Kara ran down the dirt path, arms slightly raised to balance herself as her sandals sent rocks tumbling down the steep slope. Dust clouded behind her as she skidded a little before righting herself. She leapt over the fence, nearby sheep scattering, and waved to James at the top of his field.
“Kara, you better not be scaring my sheep again!”
Kara grinned over her shoulder at him as she ran. “I’m just taking a shortcut.”
She hopped the fence on the other end of the field and continued down the track.
Nia was at the stables, obviously attempting to flirt with an oblivious Brainy. She smirked and raised her eyebrows at Nia as she ran past and Nia narrowed her eyes at her. She cut Brainy off from his excited speech about his new horse to yell at her.
“Kara, why do you insist on running everywhere when I know that you most definitely have a horse because Brainy’s the one that sold it to you?!” She gestured dramatically at Brainy who waved at her, seeming to only just have noticed she was there.
Kara grinned and ran backwards away from them. “A horse could never keep up with me! I’m fast as Hermes!”
Nia just shook her head and laughed when Kara almost ran into someone after not looking where she was going.
She slowed as she approached the town. Catching sight of J’onn in all his armoured glory, she waved and made her way up to him, jogging on the spot as he continued to walk.
“Hey, J’onn. Any news of Kal?”
J’onn shook his head. “Sorry Kara. I haven’t heard anything since he went north to help that village with the lion.”
Kara smiled, despite her disappointment. “That’s okay. How are things looking for you?”
He looked grim. “I’ve been told Lex Luthor is making headway against the Persians but I have a feeling I’ll be sent out with my lokhos as reinforcements soon.”
Kara turned to see Winn waving at her from the stall outside his workshop. J’onn simply nodded to her and continued on his way. She put her hands on her hips, smiling and shaking her head at his lack of verbal farewell, before making her way over to Winn. He finished smashing something into shape on his anvil and plunged it into water with a satisfying hiss.
He brushed his hands on his leather apron and looked around before grabbing the xiphos leaning against the wall behind him and presenting it to Kara.
She grinned and took it from him, running her hand over the El crest embossed on the cross-guard, her family’s eyes reflecting back at her along the blade.
“You know, if you stopped battling trees, I wouldn’t have to sharpen it as often.”
Kara rolled her eyes and sheathed her sword in the scabbard hanging around her hips. “If I didn’t train, there would be no point in it being sharp because I wouldn’t be able to use it anyway.”
Winn grinned and got back to his work. “Whatever you say, Kara.”
She turned and put her hands on her hips, letting the cacophony of the town wash over her. The crowded streets were ringing with the sounds of people talking, children laughing and vendors shouting. The noise of gulls and sailors washed in from the port. She smiled as two kids rushed past her, chasing a chicken between the closely packed houses.
Kara made her way down to the harbour side and walked along the rows of stalls selling fish and pottery and jewellery. Their voices, proclaiming the excellence of their products, haggling for lower prices, and sharing news from recent voyages, all melded into one.
The sky was a brilliant blue with the absence of clouds and the boats in the port swayed gently in the swell of the waves.
The noise grew slightly fainter as she made her way to the other side of the town and a little way back from the water.
She turned a corner and ducked under the doorway of the house. The shutters were closed to keep out the afternoon heat and her eyes took a moment to adjust from the glaring sun.
She found Alex and Kelly lounging in the courtyard, laughing together. Krypto raised his head at her, lying in the shade by the house, too hot and lazy to do anything but thump his tail against the floor. She gave him a scratch behind the ears and he happily went back to sleep. She smiled at her sister looking so happy and stole one of the figs from the bowl beside her.
“Hey!” Alex scowled at her, grabbing the bowl and hugging it to her chest. “Get your own figs!”
Kelly just laughed. “Hi Kara.”
Kara smiled sweetly at her. “Hi Kelly.” She poked her tongue out at Alex who made a face at her in return.
“Are you two squabbling again?” Eliza walked through the courtyard with a basket of wool from the market, shaking her head fondly. “It’s like you’re still children.”
Kara laughed and gave Eliza a one armed hug on her way past.
Alex made a show of eating one of her figs. “I see Kelly gets a greeting but I don’t. Good to know where your loyalty lies, Kara.”
Kara put her hands on her hips. “Well maybe you would if you shared your figs, Alex .”
“Oi.” Alex pointed at her. “That’s ipolokhagos Alex to you.”
Kara lit up. “You got your promotion?”
Alex grinned and nodded.
“Alex that’s amazing! Congratulations!” She picked Alex up in a bone crushing and squealed.
Alex groaned, tapping her back. “Ok Kara, you can put me down now.”
She laughed and released her. “Sorry - I’m just excited for you.”
Alex hummed and sat back down, leaning against Kelly. “Yeah well maybe just be a little more gently excited.”
Kara huffed and sat down crossed-legged on the ground, drawing in the dust. She frowned. “Hey, I just saw J’onn and he didn’t even tell me!”
Alex laughed. “Probably because he knew you would have hugged him and ruined his fierce lokhagos facade.”
She pouted and went back to doodling in the dirt.
“So how’s your day been?”
Kara hummed and looked up. “Good. I saved a goat that was stuck on the edge of a cliff.”
“What?!” Alex sat up furiously. “Kara! That’s so dangerous. You could’ve gotten yourself killed!”
Kara frowned. “What was I supposed to do? Leave it?”
“Yes!” Alex got up and started pacing. “By Zeus, Kara, I know you want to be like Kal but you can’t just keep throwing yourself into dangerous situations for no reason.”
“It wasn’t for no reason - I saved a life.”
“At the risk of your own! For a goat!” Alex stopped in her pacing to gesture erratically. “When are you going to give up on this whole hero thing?”
Kara looked down and bit her lip, trying to stop the tears she could feel building behind her eyes.
“Alex.” Kelly put a hand on her shoulder, trying to calm her down and Alex sighed.
“Look, I’m sorry, Kara. I know you just want to help. But you’ve got a good thing going at the moment, playing the lyre. People pay you good money for that. Can’t you just… keep doing that and help by giving some of it to people who need it or something?”
Kara twisted her hands in her lap. She clenched her jaw and stood, not looking at Alex. “I’m going for a walk.”
“Kara,” Alex tried to call after her but she was already gone.
She wandered down to the sea and walked along it, away from the town. The sounds of the port slowly faded into the distance, replaced with the wind and the waves. Small stretches of sandy beaches turned into rocky banks covered in grass and trees, pushing her further inland.
Kara sighed and trailed her hand over the leaves of bushes. Was it so bad to want to be a hero like Heracles, or Perseus, or Kal?
She was so lost in her thoughts that she almost didn’t notice the string of curses coming through the trees.
Frowning, she pushed aside some branches and inched closer to the water’s edge. She cautiously peered over the bank. A few feet below was a small rowing boat, one of the oars tangled in the roots of a tree that were protruding from the bank. The boat was rocking precariously as a woman with dark silky hair pulled at the oar and grumbled something about a ‘stupid oracle’ and ‘stupid boat’ (except with less nice words that Kara wasn’t going to repeat).
Kara cleared her throat and rolled her shoulders back, preparing her most heroic voice. “Excuse me, ma’am. Do you need any assistance?”
The woman startled and lost her grip, stumbling back and sitting down hard, making the boat sway and water slosh over the side. A pair of fierce green eyes scowled up at her. Kara felt awful but was also fairly certain she was blushing and that her brain had stopped functioning.
The woman made a noise of frustration and growled at her. “Throw yourself to the crows!”
Kara’s eyes widened and she opened and closed her mouth a few times as she watched the woman stand up again and look down at her muddy, wet chiton.
“I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean to startle you.”
Kara jumped down into the boat to try to help, causing it to rock dangerously and almost knock the woman over again. Kara grabbed her shoulders to steady her. The woman looked livid. She slapped Kara’s hands away and pushed at her chest. Kara stumbled backwards, arms swinging as she tried to regain her balance but her foot caught on the seat and she toppled into the sea, capsizing the whole boat with her.
She sputtered and pushed the hair off the face, treading water as she looked for the woman. Dark hair appeared a moment later, and she shook her head, pushing her hair back and looking like she might just murder Kara.
“I am so sorry!”
The woman swam back towards her capsized boat and tried to turn it back over. Kara helped her and then grabbed one of the oars which was floating away and went to attempt to pull the other out of the tree roots.
“Will you just stop trying to help!”
Kara recoiled at the outburst, staring wide eyed at the woman as she hauled herself back into the boat and snatched the oars from Kara’s hands.
She scowled as she juggled the two oars, trying to put them back in. “I don’t need your help!”
Kara hovered in the water nervously. “I know you don’t need it. I’m sorry. I just thought you might want it.”
The woman finally managed to slot the oars back in place and clenched her jaw. She glared at Kara bobbing silently in the water for a moment before she huffed. “Well get back in the boat then. The least you can do is row me to the port after throwing me in the water.”
She sat back and crossed her arms over her chest. Her expression didn’t soften but Kara smiled, climbing carefully back into the boat and shaking herself off like a wet dog. She sat down sheepishly when the woman grimaced at being sprayed with water.
Kara gently started rowing them along the shore to the port.
“I’m Kara by the way.”
The woman looked her up and down and she felt slightly self conscious with her dripping knee-length chiton and tangled wet hair. “Lena.”
Kara smiled and they lapsed back into silence. She watched Lena looking out over the sea, wondering how her pale skin didn’t burn in the hot weather.
Not liking the silence, Kara decided to try starting a conversation again. “Can I ask how you found yourself stuck in the bank in this little boat?”
Lena’s eyes narrowed and she studied her. For a moment, Kara thought she was going to say no and push her overboard again but Lena huffed and dropped her arms.
“I have to go do some stupid quest to “redeem” myself after getting cursed by the gods.”
Kara’s eyebrows shot up almost into her hairline. “You got cursed by the gods?”
Lena looked down and peeled the wet material of her chiton away from her legs with a frown. “It wasn’t my fault! I refuse to marry some asshole and then Hera curses me for it! And then the stupid oracle says I have to do this stupid task so that Hera can… uncurse me or whatever.”
Kara let out a low whistle. “Wow.” Kara felt terrible for Lena but her brain was getting a bit stuck on the ‘epic quest’ bit. “So… what’s the quest?”
Lena rolled her eyes. “Oh slay some beast that’s terrorising Paphos.”
Kara’s eyes widened again. “ Paphos ? You’re planning to get to Cyprus in this ?” She didn’t mention the fact that Lena also didn’t seem to have any weapons with her as she wasn’t sure she wanted to incur Lena’s wrath.
Lena furrowed her brow and crossed her arms again. “Maybe.”
Kara blinked. “You can’t go in this! You’ll be drowned at the first bit of remotely not good weather. Not to mention the fact that it doesn’t even have a sail. If the waves don’t kill you, you’ll die of exhaustion from rowing before you get halfway there.”
Lena just looked out to sea grumpily.
She sighed. “Look. I happen to be a… hero-in-training.”
Lena raised an eyebrow.
“I have a boat. It’s not massive but it's got a sail and it’s a good ship and I could sail it with your help if you’ll let me come with you.”
Lena frowned. “You want to come with me? Why?”
Kara shrugged. “Like I said - I’m a hero-in-training.”
Lena rolled her eyes. “In it for the glory then?”
“What?” Kara could tell she had that little crinkle Alex always made fun of. “No. I just- I want to help people. I’m fast, I’m strong, I can fight… I have the ability to help people, so shouldn’t I use it?”
Lena seemed to consider her. “Why not just join the army?”
She frowned. “I don’t want to kill people, I want to help them.”
The conversation trailed off as they got close to the port. Kara rowed them towards the beach just a little further along the shore and jumped out the boat, pulling it up onto the sand. Lena stepped out to help, the ends of her long chiton trailing in the water (although it didn’t really matter since she was already soaking).
Kara turned to her and rested her hands on her hips. “Look, you don’t have to take me with you but please at least find another boat.”
She could see Lena’s jaw working as she considered it.
Lena pointed at her in warning. “If I let you come with me, you take me there in your ship, I get rid of this panther, you bring me back in your ship. That’s it. No stops for sightseeing, no detours, no extra people. Deal?”
Kara lit up and had to stop herself from bouncing up and down or crushing Lena in a hug. She clasped her hands together in front of her mouth instead. “Yes! Thank you! I won’t let you down!”
Lena rolled her eyes and trudged off up the beach. “So where’s this boat?”
Kara stumbled after her. “Oh you want to go right now?”
Lena raised an eyebrow and kept walking, not looking at Kara. “When were you thinking? Haloa?”
“No, I just- it’s evening already. I was thinking we’d leave tomorrow morning. It would give us time to ready supplies and things too before we go.”
Lena stopped and turned to her as the sand started to turn to rocks and grass and dusty pathways. “And what do I do until then?”
“Oh.” Kara twisted her fingers together. “Well, I mean, you’re welcome to stay at our house for the night. We have room.”
“You can’t just bring someone in off the streets! What if she’s a thief? And what? You’re just going to go off on an adventure with her?”
“Alex!” Kara glanced around, trying to get Alex to lower her voice so Lena wouldn’t overhear. “I didn’t ‘just find her on the street’... I found her in a boat. And what about xenia? Huh? I’m not going to get myself cursed by Zeus because I turned away a traveller and she’s already been cursed by Hera so I doubt she’d want to risk Zeus’ wrath as well by stealing from us when we’re letting her stay.”
“She’s been cursed by Hera?!”
Alex looked like she was about ready to explode. Admittedly, Kara had sort of sprung this on her. But Eliza had accepted it easily enough. Lena was with her now, setting out some extra bedding while Alex yelled at Kara on the other side of the house.
“Look, Alex, I can do this. I’ll be careful but if I don’t go with her she’s probably going to get herself killed. Please, Alex. I know you don’t approve of my choices but this is something I need to do.”
Alex sighed and rubbed her forehead. “It’s not that I disapprove, Kara. I just-” She clenched her jaw and looked away. “I worry about you, Kara. You’re too trusting. And after everything that’s happened…” She looked back at Kara and she could see the pain in her eyes. “I can’t lose you too, Kara.”
Kara wrapped her arms around Alex in a tight hug and held her close. She felt Alex squeeze her back just as hard. “I won’t be gone long. It should be about four days to Paphos. I’ll be back within two weeks.”
Alex sighed and pulled back. “Just be careful.”
Kara squeezed her shoulders. “I will.”
Ancient Greek Words You May Not Know:
- Symplegades - cliffs passed through by Jason and the argonauts (although I’m slightly twisting it)
- hippocampi - sea horses (but literally)
- Lyre - ancient greek instrument, like a small u-shaped harp (Sappho’s poems would actually not just have been read - they were lyric poems. Lyric poetry literally just means poetry to be sung with a lyre.)
- Amphora - storage jar
- Kylix cup - drinking cup for wine
I have realised you would need one person on each side of the boat to row if you were going to use the oars because the ship is too wide but we’re going to ignore that.
We are also pretending that Lena would not get horrifically sunburnt in these conditions.
Kindly suspend your disbelief.
They set sail early the next morning. Kara was up before dawn, hauling supplies onboard and checking the rigging. They were waved off from the port by Kara’s little family, Krypto running along the dock beside them until they were out in open water.
The boat was made of Aleppo pine from Samos. It had a small deck at the bow where the anchor was kept and another at the stern, from where Kara stood and steered the ship with the two steering oars. Two planks linked the two decks, the middle section of the ship open down into the hull where Kara had put the supplies. A strong mast rose up from the middle, the square linen sail billowing out in the wind.
Lena was looking out over the sea from the bow. She was haloed by the sun from where Kara stood at the helm. Her dark hair flowed out behind her like the waves below them.
Kara loved being at sea. The sounds of civilisation were replaced only by the gentle lapping of waves against the hull and the calls of gulls overhead.
The ship sliced through the water easily, the eyes painted on the front of the hull guiding their path.
They sailed in silence for the first hour or so. It wasn’t uncomfortable but part of Kara wished Lena would open up a little more. She understood that Lena was probably having a hard time right now though and so she let her have some peace.
It wasn’t until about midday that things got a little more interesting.
It had been smooth sailing so far and so Kara had relaxed, letting the ship take them east with very little input from herself. But now that Kara looked out over the water properly, something didn’t seem quite right. Land was appearing in the distance on both sides and as they sped through the water, it became apparent that it was converging ahead of them.
Lena straightened at the bow. Kara narrowed her eyes at the horizon. Two cliffs separated the stretches of land with a narrow passage of water between them. And then, suddenly, the two cliffs smashed together with an almighty rumble, sending waves towards them that swayed the boat.
Lena spun towards Kara, eyes wide as the cliffs slowly receded.
Kara sprung into action. “Pull that line!”
She pointed to one of the ropes attached to the sail and Lena leapt from the bow deck, across the plank and grabbed it, digging her heels into the wood and heaving.
Kara turned the steering oars, putting the boat into the wind as fast as she could. Lena was clearly struggling with the rope so Kara ran across the deck, grabbing it.
“Go to the helm and keep us facing this direction!”
The boat swayed in the water but came to a stop, the cliffs now on the starboard side. They smashed together again, sending more waves their way.
“Kara, what in Hades is that?”
Kara kept her eyes fixed on them as they moved back. “The symplegades.” She turned to Lena. “The clashing rocks.”
Lena stared at her. “Okay. I can clearly see that. But how do we get around them?”
Kara bit her lip and looked out at the miles of land stretching out on either side. “We don’t.”
Lena looked like she was trying very hard not to throw Kara overboard. “What?”
“We can’t go round them, Lena. It might take days.” Kara looked back to the cliffs.
“I don’t care! At least we won’t be dead!”
Kara frowned as she watched the cliffs clash again. She started counting under her breath.
“By Zeus! You’re the worst captain ever! Why did I ever agree to this?” She huffed, frowning when Kara didn’t say anything back. “What are you doing now?”
