crowd, kneeling like before. Antiope was there too, standing at her podium. She was dressed much like before. She stared out at us all, locking eyes with me as I walked with Akila and Artemis toward some spots in the back. She followed me the entire way, her eyes narrowed. I thought I saw a bit of malice there for a second but it was quickly gone. She replaced it with a smile. I smiled weakly back. There was definitely something off with that woman. She was harmless of course but she still made my skin crawl.
“Girls” said Antiope when the three of us took our positions. “The Time of Change is almost at hand. I have spoken to the Goddess and she has asked me to prepare you all for what it about to come.”
The gathered crowd of girls murmured. I rolled my eyes.
“In preparation for the Time, the Goddess has asked me to test you girls” There were more murmurs. “There will be a series of competitions testing strength, endurance and skill. These competitions will last the whole week, culminating in a final showdown between the last two remaining girls.”
There were a lot of murmurs after that. A couple of the girls around me started to whisper and laugh. I think they were kinda excited, others not so much. Many of the girls here didn’t look like they could hold their own. I mean they were all pretty athletic but some of them were young, too young to be going up against some of the older girls. I scanned the faces in the crowd, looking at the assorted ages. Surely, she didn’t expect some of the twenty year olds to go up against some of the thirteen year olds. My eyes fell onto Kate and I was surprised. I didn’t see her earlier and was surprised that she was there at all. She looked completely different; her hair was up on her head in a high ponytail and her face all done up in makeup. If I didn’t know it was her, I’d hardly recognize her.
She locked eyes with me and shook her head. So I quickly turned away. So she was clearly still investigating this place, trying to figure out how all of it worked.
“This is going to be fun,” said Artemis softly. “Antiope told me the winner of the final competition will be considered the Champion of the Goddess.”
I opened my mouth to make some snide remark when Antiope spoke again. “Settle down now girls” she said, raising her hands and the murmurs ended. “I understand that all of you are extremely excited, as you should be. This competition is a great honor and those who succeed will be highly rewarded for their feats of greatness” There was a lot of excitement. I noticed she didn’t say anything about those who failed. “Now, I want to start this competition in an orderly fashion.”
I was surprised. She was starting it now. I looked at the faces around me; I think they were just as surprised. I was certain that something like this would take at least a few days to begin. But I guess it was no shock that she wanted to get it out of the way. The woman was ambitious and impatient. She smiled proudly at the girls assembled about her, her little white lambs. I couldn’t help but compare her to a hungry wolf. She looked at me again and her eyes narrowed. It was clear after our little talk that I wasn’t her number one person. I think she wanted me to fall into line like a good little soldier and when I didn’t follow her happy rules, I pissed her off. It didn’t help that the last time I was here I walked out on all this craziness.
The Competition started after that. She split us up into groups of ten at first. I was right that were sixty of us present, only a few of the older girls didn’t participate. I noticed that Kate was one of those girls. She was now standing on one side of Antiope, another girl about her age on the other side. I was curious as to why Kate was here anyway, she was a lot older than most. But Antiope clearly had a plan for her too. She was talking to her and the other girl, probably discussing a few things. I stared at them for a few seconds before I realized there was another girl standing behind me.
“Hey blondie” said a voice with a sneer.
I turned and this girl was just as blonde as me. She was a lot more butch looking though. She was pretty but not super model like me. She had cold eyes too. I sized her up, knowing that I could probably snap her like a twig.
“Dalma” said Artemis “don’t start today.”
The girl, Dalma, ignored Artemis. She stuck her finger into my chest. “This is my competition. Antiope told me all about you, how she has such high hopes for you but you better get one thing straight, I’m going to be that Champion.”
I smirked. “You can have it.”
Her eyes narrowed and she stomped off.
“Sorry about her” said Artemis “I think she was dropped on her head when she was born.”
We laughed. This was the Artemis that I knew and loved.
Antiope called us all to attention after that and blew a whistle. The Competition of Strength began. It was actually in a couple of stages, the first being weight lifting. There were a lot of strong girls in my group but a lot of them dropped out pretty quickly. I noticed that all of Artemis’ friends passed, Laris struggled a bit toward the end but she pulled through. After that, we went to chin ups, sit-ups and jumping jacks. I think it was all an attempt to weed out the strong from the weak. The Strength Test lasted for what seemed like hours. Finally, Antiope blew a whistle, many of the girls collapsed from exhaustion.
A tall dark haired girl wove through the groups, passing out bottles of that Nectar sports drink. When she got to me, I waved her off. I didn’t need it. Just like all the other times, I didn’t break a sweat. Then another girl went through the groups taking a tally of those of us who were still standing. I took a tally as well. Out of the original sixty, ten were now out. They were all the younger girls, which was to be expected. I felt kinda bad for them; they were all happy to be here before and now they looked totally burned out. The girl with the Nectar bottles and another girl helped them all to their feet and helped them off somewhere.
Antiope got back up behind her podium. “That concludes Day One of the Competition. I congratulate those of you who are still standing. Tomorrow will be Day Two and the Test of Endurance; I ask that all of you bring a good pair of running shoes.”
There were a lot of groans. I looked over at Artemis and she smiled. The girl, Dalma, looked smug too. She glared at me when she saw that I was still standing. I think she thought I’d drop like the preteens. But if I could help it, I’d be in this thing until the end if only to prove to the bitch that I was better than she was.
“Ignore her,” said Artemis as she saw Dalma staring.
I nodded and followed my friends to the locker room to change.
After that, we went home. When I got inside, Jay was sitting at the table with my grandma and Donna. He smiled at me when I entered. He opened his mouth and I beat him to it. I told him about the spa and their harmless little competition. He pulled out a little note pad and scribbled things down. He stayed for a few hours after that, talking with Donna mostly. Even though I knew there wouldn’t be anything romantic going on between the two of them it was nice that they became friends. I have to admit I felt a little bad about setting the two of them up, especially after she cried in my arms about Barbara.
When Jay was gone, Donna frowned. “Are you sure this competition thing is a good idea?”
I shook my head. “I know it’s not but there’s something about this woman. I’m not sure what it but she rubs me the wrong way. Before I wanted to avoid this place but now I want to be there just to see what she’s planning.”
I quickly told Donna all about the Time of Change.
“Sounds like a bunch of crap to me” she said when I finished.
We sat on the couch and watched TV the rest of the night. When I went to bed, Glaucus was in my window as usual.
When Tuesday came around it was the Test of Endurance, right after school. I don’t think I’ve seen Artemis and the others more excited. On the car ride over, it was all Akila and Persephone could talk about. Me, I sat in silence, wondering what the woman had planned. When we got to the spa, there was already a group gathered in the main room upstairs. They were dressed in running gear, which could only mean one thing. Artemis and her friends shared a knowing smile. Me, I looked at the gathered group. It was a lot smaller than I remembered from yesterday.
“A few of the girls dropped out last night” said a voice from behind me, I turned and saw Kate.
She motioned me away from the group. We slipped into a secluded corner. “What the hell is going on here?” I asked.
“This place appears to be on the up and up” she said “they have all the proper permits and things like that but there’s something about that woman” I nodded. “I couldn’t find anything out about her because of that stupid name. She’s either really good at hiding who she really is or she’s got a lot of connections, higher ones than my clearance.”
“So what does that mean exactly?”
Kate shrugged. “While you guys are out running, I’m going to linger behind here and snoop a bit in her office, see if I can find anything.”
“You think it’s a Cult?”
She nodded. “It looks like it but I can’t be sure until I gather more data. I don’t want to blow the whistle on this place just yet.”
“Are the girls in danger here?”
She sighed. “I think it might be harmless but I’ll know more as soon as I find out who that woman really is.”
I nodded; then the two of us parted ways, going back to the group at different times so as not to draw suspicion. I thought it was kinda cool that she was taking the initiative about this place without me even asking. I think she noticed something off at the Carnival and wanted to poke into it herself. It made me like Kate even more. She saw something wrong and investigated it without being told to do so. It made feel more secure knowing she had my back and maybe it made me trust these people a little bit better.
The Test started a few minutes later. It was as I thought it might be. We weren’t broken up into groups this time but that didn’t stop us from gathering with our friends. Kate joined the other girl to stand with Antiope. Antiope raised her whistle and blew. We all took off as a group, running to our hearts content. I’m not even sure how she pulled all of this off but no one seemed to stop us as we ran through the streets. As a group, we made our way to the nearby park. About ten minutes into the run, a few of the girls started to lag behind. I suppose it was inevitable. I retained a good pace for a while, staying in the middle of the pack with Artemis, Akila and Karna. I’m not sure where Persephone, Laris and Anaya were.
After another twenty minutes of running, the pack thinned even more. We were staying in the park now, running about it again and again. Another twenty minutes and a few more dropped off. I looked around, seeing a lot of the girls pushing themselves to the limit. At the head of the group was Dalma. I had to hand it to her, she might have been all talk but she was pretty tough. She was clearly the one setting the pace and the other girls were just trying to keep up with it. About another twenty minutes---and several missing girls later---, Artemis made her move. She wove her way through what was left, making short order of the would be leaders. Soon it was her and Dalma, neck and neck. Akila pulled away too, followed by Karna. I retained my pace, letting them play it out for a bit. It wasn’t before long though that I found myself at the end of the pack, most of the other girls were gone now. Behind me, I could hear a few, among them Laris and Anaya.
If I were a betting person, I’d say this was probably all that would make it to Test Three tomorrow.
After another ten minutes, I made my move. I put on a little speed, passing Karna. I heard her groan and curse behind me. When I got to Akila, she smiled. I think she said “about time” before I passed. Now the lead consisted of Artemis and Dalma neck and neck and me closing up fast. I’m not sure when they noticed I was there but it didn’t take me long to get up beside them. Dalma looked surprised, Artemis just laughed.
“Taking your time I see,” she said with a smile.
“I had to let you have some fun first,” I said with a laugh.
“This one is all you then.”
I took the invitation and pulled ahead. Dalma tried to keep up but she fell behind rather quickly. I tore ahead of the others, going for several minutes before I heard the whistle. I turned and saw that I was the only one running now. Antiope was sitting on a park bench, Kate and the other girl sitting on either side of her. I was surprised to see Kate actually, wondering if she got a chance to look in Antiope’s office. I gave her a look and she smiled. I sighed, wondering what it was that she might have discovered.
I finally stopped, making a big circle to jump back to stand before the bench. Antiope stood up, beaming.
“That was very impressive indeed,” she said, trying to pass me one of her bottles of the Nectar. I waved it off and she frowned. “The Goddess will be smiling down on you tonight.”
“As long as she doesn’t watch me while I’m undressing I could care less” I said and meant it.
Antiope glowered a bit and I walked off. A lot of the girls were on the ground, panting. Artemis tried to pass me her bottle of Nectar but I waved it off. Dalma was slugging away on her’s and gave me a dirty look. I ignored her and wandered past several of the girls as they congratulated me and slapped me on the back. I finally got Kate alone, the two of us standing over by a tree together. She looked around to make sure we were truly alone before speaking.
“Everything is clean,” she said softly. “I couldn’t find a thing on her at all. Her real name is Rebecca Crossan; she’s an elementary school teacher in the city. She’s been a part of this organization for years.”
I nodded. “What’s the deal with it then?”
Kate laughed. “They’re a youth program. They take a lot of kids off the street and give them an outlet. There’s a lot of places like this one all over the country, located in different facilities of course.”
I nodded. “And the Amazon thing?”
She laughed again. “Just a lot of pretend. She does it to make things interesting.”
I sighed. So she was harmless after all. That didn’t mean I liked her though. We left the park after that and went home. I didn’t say much when I got into the house. Jay was there but he said he’d already talked to Kate. I warmed up some leftovers, sat in front of the couch until bedtime. Glaucus sat there and watched me again until I drifted off to sleep.
The Test of Skill---the final of the three tests---started the exact same time as the other two. It was kind of a welcome reprieve after a rather boring day of school. At lunch, Cissie continued to talk about Eddie, her main topic for the last three days. Amy talked about basketball, trying once again to recruit me to the team. Their only talent was her so she was kinda desperate. Me, all I could think about was what Kate had told me yesterday. Antiope---or rather Rebecca Crossan---was harmless. I found that hard to believe, especially the way she kept looking at me. She might appear harmless, even on paper but there was nothing harmless about that woman. She was hiding something. I’m not sure how I knew it but I just did.
When we got to the Bana, there was no group gathered in the main room. Artemis led the way to the elevator and we all rode down in silence. On the ride over, she was kinda excited about today. At the end of the Test of Skill, the Champion would be named. She assumed it would be me---Akila and Persephone said as much too---but I wanted nothing to do with it. When I told them that, Artemis’ face lit up a bit. I think she really wanted it more than anyone. She was welcome to it as far as I was concerned. The only reason I was here was to make sure nothing out of the ordinary happened. I’m not sure why but this place just didn’t feel right to me.
When the elevator doors opened, there were nine girls waiting. They were dressed in workout clothes, looking like they were ready for anything. This room used to be big and open but today it looked like a damn obstacle course. There was a climbing wall and some ropes. There were a couple of archery targets set up along the one wall and another arena roped off, it looked like a wrestling ring. I couldn’t help but be impressed a little. Whoever had set this up was damn serious about all of this. I guess I couldn’t blame them. It all looked pretty impressive.
“Welcome girls” said Antiope as she came from her office hallway. She smiled at everyone, including me for once. “I’m glad to see so many of you still willing to compete.”
Kate and the other girl appeared behind her, dressed in workout gear too. Kate looked at me and smiled. It bothered me that she couldn’t find anything on Rebecca Crossan. I nodded to her and smiled back.
After her initial pleasantries, Crossan---I refuse to think of her as anything but---told us what was going to happen. We’d start as a group at first, moving from one station to another. Whoever excelled at one specific station moved onto the next until only one girl remained. It seemed easy enough. There were murmurs from the others. Of those present, I only knew Artemis, her Six and Dalma. The other girls I was only familiar with because I had seen them over the last few days. They looked fit enough to compete but were they Champion material?
The Test started with the ropes. The best ten times moved onto the next station. We went in pairs. Laris and Anaya first, followed by Persephone and Akila. Artemis went against one of the other girls. Ever so slowly in wound down to Dalma and me. She was strong and fast but I got up the rope first. I’m not sure she liked that very much. She kept giving me a dirty look. After we were done, two of the girls I didn’t know were gone. After that, it was the rock-climbing wall. I think Antiope was trying to prove something because she pitted me against Dalma again. I’ve never been much for the rock wall but I scaled it faster than her. Which I think only made her more pissed.
We lost two more girls there, one of them Anaya.
We moved onto archery and Artemis kicked ass. I think the girl was made for the bow, I’d never seen anything like it. We were each given a quiver with six arrows and the one who got all six as close to the bulls-eye as possible would move on. I think Artemis put everyone in. It was the most amazing thing I’d ever seen. She seemed fairly surprised too, like it was someone else guiding her hand. I couldn’t help but smile and wonder if naming herself Artemis had something to do with it. I was one of the last to go. The girls before me didn’t do too badly. Akila was good but Persephone faltered. Laris and Karna did well enough to possibly move on. When Dalma went, she was just as good as Artemis.
When it was my turn, I surprised myself. I put them all in a cluster, not exactly bull’s eye but pretty damn close. In the end, only six of us moved onto the little ring. It turns out I was wrong about it being a wrestling ring, it was something much more.
“Congratulations to you six, you are the finalists” said Crossan, a wooden sword in her hand. “This is the final test. The last person standing will be crowned Champion.”
We all nodded. I was sad that Persephone and Laris were gone but they just weren’t good enough in the end. I looked at those around me and at the lone stranger. She was tall and well built with long black hair and tanned skin. I didn’t know her name but it was a good bet that whatever she called herself it was Greek in origin. I smiled at her but her face was like a mask. I guess she wasn’t here to make friends.
The Unknown Girl got to go first, putting her skills to test against Karna. The two of them were outfitted with leather arm-guards, chest coverings and helmets. The swords were wooden and taped so they wouldn’t do any serious damage but they still looked wicked. They stood on either end of the little area, tapped the wooden blades to their helmets and went at it. They delivered blow for blow, wood clacked against wood. They were fast, faster than I would have thought. The Unknown Girl dominated. She overpowered Karna, finally forcing her to the ground. Crossan blew the whistle before Karna got too mangled.
The Unknown Girl walked off, giving me a smug look. Kate helped Karna out of the ring. I did the numbers in my head, realizing that not everyone was going to get an initial first fight. I think Crossan planned it that way. She let Drusilla go next against Akila. Dalma was a mad woman with that sword; she swung it like crazy, taking Akila off her feet with only two blows. Then Artemis went up against the Unknown Girl. The two of them fought furiously, swinging and slashing, each trying to get the upper ground. Then Artemis slipped. She didn’t go fully down but the girl used it to her advantage. She went in for what should have been the final blow. Artemis spun to her feet---her slip planned---and slashed the girl in the back. She fell forward and hit the mat hard.
Artemis won, me and the others cheered.
Then it was finally my turn. I looked over at Crossan and she smiled smugly. This was a part of her plan from the beginning. She’d been pitting me against Dalma at every chance she got. I think she was trying to deliberately put me out of this thing, like she was teaching me a lesson. I couldn’t help but smile. As if Dalma ever had a chance of getting near me. Ok, I’ll admit she had skill but she was definitely not even in the same league as I was. But I let her try. After getting suited up and handed my wooden sword, I stepped into the ring. The bitch didn’t even wait for the whistle, not that Crossan seemed to mind. I think she might have even smiled.
Dalma came fast, swinging for my head, I blocked easily. I let her throw her swings hard, left and right. They weren’t much. She had a lot of power and strength but no skill. She kept throwing them out there, straining herself. It didn’t take long for her to tire. Me, I bided my time, walking around the ring as she slammed into me. Eventually she stopped to pant, bending over. I didn’t even have to try hard. I walked over, put my foot on her shoulder and pushed her flat on her back. I heard Artemis and the others cheer. I turned to Crossman and gave her a smug smile. She returned it with a sneer.
She faked her applause. “Well done, Cassandra,” she said, clapping and smiling. “Do you wish to rest or do you want to face the last opponent of the evening.”
I shrugged. “Let’s just get this over with.”
“Very well” said Crossan, turning to Artemis. “I believe that’s you my dear.”
I saw a look of dread on Artemis’ face. She’d seen how I let Dalma tire herself out and probably thought I’d do the same. In truth, I had no intention of harming her. In fact, I had every intention of letting her win this thing. As I said before, I didn’t want to be Champion. Artemis had been beaming about it for the last few days. She wanted to be the Champion so much, while I just wanted this stupid thing to be over with. Just so long as Dalma didn’t pulverize her in the ring, I was happy. I smiled in her direction, which seemed to raise her spirit some. I waited patiently as she stepped into the ring. I didn’t attack, not even after the whistle was blown. Artemis came at me hard, blow after vicious blow. She was putting everything she had into it and I was feigning exhaustion. I had to make it look good and convincing. So I lunged a little too far to the left, slipping a bit. It was all an act but the effect was quick. When I glided past her, she drove her elbow into the square of my back.
The blow actually took the wind out of me. I fell face first into the mat.
Crossan seemed overly satisfied. I heard her shout. “WE HAVE OUR CHAMPION.”
I pushed myself to my feet and brushed the dust off me. I looked over at Kate and she smiled, giving me a wink and a knowing nod. I returned the gesture and slowly made my way out of the ring, allowing Artemis her moment of glory.
When I woke up on Friday, I was a lot more refreshed than I thought I might be. If I’d still been Charlie, a week like the one I just had would have put me in bed for days. Now that I was Cassie, the last few days were a walk in the park. I should have spent yesterday recuperating but instead, I ran. I thought about the Tests and what they might mean. It still bothered me that Kate didn’t find anything about Crossan. It was hard to believe that the group she belonged to was a harmless organization, especially after pitting the group of us against one another in a competition like that. Especially seeing, as I still had no idea what was going on.
I groaned as I climbed out of bed. I was hoping for another dream last night, maybe another Goddess to explain things. But my dreams have been Olympian free. I’m not sure what I dreamed about and that bothered me. I was hoping for some guidance, maybe a Game Plan to tell me what to do next. It’s not that I didn’t believe Kate---she had no reason to lie---but I was convinced that Crossan was just better at hiding things. I thought about it all day yesterday, wondering how I could get the dirt on her. The real dirt I mean. In the end, the best thing I came up with was to just play along with whatever little game she was playing. I’d let her think I was a team player and then start snooping. It was a stupid plan but it was the only one I could think of.
I went through my morning routine and went downstairs.
Grandma was already putting breakfast on the table. I smiled at her and took my usual seat. It was one of those mornings, the day before the weekend and I was ready for relaxation. When I told her about the concert in Bay City, she was a little reluctant for me to go at first. I think she thought those guys from Greece would try something again. The only way I could reassure her was to call Cameron. She was just as reluctant as grandma until Kate came to my rescue. She agreed to be my “chaperone” which worked out really good seeing as she was in really good with Crossan. With that matter settled, all the important adults in my life were all for it. When I say important ones, I leave my mother out of that list. She tried calling the day after the Exhibit opening but I refused to talk to her. I didn’t want to sit on the phone with her and listen to her criticize me about whatever. I’ve spent the last sixteen years of my life listening to her complain about this or that.
