It's a long way back to the school. Will the young heroes get Neil there in time?
"I'm sorry Neil..." Odie apologizes as he hurriedly cuts away the blond teen's ruined shirt with his pocketknife. Neil whimpers in agony, more from sharp pains he is feeling rather than the dismay over the loss of his favorite shirt. Once Odie removes what was left of the shirt from Neil's torso, he becomes alarmed when he takes a quick inspection of the wound. Odie glances worriedly at his leader. "It looks really bad, Jay!"
Jay looks grim. "Do what you can, Odie." He says. Neil moans again, and Jay places a reassuring hand on the blond teammate's sweaty forehead.
Quickly Odie grabs three layers of large, thick gauze bandages and covers the wound with them. They were almost instantly soaked with blood. Odie grimaces and scrambles to grab another package of gauze bandages from the emergency first aid kit. Using his teeth the smallest member of the team rips the package open and hurriedly place more fresh bandages over Neil's bleeding stomach. They too were soaked in a few seconds. Odie furrows his brow in frustration.
"The bleeding won't stop! I can't stop the bleeding!" He cries out in anguish.
Hearing this, Neil's eyes snaps open and he lets out a terrified, panicky cry. Tears stream down from the corner of his eyes. He doesn't want to die! All he wants is for this day to end, not his life! Every time Odie piles more bandages against Neil's stomach, pressing them down, it causes excruciating pain shooting throughout his body. Again, Neil lets out a scream; he kicks the side of the truck and thrashes his body against Jay.
"Neil! Hold still, man, you're making it worse!" Odie shouts desperately.
Jay puts his arm around Neil's shoulders, while keeping the one hand still on his forehead, in hopes of calming him down. "Neil, listen to Odie. He's trying to help you!" The team leader says as calmly and firmly as he can. After a few tense minutes he gets the blond teen to settle down more or less comfortably against Jay's lap. "You're going to be ok, trust me." He says, patting Neil reassuringly on the shoulder.
Neil is panting, and after a minute he tries to speak with a trembling, lopsided smile, "Heh, tal-talk about having a b-bad day..."
"Yeah, this sure does qualify of having a bad day, Neil." The team leader agrees quietly. Without warning Neil starts coughing up small amounts of blood, and Jay grimaces with dismay.
This is the first time, since taking on the role to become one in charge of his team that Jay is at a loss of what to do. If he could, he would gladly trade places with Neil right now! Because he had been careless in the battle field, even for a moment, Neil took a hit that was meant for him. At this thought a pain of guilt stabs Jay in the pit of his stomach. Sighing sadly, Jay begins stroking absently the golden hair on the young narcissist's head. The emotional impact of this disaster is getting too much for him to bear. Jay's brow wrinkles, and his eyes slowly filled with tears. Glancing down at the stricken teammate, Jay's lower lip quivers. He's a leader, after all, and everyone on his team is his responsibility. And not only that, he cares for each of his friends deeply. If Neil dies, Jay alone would bear the blame for his death. Jay bows his head, and tears starts tickling down his handsome face.
Neil recovers from fits of coughing and looks up at Jay and Odie. He notices the distress on their face and realizes they are upset because of him. Once again the tears roll down from his blue eyes again, not because of his injury, but because of guilt. These six teenage heroes have been there for him so many times, they had helped get him out of so many dangerous situations, and yet, what has Neil done for them? Neil feels like a fool; he had thought he was an important member to the team. After all, he's the seventh member of the team, and not only that, but the seventh lucky member. Is that his only contribution to their cause, his luck/...and that is all? Obviously, he hasn't been very lucky today. Goes to show how useful he really is! He's about to die, and there is nothing to show for it. /What kind of hero am I? He muses to himself bitterly.
In the past his only concern had been his own self-worth. He didn't have close friends to worry about. His own family, and not to mention the free-lance model agency, have always taken care of him. Basically, before all of this hero business started with the appearance of Cronus, Neil hardly have any worries at all.