She held up a hand and Lena begrudgingly waited.
The cliffs clashed again.
“126.” She started counting again.
“What?” Lena frowned.
“126 counts between when the rocks clash. If I’m right…” She trailed off as she kept counting.
They both held their breath as they watched the horizon.
The cliffs clashed again.
“126!” Kara started counting again but turned and jumped down into the hull, bringing out two oars. She climbed back up onto the plank and put an oar down into the water on either side.
She looked to the cliffs.
“123, 124, 125…”
They smashed together and Kara turned to Lena triumphantly.
“Turn us east.”
Lena narrowed her eyes, considering. “You better get this right.”
She pulled the steering oars to one side and Kara grinned, straining as she drew the oars through the water to get them moving again as they turned towards the cliffs.
Kara kept rowing, the strokes getting easier as they gained momentum and the sail picked up wind.
“Lena, you’ve got to keep us on track. I’m going to time it so that we get there just after they crash together and we’ll have the maximum amount of time to make it through. But we won’t be able to stop so I need you to keep us going straight. They’re still going to be pretty close together for the first bit.”
Lena nodded but she looked wary. “And you’re sure you can time it right?”
Kara grimaced. “We’re about to find out.”
They sailed closer and closer, picking up speed. Kara could hear the rumbling behind her as the cliffs prepared to move. 123, 124…
“Keep us steady Lena! Watch out for the waves!”
The cliffs smashed together with a resounding boom. The boat lurched and Lena stumbled but quickly regained her footing, keeping them heading straight for the rocks. They raced towards the barrier and Kara looked over her shoulder towards them, holding her breath.
The cliffs began to move apart and she breathed out in relief, turning back to Lena and putting all her strength into dragging the oars through the waves. Lena kept them in the middle of the stretch of water with grim determination.
88, 89, 90…
Kara’s arms burned from the effort of it and she gritted her teeth, pulling harder.
112, 113, 114…
Kara kept rowing as she saw the ends of the cliffs pass out the corner of her eye.
124, 125, 126.
The cliffs clashed and Kara stopped rowing. The boat swayed, pushed a little further away.
“We did it.” Lena turned back to look at the rocks.
Kara pulled the oars back into the boat, throwing them down into the hull with a grin.
Lena turned back to her, a brilliant smile spreading slowly across her face. “We did it!”
Kara laughed and picked Lena up in a hug, swinging her around in a circle on the stern deck giddily until she realised what she was doing and put her down. She cleared her throat and rubbed the back of her neck awkwardly.
Lena was still smiling though, albeit a little more shyly. She punched Kara in the arm playfully. “I guess maybe you’re not the worst captain after all.”
Lena didn’t go back to the bow deck after that, opting instead to look out at the sea from the starboard side of the stern deck.
Kara was glad for the company and happily sailed in comfortable silence.
The afternoon sun beat down on them from a cloudless sky but the sea breeze kept the heat at bay. They were out in the open sea again not long later, no land in sight.
She frowned when she saw Lena stiffen. “Everything okay?”
Lena took a cautious step back from the rail. “There’s something in the water.”
Kara’s eyes widened and she strained to look over the side from the helm. Ripples cut through the water beside the boat, as though something was swimming beneath the surface, before disappearing. It happened several times, in a few different places and Kara gripped the steering oars harder, ready to manoeuvre them away.
Lena gasped and Kara whipped her head round to see what she’d seen. But Lena was laughing and running back to lean out over the rail.
Something broke the water and this time Kara saw it too. She lit up and, carefully leaving the steering oars, joined Lena looking out over the side of the ship.
A creature leapt from the water. It had the front half of a white horse, mane spraying water around as it shook its head, and hooves galloping through the air before it dived back down. Its lower half was a long fish tail, glinting like a rainbow in the sun as it flicked up and disappeared down into the sparkling waves.
More of them broke through the surface, twisting through the air like they were showing off for them.
Kara laughed and leaned over the rail to get a closer look. “Hippocampi! A whole pod of them!”
Lena watched them with awe. “Have you ever seen them before?”
Kara shook her head and smiled. “No but my dad used to tell me stories about how he did.” She turned to look at Lena. “Have you?”
Lena shook her head. “No.” Her voice was quieter than it had been and she kept her eyes on the hippocampi. “I don’t get out much.”
Kara studied her for a moment but decided not to push.
Eventually the hippocampi moved on and Kara turned back to the helm to make sure they were still on track.
Lena followed her movement, looking away from the water for once. She seemed to be considering something. Kara pretended not to notice, patiently waiting for her to speak.
“I could steer for a while.” She adjusted the sleeve of her chiton on her shoulder. “If you wanted. You’ve been doing it all day and you must be tired after having to row so hard through the symplegades.”
Kara smiled. “That would be great. Thank you.”
Lena nodded awkwardly and took the oars from her.
Kara smiled to herself as she crossed the short deck and jumped down into the hull. It felt like they were making progress.
She found her lyre among the amphora. She lifted it out onto the deck along with a jar of hazelnuts, almonds and pistachios, a jar of wine, another of water, and two kylix cups before climbing back up herself.
She mixed the water and the wine and poured out two cups, handing one to Lena who took it gratefully. She took a handful of nuts, eating the whole lot in one go, making her cheeks puff out, then set the amphora between the two of them to share.
Lena smiled and shook her head at her.
Kara relaxed back against the rail and plucked away absentmindedly at the strings of her lyre. After a bit, she started playing an actual tune and quietly sang some Sappho, smiling and singing a little louder when she caught Lena watching her in fascination.
She closed her eyes and rested her head back against the rail as she finished the poem.
“Wow, that was really good.”
Kara screamed and jumped up at the sound of a voice that was definitely not hers or Lena’s.
Lena had flattened herself against the back of the ship, staring wide eyed at the man now sitting on the rail opposite Kara. He had a quiver on his back and a bow slung over his shoulder. He was definitely not a shepherd and yet…
“ James ?”
The man laughed and hopped off the rail. “Yes. Well no. But yes.”
Kara blinked. She glanced at Lena but she was still glued to the back of the ship as though trying to make herself part of it.
James stood up straight and put a hand on his chest to introduce himself. “James, the god Apollo of archery, music and prophecy.” He grinned. “And a bunch of other cool stuff.”
Kara opened her mouth but nothing came out.
James frowned before he seemed to realise something. “Oh, you’ve never met a god before, have you?”
Kara shook her head, feeling like she was in some kind of daze.
James smiled, glancing between her and Lena and then back at Lena. “Well don’t worry, we can’t actually affect the mortal world directly.”
He waved his hand to encourage Lena away from the stern and she slowly peeled herself away, coming to stand next to Kara without taking her eyes off the apparent god.
Kara cleared her throat. “So you’re… Apollo?”
James nodded. “Mhm. But we take the forms of people known by the people we appear to. So you can call me James while I’m in this form. People on quests from the gods tend to be more on our radar and so I heard your lyre. It’s been a bit of a slow day so I just thought I’d come to see who was playing.”
He leaned back against the rail, crossing his ankles casually and conjuring a lyre out of thin air in a shimmering gold mist. He plucked at the strings in a soft tune.
“I’m the god of music and poetry, so it’s kind of my thing.”
He played and hummed happily, apparently not bothered by the fact that both Kara and Lena were standing there in shock.
Lena leaned slightly closer to Kara, eyes still trained warily on James. “Do you know him?”
Kara watched as James got distracted by a chord he clearly didn’t like and tried to come up with a better one. “Um… well no. But he looks like my friend James. He was at the port when we left?”
Lena nodded dazedly.
The air shimmered beside James and both their eyes widened as a second person appeared.
“ Brainy ?”
Brainy turned to them and smiled, moving his hand in a circle like an awkward wave. “Hello.” He put a hand on his chest. “Brainy, the god Hermes of heralds, travellers, and thieves.”
“Brainy!” James clapped him on the back merrily. “What brings you here?”
Brainy nodded to Kara’s lyre which she was still clutching to her chest. “I heard the lyre.” He steepled his fingers together. “I did invent it after all.”
James frowned. “Well yeah, but then you gave it to me. I play it better than anybody else.”
Brainy hummed. “But did you invent it?”
Kara watched, jaw dropped as the two gods squabbled.
Lena cleared her throat and Kara broke her gaze away from the strange scene. The gods stopped their argument and turned to look at Lena questioningly.
“So you two just… decided to join us on the boat for a bit?”
James shrugged and Brainy nodded. “Yeah, pretty much.”
Lena took a calming breath and nodded. “Okay.”
She turned back to the helm and took up the steering oars again, apparently planning on simply ignoring the two gods currently sitting on the port side rail of the boat.
James looked back to Kara unbothered. “Wanna duet?”
Kara blinked. “... what?”
He shrugged, starting to strum his lyre again. “When you’re an immortal deity you have to find the fun in the little things. It’s nice to meet some new heroes every once in a while.”
“You think I’m a hero?”
He smiled. “You’re on a quest from the gods. That generally qualifies people so yeah, I’d say you two count.”
Lena stepped away from the helm again, eyes wide. “Two? Both of us? Oh no. No thank you. I’m just doing here to get myself uncursed and then I’m going home. Please rescind the hero thing.”
Brainy frowned. “I’m not sure it works like that.”
James laughed and stopped his playing for a moment. “Which one of us cursed you anyway?”
Lena crossed her arms over her chest and clenched her jaw. “Hera.”
The two gods nodded as if this wasn’t something uncommon. “So what’s this quest she’s making you do?”
Lena frowned. “You don’t know.”
James raised an eyebrow. “We’re gods. We do a lot of stuff and there’re a lot of us. Most of the time we have no clue what the others are doing. Also…” He shrugged. “It’s Hera.”
Lena sighed, rolling her eyes. “Get rid of a beast terrorising a town - you know, the usual.”
James nodded and then grinned, sitting up a little taller and flexing. “You know, I’ve slayed a few beasts myself.”
Brainy huffed. “You kill a snake one time and you’re insufferable for the next millennium.”
James scoffed and crossed his arms. “Python was not just ‘a snake’!”
Kara and Lena looked at each other with similar expressions of disbelief and resign. It was going to be a long afternoon.
James and Brainy stayed until the sun had started to dip down into the water.
After getting over the initial shock of it all, it had actually been nice to have two familiar faces onboard (even if they weren’t really familiar). Kara and James had played some duets together and Lena and Brainy had been talking about something to do with ship travel and how the sail works.
They sang and drank (James and Brainy conjuring their own wine) and laughed together. Brainy briefly enchanted the ship to keep on its course automatically so that they could all sit and relax together.
Kara revelled in the way Lena seemed slightly more laidback, letting herself joke and laugh openly. Her nose scrunched up adorably when she laughed and her smiles crinkled her eyes. Kara decided then to make it her mission to get Lena to laugh more often. That would be her quest while Lena completed her own.
Once the two gods had left, Kara put everything back down into the hull, making a space and rolling out the bedding she had brought.
Lena was standing back at the bow, looking out at the water as the last rays of the sun sunk below the horizon.
Kara climbed out onto the deck and leaned against the railing beside her. “It’s beautiful, isn’t it?”
Lena hummed, neither of them looking away from the receding red.
“Just wait till the stars come out.”
They stood in comfortable silence for a long time, both deep in thought and content to simply watch the sky darken. Stars slowly began to appear and the moon seemed to glow brighter, the silvery light sparkling across the waves.
Eventually Kara pushed back from the rail. “There’s bedding down in the hull. Brainy’s enchantment will probably wear off soon so I’ll be at the helm. We can take it in shifts, if that’s okay? So you should try to get some sleep.”
Lena nodded, still looking out over the sea.
Kara watched her for a moment before nodding once and making her way to the helm. She sighed and settled in for the next few hours.
Three more days to Paphos.
Ancient Greek Words You May Not Know
- Bident - like a trident but a bident (it has two prongs)
- Kykeon - a kind of barley gruel stuff
Lena huffed as they stepped off the boat at the port. “I can’t believe you ate all our supplies in one day.”
Kara pouted. “I said I was sorry.”
The port was busy in the early morning, fresh supplies arriving and boats preparing to set off. Lena looked a little overwhelmed by the hordes of people and the clamour they made so Kara gently took her hand to guide her through the crowd. Lena still looked grumpy but didn’t complain about the hand holding so Kara happily continued.
She pushed through the bodies along the rows of stalls, inspecting the food and the prices being yelled.
They were making their way past the fish stalls when she felt Lena stop.
Kara frowned and looked back to Lena. She had frozen in place and was looking ahead with a mixture of confusion and horror. Kara followed her line of sight to a woman standing between two stalls, looking at the gutted fish with disgust. She was tall and regal with greying hair, and looked distinctly out of place with a thick purple cloak over her chiton, clasped at the shoulder with an expensive looking broach.
She looked up at Lena and stepped slightly forwards. She hummed. “Not quite. You may call me Lillian. But I am Hera, queen of the gods, and goddess of marriage.”
Kara felt Lena stiffen and stood a little taller, squeezing Lena’s hand slightly, at the realisation that this was the very goddess who had cursed her.
Lillian raised an eyebrow and looked Kara up and down. “I see you’ve got yourself a guard dog.”
Lena bristled beside her and took a step forward. “What do you want?”
Lillian turned back to Lena impassively. “I just came to see how you were doing with my quest. Make sure you aren't getting…” she looked down at their joined hands. “Distracted.”
Lena dropped Kara’s hand and Kara tried to keep her expression neutral.
“We’re just getting supplies and then we’ll be on our way again.” Lena clenched her jaw.
Lillian smiled but it was fake and cold and so unlike Lena’s that it sent chills down Kara’s spine. “Excellent. I’ll leave you to it then.”
She disappeared behind the stalls and Kara had to jog a little to catch up with Lena who was already pushing through the crowd.
“So that was your mother?”
Lena kept walking and didn’t look at her. “Let’s just get the supplies and go.”
They didn’t talk again until they were back on the boat and out at sea. Kara stood at the helm, steering in silence as she fought the urge to ask Lena questions or hug her until she was smiling again.
Lena was sat at the edge of the stern deck, her feet dangling down into the hull as she looked down at one of the pieces of wood she had bought. Kara didn’t know why she’d bought them but figured it didn’t really matter if it could cheer her up a bit.
“I’m sorry I snapped at you earlier.”
Kara looked over to Lena but she was still looking down at her hands.
“I don’t have the best relationship with my mother. And clearly I’m also not on good terms with Hera.” She looked up at the sky and laughed humorlessly. “It was just a bit jarring.”
Kara shrugged. “I think that’s understandable.”
Lena smiled thankfully at her before sighing deeply, clearly looking to change the subject and lighten the mood. “So - do you think we have enough supplies now?”
Kara looked over to where the amphorae and baskets were piled high in the hull and laughed. “Just about.”
Lena hummed, leaning back against the starboard rail and turning the wood over in her hands, smirking. “With your appetite, I’m not so sure.”
Kara pouted but couldn’t keep the grin off her face for long when it made Lena laugh.
They lapsed into silence again for a few minutes until Lena spoke up.
“Pass me your xiphos.” She held out her hand to Kara expectantly.
Kara frowned, curling her hand protectively around the hilt of her sword. “Why?”
Lena raised an eyebrow at her. “So I can murder you and strand myself in the middle of the sea.”
Kara huffed and cautiously unsheathed her sword, handing it to Lena hilt first.
She observed in confusion as Lena started to carve at the wood, unsure how she felt about her sword being used to whittle.
It was mesmerising, watching the wood shavings fall to the deck as Lena drew the blade along the block in a fluid motion. But it was a slow process and eventually Kara concentrated back on keeping the ship on course.
By the afternoon, Lena had made several thick wooden discs with a groove around the edge, and an equal number of what looked sort of like little bidents. Kara watched with fascination as Lena slotted a disc between the two prongs of the little bident, flicking it and smiling in satisfaction when it spun unobstructed.
Kara had no idea what she was making but she was impressed by her skills.
Lena stood up and looked at the mast in consideration before looking back to the side of the ship. She picked up Kara’s xiphos again and positioned it pointing down into the wood of the ship.
“Hey!” Kara ran over from the helm and grabbed the sword from Lena’s hand. “What do you think you’re doing?!”
Lena seemed taken aback by her anger. “I was just making a pulley system to make it easier to use the lines.”
Kara tried to take deep breaths, running her fingers over the indent Lena had made forlornly. “You can’t just- you can’t just start making holes in my ship.”
Lena frowned, clearly not understanding why Kara was so upset. “I’m sorry - I was only trying to help.”
Kara sighed deeply. “Just… ask before you start changing things next time? This ship means a lot to me.”
Lena nodded and Kara handed back the sword with a small smile which she returned.
The pulley system was a good idea in the end. It meant it took less effort to heave the lines, making their sailing a little smoother with just the two of them for crew.
By the time night fell, Lena looked exhausted. Kara joined her at the starboard rail.
“You should get some sleep.”
Lena glanced at Kara out the corner of her eyes and nodded but stayed where she was.
Kara considered her. “You didn’t sleep last night, did you?”
She looked away, clenching her jaw.
“Hey, it’s okay. I get it - sleeping at sea can be weird at first. And it can’t help that you’ve got so much on your mind.”
Some of the tension seemed to leave Lena’s shoulders.
Kara bit her lip. “Would you feel better if we stop and rest on the shore somewhere for a few hours?”
Lena didn’t say anything, clearly reluctant to accept despite wanting to.
“You know, I agreed to get you to Paphos and back and I can’t really do that if you die of exhaustion, so, as captain, I may have to insist.” She bumped their shoulders together, drawing a small smile from Lena.
“Well, if you insist.”
Kara turned them towards land and it wasn’t long before they the bow was cutting into the sand of a cove.
The beach gave way to forest a little further inland and Kara suggested they make camp under the cover of the trees, as it offered more protection from weather.
They set off up the sand, carrying a few supplies. Kara had draped her deep red cloak over her shoulders, opting to use that instead of a blanket so that she could carry more amphorae of food.