“Do you have your bag for the weekend?”
I grabbed my duffel and gave it a gentle shake. My grandma rolled her eyes. “Is something wrong?”
She laughed. “Not too many young ladies your age would put everything into one duffel.”
I smiled. “I’m not like most girls.”
“I have no doubt about that.”
We ate breakfast in silence after that until Connor arrived. Grandma gave him a kiss on the cheek and a hug. Now that I was sorta his girlfriend, grandma was treating him more like family. She always treated him well but lately it was like he was already married to me. No, I’m not thinking about marriage this early. I had to laugh at that thought. A few weeks ago, it was the farthest thing from my mind and now the thought of it made my heart flutter a bit. Of course, I never thought I’d be the one walking down the aisle.
“So how did your competition thing go?” asked Connor as soon as we were inside his truck?
Now that we were kinda an item, I made a promise to myself to not keep anything from him. He knew all about the spa now and my apprehension about Crossan. The only thing he knew about the place was the rep it got in school. All the girls raved about it and were jealous of those who were members. They could be jealous all that wanted as far as I was concerned. There was nothing special about the stupid place.
“I let Artemis win,” I said with a smile.
“Are you ok with that?”
“I didn’t want to be their Champion, whatever the hell that is.”
After our match on Wednesday, Artemis was practically glowing. I think she knew that I threw it on purpose but that didn’t seem to faze her in the least. She was just happy that she got all the praise and glory. I’m not even sure what it all meant. I don’t think she did either. After the match and the celebrating, Crossan took Artemis to her office. I waited for her for a while but she never came out. Kate ended up giving me a ride home. I tried calling her that night but her mother said she was really tired and went to bed early. When I saw her at school on Thursday, we talked very little. She said being the Champion was just a title and that it didn’t mean anything. She seemed happy about it though, her giddiness still very apparent. The only one not happy about it was Dalma. I found out yesterday from Persephone that Dalma’s real name was Debbie Domaine, yeah that’s her real name. She was some rich snob, raised by her even richer aunt. This whole Amazon thing was some kind of game to her at least it was until the whole competition thing was announced.
According to Persephone, Debbie didn’t like to lose. After everything was over, I tried talking to her in the locker room and she was pretty pissed off. She made some idle threats, told me she was going to make my life a living hell. It was kinda funny actually, this girl threatening me after she knew I could kick her ass so easily.
My day at school was slow and boring like most Fridays I suppose. I---like most of my other fellow students---couldn’t wait for the day to be over. At lunch, Cissie continued to talk about Eddie and the progress he was making. She was definitely smitten with him. I made a mental note to ask her if the two of them had taken their relationship to the next step. I had a suggestion about how to do it too. I did some research on the subject the other day and I think I found the answer: fireproof gloves. Amy talked about the team but seemed distracted. I’m not sure why but she kept looking around. I tried to follow what she was looking at but I couldn’t see anything out of the ordinary.
Artemis and her friends didn’t show up at lunch. At the end of the day, I waited at my locker, alone. For a minute or two, I thought maybe they left without me until Persephone showed up. She was alone, huffing as she ran up. She looked a little worn out. Her face was pale, her face was a little disheveled and her fingers were involuntarily fidgeting. It was like she was going through a withdrawal. I wonder if it had anything to do with those pills, they kept popping?
“Sorry, the others are at the car already.”
She even sounded exhausted.
“Are you all right?” I asked, speaking with genuine concern.
She nodded. “Just a bit tired I guess.”
She was more than a bit though. I could tell that by just looking at her. It was way she moved through the hall too. We walked into the throngs of people together; usually Persephone was pretty adept at avoiding people. But today it was like she didn’t even care. At least three or four people walked right into her. One guy actually got a little disgruntled until I put him place with a deadly stare. After that, I took her hand and made sure I was with her the whole way. When the two of us got out of the school, Artemis’ car and Karna’s car were parked out front. Karna had a brand new BMW, like Debbie aka Dalma, her parents were loaded. I’m not sure what her first name was but her father was a big time Olympic decathlete, Jefferson Pierce. The money came from a lot of endorsement deals.
Karna frowned when she saw Persephone lagging behind.
“What took you so long” she snapped, a little more agitated than usual.
I looked at the group assembled; they all looked a little out of sorts. I wonder if all of them were going through some kind of withdrawal symptoms. After all, drugs weren’t allowed on school premises. Except if they were prescription and you could only get them from the nurse. My fears were answered as soon as Persephone and I got into Artemis’ car. We didn’t get more than a foot from the school before they were passing the little bottle back and forth. Once again, it was passed to me but I shook my head. Artemis gave me an annoyed look but I ignored it. It took a while for the pills to take effect; it was a very quiet hour. But as soon as they were all “juiced” up or whatever, they were all back to their cheerful, talkative selves. Which was fine by me because I wasn’t sure if I could sit in this car for almost four hours without anyone to talk to?
Still the conversation wasn’t much. The girls in the back---Akila and Persephone---were excited about the concert. It’s all they talked about most of the ride. It was some new pop idol, I didn’t catch her name. She was big time but I’d never heard of her. But that didn’t stop them from telling me all about her. It was kinda strange really; the three of them---Artemis included---were such huge fans. If you looked at them, you would have never guessed. Akila even made Artemis hook her iPod up to the car stereo so all of us could hear the song. I wish I had earplugs. It was one of those sappy, upbeat dance numbers. I tried to tone it out but with it blaring from every speaker, it was hard.
Thankfully, they didn’t play music the whole ride. I think I would have pulled my hair out if they did. The rest of the way we talked about various things, none of which happened to be the competition. I think this was supposed to be a weekend away from all that. At least I was hoping it would be. It was kinda fun finally interacting with these girls outside of school and the spa. Maybe now I’d get to know who they were really were and who they weren’t pretending to be. My main mission: find out their real names.
We arrived in Bay City around six or so. We went to our hotel. It was brand new apparently, something Wayne Enterprises built on the waterfront. It wasn’t ritzy by any means but it was a lot more glamorous than most of the hotels I’d stayed in. Trust me; I’ve stayed in a lot. We carried our bags inside, even though a few bellhops tried to give us a hand. I loved the looks on their faces when he saw the six of us file in carrying these huge duffels. Me and the other girls went to wait in a little reception area while Artemis handled the rooms.
“How are we paying for all of this?” I asked, looking at the shiny marble floor and fancy décor all around me.
Akila answered. “Antiope’s group is fronting the bill. She said after a strenuous couple of days, all of us needed to unwind a bit.”
“So the group is fronting the bill for the other girls to do something like this too?”
Akila laughed. “Nope, we’re special.”
I’m not sure if I understood that. I opened my mouth to ask what she meant but Artemis came back. She had a slight frown but other than that, everything seemed to be all right. “They could only give us two doubles,” she said as we stood up from our seats. “Three of us will have to be in singles.”
It was quickly decided that Artemis, Karna and I would take the singles. I think the others were happy for that. Persephone and Akila got to room together---the two of them seemed real close. Laris and Anaya got to be together too, which I think made them extremely happy. I was pretty certain the two of them might have liked one of the singles because it was clear they would only be using one bed. My only question was where Kate would be staying. She drove down here separately and I had yet to see her arrive. I wonder if she was already here or if she’d show up later. I wanted to ask but I didn’t want to sound like a prude who needed an adult to watch after her.
We went to our rooms after that. There were on the fourth floor, mine had a nice view of the Bay. After getting settled, we all decided to get something to eat. There were a lot of little shops in downtown Bay City. We found a quiet little place to eat. We were there for about an hour or so before we returned to the hotel to get ready for the concert. I had no idea what to wear to something like this but unfortunately for me, Persephone came to my rescue. I say unfortunately because she stuck in my very first skirt. I can assure you I was not a happy person.
I kept fidgeting, trying to tug it down to cover my butt more.
“Look at you” she laughed. “You’d think you were a guy and this was the first time you’d ever worn one.
I gave a fake laugh. If she only knew. “It’s a little short.”
“Sorry about that. It belongs to Karna. She’s the only one tall enough for you.”
We left for the concert after that. I got a lot of stares when I got off the elevator. Someone might have even whistled, which embarrassed the hell out of me. The doorman hailed us two cabs. Ok, so it turns out that the concert wasn’t actually in Bay City. It was actually in neighboring Saginaw. I’m not sure, why we didn’t just stay there; maybe the Bana people could only get a hotel here. I didn’t worry about it too much. The ride to the Dow Center wasn’t very long. When we pulled up outside it, there was already a large crowd. Artemis took the tickets from her purse, passing them amongst us. The building was all glass, in a circular formation.
Once we got inside, it was a squashing experience as we made our way to our seats. They were pretty good; we had an excellent view of the stage. I scanned the crowd, seeing a lot of female faces. When I say a lot, I actually mean most. There were a few guys---some were probably gay while others were there to drool. The one face I was hoping to see and didn’t was Kate. I suppose this wasn’t really her thing but I was hoping that she’d at least be hiding in the shadows or something. I wasn’t sure what I’d do if those bastards had followed me here and decided to go after me again. I hoped the large crowd kept them at bay. I definitely didn’t want to show off in front of all these people, especially my friends.
My apprehension disappeared as soon as the concert started. It felt a little strange to be going to a concert in the winter, I was sure they were usually a summer thing. But apparently, winter was the theme for this one. The stage was all decked out in a winter motif with fake icicles and things like that. The backup dancers were dressed in winter gear and the singer herself---a blonde pop princess---was decked out in a thick winter coat, scarf and gloves. I went into this thing thinking I was going to have a horrible time but I actually didn’t. Thanks to the impromptu concert on the ride over from Chicago, I knew most if not all of this girl’s songs now. After the first or second, I actually found myself singing along with the rest of the girls around me. Ok, I’ll admit it, I had a good time. The concert lasted for three hours or so but it felt a lot shorter than that. By the time we got out of the Center and hailed a couple of cabs, it was after midnight.
It was close to one by the time I got back to my room. Without my daily exercise, I was exhausted. I trudged over to my bed and collapsed. It wasn’t long before sleep took me.
I woke to a loud knocking on my door. At first, I thought it was my grandma and that I overslept. I snapped awake, throwing my covers off. I fumbled out of bed and ran for the door. If I overslept, I could run to school no problem. It wasn’t until I was at the door and opening it that I realized I wasn’t in my bedroom. Artemis was standing there, already dressed for the day. She had a big smile on her face, seeing me standing there in my bra and panties. Yeah, I didn’t have my nightshirt---I forgot it at home. I flushed several shades of crimson and she laughed.
“We’re both girls,” she said as she slipped into the room.
I groaned and shut the door; glad it was her and not the bellhop.
I watched as she looked around the room a bit and then she sat on the bed. I went over to my duffel and opened it. I dressed quickly, back into my usual jeans and t-shirt. I can say without a doubt that I hated every bit of that skirt last night. Ok, so that’s not one hundred percent true. Most of the night I didn’t even know I was wearing it until some guy looked at my legs. But it made me feel uncomfortable whenever I thought about it. I might have mentioned this before but I’m a definite tomboy. I think Connor understood that and hell, I think he kinda liked it too. I’m not saying he’s one of those guys, but I knew for a fact that girls who tried too hard to impress him were not the ones he liked. I’m not sure what he saw in me but I knew whatever it was it was something different.
“Are you all set?” asked Artemis, fidgeting a bit.
I nodded. “Where are we going that’s making you kinda antsy?”
She smiled. “Now that we’ve gotten the concert out of the way we figured we’d hit the shops a bit. There’s a huge downtown shopping experience here.”
I inwardly groaned. Shopping, of course it would be shopping. But maybe there was something I could get out of it too. There was a little museum here; Mom brought me here once when I was younger. I wasn’t allowed to browse its contents at the time because it was after hours but there was one exhibit I really wanted to check out. So if these girls were shopping then I was going to rope them into a little culture too. Of course, I’d keep that bit a secret until I sprung it on them so they wouldn’t be able to weasel out of it.
I gave her a knowing smile and the two of us left my room.
I let them have fun with their shopping. We hit downtown first, going from one shop to the next. There was a surprisingly large variety of shops. I even found myself browsing a bit in one of the boutiques. I still had some money left---ok, a lot of it---from the government incentive. But I didn’t want to spend any of it, at least not on something as frivolous as what they were buying. Artemis and her friends might have been jocks but they were girls too. They went a little crazy in their spending; especially Karna who I finally learned had the real name of Anissa. I thought it was kinda pretty actually, wondering why she’d ever want to go as anything but.
In another small shop, I ended up alone for a few minutes with Persephone. Once again, she didn’t look too good.
“You ok?” I asked as we casually browsed through jeans.
She nodded but we both could tell she was sick. “I’m just a little nauseous that’s all.”
I took her hand and pulled her out of the shop. There was a pair of benches a couple of feet away. I brushed off the snow and made her sit. She tried to protest and get up but I pushed her back down. Her eyes widened at that. I don’t like being forceful with friends but it was clear that Persephone needed to get off her feet. She was paler than yesterday afternoon and she was fidgeting a little more. She fumbled for her purse, reaching inside. I knew what she was going for so I grabbed her wrist. She tried to pull her arm free but I held firm. I’d been pretty passive about their pill popping but I could no longer stand by.
I reached into the purse with my other hand and got her pills. I took out the bottle and held it away from her. “What are these anyway?”
She reached for them but I kept them away. She bit her lip. “They’re nothing. Just something to help give an edge. They’re harmless.”
“If they’re so harmless then why is it that you guys look like hell whenever you’re not taking them?”
She didn’t have an answer. She longingly looked at the bottle. I could see it in her eyes; she’d do anything to get it from me. I let go of her wrist and stood up. I no longer cared who was watching. I held the bottle in my hand and crushed it like a grape. The look of shock on Persephone’s face was priceless. But it wasn’t shock for what I just did it was shock for what she just lost. As soon as I let the remnants of the bottle crumble to the ground, she followed it with her eyes. I groaned, disgusted.
“What the hell is going on here?” asked Artemis as she came up behind us.
Persephone jumped off the bench and ran over to her. “She crushed my pills.”
Artemis gave me a stern look. “What the hell is your problem?”
I scoffed. “My problem. You guys have the problem. Those things are dangerous; they’re fucking with your heads.”
Artemis laughed. “They’re vitamins.”
“Here you go, sweetie,” said Akila, giving Persephone another pill.
Persephone took it and popped it quickly, a look of pure ecstasy spread across her face. I groaned. It was clear that these girls were hooked on these damn things. They were too far gone to see it though. I wanted to scream and thrash all of them, make them see what I could. But there was no way any of them would listen to me. Instead I angrily stomped my foot on the ground, leaving an imprint in the sidewalk. They didn’t notice that. Instead, they all glared at me, looking like they wanted a fight. I didn’t want to but I’d do so if they attacked. I was tired of them and their stupid pills. They were obsessed with them and it was dangerous.
“You guys have to see that there’s something wrong, right?”
Artemis answered me. “The only thing wrong here was thinking that you could ever be one of us.”
As one, they turned and walked off.
I stood there, stunned. I couldn’t believe the bitches would leave me like this. I felt the tears starting to swell but I forced them back down. I stood there and watched as they walked off, disappearing down the street. I didn’t turn and leave until they were completely gone. I hailed a cab, asking the driver to take me to the museum. Just because my so-called friends abandoned me, it didn’t me I couldn’t have fun. The cab dropped me off at the museum and I finally got to look at the Space Exhibit I wanted to see for so long. There was a funky looking rock in a glass case that looked promising. The display said it was from Mars, which was pretty cool.
I spent awhile in the museum before I hailed another cab and went back to the hotel. I thought about going to Artemis’s room to see if they were there. But as soon as I walked into the lobby, I changed my mind. Instead, I asked the girl at the front desk if my friends were back.
“I’m sorry sweetie, they checked out an hour ago.”
She shook her head. “Do you want me to cancel your room too? It is paid up for the next two days however.”
I smiled big. “That’s ok; I think I’ll take advantage.”
The girl smiled and I went to my room. Inside, I ordered some room service, the most expensive thing on the menu knowing that it would be billed to my room. Then I used the phone. The first person I called was Kate. I was kinda worried about her, hoping that she didn’t run into my Greek friends. When I got her voice mail, I got even more worried. I quickly told her what happened and told her that whatever spying she’d done she forgot to look into the pills. It was clear that the girls were having real problems with those. After that, I called home. I talked to grandma for about an hour. She wanted to know about the concert and asked if I had a good time. I told her the truth and I think she was happy.
“They seem like such nice girls,” she said toward the end of the conversation. “You should have them over for dinner sometime. I’d really like to meet them.”
“That’d be lovely, grandma” I said, fighting back tears.
“Are you all right?”
“I’m fine, just a bit tired.”
I hated lying to my grandma. She told me to get some rest and then hung up. I called Connor after that, the two of us talked even longer. I told him everything.
“And the pills are making them nutso?”
“Maybe. It might be nothing but it’s too much of a coincidence.”
“What are you going to do?”
I shrugged, even though I knew he couldn’t see it. “I’m going to stay here tonight and come home first thing tomorrow. I left a voicemail with Kate, telling her my fears. If they come back today and you happen to come across them, stay away.”
“You’re the only girl in my life, babe.”
I smiled. “I’m serious, Connor.”
“Don’t worry,” he said with a laugh. “I’d never go anywhere near them or that place.”
We said our goodbyes. I told him I’d see him tomorrow and maybe the two of us could spend the day together. I think he liked that. After getting off the phone with him, I tried calling Cameron. I got another agent who told me that Agent Chase was currently unavailable. I left a message, telling her to have Cameron call me as soon as possible. I thought about calling Jay but figured Kate would check in with him. So after my phone calls, my food arrived. I’d never had lobster before, it was really good. I spent the rest of the evening before bed watching TV.
I drifted off to sleep after that.
A tapping woke me up. I sat up and looked around, groaning. There was a stiffness in my neck and I realized I fell asleep on the couch. The TV was still on but muted. I looked around, bleary eyed. For a second, I didn’t know where I was. Then I recognized the fancy furniture and groaned again. I was still in my hotel room. I staggered to my feet and stumbled toward the bathroom. I had no idea what time it was but it definitely wasn’t daytime. I went to the bathroom, did my business and came back out into the main room. It amazed me how big this place was, it was like a penthouse or something. I think Artemis called them staterooms or something. They were swanky actually; the only thing missing was a little kitchen.
I caught a glimpse at the clock when I walked back into the room. I groaned again. It was four am, far too early to be up. I grabbed the remote, shut off the TV and made my way toward my room. As soon as I got to the doorway, I heard the tapping again. I stopped and looked around. It was too dark to see much but the moon was shining through the windows, casting the only light into the room. What I saw shocked the hell out of me. Sitting on the balcony, as close to the glass as he could, was Glaucus. He was tapping on the glass with his beak. I blinked, thinking maybe I was imagining things. I closed my eyes and when I opened them, he was still there.
“You’ve gotta be kidding me” I said as I walked slowly over to the window.
I easily opened it up but the owl made no move to hop inside. Instead, he cocked his head and fluttered his wings.
“What do you want?” He fluttered his wings again, turning his head as if he was pointing to the outside. I shook mine. “It’s four in the morning; I’m not following you again.”
He flapped his huge wings, buffeting my face with a gust of air. I groaned. “The last time I followed you led me to a strange old man in the park.”
He cocked his head and flapped his wings again. I gave up. It was clear that he wasn’t going to leave me alone until I did what he wanted. I waved my hand and agreed to go with him as long as he stopped flapping. I think that made him happy. I went over to the couch and got my sneakers, pulling them on quickly. I found my coat and turned before heading out the door. Glaucus flapped his wings and flew off. A part of me knew that he wouldn’t go anywhere until I was outside; don’t tell me how I knew that.
I got into the elevator and went down to the lobby. The girl at the front desk was gone, replaced by a guard in a gray uniform. He smiled at me, I mumbled something about getting an early start on the day but he didn’t say anything. Once I got outside, I looked around for my winged Alarm clock. I caught sight of him on a building across the street. He flapped and took off, flying toward the lake. I gave chase, walking at a brisk pace first. It didn’t take long for me to pick up speed. Luckily, the streets were pretty much deserted so I could run through them without a problem. Glaucus’ flight path led him straight toward the lakeside where I knew there was a marina and lots of boats. I also knew there were some warehouses there. I didn’t know what was in any of them but a lot of big companies stored things there. Sure enough, Glaucus flew into the marina but didn’t stop there. He went right toward the warehouse district. I followed him until I came to a chain link fence. It didn’t seem to stop him as he flew right over, for me it was a restriction. I couldn’t see a guard but I knew there had to be one.
Glaucus flew to a nearby warehouse, landing on the large WE attached to the front of it. I sighed. It belonged to Wayne Enterprises. I’d seen a lot of familiar warehouses back in Chicago. Mr. Wayne did a lot of business from all over the world and a lot of his stuff was brought in on boats. In fact, most of the artifacts Mom helped him acquire came in on cargo ships.