Now, for some reason, none of that seems so important anymore. His modeling career is over now anyway. Even if his photographer/agent changes his mind and calls him back for a shoot, he will be shunned because of a big scar across his stomach. He will never be seen as someone who embodied charisma and perfection. No...I'm not perfect anymore, and will never be again, for ever! That seems to scare him most of all.
The world around him is growing dark. This creates more fear and confusion in Neil's mind. A soft whimper escapes from between his lips as reality hits him. This is it. This is the first sign of death. How is it that his life has come to this? If he dies now, what will his friends think of him? Will they hate him, and curse his name for abandoning them when they needed him the most? He can see it now; Cronus winning and taking over the world, and the defeated gods and his teammates blaming him for dying on them and allowing this to happen. Without realizing it, Neil's hands and arms begin to tremble and twitch as if he is cold.
Odie notices Neil shivering. Instantly, the dark-skinned genius becomes quite anxious. This is the first sign that Neil is going into shock, and it usually means bad news.
"Neil, I want you to try and relax, ok?" He says to his wounded teammate. "I am putting on more gauze bandages, hopefully to stop the bleeding, but I want you to lie still. Alright?"
The blond boy blinks blankly at his dark-skinned friend, his eyes already becoming unfocused. Then he nods. "Kay," He mumbles.
His hands clutching the steering wheel tightly until the knuckles turn white, Herry drives down the road as fast as he can, the trees blurring past him. Finally he is relieved to see the city lights up ahead. If there was ever a time when Neil could use his powers of luck, it's now! As he turns onto the main street, the stalwart hero hopes fervently that he won't run though any red lights, or worse, have a cop pull him over. It suddenly occurred to Herry that he does not hear any more banging and screaming going on in the back of his truck. The silence is terrifying. He gives Archie a worried look. "Archie!"
The young punk boy looks at him in surprise, raising his eyebrows and wondering why Herry is giving him a panicked look. "What...?" He begins, but Herry interrupts him.
"Go check in the back... Something is not right!" Herry demands, jerking his chin towards the back end of his truck.
Archie understands at once. He doesn't say anything, but nods his head and then he climbs into the backseat to sit down between Atlanta and Theresa. "What's going on back there?" He asks the two girls, jabbing his thumb backward behind him.
Atlanta looks anxious. "As far as we can tell, Neil's bleeding...a lot." She answers him in a shaky tone. Theresa looks just as worried, even grim-faced, but she tries to sound positive.
"It would seem the guys have managed to calm him down though." The pretty redhead says in a hopeful tone.
"Okay, let me see," Archie turns around in his seat and peers through the small window into the end area where Jay, Odie, and the injured Neil are. The metal floor where Neil is lying is covered in blood. Odie had just finishes putting another batch of fresh gauze bandages on top of Neil's open wound.
The young punk knocks on the glass to get Jay's attention. As soon as he has his leader's attention, Archie calls out, "Herry wants to know how Neil is!"
Jay looks down at the boy leaning against his lap. Neil blinks heavily with an odd cough now and then to regain his breath. Both Jay and Archie could see that Neil's breathing is very irregular. Seeing his injured teammate shivering doesn't seem too good either, and the fact his face looking so dreadfully white is quite alarming. Jay turns toward Archie, his tormented brown eyes glistening with tears of worry and even guilt.
"He's still hanging in there..." Jay murmurs. Then louder; "Archie, how much further are we to the school?"
Archie looks over his shoulder toward Herry at the steering wheel. He can see through the front windshield the city streets glittering ahead. The punk with the purple mullet mentally estimates the distance on their way to their destination. "I'm guessing we're about fifteen minutes away!" He says, turning back to Jay. "Is there anything you want me to do?"
"15 minutes?" The team leader's haggard face looks stricken. "Just tell Herry to drive faster if he can!" He cries in an urgent voice. "We must hurry; we can't afford to lose any more time!"
Surprised by Jay's anguished tone, Archie nods quickly and returns to the front seat. "Herry," He says, looking right at the big, gentle teammate, "Jay says you must drive faster if you can!"