They found a clearing not too far into the woods and set their things down.
Kara flopped down on the grass and grabbed a bunch of grapes, pulling one off and popping it in her mouth. Lena rolled her eyes and sat down beside her.
“Planning to eat all our supplies again?”
Kara pouted around a mouthful of grapes and Lena laughed, plucking one of the ones still on the stalk from Kara’s hand.
“Don’t worry - most of it’s still on the ship so unless you sleepwalk I think we’ll be okay.”
After a few minutes, Kara noticed Lena wrapping her arms around herself and sat up straighter in mild alarm.
Lena startled at the sudden outburst, blinking up at Kara in confusion as she took the cloak from her shoulders, wrapping it around Lena’s and rubbing her upper arms in an attempt to warm her.
“Gosh, I’m so sorry. You stay here and warm up, I’ll go gather some firewood.”
She ran off into the forest before Lena could say anything and started collecting twigs and kindling.
As she was crouching down to pick up a larger branch, she noticed a glow in the distance but it was gone when she blinked. Warily, she stood, frowning into the darkness.
Something moved in the shadows and her grip tightened on the firewood.
A woman appeared from between the trees, tall and beautiful with long flowing brown hair and a chiton that seemed to move in an imaginary breeze. She didn’t look threatening, merely curious as she stepped towards Kara.
Kara’s grip on the wood didn’t loosen and she gulped. “Um… hello. I’m Kara. I was just gathering some firewood for my friend and I. I hope I’m not intruding.”
The woman hummed, her smile growing a little. “Yes, I heard about you and your friend. Lena, wasn’t it?”
Kara’s brow furrowed. “Who are you?”
The woman laughed. “Currently? Sam. A friend of Lena’s, I believe.”
She watched warily as Sam circled her like a predator. “You’re a goddess?”
Sam smiled and bowed theatrically as she came to stand in front of Kara again. “Aphrodite, goddess of love.”
Kara’s eyes widened. “Aphrodite? But why are you here?”
Sam leaned back against a tree with a huff. “Olympus gets boring after a while. So I thought I’d see what was happening in your realm and try a new form for a bit.” She inspected her hand, seemingly pleased. “I have to say, I quite like this one.” She looked over at Kara and raised an eyebrow, a dangerous smirk playing on her lips. “But perhaps you’d prefer another?”
The air around her shimmered and Kara had to blink, bringing one hand up to shield her eyes. The light faded and Kara lowered her hand but Sam was no longer standing in front of her. Instead, there was Lena.
Kara froze in place, eyes wide as Lena pushed away from the tree and walked towards her. But it wasn’t Lena. The playful edge that let Kara know she’d stop teasing at the slightest sign of her discomfort was missing from her smirk and her eyes didn’t have Lena’s curious twinkle.
Kara stumbled back, dropping her kindling, as not-Lena pushed into her space.
Sam grinned and turned away again. “Relax, I can’t physically do anything.”
Her form shimmered again and Kara looked away. She was Sam again when Kara turned back.
Kara clenched her jaw, kneeling down to regather her firewood. “What do you want?”
“Just some entertainment. Watching you two will be far more entertaining than whatever play the muses are doing next on Olympus. I am the goddess of love after all.”
“We’re not-” The twig Kara was picking up snapped in her hand and she huffed, throwing it to the side. “I’m just helping her on a quest. That’s all.”
Sam hummed. “It doesn’t have to be. I could help you win her heart-”
“No!” Kara glared up at her, clenching her jaw to remind herself she was talking to a goddess. “Please. Don’t mess with Lena’s feelings.”
Sam raised an eyebrow. “I never said anything about changing feelings. I only suggested making yours known.”
Kara finished collecting up the wood. “I don’t… I’m only here to help her. I’ll be glad if she wants to be friends but she’s going home once she’s done with her quest and then I’ll probably never see her again.”
She stood up, not meeting Sam’s eyes.
“Now, if you don’t mind, I should be getting back to make this fire.”
Sam shrugged and disappeared, taking her slight divine glow with her.
Lena was sitting, looking up at the sky, when she returned. She looked so soft with her hair down and Kara’s cloak wrapped around her, knees pulled up to her chest. A wave of affection rolled over Kara but she brushed it off, wary of Sam’s influence.
Lena smiled softly at her as she stepped into the clearing. “Hey.”
Kara smiled back weakly and started building the fire.
“You took a while. I could have come with you to help if you hadn’t run off so quickly, you know.”
Kara laughed awkwardly and continued piling sticks haphazardly in the centre of the clearing.
“Is everything okay?”
She nodded. “Mhm. Fine.”
Lena came and crouched next to her, taking the wood from her. “Here, let me do it. Your hands must be cold.”
Kara let her take over and went to sit where Lena had laid out some bedding.
Eventually Lena got the fire going and they sat, eating kykeon with honey in the warmth.
It was a quiet night with not much of a breeze and only a few distant bird calls and howls.
Kara thought nothing of it when she heard twigs snapping somewhere deeper in the woods. Until she heard what sounded like someone crying.
She frowned. “Can you hear that?” But by then she had lost the sound.
Kara stood and looked around the clearing. Lena pushed herself up too, looking mildly alarmed.
Kara couldn’t see any movement.
She picked up a torch and lit it from the fire. “I’m just going to see if someone’s out there. You stay here.”
Lena grabbed her arm before she could walk off. “No way! I’m coming with you. It’ll be safer if we stick together.”
Kara clenched her jaw, reluctant to potentially put Lena in more danger than she was already in, but she had to admit Lena was right. “Okay. But we have to stay together.”
They cautiously ventured further into the forest, shadows lurking in the trees in the wavering torchlight.
Kara stopped when they came to another clearing but Lena moved ahead of her.
“Lena!” she hissed.
She huffed as Lena didn’t listen, instead moving towards a statue and reaching out but not quite touching it. Kara stepped further into the clearing then, moving her torch around to illuminate more of the space.
There were multiple statues scattered around. She moved closer to one, the light of the flame flickering across its confused and distraught expression.
“What is this place?”
Kara turned back to Lena. “Maybe they’re offerings.”
Lena tilted her head, studying one of them. “Then why do they all look so… scared?”
A twig snapped somewhere in the distance and Kara glanced around.
Lena frowned and picked something up off the floor. She looked between it and one of the statues before gasping and staggering backwards into Kara.
Kara caught her shoulder and steadied her, looking questioningly at the sandal Lena was holding and the statue she had been looking at. A statue that was missing a sandal as it seemed to trip backwards, as though about to flee. Her eyes widened.
“Kara. I don’t think these are statues.”
She grabbed Lena’s arm. “We have to go. Now.”
Lena turned to her and pulled her arm away. “No! Kara, we have to save them.”
She looked around at the figures encased in stone. “Lena, I don’t know that there’s anything we can do.”
“We have to try!” Lena turned back to the petrified woman. “What if we capture the gorgon that did this? Maybe we can make her tell us how to change them back?”
Kara crumbled under Lena’s determined expression, knowing she was right and they couldn’t just leave. She sighed. “What’s the plan?”
Kara crouched in position behind the tree, listening for any sounds of movement. The torch, stuck into the ground in the middle of the clearing, lit the figures ominously.
There was a crunch just beyond the other side of the clearing and Kara held up her xiphos, carefully watching for anything in its reflection.
A figure appeared from the line of trees and, just as it was about to step into the light, Kara called out.
The spare sail from the ship dropped from the canopy, covering the figure who shrieked and struggled. Kara leapt out from behind the tree and sprinted towards the writhing shape as Lena climbed down to the ground.
But the figure dropped to the floor as though crouching under the sail, not attempting to escape from it. “No, please! Don’t come closer! I’m dangerous!”
Kara stopped. She and Lena frowned at each other. It didn’t sound like a threat. It sounded like someone who was scared.
Kara cautiously stepped forwards. “Who are you? Are you the gorgon that turned these people to stone?”
Her eyes widened in shock when a choked sob came from the sail. “Yes. But I didn’t mean to, I swear.”
Lena walked forwards and knelt beside the figure. She ripped a strip of fabric from the hem of her chiton. “Hey, if I hand you a blindfold will you bandage your eyes so we can get you out from under there?”
The shape nodded after a moment with a sniff. Kara raised her xiphos slightly, holding her breath as Lena slid the material under the sail. She loosely grabbed Lena’s arm and Lena allowed her to move her back as the figure moved beneath the cover.
Slowly, the gorgon stood, lifting the sail off herself. She was young, definitely no older than the two of them. Black snakes writhed around her shoulders, partially held down by the fabric she had tied around her head, covering her eyes.
Lena stepped forwards again. “What’s your name?”
The girl wrapped her arms around herself. “Melantha.”
Lena gently took one of her hands, prying it away from her arm. “Will you tell us what happened?”
They sat on the trunk of a fallen tree and listened as Melantha told them how she had been camping out in the woods with her friends when a goddess appeared to her, disguised as her friend, Althaia. Unaware, she drank a potion given to her by the goddess.
Pain had burned through her and she dropped to her knees. The last thing she saw before she blacked out was her friend’s form shimmering as she disappeared with a cruel smirk.
When she woke again, all she could hear was an insistent hissing, and snakes appeared at the edges of her vision. She screamed and ran back to her friends but as she looked each of them in the eye, they turned to stone.
Confused and scared, she ran deeper into the forest, where she couldn’t hurt anyone. She was alone and terrified and didn’t know what to do. She had been out here for days, returning every so often, in the hope it had all been a terrible dream.
Kara held her as she cried, the little snakes nudging into Melantha’s cheeks forlornly as though trying to comfort her too.
Lena was pacing furiously. “How could they do that? Mess with people and destroy their lives for their own entertainment?”
Kara clenched her jaw. The snakes turned their amber eyes to her pleadingly and she sighed. “Maybe we should just focus on how to help.”
Lena turned her fury on Kara but deflated when she saw Melantha still clinging to her in distress. She came and sat carefully beside her, looking like she wanted to reach out and comfort but not quite sure how. She shifted her hands under her thighs, stopping herself.
“Maybe we should ask the gods for help?”
Lena frowned over at Kara. “Do you really think that’s the best idea? The gods are the reason we’re even in this situation.”
Kara shrugged. “Then surely they’d be the most likely to know how to fix it.”
Lena still looked unsure.
“James said we were more visible to the gods at the moment because of the quest so maybe we can call upon one of them?”
Melantha lifted her head off Kara’s shoulder with a sniff, wiping her eyes on the back of her hand. She sat up and looked between the two of them. “I’d like to give it a try.”
Kara could see the tension in Lena as she looked away. “Who would you call on?”
Melantha looked up at Kara and she thought, biting her lip. “Hecate? She’s the goddess of magic and necromancy and stuff so maybe she’d know something?”
Melantha’s eyes widened.
“Not that we’ll be needing necromancy!”
They stood around the fire, each holding an offering. Lena and Melantha threw the only two cuts of meat they had bought at the market that morning into the flames, stepping back slightly as the fire engulfed them. Kara then poured on one of the amphorae of wine. There was a hiss as the flames turned deep red for a moment and leapt up.
Lena’s eyes widened at something over Kara’s shoulder and Kara turned.
Standing there, considering the three of them, in dark black robes that seemed to curl into smoke at her feet, was Nia.
Kara swallowed thickly, trying to stop the stinging behind her eyes. “You came.”
Nia looked at her almost pityingly. “Yes.”
She took in a steadying breath and clenched her jaw, looking away as Lena stepped up beside her, glancing at her worriedly.
Lena reluctantly looked back to Nia. “Goddess, we need your help.” She turned and gestured to Melantha. “This girl has been wrongfully cursed, and her friends turned to stone because of it. Can you undo it?”
Nia stepped forward, reaching out as if to touch the bandage covering Melantha’s eyes, and studying her. “I’m afraid I can’t undo the work of another god.”
The anger returned to Lena’s eyes but Nia turned to her, raising and hand before she could speak.
“But… I may be able to help.”
The air shimmered as Nia turned her palm up. A roll of gauze appeared in her hand, white and glowing faintly. She raised her other hand and a second, smaller roll appeared. But this one was black and its darkness seemed to seep into the air around it.
She turned to Kara, handing her the white bandages. “Since the ones turned to stone were not directly cursed, I can undo that. Use this to bring them back - it’s imbued with magic.”
She then turned to Lena, handing her the black bandage. She looked to Melantha in sympathy. “I’m sorry I can’t return you to your former self. It’s up to you whether you use this. It will stop you from turning anyone to stone… but it will blind you.”
Melantha nodded solemnly. “It’s better than hurting my friends.”
Lena stepped towards her hesitantly. “Are you sure you want this.”
She nodded and Lena unraveled the black cloth. She gently wound it around Melantha’s eyes, over the strip from her chiton, and tied it behind her head.
Nia smiled sadly and raised her hand as Lena stepped back. The material glimmered and shrouded itself in mist before falling away. Black lines like cracks webbed out from Melantha’s eyes, marking her dark skin.
Slowly, she opened her eyes. Her irises were grey and stony, unfocused and clearly not seeing. She lowered her head as a few tears escaped.
Kara reached out and gently took her hand. “Come on. Let’s get your friends back.”
They wrapped bandages around the eyes of each statue and slowly they returned. Nia stood watching from the edge of the clearing. Kara could feel her eyes on her but refused to meet them yet.
Althaia had turned out to be the girl with the missing sandal and easily accepted Melantha, hugging her close as she cried a little more. The snakes seemed particularly fond of her and, if the way Melantha didn’t let go of her hand the rest of the time was anything to go by, so was she.
As the last few petrified victims were turned back, Kara wandered away from the reunions to Nia.
She held out the left over bandage to Nia but she simply shook her head and turned to walk into the woods. Kara hung the remaining cloth around her sword belt and followed.
They made their way back to Kara and Lena’s camp, sitting by the fire.
Kara stared down at her hands, twisting them together in her lap. “Did you know that I’d tried to call on you before?”
She looked up at Nia who gave her that same look of pity. She nodded.
Kara looked away, clenching her jaw. Tears were starting to build behind her eyes. “Then why did you never come?”
Nia sighed. “Because I knew why you were calling.”
She glanced back at Nia with shiny eyes, face crumpled in despair.
Nia shook her head sadly. “It wouldn’t have helped, Kara.” Her eyes flicked over to something behind Kara and she turned to follow her gaze.
Lena was hovering awkwardly at the edge of the clearing.
Kara sniffed and quickly tried to wipe away any tears.
Nia stood. “I should be going.”
She nodded to each of them before disappearing.
Lena stepped hesitantly into the clearing. “Sorry - I didn’t mean to interrupt. I was just wondering where you’d gone.”
Kara smiled weakly up at her and shook her head. She patted the space next to her and Lena sat down gratefully.
Lena nodded. “Good. Happy to have everyone back.” She laughed. “Although, I’m starting to think Althaia is more than just ‘a friend’.”
Kara smiled, grateful for Lena’s attempt to lighten the mood.
They sat and watched the flames flickering in the darkness.
Eventually, Kara broke the silence.
“My parents died in a fire when I was thirteen.”
She saw Lena turn to her out the corner of her eye but she continued to stare, unfocused, into the flames.
“I used to call on Hecate every night, desperate for a way to bring them back, or just talk to them. There was so much I hadn’t said. I thought if I could see them again… maybe it wouldn’t hurt so much.”
Her eyes shone with tears in the firelight and she let Lena pull her close. She sunk into the embrace, burying her head in Lena’s neck as she ran her fingers through Kara’s hair soothingly. And for the first time in a long while, Kara let herself feel everything she had tried to push down for so long.
I spent about a week trying to decipher my own notes for this chapter.
Ancient Greek Words You May Not Know
- Hydra - six headed monster that grew back two heads if you cut one off
- Stratigos - army general
- Styx - river in the underworld - even the gods were bound by an oath sworn on the Styx
- Symposium (pl. symposia) - drinking parties
- Kottabos - game often played at symposia
Kara huffed as she stared up at the broken steering oar.
They had set out early so they didn’t lose too much time from sleeping on the shore and had been making good time until one of the steering oars broke and they’d had to make a bumpy stop on the coast of another island.
The beach was fairly small and surrounded by rocky cliffs and caves.
Lena sighed. “So what do we do now?”
Kara shrugged. “We get to work fixing it, I guess.”
They both just stood there staring up at it.
Lena groaned and dropped her arms from where they had been crossed. She trudged further up the beach and sat down on a rock jutting from sand.
“Can I not just have one day where something doesn’t go wrong?”
Kara sat down beside her. “It’s okay - we’ll fix it.” She bumped their shoulders together. “I am ‘not such a bad captain’, after all.”
It drew a smile from Lena and she bumped their shoulders again in response. “Yes, well clearly I was wrong about that.”
Kara frowned. “Hey!”
“How did you even manage to break one of the steering oars?” She raised an eyebrow.
Kara sputtered. “Well, I’m sorry - if you think you could do a better job, be my guest.”
Their voices rose as they bickered playfully until a low rumbling, like a cross between a growl and a hiss, cut them off.
Their eyes widened and they slowly turned.
Soft thuds echoed from the mouth of a dark cave as something rose from the shadows.
The rumbling hiss continued as sets of glowing eyes appeared. Six reptilian heads emerged, their long necks merging until one huge creature stepped into the light. A hydra.
Kara grabbed Lena’s wrist and they sprinted off down the beach.
The hydra’s heavy plods followed them and Kara tried to run in zigzags up and down the sand to slow it down.
“Kara, where are you going? We have no boat and we’re surrounded by cliffs! We have to fight it!”
“It’s got six heads!”
They changed direction again as one of those heads snapped closed around the air beside them.
“Heracles fought one! If you cut one off, two more grow back, but if you burn the stump it can’t grow them back!”
They dived behind a large rock, breathing hard. The hydra was bigger and slower so they had managed to get away momentarily.