Glaucus flapped his wings again. I sighed and shook my head. There was no way I was going to break any laws tonight. I was already in enough deep water with the authorities as it was. Climbing a fence and poking around a restricted warehouse probably wouldn’t look too good for me. Glaucus made a loud hooting sound; it echoed across the emptiness and bounced around me. I tried to ignore it but for some reason it lingered in the air around my head. Finally, I groaned and nodded. I grabbed the fence and started to climb, hoping this was what the stupid bird wanted me to do. Why the Owl of Athena was leading me to a restricted warehouse in the middle of the night was beyond me.
On the other side of the fence, I landed softly.
Still there was no guard. I got to my feet and sighed, wondering what this was all about. I looked up and Glaucus and shrugged. The owl flapped his wings again. I groaned then walked toward the warehouse. There was a huge gate in the front, probably where trucks and things drove through. It looked like the biggest garage door I’d ever seen. I suppose I could lift it without any problem. But I’m not sure what kind of alarms it would have. Instead, I found a side door, wondering if this was, what the bird wanted me to do. As soon as I got to the door, I knew it was what he wanted. The door was ajar slightly, a dim light escaping from the thin crack of openness.
I pulled it open a little more and slipped inside. The first thing I saw was the guard. He was lying on the ground, face down. I ran over and checked his pulse. He was alive but unconscious. Someone clearly got the drop on him. Now I knew why Glaucus brought me here, he wanted me to stop whoever did this. I took a deep breath and left the man where he lay. I followed the little hall, finding myself in a maze of large containers and wooden crates. The dim light in the room was coming from overhead lights, casting their beams in sparse places, making the light patchwork at best.
I followed a straight path, wondering what I was up against. A small part of me wondered if this was some kind of trap. I knew Glaucus wouldn’t willingly lead me into something like this but maybe he wasn’t as All Knowing like I thought.
After a few feet, I came upon a second guard. He was unconscious too. So whoever had broken into this place, they weren’t out to kill anyone. When I got to the end of the row, I saw them a split second before they saw me. One of them turned around and recognition seemed to dawn on their faces or rather their masked faces. They were dressed all in black, five of them. They had a couple of wooden crates open already, Greece stamped on the side. I groaned, realizing what was going on here. These were the same guys from the museum, the ones who kicked my ass in the dark. Cameron and the Chicago PD had looked everywhere for them but they disappeared without a trace. Everyone was convinced they were looking for something important in my mother’s office but seeing as nothing was taken they didn’t find what they were looking for. But seeing them here now I knew it had to be something from Greece, probably something connected to my Mom and Mr. Wayne.
Unfortunately, I didn’t get time to think about it because there weren’t five of them. There were six. The sixth one came from behind, slamming his feet into my back from above. I fell to the ground, but instead of being taken completely off guard by the sneak attack, I rolled before I impacted. The rolling brought my assailant down with me, tripping up his legs. He went down as I went up. As soon as I got to my feet, the others were on me. It might have been a little outmatched, what with their being five attackers to my one.
But hey, I’m me.
Two attacked as one at first. They both threw fists toward my face. I threw up my arms, their fists connecting with my bracelets. They fell back, allowing two others to come. They threw kicks. I sidestepped one and grabbed the other by the foot. I threw the one I was holding aside. The assault came again, five on one once more. Punches and kicks mainly. They were fast and nimble, working as one. On any normal person, this kind of attack would completely overwhelm them. But I’m not a normal person. I shrugged off the hits like they were love taps. I don’t think they were expecting it. They came at me a little faster after that but once again, I blocked their blows.
I needed to get them one on one.
I moved in, going for their leader. At least I think it was the leader, they were all dressed the same and they all seemed to move the same. I was tired of playing and drove my fist toward his face. He threw up his hands to block me but my blow still hit hard. I threw him back, causing him to crash into a stack of wooden cracks. The others seemed to be little dazed by this. They came at me, now still five on one---the guy who dropped on me earlier back into the game. Two came at me again with high kicks. I drove them back, grabbing their shirt fronts and slamming them into one another. They collided hard and stumbled back, falling into the darkness on either side of us.
Now three on one.
I turned to the last three wondering where the attack would come. But it didn’t. Instead, the three of them turned and disappeared. I gave chase after the closest one, disappearing into the dark after them. They were going toward one of the windows, running hard and fast. One of them kept pushing boxes in my path, trying to stop me. I plowed through the boxes like they were nothing. I ran harder than the one I was chasing, catching him as he made it toward the window.
I reached out and caught him by the shoulder as he made the jump. I pulled him to the ground, knocking the wind out of him. As soon as I got my hand on him, I knew he wasn’t a he. I also knew that he or rather she was a lot younger than I originally thought. I grabbed the top of her mask and pulled it off her head, a cascade of long blonde hair tumbled down her back. I was surprised but not altogether shocked until I turned the girl around. As soon as I did, I gasped.
Chapter Twenty One:
Never in a million years did I think I’d end up back in an interrogation room. But I suppose there was no explaining the situation I was in. After all, I was breaking and entering on private property, there was a total of three unconscious security guards---I never saw the third---and I had no explanation as to why I was there. Apparently while I was fighting, one of the aforementioned guards radioed it all in. He apparently wasn’t as down as his attackers thought. After giving the call, he pulled his weapon on me and told me not to move. I suppose I could have beaten the crap out of him and escaped but good guys don’t do that. Then again, good guys don’t break into places and get arrested for it either.
I groaned, running my hands through my hair. It had been one hell of a night or is it morning. I’m never really sure what to call this time. I looked up at the clock on the wall; I guess it was morning now. I laughed, wondering how much trouble I was in now. After the guard caught me, I tried to explain things. After all, I had one of the real culprits in my clutches. I was still not sure how I wanted to response to that. But the guard thought she was my accomplice which made no sense seeing as she was dressed all in black and I was standing over her, holding her shirt as if I just beat the hell out of her. I didn’t of course. After I pulled off her mask and she turned around, I was too shocked to do anything. I almost let her go but I held firm.
The cops arrived pretty quickly after that. I let them do their thing. But not before I was sure, they secured Persephone. She struggled and fought with them a bit but there were three or four of them. They ended up having to taze her to get her down. I was pretty pissed at that but I was in no mood to cause any more trouble. So I lay down when they told me and let them handcuff me. I tried to explain things to the officers but they kept reading me my rights. I did manage to tell them to call Agent Cameron Chase, so hopefully they were nice enough to do that.
What they weren’t nice enough about was making me wait. I’d been in this room for at least an hour with nothing to do but stare at the large glass window making up the far wall. I knew all about that window, I’d seen enough cop shows to know there was another room on the other side of it. There were probably three or four guys in that room, staring at me right now. I could have given them a show. I thought about snapping the cuffs and throwing the table through the glass but that wouldn’t accomplish a thing. It would also only prove Cameron’s point---I was dangerous and needed to be locked up. In the end, that’s what they wanted to do with me anyway. This morning---we’ll go with morning---I just proved that pretty well.
I heard someone walking down the hall. I perked up at the sound, glad that I’d no longer be sitting here in boredom. When the door opened and the guy stepped in, I was surprised. If I didn’t know any better I would have sworn I was in some old 1930’s crime movie. This guy was tall with chiseled features and dark hair. He wore a gray suit and looked so much like Bogart it was uncanny. He was carrying a cup of coffee and a bottle of water. When he sat at the table across from me, he set both items on either side of him. He made no move to give me the water. I couldn’t help but think that this was all part of his tactic. Clearly showing me the water was some kind of attempt to make me spill things to him because I was so thirsty.
I wasn’t about to play his game.
He finally looked at me and smiled weakly. “Cassandra Sandsmark” he said with a sigh.
I nodded. “That’s what they call me.”
He smirked. “They call me Dan Hunter.”
“Nice to meet you” I said even though I’m not sure if I meant it or not.
“That’s a very pretty name” he said “like the doomed seer of Troy.”
That surprised me. Not too many people would have been able to make a connection like that. It was clear that Detective Hunter---there was no way this guy was a normal cop---was a little smarter than the average person. I suppose that made my situation a lot easier. Smarter people were easier to convince and reason with.
“Not too many people would have known that.”
He smiled. “We all have our secrets.” I nodded, he sighed. “What’s yours?”
“I don’t understand.”
He laughed. “I ran your name through the databases and you come up clean, too clean. So I had a buddy of mine in the FBI do the same thing. Do you know what he found?” I shook my head. “Cassandra Sandsmark didn’t exist until about a week or so ago. He found her easily enough but anything after that was severely classified.”
This time I smirked, it paid to have friends in high places. I didn’t want to act smug but this guy started it. Not that I could really dislike him. He reminded me of Bogart and I love Bogart. I couldn’t help but love this guy for some reason.
I shrugged. “I can’t tell you anything.”
He sighed then rubbed his temples. “Why don’t we start with things you can tell me?” I nodded. “What were you doing in the warehouse at three in the morning?”
There was no way I was going to tell him that a mystical owl or whatever led me there. I hated lying to this guy but he would never believe me. “I was out for a run; I do it all the time. I was running through the marina when I noticed the lights. So I got a little curious and climbed the fence to investigate.”
He nodded but he made no move to scribble anything down on the little pad he carried with him. “And the girl you were standing over?”
“She and her friends came out of nowhere and attacked me.”
“Interesting” he said and nothing more.
I shrugged. “Can I make my one phone call now?”
Hunter didn’t respond. Instead, he ran his fingers through his hair, looking extremely frustrated. “The other girl didn’t say much of anything. She doesn’t even know how she got there. We told her some of the facts and she’s a bit confused. When we mentioned your name, she admitted to knowing you. In fact, she said the two of you were friends and that you were here with a group attending a concert in Saginaw. Do you want to change your story now?”
I bit my lip. I figured Persephone would try to lie to save her own skin. I wonder what the hell was going on there. I opened my mouth to try again when I heard a commotion in the hallway. There was some raised voices and two people coming our way. Before I knew what was happening, Cameron pushed her way into the room followed by another woman. The other woman frowned and looked exhausted. Cameron locked eyes with me, she didn’t look too happy. Me, I tried to look as innocent as possible. I’m not sure if it worked or not.
“Sorry Dan, she pushed past me.”
“That’s ok, Dolores.”
Cameron turned to Hunter. “Special Agent Cameron Chase, Homeland Security” She flashed him her badge quickly. “Miss Sandsmark here is under DHS protection, you have no right to detain her.”
Hunter looked like someone took the wind from his sails. I felt kinda bad for him. He recovered quickly though. “She’s a suspect in a burglary.”
Cameron smirked. “She’s a fool who can’t keep her head out of things. I assure you that Miss Sandsmark is a nobody. She’s been helping us in an ongoing investigation into some antiquity thefts, she’s our key witness.”
Hunter nodded. “Do you usual allow your witnesses to go stumbling into crime scenes?”
Cameron smiled. “She’s a bit difficult.”
Hunter laughed. I could tell he didn’t believe her story but there wasn’t much he could do about it. The two of them traded some words back and forth. It was kinda fun to watch but in the end, Cameron came out on top. Hunter came over and uncuffed me. He even apologized. As I stood up, he slipped his card into my hand and whispered. “If there’s anything you can’t tell me and want too, don’t be afraid to give me a call.”
I smiled. Why is that everyone gives me their business cards?
Cameron did a little more of her glaring and then made sure I left the room first.
“I’m sorry about all this.”
“Save it” she said as she led me down the hall. “We have more work to do.”
I didn’t know what was going on until she led me to another room. She pushed the door open and I saw it was identical to the one I just left. Sitting at a table, with a cup of water, was Persephone. When she saw me she perked up but she looked like hell.
“Cassie, what’s going on?” she asked, tears in her eyes.
Seeing those tears made me well up a bit. I know I was kinda mad that the six of them left me but they were still my friends. I wanted to walk across the room and give her a hug. I almost did too. until Cameron put a restraining hand on my chest. It was clear that she was the only one thinking straight. I almost forgot that Persephone was a part of a group that attacked me, twice. I took that to heart as I took a deep breath and walked over to the table. There were two chairs across from her, I took one and Cameron the other.
Persephone looked from me to her and back again. She looked dazed and confused, like she’d just woken up from a dream.
She looked like hell too. She was fidgeting in her seat, rubbing her hands together repeatedly. I’d seen this behavior before; it was just like earlier when she didn’t have her pill. Clearly, she was more dependent on them than I originally realized. I wondered if the other girls went through something similar when they didn’t get their fixes.
Cameron spoke first, setting a folder on the table. “Why don’t we start with your name?”
Cameron rolled her eyes. “Your real name.”
If she was shocked, Cameron didn’t show it. Me, I was thrown for a loop. Crossan, Persephone was the bitch’s daughter. She saw the look on my face and I think she knew that knew. Her eyes narrowed a bit at that. “You’re Antiope’s daughter?”
“Step daughter” she corrected with some vinegar.
Cameron nodded. “Tell about earlier this morning.”
Persephone groaned. “I don’t remember.” She said, running her hands through her hair. “The last thing I fully remember is leaving Cassie on the sidewalk. The others were angry and bitching about it but I felt kinda bad.” She looked at me. “You were only trying to help.”
I smiled. Cameron butted in. “Stay on task, Miss Crossan.”
Persephone sighed. “We went back to the hotel. We were going to spend the rest of the weekend here but the others wanted to leave. Karna called the front desk and I went to lie down. I was really tired and….that’s all I remember. The next thing I know, I’m in a police car being driven here.”
Cameron nodded. “Tell me about this spa of yours.”
I tuned out the next part. I didn’t need to hear about The Bana again. Persephone spilled her guts though, telling Cameron everything. It was all the stuff I knew. It was clear that Persephone and her stepmother had problems but you could never tell that by the way she talked about the spa. She made it sound like the most wonderful place in the world. It was kinda sickening actually. But I guess I’d already made my own mind up about it. It was pretty clear now what the place was really about. They were brainwashing girls, making them do horrible things. I knew it was a bad place but I never realized how bad until I saw Persephone under that black mask. The others had to beArtemis and the rest. I had to wonder if Persephone was the only one that couldn’t remember or if they were all like that.
Persephone finally finished. Cameron asked another question. “Have you ever been to any other Wayne facilities?”
“Ummm….I don’t think so.”
Cameron nodded. Then she pulled something out of her folder. It was some pictures. She laid them out on the table, facing Persephone. It was several shots, depicting Artemis and her friends wandering halls at some place. It might have been Wayne Enterprise but I couldn’t be sure. I could clearly see Persephone. I looked at the time stamp, it was dated a day before the Exhibit opening. What in the hell was going on?
“Is this not you here?” asked Cameron, tapping the picture.
Persephone’s eyes widened. “I don’t remember.”
“How about this?” asked Cameron, putting a few more pictures on the table.
They were shots of the girls wandering around the Field; one of them had a digital camera, taking pictures of the hall where the Exhibit was housed. I sighed this time. It looked like they were casing the place, looking for something. I looked at Cameron but her face was stone cold.
“I…ummm….I don’t know” said Persephone, there was a bit of fear in her voice.
“What is this?” I asked just as confused as she was.
“These pictures were taken by the security cameras in both Wayne Enterprises main building and the Field. If you pay careful attention to the time stamps you can see they’re on the dates leading up to that big party you went to.”
I nodded. “The one where I was attacked in the basement.”
Cameron nodded. She narrowed her eyes at Persephone. “You claim not to remember either of these events?”
Persephone nodded. “I hate museums; they’re too moldy and dusty for me.”
“I think she might be telling the truth,” I said, looking into Persephone’s face.
There was something about the way she was looking at me, the way she talked. I’m not sure how I could tell but I just knew she wasn’t lying. I was certain that she had no memory of any of the events that conspired earlier this morning. Maybe it had something to do with whatever brainwashing was going on. Maybe it had something to do with those damn pills. Those girls last night were fast, too fast to normal. The first time I encountered them they were even a match for me. Even if it hadn’t been dark, I was pretty certain they’d be able to go toe to toe with me. It was like those pills were making them stronger and faster except for last night. There was something different then. They were still pretty fast but they were clumsy too. I didn’t notice it at the time but they seemed out of synch.
Cameron didn’t reply to me. Instead, she brought forth a pen and a pad of paper. She slid it across the table. “Miss Crossan, I want you to write down the names and addresses of the other girls that came to Bay City with you.” Persephone picked up the pen. “Their real names.”
She nodded and then started writing. Cameron turned to me. “Can we talk out in the hall?”
I nodded then the two of us left the room. We walked a little bit away until we found a secluded place. “Some one has done a real number on your friend back there.” I nodded. This doesn’t look good at all.”
“What about Kate?”
Cameron groaned. “Agent Spencer went off the grid twenty four hours ago.”
I groaned. “I was wondering why I didn’t see her. She was supposed to be chaperoning this little event of ours. You don’t think…”
Cameron reached into her pocket and pulled out a card. She handed it to me. There was one name printed on it: Sebastian Ballesteros.
“He’s an international Arms Dealer and Smuggler. He’s bad news. He’s been linked to a lot of dirty things, he’s on both the FBI’s Most Wanted List and Interpol’s. No one has an exact location on him but there are reports of him in the Mediterranean around the time you and your mother were there.”
It was like a light bulb. “You don’t think he was…?”
She nodded. “Agent Faraday thinks so. We don’t have any pictures of Ballesteros just a brief description of him, it matches the man you met and tangled with in Greece. It also matches the description of a man that arrived in this country three days after you got back.”
She reached into her jacket and took out a grainy photograph. She showed it to me. “That’s him.”
Cameron nodded. “This was taken at JFK. He disappeared after that.”
“You think he might be in Chicago now?”
She nodded. “Clearly there’s something that you’re not telling me.”
I bit my lip. I’d been wondering about that for a while. He’d been looking for the Girdle of Hippolyta. He gave me some bull story about it being a treasure of his people, one that they had been protecting for years. I’d completely forgotten all about that, especially with everything that happened afterwards. But now I was starting to put some things together. If Ballesteros was looking for the Girdle then did that mean Antiope was too. I mean why else would Persephone have his name in her pocket. But it made no sense. Why would an international scumbag be connected to a spa in Chicago?
Cameron was looking at me; I realized she was waiting for my answer. But could I trust her? I looked around, making sure there was no one about. Then I took a deep breath. “I think he might be looking for the Girdle of Hippolyta.”
She scoffed. “I’m a little rusty on my Greek myth but isn’t that the thing Hercules took for one of his Labors?”
I nodded. “He asked me about it in Greece.”
“Why would he think you have it?”
I took another deep breath and showed her my gold bracelets. “Because I think I do.”
Her eyes widened. “I don’t understand.”
I took another deep breath; it was the day of them apparently. Then I gave her a rushed account of events, leaving out the Gods, of course. It didn’t take me all that long. As I was telling her, things were starting to fall into place for me. Hippolyta was Queen of the Amazons and it was hardly coincidence that there was a group in my hometown city claiming to be modern day ones. I thought maybe it was Fate before until I found out they were frauds. But maybe my first assessment was right. Somehow, I was supposed to find those girls but not in the way, I thought. Antiope was up to something, something bad. Well maybe not her personally but definitely the group she worked with. They wanted the Girdle and they hired Ballesteros to get it for them. When he failed in Greece, they tried other means. But what didn’t make sense was why they didn’t come at me directly.
Cameron finally spoke. “You think you’re wearing the Girdle?” I nodded, she smiled real big. Then she laughed. “I’ve heard some crazy things…”
I glared at her. “You don’t believe me?”
She shook her head. “Sorry Cassie, but it’s a little hard to swallow.”
Ok, I’d give her that. “Then why else would they be here?”
“Your mother’s work” said Cameron like it was the most obvious thing in the world.
Now I was really confused. “I’m not following.”
“After you left Greece, she had a meeting with Mr. Wayne. He sent a team to that island of yours and they brought back a lot of the artifacts found there. It was a joint operation between his people and ours. Just like us, he was convinced that whoever tried to kill you in Greece was after something on the island. So we set the Exhibit up as a sting but they must have realized it and sent their team in undetected. That’s why they ransacked your mother’s office because whatever they were looking for wasn’t a part of the display.”
“You didn’t tell me this?”
She shook her head. “It was on a need to k now basis.” She shook her head sadly. “When the sting failed, we figured they’d try again. A lot of the antiquities that Mr. Wayne brings in end up in various warehouses around the country…”
She didn’t have to finish because I finished for her. “That’s why they came here.”
She nodded. “We think they were in the warehouse looking for whatever was on that island. Something there is worth a fortune.”
“The Girdle” I said, holding up my wrists. “But it’s not on the island, it’s right here.”
She laughed again, not taking me seriously. “Whatever that something is we know have a leg up on them.”
It dawned on me then. “You know their base of operations?”
She nodded. “I’ll call it in as soon as we finish up here.”
“You’re going to the Bana” She didn’t deny it. “Let me go with you!”
She laughed. “The only place you’re going is back home. You’ve done enough, now it’s time for the real heroes to step up.”