Herry doesn't protest. "You got it!" He replies, and makes a hard left turn into another street into the city. This nearly causes an accident with several other incoming cars. Angry curses puncture the air as the other drivers shout, shake their fists and honk their horns at Herry's seemingly erratic driving. The brawny teen just ignores them and keeps on driving grimly at top speed.
"So..." Herry glances at Archie out of the corner of his eye. The young punk is wearing a long frown on his face and he is looking away into the darkness. This worries Herry. "So How's Neil?" He finally asks.
Archie slowly turns his head to him. When he speaks, he sounds gruff but quite distressed. "Don't ask." The young punk says tersely. Herry turns his attention back to the road, and finds himself blinking with sudden tears brimming in his eyes.
Meanwhile, Odie is busy applying a few last layers of fresh gauze bandages on the Neil's wound. Almost instantly the large white cotton squares turns dark red. Odie shakes his head in despair, frustrated that Neil won't stop bleeding. But then the young genius realizes sometimes, and looks at his friend more closely. Neil is already as pale as he is right now, but his eyes have rolled up in his head and he lay limply, like a rag doll. A trickle of blood is already oozing down from the corner of his mouth. Odie's anxiety raises a few notches. He has no idea if Neil is slipping into unconsciousness; nevertheless, Odie anxiously grabs Neil's arm and tries to feel the pulse. It is weak, so weak that the young genius becomes frightened. This is bad, very bad. "Jay! We're losing him!" The panicked Odie shrieks to Jay in terror.
The team leader has been quietly and miserably berating himself for not having the foresight to see this coming - Cronus sneaking up behind Jay and attempting to assassinate him. If only he would pay extra careful attention around himself...and then none of this would happen to Neil! It's all my fault, Jay castigates himself bitterly.
Odie's terrified screaming jolt Jay out of his deep, despairing thoughts. He looks quickly down and is horrified to see the blond teen's precarious condition. "No!" Jay shouts and starts shaking Neil's shoulders and slapping the unresponsive boy's face frantically. "Neil! Come on, Neil, open your eyes! Look at me!"
With great effort, Neil's eyes flutter open. He struggles to focuses them on his leader. Jay finds it hard to control the tears streaming down from his eyes.
"Neil, you've got to listen to me!" Jay sniffles back the tears and tries to regain his composure. "You can't give up! You're not a quitter, are you Neil?"
Slowly Neil shakes his head. "No," he replies in a weak, barely audible whisper.
"Good! Cause I don't have quitters on my team, and you are a member of this team, right Neil?"
Neil is taken aback. Of course he is on the team! He had been hoping to be accepted by Jay and the others as a full-fledged member and a true warrior. But there were moments that even Neil, himself, had doubts about his role and about being a part of this team. One thing he knows for sure - that he would not have traded his adventures with these six heroes for anything in the world. Still, the last thing he wants them to think of him as both a quitter and failure to the entire team. This is something he definitely does NOT want to be remembered about, should anything happen to him!
With as soft, whimpering sob, Neil nods ever so slightly. "Yes..."
"That's good! I want you to promise me something, ok?"
The blond boy blinks heavily and tries to peer again at his friend again. "Ok..." The gravely wounded teen whispers again. Jay's eyes are brimming with tears of emotion.
"Promise me that you won't give up!" The leader says firmly in a choking voice, "You have to promise me that, Neil! Not just for the prophecy, but for the rest of us too. You are our friend, and we don't want to lose you, not like this...do you hear me? So I want you to promise that you won't give up. Can you do that?"
Neil struggles to reply. "I...I...pr-prom...promise... I promise..." Even just uttering a single word proves too exhausting for him, but he knows now that friends are counting on him. Neil can't die. They are depending on him! If he dies now, he will be considered as a failure...and this is something he does not want to happen!
Through his tears, Odie searches desperately for more gauze bandages from the first aid bag, but finds none. He doesn't like the fact his blond friend is still bleeding heavily. He has a nagging doubt that Neil would make it at all, regardless of his promise to Jay not to give up. Again the African-Canadian boy looks at Neil anxiously; he can see that Neil continues fading slowly, yet making a considerable effort to stay awake while Jay continues to talk to him.