“Kara why aren’t you attacking?” Lena looked to her in a panic.
“We don’t know what it wants!”
“It wants to eat us!”
“Well maybe it’s hungry!” She gasped. “Maybe it’s hungry.”
Lena’s eyes widened as Kara pressed her xiphos into her hand and started to stand up.
“Try not to die.” She leapt out from behind the rock and sprinted down the beach towards the boat.
She skidded to a stop in the sand and hauled herself up onto the ship. She jumped down into the hull and frantically searched through the amphorae and baskets, muttering to herself.
“Come on, come on, come on. Aha!”
She hauled one of the baskets up onto the deck and rushed towards the rail.
The hydra had rounded the rock and Lena was scrabbling backwards away from it.
The hydra’s six heads all snapped towards her, giving Lena enough time to push herself up and run.
It turned, hissing, and gave Kara its full attention. She grabbed a fish from the basket and held it aloft dramatically. It flopped uselessly against her hand. She took a deep breath and put on her most excited face like when she played with Krypto.
“Who wants some fish? Do you want some fish?”
Suddenly the hydra’s heads perked up, its scaly tails swishing in interest.
“Go get the fish!”
She threw it with all her might down the beach and the hydra went bounding after it.
She watched it go with wide eyes. “Wow. I honestly did not think that would work.”
Kara picked up the basket and jumped back down onto the sand as Lena wandered up to her with a raised eyebrow.
“Did you just train a hydra?”
Kara grinned proudly and put her hands on her hips. “See - it was just hungry.”
Lena hummed. “Well I hope you’ve got more fish.” She nodded down the beach and Kara turned to see the hydra galumphing back towards them.
It slid to a stop a few feet away and Kara scrunched her face up as sand sprayed everywhere. The heads weaved towards her curiously.
She picked up two more fish and waved them in front of the heads and pointed commandingly. “Sit.”
The hydra sat, tails creating a small sandstorm behind it. Kara’s eyes widened and she turned to Lena, bursting with silent excitement.
Lena crossed her arms. “We’re not keeping it.”
One of the heads lunged forwards and snatched a fish from Kara’s hand. She pulled her hand back in shock and frowned at the hydra.
“Hey! No. Bad Hydra. Leave.”
The head receded and looked down sadly even as the hydra shuffled forwards slightly.
Kara picked up another fish and threw them both over the hydra’s heads. It scrabbled around excitedly and chased after them, kicking up the sand again.
Someone laughed and Kara and Lena spun round to see a woman sitting on the rock they had previously been hiding behind. She had a bow slung across her shoulder and was smiling at the two of them in amusement.
“I have to say I haven’t seen anyone try that before.”
Kara lit up. “Kelly!”
She smiled. “Hello Kara.” She turned to Lena and inclined her head in greeting. “I am Kelly, the goddess Artemis of hunting and the wild.”
Lena bowed her head politely in turn.
The hydra appeared beside them again, nuzzling its heads into Kara with clumsy affection. She threw another fish for it and it raced off again.
Kelly smiled. “Thank you, Kara. Not everyone would have thought twice about killing the creature.” She looked to Lena who hung her head in shame but there was no judgment in her eyes. “Although, I certainly wouldn’t hold it against someone for trying to protect themselves.”
Lena looked up and smiled weakly but she still seemed slightly ashamed. Kara slipped her hand into Lena’s and squeezed it in comfort.
Kelly leaned back on her hands. “So what brings you two here anyway?”
Kara turned and pointed at the boat. “One of the steering oars on our boat broke.”
Kelly hummed. “Well I’m not much help myself but I know someone who might be.” She smiled. “Wait here.”
The air shimmered and she disappeared.
The hydra bumped into Kara, not quite timing its stop right, and she stumbled back with an “oof”.
Lena laughed and Kara shook her head.
“Hydie, you’re going to eat up all our fish.”
Lena raised an eyebrow. “Did you just name the hydra ‘Hydie?’”
Kara lifted her chin haughtily. “And what if I did?”
Lena just rolled her eyes as Kara lobbed another fish down the beach.
The air shimmered again and two figures appeared. Kelly returned with a slightly awkward looking god with an oil smudged chiton and soot in his hair.
Kelly clapped him on the back. “This is Hephaistos, god of blacksmiths, craftsmen, and volcanoes.”
He smiled and nodded in greeting. “I hear you have a problem with your boat?”
Winn spent the rest of the morning fixing the boat for them. He conjured almost an entire forge in equipment, all scattered in the sand around the stern of the boat.
Lena had silently observed for about half an hour before her curiosity got the better of her and she started asking Winn questions which he happily answered. Soon they were both working and talking excitedly.
Kara sat in the sand a little further up the beach, watching beside Kelly with the hydra’s heads softly snoring like thunder in her lap.
“So.” Kelly turned to look at her. “James said this is Lena’s quest?”
Kara smiled and nodded.
“Can I ask why you’re here then?”
She raised her eyebrows. “Oh. Well, I’m just here to help.”
Kelly studied her for a moment. “Do you think she needs your help?”
Kara frowned and looked back to where Lena was hammering something against an anvil determinedly. “No, I don’t think she needs my help. I think she is incredibly smart and resourceful, and that, despite not always being quite sure how to navigate a world she seems to have been closed off from, she is stubborn and determined and would always find a solution. She doesn’t need me at all. But I think sometimes it’s nice to know you have someone there for you. Just because she can do something alone doesn’t mean she should have to.”
Kelly smiled and nodded, looking back to Winn and Lena, both now looking slightly grubby. “Maybe you should tell her that.”
Kara stood with a grin to greet Lena and Winn as they trudged up the beach towards her and Kelly, looking happy and worn out. The hydra grumbled at the displacement of its pillow but flopped its heads down in the sand and promptly fell back asleep.
“We fixed the ship!” Lena’s pride and excitement was infectious.
“I know - I can see. It looks amazing!”
Not only had they replaced both steering oars, they had reinforced them and decorated them with gold filigree in the shape of vines and leafs, winding themselves around the oars and up onto the helm.
Winn grinned. “It doesn’t only look amazing - it’s also enchanted so that it will sail itself without you having to be at the helm all the time. Although, I would recommend you steer in particularly difficult areas.”
Kara’s eyebrows rose and she looked to Lena who beamed at her.
Winn looked between the three of them. “Well, I should be going, but…” He turned to Lena. “If you ever decide to take up blacksmithing, you’ve got the patron god on your side.”
He disappeared with a proud smile and Lena stood in stunned silence. She blinked and slowly turned to Kara.
Kara grinned at her and she laughed a little bit hysterically and threw her arms around Kara’s shoulder’s, Kara squeezing and lifting her slightly off her feet in return.
Kelly cleared her throat and they let go of each other, blushing faintly. She smiled in amusement.
“Well, I should be going too, and I’m sure you two will be happy to be back on your way.”
Kara nodded gratefully. “Thank you for your help.”
Kelly inclined her head in acknowledgement and turned to Lena. “Before I go, I thought I might offer you something.”
She held out her hand and a beautiful wooden bow and quiver full of arrows appeared, hanging from her palm.
“After all - you’re no damsel in distress.” She glanced at Kara and she suddenly felt bad for never ensuring that Lena knew she saw them as equals.
Lena carefully took them, marvelling at their exquisite craftsmanship. “Thank you. How can I repay you?”
Kelly smiled. “Just don’t forget me from your offerings.”
She nodded farewell to both of them and disappeared, leaving them standing in the middle of an unknown beach beside a snoring hydra.
The sun was still high in the sky when they got back out to sea. Hydie swam alongside them as they left the bay and Kara got slightly worried it was going to try to come with them but once they were out, it roared a goodbye and swam back.
Kara got them back on course and then cautiously left the helm, trusting in Winn’s work. She sat down beside Lena, resting back against the railing.
Lena was inspecting her new bow and arrows intently. They were all carved with the same intricate vines and leaves that Winn and Lena had put on the steering oars.
“My brother taught me how to use a bow.”
“I didn’t know you had a brother.”
She smiled weakly and nodded. “Lex was my best friend. He was the only one that was nice to me when I was adopted.”
Kara deflated at the use of the past tense. “Is he still around?” she asked carefully.
Lena clenched her jaw, twisting the feathers on the end of an arrow in her fingers. “He joined the army years ago. He stopped replying to my letters not long after and I haven’t heard from him since.”
Kara frowned. “Wait - Lex Luthor?”
Lena smiled bitterly and nodded. “Yep. The famous stratigos. Saving us all from the Persians. But too busy to save his little sister.” She gave a humourless laugh and dropped her head back against the railing, closing her eyes. “You know, I wrote to him when mother told me she was marrying me off. I thought… I thought maybe, just maybe, he’d care about me enough to send a letter to stop her.” She took a shaky breath and shook her head as a single tear escaped.
Kara unclipped her cloak and draped it across them like a blanket, putting an arm around Lena’s shoulders to pull her close and letting her rest her head on her shoulder.
Lena sniffed and picked at the fabric of the cloak. “Lex was the only one who treated me like I was my own person who could make choices myself. And then he just left me behind. And when I finally stood up for myself and refused to get married, I got cursed and now I’m stuck doing whatever Hera says.”
Kara’s heart broke for Lena and she squeezed her tight. “Lena, I am so sorry if I ever made you feel like you were some damsel in distress that needed saving. That’s never how I saw you. I think part of me wanted to - I wanted to be the hero that saved you - and I’m sorry for that, but I knew it wasn’t true. You are so strong and brave and smart. And I never meant to imply you couldn’t do this without me when I offered to come. I just wanted to be your friend and support you, not another person that takes away your independence.”
Lena snuggled further into her and Kara pressed a kiss to the top of her hair.
“I know you didn’t want to be considered a hero because of this quest. But Lena Luthor, you are my hero. Not because of what you’re going through, but because you constantly choose to be kind in spite of it.”
They fell asleep curled up together under Kara’s cloak. Luckily, the boat kept itself on course as they slept until evening.
“Ha! You were so right.”
Kara jolted awake at the unfamiliar voice. Her cloak fell to the deck as she and Lena clumsily jumped up in alarm at the two figures grinning mischievously down at them from the opposite rail.
“ Jack ? Sam ?”
Jack grinned and bowed dramatically. “Dionysus, god of wine and revelry, and Aphrodite, goddess of love.”
Kara scowled and snatched up her cloak from the ground.
“Ooo what’s got you all mad?”
Aphrodite rolled her eyes. “I may have teased her a bit in the forest yesterday.”
Lena frowned and looked to Kara in question but she brushed it off.
“You think that’s why I’m mad?” Kara clenched her jaw at Aphrodite’s raised eyebrows. “You cursed Melantha, didn’t you? You knew she liked her friend and so you thought it would be ‘entertaining’ to pretend to be her and then watch as Melantha unknowingly turned her to stone.”
Both gods frowned and Aphrodite raised her hands. “Whoa, that wasn’t me. I haven’t cursed anybody in ages. And even I’d never be that cruel just for entertainment.”
Kara could feel her crinkle getting worse. “It really wasn’t you?”
Aphrodite shook her head with wide eyes. “I swear it on the Styx.”
Kara huffed and threw her cloak down into the hull. “Sorry. It just seemed suspicious.”
She could feel Lena’s eyes on her but didn’t look towards her.
Jack clapped his hands together, breaking the tension. “Well then, who wants some wine.”
Once Kara had gotten over her suspicion of Sam, they actually had fun. The gods’ forms were apparently friends of Lena’s but it sounded like she didn’t get to see them much.
They all drank and laughed at Jack’s tales of symposia he’d crashed and Sam’s stories about how entertaining ‘the Sappho years’ had been.
Jack finished off his wine, grinning down at the picture of himself in a boat surrounded by dolphins and grapes that was revealed in his cup. He smirked up at the three of them.
Sam swallowed the grape she was eating and grinned. “I’m in.”
“Whoa! No way - we’re not getting wine dregs all over my ship.” Kara frowned.
Jack rolled his eyes and waved his hand in the air. A bronze dish balanced atop a floating pole appeared. He gently pushed it and it floated over the rail and a few metres away from the boat, keeping along beside them.
She laughed. “Fine.”
Standing up, she held her hands out to Lena who huffed with a smile and let Kara pull her up with an exaggerated groan. Kara grinned as Lena punched her shoulder playfully.
“Have you played before?”
Lena raised an eyebrow, suppressing a smile. “Once or twice.”
They joined Jack and Sam who were lounging against the railing at the side of the boat.
“Alright, who’s first?” Jack was practically bouncing in his divine sandals.
Sam rolled her eyes. “Go on, Jack. We all know you want to.”
He grinned and turned to the pole floating over the water. He took an exaggerated breath and put on his ‘serious’ face, drawing his kylix cup back over his shoulder, first two fingers slung through the handle, eyes narrowed in concentration. Just as he flicked the cup forwards, Sam hip checked him and the wine lees plopped uselessly into the water, nowhere near the target.
He screeched indignantly. “Sam!”
“What?” She shrugged innocently but couldn’t keep the grin off her face for long.
He scowled and then smirked. “Your turn.”
Sam narrowed her eyes in suspicion but confidently stepped up to the rail. She drew her arm back and flung the wine dregs towards the dish. They flew through the air, staying perfectly together, looking like they would land in exactly the right way to knock the dish off the pole.
Jack flicked his fingers inconspicuously by his side and the pole suddenly floated a few inches to the right, making Sam’s shot miss.
He grinned smugly. “What?”
Lena smiled and shook her head in disbelief. “By Zeus, you two really are like Sam and Jack.”
She stepped up to the rail to take her turn but Jack gasped.
“First of all - rude. We are gods.” He flicked his hair dramatically with a teasing smile. “And second - what’s the prize for the winner?”
Kara was about to suggest one of the sweet cakes they’d bought at the market the day before but Jack continued, wiggling his eyebrows.
Kara choked on her words and Lena flushed bright red beside her. Sam rolled her eyes and elbowed Jack.
“Don’t be an ass, Jack.” She looked to Kara and Kara had a feeling this was her attempt to make up for her teasing in the forest. “Here.” She conjured a delicate golden broach in the shape of a dove, inlaid with pearl and a sparkling ruby as the eye. “This can be the prize.”
Jack leaned over her shoulder to look at it. “Ooo. I want that.”
“Tough - you lost.”
“Only because you pushed me!”
Lena turned to Kara with a raised eyebrow and she laughed at the absurdity of the situation.
“You moved the pole!”
“Ugh, whatever. Come on, Lena - it’s your turn.”
Lena took aim, brow furrowing adorably in concentration. The wine dregs hit the dish with a dull clang and it toppled into the water to everyone’s cheers.
Lena grinned smugly and Kara smiled.
She shrugged. “I used to sneak into Lex’s symposia.”
“Lex Luthor?” Jack leaned back against the rail and crossed his arms with a hum. “He used to throw great symposia. Shame he got boring. Ares is all over him now.”
Kara could see Lena’s eyes dim and so jumped in. “Well don’t get too comfortable in your victory - I haven’t had my turn yet.”
It made Lena smile again and raise an eyebrow, gesturing for her to step up to the rail. Jack laughed and returned the dish to the pole.
Honestly, Kara had never been very good at kottabos but she didn’t really care about winning - she just wanted to make Lena smile. No one was more surprised than herself then when her shot knocked the dish down into the waves.
She turned to Sam and Jack with wide eyes. “Did you do that?”
They both laughed and shook their heads.
Sam conjured a second identical broach in her other hand. “Maybe it was the Fates.” She held one out to each of them, pressing them into their palms with a gentle smile. “A reminder to always follow your heart.”
Kara’s eyes flicked over to Lena and their eyes met briefly before they looked away, blushing.
Sam and Jack smirked but said nothing.
“Well.” Jack waved his hand and the pole disintegrated, swept away on the breeze in a golden dust. “We’ll leave you two to do… whatever.”
Sam rolled her eyes and slung her arm around his shoulders. She gave them an amused wave and they disappeared.
“Well, I have to say… the gods are different than I expected.”
Ancient Greek Words You May Not Know
- Cyclops - a one-eyed giant
- Polyphemus - the name of a cyclops encountered by the hero Odysseus
- Aegis - a symbol of Athena or Zeus - sometimes it's a shield and sometimes an animal skin/ breastplate thing
- Hoplite - soldier
- Cella - the main rectangular room of a greek temple
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Kara woke up a little disoriented. The sun was just beginning to lighten the sky and seagulls were starting to squawk obnoxiously from their chosen perch on the mast of the ship.
She sat up, leaning back on her hands and took a deep breath of salty air.
They’d stopped for the night on another beach, setting up camp by a few trees. It had been dark when they arrived and all they could make out were the silhouettes of small mountains against the stars. In the orange light of dawn, the mountains rose up majestically and the island’s wild and rugged grassy landscape seemed to flow in the wind like the waves at sea.
Kara turned to wake Lena but her bedding was occupied only by an inquisitive seagull and Lena was nowhere to be seen. She stood with a frown, brushing the sand from her hands.
There was no reply but she thought she heard familiar voices just beyond the patch of trees.
Kara pushed a branch aside and made her way through the foliage. She stopped at the sight of two figures standing in the tall grass. Lena was facing away from her, looking down at her hands. And in front of her, smiling gently, was Eliza.
Eliza looked up as Kara stepped towards them. She smiled so warmly that Kara could almost believe it was really her.
Lena looked up and turned towards her in surprise, clasping her hands behind her back. Her eyes looked slightly misty but she smiled and it wasn’t sad so Kara chose not to mention it for now.
“Hi. What’s going on?”
Eliza gestured vaguely to the rest of the island. “Oh I was just coming to see whether the inhabitants of this island had decided to start growing crops yet.” At Kara’s mildly confused expression, she added, “I’m the goddess Demeter of harvest.”
Kara nodded, although that was not what she’d been confused about. “There are other people on this island?”