“There’s nothing I can do about it”
I groaned. “C’mon Jay, maybe you can talk to her.”
He was driving me home, we were almost there now. I was still really pissed at Cameron for cutting me out of this. After all if it wasn’t for me then she wouldn’t have gotten this far. Ok, so maybe I’m giving myself too much credit but I was the one who caught Persephone. It just pissed me off that I’d been in this up to my elbows and when it came to the final act, they were leaving me behind. I’m not saying I wanted to be there when they arrested my friends but I did want to be there when they finally shut down Crossan’s crazy operation. I tried to convince Cameron to change her mind as we were leaving the police station but she was sticking too her guns. She didn’t want me anywhere near the place while they did their thing.
I glared at Jay. He sighed. “Don’t give me that look. You know exactly why she doesn’t want you to be a part of this.”
I did but that didn’t mean I liked it. She thought I was too close but as far as I was concerned, that made me the perfect candidate. I had an “in” with them. I could waltz right into the place, distract whoever was there and make it easier for them to get in. I told that plan to Cameron but she said they weren’t going in the front door. She didn’t give me the exact details but I had an imagination enough to know what was going to happen. I’d seen it in the movies and on TV. They were probably going to go in there with guns drawn and lots of tear gas. Ok, so maybe not quite like that. It would probably be really stealthy but it still didn’t mean I couldn’t help. I’d proven myself in a fight. I could handle anything Crossan threw at me.
“You’re going to need me,” I said finally, more to myself than to him.
“That might be true but I’m not in charge,” He laughed. “If I was, you’d be the one leading this charge. But Faraday and Chase call the shots. If they say no go for you then it’s a no go. I’m sure they have their reasons.”
I grumbled because he made a point. I sighed and decided to change the subject. “What’s going to happen to Persephone?”
He sighed. “One of our teams is bringing her back. She’ll probably go into the hospital for a few days and get treatment. Whatever drug they had her on has really messed her up bad. After that, she’ll probably go into some kind of rehab. Those friends of yours are really dangerous.”
“They’re not my friends, at least not when they’re like this”
He nodded. “If what you’re saying is true and the girls were really being brainwashed then I’m sure whoever makes the big decisions will go lenient on them. That nut job Crossan will see some serious time though.”
I sighed. “Why didn’t Kate flag on the drugs?”
He shook his head. “I guess that’s something to ask her when she finally shows up.”
We didn’t say anything more about her. I think we were both thinking the same thing. Either Kate was a zombie like the rest or she saw something that she shouldn’t have. I couldn’t think about what that might be. I liked Kate and it pained me to think of her in any trouble.
Jay glanced over at me for a second, he must have noticed I was worried because he said: “Hey don’t worry about Kate, she can take care of herself. She was a member of SERE and she did some training with a martial arts master in Detroit. Ozawa’s pupils are supposed to be the best in the world; you have nothing to worry about.”
I nodded. It was a little reassurance but it made me feel a lot better.
The rest of our ride was in relative silence. Jay let me pick the stations on the radio. I have to admit that one of the songs from the concert came on and I actually listened to it. Jay made a face but I kinda liked it. Yep, call me a Convert. I was still in pretty bad spirits though when we pulled into my driveway. Grandma was there waiting for us. She invited Jay in for dinner like always. I could tell he wanted to but he had to decline of course, he was going to be a part of the team that went into the spa. Grandma took my bag and brought it into the house; I stayed to try one last time.
“You won’t even know I’m there.”
He laughed then grabbed a napkin from the floor and scribbled a number on it. “This is my cell. I’m not sure you’ll need to call but if you don’t hear from me by tomorrow afternoon, call me. If I don’t answer I want you to phone it, don’t try to be a hero.”
He winked as he handed me the napkin. I smiled. “You’re a good guy, Jay Garrick.”
He laughed then got serious. “Everything is going to be all right, Cassie. As soon as we get this out of the way, you can go back and live a normal life.”
We laughed then said our good byes. He said he’d stop by before he had to leave and I made him promise to at least stay for a few more dinners. We shook on it and he drove off. I went into the house and found Donna waiting. She gave me a hug and then asked me to tell her all about everything. I gave both her and grandma the details. Grandma let out a sigh of relief but there was something else. She looked worried and glanced more than once toward the hall, back toward grandpa’s study. I tried to ask her what was wrong but she told me it was nothing to worry about.
After that, the day was kinda a blur. I called Connor; we talked for about an hour or two. Then we ate dinner but I barely touched my food. My mind was on the team and what they were probably doing at that exact moment. I hoped they didn’t hurt anyone inside. They might have been a bunch of brainwashed crazies but they still were innocents. I went to bed thinking about it and had a hell of time getting to sleep, I kept tossing and turning.
When I finally drifted off, I had the strangest dream about a bunch of pigs running around the lobby of the spa.
Chapter Twenty Two:
When I woke, pigs were still on my mind. It was the craziest dream in the world, most likely brought on by my hunger. I’d eaten very little last night and as soon as I opened my eyes, I could smell bacon. How creepy is that? As much as I wanted to get up and greet the day, a small part of me wanted to stay in bed. Not that I was tired but I just wasn’t ready to go to school without my friends being there. I know they were probably in the process of being read their Rights but it still sucked. A small part of me wanted to see them get in trouble---a very small part---the rest of me feared that they were going to be locked up forever. It was the same part of me that feared the same for myself. I mean when this whole thing started, Faraday hinted at that being a possible fate for myself.
No one---not even Crossan---deserved to be stuck in a hole for the rest of their lives.
When I finally got out of bed and showered, I made my way slowly down the stairs. Sure enough, Grandma was putting a plate of bacon on the table. I couldn’t help but laugh, wondering if my dream was close to waking. I read somewhere that dreams close to waking were actually influenced by the environment of the waking world. Or something like that. Anyway, I wonder if I smelled the bacon and combined that with my apprehension about the mission. They were two freaky things to stick together but dreams are weird that way.
“Has Jay called yet?” I asked as I sat down.
My grandma sighed. “No, and I don’t expect him to. They probably had a very busy day, I’m sure they’re still in the process of figuring things out. I’m sure Agent Garrick will call when everything is all sorted out.”
I huffed, grabbing a piece of bacon. “I should have been there with them.”
Grandma sat down at the table, laying her hand gently over mine. “You worry too much; everything is going to be just fine.”
I laughed. “You’re probably right. I’ve been so worried I’ve been having crazy dreams. I dreamt about pigs last night, in the spa of all places.”
I laughed, grandma didn’t. She looked a little pale for a second but laughed shortly thereafter. “Dreams are strange that way.”
There was something off about the way she said it though. “Are you all right, grandma?”
She sighed and nodded. “I’m fine, dear, just a bit more worried for Cameron and her people than I thought.” She made no move to grab any bacon for herself. She looked off into space for a second then smiled at me, it was kinda a sad smile. “When you get home today there’s something I want to show you.”
I nodded. “Connor and I were going to do something but I think he and I could come by….”
She waved me off, with a big smile. “No, you go off with your man. You and I can talk about my stuff once you get back.”
In truth, I didn’t really want to go off with him. It was his idea actually. After I told him about how worried I was last night on the phone, he had suggested it. He said it might be good to take my mind off things. I tried to tell him I was fine but he was insistent about it. So after school today he was going to take me to an early dinner and then a movie or maybe vice versa. The two of us hadn’t really nailed down the details yet. I think he was trying to protect me and keep me from doing something stupid. He was a sweet guy but there’d be nothing he could do to stop me if I wanted to go to the city. Not that I’d ever hurt him.
Ten minutes into breakfast, the phone rang. Grandma got up and answered it. I perked up as soon as the ringing started, hoping it was Jay. The conversation didn’t last long. When my grandma came back to the table, she saw how anxious I was and shook her head.
“That was Connor sweetie, he can’t pick you up this morning”
I sighed, bummed. “He said something about baseball practice.”
I groaned, completely forgetting about that. Connor wasn’t just a football player; he played baseball in the spring. The practice this morning was nothing official; there was still snow on the ground after all. It was more of a case of the team getting together and working out in the school’s weight room. They liked to get an early start at it so they all went into school about an hour early. Connor told me about it on the phone the other day and reminded me about it last night. He wanted to make sure I got a ride to school.
Of course I didn’t. I didn’t have my license. I wasn’t home when I turned sixteen and because I was barely home to drive, I never got it. I was planning too as soon as I got home from Greece but things happened. I suppose grandma could drive me to school but one look at her and I knew she was in no mood to do much of anything.
Something was definitely bothering and it wasn’t related to the DEO raiding the Bana. I wish I had more time to sit and ask her about it but there was no way she’d let me miss school. I hated leaving her when she was so sad but she’d skin me alive if I tried to weasel out of school today.
So I did the next best thing and called the only other driver I knew. “Hey Amy” I said, taking the phone into the living room. “You think you can give me a ride to school?”
“I’ll be there in ten,” she said and I hung up.
I said good-bye to grandma and waited for her on the front porch. She was actually here in five; her house was not that far away. When she pulled unto the driveway, I was surprised. Amy was driving a Jeep but nothing modern. It looked like a Jeep from one of those old Army movies, the thing was ancient. There were several spots of rust on it and most of the green paint was so faded that it looked almost gray. She saw my frown and grimaced. I was cautious about getting anywhere near that thing.
“Is it safe?” I asked in a joking matter.
“Get in the car, girl.”
We both laughed and I slipped into the passenger seat. She asked me about Connor as we drove to school and I told her about baseball “practice”. Then she asked about my weekend, specifically about the teeny-bopper concert---her words not mine---that I went to. She tried to talk me out of it all week but I wanted to go. Well, not really to the concert but I did want to spend some time with the girls. Look how badly that turned out. I was kinda vague with her. I told her the concert was ok but the rest of the trip was kinda a drag. She wanted details so I embellished on a “fight” between me and the others then told her how they stranded me there.
“You’re kidding?” I shook my head. “What a bunch of bitches.”
“Thankfully, Connor drove up there to get me.”
She sighed. “Why can’t I find a guy like that?”
We both laughed. After that she told me about her weekend, which lasted until we got to school.
The day was long and boring, a lot longer and much more boring than any other day of the week. I’m not sure why but it just seemed to go and on. Ok, I know why. I was worried about the mission. I knew I shouldn’t have been but it was getting on the late side and I was sure someone would try to contact me. I didn’t expect a phone call in school but it wouldn’t have hurt if Jay drove by the front of the building or something. I looked out the window in almost every class, hoping to see his car across the street. It never showed up. Artemis and her friends didn’t show either but I wasn’t expecting them to. It was kinda strange actually, not seeing them around. I’m not sure what everyone else thought but it was kinda rare for six girls to be out at one time, all of whom were friends.
Cissie noticed though. She asked me about it in lunch. “Did something happen this weekend?”
“What, to the bitches?” asked Amy as she sat down with her tray.
“Fuck them, they totally went psycho on our girl.”
I opened my mouth but Amy beat me to the punch. She quickly told Cissie my improvised story from earlier.
“I knew there was something up with them” said Cissie when Amy finished.
I only half paid attention because I was looking for Connor. He usually showed up to lunch shortly after me. He didn’t sit with us but he always made it a habit to walk over and give me a kiss. I looked around the room but he was nowhere. I lingered a bit too long at his table and all the guys smiled at me. Their looks sent shivers up my spine. It was kinda strange really, because I hadn’t seen him all day. He wasn’t in the classes we shared and he didn’t walk with me in the halls either. Sometimes he had other stuff to do but he always made it a habit to at least stop by my locker and say “hi”.
I looked back over at his table and got up. I marched over and glared at the nearest jock. “Hey” I said a little more forcibly than I would have liked. “Did something happen to Connor in the Weight Room today?”
“How should I know, he never showed.”
“What do you mean? He called me this morning and said he wouldn’t be able to pick me up because he was hanging out with you clowns.”
“Hey, what can I say babe?”
I bit my lip. I didn’t like where this was going. First Jay doesn’t contact me and now Connor’s missing. Call me paranoid but something was definitely going on here. I can maybe understand that Jay and the others were just caught up like grandma said but there was no way that Connor would flake on me. I looked around the cafeteria, trying to see if I could spot the two faculty monitors. They were sitting at one of the tables, in conversation with one another. Without thinking about it, I went back to the table and told Cissie to watch my stuff as I went to the bathroom. Before I knew what I was doing, I pulled my cell out of my backpack. Ok, it wasn’t a real cell. It was the one Faraday gave me back when he dropped me off. I brought it to school with me today in case Jay called.
I speed walked out of the cafeteria and into the nearest bathroom. I didn’t even check to see if it had a girl in a dress on the door. I locked the door, not caring if there was anyone in here with me or not. Then I dialed Connor’s number. It went right to voice mail so I dialed again, the same thing happened. I cursed and dialed the number Jay gave me---I memorized it last night. The phone rang and rang then went right to voice mail too. I left a message, asking if everything went ok then I hung up. I cursed and started pacing.
Like I said before, call me paranoid. But there was no way that it was coincidence that both Jay and Connor weren’t answering their phones. Artemis knew Connor; she knew the two of us were an item. She also knew how damn close I was to him. If something went south with the mission, they’d seek retribution. They’d go after me. I’m not sure how I knew that but it was the only obvious answer. Yeah it’s crazy, but somehow I just knew that Connor and Jay being absent at the same time was important.
But I had to be sure. I dialed Connor’s home phone and got the machine. I left a message for him and Kara, asking them to call as soon as they got in. I knew Kara had class so she wouldn’t be in until later but maybe she’d know where he was. After that, I made a rash decision. I stuck the cell in my back pocket, yanked the bathroom door open without unlocking it and ran out into the hall. I made my way straight for the nearest exit. Hey, I did say it was rash. I’d never skipped school in my entire life but this was life and death. There was no way all of this was happening without it being connected.
I ran out the door and across the grass, going as fast as I could. I needed to get home; grandma could be in danger too.
When I tore into the house, grandma was sitting on the couch. She was watching TV and when she saw me charge into the room, I think I startled her. She dropped the remote and jumped a little bit in her seat. But it didn’t take her long to recover and when she did, she didn’t look too happy.
“Cassandra Elizabeth Sandsmark” she said in an angry tone, it didn’t take her long to adapt my full name when she got angry. “What in Hera’s name are you doing here?”
The use of the Goddess’ name was lost on me for a second. “Connor wasn’t at school today. His friends said he never showed up to their morning practice.”
My grandma frowned. “I’m sure there’s a perfectly logical explanation.”
I shook my head. “I called his cell and the apartment, no one’s there.”
My grandma sighed and got off the couch. I was pacing the room, agitated. She came over to me and stood in my way, putting her hands on my shoulders. Then she pulled me close, wrapping me in a tight hug. I let her hold me for a few minutes, it felt really good. I’d been so stressed all money and just feeling her holding me in her arms made everything all better. I would have cried too if I could bring myself to tears. But for some reason I couldn’t. I was too wired to cry, too wired to do anything that had to do with fear or grief. After a minute or two, I gently pulled myself away from her.
“Have you tried calling the hospitals?”
I shook my head. “He’s not there.”
“How do you know?”
I shrugged. “I just do. I’m not sure how but I know they have them.”
Grandma frowned. ‘Perhaps you’re overreacting a bit.”
“I’m not overreacting” I said angrily “they took him. First, they overwhelmed Cameron’s team and then they went after Connor. They’re trying to bait me.”
I started pacing again. Grandma was quiet for a few minutes as I did so then she finally spoke. When she did, it was a very familiar phrase: “Hera, give me strength.”
I stopped my frantic pacing. This time I heard her say the word Hera. “What did you say?”
She sighed then smiled. “You are so much like her it pains me sometimes to look at you. I see her strength in you and her determination and definitely her stubbornness.” She laughed, shaking her head. “Your mother was the same way at your age. Your grandfather and I tried to rein her in but there was no controlling her, it was in her blood.”
I was really confused. “What are you talking about?”
Grandma sighed. “I was hoping I’d have more time to explain all this but I guess I was fooling myself” She sighed again. “I want to show you something in your grandfather’s study, something I should have shown you a long time ago.”
Grandma started down the hall and I quickly followed. No one had been in grandpa’s study since he died; it pained us all too much. The door wasn’t locked or anything but we were all afraid that if we went in there that it would bring up too many sore memories. Grandma and I stopped in front of the door, her hand hovered over the knob a second or two before she opened it. The first thing that I noticed was the sweet smell of cinnamon. Grandpa used to smoke cigars but grandma made him quit so he switched to sucking on cinnamon candy to help with the cravings. The second thing I noticed was how everything was still the same. Nothing had been touched since he died and everything was still in its rightful place.
The bookshelf crammed with books was still on the back wall, the trophy case was still in the corner. He had a large mahogany desk in the center, scattered with papers and old maps. There was a huge antique globe next to his desk, a gift from his good friend Jameson Queen. There were a lot of pictures on the walls too, a lot of them from his adventures when he was younger. There was one in particular I loved as a child because it showed Jameson, my grandfather and Mr. Stark in Egypt, poking around some old ruin. I used to think it was so cool that grandpa was friends with two of the richest men in the world.
Grandma let out a loud sigh. I reached over and gave her a gently hug. “I miss him too,” I said softly.
I gave her a moment and that’s all she needed. She was a woman on a mission apparently. She slipped away from my arm and over to the bookshelf. I watched with interest as she scanned the shelves, finally finding the book she was looking for. It was a lot larger than the others, leather bound and stuffed so fat that it looked like it was going to explode. She brought it over to the desk and dropped it with a thud, scattering papers. I walked over as she opened it up, seeing that it was an old photo album. Most of the pictures were faded and of people that I didn’t know. Before they had my mother, my grandparents traveled the world, going everywhere. I used to love hearing their stories; they kept me entertained for hours with their adventures.
Grandma started leafing through the pages until she finally stopped. It was a picture of a couple standing together. The woman was tall with long dark hair and resembled Mom quite a bit. The man was dressed in an Air Force uniform and there was something almost familiar about him. I’d never seen these people before but somehow it felt as if I’d known them.
“Who are they?” I finally asked.
Grandma looked at me, tears in my eyes. “My best friends in the whole wide world, Diana Prince and her husband, Steve Trevor.”
If the names were supposed to mean something to me, they didn’t. “I don’t understand?”
She took a deep breath. “Diana and I were old childhood best friends; we used to do everything together. We had a great life and lots of fun. One summer---a long time ago---she and I were vacationing in Greece. Diana fell head over heels for a young Air Force pilot and I met a roughish would be treasure hunter. We had a whirlwind romance. Diana and Steve got married quickly because he was about to be deployed, the two of them were so happy.
Vietnam was supposed to be over quickly or so we thought. The years that Steve was at War were hard on her but she was resilient and strong, like you,” Grandma laughed. “Like your mother, too.”
“David and I got married in the summer of 1963; we didn’t have a child until three years later.” She smiled and I realized that there was something wrong with her story. Mom was born in 1962, how come they didn’t have a child until 1966 then? She smiled and nodded. “Diana got pregnant first and she was so happy, I was happy for her too. She was convinced that I’d have a baby soon too but it didn’t work that way. She gave birth to a healthy baby girl and I was a bit jealous. I was happy for her but I wanted a child of my own too. When Vanessa came along four years later it was like the Gods were answering my prayers, I was so grateful. It was the happiest moment of my life then tragedy struck.”
She paused her story, her tears flowing freely now. It took her a few seconds to continue. I reached out and touched her shoulder. She smiled at me. “Diana and Steve were killed in a horrible car crash, thankfully neither of them suffered. It was the most horrible time in my life. What’s worse, their daughter was now an orphan. Four years old and she barely knew her parents. Your grandfather and I decided then that we’d adopt her. Diana and Steve didn’t have any immediate family so it didn’t take much…”
I smiled and nodded. I didn’t say anything; instead, I stepped forward and wrapped grandma in a tight hug. Now I knew why the woman in the picture looked so much like Mom. I suppose it made sense. I’d always wondered why Mom never looked like either of her parents, after all when she was younger, grandma was a blonde. I’d also seen pictures of young Aunt Vanessa---older pictures of her were long gone---but Aunt Vanessa was blonde too. I guess I didn’t really think about it until now but it was clear now that Mom was from different parents.
“I love you grandma,” I said softly to her. “I’m glad you finally had the courage to tell me the truth.”
She sobbed and nodded. “There’s more sweetheart.”
She pulled away from me and wiped her eyes. Then she reached into her shirt and pulled out her necklace. She always wore it and this was the first time I realized I’d never seen it outside of her shirt before. She told me it was something precious to her and now I think I knew why. At the end of the necklace, as plain as day, was a peacock medallion. I was confused for a second, trying to wrap my mind around what it all meant. In the end, I shook my head.
She smiled. “The girls at that spa, the ones pretending to be Amazons, are frauds” I nodded numbly and she continued. “Your grandmother and I come from a very long and complicated bloodline, going as far back as Ancient Greece. We grew up hearing stories about our ancestors and the kind of women they were, how powerful they once were. It always excited the two of us, making us think we were something special. Don’t ask me how our two families found one another; call it fate or something else. But as we grew up, Diana and I were taught all about the way of life that our people have hidden from the world.”
