Ever since Christi’s brother disappeared, a hole appeared in her life. Wesley was always there for her like a true friend. Since his disappearance, she was slowly slipping into a pit of depression without anyone to pull her out. She found herself visiting Rasheed’s bar more than her own home. Lost in thought, she tried to drown out her woes with a soft drink. Someone in a black trench-coat climbed up on the bar-stool beside her, pulling her back to reality.
“Hi. I’m Easton. I’m looking for someone named Christi, are you her by chance? I was told I could find her here. She’s got brown hair, green eyes, and her face has lots of freckles.”
She furrowed her brows, hiding under her shoulder length hair. “Who wants to know?”
“I don’t want to be rude, but, if you’re not Christi, I need to know. I don’t have a lot of time to waste hanging out in bars.”
Christi took a second to look the guy over while his attention was elsewhere. His black hair was pulled over the right side of his face exposing the near-shaven area around his left ear. A lip ring with a black bead caught her eye as it danced on his lower lip as he spoke. He was youthful, 20, 22? She wasn’t sure why anyone would be looking for her, she felt transparent majority of the time.
“Did you hear me?” Easton was looking at her with a small hint of a smile tugging at his mouth.
“Sorry. What were you saying?” She turned to face him for the first time.
“I was asking your name.”
“Oh, um, Christi.”
“Yes, that’s me.”
Easton’s eyes came alive at the confirmation. “Will you come with me? I need to talk to you, and I can’t risk other people hearing it.” He leaned uncomfortably close whispering, “It’s about your brother.”
She wasn’t sure she wanted to hear what he had to say. The thought of her brother being dead was more than she wanted to hear at the moment. But the way he looked at her told another story. Reaching into her coat pocket, she checked for her pepper spray. What if he’s a rapist? Suppose he’s telling the truth? No one had breathed a word about Wesley since his disappearance until Easton. It didn’t look like there was any other choice, “Okay, let’s hear it.”
Easton slid off the stool, “Not here. Come on.”
“At least tell me if he’s alive.”
“Yes, he’s alive…for now at least. I can’t tell you anymore than that in here.”
“Can you walk slower?” Easton’s pace felt like he was dragging her along.
“Sorry.” He stopped and turned to face her as he took a deep breath and released it slowly. “Do you want the beat-around-the-bush version, or the short and sweet version? I don’t want to throw too much at you at once.”
Adjusting her grip on her pepper spray, “Short and sweet. I like the truth without all the B.S.”
“Okay, here it goes. I’m a member of a secret group called The Four Winds. We’re guardian angels for certain individuals of importance. The others call me ‘East’, and I’ve been assigned to you. I prefer the term ‘protector’, but whatever. And no, we don’t have wings, although I wish I did. That would make things so much easier. I can’t tell you anything more about us, but, we need your help for a mission. There really isn’t an option for you to say no. Which is why I hope that you will help us. I’m not suppose to bring you in by force, but, I will do my job no matter what.”
“Fancy story. Do you have any proof to back it up?”
“So, you’re in?”
“Show me proof.”
“I can do better than that.”
Someone grabbed Christi from behind as a damp cloth was placed over her mouth. Struggling to get free, the last thing she saw was Easton mouthing, ‘I’m sorry.’
Christi shook her head, trying to shake the fog that had appeared there.
“Hey, how are you doing?” His voice was soft, like curtains pushed by the wind.
Christi tried to look around as she laid on a cot. “What happened? Where am I?”
“We have to keep this place secret. North goes a little too far sometimes. I’m sorry about drugging you like that, I tried to convince him not to do it.”
“Remind me to punch him when I see him.”
“I wouldn’t do that if I were you.”
“Why not? He drugged me!”
“You’ll see what I mean.”
Wiggling her toes and fingers, she slowly worked her limbs, pushing out the soreness. “Will you help me sit up?” Cupping her elbow, she swung her legs over the side of the cot. The cool concrete floor sent chills through her socks.