Eliza hummed. “Sort of. Although I’d steer clear of them if I were you - they don’t tend to take kindly to visitors.”
With that rather ominous warning, she disappeared, still smiling kindly.
Kara opened her mouth to say something, turning to Lena, but frowned when she noticed her trying to discreetly drop a rose into the grass from behind her back.
“Why did you have a rose?”
Lena blushed and stammered but she was interrupted by something rustling.
They both turned as the tops of the blades of grass were moved in an uneven line towards them.
They tensed as it came closer until the grass parted and a small white lamb tumbled out. It looked up at them curiously and bleated before turning back around and wiggling its way through the grass again.
Kara laughed and turned to Lena but she was squinting towards the mountains.
Thuds echoed in the distance.
Kara followed Lena’s line of sight. Something seemed to be moving through another patch of trees further away.
They jumped as a booming voice called out. “Wooly?”
The juxtaposition of the fearsome voice and the call would have been almost comical if it weren’t for the figure that accompanied it, parting the trees with ease.
He was ten feet tall with wild brown curls that transitioned into a shaggy beard. Where there would have been two eyes on a human, this creature had only one large eye, set below a strong brow across his forehead. But the cyclops’ eye was closed and scarred.
Lena dragged Kara down to crouch behind the grass as he turned in their direction and whistled.
“Lena, that’s Polyphemus. We have to go - now! Even Odyssey lost men to him and almost got his ship sunk before he could get away.”
She shook her head. “I know but Kara, we can’t just go. He may have been blinded but his hearing is heightened - he’ll hear the boat leaving from there.”
Kara bit her lip. “I’m not sure we can fight him.”
Lena peered over the grass and frowned. The cyclops had found the lamb and was cuddling it and smiling as it nuzzled into his beard affectionately. “Maybe we don’t have to. Maybe Odysseus was wrong.”
Kara sighed. “While I would love to give Polyphemus a chance and hope he’s actually nice, I don’t want to risk you getting hurt. But maybe we could create a distraction? That way we don’t fight him and we can get away before he notices.”
Lena nodded and looked back towards the ship. She narrowed her eyes. “Do we have any fish left?”
Kara stood by the ship, arms braced against the bow, feet digging into the sand, ready to start pushing it out to sea at Lena’s signal.
Lena stood beside her, watching as Polyphemus wandered closer to the beach. She silently drew an arrow from her quiver, spearing a fish onto it and notching the arrow. She brought her bow up as she drew it back. She held the bow steady, looking down the shaft of the arrow to Polyphemus and raising the trajectory slightly.
She took a deep breath.
The moment she released the arrow, seagulls swarmed down from the mast and across the beach, chasing after it as it sailed through the air. It didn’t hit Polyphemus but tangled in his hair.
Kara started pushing and Lena exhaled in relief.
The boat started moving back into the water and it got easier to push. Polyphemus was yelling and trying to bat the gulls away with one hand, while cradling the lamb in the other.
Once the boat was fully in the water again, Kara jumped up on deck with Lena and started hauling the anchor back in. She winced as it thudded against the hull on the way back up. As soon as it was back up on the bow deck, Kara ran to the planks across the middle and started rowing while Lena went to the helm to steer them out.
The cyclops pulled the arrow from his hair, feeling its shape in his fingertips and turning towards the beach in anger. He threw the arrow to the side and the gulls followed.
Kara stopped rowing, desperately hoping he couldn’t hear them.
But the lamb nuzzled into him and his expression softened as he ran his huge fingers gently over its head. With one last blind look towards them, he turned and headed back towards the mountains.
Kara sighed in relief and brought the rowing oars back into the boat. She dropped them with a crash down into the hull and spun around when Lena shrieked.
Lena was staring at the bow of the ship with a hand over her heart, looking more resigned than scared now. Kara turned to see what had made her jump.
Standing there on the bow deck was an imposing figure clad in armour. She wore a shining bronze helmet, topped with a blue plume, and held a spear and shield in her hands. The shield was embossed with a gorgon’s head that seemed to leap out from the surface as though ready to fight. It was a shield that would be recognised anywhere - the aegis.
Athena shook her hands and the spear and shield disappeared. She reached up and eased the helmet off her head, shaking out short red hair with a grin.
“Alex!” Kara ran towards her in her excitement at seeing her sister, forgetting that this was in fact a god that she’d never met before and probably shouldn’t try to hug.
“Whoa whoa whoa!” Alex held her hands in front of herself and stepped back. “You can’t touch me - I’m a god. Your hand would probably just go right through me. And my power might hurt you.”
Kara stepped back in alarm, clasping her hands together to stop herself trying to hug anyone else. “Sorry. Yes. I forgot.”
Alex smiled. “Don’t worry about it. Just be careful.” She turned to Lena who had made her way by now to stand beside Kara, gently taking one of her hands in comfort and so she wouldn’t reach out again. “I’m Alex, the goddess Athena of strategic warfare, courage, and wisdom. This form is also Kara’s sister.”
Lena smiled and bowed her head politely.
“Well, I just came to see what Kelly was talking about but I have to agree after that - you two are pretty inventive.” She leaned back against the rail, crossing her arms over her chest. “Odysseus once tricked Polyphemus. He was one of my favourite mortals but even he resorted to stabbing Polyphemus in the eye with a burning pole.”
Lena raised a surprised eyebrow. “You disagree with his methods?”
Alex shrugged. “I may be a goddess of war but I’m not the goddess of violence. If a dispute can be settled peacefully, I’m all for it.”
Lena nodded. “Sorry. I shouldn’t have assumed. And I agree.”
Alex studied her for a moment and smiled. “I like you, Luthor. You’re not like your brother.”
Lena’s eyes widened and Kara could see she was eager to ask questions but Alex was too busy looking at Lena’s improvements to the ship to notice.
“We don’t always get particularly smart heroes. If they’re on a quest it’s normally because they want the glory or they did something horrific like murder their entire family while drunk. And Ares has kind of taken over all the wars happening at the moment. So it’s nice to have two people who actually have brains on a quest.”
Kara beamed at the praise from her not sister.
Alex stood up and put her helmet back on. “Anyway, I should get back to making sure Ares doesn’t ruin everything. Good luck on your quest.” She grinned. “You’ve got courage and wisdom on your side.”
She disappeared and Kara sighed with a bittersweet smile. It was good to see Alex again but it wasn’t really her and it reminded Kara how much she missed her sister.
She hopped down into the hull and found some bread and cheese, offering some up to Lena and then jumping back on deck to sit beside her and eat.
Lena picked at the bread, glancing at Kara who waited patiently for her to ask whatever was on her mind. “So… back on that island with Hecate, you said your parents had died.” She looked over to Kara, checking it was okay to continue. “So Alex and Eliza… they’re…?”
Kara nodded. “They adopted me when my parents died.” She looked away, clenching her jaw. “Alex’s dad - Jeremiah - he was still around then too. But he was a hoplite in the army. He died on a campaign not long after they adopted me.”
Lena silently put her hand facing palm up between them and Kara gratefully took it with a weak smile. “Is that why you don’t like the army?”
She shrugged. “It’s not so much that I don’t like it. It’s just not really for me I guess.”
Lena nodded, looking away. “I hate them for taking Lex from me.”
Kara rubbed her thumb across Lena’s knuckles soothingly and leaned further into her side.
“Do you miss Alex?”
She nodded. “We didn’t always get along. And even now, we argue sometimes. But she’s my sister and I wouldn’t trade her for anything.” She smiled. “I’ll be glad to see her again in a few days.”
Lena smiled weakly and turned over the bread in her hand, not eating it.
Kara studied her. “Do you miss Lex?”
She was quiet for a while before she answered. “I miss the brother he used to be. I’m not so sure I know him anymore.”
Kara desperately wanted to pull her closer, hold her until her both their pain eased and Lena would smile again with those dimples and that scrunched up nose that made Kara’s heart leap.
The sky was beginning to darken behind them while pinks and oranges flooded the path ahead. Seagulls soared above, their calls becoming louder and more frequent, disrupting the gentle monotony of waves lapping at the hull.
At some point Lena had fallen asleep against Kara’s shoulder and she had to gently shake her awake as their arrival was announced by the chorus of squawking gulls.
They stood to look out over the bow as a dark mass of land rose up from the horizon. Buildings dotted the sides of a steep hill and there at the summit, silhouetted by the setting sun, was the sanctuary of Aphrodite at Paphos.
They moored the boat on the shore near the base of the hill, fastening their cloaks around their shoulders and securing their weapons. They jumped down into the sand with soft thuds and set off up a small path that wound its way up the side of the hill.
The sun was hidden behind the hill, throwing shadows across their path. Lena led the way, quiver slung across her back, bow at her side, and long deep green cloak drawing her into the darkness.
Kara trailed behind, eyeing the eerily quiet buildings. “Where is everybody?”
Lena glanced back at her but continued to trudge up the path. “Apparently this panther has been terrorising the local people. They’ve all deserted the area. That’s why I was sent here - to slay the panther and allow them to return.”
Kara nodded, biting her lip. “Was it specifically to ‘slay’ the panther or could we just sort of shoo it away?”
She sighed. “The oracle said slay and I’m sorry but I’m not taking any chances.”
The path started to level out and the last golden light spilled over the sanctuary. Great marble buildings rose from the summit, statues and friezes painted in elaborate colours that seemed imbued with divine power in the sunset.
In the middle stood the highest temple, columns lining the edges and sculptures of great myths bearing down above them. Beyond the columns was the rectangular cella, the sunlight pouring out from behind it making it impossible to see inside.
They stepped through the columns towards the tall entrance, lowering the hoods of their cloaks in respect.
The inside walls were lined with flickering torches and the birth of Aphrodite was told in a painted frieze that ran the length of them. At the far end of the room, the goddess was immortalised in stone, raised up on a pedestal. A dwindling fire burned in a brazier before it and, at its feet, lay a young girl, collapsed on the ground.
Lena gasped and rushed forwards, her bow clattering on the marble floor as she dropped to her knees by the girl. Kara ran to her side but Lena’s arms went straight through the girl and she pulled them back with a hiss of pain as though she’d been burned.
A low growl echoed through the room and they both spun round, hands flying to rest on their weapons, to see two amber eyes appear from the shadows. The brazier rattled quietly behind them as the low rumbling vibrated through the floor. Sharp teeth glinted in the firelight as the huge creature padded closer, muscles rippling beneath the sleek black fur.
Kara breathed deeply, trying to calm her pounding heart as she carefully stepped forwards to shield the girl. She saw Lena slowly draw an arrow out the corner of her eye and discreetly put her hand out to wait.
The panther’s snarl grew louder and Kara’s hand tightened around the hilt of her sword as its front legs lowered in anticipation. But before anything could happen, a booming voice rang out through the temple.
The panther’s ears relaxed and it stopped snarling, warily slinking backwards to let past Aphrodite herself.
Sam stepped towards them, eyes glowing red in anger. “What do you think you’re doing?”
Kara’s eyes widened at her fury and she stepped back, glancing to a shocked Lena who was still crouching by the girl.
Sam froze at the sight. Her eyes immediately lost their red glow and softened with worry as she rushed forward and sank down beside the girl. “Ruby!”
She gathered Ruby in her arms, holding her close.
Kara looked back to Lena but she seemed just as lost.
Sam looked between them, anger now clouded with worry. “What are you doing here?”
Lena carefully placed the bow on the floor and the arrow back in her quiver. “I-” She glanced to Kara in fear and confusion. “This was my quest. To come here and slay the panther.”
The fire returned to Sam’s eyes but it seemed less directed at the two of them as she grit her teeth. “On whose orders?”
Lena swallowed thickly. “Hera’s.”
The room shook and Kara glanced around worriedly.
There was a flash and Alex appeared before them, looking concerned. Her eyes widened at the sight of Sam and Ruby on the floor and she moved towards them, her armour and weapons dissolving into a gold dust that was swept away into the air as she rushed forward.
Sam looked up at her, shaking with fury. Her voice was low and dangerous when she spoke. “Hera sent them to kill him.”
Alex looked up at the two of them, watching with concern. She glanced behind her at the low flickering fire in the brazier and sighed. “This is the hearth fire of Aphrodite. Every god has one in their sanctuary. They are our tether to this realm. Hestia,” she gestured to Ruby, gently brushing the hair from her face, “keeps them alight through the priestesses in the temples. But recently, sanctuaries all over Greece have been attacked by monsters and the priestesses are fleeing to safety.” She nodded to the panther sitting calmly in the corner of the room. “That is not one of those monsters. That panther is the last thing protecting this flame.”
They watched as the panther came slinking up to them, sitting by Sam and licking Ruby’s forehead affectionately.
Kara swallowed, her brow furrowed. “What… what happens if the flame goes out?”
Alex looked to Sam with a shaky breath. “Our ties to this world are severed, people lose faith, and… we begin to fade out of existence.”
Lena looked at the panther nuzzling softly into Ruby’s hair and back to Sam. Her face was almost worryingly blank and she was breathing too hard.
Kara reached out in concern. “Lena?”
Lena’s eyes snapped up to hers, wide and picked with tears. “I nearly killed her.”
She turned and walked out the room and Kara looked desperately towards the three goddesses on the floor. Alex motioned for her to follow Lena and she immediately jogged after her.
Kara found her sitting on the steps to the temple. She wordlessly sat down beside her, looking out across east Paphos and the dark waters beyond.
“You know, my mother always told me I could never do anything right.” Lena looked up at the first stars appearing and huffed a humourless laugh. “I’m starting to believe her.”
Kara looked to her in despair, desperate to argue otherwise but she knew Lena wasn’t done.
She sniffed and took a shaky breath in. “All I ever wanted was to be good. Make things that help people - make life easier. But every time I make a decision it seems to go horribly wrong.” She wiped a tear harshly from her cheek and looked away. Her leg bounced anxiously as though trying to dispel all the emotions coursing through her. She turned to Kara but wouldn’t meet her eyes. Her voice was small and unsure and it broke Kara’s heart. “What if I’m not meant to be good?”
Kara wrapped an arm around her shoulders, letting Lena cry into her cloak as she ran a hand through her hair. After a moment she pulled back slightly, gently sliding a hand over her jaw and resting their foreheads together. She wiped a tear from Lena’s cheek with her thumb.
“Lena Luthor, if there is one thing I know for sure, it is that you are good. I don’t think you could not be even if you tried. Although I’m sure you’d give it a very determined and stubborn go if you wanted to.”
She felt the corner of Lena’s mouth tug up even as another tear ran down her cheek.
“Since I met you, you have proved that you are good over and over. You added a pulley system to my ship to make what should really be a four or five person crew boat much easier to sail with just the two of us. You convinced me to stay and do the right thing when we found those statues, and you knew that there is always more than one side to a story and helped Melantha get her life back. You helped the god of blacksmiths build us a better steering system and actually impressed him. You came up with a plan to get us to safety without hurting Polyphemus, and I’m pretty sure Alex was implying she liked you even more than Odysseus.
“Lena, I have never doubted for a second that you are good. And I don’t think any of those gods ever did either. You’ve just been hurt by a lot of people (...and a god) who were supposed to support you.” She tucked a strand of hair behind Lena’s ear. “And if you don’t mind me saying… your mother sounds like a bitch.”
Lena let out a wet laugh and pulled back to wipe at her eyes. She smiled softly at Kara. “Thank you. Really.”
Kara smiled and opened her mouth to respond but the hairs on the back of her neck were suddenly all standing on end. She frowned and looked around as the silence dawned on her. It shouldn’t have been that quiet.
The constant chorus of cicadas had fallen silent and the screams of the gulls were eerily absent. Long shadows stretched across the sanctuary even as the last grasping tendrils of sunlight sunk below the horizon and there was nothing left to cast them.
Lena had started to notice too and looked around. “Kara… if the panther wasn’t what sent the people of Paphos running…”
Kara turned and grabbed Lena’s hand, dragging her back up the steps and into the temple as dark shapes began to emerge from the shadows. The heavy wooden doors groaned as they pushed them closed with a thud and Kara threw the iron bolts across to lock them as Lena snatched up her bow.
Alex stood, her armour materialising back around her. “Hera must be controlling the monsters.”
Kara glanced desperately between her and the doors which began to rattle. “What do we do.”
Alex strode up to them, eyes fixed on the entrance. “We cannot let that flame go out.”
Sam reluctantly lay Ruby down and stood to join them, the panther trailing behind her. “Alex and I can’t affect this world directly, unlike monsters. We can’t fight them. But,” she looked to both of them, “we can help you two to do it.”
Alex closed her eyes and took a deep breath. Her faint golden glow seemed to burn brighter, the plume on her helmet and the folds of her clothing moving in the surge of divine power. “We can lend you our strength for a short time. We channel our power through your bodies, enhancing your abilities or certain parts of your personality - like courage. We won’t control you, and we won’t do it for too long or it could damage your mortal bodies, but if you agree, we can increase the chance of success.”
Kara looked to Lena. She watched the gods for a moment before looking to the doors and drawing an arrow. She shrugged and nodded. “If we’re going to die, I may as well add ‘inhabited by a god’ to the list of things I never thought I’d do.”
Alex turned to Kara and she drew her xiphos, widening her stance. “I’m in if she’s in.”
Sam and Alex looked to each other and nodded. They both glowed brighter with an underlying humming of energy and then disappeared.
The room dimmed in the absence of their divine glow and the silence returned.
Kara and Lena looked to each other, weapons aimed at the still doors, as they listened for anything outside.
A dark fog seeped between the cracks around the doors and they cautiously stepped back, the panther lowering its front legs, ready to pounce as the room was filled with mist and their vision obscured. The doors creaked open and for a moment there was silence.
All at once the room erupted into movement.
Kara leapt aside as a snake head flew towards her through the fog, its teeth landing in the floor where she’d been standing with a hiss. A roaring lion lunged towards her and she stumbled back, swinging her xiphos and shaving off some of its mane. Its movement dissipated some of the fog and the full creature came into view.
