As the team sits and waits for news on their fallen teammate they ponder what the outcome may be.
All-in-all, hope you will enjoy chapter 4. Please don't forget to post any comments you may have. I look forward in hearing what you have to say. Thank you.
Chapter 4: Hold Your Breath
Somewhere out there in the other dimension where time is practically nonexistent, Cronus is pacing angrily back and forth in his spacious chamber. The four frightened giants cower, huddling fearfully close to the wall in an attempt to distance themselves as far as possible from their boss who is muttering hotly under his breath. Finally Cronus stopped and turned to face Agnon and his companions.
"Why do those annoying kids have to be so lucky?" He shouts at them. His veins are practically throbbing visibly in his forehead.
Bewildered, the giants grunt in reply with confusion written on their grotesque faces. One by one they shrug, indicating that they don't have an answer to Cronus' question.
"I mean, the plan was perfect," Cronus resumes pacing, his attention already turned away from the giants. "We would set a decoy at the abandoned factory and as those bratty teenagers try tracking us down I'd ambush them by striking Jay down from behind. You know what they say, if the leader goes down, they all go down!" The evil Time God muses over what should have been his most brilliant plan, only it did not go as he had expected. He scowls angrily over the fact.
"If it wasn't for a stroke of chance that blond, self-centered brat looking in his mirror at the exact moment I was making my appearance to take Jay down..." he materializes one of his golden scythes into his hand and shakes it furiously at the giants, "I would be celebrating my victory right about now! But instead I'm..."
Cronus stops suddenly, for he notices something out of place on his shiny weapon. He brings it closer and peers carefully at the tip of his scythe. "What's this?" The Time God mutters in surprise at the sight of a thin, crimson smear on the mirror-like blade. His eyes are not deceiving him, however; his keen nose had picked up the unmistakable odor of human blood. An evil grin of unholy glee spreads across his craggy face. "Could it be possible...?" He asks to no one in particular.
The giants again shrug and glance uneasily at each other. They are not sure what their boss is talking about, but at this moment they are just glad Cronus is not yelling at them, for now. They watch Cronus walk over to his scrying pool. The dark God peers down at the swirling murky water, waiting until it clears up to reveal the vision of the exact moment just after Cronus left the seven teens at the old abandoned factory. With an insane chuckle, Cronus watches with glee as he sees Neil clutching at his bleeding stomach just before he collapses into friends' outstretched arms.
"It would seem that that boy's luck may have finally run out. Perhaps there is a chance the prophecy can be broken after all!" With that, Cronus cackles enthusiastically.
The six weary teens are waiting apprehensively in Hera's Aviary room for the news of their fallen comrade. Time seems to drag on; it has been only two hours and a half, and yet it feels like forever. None of the kids had spoken to each other since Chiron and the other Gods took Neil to Dionysus' lab. Needless to say the young heroes are very anxious to know what is happening with their friend right now.
Atlanta, worn out from her tearful outbursts, is lying on one of the two couches across from each other, with her head resting comfortably on a green satin cushion. Her eyes blink slowly and drowsily, but she is still too upset to doze off anyhow. Archie is sitting wearily on the other end of the same couch, Atlanta's feet barely touching his thighs. His elbow rests on the arm of the couch, with his head leaning heavily onto his upturned palm. Odie, still in a state of shock, is sitting on the floor with his back against the couch the two fastest members of the team sit. For a long time he scarcely moved from his sitting spot. At one time the young genius glances down at his blood-stained hands and clothes, and a part of him wants to throw up. He can't stop thinking it over and over how Neil was suffering and bleeding practically to death on their way to the school. Heavy-hearted, Odie sighs and wishes once again that he could have found a way a lot sooner to save Neil's life. He fears it may be too late for Neil, just too late....
Meanwhile, Jay and Theresa, sit opposite from the others. The leader of the group is still grief-stricken over what had happened to Neil. He is afraid to look up at his teammates, but he can sense their worried thoughts. /It's all my fault/, he berated himself again, and a tear trickles down his cheek.
Theresa, still sitting next to Jay, is replaying the scene at the old abandon factory over and over in her mind. Why couldn't she sense Cronus? She knew danger was all around...even so, by the time Cronus appeared through his portal and Neil shouted 'duck,' it was too late. Could it be because her focus was too much on all directions that she had troubles pinpointing the exact danger? Or perhaps there were the Giants, servants of Cronus, lurking around the factory...their unseen presences could be what distorted her sixth sense? In any case, Neil is badly injured now and there was nothing Theresa can do about it but sit there, staring glumly down at the folded golden three-panel mirror with Neil's first initial engraved on it. She hopes Neil will be okay, but she has a sinking feeling that he might not even make it after all.