“Where is my shirt?” She crossed her arms over her chest.
“You were sweating, so South took your long-sleeve shirt off.” He went to the foot of the cot, grabbing her shoes and shirt. “She said you had a cami on under it and that it wasn’t a big deal. Here.” Handing her the denim shirt, Christi tugged it on, buttoning the front buttons. Easton placed her shoes in front of her, trying to hide the redness in his cheeks.
Lacing her shoes, she glanced around the room. Numerous cots were lined up unoccupied. Duffel bags lined the walls and a white plastic table with metal chairs sat waiting at the far end of the room.
“Sleeping Beauty finally woke up, huh?” A bubbly, young woman with purple hair and white bangs pushed off the wall and strode over to them. “I’m South. You know East, and that hunk of beef over there is North.” Turning in the direction she pointed, Christi saw a man so cold that made a snowman look warm. He was a mammoth of a man with skin as dark as the moonless night. His lime-green mohawk added fierceness to his impressive frame. He wore a trench-coat unbuttoned with the sleeves ripped off at the shoulders, allowing his tree trunk arms to move freely. His pectoral muscles danced under his coat, reaffirming Easton’s statement about not punching him.
As she turned back to South, she noticed a diamond labret piercing adding an energetic flair to her never ending smile. A hunter green trench-coat covered most of her curvy form, but could not conceal her inner beauty. She was a radiant display of joy and happiness. “Let’s go. Hephaestus is waiting for us in the next room.”
Christi looked up at her, “Who?”
“Hephaestus? God of fire and metalworking?” Christi could only shrug her shoulders. “Come on.”
With Easton’s help, Christi was able to stand with minor dizziness. The next room was larger than Christi guessed it to be. Metal lockers lined one wall while a vast array of weapons and armor displayed in the center of the room captured her attention. The downtown museum would lust after these items that were being casually displayed in the open air. Christi was about to ask what the weapons were for, when a door in the rear of the room opened, and she could hear an abnormal walking pattern. It was heavily one-sided with a metallic click between steps. It reminded her of the too many horror movies she watched late at night.
A thick, deafening voice boomed throughout the room as Hephaestus came closer, “Ah, good. The young lady came. This will make things smoother for us. Come, we have much to discuss.”
As they headed towards the voice, curiosity overwhelmed Christi as she craned her neck to see around a case. The form she saw wasn’t far from her imagination. A figure that dwarfed North stood in the middle of a small sitting area. She wondered how he was able to squeeze through the door until she realized the height of the doorway. His hair was flaming-red, and he would periodically stroke his beard. She could see spots where it was singed. She couldn’t detect an ounce of fat on him as his muscles hummed with anticipation. He gripped an intricately detailed walking cane composed of more types of metal than she could recognize.
“Christi, I am Hephaestus.” Stroking his beard out of habit. “I’ve brought all of you here because something very dear to me has been stolen, my son, Talos. I forged him ages ago, and he served me well until Jason and Medea interfered. After she removed the bronze nail, all his ichor drained out, leaving him lifeless. Ichor grants us immortality. Which is why I brought him back home, keeping him safe until the day that I could restore it to him. I used some of my own ichor the first time, but now I fear that I don’t have enough to complete the task.”
“What does this have to do with me? Where do I fit in all this?”
“Your twin brother, Wesley, received the West Wind blessing two years ago, adding himself to the Four Winds. Which is why he suddenly ‘disappeared’ from your life. The secrecy surrounding the Four Winds is important, as you can tell. He has already gone ahead to confront Glaucus alone. I have underestimated Glaucus, and now I fear for West. Which is why you are here, Christi. If he is dead, then you have a very good chance of receiving the blessing of the West Wind.”
Easton took a step forward, “Christi, there must be someone for each Wind blessing. Wesley had the West Wind, strongest of all, which is why he went alone. We all thought he could handle the mission. If something has happened to him, we need you to take his place.”