It had the front half of a lion, the back half of a goat, and its tail was the snake that had attacked her first. A chimera.
Beside her, the panther had its jaws locked around a writhing drakon - a huge serpentine creature that was spitting acid as they wrestled on the floor.
Across the room, Lena was dodging sharp spines that flew through the air, lodging in the wall and dripping with sizzling poison. She frantically fired arrows but the creature that leapt from the fog evaded them with catlike grace, prowling forwards with a hunched back. It had the head of a human, the body of a lion, and flung its poisonous spines from along its tail. A manticore.
Kara dodged the snap of a powerful jaw and managed to elbow the lion, sending it stumbling away, shaking its mane angrily.
Suddenly, a powerful surge of energy seemed to run through her veins. Time seemed to slow momentarily and all her senses heightened. She could hear the acid bubbling in the drakon’s throat, ready to spit, and the spines on the manticore’s tail releasing and slicing through the air. She heard the contraction of the chimera’s muscles as it prepared to pounce.
The chimera burst towards her and Kara ran towards it, sliding to the floor at the last second and slipping underneath. She skidded to a halt on one knee and turned as the chimera landed, swinging her xiphos and slicing the snake’s head clean off.
It roared and stumbled back in pain.
In the second of time it gave her, Kara glanced across the room.
The panther was on its back, kicking at the drakon as it tried to close its teeth around the panther’s neck.
The manticore jumped forwards, springing off the wall towards Lena and releasing a wave of spines from its tail. Lena notched an arrow and released it as she rolled out of reach of the spines and the manticore’s swinging claws. The arrow hit it in the hind leg and the manticore thudded to the floor mid-leap. It limped back as Lena notched another arrow but suddenly, Lena seemed to freeze.
The rush of movement in the room had whipped up the dark fog raging around the room. The hearth fire wavered dangerously in the wind.
Kara’s breath caught in her throat as she watched, powerless for all the divine energy pumping through her veins. Lena’s body seized up, her bow clattering to the ground.
The last dying flame flickered and went out.
Lena collapsed to the floor.
Dun dun dunnnn
Ancient Greek... Things You May Not Know
- Mount Olympus - home of the gods
- River Styx - river in the underworld
- Cerberus- three headed dog that guards the underworld
- Fields of asphodel - place in the underworld where most souls end up
Did they have therapists in ancient Greece? Because Kara is really not having fun this chapter. (Sorry)
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
A paw smacked Kara in the side of the head, sending her sprawling and making her ears ring.
A golden mist enveloped Lena’s body. Kara scrabbled to get up and over to her, a cry ripping from her throat, but she blinked and Lena was gone.
The manticore eyed the scene warily before limping towards Ruby. It picked her up in its teeth by the back of her chiton but Kara was frozen, falling to her knees where Lena had been. The divine power drained from her limbs.
The manticore dragged Ruby away, picking up speed to a wounded gallop, and disappeared back out into the night. The chimera followed with a last snarl, black blood dripping from its headless tail.
There was a pained grunt behind her and Kara turned with tears stinging the back of her eyes to see Sam’s panther panting heavily, lying weakly on its side. The drakon lay dead beside it.
Kara crawled over to it, letting it rest its large snout on her knee as it let out strained huffs of air. The fur around its neck was matted with blood and in several other places was singed by acid. She stroked her hand gently over its head, letting her fingers sink into the soft black fur.
“He’ll be alright. Just needs a rest.”
Kara clenched her jaw, willing the tears not to fall. “Where’s Lena?”
Alex stepped around the panther and calmly knelt down across from her. “I’m sorry about your friend-”
“No!” She stood up, shaking with anger. “You don’t get to do that! You bring her back. Right now.”
Alex looked down. “It’s not that simple.”
Kara shook her head, walking away before turning back and pointing an accusing finger at Alex. “You said it would be better if we let you link to us. But it wasn’t. It wasn’t and now Lena’s gone. She helped Sam and in return she faded with her. That’s what happened, isn’t it? Because I don’t see Sam anywhere here either.”
Alex sighed. “Kara-”
“NO!” By now, tears were streaming down her cheeks as she gestured erratically. “She has spent her whole life trying to be good and where were the gods then? Who decided that she didn’t deserve a better family? Who decides who gets to be saved? You have the power to save people and you don’t! Everyone deserves to be saved.”
She took a shaky breath, wiping her cheeks harshly. Alex, to her credit, looked ashamed.
“Lena didn’t ask to be a part of any of this. She just wanted to save herself because no one else would. Hera cursed her and used her, and the rest of you only seem to care now that it directly affects you.” She stepped back towards Alex, voice low and filled with rage. “So don’t tell me you’re sorry. Tell me how to get her back.”
Alex was quiet for a moment. “She’s not exactly dead.” She looked up at Kara with an apologetic grimace. “Her soul just thinks it is.”
Kara frowned. “Explain.”
Alex sighed and got up. “When Sam’s tether to this world was lost, her presence was ripped back to Mount Olympus. Because Lena’s soul was linked to Sam at that moment, the shock of it sent her down to the Underworld.”
“She’s in the Underworld?!”
Alex raised her hands placatingly before Kara could freak out about that too much. “Her soul? Yes. But her mortal body didn’t actually die. If you go down to the Underworld and make her remember, you may be able to bring her back.”
Kara stared at her for a long moment. “You want me to go down to the Underworld?”
“Look - I’m trying my best here. I can’t interfere because the Underworld is Hades’ domain. But I can give you this.”
Alex held out her palm to reveal a small gold object. A tiny sculpture of a winged sandal was affixed to a pole, balanced on a circular base.
“I won this off Hermes in a bet. He uses them to track down gods to deliver messages. You think of the god and the little sandal points in the direction you have to go.”
Kara looked at it curiously. Alex snatched her hand back as she went to take it and she looked at her in surprise.
Alex narrowed her eyes. “I’m giving you this so you can find Hades and get Lena back. That’s it, okay? You try anything else and I’ll personally send you back down to the Underworld on a one way trip.”
Kara gulped and nodded, carefully taking the god-tracker when Alex slowly put her hand out again.
“Time to go steal a soul back, I guess.”
The sky was dark and littered with stars when Kara left the temple. The background noises of night had returned but Kara’s thoughts were too loud to pay them any attention.
She pushed the ship out to sea but stayed anchored by the shore.
Kara held the god-tracker up in her palm and took a deep breath. Her brow furrowed as she thought of Hades as hard as one could think about a transcendent immortal being they’d never met.
The little winged sandal twitched against her fingers and she opened her eyes. It swayed in increasing small swings before pointing ahead.
Kara set it gently down on the deck and went to haul the anchor up over the side of the hull. She unfurled the sail, pulling the lines to turn it and gritting her teeth at the reminders of Lena scattered around the ship.
She returned to the helm and took hold of the steering oars, looking back down at the tracker. Taking a steadying breath, she steered the boat in the right direction, and started towards Hades.
Kara never left the helm as she cut through the endless water. All sounds of life had soon faded into the distance and Kara had been left with only the lapping of waves to accompany her thoughts. Her mind was buzzing constantly, worsened by the lingering heightened senses, and she ached for something to focus her energy on other than gripping the steering oars and staring at the horizon.
Slowly, slow enough that Kara didn’t notice at first, the horizon became obscured by a dark mist that rose up off the black water beneath. Cliffs rose up around her and rocks jutted from the water. The stars had disappeared from the sky as though the constellations were abandoning her.
Adrenaline started pumping through her veins as the side of the ship grazed a rock with a scraping groan and she pulled at the steering oars, her grip tightening painfully.
The little gold sandal guided her through the dangerous territory until the sharp rocks were replaced with sloping banks of white stones.
The ship was pulled gently along by the flowing water and Kara loosened her grip on the steering oars. She cautiously left the helm for a moment, taking a torch from the hull and moving onto the bow deck to look around. She lit it and it flickered to life, illuminating the banks of the river through the swirls of fog. She sucked in a breath at the realisation that the shore was made not of rocks, but bones.
She grabbed the rail as the boat lurched, grinding to a halt on the bank.
Kara peered over the side of the ship to the murky waters below - the waters of the Styx. She was in the Underworld.
Careful to avoid touching the waves, Kara jumped down onto the bank, the bones crunching sickeningly beneath her feet. She scanned the shore with her torch but it was deserted, silent except for the rushing water. She swallowed thickly and started along the osteal beach.
The further she walked, the more a wall of rock, reaching up into the darkness, became visible ahead. As she neared, she noticed a large archway hewn into the rock. There was a dark shape at the base. It rhythmically expanded and contracted with a deep rumble.
A rib snapped under her foot.
The rumbling stopped.
The dark shape grew, a head rising, ears twitching, and then another two heads following as Cerberus stood to full height. The middle head bared its teeth in a snarl as the other two watched hostilely.
Kara sighed and looked pleadingly at the huge beast before her. “Please. I just want my friend back. She’s not supposed to be here - she’s not dead.” Her voice broke, sounding small even to her heightened hearing. “She’s not.”
Cerberus seemed to falter, heads glancing to each other as though not sure what to do as Kara dropped to her knees, the torch rolling from her grasp and almost going out.
She pressed her palms into her eyes, desperately holding back the sob threatening to claw its way from her throat as the reality of Lena being in the Underworld, like so many others in her life, sank in. “I promised I’d keep her safe. I should have saved her. Why couldn’t I save them?” A sob racked through her chest. “I should have listened to Alex.”
She felt a damp nose nuzzle tentatively at her shoulder. She took her hands away from her eyes and gave a weak smile to Cerberus, running her fingers over his right head as the left sniffed at her and the middle licked comfortingly at her other hand.
Kara sniffled, breathing still shaky.
Cerberus’ left head tugged her cloak in his teeth, pulling in big puffs of air and pushing his nose into it. He made a little woof and the other two heads turned to sniff too, ears pricking in curiosity.
Kara frowned. “What?”
The left head barked and Cerberus backed up, looking at her expectantly. She picked up her torch again and got to her feet. Cerberus turned and started walking towards the huge archway, the right head continuously glancing back to make sure Kara was following.
They passed under the rough arch, and Cerberus led her into the Underworld.
The air was thick with fog here too but it stayed stagnant in the air as though even the winds steered clear of this place.
Cerberus padded forwards somberly and Kara stuck close, warily looking around at the shadows that moved in the fog ahead.
The soil under her feet was mottled with moss and fungi and the sparse patches of grass were pale and wilted.
Kara jumped, bumping into Cerberus, as a figure wandered past them out of the mist. His features were sunken and his gaze clouded. His skin was pale, almost translucent and his hair an ashy black as though the mist was seeping into him and he was becoming part of it. Cerberus eyed the passerby and nudged Kara to continue.
The further they went, the more ghostly figures appeared. These hollow people wandered aimlessly through the fields of asphodel, forgotten and forgetting, shades of their former selves.
Kara wondered if she would see faces she recognised. She tried not to look but her eyes kept being drawn back to the shades, heart jumping every time she saw familiar features.
Cerberus led her through them and they mindlessly parted for him. His left head stayed low to the ground, focused on scenting, until he stopped in a lonely patch of pale grass and looked ahead. He turned back to Kara and stepped aside, watching her carefully.
There, on a rock only a few paces away, sat Lena.
Her smooth dark hair had lost some of its shine and her pale skin had taken on a sickly green tinge. But the thing that scared Kara most was the way she stared into the fog. Her usually vibrant green eyes were dimmed and her unfocused gaze was so different to her usual observant curiosity that it knocked the air from Kara’s lungs.
She ran forwards, kneeling in front of Lena and spiking the torch into the ground beside her.
“Lena?” She reached out between them, too afraid to touch lest she fade away.
Lena slowly turned her gaze to Kara but it was like she was looking right through her.
Kara gently brushed the hair from Lena’s face, tucking it behind her ear, and cupped her cheek. It was so cold.
“Lena, it’s me - Kara. Do you remember?”
Her eyes seemed to flicker but they stayed unfocused.
“We were helping the gods fight at the sanctuary of Aphrodite and the flame went out. But you’re not dead. Not really.”
“Do you remember when we met? You were so mad at me because I capsized your boat and soaked us both.” She smiled sadly, stroking her thumb across soft skin. “And even still you gave me a chance. I promised I’d get you to Paphos and back. But we’re not back yet. So I need you to remember, Lena.” She gripped Lena’s hand with her other hand, searching her face for any sign of recognition. “You have to remember. Can’t have me getting out of our agreement now, can we?”
Lena’s eyelids fluttered, pupils contracting and expanding as she tried to focus on Kara’s face.
“Please Lena. Come back to me.”
Lena’s chest rose, her breathing getting stronger again, as her eyes flitted over Kara’s face and the colour returned to her. “Kara?”
Kara huffed a laugh, relieved smile spreading across her face.
“I’m still mad at you for capsizing my boat you know.”
Kara laughed and surged forwards, enveloping Lena in a crushing hug, reveling in the feel of Lena gripping her in return. Lena buried her face in Kara’s neck and they clung to each other.
Kara whispered shakily into her hair. “I thought I lost you.”
Lena squeezed her tighter. “Never.”
Kara reluctantly pulled away after a while and Lena let her hands trail over Kara’s arms as though she didn’t want to let go either. Kara looked down at their hands, fingers running over Lena’s palm, delighting in the way it made Lena’s fingers twitch, proof that she was here and she was real, before tangling their fingers together.
She inhaled deeply, picking up the torch as she stood, Lena following. “We should get out of here.”
She went to turn away but Lena tugged her back by their joined hands. Kara’s breath caught in her throat at the way Lena was looking at her. She was smiling softly, eyes flitting between hers and her lips. And for a moment everything else faded away. She was completely frozen and yet vaguely aware of the fact that they were leaning towards each other as though unable to stop if they tried.
A throat cleared behind her and they both spun towards it.
J’onn stood before them.
Kara’s limbs felt weak, the hand holding the torch dropping to her side. Shock and despair and anguish swirled inside her, flashing across her face and desperately falling from her lips without permission. “No. Please. You can’t be here. I can’t lose another father.”
Lena’s grip tightened on her hand and J’onn’s expression changed to one of pity.
“I apologise for the shock, but I assure you J’onn is alive. I am Hades, Lord of the Underworld.”
It was then that Kara noticed his black robes and the way Cerberus stood obediently by him. He wasn’t faded like the shades of the fields of asphodel but had the faint aura of a god. Her heart began to calm again.
“I can’t let you leave with Lena Luthor.”
At that, her heart stopped entirely. “What? But she’s not dead. And she remembers.”
“A debt will be owed.”
“What kind of debt? I’ll pay it. Anything.”
“Kara!” Lena tugged at her hand, grabbing her arm.
J’onn sighed. “Something worth a soul. Something,” he pointed to the chain that disappeared into Kara’s chiton, “like that.”
Kara looked down, gently releasing Lena’s hand to pull the pendant hanging around her neck from under her chiton. “My mother’s necklace? It’s the last thing of hers I have.”
J’onn shrugged. “Exactly. It is the last thing that connects you to her.” He looked sadly over to Lena. “A soul for a soul.”
Kara took a deep breath and closed her eyes, hand clenched around the pendant. She pulled at the chain, snapping the clasp and leaving the chain to slink over her shoulders.
She held it out and J’onn put his palm out to take it. Kara held onto it for a moment, lip between her teeth.
“Can I see her? One last time.”
J’onn studied her. He nodded.
He took them through the fields of asphodel, up a rocky slope from where the fields could be seen stretching out for miles. Thousands of souls drifted over the wasteland like lost clouds.
From the top of the hill rose a foreboding palace, cut into the rock with jagged edges and sharp points. Two large doors marked the entrance, the booming sound of moving rock echoing through the Underworld as they opened like they sensed J’onn’s approaching presence.
He led them through into a hall with polished black marble floors and ceilings that stretched too far up for the human eye to see. At the far end of the room sat two imposing thrones, raised above everything else on a platform.
J’onn took them over to a small rectangular pool in the middle of the hall. He lifted his arm and an amphora of wine appeared in his hand. He poured the deep red liquid into the pool, filling it.
He turned towards a small doorway at the side of the room. The door burst open at the flick of his wrist.
Kara watched with bated breath as a figure emerged, stepping into the light of the torches that lined the walls. Her face was hauntingly familiar, echoed in a thousand of Kara’s memories.
“Alura Zor-El,” J’onn swept his hand towards the pool. “Drink.”
She came forwards, crouching by the pool and cupping her hands to bring the wine to her lips. The moment she drank it, her gaze cleared and she looked up at Kara, eyes flitting across her face as though trying to take as much of it in as she could. She smiled, bittersweet.
“You’ve grown so much.”
Kara took a shaky breath, tears filling her eyes as she laughed wetly. She flexed her fingers, grateful when Lena’s hand immediately found hers.
Alura stood up, still pale as though viewed through murky water. “What are you doing here?”
“I-” She felt Lena squeeze her hand as though trying to pass some of her strength between them. “I’m on a quest. With Lena.”
Alura’s eyes flicked over to Lena. She studied her, glancing between the two of them, and smiled. “It’s wonderful to meet you Lena.”
Lena’s heart beat a little faster in her fingertips but she smiled warmly back. “You too.”
“Mom, I-” Kara’s voice broke and she looked to her mother helplessly.
Alura smiled sadly. “I know. There’s so much I want to say to you and not enough time in the world to say it all.”
Kara sniffled, feeling like a little kid again. “I don’t want to say goodbye to you.”
“I don’t think anyone’s ever ready to say goodbye.” Alura held out her hand across the pool and Kara reached out to take it. It was cold and smaller than she remembered. But perhaps that was just because she had been smaller the last time she got to hold her mother’s hand.
“Kara, promise me you’ll live for me. You were always such a fearless child.” She laughed. “By Zeus, it would drive me insane. But promise me you won’t let fear stop you from really living.” She squeezed Kara’s hand. “My little hero.”