“You mean to tell me?”
Grandma nodded. “We are Amazons, the last of a powerful race. And as Amazons, it was in our duty to pass down our sacred knowledge to those who come after us, from mother to daughter. When I told your mother she was ecstatic, thrilled even. She wanted nothing more to embrace everything that was Amazon. She strived to be the best Amazon she could be and I loved her for it. Then something changed one day, she never confided in me what that thing was but afterwards she grew very bitter. Her bitterness was contagious; it started passing to Vanessa too. We tried to quell the bitterness by telling your mother about her true parentage, trying to make her understand but it only pushed her further away. It pushed Vanessa even further.”
“What happened to Aunt Vanessa?”
Grandma sighed. “She overheard us telling your mother that she wasn’t our daughter and she got angry that we confided the Amazon secrets with your mother first. Vanessa was after all our first-born; she thought she should have been the first to hear our secrets. She stormed out of the house and I haven’t…”
Grandma started crying some more and I held her again. I softly told her everything was going to be ok, that I’d find Aunt Vanessa for her if she wanted. She pulled away and shook her head. She still had tears in her eyes but she looked a lot better than before.
“There’s something else,” she said softly. “Something very important.”
I nodded and laughed. “You’re full of revelations today aren’t you?”
She smiled and laughed a bit. Then she took a deep breath. “I need to tell you about yourself.”
“About me? What about me?”
“You’re special sweetheart. When we were growing up, Diana and I had one story about the Amazons we loved more than anything, the one in which it was told that a new Queen of the Amazons would rise up one day and bring our people into the world again. It was said that this Queen would be blessed by the Gods, chosen as their Champion and showered with great unworldly gifts. We would know her by the feats she could accomplish and by the strength of her heart.”
I opened my mouth to argue with her but she put a finger to it to close it. “I know you don’t understand but it’s the truth. I think it upset your mother more than she realized. Diana was convinced that Helena was the Queen of the story; she even named her after Helen of Troy, another former Amazon. I thought so too until your mother grew bitter and hateful. It broke my heart, your grandfather’s too. I’m not sure what happened to your mother but whatever it was, it hurt her a great deal.”
I finally found my voice. “This is crazy, I’m not the Queen.”
Grandma smiled. “Maybe not yet but very soon.”
I shook my head. I opened my mouth to argue some more but never got the chance. I’m not sure, when I heard the noise but I knew what it was, it was the splintering of wood. It could only be one thing, the front door. I locked it, I was sure of it. But to hear the wood splinter and crack, it could only mean that someone forced it open. I looked at grandma and she seemed to know it too. Then I looked at the window behind us and saw a shape pass in front of it. A second later, something long and cylindrical smashed through the glass. It landed with a roll then spit smoke into the room.
Grandma and I started coughing, not smoke but gas. It stung my eyes and caused grandma to fall to her knees. She used the desk to brace herself. Me, I went to the floor and scrambled around for the canister. I found it and threw it back out the window. As soon as I did so, two black clad soldier types burst into the room with submachine guns. They pointed them at me, preparing to fire. I reacted on instinct, grabbing the first thing I could find. It happened to be my grandfather’s desk. I was on the ground and I flipped the desk in the air, throwing it right at them. It took both of them out in an instant, plastering them to the floor.
Another guy came crashing through the window. I grabbed the large globe and smashed it on top of him, dropping him to the ground. Then I turned to grandma, pulling her off the floor. We went over the top of the guys and out into the hall. There were more guys in the living room. The closest one raised his gun and fired. My wrists went up, the bullets bounced off my bracelets, tearing into the walls around us. I waited until he was reloading then grabbed a picture frame of the wall, throwing it like a Frisbee. It hit him in the throat and down he went.
Two more guys came rushing forward, raising their guns. I put myself between them and grandma. They fired, I blocked every bullet. When they were reloading, I charged. I screamed at my grandma, telling her to break for the stairs. She did so as I slammed into the gunmen, hitting them both head on. They flew backwards, crashing into the couch. Two more guys burst through the front window. I turned and saw grandma run up the stairs, satisfied that she was safe I turned to the interlopers. The window guys raised their guns but I didn’t give them a chance to fire. I grabbed my grandfather’s favorite chair and threw it at them. It hit them both head on, breaking bone and dropping them. I heard the sound of running and turned around, seeing more guys coming from the kitchen. They must have come in through the kitchen door. There were three or four of them, all with guns. I weighed my options and knew there was no way I could stop that many bullets. I heard more sounds, some from above and some from the front door. I snapped around, three more guys came running into the house from the front.
I was surrounded and screwed. The fight was over.
I heard a sound and my grandma was dragged down the stairs, kicking and struggling. Two guys were holding her by her arms; she wasn’t strong enough to break their grasp. Behind her, another guy came down the stairs, carrying a wooden box. I glared at all three of them then at the man who walked through my front door. It was the son of a bitch from Greece, the one who pretended to be the government official.
He looked from me to grandma. When he saw grandma, he smiled. “Julia Kapatelis” he said with a sneer. “So nice to see you again.”
“Go to hell, Sebastian.”
I was shocked, it was the first time I’d ever heard grandma swear.
Sebastian Ballesteros smirked. “You know, your husband said the same thing before I put a bullet in his head.”
Wait, what? The look of shock on grandma’s face matched my own. Suddenly I hated this guy more than anything in the world. Not only did he try to kill me but he killed my grandfather. There was no way he was going to live for that. I took a step forward, my fists raised. Everyone in the room pointed their guns at me.
They dragged grandma over to him, she spit in his face. He laughed. “I knew you were slime, Sebastian but I didn’t think you’d be doing her dirty work for her.”
Ballesteros eyes narrowed. “She’s a very busy woman, she doesn’t have time to trifle with insignificant things like this” Then he turned and looked at the man with the box. “Bring that over here.”
I looked at the man with the box then over at grandma. She smiled and winked. Ballesteros ordered him to open the box and as soon as the man did, he frowned. Apparently, whatever was inside was not what he was looking for. He reached in and took out what looked like a silver vambrace, it was large, probably took up the whole of a person’s arm.
“This is not a golden belt,” he said angrily to the man with the box.
“That’s all she had” he said, “She was getting the box out of the closet when we found her. She tried to keep it from us; we thought it was what you were looking for.”
Ballesteros pulled out his pistol and shot the man in the head. Grandma and I flinched as the man toppled to the floor, taking the box with him. Ballesteros holstered his pistol and shrugged as if it was the most common thing in the world. He was a cold-blooded monster and that scared the hell out of me.
He turned to one of his men. “Pick up the box and take the woman. Put them in one of the SUV's and get to the spa.”
A man scrambled forward and took the box from the dead man’s hands. He looked at me. “What about the girl?”
Ballesteros smirked. “She and I are going to stay here and chat.”
I watched and could do nothing as my grandma was carried out of the house. I made a step toward her but my movements were followed by the guns. I was in a no win situation and they knew it. Ballesteros was smug. As soon as grandma was gone, he pulled out his pistol again. He looked me up and down, his eyes lingering on my wrists for longer than they should have. Then they widened and he smiled. I cursed under my breath. So the jackass finally figured it out huh.
“Very clever” he said, “your Goddess thinks she’s so smart, concealing them in plain sight like that.”
I smirked. “She wouldn’t be a Goddess if she was an idiot.”
He smiled and raised the gun to my forehead. “Take them off.”
“I can’t. They’re bonded with me until death.”
“That can be arranged.”
I laughed, hoping my bluff would work. “You think that bullet is going to kill me.”
“I guess we’re about to find out aren’t we?”
I’m not sure what’s supposed to happen when someone pulls the trigger of a gun in your face. But I know what’s not supposed to happen. There’s not supposed to be a brilliant blue flash of light or a lot of heat. The heat was so overwhelming that it blew me backwards, my back hitting the wall so hard I left a dent. I was dazed and confused; everyone else around me was gone. The light was still there---blue and as bright as ever. Then I saw the others, or what was left of them. They were black silhouettes now, standing still as if frozen in time. Only frozen for a second then they crumpled to the floor as nothing but ash.
The light faded and someone was standing in my doorway. It was a girl shining silver with glowing blue eyes and blue flashes surrounding her hands. She blinked a few seconds and then looked at me. As soon as she did, she smiled.
“Hey girl” said Amy as she walked into the room. “They don’t call me the Bomb for nothing.”
Chapter Twenty Three:
All I could do was stare in shock for several seconds. Amy, Amy was a Meta.
She walked around the room, nudging the piles of ash with her foot. I looked from her to the pile on the floor in front of me, the one that used to be Ballesteros. I was too numb to say anything at the moment. There was only one thought coursing through my brain though: why wasn’t I a pile as well? I knew the blast affected me because it threw me across the room and I could feel the heat from it but I was still intact. I looked down to be sure. My clothes were a little singed and I was covered in a little black soot but other than that, I was a whole person. I ran my hands over myself to be sure, hoping I didn’t run into a pile of black that would crumble in my fingers. When I was done, I sighed in relief.
Amy walked over and stood in front of me. “Are you ok?” she asked, sticking her arm out for me.
I nodded numbly, a little reluctant to take her hand. “You’re not going to…”
She laughed. “I can turn it on and off.”
I smiled and she pulled me to my feet. Realization dawned on me after the numbness was gone. My grandma. I pushed past her and ran for the door. When I got onto the front lawn I saw two black SUVs but grandma was nowhere in sight. I looked at the road; saw the black screech marks of tires. I also saw Amy’s jeep, the side of it smashed in. It looked like she was trying to block whoever it was that drove off.
I felt a hand on my shoulder and jumped. “I tried cutting them off,” said Amy with a sigh. “But trying to stop an SUV with a jeep is not a very bright idea.”
“They’ll take her to Chicago: I said sadly.
Amy sighed. “They’ve got a head start but we’ll catch them.”
I nodded and other things started to come to me, like reality. The last I’d seen of Amy was back at school in the cafeteria with Cissie. I turned to her, searching her face. There was something different about her. She was the same girl that I’d become friends with but she had a harder look in her eyes. Looking into those eyes of hers, I saw an experience and an age that I hadn’t before. It was like the Amy I knew was a façade and this was the real person.
“I don’t understand,” I finally said and she nodded.
“I’m sorry I haven’t been completely honest with you Cassie,” she said with a sigh. “I work for the DEO”
That kinda floored me. “You what?”
She held up her hands as if I was going to hit her. I wanted to but I held back. Looking at her---this girl who was my “friend”---I couldn’t help but feel a bit angry. I felt betrayed too. Was our friendship all an act? She’d been lying to me and I trusted her. She was my friend and she was a spy too. I balled up my first, ready to pound the snot out of her. I would have too if I didn’t need her help.
“I know you’re angry but it was the only way,” she said quickly. “Do you remember Faraday telling you about American Dream?” I nodded but I had only been paying half attention then. “Well, I’m just like her. I used to be a thirty five year old Air Force Captain named Nathaniel Adam. Around the same time, the military created American Dream they asked for other volunteers. I put my name in, they ran the tests and found out I had the metagene too.”
“So you chose this?”
She nodded. “I would have done anything to serve my country. In hindsight, if I had known it would turn me into a teenage girl I think I might have reconsidered but you have to go with the hand that you’re dealt.”
This was incredible. It pissed me off that she’d been lying but I suppose I couldn’t be too angry with her. She was just like Jay and Kate; she was there to make sure I was all right. It was a little sneaky on Faraday’s end but in the end, Amy was just like me. But something else didn’t fit. All the girls at school knew her; she’d been there for years.
“When did they put you in the school?”
She smiled. “The day before you.”
I shook my head. “That doesn’t make any sense. People knew you, they talked about. You’re on the basketball team.”
She smiled. “We have a very good psychic working for us.”
Thinking about that made me shudder. If the DEO had someone who could make people believe whatever they wanted. I shuddered again. “You’re not going to whatever on me, are you?”
She shook her head. “Don’t worry you’re quite safe.”
We talked for a few more minutes on the front lawn and the police sirens wailed in the distant. As much as I would have loved to stay around, I knew the two of us needed to bail. She knew it too. We looked around; some of the neighbors were starting to come out of their houses. We looked at each other and realized we had to scatter. I hated leaving things like this but I didn’t want to be around to explain things to the police. We started for Amy’s Jeep when I stopped. There was a nagging feeling in my stomach. The further I got from the house; it started to tug on me. I thought maybe it was apprehension about leaving but it was more that.
“We can’t stay here,” said Amy from the Jeep. ‘I don’t have credentials.”
I nodded and looked at the house. “I need to get something,” I said without thinking too much.
Before she could say anything I ran back into the house. I’m not sure why but I knew that there was something I was forgetting. I looked around the living room, at all the carnage left there. No, I’m not talking about bodies. I’m talking about all the furniture I smashed to hell to save grandma. I felt kinda bad about wrecking her house but it couldn’t be helped. I felt particularly bad about destroying grandpa’s favorite chair. He and I used to sit in there and read when I was younger. Looking at the damaged chair lying there, I felt a pang of loss and a swell of anger. Just because Ballesteros was dead now that didn’t mean I wasn’t going to avenge grandpa’s murder.
I shifted my gaze up the stairs. What I needed was up there.
I angrily ran up the steps and went right to my room. The door was open, kicked by one of Ballesteros thugs no doubt. I ran inside, wondering if they ransacked my room. But everything was where it should be, everything including what I was looking for. After my dream, I didn’t think much about the golden tiara but to keep it out of my mind I put it on the top shelf of my closet. The closet door was open when I came into the room; I usually left it that way in the morning. I ran over to it and took the wooden box off the shelf. I’m not sure why it was so important but I knew I was supposed to take it with me.
I opened the box and my hands trembled over the golden headpiece. When I lifted it out of the box, I knew it was the right time. I’m not sure why I never put it on until now but something told me it was only to be worn when I was ready to wear it. Now was that time. I took a deep breath and put it on my head. I felt a surge or energy that lasted for a few seconds and then was gone. I didn’t feel any different but something inside of me told me I was almost complete. I’m not sure why but it felt like there was something missing, something important.
I tried not to think about it as I ran out of my room and back down the stairs.
"You went inside for your pretty princess crown?” asked Amy when I got into her Jeep.
I ignored her. She laughed and then started the engine. I was actually surprised that her beat up old jeep actually started. The whole left side was smashed in but still the engine turned on and we took off down the road. Ok, we didn’t actually take off. It was slow going; the Jeep was just in a pretty bad smash up so it was kinda sluggish. I was grateful that she tried to save my grandma---that she saved me---but I was still a little unsure about her. She seemed like a capable person and her power was awesome but I hated the fact that she’d been lying to me this whole time. I thought I knew who Amy was and now I find out she’s a completely different person.
I think she sensed some of my apprehension. “I’m not a bad person, you know,” she said with a laugh. “When I was first given my assignment to befriend you and shadow you around, I was kinda apprehensive about it. I haven’t been in high school in years and frankly, I wasn’t jumping at the chance to go back in. But after I read your file and saw what you could do, I was kinda proud. It was like I was making a difference again. You’ve got this fantastic gift and you shouldn’t let anyone tell you to keep it all to yourself.”
I smiled. “Yours is pretty awesome too.”
She shook her head. “Mine is extremely dangerous. That wasn’t fire back there, that was radiation.”
I don’t think I liked the sound of that. “I’m not going to get cancer now am I?”
She laughed. “Ballesteros and his men got the brunt of the blast. I made sure to shield you from most of it. You might have gotten a little of it but nothing too serious.”
I nodded, that was a relief. “Does this mean I should call you Captain Atom, now?”
We both shared a laugh. “I think Amy is just fine.”
We didn’t say much after that. I turned to the window and watched the scenery as we drove by. I’m not sure how long it took me to realize it but it dawned on me that we weren’t going toward Chicago. I sat up straight in my seat, looking around. “What the hell are you doing? You’re going in the wrong direction.”
Amy sighed. “I have my orders.”
“Fuck your orders.”
She laughed. “I wish I could but Cameron was very insistent. She said if things go bad then I was to extract you and move you to a more secure location.”
“They have my grandmother! They have Connor; they might even have Cameron and her team!”
Anger swelled up inside of me. I’m not sure what I was going to do but there was no way I was going to let this person stop me. I turned and punched my door clear off, sending it flying down the street. Amy swerved the Jeep, shocked at what I just did. I grabbed the dashboard, sinking my hands into it. “Turn this damn thing around or I’m going to rip apart what’s left of it one piece at a time.”
“You’re out of your damn mind.”
“And you’re a fool if you think I’m going to sit around and let those people win.”
“You’re crazy. There’s only two of us.”
“You just nuked half an army in my living room.”
She bit her lip. “We have no idea what we’re going into. Those guys could have just been the first wave. They could have a lot more and innocents too. They have hostages; we have no chance of succeeding.”
I was dead set. “We have me.”
“You?” she said, shocked. “You might be strong, Cas but there’s still only two of us.”
I nodded then got an idea. “There could be more.”
She looked confused but I whipped out the cell. I quickly dialed a number but I got nothing but voice mail. I cursed but left a message anyway. “I know you’re there and I know you’re scared but I need you. Something bad has happened, something I can’t handle on my own. You’re the only other person I can think of that might be able to help. If you get this message, I need you to meet as at the Bana-Mighdall Spa in Chicago.”
I clicked off the cell, sighing.
“What was that about?” asked Amy.
“Even with backup, we’ll stand no chance.”
“We can do this, I know we can.”
Amy groaned and slowed the Jeep. She glared at me and sighed. “Ok, but you owe me a new door.”
She made a quick U-turn, spinning the Jeep in the opposite direction.
No matter how fast we drove, we didn’t get to Chicago any faster. When we finally got into the city, I used the cell again and tried calling my mother. Yeah, I know she’s not my favorite person at the moment but I still care about her. When I didn’t get an answer, I tried her office at the college. But the department secretary told me she was in class. I sighed in relief after that, knowing Mom was ok. I left a voice message on Donna’s phone, knowing she was probably with Mom. I tried Connor’s number again, both his cell and his home phone. I didn’t get a response from either, which still made me feel really bad. I thought about making a detour to his apartment but I knew we didn’t have time for that.
After my phone calls, I wasn’t feeling any better. I was feeling even worse when we pulled up outside the Spa. We parked a few buildings away so as not to draw attention. But I was certain they knew I was coming. We got out of the car together. Amy went to the back of the Jeep and took out a black duffel. She dropped it on the sidewalk and opened it up, pulling out a black tactical vest that she slipped on and a sub machine gun. I frowned at the gun. There might be more bad guy soldiers here but there were a lot of innocents, too.
“You plan on shooting people?”
“We don’t know what we’re up against.”
I shook my head. “These girls aren’t the enemy, the woman in charge is. They’re innocents, brainwashed or whatever.”
I held out my hand and she reluctantly put the gun in it. I twisted the gun into a mangled mash, causing her to stare in shock. I smirked, putting the mass back into the duffel and duffel back into the Jeep. Amy grumbled a bit about her gun but she knew I was right. After that, the two of us slowly walked toward the entrance. I’m not sure what I was expecting but I shocked when we finally walked inside. Everything looked the same except the lobby was deserted of course. I looked up at the bronze Minotaur statue; it looked more menacing if that was even possible.
Amy looked at it and shuddered. “That thing kinda gives me the creeps.”
I nodded. “C’mon, there’s an elevator back through those doors.”
I led the way, pushing my way through the door into the main room. I guess I wasn’t surprised by what was waiting for us. The room was empty, save for the usual exercise equipment. I’m not sure if I was expecting a welcoming committee but I was certain there was no way Crossan would just let the two of us waltz in here like nothing. I think Amy felt something was off too because as soon as we walked further into the room, her body changed. Before I thought, it was a silver glow but now I saw it was actually some kind of metal. It was like her skin changed into it, making her look like a walking metal statue. It was kinda cool, especially when her eyes glowed that wicked blue again.
As if on cue, I heard the ding from across the room. We both looked and the elevator doors opened. Two women stepped out, dressed like extras from a bad 1930’s Dinosaur movie. They were actually wearing loincloths and body paint, holding metal poles. I wanted to laugh until I looked at their faces. One of them I recognized as the girl who sat at the front desk---Charis---. The other had a familiar face too though it was anything but friendly at the moment.
Both Amy and I gasped but I spoke. “Kate?”
Kate Spencer didn’t respond, it was like she didn’t know us or that name anymore. I cursed, she was brainwashed like the rest.
The two of them walked into the room, spinning their poles with expert ease. Amy stepped forward to meet the challenge, her hands glowing blue. I put an arm across her chest, holding her back. There was no way I was going to let her fry Kate, brainwashed or not.
“She might be on their side but that’s still Kate,” I said and she sighed.
“Can you subdue them without hurting them too badly?” she asked as the glow disappeared from her hands.
I nodded. “I think so.”
I stepped forward to meet the challenge, Kate and Charis smiled smugly. Then they came at me, a lot faster than I anticipated. They spun their poles, Kate went for my left knee, and Charis hit me in my back. I was down on the mats before I even knew what hit me. I cursed, realizing this wasn’t going to be as easy as I originally thought. They came again but I jumped to my feet and blocked their rapid blows with my bracelets, staggering from the repeated onslaught. It was clear that both Kate and Charis were juiced up on Crossan’s special Ambrosia pills. I was right in my assessment; the pills did seem to make whoever ate them much stronger and faster than before.