“I underestimated Glaucus once. Believe me when I say that it will not happen again. I need all of you. I cannot go because I fear that Glaucus will capture me, drain my own ichor, and use it to turn my son into a monster. I’m not as strong as I was all those years ago. Glaucus is much younger and stronger than I. Please, bring my son and Wesley home.”
Christi looked up at him, “I’m going to save my brother.”
Kneeling down so he could look her in the eye, “That’s the spirit I need. But, you cannot go alone. Which is why, all of you will need some new toys to play with. All made by yours truly, of course. Follow me.” Hephaestus struggled to get back to his feet. “I think it’s only fitting that you have the finest I’ve ever made and collected to save my son.”
Hephaestus led the way to a room that was a step back in time. Christi let out a gasp as she entered the room. The furniture and tapestries were of priceless quality as she drew her hands close to her chest, afraid to touch anything. “This way,” Hephaestus’s voice drawing their attention. “North, come here.” North strode forward, awaiting his orders. “North, I recognize a selfless soldier when I see one. I also see the scars that tell me your fighting style.” At this, North puffed up to his full size. “My point exactly. Which is why you will need the Nemean Lion’s hide.”
North’s heavy feet carried him to a case in the wall where a lion hide hung on a faceless bust. Casting his coat aside, he reached up and grabbed the hide, pulling it around his bare shoulders as a smirk of pride crept over his lips. As he came back to stand in front of Hephaestus, the arms of the hide swung with his steps.
Hephaestus gestured with his hand, “Put your arms through the sleeve bands. It has the claws intact which can cut through anything, giving enough force.” He winked at North, resulting in a gold-capped smile. Hephaestus pulled the mane up on North’s head. “The Nemean Lion hide cannot be cut or pierced except by the claws you bear. It will also help keep you cool in hot climates.” The upper portion of the lion head rested on North’s head with the teeth being a dazzling contrast to his near-black skin. It looked like he was being attacked by a lion from behind. North was obviously well-pleased with this gift.
“South, you get a shield of feathers.”
“See for yourself.” He pointed to a case.
She looked at the others before walking to the case. As she got closer, she shielded her eyes from the intense glare coming off the shield. Hephaestus called from across the room, “Do be careful how you handle it. There is no sharper metal in all the earth than the feathers of that shield.” South hesitated in front of it. She knew how deadly the throwing knives concealed under her coat were, and how sharp she kept them. Delicately, she reached around the edge, feeling for something to grab. Her fingers found a leather strap she used to pull it of the case.
“It’s so light.”
“Yes. I kept a stymphalian bird for a time. I’m not partial to living pets, I prefer my own metallic creatures. As with any bird, it molted its metal feathers much to my annoyance. I thought the feathers were too beautiful to waste, so I made this shield with them. It was a tedious task because I didn’t want to lose the details of the feathers. However, it is still a tool, and I expect you to use it so.”
“Of course. Thank you.”
“And now, for you two.” Easton and Christi came to him. “East, you are serving as Christi’s guardian angel.” Easton rolled his eyes at the words. “However, you will also need protection. Hold out your hands.” Hephaestus placed a velvet cloth containing various polished stones in Easton’s palm, describing each in turn.
“They take effect when they touch your body. This one, is the shadow of Erebus. It will allow you to blend into the shadows.” It was black, reflecting Easton’s face back at him. A brown-striped tiger’s eye followed, “The dreams of Hypnos. Be cautious with this one, time can be lost sleeping. Next, we have the strength of Kratos.” A rough, crystal clear piece of muscovite joined the others in his hand. “And finally, the luck of Caerus because you’re going to need all you can to defeat Glaucus.” A twisted, multicolored pebble stood out among the others. Easton poked the stones with his gloved hand, rolling them around, taking in the different colors. His lips mouthed the names of each one, committing them to memory. Christi leaned in to see the stones better.
