C2 Chapter 2
Apollo...dying? I inhale in shock as Prometheus’ memories surface. He shared so much with the golden god. Swimming as dolphins in the sea. Escaping Daphne’s nets. The time they stole Helios’ chariot...
A pang of sorrow rolls through me. I look back at Apollo, slouched in his chair.
“How?” I ask softly. “Who?”
"Epimetheus.” A gleam of bitter amusement dances in his eyes as he slowly covers his wound. His movements are stiff, and his hands shake like he’s an old man. “I opposed his plan to travel to Earth. Then he stabbed me with my own poisoned arrow. Justice, I suppose. You, my dear friend, always warned me to think of consequences. I should have listened.”
I draw my lips in a sympathetic smile. It’s still hard to process. In my mind’s eye, I’m still seeing the memories Prometheus and Apollo shared. It’s strange, distant, yet familiar at the same time.
Apollo sighs. “So, as you can see, I will be of little help. You are the only one who can stop Epimetheus, old friend."
I give a loud snort and clutch at my wound. “I’m not in much better shape than you.”
Apollo chuckles and then leans forward. "May I?"
Figuring there's not much to lose, I nod.
The sun god lets his hand hover over my abdomen. After a moment, he offers a small smile. "I can heal you," he says. "If you're willing." He reaches behind his back and pulls out his bow, a masterpiece of gold inlaid wood, with a golden arrow made of light.
"You're going to shoot me?" I’m all Lily now and nothing about letting the sun god shoot me in the stomach seems like a good idea.
"With this bow, I can heal or kill, depending on the arrow I choose," he reminds me softly.
I eye the gleaming arrow. I read so many legends of Apollo's mighty bow, curled up on the couch sipping hot mugs of cocoa. To think I’m actually staring at not only the weapon of legend but the god himself makes me shiver. At times, it’s still hard to wrap my head around all this... but Apollo was a good friend to Prometheus, and in my heart, I know I can trust him, at least with this.
"Do it," I say before I can change my mind.
I maintain eye contact with him as he notches the arrow, aims, and lets it fly. My screams fill the Dungeon halls as pain rips through me, and the arrow dissolves into my wound like a ray of sun, burning the poison out of my body.
Ichor tainted with a dark shadowy ink leaks out of me, and then my skin begins to stitch itself back together until within seconds, only a small scar in the shape of a sun remains, like an ancient Greek version of a tattoo.
I'm shaking from the adrenaline rush, and my body feels hot from within, almost too hot. But then I swing my legs out of bed and when I stand, I no longer wobble. Already my strength is returning, and a sudden scene from the past, from my days as a god, plays out within my mind.
An eagle pecking out my liver.
Over and over.
The pain was unbearable and unending.
My only moment of peace came when Apollo arrived as a white raven, attacking the eagle Zeus sent. After banishing the bird, Apollo resumed his natural form to use his arrow to heal my body, and for a brief time, I could rest.
Until the eagle arrived again the next day.
That part never made it into the myths. Lily Lemon wouldn’t have known this. Only Prometheus. The memory guts me, and when I look back up at Apollo, I can tell he’s followed my thoughts.
"We have a long history, you and I," he says, immeasurable depths of sadness reflecting in his eyes. "I can only hope our past might afford me some grace for my mistakes now."
Despite everything, my heart softens towards him. None of us are entirely innocent, are we? After thousands of years, things are so entwined, so messy. So very gray instead of black and white.
His light is virtually gone, and his skin looks ashen.
I frown, my concern returning with a rush. "Can't you heal yourself? Can’t you use your arrow?"
"Alas, but no. My arrows cannot counter themselves." He leans forward and takes my hand in his. "Prometheus—Lily—help me. If not for me, help the people of our world. Of both worlds."
"What must I do?" I ask.
"Stop Epimetheus. Stop his madness. He’ll destroy everything in this world. He’s too powerful. And though I never thought this possible, he’s worse than Zeus himself.”
I nod grimly.
"I knew I could count on you, my friend." He closes his eyes and leans back in his chair.
The raven startles me by swooping over my head to settle on his shoulder. I’d forgotten the bird’s existence. I watch as it places its cheek against Apollo’s.
“Farewell, my friend,” the sun god whispers.
“Farewell,” the bird croons in reply.
I jerk, startled the bird can talk, but really, I shouldn’t be surprised. The Greek myths are filled with talking animals.
For a few moments, they sit there, god and beast, in some silent communion of the soul. Then, Apollo breathes out a long breath and when he opens his eyes again, I can see his light, his life, fading even more.
He takes his bow and arrows and hands them to me, his hands shaking so badly he nearly drops them all. "Take these and use them with wisdom. Find my sister, Artemis. She will help you. Tell her the berries of Elysium were sweetest when we were children playing in their fields. She will know I sent you."
He closes his eyes again, longer this time, his breath slowing, and something inside me clenches in a grief that belongs more to Prometheus than Lily. When his eyes open, I know it’s for the last time.
"Take Nefeli, my raven," he says, nudging her off his shoulder until she spreads her wings and flies to me. "She can aid you in your quest."
The raven’s talons are sharp as she anchors herself on my shoulder, but she’s so light it feels as if she’s barely there. She doesn’t move as I bend to take Apollo’s hand in mine.