Their onslaught drove me back. I was on the defensive, afraid of what might happen if I actually laid a hand on one of them. After putting on the tiara, I somehow felt more confident in my abilities. It didn’t make me any stronger but it made me more sure of myself. I’m not really sure how to describe it but I felt like I could take on any foe and survive. I also felt that taking this repeated barrage of theirs was doing nothing. I could stand here all day, letting them try their hardest to land another blow on me. But I knew that if I didn’t act quickly then I would be here all day.
They backed me up into a rack of weights. My back pressed against several bars. I acted quickly. I shoved the girls back, pulling one of the bars from behind me and spinning it around in front. They came again and I parried their poles with one of my own. They were still pretty fast but now that I had a similar weapon to match theirs, they didn’t stand much of a chance. I gave Charis a glancing blow to the shoulder, she screamed out in pain. I took an aggressive step forward, gently head butting her. She fell backwards, her pole flying free. When she hit the mat, I knew she was done.
I spun on Kate. “Listen to me, Kate” I said as I blocked her blows. “This isn’t you; you’re Kate Spencer, not some crazy Amazon chick.”
She scoffed. “I am Alkyone of the Bana-Mighdall and you are a traitor, my Sister.”
I groaned, give me a break. I snapped my pole up, smacking her wrist. She staggered back and then did a couple of back flips, trying to distance herself from me. I had to hand it to her; whoever this Ozawa character was, he trained her well. She spun her pole in her good hand, preparing for another assault no doubt. I groaned, tiring of this game. I’m not sure what made me think of it but reached up to my head and pulled off my tiara. Something inside of me told me to throw it and that’s what I did. It coursed through the air like a boomerang, aiming right for Kate. It sliced her pole in half, surprising both her and me. Then it came back to me, I caught it and threw it again. I didn’t throw it as hard so when I hit her in the forehead with it, it didn’t cut her so much as it threw her onto her back. It came back to me; I caught it and put it on my head.
“Holy shit” said Amy as she came running up behind me. “I’ll never make fun of the tiara again.”
I laughed as the two of us walked over to where Kate lay. She was on her back, panting but still conscious. She looked at us and there was anger in her eyes. “You cannot win; the Mistress has summoned the Goddess. She has come and she will destroy both of you.”
I rolled my eyes. Amy sent a quick punch to Kate’s face, knocking her out cold.
“Was that necessary?” I asked as Amy flipped Kate over and handcuffed her.
“No” she said “but she was starting to piss me off. What was that crap about the Goddess?”
I shook my head. “Nothing. These girls believe that they have a Goddess protecting them. It’s kinda stupid actually.”
“Sounds stupid” said Amy as the two of us walked toward the elevator.
We shared a laugh as we reached the elevator. I pushed the call button and we waited. I knew from the past that it was going to take a few seconds for the elevator to come up which was kinda annoying. While we waited, I thought I heard something. It sounded like a scraping sound. I looked at Amy but she didn’t seem to hear it. So I shrugged it off. But a few seconds later, I heard it again but it was louder and seemed to be coming from behind us. Amy heard it too and both of us turned around. As soon as we did, there was loud crashing sound as the whole of the far wall erupted into a shower of plaster and brick.
Standing in the large hole, smoke issuing from its nostrils, was the large bronze Minotaur statue from the lobby. My mouth dropped open, Amy’s too. Both of us stared in shocked awe at the statue come to life. I wasn’t sure what to make of it. My mind told me that what I saw couldn’t be true and yet it was standing right there, glaring at us with red glowing eyes.
“What were you saying about their Goddess being stupid?”
I shook my head. “I take it back.”
The Minotaur raised his hands over his head and roared. Then it grabbed a large section of the crumpled wall and threw it at us. I pushed Amy to the left and dodged to the right. The large piece of brick slammed into the wall next to the elevator, right where the two of us had been standing. Luckily, we were out of the way in time. When I rolled to my feet, the damn thing decided to charge. It had its head down and its horns pointed, going straight for Amy. She was still on the ground, dazed from me pushing her. She was rubbing her neck, trying to get her bearings. She’d never make it in time. I took a deep breath and ran at the Minotaur.
When it got to the half point in the room, there was a loud shatter from above. A red streak dropped into the room, slamming feet first into the back of the statue. It happened so fast I’m not sure what I’d just seen. I saw a flap of leathery wings and that was all at first. When I looked harder, I saw the red streak for what it really was and smiled. Eddie was now on the Minotaur’s back, his hands pressed on its shoulders. I could see the metal heat up under his touch.
He looked at me for a second. “Do what you gotta do, I’ll handle this guy.”
I couldn’t help but smile. “What happened to hiding in the dark?”
“Too clichéd for a demon.”
I had to laugh at that. The Minotaur thrashed and stumbled, trying to throw Eddie off its back. But Eddie was holding firm, his clawed feet digging into the bronze, keeping him on. I ran over to Amy and helped her to her feet. As soon as I did, I saw her wince. I felt bad about pushing her, not realizing I did any damage. But it was clear that I did, she was cradling her arm to her chest.
“Shit, I’m sorry.”
She shook her head. “It wasn’t you; I got clipped with one of those bricks.”
I sighed, glad that I didn’t hurt her. “Are you going to be all right?”
She nodded. “I’ll stay here and keep Devil Boy company.”
Just as she said that, Eddie shouted and the Minotaur bucked him off his back. I saw Eddie hit the mat hard. Amy groaned and got to her feet, her good hand glowing blue. She didn’t wait for me and charged into the fire, shooting a stream of blue light into the statue’s face. I bit my lip as I heard the elevator ding behind me. I hated leaving my friends but I needed to stop Crossan. I took one final look at the battle here and then ran into the elevator.
When I got off the elevator and walked into the main room down below, I got the reception I thought I was going to get above. Most of the girls were there, dressed in similar fashion to Kate and Charis. They were all armed too, wielding various improvised weapons. They were trying to look threatening but they failed miserably. For some reason they still looked like a bunch of LARPers, trying too hard to impress their insane benefactor. I scanned their faces, trying to see if there was a single one of them that wasn’t like the others. But no matter how many faces I looked at, they all had the same glassy eyes and blank stares. I cursed under my breath, wondering how Crossan could do such a thing to innocents.
I stepped out of the elevator, wondering who was going to make the first move. So far, they’d been putting up a pretty capable defense. If I wasn’t me, it probably would have stopped me. But as it was, I think I could take this group. They might have had me outnumbered thirty to one but I wasn’t a normal person. I’m not sure if I’d call myself a Meta but I definitely wasn’t human. I’d actually been thinking about my powers lately and I actually did some research of Meta's on the Internet. Jade and Terra and American Dream, they were all different than me. None of them mentioned communing with a Goddess and none of them had mystical animals helping them. It got me thinking; maybe I’m not really like them after all. The government classified me in the same group as them but something inside of me told me that we weren’t the same.
The crowd parted as I walked through it. I had one destination in mind, the raised platform. I could see Crossan’s little dais there and the bust of her fake Goddess. Before I thought, it was a bunch of crap but now I was pretty certain it was something else. I’m not sure which Goddess it was but whoever it was, they had real power. I mean that damn statue came to life and attacked us. Whoever did that had to be someone with real skill. If not a Goddess then who?
When I reached the platform and walked up the steps, I looked closer at the bust. No matter how much I tried, I just couldn’t place the face. It looked nothing like any of the statues of the Gods I’d ever seen. For one there was a sorta sneer on this woman’s face and her features were too precise. I’m not sure who carved it but I think they were trying too hard to make it look impressive. I turned from the bust and looked at the group gathered. They were now staring up at me, anger flaring from all their faces. I felt sorry for them, wondering how many of them were screaming inside of their heads, trying to fight back at whatever was controlling them.
“This is madness,” I said into the microphone. “You’re not yourselves, you’re being controlled.”
No one said anything. I didn’t expect them to. I scanned the faces and saw a few familiar ones looking up at me. I singled out Akila and Karna. I pointed to them.
“You two are smart people; don’t you see you’re being controlled against your will?”
Karna scoffed. “You have no right to stand up there and speak to us.”
Akila added. “You betrayed us. You started this war.”
I scoffed. “The was no betrayal and there’s no war. Crossan is using you, manipulating you.”
There were a lot of angry murmurs.
“You expect us to believe that,” said a new voice.
The crowd turned in its direction. I turned with them. It was Artemis; she was standing in one of the doorways, the one leading off to Crossan’s office. She wasn’t dressed like the others though. She was wearing some kind of armor; it was silver and covered only parts of her body. On her back was a quiver and in her hand was a bow. My eyes went to her wrists though and what I saw made me gasp. It was the vambraces from my grandma’s box, the ones that Ballesteros thought were useless. Why was she wearing them if they were nothing? Artemis walked toward the platform, the ground parted for her as they did me. They were chanting something too. It was soft but it wasn’t that hard to make out. It was a name, a strange one. I think they were calling her “Shim'Tar”. What the hell is a Shim’tar?
When Artemis reached the platform, she held up her clenched fist and the crowd fell silent. She looked up at me and glared. “Only Queen Antiope may stand on that platform.”
I rolled my eyes. “Listen to you, look at yourself. You’re being used. Crossan isn’t a Queen, she’s just a nut.”
Artemis glared at me. “Antiope is a great Queen and you insult us by besmirching her name.”
“This is crazy, you’re crazy, she’s crazy.”
Artemis roared with anger. “You will not insult our Queen.”
I laughed. “She’s not a Queen.”
“Come down here and say that, Infidel, come down here and face me.”
I rolled my eyes. This was getting ridiculous. I sighed and walked down the steps. I walked over to Artemis, not expecting to fight. She on the other hand, she had other plans. As soon as I got close enough, she threw the first punch. It connected with my face and was so hard that it knocked me off my feet. I landed on my ass; the whole side of my head was throbbing. I looked up at her, stunned. She looked down at me smirking. I slowly got to my feet and she threw another punch, to my gut. I staggered backward, shocked at the strength and power of it. The crowd cheered, calling out “Shim’Tar.” I straightened up, staggering.
I stared her down. There had to be something giving her this strength. I searched her with my eyes and finally locked on the vambraces. It had to be, it was the only thing. I’m not sure how I knew but I knew they weren’t meant for her. I spit blood from my mouth. “Those things on your wrist.”
She raised her wrists so that the crowd could see. “They are from my Queen, a gift from the Goddess.”
I took a deep breath. “They don’t belong to you.”
I charged her as she was flaunting her new jewelry to the crowd. I caught her off guard, slamming full force into her chest. We plowed through the people around us, knocking them away. I put all my strength into the drive, aiming her toward the wall. But at the second before impact, she slammed her elbow into my back, causing me to lose my footing. She wrapped her arms around my waist and spun me, sending me flying. I hit the wall instead. It was at such a force, that I broke straight through into the hallway beyond.
I hit the ground hard, my whole body exploded with pain. I looked up and Artemis stepped through the whole, brushing dust off her shoulder. I tried to push myself to my feet but she drove her foot into my back, pressing me back to the ground.
“You threw the fight before” she said, anger in her voice. “You don’t think I knew that. The Queen wanted to pit me against the best, she thought it was Dalma but Dalma turned out to be a joke. But you, you’re the real deal, aren’t you?”
She flipped me over with her foot. Then she reached down and grabbed me by the front of the shirt, lifting me up in the air. There was something in her eyes, like a fire. They were glassy as well but it was more than that. It was almost as if I could see her--- the real Artemis–inside, screaming for help. It pissed me off that Crossan could use my friend like this. Anger swelled inside of me, an anger ten times I’d ever felt before.
“I admit it, I threw the fight,” I said, glaring at her. “But I didn’t want to be the Champion of a false Queen because I’m the Champion of a Goddess.”
Artemis looked smug, pulled me in and laughed. “Where’s your Goddess now?”
She threw me but not before I grabbed her wrists, taking the vambraces with me. They slid off quite easily actually, which surprised me. I think it surprised her a bit too. The look on her face as I flew through the air and smashed through the wall was priceless. I crashed into a shelf in some kind of storage room, the contents of which toppled over me. It hurt like hell but at least I achieved what I wanted to do. I knew if I got her angry enough she’d picked me up, allowing me to get close to those vambraces of hers. I looked down at them in my hands and smiled. I was tired of these games, tired of Crossan and her brainwashed lackeys. I was tired of super powered drugs and fake Goddesses. But most of all I was tired of running from all this crap, from denying this and that. OK, so if Hera wanted an Amazon, a true Amazon, I was going to give it to her.
I slipped the vambraces on my wrist and felt a surge of power flow through me.
Chapter Twenty Four:
Have you ever accidentally stuck your finger in a broken socket? There was one in our basement when I was younger. I was helping my grandfather change a bulb and I touched the socket by accident with the tip of my index finger. The electrical jolt that went through my body was like a tiny tingle. The one that went through my body when the cold steel of the vambraces touched my bare skin was nothing like that. I’m not really sure how to describe it. I think the best word might be overwhelming. I stammered like I was drunk---not that I’ve been, but I’ve seen it on TV. I found myself falling into the shelving again. I’ve never had an orgasm before but I was pretty certain it felt something like this. It was so good and so overpowering that for a moment I was lost to it.
And as quickly as the feeling came, it was gone. I didn’t even realize my eyes were closed until I opened them. When I did and I looked at myself, I was in the shock of life. My clothes were gone, replaced by something else. I flushed in embarrassment. It was some kind of outfit, the skimpiest thing I’d ever seen. It looked like a bathing suit but I think it was more like a corset of some kind. It was bright red and there was metallic gold W across my tight chest. Looking past it, I saw blue bottoms with a spangle of white stars. On my feet were boots. I groaned, I looked like something out of a fetish catalog---not that I’d ever looked into one of those. I reached up to touch my chest, noticing my gold bracelets had been replaced by the silver vambraces; those went from my wrists up to almost my elbow.
I’m not sure what happened but putting on the vambraces was clearly the catalyst for it. I felt and looked ridiculous. I’m not sure whose cruel joke this was but it definitely wasn’t funny. This thing I was wearing was ridiculously tight, it even made breathing hard to do. When I pushed myself to my feet however, I seemed to glide up onto them without a problem. The boots had a heel but it wasn’t any trouble at all to walk in them. The tightness I felt on the ground was gone as soon as I took a few steps, almost as if the suit was acclimating itself to my movements. I know it sounds freaky but it felt as if it was made specifically for my body.
Except of course there’s no way in hell I’d ever wear anything like this.
I took a few more steps, wondering how something like this even happened. I stepped out through the hole I made, wondering how Artemis could have gotten all that strength. I knew part of it was these things on my wrists but there had to be more to it than that. I tried to think things through but my thoughts were interrupted. I heard someone running down the hall toward me and I had a pretty good idea who. I wasn’t wrong either. I didn’t see her at first but an arrow whizzed by my head. I cursed and a second later, another arrow came. This one went right for my face and I caught it, snapping it in half in mid-air.
I turned toward Artemis; she was about half way to me. She had her bow raised, ready to fire another arrow. Instinct took over. I took the tiara off my head and threw it just as she fired her arrow. The tiara ripped the arrow in half and continued straight for her. It hit the bow first, cutting it in half then went right for her head. She turned at the last second, the tiara slicing her cheek. She cursed, clutching her face and I charged her. I was tired of throwing my punches with her. I let her win the first fight because I thought she was my friend and she was an innocent but now I was pissed. This girl had just mopped the floor with me and she definitely wasn’t throwing her punches. She wanted to kill me and would have succeeded if I hadn’t taken away her power. She might not be as strong anymore but she was the biggest threat in the room right now.
I think my speed surprised her. She knew I was fast but when I was angry, I seemed to be a whole hell of a lot faster. It was something I did when I stopped those guys from hurting my mother on the beach. I charged them so fast that they never saw it coming. I did something very similar to Artemis. I was on her in a flash; she didn’t even have time to react. One minute the remains of her bow were in her hand, the next I was snapping it like a twig. I snatched the front of her armor and lifted her off the ground. I pulled her close, glaring at her.
“Where’s your Goddess?” I asked, then head butted her.
I lowered her unconscious form to the ground then dragged her back into the main room. The girls were still calling out “Shim’tar” but stopped as soon as they saw me. There were a lot of blank expressions on their faces. They parted again as I dragged Artemis behind me, moving toward the platform. When I got to the front of the group, Akila and Karna looked at me in awe. I dropped Artemis at their feet, giving her body a nudge. Then I walked up the steps, turning to the group as I got to the top.
“Here’s your precious, Shim’tar,” I shouted, pointing at Artemis. There were some murmurs and gasps. “This is all a joke; you’ve all been made to behave like fools .”
“The Queen will not stand for you treating her Champion like this,” said Karna angrily as Akila bent down to check on the fallen Artemis.
“Where is your Queen now?”
I was hoping I’d get a rise out of her. I had a pretty good idea where she was. She was probably in her office, cowering like the coward she was. I’m not sure how she managed to subdue Cameron and her team, her girls probably caught them off guard but once the real fighting started she turned and ran. I scanned the crowd, wondering if she was going to even bother to look back as she scurried away like a cockroach. I wanted to see Crossan again just so I could beat her into submission for taking Connor and my grandmother. I was beyond playing with this woman.
It didn’t take long. She came out of the hallway I just left moments before, with a hostage no doubt. Just like a coward to use an old woman as a shield. I locked eyes with grandma and when she looked up at me, her face lit up. I’m not sure why but before she looked terrified but seeing me somehow made her extremely happy. I smiled at her, glad to see she wasn’t badly injured. Crossan was keeping grandma in front of her, a gun pressed to her temple. It was definitely a sight.
“Stay back or she dies.”
Grandma groaned. “Vanessa this is ridiculous.”
Vanessa? I looked at Crossan, I mean I really looked at her and groaned. How did I not see it before? As soon as grandma said the name though, I made the connection. The only pictures I’d ever seen of my Aunt Vanessa were when she was much younger. Grandma never kept any older pictures of her around the house because she said they hurt too much. But looking at this woman now I saw the girl in those older pictures, it was hard to imagine they were one and the same, actually. I looked from her to grandma too, noticing the resemblance immediately. There was no way that you couldn’t tell these two as mother and daughter. I don’t know why I never saw it before either. Maybe because all I ever saw when I looked at Crossan was crazy.
“Aunt Vanessa?” I asked, grandma nodded.
“I’m not your aunt,” she snapped angrily. “Helena is no sister of mine. He’s that foul orphan that my dimwitted parents took in.”
“Let her go” I said, walking down the steps. “You don’t have to hurt her.”
“Come any closer and I’ll put a bullet in her head.”
I stayed where I was. “This is crazy, she’s your mother.”
Vanessa spat. “She stopped being my mother a long time ago, the day that she told Helena all about the Amazons, the day that she passed on her right as a mother to someone else’s daughter.” Vanessa laughed like a maniac. “But look around you, Mom, I’ve found my own Amazons. It didn’t take me long. I found a bunch of saps, a bunch of sad, lonely girls like me, just looking for some place to belong. Then I found the Goddess and she promised that she’d help me make things better, help me rid the world of the true Amazons out there.”
“Vanessa” said grandma, tears in your eyes. “You misunderstand. I was telling Helena for Diana, just like I promised. I was going to tell you too, when you were old enough.”
You lie,” said Vanessa angrily. “You always loved Helena more. I’m your daughter, not her.”
I took another step forward, hoping that she was distracted. “I’ll be the first to admit, my mother isn’t the best person to get along with but I assure you, this hatred you have for her is foolish. I’m not sure what kind of person you envision my Mom to be but she’s far from perfect.”
Vanessa scoffed. “You’d say anything to get me to release her.” Tears were streaming down Vanessa’s face too. “You’re Helena’s precious daughter, her prize and joy. The one she’d do anything for.”
My mother? Do anything for me? Clearly, this woman didn’t know what or who she was talking about. Clearly, she was more deranged than I thought. I took another step toward her and she panicked. She pointed the gun at me and fired. I threw up my wrist, the bullet bounced harmlessly off my left vambrace. Vanessa looked shocked but fired again. On the second shot, grandma reacted. My grandma was the quiet, non-violent type. She watched the news and reality television. But the woman who was standing before me was a completely different person. She moved like a woman half her age. She thrust upwards, slamming her head into Vanessa’s chin then she grabbed Vanessa’s wrist, twisting it until it cracked. The gun fired toward me but the bullet went past my face, taking some of my hair with it. It was the last shot as the gun clamored out of Vanessa’s hand. Grandma flipped her over her shoulder, twisted her arm and put her heel on the back of Vanessa’s head.
My mouth dropped open. It was by far the coolest thing I’d ever seen.
She looked at me and smiled. “I am an Amazon dear, we are warriors born.”
Vanessa was down but not out of the fight yet. She lifted her head and shouted. “Protect your Queen from these Infidels.”