Kara gulped. “I promise.”
Alura smiled, taking Kara in one last time. “I’m so proud of who you’ve become.”
A tear dripped from Kara’s chin as it quivered. She felt her mother’s hand losing tangible form.
“I love you.”
Kara’s throat tightened as she held back a sob but she forced out the words, determined not to miss the opportunity to say it one last time again. “I love you too, mom.”
Alura’s fingers slipped through her grip, her hand left desperately grasping air as her mother faded away. Lena tugged at her hand and she melted into her waiting embrace, silently sobbing into Lena’s shoulder as Lena twined her fingers in the hair at the base of her neck, cradling her close.
(P.s. Sorry I haven’t been able to reply to comments lately but I appreciate them very much)
The penultimate chapter!
Ancient Greek Words You May Not Know
- satrap - (actually an old Iranian word) a ruler of a section of the Achaemenid (Persian) empire, under the king (Darius the Great at the time this is set if anyone was wondering)
They were quiet on the way back to the surface. Lena seemed to understand that Kara needed the silence and just stayed close, holding her hand as Cerberus escorted them back through the Underworld.
They made their way back out to open water, Lena taking the lead as they silently worked together to sail the ship. Once they were sailing calmly, Lena came and sat by her.
Her head felt heavy from all the crying and the anguish but at that moment she just felt numb.
“Tell me about her?”
Kara closed her eyes, leaning her head back against the railing and trying to ignore the weight that seemed to press around her skull. “I already told you - they died in-”
“No not…” Lena sighed, mirroring Kara’s position beside her. “Do you remember what Alex said back at the temple? The flame going out isn’t what makes the gods fade away, it’s the people forgetting them when they’re no longer here.”
Kara frowned, glancing over to her.
“What I mean is, I know that they’re gone and that there’s no magic way to make it all better, but…” She sighed. “I don’t know. I just thought it might help.”
They were both quiet for a moment and Kara thought about all the memories of her parents she had pushed down, tainted with the knowledge that things would never be like that again.
“My mother was… a judge. And my father was a trader.” She saw Lena look over to her out the corner of her eye but she continued staring into the distance, carefully pulling the broken fragments of memory from where they had been locked away in the back of her mind, as though they might crumble to dust.
“My father would tell me stories about his travels, about all the amazing things he had seen.” She huffed a laugh. “I couldn’t tell whether he was telling the truth or messing with me half the time.” Kara looked down, smile falling slightly as she ran her fingertips over the deck. “This was his boat.”
Lena looked at her in pained realisation. “That’s why you were mad when I tried to add the pulley system without asking.”
Kara looked over to her, not quite meeting her eyes. “I’m sorry about that. I overreacted.”
She shook her head. “I should have asked.”
Kara looked over the ship with a sad smile. “I think he would have liked the improvements.” She bumped their shoulders together. “He would’ve been very impressed with you.”
Lena blushed and ducked her head with a shy smile.
“He taught me how to sail in this boat. We used to pretend we were going on grand adventures - heroes on a quest from the gods.” She laughed, smiling in earnest now. “He’d sail us out into open waters and then let me take the helm while he pretended to fend off monsters and I’d have to steer us away from them.”
The fragments of memory didn’t crumble away but seemed to restore themselves, coming together, the colours brightening, as she brushed away the dust and the cobwebs.
“Did your mother ever come with you?”
Kara shook her head. “Not really. She was usually busy with satrap duties during the day but she always made time for me.” She froze as it dawned on her what she had just said.
Kara gulped as she turned to Lena, waiting for her to put the pieces together.
Lena’s eyes widened slightly in realisation. “You’re Persian.”
But Lena didn’t look at her like an enemy. In fact she didn’t look at her like she was any different at all.
She turned her hand palm up on her knee and Kara hesitantly slipped her own hand into it.
“I’m not going to hate you just because of where you’re from. I’m not my brother.” She squeezed Kara’s hand. “You’re still Kara. It’s just that now I have another piece in the puzzle that is Kara Danvers.”
Kara bit her lip. “Kara Zor-El.” At Lena’s confused tilt of her head, she continued. “My real name is Kara Zor-El. When the Danvers took me in they tried to help me hide where I was from, so I could live in peace in Greece, and so I took their name.”
Lena studied her with sadness in her eyes. “Do you wish you hadn’t?”
She thought about it - her anger and the resentment at having to hide when she first came to Greece, her conflict at forsaking her culture, her love for the Danvers - and realised that, after everything, she didn’t.
“No. I am a Danvers. And I am a Zor-El. I am part of both worlds. Sometimes I wish I didn’t have to hide part of who I am. I worry that my parents would be ashamed of me for hiding my lineage and my culture. But I don’t wish I wasn’t a Danvers. They’re my family too.”
Lena ran a thumb over her knuckles. “They wouldn’t be ashamed of you. No one could fault you for surviving. And you don’t just have to take my word for it - your mother said she was proud of you herself.”
Kara smiled and squeezed her hand in thanks.
The constellations had returned above them, the night sky littered with sparks of light that made up patterns in the memory of creatures and heroes and people taken from this world. Kara liked to think there was a little patch of stars somewhere that represented her parents.
“You don’t have to come any further with me, you know. You got me to Paphos. We can get you back home and that will be the end of our deal.”
Kara turned to Lena and studied her. “You’re not going home, are you?”
She sighed and looked away. “As much as I disagree with some aspects of the Olympian gods, people rely on them. And they need help.” She looked back to Kara as though beseeching her to understand. “I can’t just walk away.”
Kara bumped their shoulders together. “And you didn’t want to be called a hero.”
Lena huffed a laugh and ducked her head.
“So what’s our plan?”
Lena grinned at her allegiance. “We find Ruby and bring her back. And maybe punch Lillian for good measure.”
Kara laughed. “And how exactly do we do that?”
Lena grinned sheepishly. “I was hoping you might have some ideas?”
A glint of gold on the deck caught Kara’s eye as she thought. “I might. But it may involve angering a god.”
Lena raised an eyebrow. “What about me ever gave you the idea that I would not be okay with that?”
Kara explained the god-tracker to Lena and they set a course for Ruby.
Lena kept watch and, at her insistence, Kara went down into the hull to sleep until they made it to wherever they were going. After their talk, her headache had died down and all that was left was the exhaustion of grief.
She wasn’t sure how long it was before she was woken by a strange distant humming.
Kara opened her eyes, sitting up groggily. She climbed out the hull and leaned against the rail on the side of the stern deck, looking out into the darkness. It was early still and the sun had yet to rise.
“Kara? What is it?”
Lena’s voice felt fuzzy and far away through the haze in her brain. Her senses were still sensitive and the floaty melody that was worming its way into her mind had clearly not yet reached Lena’s ears.
“It sounds like… singing. Can’t you hear it yet?”
She was vaguely aware of Lena gasping and jumping down into the hull but she was too busy focusing on trying to hear more of the enchanting song.
A flame flickered to life beside her and she felt Lena grab her arm, trying to turn her towards her, but Kara’s eyes were stuck on the darkness, searching for the music’s origins.
Something warm and malleable was pushed into her ears and she frowned, looking to Lena. The melody became muted, as though she was hearing it from underwater and her mind cleared a little. Lena was holding a candle, taking the melted wax and plugging her own ears as she had clearly just done with Kara.
She sighed and blew out the flame, saying something about a close call.
But Kara’s hearing was still heightened from Athena’s power and the calling song was pulling her to look back out to sea, getting louder and more distracting as they drew nearer to the source.
Through the darkness, land appeared. A port. One she recognised. It was her home. And there was Alex, waving at her from the dock. And Eliza, and James, and Winn, Nia, Brainy, and J’onn. Kal was there too, looking proud. They were all waiting to greet her and celebrate her return.
And Lena. Lena was with them. Lena was smiling, happy and free and directed at her, beautiful green eyes crinkling at the corners. And Kara was there, wrapping her arms around Lena, spinning her round. And Lena was laughing and pulling back to look down at her, brushing the hair from Kara’s face softly as they stared at each other with so much love.
And then they were kissing. They were kissing and it was intoxicating, her mind humming incessantly at the feel of Lena’s lips on hers, hands tangling in her hair as hers gripped Lena’s waist, still holding her up.
A hand covered hers on the ship rail and she snapped her eyes over to Lena, standing in front of her, now taking Kara’s face in her hands.
“Hey. Hey! Look at me. Block them out. Focus on me. I’m right here.”
Kara brought her hands up to cover Lena’s, resting their foreheads together and closing her eyes. She took deep breaths, focusing on the sound of Lena’s voice.
“It’s not real. Whatever you’re seeing, it’s not real. They’re sirens, Kara, you can’t believe them.”
She let Lena’s voice wash over her, blocking out the sirens’ call, feeling Lena’s hands on her jaw, under her own hands, real and warm and solid.
“I’m here. Stay with me, Kara.”
Slowly, the sounds faded into the distance again and it was back to just their breathing, their hearts beating in sync to the chorus of the waves.
She opened her eyes hesitantly. Lena was staring back at her but her eyes flicked away when Kara met them. She pulled back and dropped her hands from Kara’s face but Kara didn’t let them go too far, tangling their fingers together between them.
Lena swallowed thickly. She let go of one of Kara’s hands to take the wax from her ears and Kara did the same. Her eyes flitted between Kara’s before she looked down, biting her lip anxiously as she took Kara’s hand again.
“What did you see?”
Kara ran her thumb across Lena’s knuckles. She thought about omitting the details but her mother’s words stuck in her mind. She had promised not to let fear hold her back. So she looked into Lena’s eyes, seeing the same caring look from the siren’s vision staring back, and decided to take the leap. She dropped her gaze to their joined hands and took a breath.
“I saw my family. And I saw…”
Her head snapped up as a piercing scream cut through the air. They both ran to the bow, looking out at the island rising from the water just ahead. The boat lurched, shuddering to a stop as it hit a black sand beach far too fast, grinding over the sand until it tilted dangerously, almost entirely out of the water.
“What was that?” Lena’s knuckles were white, gripping the rail.
Kara gulped. “I guess we’re about to find out.”
They cautiously made their way inland, wary of creatures lurking in the darkness.
The sun was only just beginning to rise and the edge of the sky was turning pale purple in anticipation.
A huge palace blocked the view of the horizon, built from smooth obsidian. The large entrance doors were left open, scorch marks burned across them from the opening out. It was eerily quiet.
They glanced to each other, hands resting on their weapons, and went in.
Their footsteps echoed through the empty hall. Torches of purple fire flickered in their holders along the walls, reflecting back in the shiny surfaces. Ostentatious veins of gold laced through the floor, glinting in the supernatural light.
Kara jumped as something scuffled past her ankle with a snort and turned to see a piglet escaping out into the night. She frowned at the odd sight and looked to Lena in confusion but she just shrugged.
The god-tracker in Kara’s hand was pointing to a set of doors on the right.
There had been a strange thrumming of energy underlying everything, like when the air is charged with the warning of an approaching storm, and it seemed to grow stronger the closer they drew.
They each braced a shoulder against one of the doors. On Kara’s count, they broke in.
The room was long and wide, with great banquet tables splintered into pieces against the right wall as though thrown aside by some mighty force. The floor and walls were marred with deep gouges and burn marks. To the left, a single chair was left untouched. Ornate and grandiose, like a throne, it was raised up on a platform.
Crumpled at the foot of the throne was a small unconscious body.
“Ruby!” Lena moved towards her but Kara stopped her with a hand to her forearm, watching a figure appear from the doorway to the right of the throne.
A woman with a blood red chiton and a cruel smirk stepped up onto the platform. A magical tattoo of a serpent slithered from the neck of her chiton and around her throat as if to see what was about to happen.
“Well, what a nice surprise. You even brought your guard dog.”
Lena frowned at the words as the woman sat casually on the throne, regally crossing one leg over the other. “Lillian?”
She smiled and raised an eyebrow. “Not anymore.” She extended out an arm, flexing her wrist as she looked it over. “Veronica Sinclair. Also known as the sorceress Circe.”
Kara’s brow furrowed in confusion and she glanced over to see the same look on Lena’s face. “But I don’t know Veronica Sinclair.”
Veronica’s smile grew. “No. That’s because this isn’t just a form. This is a physical body.” She grinned wickedly. “And it doesn’t belong to Circe anymore.
“What those gods didn’t tell you is that we don’t actually need your permission for the little trick you pulled. We can inhabit a body by force and we can take over the consciousness. It’s just that you mortals don’t tend to do so well when that happens.”
She stood, brushing her chiton primly. “You see, Circe wasn’t an Olympian, she was a witch. She has enormous magical power, without the… limitations of a true god. Which means,” she bent down and grasped the front of Ruby’s chiton. “I can do this,” she stepped off the platform, dragging the goddess with her and dropping her to the floor, “and this,” she held out a hand to the side as she walked towards them, sending a blast of purple energy that hit the wall and sent cracks webbing out from the place of impact, “and this.” She stopped in front of Lena and reached out to tap her on the forehead.
They both froze as Veronica turned around with a grin and sauntered back to her throne.
Kara gulped. “You can affect both realms.”
Veronica winked as she sat back down. “Exactly. Maybe you’re not quite as stupid as you look.”
Lena grit her teeth and stepped forwards. “What do you want, Circe?”
“Oh no.” She glowered down at Lena. “You can call me Hera, immortal queen of the mortal realm. And as for what I want…” She flicked her wrist and a shimmering red mist began to swirl at her side. “I want the gods to fade from existence as my monsters attack their sanctuaries, with no little Ruby to keep their flames alight, while I sit comfortably upon my throne, ruling over all you little mortals.”
Beside her, a figure appeared from the mist. He towered over them in shining hoplite armour, everything about him scaled up so that his shield and xiphos were easily twice the size of a regular hoplite’s and he looked like he could crush his enemy’s head within his fist.
All the breath seemed to rush from Lena’s lungs as they stood before him. “Lex.”
“But right now,” Hera grinned with a villainous glint in her eye, “I want to see you torn apart by your own precious dog.”
Lex charged towards Kara and before she could even draw her own xiphos he phased into her.
She screamed as power burned through her, taking control. Fury flooded within her and her head snapped to the right, to the object of her anger.
She stalked forwards, muscles rippling and mind hazy with rage. The enemy stumbled backwards, eyes wide with fear.
“Kara? This isn’t you. Please. You can fight it. You have to fight it.”
She shook her head as though attempting to dislodge the words’ strange hold on her. Why did she want to listen? She was the god of war. She listened to no one.
Kara continued forwards, sword dragging along beside her with a chilling screech. Why wouldn’t her arm cooperate? She should be holding her sword high, ready to run the enemy through.
She backed the enemy up into the wall and Kara pressed forwards, inches between them, shield ready to crush her and sword stubbornly by her side.
The terrified woman looked up at her with pleading eyes. “Kara, please. It’s me. It’s Lena.”
Her head twitched as though some part of her was trying to fight herself and she caught her own reflection in the polished obsidian wall. Her face was twisted in a cruel snarl, eyes glowing a deadly red.
Something inside her broke away and she gasped as she once again became aware of the other entity battling for dominance within her.
Kara stumbled back and Lena slumped away from the wall in relief. She could feel Lex fighting to subdue her consciousness and she dropped the sword and shield with a crash, doubling over with a cry as she fought back.
Across the room, standing from her throne, Hera cried out in outrage. “Enough!”
She released a surge of purple energy that shook the very foundations of the palace. It was the last thing Kara saw before the whole place exploded in an eruption of magic.
Ooo no words for you this chapter. Read on without confusion and I hope you enjoyed this little self-indulgent Greek au.
(Edit: oh wait I lied. Sorry :)
So for the last time:
Ancient Greek Words You May Not Know (wow predictive text does that for me now. I’m so sorry I made you all suffer through so many Greek words you probably didn’t want to know.)
- Elysium- the good bit of the underworld, a bit like heaven
- Ichor - the blood of gods)
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Kara came slowly to consciousness, ears ringing and vision swimming. Her head felt groggy and as the feeling came back to her limbs they felt almost numb - bruised and sore but not broken, and definitely not as hurt as she would have expected.
She groaned, hands slipping across loose stones as she pushed herself up to sitting. She blinked a few times to try to clear her vision but the edges were still blurry and tinged vaguely purple.
The whole place had been reduced to rubble as far as Kara could see. The air was choked with curling smoke, stinging her eyes and clawing at the back of her throat, and she could only make out piles of jagged rock, splintered wood, and shards of broken pottery, stretching out in all directions.
She scrambled up, dislodging rubble that clattered together and echoed in the space. “Lena?”
A shadow moved towards her through the smoke and she squinted to try to see it better. Lena rushed up and threw her arms around Kara’s neck in relief.
“By Hades, I thought you might not have made it.”
Kara wrapped her arms around her waist and sunk into her. “No no I’m here. Are you hurt?” She pulled back, taking Lena’s face in her hands and looking her over in concern. “What happened?”
Lena took her hands, stilling them with a soft smile. “I’m fine.” She frowned, shaking her head. “Hera she… she blew up the whole place. She’s insane. Kara, we have to get out of here.”
Kara’s eyebrows rose in surprise and confusion. “You want to leave? But what about Ruby?”
Lena sighed and stepped back. “We’re only mortal, Kara. Look around.” She gestured to the rubble and smoke surrounding them. “We’re outmatched.”
She frowned. “But what about the sanctuaries?”
Lena stepped back towards her and took her hand imploringly. “We can go and defend them. Save all the people there.”
“But… the gods won’t survive without Ruby looking over the flames - we won’t be able to guard them all. Besides, we can’t just leave her.”
Lena rolled her eyes. “She’s a goddess, Kara.” She squeezed her hand and ran her other hand up and down Kara’s forearm. “Come on. We can go and help people. Together. Isn’t that what you want?”
Kara frowned, flinching away as Lena tried to run a hand over her cheek.