Herry continues to sit on the staircase, although earlier he had paced the room restlessly for a while, worrying about Neil. He still feel numb inside, and as he stares down at the dried blood on his hands and arms, his forehead wrinkles. During the entire time he carried Neil from his truck into the school, Herry had feared that his blond friend would die before they would reach the Gods. And, after seeing how serious the former model's injury was, the brawn teen fears there may be no chance of Neil coming out of this alive. This is certainly a fate he couldn't see in anyone's future, no matter how annoying they are sometimes! Never have he feel so helpless, not knowing what will happen to Neil at this moment!
Suddenly one of the doors opens, causing the five teens to sit straight up expectantly. Finally, after hours of waiting, someone is coming to meet the young heroes with possible news about Neil! When she hears the sounds of tiny hooves clopping across the floor, Atlanta slowly opens her eyes. The moment she sees who it is her eyes widen with surprise and she sits up to take a better look at the solemn-looking figure entering the room. It turns out to be a portly, middle-aged balding satyr.
However, instead bearing the news about Neil, the satyr looks around at the teens until his eyes falls upon Jay, Herry and Odie. He nods toward them and proclaims, "Hera has sent me to get you three cleaned up."
Herry and Odie blink and look at him with surprise. But Jay brushes the satyr's instructions aside and instead blurts out: "How is Neil...? Do you know...?" He leans forward, looking pleadingly at the old satyr.
The mythical creature shakes his head sadly. "I'm sorry, I don't," he answers, "Now if you please, follow me so you can wash and change from those dirty clothes. A few Nymphs will arrive soon with warm beverages and something to eat for all of you."
The six young heroes exchange quick glances at each other with uncertainty. Then, with a silent nod to Herry and Odie, Jay is the first to stand up.
"Okay," Jay says, and then looks at Archie. "If you hear any news of Neil, let me know." Wordlessly Archie responds to that with a simple nod of his head.
Mutely Odie and Herry rise from their seats and, along with their leader and the old little satyr, they file out of the room.
As they head down the hallway the satyr gives a quick glance back at the tall brawny teen. "By the way, Herry, Hephaestus instructed me to tell you that he has your truck in his workshop and is cleaning it for you." The little goat-man tells him.
"Huh...?" Herry has been too absorbed in his thoughts to take notice of anyone talking to him, but the mention of his name caught his attention. "Ok," He replies in a weak tone.
The satyr leads the three boys into a spa-like washroom. In the middle of the room is what looks like a large round stainless steel sink. On a bench beside the sink is the boys' clean gym clothes laid out along with fresh white towels.
"Well, I shall leave you boys to get yourselves washed and changed," The satyr instructs before making his exit, "Be sure you toss your dirty clothes into that bin over by the wall. I'll return in a few minutes to take you back to Hera's Aviary room."
With a heavy sigh the three boys take off their shirts and begin washing the blood off from their hands, arms, and even their faces. None of them spoke a word but finish scrubbing down before they can put on a clean pair of pants and shirt. Afterwards, they feel a bit better but their hearts still ache with anxiety, wondering about the condition Neil is in. If only they would give anything to hear Neil's annoying laughter once again!
They have scarcely tossed their bloody clothes into the bin when the satyr returns.
"Oh good, you are done." He says, glancing over at the young heroes. "Come, I'll take you back to join with the others."
Before the satyr could take another step out of the spa, however, Jay speaks up again. "There isn't a chance you could tell us what is going on with Neil, is there?"
Satyr grimaces. "I'm sorry, but the Gods won't say." He answers regretfully, "They only instructed me and the Nymphs to look after you kids."
Jay, Odie, and Herry's shoulders slump in defeat. Without any more words they continue their march back to Hera's room.
When the boys return to Hera's room the other kids are already being served with warm tea, fruit, and some crackers. Scarcely have Jay, Herry, and Odie sit down than the Nymphs started handing them warm cups of freshly brewed Greek tea. Herry and Odie absently accept the tea from the Nymphs, but Jay tries to wave off the temptation.
"I'm good," he grunts, making himself comfortable on the couch where Theresa and Herry are sitting. He looks right at Archie and queries, "Anything yet...?"