“And one more thing, East. Being Christi’s guardian angel is important and dangerous work, but should you fail, use this.” He tossed a golden sunflower seed at him. “Blessed by Apollo himself, it gives one person, a second chance at life. He gave it to me after I brought Talos home, but I think it would be of more use to you during this mission.” He looked Christi in the eye, speaking cautiously, “My dear, I have nothing that will aide you on this mission because you are a mortal. But, I can give you something that even my second wife, Aglaea, never wore.” He walked to a case with his cane clicking in rhythm as she followed him.
“This is a necklace I made to escape boredom. I don’t need to tell you what it does because that will be obvious soon enough.” Christi’s jaw dropped at seeing the golden serpent with jeweled scales and two heads forming the clasp. “Not everything I make is for war, my dear.” He leaned his cane against the case, and removed the necklace. Christi turned around, pulling her hair out of the way. A shiver ran down her spine as the cold metal touched her skin. When she heard the snap of the clasp, she dropped her hair. It was heavier than she expected it to be, as she traced a finger along its scaly surface. Raising her head, she saw Easton staring at her slack-jawed.
“What?” He only continued staring at her. A cat call whistle from South, and North raising an eyebrow made her turn to face Hephaestus. A smile lifted the corners of his face as he handed her an intricately detailed hand mirror from the case. As she looked into it, she hardly recognized the face that returned her gaze. The split ends and dryness of her hair were gone. She touched her face, searching for the missing freckles. She felt beautiful from the inside out. A smile spread across her face, displaying a dazzling set of perfectly set, white teeth. It felt like someone had filled her with happiness. No longer were her thoughts plagued with negativity. No more hiding under baggy clothes and long sleeves. She could finally see life within her, and she didn’t want to part with it. The value of the necklace became clear, as she thought about how much money someone would pay to possess this magical necklace. As she was handing the mirror back to Hephaestus, it slipped from her hands. Tiny pieces of glass scattered across the hard floor.
“Don’t worry about the mirror, Christi. It’s nothing that I can’t fix. Now, I suggest the four of you get going.” He handed them a folded paper. “Take this. It will show you how to find Glaucus’s island. He has the power of prophecy, so don’t be surprised if he knows your coming.”
Lush, green vegetation covered the surface of the island. The recent storm had washed the leaves clean, allowing them to give the visitors a vibrant greeting. The white sandy beach stretched for miles in both directions as the top of the metal speed boat slid open.
Something colossal bellowed behind them, and before she spun around to see what it was, it slid under the water with uncanny speed. North beached the boat as everyone scrambled to get to shore. Just as Christi was about to jump, her foot slipped causing her to tumble into the water. Easton was quickly there to help her with a big smile on his face.
“You okay? What happened?”
“I’m fine. My foot slipped or something. I don’t know why I’m so clumsy all of a sudden.”
As they followed North and South, a dark-cloaked figure emerged from the tree line, holding a trident and net. South was the first to express her distaste, “Great. Company.” The figure began walking towards them, and Christi couldn’t stop herself from running forward.
The figure threw back his hood, revealing the familiar face of Christi’s twin brother. “What are you doing here?” The surprise evident in his voice.
“Hephaestus sent me here to get the West Wind blessing in case something happened to you.”
“Let’s hope nothing does. Glaucus is this way.”
At the end of the hallway, the expansive room that opened up before them reminded Christi of paintings of ancient bath-houses. In the middle of the room surrounded by steps leading down to it was a pool of dark-blue water. Steam escaped through cracks in the corners of the room elevating the room’s humidity. In the middle of the pool, a man reclined bare-chested against the steps with his eyes closed. He appeared to be in his thirties and fit.
The signal was given; to split up, and surround him. As Christi took a step, her foot caught on the edge of a raised floor tile, causing her to let out a small shriek as Easton caught her arm. The man’s eyes instantly narrowed down on them as he grabbed a conch shell that lay on the step beside him. “Who are you? Why are you here?” He held the shell close to his lips, prepared to sound it in a moment’s span.