“Don’t you want to be a hero?” Lena’s hands snaked up her biceps and around her neck. “To save people like you saved me, and have me waiting for you when you get home?”
Kara broke away from Lena’s hold, jaw clenching and hand going to the hilt of her xiphos. “Who are you?”
Lena’s eyebrows rose and then furrowed in confusion. She laughed. “What do you mean? It’s me - Lena.”
She tried to step back towards Kara but Kara stepped further back. “No. Not my Lena.”
The figure’s jaw clenched and her smile took on a sharper edge.
“I didn’t save her. And she certainly wouldn’t wait around doing nothing in any future. If she wanted me in her future it would be fighting side by side, as equals.”
Her face contorted into an angry snarl and she lunged at Kara who sidestepped without difficulty.
“And - goddess or not - Lena would never walk away from someone in need of help.”
The circled each other slowly, studying the other’s movements.
“You won’t win, Hera.”
The figure laughed coldly. “You think I’m Hera? You’re not worth her time.”
Kara raised an eyebrow. “If that were true, we wouldn’t be fighting right now.”
She raced back towards Kara with a roar and Kara unsheathed her xiphos, slicing through the image in a clean upwards stroke. It burst into a cloud of purple smoke that dissipated in the air.
Kara frowned, looking around. Her surroundings seemed to flicker in and out like a dying flame, rubble becoming a translucent purple for an instant before once again becoming solid.
She inhaled sharply. None of this was real.
“Lena? Lena!” Kara looked around desperately, searching for any sign of where to go in the seemingly directionless expanse. She ran a hand through her hair, huffing something between a laugh and a sob. “Come on - I only just got you back.”
As she dropped her hand hopelessly from her hair, a glint caught her eye in the movement of her cloak. She frowned, looking down at her shoulder. Sam’s brooch.
She unclipped it, pulling her cloak further over her shoulders so it didn’t fall. The gem set in the dove’s eye glowed faintly. Kara turned it over in her hand in confusion.
A reminder to always follow your heart.
Her eyes widened and she spun around, watching as the brooch glowed brighter in one direction and fainter as it got further away from it.
Kara gave a slightly hysterical laugh before starting to run, picking up speed as she followed the glow of the brooch.
The further she ran, the more her surroundings seemed to stutter, shifting and clashing like waves at sea. Her quick footsteps echoed in the space, unimpeded by the supposedly uneven ground, as though the illusion couldn’t create a texture quick enough as she ran.
Her steps faltered as her breath froze on an inhale. She stopped, closing her eyes and trying to control her breathing.
“Kara, what’s happening? Where are we?”
“Kara?” A second voice joined the first and Kara’s heart clenched harder, her face twisting in agony.
She slowly turned to the voices. Her parents stood there, looking down at themselves and around in confusion. The illusory landscape seemed to solidify the more she lingered, the more her heart ached.
Another shadow stepped through the smoke. Jeremiah. Inquisitive and kind as the last day she saw him. And then more. Dozens of figures, all wandering forwards, looking around and to her as though she would answer their questions. As though she would save them.
She remembered each of their faces, had seen them in her nightmares for years as visions of rising flames broke into every childhood memory and consumed them.
“Kara.” Zor-El stepped towards her, arms reaching out, with a familiar smile on his face. “We never thought we’d see you again.”
Kara stepped back, desperately trying to bring all the fractured pieces of her heart with her, holding her hands up in front of her as though they might stop the visions because she wasn’t sure she had the strength to.
Zor-El’s head tilted in gentle confusion and care, so much like when she was younger. “What’s wrong?”
Kara’s face crumpled and she locked her fingers behind her head, turning away for a moment and blowing out a shaky exhale that had been held in her lungs for far too long.
Her voice was small when she turned back. “You’re not real.” She looked over each of the faces before her. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”
Jeremiah stepped up beside Zor-El, looking worried. “Kara-”
She cut him off with a shake of her head and a sad smile. “I hope to see you again one day - in Elysium. But right now,” she looked to her mother, lips tugging up minutely even as tears threatened her eyes. “Right now I have some promises to keep.”
She looked to each of them one last time as she backed away before sprinting off, holding on to visions of Lena - Lena who was real and tangible and who she could save.
The environment started to flicker again, losing the surety it had gained while she faltered, until it faded to a purple haze that pulsed out from a point of origin. Kara slowed. Through it she could see the room they had been in. She and Lena were sprawled on the floor, unconscious. Lex seemed to be in a similar state nearby. Ruby was slumped in the corner of the room, and there, on the throne, sat Hera.
Her eyes were closed and her hands gripped the arms of the throne as the purple energy pulsed out from her, presumably upholding the illusory landscape that they were trapped in.
Kara moved forwards, pushing against the energy that seemed to push back against her. She knelt beside Lena’s body, the purple haze flickering violently between them. Ignoring the slight burn of the concentrated energy, she gently took Lena’s face in her hands, placing her fingers against her temples, and rested their foreheads together, closing her eyes.
When she opened them she was once more standing in a field of rubble. She spun around and there, a distance away but not so far that she was hidden by the smoke, was Lena.
She was sitting in the rubble as though she had only recently come to consciousness, her bow and quiver a few feet away, and kneeling beside her, was Kara.
The false Kara was gently runing her fingers over Lena’s cheek, Lena’s eyes fluttering as she leaned slightly into it. But her eyes caught the real Kara’s over the image’s shoulder and she leapt up.
The false Kara stood and spun towards her, drawing her xiphos. She pushed Lena behind herself. “It’s a trick, Lena - Hera’s still trying to get to us. I’ll handle this, you run.”
Kara sighed and moved over to pick up Lena’s bow and quiver, much to the false Kara’s confusion. “You know,” she threw them to Lena, “Hera really needs to learn that Lena is perfectly capable of saving herself.”
The false Kara turned to see Lena casually notching an arrow. “She’s right.” Lena aimed it straight at the image’s chest with a smirk. “And Kara’s too much of an optimist to draw her xiphos first.”
She released the arrow and it pierced through the illusion, clattering to the floor a few feet away as the form burst in a cloud of smoke.
Lena turned to Kara and wrapped her arms around Kara’s shoulders, pulling her close. They clung to each other and Kara let herself be surrounded by the familiarity and warmth of the real Lena.
She pulled back after a moment, letting her hand trail along Lena’s forearm until their fingers tangled together, breathing evenly at last, even through all the smoke. She went to turn and step away to escape Hera’s prison but there was a tug at her hand as Lena stayed where she was.
Kara turned back with a frown. It deepened in worry as Lena didn’t move. She was so sure this was the real Lena. “What are you doing? We need to go and save Ruby.”
Lena smiled softly, reaching out to smooth a finger over her crinkle. “I know. There’s just something I keep meaning to do.”
Lena stepped further into her space, smiling up at her as her eyes dropped to Kara’s lips. Kara’s breath stopped for an entirely different reason then, heart thundering in her chest. Lena placed a gentle hand over it and the slight uptick of her lips told Kara she could feel it too.
Lena pressed up onto her toes and Kara’s eyes fluttered closed as their lips met and warmth rushed through her. Kara’s hands slid round her waist, tentatively pulling her closer. Lena willingly pressed further into her, hands finding their way up and into the hair at the back of Kara’s neck.
They were both breathing hard when they pulled apart, foreheads resting together. Kara opened her eyes to see a smile spreading across Lena’s face. Lena opened her eyes, letting her hands trail over Kara’s shoulders as she dropped back down onto her heels.
She pulled her lips into her mouth and stepped back, holding out a hand. “Shall we?”
Kara put her own hand in Lena’s with a grin. “We shall.”
They stood there for a moment before Lena raised an eyebrow.
“Oh. Um…” Kara looked around for any sign of the way she had got here. She had kind of just appeared.
Lena rolled her eyes and plucked the god-tracked from where Kara had wedged it under her sword belt.
Kara grinned sheepishly. “What would I do without you?”
Lena laughed as she closed her eyes and focused, the little gold sandal twitching until it chose a direction to point. “Not be in this situation in the first place?”
Kara went to protest but Lena cut her off.
“I’m joking.” A blush rose on her cheeks and she looked down at the god-tracker, pretending to be concentrating on the task at hand. “I’m glad you’re here.”
Kara smiled and squeezed her hand. “Me too.”
She saw the corner of Lena’s lips tug up in a smile. Lena cleared her throat, attempting to tamp down her smile, and started walking. Kara happily followed, revelling in the warmth of Lena’s hand in her own.
Movement caught her eye as they were walking and she stopped. Lena looked back to her quizzically.
Kara gulped as she saw the faint shape of a figure moving towards them in the distance. “Lena, I-” She turned to Lena, running a thumb over her knuckles. “When I got closer to escaping this place, Hera showed me all the people I‘d lost in an attempt to keep me here. I’m really sorry. But you have to remember that none of it’s real. And I’ll be right here with you.”
Lena’s eyes flicked over to something behind Kara, widening slightly, and Kara’s heart ached for her. But Lena nodded, taking a deep breath and turning back the way they were heading.
“Ok. Let’s go.” She held her head high as they walked past the image of Lionel Luthor, his eyes soft in contrast to the rest of his visage as he watched them.
A second figure appeared on their left not long after - a boy with curly hair and a mischievous grin. “Lena?”
Lena kept walking even as her grip tightened in Kara’s hand.
Kara squeezed back, gaze flitting over to Lena in worry as she was forced to endure the reminder of the brother she once had.
It wasn’t until the third figure stepped from the smoke that Lena faltered. Kara reached out to steady her. They stood there in the silence, Lena staring at nothing as she tried to control her breathing. Kara watched the figure warily over Lena’s shoulder, a steadying hand still on Lena’s upper arm.
“Lena?” The voice was soft and awed, and Kara felt Lena stiffen. “Is that you?” The woman smiled sadly. “You’ve grown so much.”
Lena inhaled shakily and turned around. “Mom?”
Kara’s heart shattered. Because she had been allowed to have this moment in the Underworld, but Lena couldn’t because this wasn’t real. “Lena…”
“I know.” Lena turned back to her with a bittersweet smile. “I just- I’d forgotten what she looked like.”
Lena glanced back towards her birth mother one last time before she nodded, ready to move on. Kara watched the figure as they walked away until she faded into the distance. They didn’t talk, both too lost in their own thoughts, but Kara stayed close, hoping her presence could provide some small comfort.
The pulse of energy was getting weaker as they got back , the world around them crumbling in unstable magic. Hera was visibly struggling to keep the fake world in place, fingertips white as they dug into the wood of her throne.
They pushed forwards.
The magic wavered the closer they struggled, until it seemed to snap. Energy reverberated through the room, pushing them back and rippling through the illusion until it collapsed.
Both Kara and Lena’s eyes snapped open and they gasped, sitting up in their physical bodies once more.
Hera slumped forwards, falling to her hands and knees in front of her throne with ragged breaths.
Lex began to stir.
The two heroes got up and Kara went to Lena, picking up her quiver on the way.
“So I kind of doubt Kelly gave you arrows that could harm a god but…” she held out the god-tracker to Lena with the quiver, “something belonging to the gods has to be able to affect them, right?”
Lena smirked. “I’ll see what I can do.”
She took the items from Kara and pulled a torch from its holder on the wall just as a groan came from behind them.
Kara turned around to see the god of war sitting up groggily.
Lena took a pile of wood from the broken tables and set it alight before placing the torch back. “Think you can hold him off for a bit?”
Kara grinned, scooping up Lex’s shield as she walked towards him. “With pleasure.”
Lex grunted and shook his head like a wild boar before setting into a fighting stance, shoulders flexing as he adjusted his grip on his oversized xiphos.
He started lumbering towards Kara as she got closer and they met in the middle of the room with a resounding clang as Lex brought his sword down over Kara and she brought the shield up to meet it. In the same moment, Kara sliced forward with her xiphos under the shield but it glanced off Lex’s impenetrable skin above the knee.
Lex scraped his xiphos off the shield with a chilling metallic screech before swinging again from the side. Kara brought the shield down to counter his strike but it left her other side open and she jumped back as his fist, knuckles covered by bronze, narrowly missed her.
In her periphery she could see Lena muttering something with her eyes closed. The fire sputtered and roared a bright blue. Lena immediately opened her eyes and grinned, plucking the gold sandal from its base and, using two arrows to hold it like a pair of tongs, lowered it into the flames.
Kara leapt to the side with a sharp inhale as Lex’s blade wooshed past her cheek. Lex turned to her in a rage and kicked at her. She brought the shield up but his foot hit it hard with a dull thud and she stumbled back.
Lena held a third arrow under the melting sandal, gently twisting it so that the gold spiralled around the arrowhead.
Lex stomped towards Kara as she regained her footing and she brought the shield up to counter his attack at the last second, lunging out to stab his midriff. Her wrist twisted slightly as though she had tried to stab a wall and the xiphos clattered from her hand.
Lex grinned wickedly as she jumped backwards. “Did you really think you could hurt me?”
Kara grinned back. “No.”
She threw the shield at Lex and ran to his left as Lena released the arrow from her bow behind her. Lex caught the shield but it made him lose his balance momentarily and he brought it up just in time for the arrow to glance off of it up into the air. In the same moment, Kara jumped, using the wall to spring back and further up, snatching the arrow from the air and bringing it down upon Lex.
It wedged between his neck and shoulder and he cried out in pain as he stumbled back, weapons crashing to the floor. Kara rolled to soften her landing but her forearms still stung from where they had come into contact with Lex.
Lex slumped to the floor, unconscious.
A cry of outrage came from across the room and Kara looked up to see Hera struggling to her feet, weak purple energy building around her hand. Kara scooped up Lex’s shield and sprinted, skidding along the polished floor on her knees as she got to Lena, bringing the shield up over them as Hera released a feeble blast of destructive magic.
Kara smiled down at Lena, sweaty and breathing heavily while Lena looked as good as ever. “Hi.”
Lena grinned. “Hi.”
They could hear Hera struggling to recover from her overuse of magic, probably still unused to having a limited power supply.
Kara ignored her, grinning at Lena as she unraveled Nia’s bandages from where they were looped around her sword belt. “I believe you said something about punching Hera?”
Lena’s smile grew as she took the offered bandages. She leaned up and kissed Kara quickly, leaving her with a dopey grin on her face as the arm holding the shield went slack.
Lena laughed and stood up, wrapping the bandages over her knuckles as she casually started walking towards Hera. Hera stumbled forwards, pale and drained, fingertips crackling and sparking with wavering magic, but the fury in her eyes was still raging.
Lena strode towards her as Hera attempted to stand to her full height.
She opened her mouth to make some cruel remark but Lena drew arm back and before the words could leave her, Lena slammed her fist into Hera’s face with all her might.
Hera’s head snapped back as Lena shook her hand out with a string of curses.
The shimmering gold form of Lillian seemed to be ripped from Veronica’s body which slumped to the floor.
Flashes of gold lit the room behind her in the same instant as seven gods appeared. As Lillian stumbled back, golden ichor dripping from her nose, Winn jumped out the way with a squeal, having appeared directly behind her, and Nia and Brainy stepped forwards to each grab one of her arms.
James and Kelly walked over to Lex, hauling him up as he groaned, half-conscious. James grinned smugly down at the god of war.
Alex stood there with her arms crossed over her chest trying to keep a smile off her face.
The seventh of the gods immediately ran over to where Ruby was, gently scooping her up into her arms.
Alex smiled. “Thanks to you two, the people have returned to Paphos and Sam’s flame has been relit. The link is tenuous but it's there. And once Ruby returns, it will strengthen.”
Sam gently kissed Ruby’s forehead as she began to stir. She turned to them sincerely. “I should get her back to Olympus but thank you . We are in your debt.”
Sam smiled kindly at them before she and Ruby faded in gold light.
Kelly yanked Lex back up as he slumped down. “We should probably get these two back to see Zeus. But again - thank you for everything you’ve done.”
James waved and the three of them disappeared too.
Nia and Brainy smiled and Nia winked in a way that was kind of just a strange blink but had the right spirit, before they too left with Lillian.
Winn stepped forwards with a grin. “I’m glad you called for my assistance Lena. You’d make a fine blacksmith.” He looked at both of them. “I hope this isn’t the last time I see you two. You’ve really grown on me. Like rust.” He frowned. “Maybe that’s not the best metaphor.”
Alex elbowed him and he huffed, pouting at her.
“What? I’m just invested in their relationship - it’s cute.”
Kara and Lena blushed but Lena quietly slipped her hand into Kara’s and Kara couldn’t help the shy smile that spread across her face.
Winn turned back to them, not seeming to notice any difference. “Well, anyway. I hope I see you again. Preferably when you’ve decided that blacksmithing is the ultimate line of work.”
He disappeared with a grin and they were left alone with Alex.
It was strangely quiet after all the commotion.
Alex stepped closer, arms still crossed and face carefully blank. She raised an eyebrow and held out her hand.
Kara grimaced and sheepishly handed over the broken base of the god-tracker.
Alex’s eyes widened slightly as she looked down at it before she sighed and turned her hand over, letting drop to the floor. “You’re lucky you just did us a massive favour.”
Kara smiled hopefully. “So we’re forgiven?”
Alex shrugged. “Who knows - maybe you’ll even get a constellation after you die a tragic death.”
She laughed at the look of mild horror on their faces.
“You know,” she looked the two of them up and down, “there are still some sanctuaries that need help with monsters. We could use a couple of heroes.”
They looked at each other for a moment, silently trying to gauge the others’ reaction as they considered the offer. Lena was the one to answer, turning back to Alex with an appreciative nod of her head.
“We’ll think about it.” She looked to Kara and smiled. “But we might need a crew.”
Thank you to everyone who left kudos and comments - they always made my day. And silent readers I love you too!
Have a great day, stay safe, and keep reading supercorp fanfiction :)
(P.s. disregarding the relationships between the greek gods, Zeus would definitely be Cat Grant)