"We're here!" Herry hollers suddenly from his driver's seat.
"Guys!" Theresa calls to the back of the truck through the small open window, her voice obviously relieved. "We made it to the school!"
Jay feels a sudden surge of hope. "Neil, did you hear that?" He exclaims eagerly to his injured friend, gently shaking Neil's head to make sure he is still conscious, "We are at the school now!"
"Yeah..." Neil whispers, his voice trailing off. His eyelids feel even heavier than before, and it is getting harder to keep them open.
The orange truck barrels into the parking lot, skidding to a stop right at the front doors of the school, so close enough that the heroes could carry their wounded friend inside the building without wasting precious moments.
Grim-faced, Herry and Archie leap out of the front seats of the truck. The girls likewise jump out and run to the front doors, throwing them wide open to make way for Neil to be ushered in. However, the instant Herry and Archie look into the back of the truck they let out a loud, horrified gasp. The concerned girls come running back to have a look for themselves as well. They knew it would be bad, but the amount of Neil's blood everywhere makes the back area of the truck look like a battle field. For a moment they stare with their jaws hanging open, totally at loss what to say. But Jay quickly takes control of the situation.
"Ok, here we go, Neil! We are going to move you now!" Jay declares. The injured teen can only reply with a whimpering sigh as both Jay and Odie maneuver his limp body into Herry's waiting arms. Neil's arm sticks out awkwardly at an angle, so Archie gently places it across blond boy's torso just before Herry lifts him, cradling him in his arms. As soon as Jay and Odie jump out they all move quickly into the school.
The echoing sounds of six pairs of frantic shoes stomping reverberate through the hallway until they come to a stop at a familiar closet door with the word 'Janitor' painted on it. Quickly Jay takes out his golden Pendant Key and sticks it onto the special lock above the doorknob. The dial on the medallion starts ticking, moving slowly around toward the specially marked symbol on the top.
"Come on, come on, come on, come on..." Jay mutters, his hand motioning impatiently toward the Pendant Key as if he could force the medallion by sheer will to hurry up and unlock the door.
Finally the door swings open. Theresa and Odie are the first to dash into the closet. Jay follows right behind them, and Herry rushes in after him with Neil still cradled in his arms. Archie and Atlanta are the last to make it inside.
Archie catches up to Herry's side and peers over at their injured friend. "Is Neil still breathing?"
Herry looks down. For one horrified moment he thought Neil had truly stopped breathing, until he notices his friend's chest moving - but only just.
"Barely," Herry says tersely to the young punk.
Atlanta overhears him. She comes up around behind Herry and puts her hand on Neil's shoulder.
"Hang on, ok Neil. Chiron will fix you up...he has to!" She says in a shaky voice. Again Neil, barely conscious, responds with a whimper to let her know he has heard and acknowledged her.
Once they reach a certain wall Theresa pulls on the light switch and the magical blue portal spirals open. Atlanta makes a head start, running into the portal ahead of the rest of the teen heroes.
Hera, Chiron, Aphrodite, Hercules, Ares, Persephone, and Artemis are in a private meeting in Hera's Aviary, relaxing and drinking their warm, honeyed beverage while they discuss a new training exercise which they agreed their seven heroes would need to learn the following day. Their quiet moment is shattered, however, when the running footsteps of anxious teens are heard approaching toward them from down the hall.
"What...?" Suddenly feeling something is terribly wrong; Hera hastily gets up from her chair, hurries toward the door and open it to look out into the hallway.
Atlanta is the first to run around the corner and, seeing the open door, burst right into the chamber of the startled Gods.
"Hera...! Chiron...!" She pants, trying to regain her breath to speak. Once she recovers, the fiery red-head finally barks out hoarsely; "We have a medical emergency!"
"What's going on?" Chiron looks concerned. Just then Jay and the others come running into the chamber as well, with Herry right behind them. Neil, still in Herry's burly arms, looks so pale, so lifeless from the apparent loss of blood that the Gods immediately stand up in shock.