South spoke up, “Hephaestus sent us to retrieve Talos for him. Where is he?”
“Hephaestus is seeking Talos. Of course.” As his eyes searched the group, they stopped on Christi. “Who are you? I recognize the Four Winds but…” His words trailed off as both Easton and Wesley stepped in front of her. Everyone was on guard.
South barked at him, “Stop playing games. Tell us where Talos is, and we’ll let you live.”
“Ha! You don’t even know why Hephaestus sent you here. Did it ever occur to you to ask why I would want a giant, egotistical manifestation of Hephaestus? I’ve seen through prophesy, what he plans to do with it, which is why I’ve stolen his precious son.” Putting the shell on the step, Glaucus hoisted himself out of the water to the first step, showing his scaly, fish like lower half. “Come closer, and let us speak in peace. There is much you do not know. I’m not the monster in this story. Please.”
No one moved an inch. Finally, South took cautious steps forward, tailed by North and the others. Glaucus gestured for them to sit but they remained standing. “Very well. Hephaestus plans to revive his metal son with ichor. Ichor can only be found flowing through the veins of a god, which is why he sacrificed some of his the first time to give Talos life. It was fortunate that Talos was stopped the first time before he could overthrow any of the gods. I fear Hephaestus will try again, but I do not know which of the gods he now targets. Which is why I arranged for Talos to be brought here, where I can keep him under a careful eye. Your arrival has only cemented my thoughts.”
Glaucus again looked at Christi, “What is your name, mortal? I find it annoying to refer to you as ‘mortal’.”
“Christi, may I say, you are one of the most fair skinned maidens that I’ve seen in many years. Tell me, have you always been so beautiful?”
“No.” She touched the serpents encircling her neck.
“I thought so. Did Hephaestus give you that necklace?”
“Yes. I never saw myself as pretty, but this necklace has made me perfect.”
“Of course it did. It is the Necklace of Harmonia. Blessed with beauty and cursed with ill-fated luck. Have you noticed that since wearing it, you’ve experienced a bit of bad luck?” Christi furrowed her brows as she thought back to the broken mirror and falling into the water. “It was cursed by Hephaestus himself eons ago.”
Christi lifted her hair as Easton tried to undo the clasp, but the more he tried the tighter the serpents gripped each other. “It won’t loosen.”
“Hephaestus doesn’t give up easily. No doubt it will hold until the job is done, your death that is. I’m surprised it hasn’t succeeded already. Harmonia didn’t last long wearing it.” Glaucus turned his head slightly as if listening before a look of fear came over his face as he grabbed the shell and dove into the water. The wall behind him blasted inward, throwing the large bricks towards the group. North gritted his teeth, as he raised his arms to shield himself. South crouched behind her shield. Easton took Christi to the ground as West created a barrier of wind blocking the bricks headed at him.
As the dust cleared, Easton whispered to Christi, “Are you okay?” Silence was his answer. A golden, limp snake fell on his arm. He turned Christi’s face to his. Her eyes dilated, and blood pooled on the floor. “NO! No…” Christi’s skin lost its perfect smoothness and her face once again displayed its freckles.
A voice whispered in Easton’s ear, “Second life…blessed by Apollo himself…”
Easton furiously dug in his pocket for the seed. As he pulled it out, it began glowing. He cracked it between his teeth, placing the seed in Christi’s mouth. As soon as it touched her tongue, the glow crept over her skin. It slowly increased in brightness, until Easton could no longer bear the light emanating from her body.
A massive shadow filled the hole in the wall followed by two metallic bears. “I see everything is going according to plan.” Hephaestus raised the large gun he carried, and fired a shot, hitting West square in the chest before he could react, sending him flying against the wall.