Archie is about to bite into a cracker when he looks up. With a blank look but in a tone of quiet despair, he shakes his head and replies, "No." There is nothing more to say. Archie bits down the cracker, even though he really isn't that hungry.
"Jay, please have some tea." The Nymph with short pink hair pleads.
Jay looks up and notices a tired, sad expression on the Nymph's beautiful face. She appears to have been crying earlier this evening. He looks over and sees the same expression on the other Nymph with long blue hair who is serving Theresa and Atlanta. This reminds Jay of the legend of Narcissus when all the Nymphs, including Echo, had mourned the loss of the young Greek hero's life centuries ago. The combination of fear and anxiety sits in his stomach like a cold stone. What if Neil does not survive? If anything happens to Neil, it would certainly be Jay's fault!
The persistent Nymph pushes the cup closer to Jay's face. "Please..." she says, almost begging.
Deciding not to be rude this time, Jay gives in and accepts the tea. "Thanks," he says with a sigh. But does not drink from it right away; instead, he stares down absently at the steaming tan liquid. His thoughts are on what the outcome might be.
Somewhat satisfied that the six young heroes are drinking and snacking on the food they had brought in for them, the two Nymphs noiselessly leave the room.
Once again the silence permeates the room. No one is speaking due to the swarm of thoughts running through their heads. Finally, after gazing briefly at the golden monogrammed three-panel mirror again, Theresa lifts her head.
"Jay," she begins, "I know what you are thinking. Please don't blame yourself! We all feel the same guilt, too." Theresa pauses, waiting for Jay to reply, but he remains silent. She sighs and continues, "If we were all paying a little more attention to what was going on all around us, we might have spotted Cronus before he appeared through his portal..."
Jay interrupts her with a slow shake of his head. "Theresa, I appreciate what you are saying, but you are all my responsibility. If I let one of you down, I let all of you down." He says quietly in a voice full of regrets.
"We are a team Jay," Atlanta points out suddenly. "We stick together! Isn't that what you keep saying?"
"Yeah, but /what/?" Archie interrupts Jay, "Theresa and Atlanta have a point. If you say that you let Neil down, then we all did!" Even though he is just as stricken as everybody else, his voice has taken on a bit of a characteristic aggressive tone.
Herry is nodding in agreement, and Odie decides to speak up as well. "They're right Jay." The young genius declares, "We all have a responsibility in this, not just you!"
Once again the room is filled with silence. Jay is a loss for words. He looks down, letting his head falls into his upturned hand. The tears swell up in his eyes, but they do not fall. He understands that they are trying to mitigate his guilt...still, he keeps wishing had never happened to Neil - or anyone else on his team!
With a sigh Theresa returns her attention to Neil's mirror. This time, however, she can't seem to shake the feeling that something is not right about it. Gently, the young clairvoyant girl opens the panels to look inside. To her surprise pieces of the reflective glass spills out from it and falls to the floor. Her gasp causes the other teens to turn and look at her curiously.
"What is it Theresa?" Atlanta asks.
"Neil's mirror, guys... it broke." She answers, holding up what is left of the three-panel golden framed monogrammed mirror.
"Oh man, Neil won't be too happy when he finds out!" Archie groans. There is a hint of guilt in his voice as he said this.
Jay looks away and frowns unhappily, remembering how Neil had dropped it when he rushed forward to push him away from Cronus' scythe.
Herry is about to nibble absent-mindedly on a cracker, but after hearing Theresa's comment he puts it down, looking thoughtful. "You know," he says slowly, "All the times Neil has dropped his mirror... I never notice it ever breaking before."
Odie shrugs. "It probably hit the cement sidewalk at the right angle which caused the glass to shatter like that." He points out.
But Atlanta looks a little shaken. "B-but he's supposed to be lucky. Things like this shouldn't happen, right?" She says uneasily.
"Well, Neil did mention he was having a bad day earlier." Archie points out.
"Hmm..." Now Jay is looking thoughtful, too. "I wonder what had happened to him this morning. He was rather moody when we picked him up at the park."
"Guess even Neil can be prone to bad luck once and awhile," Theresa remarks, "Like the time he was taken by the Stymphalian birds."
"Yeah," Herry turns to Theresa, "But didn't his luck come through, saving us from the birds and Cronus too?"
"That's right," Jay nods, "Also when we were dealing with ant solders. He was stung by ant venom, but thanks to his luck he was able to bring back one of the collars and one of the ants. We were able to find ways to stop Cronus, not to mention save and transform the soldiers back to humans after that."