His eyes close and already, his breath is shallow. He doesn’t last long. In minutes, his lungs heave for the final time, and his soul retreats into the mortal world for a rebirth of its own kind.
I stay with him awhile longer, the Prometheus part of me clinging to the friendship shared with this beautiful man, even as my life as Lily simmers with anger at the sequence of events he set in motion. Because of him, my family’s hearts were broken over my untimely death. Do they still weep? My heart tells me they do. Every night.
Eventually, I straighten and prepare myself for what must happen next.
It’s time to fight Clay. Stop him. Rescue the gods, too. After I free Mirk, Torak, and Ladron from whatever prison Clay has stuck them inside, of course. And to accomplish all that, I’ll need allies.
I smile. Fortunately, Prometheus has many friends here in the Dungeons. I pick up my whip resting on the foot of the bed. The Mortal Coil. The Spear of Truth and the Sword of Destiny rest nearby. They’re more than just fancy names. They have purposes, but Prometheus’ memories offer me nothing more than that.
“Let’s go,” I tell Nefeli as I sling Apollo’s bow and quiver over my free shoulder. “We’ve got someone to find.”
The raven ruffles her feathers. “Lead on,” is all she says.
I pause, and with one last look at my old room, my own remains, and now Apollo in his chair, I wheel around, open the door, and head deeper into the Dungeons.
Outside in the stone passageway, I see several of Hailey’s lamps hanging on iron hooks. I grab one and run through the Dungeon halls that are now as familiar to me as the back of my own hands.
Three levels down, I nearly collide into Homer the Cyclops emerging from the mouth of a cave. He’s wearing a scarf over his blinded eyes, and his furry legs and hooves are wet. Behind him are pools of water. There are several scaled humps and a few snouts sticking out from the water on the left, but before I can get a closer look, the humps and snouts vanish under the water’s dark, shiny surface.
"The glowing sun healed you," the cyclops says, looking relieved.
“Yes,” I say. “I’m well. As strong as ever.”
Before I can give him the news of Apollo’s death, he turns his head to one side and sniffs. “Nefeli? Is that you?”
As the raven shifts and caws a ‘Yes,’ on my shoulder, the cyclops’ shoulders sag. He knows what it means.
“Apollo has passed on to his next life,” I murmur.
A range of complex emotions twist his lips. I guess all of Apollo’s relationships were complicated. After a few seconds, Homer bows his head. “I feared as much.”
More memories surface, images of hunting with Apollo in the forest, dining with him at a nereid feast, but I shove my returning recollections aside. I don’t have time for nostalgia right now.
“I’m heading deeper in,” I say.
There’s only one reason to head deeper into the Dungeons from here, and Homer's body tenses with fear. "To the monster that all others fear?"
“Yes,” I say, but I don’t fear him. He’s someone I know well. And someone I hope remembers me like Homer did.
Homer draws a deep breath. “I cannot join you. That cave is dangerous, for even me.”
“Especially dangerous for those who cannot fly,” Nefeli observes.
I nod, but I’m counting on the past. I turn to Homer, “That’s okay, I don’t expect you to. I understand.” I lean forward and give his arm a squeeze. “Now, I must be off.”
I leave him there and head down into the darkness, using all my godlike speed to run like I never have before. With my injury healed, my strength has returned along with a sense of renewed hope. I can undo the damage Clay has inflicted on the world. I’ve been dealing with Epimetheus for centuries, and after all this time, his tendency to jump headlong into things obviously hasn’t changed. And that means opportunities to stop him.
As I descend, the sounds of skittering feet and scales scraping against rock echo around me as a stench of sulfur wells up from below.
“How can he still smell of sulfur after all this time?” I muse aloud.
Nefeli doesn’t respond, and then, I’m rounding a particularly sharp corner to see the dark mouth of a cave rising before me.
At my third step, I hear the ferocious growls, the kind even the dead fear.
I lift Hailey’s lamp, and there before me in the cave’s great maw, I find who I’m looking for: six eyes glowing in the darkness. Three mouths baring their sharp teeth at me.
I take a cautious step forward, hoping my scent is as familiar to them as it was to Homer. Beneath my feet, bones snap, and from the corner of my eye, I see the guts and carcasses of their victims strewn around the rocky floor.
The beast rises on its haunches and towers over me, its shaggy fur gray, and its massive heads each alert and attentive to my every move.
"Hey there," I say softly, dampening Hailey’s lantern somewhat. I know how much the beast still hates daylight, but I want it to see me. I take another step, holding out my hand. "Remember me?"
The monster lunges.
My heart leaps, but I hold my ground, my Prometheus memories giving me courage. Nefeli digs her talons deep into my shoulder but doesn’t fly away.
The chains rattle and stretch taut as the monster strains against the shackles on all its throats.
Then, the beast stills, and I hear a great intake of breath. All six pairs of ears perk up as the heads begin to whine.
My heart melts. "Ah, you poor baby, let me help you." With renewed confidence I move closer, letting my hand fall onto the monster’s largest head as it drops to sniff and inspect me. As a slobbery tongue licks my arm, leaving a trail of saliva, my heart swells at the emotions surfacing. I grin.
I make short work of the chains, and as the last shackle falls to the floor, I’m faced with three grinning heads and a massive, wagging tail.
"You remember me, don't you?" I place my forehead against one of its heads and close my eyes. "It's good to see you again, Cerb. Ready to break into the Underworld?"