“Here,” Easton said as he tossed North the strength stone, and South the shadow stone. No sooner did South catch the stone, she disappear into a shadow. North put the stone in his mouth, charging Hephaestus. A metallic bear intercepted North before he could reach Hephaestus. As North threw a right-handed uppercut punch, the bones in his hand shattered when they made contact with the jaw of the bear. Refusing to give up, North threw an elbow with his left arm to the mid-section of the bear. The loud crack sent him to his knees, groaning in pain. Seizing the opportunity, the bear knocked him over while clamping its jaw around his throat, pinning him in place.
Hephaestus looked down on North, “You’re a fool to think that I would give you the true strength of Kratos. I would lie still if I were you.” North carefully spit out the stone. Hephaestus turned his attention to Easton. “As for South…” He shrugged his shoulders dismissively. “You’ve done well, East. I couldn’t have achieved all this if it wasn’t for you. Christi is the true prize I seek here. I’ve waited a long, long time for this moment. Now, I will have ichor blessed with the West Wind thanks to you. That is why I gave you Apollo’s seed. It not only granted her new life, but turned her blood into ichor.” He was tasting the words as he said them while a second metallic bear slowly stalked around the pool towards him.
The air began swirling with gusting wind, picking up the dirt and dust, pelting all those in the room. Hephaestus shielded his eyes, as the bear lowered its head trying to escape the dirt. Easton lost his balance as the wind’s intensity escalated behind him, throwing him to the side. Peeking around his arm, Christi was standing on a miniature tornado as her hair whipped and snaked about, resembling Medusa. The wind died down as her feet touched the floor.
As Hephaestus lowered his arm, a gleeful smile spread across his face. “Excellent! The Fates have truly smiled on me this day.” Pointing the gun at her, he fired a shot. Before the bullet could make contact, it slowed in its path until it came to a stop in front of her. Christi casually reached out, plucked it out of the air between her finger and thumb. “I don’t need a bullet to wring the life out of you.” Hephaestus hissed, tossing the gun down. As he pulled a sword hilt from his belt, the blade rapidly extended from it.
Christi bent down and picked up the trident dropped by her brother. “You’ll regret this, Hephaestus.” Her eyes narrowed at him, with hate and rage. “It’s one thing to screw with me, but to kill my brother…”
A smile lifted his lips, “Shall we dance, my dear?”
Christi launched herself across the room on air with a feral snarl. The flurry of blows exchanged by both was dizzying. Hephaestus narrowly avoided a thrust to his heart as Christi ducked under a blow aimed at her neck. The wind gradually increased until the two were surrounded by a swirling wind, concealing their movements from the others.
“Fight fair, witch!” Hephaestus bellowed at her. A piece of rubble came flying at him, crashing into his leg brace and sending him down to one knee as he cried out in pain. Using her trident, Christi ripped a tube loose that ran the length of the brace, spilling a blue fluid across the floor. “No, it won’t end this easily for you. Take a look at your boy.”
The bear had Easton pinned against the wall. He was beginning to turn blue in the face as the bear continued to press its weight against his chest. He stuck his tongue out and touched something on his lip. It was the twisted stone of luck threaded through his lip piercing. Christi furiously spun, picking up all the loose stones in the room with arms of air, slinging them at the two bears relentlessly. A large stone hit the bear holding North, sending it toppling over. The same was done to the other bear pressing against Easton.
Easton caught his breath and lunged for the necklace, sending it spinning through the air towards Christi. As she caught it, a ball of wind from Easton collided with Hephaestus’s sword, knocking it from his hands. Unarmed and lame on his back, his raised his hands in defeat. Christi quickly wrapped the necklace around his wrist and fastened it. Hephaestus’s went wild as he tried to wretch the necklace off but the serpents only increased their grip refusing to let go.
“That’s for my brother.” A loud blast from a Glaucus’s shell sounded outside. The ground began to rumble as a roar from Cetus echoed into the room. “He sounds hungry.” She winked at Hephaestus. They helped North to his feet and got Wesley’s body, dragging his feet as they left through the hole in the wall.
“Fools,” Hephaestus said as he pulled a knife from his belt and placed the tip against his wrist above the snakes.