Odie smiles faintly. "I'll never forget that mission, that's for sure!" He chuckles wryly, bringing his cup up to take a sip of the tea inside.
"You know," Jay sits straight up and face the others, "The more we think about this, the more we realize in Neil's own quirky way he is indeed an important member to the team!"
At this his remaining teammates look down, each taking a moment to reflect on what Jay is saying. They silently admit that they are just not a team without Neil. No matter what his flaws might be, he is a huge asset to them!
Theresa smiles slightly. "I wonder what Neil would say if he heard us talk about him like this?" She asks absently. The others don't say anything. Silence filled the room once again, leaving them absorbed in their own thoughts.
One of the doors swings open, and the young heroes all look up. To their relief it is Hera herself, just stepping into the room. Eagerly and anxiously Jay and the others immediately jump out of their seats, practically stepping over each other as they rush desperately toward her. But when they reaches her, they are too emotionally wounded up to speak anything...they can only gaze at the Goddess with beseeching eyes.
For a moment Hera stands silently inside the doorway, not uttering one word just yet. As she raises her eyes to meet theirs, her face seems even more deeply etched with weary lines. At this point the kids are practically holding their breath, not knowing if she is about announce good news...or bad news. As they wait to hear what Jay's mentor would say, Hera's eyes move from one face to another, scrutinizing them solemnly. Only the sound of a nearby wall clock can be heard ticking, second by second, minute by minute.
It is getting unbearable. The young teens wish she would just hurry up and say something about their friend Neil, while at the same time they dread it might be some bad news - and this is something they can not deal with right now! Regardless of what is going through their minds, all six heroes resolve to listen attentively should Hera speaks.
Finally Hara takes a deep breath and nods once. "He's going to be ok." She says at last.
Jay and the others totter for a minute or two and then fall back on the couches, letting out a simultaneous sigh of relief. Those are the very words they are hoping to hear!
"Needless to say Neil is very lucky to be alive," Hara continues, still looking solemn, "He's lost a lot of blood, though. It's a good thing we had you kids donate a couple of pints of your own blood last week just in case of emergencies like this."
"You think we could go see him?" Theresa asks tentatively.
"Yeah, can we?" Atlanta says in a quiet voice, barely above a whisper.
Hara shakes her head regretfully.
"That would not be advisable, children. Right now Neil is being transported to Aphrodite's room so he may rest," She replies, "Even as I speak, a few satyrs are settling up some cots for the rest of you in the training room. Considering what you have gone through today, it would be easier if you rest here tonight." She sighs, sounding even more tired. "You may see Neil first thing in the morning, I promise."
"Hera," Jay says suddenly, standing up to face Hara on an eye-to-eye level. "With all due respect, I believe I speak for everyone here when I say that we won't be able to rest until we actually see for ourselves that Neil is ok!"
The other five teens immediately stand up behind their leader, nodding their heads and asserting their agreement loudly.
Realizing it is useless to dissuade the determined teens from seeing Neil in person, Hera takes a deep breath. "Very well," she sighs again, "I shall alert Aphrodite to expect your visit, but you must keep in mind that Neil has undergone a lot of stress and needs time to sleep."
The young heroes all look at each other turning their attention back to Hera.
"We understand," Atlanta says, and the others nod in agreement.
"Alright then; give me five minutes and I'll come get you when they have Neil settled." Thus said, the queen of the Gods turns around and left the room as silently as she had came in.
In Aphrodite's room the light is dimmed except for a number of white candles which are lit to provide a relaxing ambiance. Nevertheless, it is enough for Aphrodite and the Nymphs to see to getting Neil settled into the Goddess's warm shell bed so he would be able to sleep comfortably in it. The cushions are stacked under the blond teen's head, to levitate it slightly. A warm purple blanket is draped over him, covering his legs right up to his waist. Aries and Hercules who carried the young injured hero into the room had left just moments ago, leaving the Nymphs to place fresh flowers in water pots to brighten the place up a bit. The pots are conveniently placed all around the room, especially near the mirrors so it looks like there are twice as many flowers. Aphrodite, herself, is lying next to Neil on the bed so she can brush his blond locks out of his eyes. Each lazy stroke relaxes the young hero until he is near the point of slumbering.
A soft rapping sound from the door turns Aphrodite's attention away from her young injured prodigy. Usually she would become quite lascivious at the thought of visitors coming in to see her, but this time she has concerns only for her guest instead.