Through the whole exchange between her, me and grandma, the girls had been standing like emotionless statues. But as soon as Vanessa barked her order, they came to life. They raised their weapons and charged. I snapped around, barely missing the first sword that came at me. I disarmed the wielder, dropping her with a light punch. A lot of the girls came at me in similar fashion, moving too slowly and too clumsily to be very effective. I put six or seven on the floor long before they got anywhere near me. I fought alone; grandma was busy keeping Vanessa on the ground. Some of the girls tried to push past me to get to them but I never allowed them to get close.
It was a thirty on one fight and I was winning. I dropped several more until Karna came at me. She was a little more skilled but just as sloppy. She left herself open. I spun around, slamming my back into her incoming swing. It knocked the air out of her then I backhanded her in the face. She gasped something about her nose and dropped into the ground. I vaguely remember breaking the nose of someone before, it sounded very similar, I had to wonder if it was hers. Anaya and Laris came as one, trying to pin me in. They were fast but had no style. They both had poles and tried to come at me from both sides. I moved forward, allowing them to hit themselves in the face.
Then I grabbed the poles, pulling them toward one another until they collided face first. I yanked the poles from their hands, spinning them around in mine and taking out two more girls who tried to get close. Akila came at me with a long chain. She lashed it around one of my poles and yanked it away. Then she swung the chain at my head. I threw up my arm, allowing it to wrap around my wrist. She tried to pull me off balance but I pulled her instead. I pulled with all my strength, yanking her in too fast for her to get her footing. I slammed my first into her stomach, knocking the air out of her and gently dropping her to the ground.
After that, it was an onslaught of stragglers, ones that I easily defeated. It had been thirty to one and in the end, only one was standing.
I turned to Vanessa and laughed. “What else do you got?”
Sinister laughter filled the room, rumbling off the walls. It echoed around the room, seeming to come from everywhere and nowhere. Then there was a flash of bright light, causing me to shield my eyes. When the light dissipated and I could see again, things had changed. For one thing, there was no longer a dais and a bust on the platform but a large gilded chair, sitting upon it was a gorgeous woman in a green dress. She had long flowing purple hair and was holding a silver goblet. At her feet were several pigs. I looked around the room as it filled with more grunting and squealing. All the girls I just bested were now pigs too, as if they were being punished for their failure.
I flashed onto my dream from the other night. I saw pigs in the lobby of the spa and knew it wasn’t such nonsense now. I also knew that there was only one person in antiquity that turned men into swine and she definitely wasn’t a Goddess. I looked back at the woman sitting in the chair and realized how much of a fool Vanessa had been.
“Circe” I said with a sneer.
She smiled and clapped. “Well done my dear, truly spectacular work.”
I pointed to the pigs. “Turn them back now!”
She laughed, it echoed around the room. “Who are you to speak thus to me. You heroes are all the same these days. First it was that upstart magician and now it’s you, the little girl Amazon.”
I needed to stand my ground in this. I tried to remember what I knew about Circe but it wasn’t much. I read The Odyssey several times, I knew all about Odysseus’ encounter with her. He was only able to beat her because he got help from the Gods. As much as I loved and cherished them, I think I was on my own here. I looked around; the only ones who weren’t pigs in the room were me and her of course and grandma. Ok, so technically Vanessa wasn’t a pig. She was a bird, a swan I think. I’m not sure why she warranted such elegant treatment but I’m sure Circe had her reasons.
Grandma stepped forward. “You leave my granddaughter alone.”
“Shut up you old goat” said the Sorceress, pointing her finger at grandma.
The metamorphosis was instantaneous. One minute grandma was there and the next she was a goat. I was shocked as all hell for a second. Then my anger took over. It flared and I took a step forward. Circe raised her finger at me, wagging it back and forth. I stopped, wondering what evil she had up her sleeve for me. But she didn’t point it at. Instead, she lifted her glass to her lips and took a sip. She drained her glass and snapped her fingers. From behind the chair came a large black dog on a chain. It sat down next to her like a statue, allowing her to place the goblet on its head. I looked at the black dog and saw very human looking blue eyes staring back at me.
“That’s a good boy Connor,” she said, stroking his back.
My heart skipped a beat. No, it can’t be. She looked at me and smiled viciously.
“You harpy” I sneered and she laughed.
“Your boy is very precious. We lured him here by telling him you were in trouble. He raced in like a gallant knight in shining armor, ready to rescue his damsel faire. I thought about turning him into a pig like those foolish DEO agents you sent after me but I couldn’t waste such a beautiful specimen as him. I’m thinking about making him a horse next, I’m not sure but he was definitely wasted as a human.”
"Turn him back now,” I said angrily.
“You’re such a broken record my dear. No fun at all, just like your predecessor.”
She groaned. “Didn’t Hera tell you anything?” She sighed heavily. “I’m speaking of Hippolyta of course, the first Queen of the Amazons. You wear her oh so precious Girdle. Well to be fair, it’s actually Gaia’s Girdle but no one seems to remember that.” She laughed and waved her hand. “Pish posh. Where was I now? Oh yes, you remind me so much of Hippolyta. What a twit she was, all chaste and no fun, like her Huntress patron. You couldn’t believe how much magic I had to work to get her to spread her legs for that moron Hercules.”
She laughed aloud. “Antiope, on the other hand, she was the fun one. They were like Order and Chaos you know, Yin and Yang. When Hercules came and seduced her sister, Antiope saw right through his charms. I think she might have had a little magic herself because my spells didn’t work on her. But there were other ways of persuasion. For the longest time the Gods held the Amazons in high esteem, they were warriors beyond measure. It was particularly boring for me, especially seeing as Hippolyta kept foiling all my great schemes. It was all thanks to that wonderful Girdle of hers.”
Her eyes narrowed at me. “I just had to have it. That’s why I bewitched that foolish King to send old Herc after it. Then I whispered honeyed words into Hippolyta’s ear and got her to bed the Barbarian. It was all going pretty well until Hippolyta got the last laugh. She switched the belts. There were two Girdles you know, one belonging to Hippolyta and the other her sister, Antiope. The night before, unbeknownst to yours truly, Hera visited Hippolyta and told her my plans. So Hippolyta switched her belt for her sister’s. So when Herc took the fabled Girdle of Hippolyta, it was actually the humdrum one of Antiope. The only two people who knew were the sisters.
“Of course this didn’t go over too well with Antiope. She threw a little fit and cursed the Gods. She and her followers stormed out of their lush island paradise and decided to follow their own path. As for me, I stupidly fell for the ruse. The belts were identical, you know. I didn’t realize it until it was too late. As soon as that happened, I flew back to the island in a rage, bound and determined to raze it to the ground. But the Gods beat me to it. They didn’t destroy the place but they put protection on the belt. A mortal and only one with Amazon blood, from the Queen’s lineage, could only wear it. I tried for years to find her heirs but they were well hidden from me.”
She sighed, blowing some hair from her face. She waved her hands. “Ya da ya da ya da, long story short. I tracked it to Greece but I didn’t know where. I couldn’t find it myself, it needed to be found and worn by Hippolyta’s heir. I tried your grandmother first but Diana was a foolish woman. So I drove her car off a road, it was all very tragic. Thankfully, for me she had a daughter. But the Gods were shielding her from me. But fate as it would seem was on my side. You see, the woman you know as your grandmother is actually a descendant of Antiope, a Queen of the Amazons. Her blood flows through your grandmother’s veins as well as her daughters. I wasn’t able to get to Diana or her daughter but the Gods didn’t know Julia’s secret. She refused to play though and ran from me; I didn’t actually catch up with her until years later when my dearly departed Sebastian killed her meddling husband. By then Julia was too old to put on the Girdle but her daughter was perfect. Vanessa was easy to manipulate. I twisted her around my little finger, told her to create this place, set myself up as an All-Mighty Goddess, it was quite impressive actually. Things were going pretty good---better than my scheme in San Francisco---then you came along.”
I shuddered at the way she said “You”. The look in her eyes was like fire. She leaned forward in her chair, glaring at me. “So why are you telling me all this?”
She laughed. ‘It must be true what they say about blondes, Princess,” She laughed louder at her own joke. Then she cut off in mid-laugh, leaning forward and glaring. “Because you’re going to play my little game or else I’m going to fry your loved ones.”
I wasn’t sure how to respond to that. I was sure she knew all about the belt and all its secrets. I looked at the swan that used to be my aunt then at the goat that was my grandmother. There was something bothering me about all this though. I knew she needed me but she’d yet to use any of her magic on me. If I were as big and as powerful as her, I’d use magic to force me into submission. But she was talking, why was she talking? I needed to find out.
I took a deep breath. ‘If I agree to your terms, you’ll turn everyone in here back into humans?”
She nodded. “Yes, except for Vanessa, a silver swan is rather fitting for her punishable failure."
I nodded. A small part of me thought she deserved it but another part of me knew it was wrong. I bit my lip, trying to think things through. I looked at the dog; the one I know knew to be my boyfriend. His eyes stared at me and I could Connor in them. I took a deep breath. “You’ll turn him back first?”
She smiled and waved her hand. In the place of the dog was a human being but it wasn’t my Connor. Instead, it was a girl, about my age, with long black hair.
She was completely nude, the collar and chain around her neck. Circe burst into laughter. “Isn’t she precious?”
The girl that was now Connor looked around and blinked in confusion.
“That wasn’t the deal.”
“You said human, you didn’t specify gender.” She reached down and patted her on the head. “Good girl, I think I’ll call her Claire.”
“Change her into a boy or the deal is off.”
“Fine.” The Sorceress sighed and waved her hand, the girl turned into Connor, clothes and all.
He looked around confused until he saw me. He smiled. “Cassie, you’re all right?”
I nodded. “I’m good.”
“Now you’re part of the bargain,” said the annoyed Sorceress.
I shook my head. “You said you’d turn all of them back.”
“You really are not the life of the party you know that.”
She waved her hand again and all the pigs in the room turned back into humans. I looked amongst the crowd of people, seeing Amazon girls and DEO agents alike. I caught eyes with a very confused Jay and Cameron, sitting back to back. I smiled at them. Jay noticed me first and his face lit up. Then Cameron saw me and she frowned. I had a pretty good idea what she was thinking. I turned from them and looked over at grandma. She was confused too but she looked all right. She locked eyes with me then looked over at Circe. I think she knew what I’d just done and I could see the disappointment in her eyes. I gave her a quick wink before turning back to the Sorceress.
“We had a deal girl,” she said with a sinister smile. “Come along, you and I have a lot of business to attend too. I have a scheme in San Francisco going at the moment, a couple of mages I’ve left on ice for too long. You know how these things go.”
I crossed my arms in front of me. “You want the Girdle then come and take it.”
The smug smile disappeared from her face to be replaced by a nasty sneer. “You impudent little bug,” She said, raising her hand at me.
I took a deep breath, hoping I was right. A bolt of lightning shot from her hand and I flinched, closing my eyes. But nothing happened, I felt no pain. I opened my eyes and was shocked at what I saw. There was some kind of invisible barrier around my body; the lightning was bending around it. I was shocked as all hell but not as shocked as the Sorceress. She raised her other hand and fired another bolt at me. The two concentrated blasts should have fried me but they hit my shield but didn’t go through. I could see the look of fear on her face, the look of a woman who was clearly defeated. I took a step toward her and she stepped back, lowering her hands.
“How…its not possible…it can’t be….” She was stumbling over an explanation. Then she looked me from head to toe. “It’s the combination of the three…” She sighed. “That’s how it’s done, that’s why I couldn’t…”
“You’re defeated witch,” I said, bearing down on her.
She laughed. “Finer men have said that to me before and have failed.”
She raised her hands and disappeared into a cloud of black smoke. I jumped at her, getting caught up in her spell. The smoke swirled around me and then I was no longer in the spa. I hit the ground, which turned out to be sand. I spit it out of my mouth and looked around. It didn’t take a genius to figure out where we were. It was Themyscira, the island of the Amazons. Why did she bring us here? I got to my feet and looked around. Not too far down the beach, Circe was standing there. I thought she might have been smug about her amazing escape. But she looked confused and really pissed off. I brushed the sand off my skimpy outfit and started toward her. She turned and when she saw me, she fell backwards on her butt.
“You” she said, “you did this. Stay away from me”
I laughed. “Not so high and mighty now, are we?”
“How did you withstand my magic?”
I shrugged. “Beats the hell out of me.”
She got to her feet, her confidence returning. “That can be arranged.”
She pulled a dagger from her dress and came at me, quicker than any opponent I’d ever faced. It was so fast I couldn’t react. It probably would have skewered me; in fact, it should have skewered me. But something happened, something stopped it. Or rather stopped her. Instead of stabbing me in the gut like it should have, the dagger blade stabbed into a cane. Both of blinked, both in surprise and shock. Standing in the sand next to us, his cane separating the both of us, was an old man. But not just any old man. It was the one from the park, the one who warned me about the storm. He winked at me and when he did so, I noticed that his eyes were gold.
“You” said Circe, pulling away. “I knew you’d be involved with this. Non-interference my foot”
The old man smiled. “This has gone on long enough; this girl is under His protection. Do you dare go against Him?”
The color drained from Circe’s face. Her eyes narrowed. “This isn’t over, Spinster. I will have that Girdle.”
She threw her hand over her head and disappeared into her black cloud again. This time I wasn’t fast enough to follow. I stared for a few seconds at the spot where the Sorceress had been standing then I looked at the old man. He smiled at me. I was confused. How in the hell did he get here? Who in the hell was he? I searched for answers, looking him up and down. Besides the gold eyes, there was nothing that said he was any different from any other person I’d ever met. Except for something, I didn’t notice before. It was his cane, or rather the handle of it. In the park, he’d been holding it by the handle so I couldn’t see but now I saw and everything seemed to make sense. The handle of the cane was actually the head of the owl.
He winked again. “Cassandra Sandsmark” He said, touching my shoulder. “You’ve had a busy day.”
I nodded. “No thanks to you and the others.”
He smiled. “It is not in our nature to interfere. I believe our Queen told you this.”
“Then why did you step in now?”
He smiled, waving his hand. A park bench appeared out of nowhere. He walked over and sat down. I slowly followed, not sure if I should be talking with him or not. I say him because I was having difficulty trying to think of his name. Well her name actually. The old man sitting here was a façade, I knew that now. I was kind of an idiot not to notice before, after all Glaucus did lead me right to her before. I’m not sure if I should have felt privileged or scared that so many Gods were taking time out of their busy schedules to come and visit me.
He patted the spot next to him on the bench. “I want to talk to you about a few things before I take you back.”
I reluctantly sat next him. “Is this the part where you tell me I’m destined for greatness?”
He chuckled. “No, this is the part where I make sure that everything is all right.”
I sighed, looking down. I tried not to think about what I was wearing. There were a lot of thoughts rolling around in my head. The first being Circe, of course. “Will she come back?”
He nodded. “Most likely. She’s been after that Girdle for some time now. She’s convinced that it’s some all powerful talisman that will grant her insurmountable powers.”
The old man shrugged. “No one knows its true power except the wielder of it.”
I nodded. “But that’s not what you wanted to talk about, is it?”
“The Father was very pleased with your performance today” he said, “you showed true courage and great control fighting against an enemy who could very well have destroyed you. He was quite impressed, proud even.”
I nodded. “Good for him.”
He smirked. “He wishes a favor of you.”
“He wants you to make those girls what they were pretending to be. There was a reason that we sent you to that place and a reason that you were meant to drive off the False Queen. Those girls have potential and as soon as you name them thus they will become what they were pretending to be.”
He groaned, pushing himself to his feet on his cane. He reached into his pocket and took out a gold pocket watch. I looked at it, seeing it decorated with the head of Medusa. “Wow, is that the time already?”
I couldn’t see the clock face but I’d take his word for it. He turned to me. “It appears our time here is up.” He held out his hand. “Come, my dear. It’s time to begin what Circe tried to start.”
I was reluctant to do so. There were so many more questions I wanted to ask him, so many things that didn’t make sense. If I was truly supposed to be some kind of new Queen of the Amazons, I needed a lot more help than this. I closed my eyes and saw my grandma, she was smiling at me. I knew that smile; it was the one she gave me when everything was going to be all right. I opened my eyes and realized that for the moment maybe she was right.
I reached out and took the old man’s hand.
Chapter Twenty Five:
When I followed Circe in the smoke, things were very strange indeed. But being teleported by a Goddess was definitely an experience. It was like being in every place in the world at the same time. I saw everything flash before my eyes---every monument, every natural formation, every capital city---all in a blink of an eye. Then it was all gone. It was kinda disorienting actually. I was real dizzy and had to grab the nearest thing to steady myself. That happened to be a desk. It took me a moment to gain some ground before I looked around. I was in a familiar room; it took only a second or two to realize it was Crossan’s office.
I took a deep breath and noticed something else too, my skimpy outfit was gone. I looked at my arms, the silver vambraces were still there but I was wearing my normal clothes again. I reached up and touched my head; the tiara was still there too. I’m not sure what it all meant but it kinda freaked me out a bit. It was clear that these new things of mine were special and somehow connected to the outfit I was wearing before. I’m not sure what it all meant but it was clear that the Gods were involved somehow. Thinking about them only made my head hurt though. Especially when I thought about Ath---damn it---the old man’s words. He told me that the Father wanted me to recreate the Amazons but I didn’t even know where to begin.
I sighed, running my hands through my fingers. I sat on the edge of the desk, causing a few of the folders there to fall on the floor. One of them fell open. I looked down and saw a list of names. I bent and picked it up. I was surprised at what was there. It was a list of girls, the towns where they lived, a list of their achievements next to them. Crossan---I mean Vanessa---had compiled a list of potential recruits for Circe’s brainwashed Legion. There were over a hundred names here, girls of all ages. I looked from the list to the ceiling. Is this what you wanted? Is this why you sent me to this room? I didn’t get an answer and I didn’t expect to get one. I sighed again, taking the pages from the folder and folding them into my pocket. I guess it was worth a shot. I’m not sure if I was going to do anything with it but I suppose it was the first step.
I was sitting there still trying to think about what to do when the door opened. It surprised me about as much as it surprised the young agent on the other side. Both of us didn’t say anything. He recovered quicker than me, pulling his gun from its holster. I had to smile, wondering if this guy even knew who I was. I didn’t say anything to him, even when he demanded that I stay where I was. I slid off the desk, walked over to him and pinched the front end of his gun, flattening the metal between my fingers. The look on his face was priceless. I patted him on the cheek and slipped past him into the hallway.
There were a few more agents like him, going from room to room. But none of them noticed me. When I walked through the hole in the wall, I found myself in the middle of a lot of hurried activity. The number of people doubled to include a lot more agents and medical personnel. People were flitting about, going left and right. There were a lot of girls sitting on the ground, shaking their heads, looking confused. Whatever effect the drugs had must have finally worn off. I scanned the ground, seeing familiar faces. Karna was sitting on the steps of the platform having her nose looked at, Laris and Anaya had ice packs on their heads. I saw Jay talking with Akila, probably getting her statement.
I tried to find Artemis but she was nowhere in sight. I did see Kate though; she was draped in a DEO windbreaker that was a size or two too big. She looked a little embarrassed, probably because she was dressed like a cave woman. Cameron was with her, talking to her. Kate looked at me and her face lit up. Cameron looked over too and frowned. I moved from my spot, trying to avoid her. I wasn’t in the mood to talk to her just yet. I slipped through the crowd, trying to stay inconspicuous. I saw Amy but her back was too me. Half her shirt was missing and her shoulder was bandaged; her arm was in a sling. There were a few cuts and scrapes on her but I was glad to see she was all right. I looked around for Eddie but didn’t see him. I wonder if he slipped away in the commotion or if they were keeping him by himself so as not to cause a panic.
I finally found grandma though. She was talking with Detective Schorr. It was strange because I didn’t see any other police officers present. I wonder if he was here with Cameron’s team before or if she called him in afterwards. I vaguely remember her telling him she’d keep him in the loop. Technically this was Schorr’s case after all, what with the bandits having a connection here. He and grandma were apart from the rest of the group and at first, I didn’t know what they were discussing. When I got closer, I overheard grandma say “Vanessa” I looked around, wondering if there was still a swan or if Circe’s spell somehow dissipated when she fled.
Grandma turned and saw me. Her face lit up. I smiled and walked over to her, wrapping her in my arms. I started crying, I couldn’t help it. I was very close to losing her, more than once. It felt good to know that she was safe and sound and out of danger. I held onto her for a long time. She cried too, sobbing into my shoulder.
“Is there room for me too?” asked a familiar voice.
I turned and Connor was there. I didn’t say a thing. I threw myself at him, wrapping my arms around his neck. I nearly bowled him over but I didn’t care. He was mine and that’s all that mattered. When we kissed, it was the most perfect thing in the world. If someone told me this was all a dream then I’d put myself into a coma just to make it last forever. We kissed forever or so it seemed. When we finally pulled away to breath, he brushed a lock of hair from my face.
“You are never to do that again,” I said, still wrapped in his arms.
He laughed. “I thought you were in trouble. I was racing to the rescue.”
I smirked. “I am a Warrior Born, I do not need saving.”