Before anyone else has a chance to utter one word, Aphrodite starts shrieking. "NEIL!!" The Goddess of Love screams, running frantically over to her young blond protÃ©gÃ©. Cupping Neil's face in her hands, she searches his face anxiously. "Neil, look at me darling!" She demands in a soft, quivering voice.
With a whimpering breath, Neil forces his eyes to open again and looks at her. He recognizes Aphrodite, his beautiful mentor. She is such a welcoming sight. He tries to smile at her, but a pain of guilt hits him as he realizes that he must look quite dreadful, bleeding and all. Surely he is unworthy of being in her presence in this horrible condition! However, he no longer has the strength to keep his eyes open. He closes his eyes then, and his body feels even heavier. He isn't sure, but Neil swears he can hear hooves of a galloping horse heading his way.
"Quickly, give him to me!" Chiron commands, holding out his broad arms.
Herry does not hesitate; he lifts Neil up a bit so the centaur can gather the badly injured teen into his arms. The second Chiron has Neil in his arms; he gallops off as fast as he can down the hallway toward Dionysus' lab, which doubles as a medical room just for the emergencies such as Neil's case.
The other Gods all get up and follow silently after Chiron. Unsure what to do, the remaining young heroes looks worriedly at each other for a moment. Then, deciding they should go in and show their support for Neil, they attempt to follow the Gods into the lab. But just then Hera turns around and shakes her head brusquely at them.
"Wait here," she commands in a stern voice. The heroes stop dead in their tracks, staring in surprise at her. Hara merely looks gravely at them for a few seconds and then, quietly but firmly, she closes the doors on them before Atlanta would even think to dash in through them.
With the look of disbelief, the descendant of Artemis stares fixedly at the closed doors. 'This isn't happening,' Atlanta whines internally. She turns to her friends with tears running down her face. "Neil's going to be ok, isn't he? I mean he's supposed to be the lucky one, right?" She sobs uncontrollably.
Archie happens to be the closest to her. He sighs sadly and gently places his reassuring hand on her shoulder. Unexpectedly, Atlanta leans into him, buries her face in his chest and starts weeping nosily. At first Archie is stunned at her unexpected breakdown. He had never seen her so fragile before. Instinctively, he wraps his arms around her and cuddles her. Her uncontrollable shaking and muffled sobs causes a flood of emotion to erupt in him. To his surprise, he starts crying as well.
Herry glances down at his blood-stained arms where he had cradled Neil's near-lifeless body. Slowly he sits down on a nearby staircase with a blank look on his face. He is too shocked to think straight; he can't tell how he should feel about this right at this moment.
Jay is shaking, too wrought up to do anything. 'Their fates are in your hands...' Hera's voice echoes in his mind. That is what she said after he came to school for the first time. How could he be so foolish, not realizing that the mission to the old abandoned factory was a trap? No doubt it is a trap, indeed, that is meant for him! Because of his needless inattention Neil is injured, even dying. Dying. Unable to hold it in, Jay lets out a despairing sob. He leans against the wall, slides down until he is sitting on the floor with his head hanging down. He put his trembling hand to his tear-soaked face.
Looking sorrowfully at Jay, Theresa decides to sit down beside him. She put her arms around his shoulders and pulls him closer to her for support. Tears run down her cheeks as she worries about their blond friend who is now being cared for in the other room.
Odie sits down opposite to Jay and Theresa. Of all the friends he had known, he is surprised that it has come to this. What would he do if Neil dies? Odie bites down on his lower lip and wipes away a tear that is trying to escape from his eye.
All six teens know that this extremely grave situation is not a simple thing to solve. It's not like the other time when Jay was poisoned by a Chimera. When Jay was hovering between death and life, the others had known what they could do to try and save him. They had traveled all the way to the underworld in order to fetch some rare Asphodel flowers, and those flowers had cured their leader before it was too late. Thanks to their excellent teamwork, Jay had survived.
But with Neil, it is whole another story entirely. No, indeed, it was not like when Jay is nearly dead himself. All they could do is bringing Neil to the school, and that was the only thing they could think of. Now the six teen heroes have no choice but to wait and see if Neil will survive.
That is, if Neil ever survives at all...