"Aphrodite...?" The Nymph with long blue hair turns toward her with a wrinkled brow.
"Go ahead and let them in." The Goddess of Love answers softly.
The Nymph gives a respective bow to the Goddess and walked down the stairs from the shell bed, heading for the door. She carefully opens it and smiles at the sight of the six anxious teen heroes waiting to enter.
Jay is the first to enter the room. "How is he...?" He asks tentatively.
"He's resting, but you may go on up to see him." The Nymph replies, gesturing toward the short stairway to the shell bed.
Aphrodite looks over at them and smiles warmly at the young heroes. All six of them smile back, for they can feel the love radiating from her, especially the boys. But they are not here to visit the Goddess of Love, though. They are here for Neil. Speaking of which, when they approaches Neil and looks down at him laying beside beautiful Goddess, Jay and the others can barely recognize him. Neil's face is very haggard with deep dark circles under his eyes. He still looks deadly pale, which makes him look even worse. Not to mention his breathing appears very shallow, although it is a lot more regular then it was on the ride back to the school. Most of the purple blanket is covering the bandage wrap around his bare torso. His left hand rests comfortably just below his waist, while his other hand lay at his side.
Other than that, he had been cleaned up...he no longer bled so profusely anymore. Obviously either the Nymphs or Aphrodite had taken a very good care of him. The one and only thing that seems to bother his friends the most is how pale he looks. They all know it is because of the loss of blood, but it just doesn't seem right seeing Neil look like this.
"Do you want to say hi to him?" Aphrodite coos softly, cocking her head to one side at the six heroes.
"But we were told to let him rest." Jay whispers cautiously back, not wanting to disturb Neil.
"I know," The beautiful Goddess reassures the young brunette hero with a smile. "But when he heard you were going to come in for a visit Neil wanted me to wake him up so he could tell you something."
"What...?" Atlanta questions, one eyebrow rising curiously.
"Don't know. He'll have to tell you himself." Aphrodite then leans forward close enough that her lips are almost touching Neil's ear.
"Neil...Neil..." She whispers sweetly.
With a soft groan, Neil opens his eyes slowly. He blinks heavily for a moment and glances at his mentor rather quizzically. She smiles lovingly at his beautiful, but yet exhausted face.
"Your friends are here," The long blond haired Goddess says in a lilting voice
Neil turns his head slowly on the pillow to look at Jay and the rest of the teammates. He manages enough strength to force a faint but familiar grin on his face.
"Hey, guys," he says in a hoarse voice.
"Hey buddy," Grinning widely with relief, Herry leans toward him. "Glad to see you are doing ok now!"
"Yeah, you gave us all quite a scare there!" Archie exclaims, also smiling happily.
Theresa, Atlanta, Jay, and Odie all nod in agreement, each wearing a big smile as well.
Neil manages to smile wider at his friends. How he would have hated to let them down by doing something as stupid like dying on them! That is when he remembers something that Jay had said to him on the ride back to the school. Now Neil knows what he had wanted to say to him. The blond teen glances over at Jay, and brings his left hand up high enough to beckon his leader to come closer to him.
Mystified, Jay crouches down and moves his head so his ear is close to Neil's face. "What is it, Neil?" The young leader asks softly.
"I didn't give up..." Neil says in a barely audible voice. Jay blinks for a moment, and then lets out a little chuckle.
"No... No you didn't." The teen leader smirks, but the lump is forming in his throat and he nearly chokes on his words as he speaks to his injured friend. "You get some rest now, ok?" He pats his hand gently and affectionately on Neil's shoulder. With a faint smile, Neil barely nods his head before slowly closes his eyes and falling back into a deep, well deserved sleep. The worse day in history is finally over for him.
"Speaking of rest, I believe you kids need some for yourselves." Aphrodite announces calmly.
As if on cue, Herry lets out a big, noisy yawn that proves contagious for most of his teammates.
"You're right Aphrodite," Jay politely acknowledges the Goddess' concern. "With your permission, may we come back in the morning to check up on Neil?"
"Of course, dear boy," Aphrodite concurs, "You all are more then welcome to come and visit at anytime." So saying, she turns her attention back to stroking Neil's beautiful bleach blond hair.
"Ok then, goodnight." Jay says with a smile and starts down the stairs towards the door.
"Goodnight darlings." Aphrodite coos, waving her hand at them.
With a chorus of "Good night," to the Goddess and the two Nymphs, the rest of the teammates follow Jay out of Aphrodite's room.