Grandma joined us in our laughing. Then Detective Schorr came over to ruin the fun. I suppose it was inevitable that one of the authority figures would catch up with me. He had a lot of questions and most the answers I had to make up. How do you tell a normal person about a Sorceress and Gods? They’d think you were crazy. So I told him that some crazy cult leader who managed to get away in the commotion organized it all. I said I gave chase but she slipped through my fingers. Ok, so I told a partial truth. He didn’t ask about my powers though. I’m not sure but I think Cameron filled him in there. He did make me promise not to leave the city in case he had follow up questions.
We talked about a half an hour. I thought maybe I was free after that but then Cameron showed up, frowning. I sighed, wondering what she had to say.
“First and foremost, good job” she said, surprising the hell out of me. “Now that that’s out of the way, what the hell were you thinking?”
As grateful as she was that I saved the day it still didn’t stop her from busting my balls---figuratively of course. First she chewed me out about disobeying her direct order---even though I wasn’t technically one of her subordinates. Then she berated me about Eddie. She chewed me out a lot about him. That I didn’t deserve and I told her so which only seemed make her more angry. Lastly, she went off on Circe and my withholding of information. Apparently, she’d already debriefed Amy. Not that Amy knew everything but she knew more than Cameron. In the end, Jay came to my defense.
"How was she to know what we were walking into boss?” he said, stepping in-between us, stopping me from letting my anger get the best of me. “Yes there were some things she didn’t tell us but we’ve been keeping a lot from her too.”
He didn’t elaborate on what, of course.
In the end, Cameron left in a huff. She mumbled something about someone contacting me in a few days to get the rest of the story. After that, we were free to go. Seeing as Amy was my ride---and she was in no mood to drive---Connor drove grandma and me home. None of us said anything; I think both of them were a little tired. Me, I was still pissed that Cameron thought she was the boss of everything. That woman annoyed the hell out of me so much. I’d been as honest as I could with her---as honest as I wanted to be---and she still expected more. There were some things I couldn’t tell because I didn’t really understand them myself. I was hoping maybe grandma had some of the answers. She’d been pretty quiet, especially after what happened to Vanessa. No, she wasn’t still a swan. I was right to think that Circe’s spell only lasted so long as the Sorceress willed it to do so. AS soon as Circe vanished, Vanessa turned back into a human. A pretty pissed off one but a human nonetheless. She got arrested right after that. I told Detective Schorr that the girls weren’t responsible for what they’d done, that somehow Vanessa was controlling them with a combination of drugs and mind control. He was a pretty reasonable guy. He did arrest Karna and the others but he promised they’d see no jail time. Like Persephone, they’d probably get counseling and rehab. I’m sure there was a long road of recovery ahead for them.
When we finally pulled up to the house, there were two cars in the driveway. I recognized both immediately, one was Donna’s little VW and the other was Jason’s Mustang. It was a damn nice car, I loved it to death. It was too bad that it was here. If he was here then that meant Mom was certainly here too. I groaned, not really looking forward to this. Grandma leaned over and squeezed my hand, noticing my apprehension.
“I’ll let you two say goodbye but don’t take long all right?” she said as she opened the door and climbed out of the truck.
I nodded. “I’ll be there in a couple of minutes.”
I watched grandma walk into the house. I waited until she was inside. I looked at the front of the house and frowned. Someone had hung a plastic sheet over the broken front window. That was so coming out of my allowance I bet. Then I turned back to Connor and sighed.
“Your Mom huh?” he asked, I nodded. “She might be a mental case but at least she cares a little bit about you.”
Connor barely heard from his Mom, except on birthdays and the important holidays. She was a good person but she was very busy too.
I opened my mouth to complain and he silenced me with a kiss. We kissed for a while and it felt good. I almost didn’t want to pull away. But when I did, he wiped the tears from my eyes. I smiled, kissing him on the forehead and thanking him for being the best guy I know.
“They don’t call me Super-boy for nothing,” he said, puffing out his chest.
We laughed. Then I left the truck and waited for him to drive off. When he was out of sight, I tuned and walked toward the house.
When I walked through the front door, Donna was the first to greet me. She ran across the room and wrapped me in a big hug. She almost knocked me off my feet actually. She cried on my shoulder, babbling incoherently about “doing stupid things”. I tried my best to comfort her. But my real attention was on my mother. She was sitting on the couch with Jason. Grandma was doing her best to tidy up the place; it was still a big mess. Most of it was cleaned up---I’m not sure who did that---but the piles of ash were gone and at least the furniture was upright again. The front window was a total loss and my grandfather’s favorite chair was totaled. I felt real bad about that.
Mom and I locked eyes. It was one of those stares that sane people sometimes had. WE didn’t have to say anything to know what the other was thinking. But looking at this woman, this person who looked like my mother, shocked me. Her hair was a mess and it looked like she’d been crying, a lot in fact. She was grasping Jason’s hand in a death grip and looked like she wasn’t going to let it go anytime soon. He looked pretty uncomfortable, like he didn’t know what to do. I felt the same way. I’ve never seen my mother like this in my entire life, she looked liked a genuine human being for once instead of whatever she pretended to be for the last sixteen years of my life. Ok, harsh but that woman was hardly my mother.
Donna finally let me go, wiping the tears from her eyes. “You have no idea how worried I was when I came home this afternoon.”
“I’m sorry, Donna, I didn’t think.”
I’d completely flaked this afternoon. Of all the calls I could have made, I forgot her. Ok, actually I didn’t forget; I just didn’t want to get her involved. I knew if I called her she’d run home as fast as she could. Then she’d want to be right in the thick of things. It would be like Greece all over again and I’d have to worry about her instead of fighting the real threat. My mind would have been torn in two different directions and that’s how people get hurt.
“When I saw the police and then the state of the house….”
Grandma interrupted. “Donna dear, why don’t you come into the kitchen and help me fix dinner.”
Grandma walked over and took Donna by the shoulders, she numbly followed. It was clear that Donna was a little shaken up. I felt bad about putting her through all of this but I was a lot happier that she was safe and sound. As soon as they were gone, it was just Mom, Jason and me. Mom and I were still looking at each other. Jason looked from her to me and back then slipped his hand from Mom’s grasp. He got to his feet like a stiff soldier. Or maybe that’s how he always stood up; I never really seemed to notice until now. He smiled weakly at me.
“I think I’ll leave you two ladies alone.”
He made a quick exit. I had half a mind to run across the room and strangle him. How dare he leave me alone with her?
Mom didn’t look too happy about the prospect either. We were both uncomfortable. I slunk over to grandpa’s chair. It was still tipped over, broken. I righted it and sat down; a spring stabbed me in the butt. I hardly noticed, more concerned that my mother was about to pass out or something. I’ve never seen her so pale and I was certain now that she’d been crying. Her eyes were red and her makeup was streaked. Mom never wore much, just some eyeliner and blush. I could lines in it from where the tears had run down her cheeks. She was trembling too. It was slight but it was pretty apparent. I thought maybe she was cold so I looked around for a blanket. Grandma usually kept one on the back of the couch but it appeared to be gone now.
I looked around the chair, thinking maybe it somehow got dislodged in the fight. But I couldn’t find it.
Then Mom spoke. It was soft at first but then she spoke louder and what she said made no sense. “To Hell with them.”
Whatever she said seemed to fuel her next move. She jumped to feet quickly and was across the room in an instant. I flinched, wondering if she was going to attack me. Instead, she threw herself at me and her arms went around my neck. It took me a few seconds to realize it was a hug. It was kind of messed up one but it was hug nonetheless. I was shocked, not sure how to react. Mom had never hugged me in my entire life. Then she started crying. She sobbed for the longest time, her head on my shoulder. It was different than when grandma did it earlier or even from when Donna did it only moments ago. I’m not sure what it was but I liked it.
I gently touched the back of her head and stroked it. We stayed like that for some time.
“I’m sorry,” she sobbed finally. “I’m so so sorry.”
“It’s ok Mom,” I said softly. “Everything is going to be ok now.”
She shook her head, pulling away from my chest. “Its not ok, it’s never been ok. They tried to steal you from me, my baby; they tried to take my baby.”
“They were bad people Mom. I stopped them.”
Mom shook her head. “Not them, not now.”
I was confused. “What are you talking about?”
“When you were born,” she said slowly and softly, finally getting her tears under control. “When you were born, I had a dream. Hera came to me, told me how special you were. I was so proud. Julia used to tell Vanessa and me stories, used to fill our heads with great adventures about the Amazons. She told me I was special and I think Vanessa hated her for it. That’s why I was chosen I think, I was special. I thought I was the one, you know.”
I nodded. “You are special Mom.”
She shook her head. “You’re the special one. I’m sorry I didn’t see it before but I was angry. They used me and then they told me that I couldn’t keep you.”
“Grandma and grandpa?”
“No” she said “Hera. She said you were destined for greatness and to be great, no mortal woman should raise me. She wanted to spirit you away, raise you on that island with the best tutors that she could find. She’s a horrid woman you know, you can’t trust her.” I nodded. “But I fought back; I wouldn’t let them take you. She got angry, very angry. I’m not sure what she did but suddenly it was like you didn’t matter anymore. For the longest time you didn’t matter. Inside I was screaming but on the outside I was bitter and cold, so very cold.”
“Its ok, Mom. Everything is ok.”
But it wasn’t. I’d never been so angry in my entire life. I knew Hera was no good, I knew the myths and legends. But it was the damn hardwiring. I think she did something to me too, made me loyal to her. I’m not sure when it all changed, maybe during the fight with Artemis or maybe after. Things were different now; my mind was clear in that. The hardwiring was still there but it wasn’t driving me so much. I’m sure if I spoke to her again she’d have some explanation, some way to weasel out of it. But it didn’t matter, especially not after what she apparently did to my mother.
It was unforgivable.
“I’ll make it up to you,” Mom sobbed. “I promise I’ll make things right again.”
She cried some more and I let her. Grandma came to the entryway separating the kitchen and the living room. She was crying, too. She was angry as well; I could see it in her eyes. She probably felt as betrayed as I did. Hera might not have been responsible for Circe but she was as much to blame for it. She played me like a fool. This whole time, telling me all that crap about Amazons. She was trying to force me to be someone I wasn’t, someone I wasn’t prepared to be. But I was almost there now, almost to the person that I was meant to be. Not the person she tried to create. Grandma and I locked eyes and I think she knew what I was thinking. I think she was thinking it, too. There was something else at play here, something far worse than Circe. The Gods were playing with me and I didn’t like one bit.
Grandma came into the living room after a few more moments. She managed to get Mom away from me and lead her into the kitchen. Mom was a wreck and it was all Hera’s fault. I followed shortly thereafter. It was quiet at the dinner table for a while. Then Mom started talking. She apologized to everyone and then told us when things changed. She was in the middle of class and it was like a switch was flicked. I think it might have been around the time I put the vambraces on. It kinda made me happy inside to know that I might have saved my own mother from herself.
We talked a lot. We all talked for hours. Mom wanted me to come back to the city with her but I wasn’t ready. I wanted to but there was so much stuff I had to do here first. I think she understood, she said she was happy and she’d wait. It would probably be a while before things were really good between us but it was a start, right? After that she wanted to know all about my life, it was as if we were meeting for the first time. She asked me loads of questions and was particularly interested in Connor. Never once did she mention my old life as Charlie, it was if this was who I was meant to be all along. We also never mentioned my new status, whatever that was. I think she might have been a little weary about the whole super Amazon thing. It was a hot topic with us and one day we’d have to deal with it but it was fine that that day wasn’t tonight. I never thought I’d say this but I actually enjoyed talking with my mother.
I talked with Mom until it was time to go to bed. She and Jason left, both of them hugged me at the door. Mom and I made plans to meet up after school tomorrow, to start some real bonding time together. I’m not sure if it was going to last though. There was a lot of bad history between the two of us and I really liked all this new her but for some reason I was afraid of it too. I still don’t understand what Hera did to her and if this release was temporary or not. I knew from Greek Myth that the Gods took pride with screwing with mortals and Hera was particularly vengeful. She held grudges and didn’t like it when her plans were ruined. I’m not sure what her ultimate goal was but I was certain it was no good.
When I went to bed that night I was kinda sad when I looked at the window. I’d gotten so used to Glaucus sitting there that it was strange that he wasn’t. I’m not sure where he went but I think whatever job he had was now over.
After taking my shower in the morning, I went downstairs to a surprising sight. Jay and Kate were gone; I guess I was expecting that. But what I wasn’t expecting was Agent Faraday. He was sitting at the kitchen table, drinking a cup of coffee. The newspaper was sitting in front of him. I paused in the entryway, wondering what this was all about. Grandma was at the stove, fixing up some eggs and bacon, I noticed an extra plate. It looked like the Agent was going to be joining us for breakfast. I took a deep breath and walked into the kitchen like everything was normal. I kissed grandma on the cheek and sat in my usual seat. Faraday sipped his coffee and smiled at me.
“Good morning Cassie” he said pleasantly “sleep well?”
I nodded. “As well as can be expected, considering”.
I looked at the newspaper. I half expected to see something about the spa on the front page. Instead, it was another story about Olivia Queen, someone tried to kill her again. I didn’t really read the details but it sounded like she was having some real problems in California. I looked from the paper back to Agent Faraday. He took another sip of his coffee then grandma served us our breakfast. She looked at Faraday a little wearily as she sat down. For the longest time the three of us ate in silence. It kinda freaked me out that he was here. He made it very clear the last time he spoke that if I ever saw him again it was going to be bad news for me. I suppose after everything I did it was pretty obvious that he’d want to talk to me.
But if he thought, he was going to lock me up somewhere he had another thing coming.
He finally spoke again. “That was a fantastic meal, Mrs. Kapatelis” He picked up a napkin and wiped his mouth. “It reminds me of when I was a boy.”
Grandma thanked him.
I got impatient. “You didn’t come here for breakfast. So what’s the deal?”
He smiled. “Right to the point. I like the direct approach.”
Grandma cleared her throat. “I assure you Agent Faraday that my granddaughter has done everything right. She saved your men last night and stopped a very dangerous thing from happening. You can’t still think that she’s a threat to national security.”
Faraday laughed. It kinda freaked me out actually. Then he reached into his jacket and took out a large envelope, how he concealed it I don’t know. He set the envelope on the table and then smiled at grandma. “Mrs. Kapatelis, I’m not here to drag your granddaughter to prison. In fact far from it actually.”
Now I was confused. “But you said if I ever saw you again…”
He waved it off with a laugh. “I was trying to scare you.” He laughed some more, I didn’t think it was very funny. “No, the real reason I’m here is to tell you that you impressed the hell out of my boss, which if you knew him is a very hard thing to do I assure you. As I’m sure you know the Department of Extraordinary Operations doesn’t really get impressed very often. We’re a relatively new organization and we’re still trying to work out the kinks but my boss made it very clear that you are a great asset to this country.”
I knew where this was going I think and it kinda shocked me. “What are you saying?”
Faraday pushed the envelope across the table. “I’m offering you a position in our organization, Cassie. You’ll work directly under me in the Department of Metahuman Affairs, junior agent level. Your job will be on a case-by-case basis, meaning you’ll come in when we need you. Much like with Agent Allen, you’ll work with your own kind.”
I didn’t take the envelope. I didn’t really know what to do or say. When I found my voice, I surprised myself. “I’m not sure if this is really what I was expecting.”
He nodded. “No one expects this but it’s better than the alternative.”
He shook his head. “You don’t want to know.”
“So in other words I don’t have a choice in the matter?”
He smiled and stood up. “Welcome to the DMA, Agent Sandsmark.”
I sat numbly at the table as grandma led Faraday too the door. I stared down at the envelope in front of me. For the longest time that’s all I did. I couldn’t believe the gall of these people. They didn’t give me much of a choice. Either get locked up or work for them. It pissed me off that they decided what the rest of my life was going to be like. I suppose I could fight it; after all, there wasn’t much they could do to stop me. But I had others to think about. They couldn’t hurt me but they could hurt grandma and Mom. They might even go after Donna and Connor too. Hell, these bastards would go so far as to hurt Cissie too. I groaned, knowing that there weren’t many options.
Work for the government or go to prison. Great choices there. I took a deep breath and finally grabbed the envelope. I opened it up and dumped the contents onto the table. It was a lot of legal stuff I didn’t understand. But on the top of that was my name and picture. Cassandra Elizabeth Sandsmark, underneath which was another name.
CODENAME: Wonder Girl.
The old man sat on the park bench, feeding breadcrumbs to the birds. It was a bitter night, too cold to be sitting in the park like this. The wind was blowing; a bad winter storm was already predicted. In the background, he could hear the faint sounds of rumbling thunder. There hadn’t been a storm like this in the Midwest in a very long time. He’d listened to all the weather reports before he came out this evening, knowing very well that they said that unnecessary travel was not recommended. He would have been scared if he were human. But he was as far from human as a dog or a cat. He only lived in the city periodically, had a little place near the lake. It served its purpose when he needed it but it wasn’t really home. He didn’t really have a home, not anymore anyway.
They were travelers, beings from another dimension. Their real home was destroyed a millennia ago. When they opened a rift in the wall of reality and found this world, they were greeted with fear. The primitive people they discovered didn’t know how to react to such glorious beings. They took on human forms---afraid that the people would not understand their non-corporeal selves---and tried to live normal lives. It didn’t take long for them to realize that normal was not in the cards for them. So instead of living amongst the primitives they went to the highest mountain and set up home there. The primitives started calling the twelve of them Gods and named them Olympians after their home.
He and his people were flattered and after a time grew to enjoy their new status. But he enjoyed the simple life, the only one who liked to live amongst them regularly. The others were scared of man and all the darkness their hearts. But he cherished them. He loved them for their minds, for their compassion and yes, for their ability to never give up no matter what. He also loved that for all their faults, they seemed to stand up and fight back no matter what.
A loud boom of thunder sounded, followed by a bright flash of lightning. Suddenly he wasn’t alone on the bench anymore. Another man was there, arrived in a blink of the eye or so it seemed. The other reached over and took some crumbs from the little bag, scattering them for the birds as well. Neither said anything for a few minutes. Then the Other spoke:
“Why do you wear this form, my Daughter?”
The old man sighed. “It soothes me, Father.”
The Father laughed his black beard bobbing. “It unsettles me, change it please.”
The old man nodded and his form dissolved. His body transformed into a beautiful woman with long raven hair. She was dressed in a bomber jacket, tight jeans, knee-high boots. She wore glasses even though she didn’t really need them and her cane transformed into a ring on her finger, which looked like an owl’s head. She turned to the man sitting next to her, her father. He was dressed in a long duster coat with a wide brim hat, looking like a detective from a 1930's serial. She smirked, wondering if he knew his look was so outdated and clichéd.
“Is this better, Father?”
“Much my Daughter” said the man as he leaned and kissed her on the forehead.
The Daughter smiled. “Was all this really necessary? We let her go after all. I could have locked the Sorceress up for another thousand years for all she did and yet you made me let her go. She could have told us who was behind all this.”
The Father sighed. “That is why I am me and you are you. You take everyone as if they will tell you the truth. If we had captured her and interrogated her, she would have lied. Or else your Brother would have interfered, he loves her so.”
“You think he is involved?”
The Father laughed. “I think that any chance he gets your Brother will take it. He’s a bitter man.”
“I could take him Father?”
“No, my Daughter, he’s too smart for that. There’s nothing connecting this to him. He’ll have covered his tracks far too well.”
She sighed and nodded. “What of the Mother? What is her plan in all this?”
“Jealous I believe. You know how angry She gets. I think she thought she was teaching me a lesson. She’s already been dealt with. The patronage of the Amazons has been returned to your sister, your Mother will no longer have any control in what goes on there.”
The Daughter smiled. “And what of the Amazons?”
The Father smiled. He reached into his coat and took out a picture. It was a recent one; he took it himself only a few mere hours ago. It depicted a blonde girl of about sixteen, on her way into school. He reached forward with a finger and gently stroked her face. He sighed. Oh how he wished to hold her in his arms again. He’d already risked too much with her as it is. Especially when he carried her off to bed that night when she fell asleep on the couch. He broke his own rules then, going into her world like that. But he couldn’t help it; it had been so long since he’d actually had a mortal daughter.
“Father? Are you all right?”
He sighed and stuck the picture back into his coat. He nodded. “The Amazons are in good hands. Your little sister is strong and powerful. She has a lot of trials ahead of her but she will prove herself to be the new Queen. I could not be more proud of her.”
The Daughter nodded. “My Brother won’t like that you’re showering so much of your time on her.”
The Father nodded and stood. “Indeed he won’t.”
“What do we do?” asked the Daughter.
“We watch and wait. Your Brother will get impatient and try something. But I have a feeling something wonderful will happen to stop him.”
The Father disappeared after that, leaving the Daughter alone. She smiled, transforming back into the old man. She reached into the bag and scattered more bread crumbs. There was a distant hoot and she smiled. Her little sister was powerful, that she had no doubt. She would make a great Queen of the Amazons and something wonderful was going to happen.
Something Wonderful indeed.