Seulgi shielded her eyes as she squinted up at the afternoon sun. The trees around them filtered out some of the scorching sunlight, but after being trapped underground even the sticky humidity of the Everglades felt like heaven to her.
Maybe it had something to do with her Apollo blood, she thought. Seungwan’s powers came from the moonlight, perhaps she had some sort of latent sun power. She thought she would be more tired than she was, especially after their latest near-death experience with the Spartoi back in the Labyrinth. The five of them had experienced a lot in the last day or two yet it still seemed like they were struggling to find answers. They’d basically gotten kicked out of the Labyrinth by the skeletons and dumped here. But why?
“Penny for your thoughts?” Seungwan sidled up next to her.
“My thoughts are worth more than that,” Seulgi snorted, scooting over all the same to allow Seungwan to walk next to her as they followed the trail towards the Lostman’s Five campsite. She turned to Seungwan. “I was just thinking about our conversation with Thanatos. Why would a demigod do something like this? What would they have to gain from kidnapping a god?”
Seungwan shrugged. “The Keres said Hades ordered them to come after us. What could be more powerful than having the god of the Underworld in your pocket?”
Seulgi pursed her lips, “I don’t know. Something seems off about this whole thing, but I just can’t quite put my finger on it.”
“Your gut feelings are usually correct, that’s how we found Joohyun and the others, remember?”
Seulgi tilted her head in acknowledgement. She was about to respond to her friend when an angry voice sounded from behind them.
“Ugh, come on you stupid Labyrinth, give us another entrance!” Joohyun all but growled as she ran her fingers over the bank where the Labyrinth exit had been. “Damn it, we don’t have time for detours.”
Seulgi turned back to address the other girl. “You know maybe we’re supposed to be here.”
Joohyun ignored her and kept squinting at the embankment as if she could intimidate the Labyrinth entrance into re-appearing. Seulgi thought it would have been endearing if she wasn’t still so hell-bent on getting back on track. She must really hate losing.
“You and I both know that my father flushed us out of the Labyrinth, that means there’s something in there that he doesn’t want us to find.”
She did have a point. Actually, now that Seulgi thought about it she understood what Joohyun was insinuating. “So how do we get back in there?”
Joohyun sighed. “I have no idea.”
Sooyoung patted Joohyun on the back. “Look, we’re in the middle of the swamp and for once nothing seems to be chasing us. We didn’t exactly get a break last night, why don’t we rest for a while?”
“There should be a campsite up ahead,” Seungwan said, breaking off from their group and peering at the trailhead sign. “This trail over here is well-worn.”
Everyone turned to Joohyun, waiting for her to make the final decision. She pinched the bridge of her nose between two fingers and gestured for Seungwan to lead the way.
The five of them sloshed through the mud and joined up with the trail path that would eventually lead them to Lostman’s Five Bay and hopefully a decent place to rest. Both Yeri and Sooyoung were in awe of their surroundings, pointing out all the different trees and flowers and occasionally going off-trail with Procyon to get a closer look at whatever caught their eye. Seulgi liked watching the two of them play with each other, the typically blunt and abrasive daughter of Ares had quickly taken Yeri under her wing and was more than willing to entertain her while they walked.
Joohyun had taken the rear position again, watching over everyone from afar and making sure they didn’t get into any trouble. She was a silent leader, strong and capable and almost completely unwilling to let anyone get past the walls she had put up around herself. Seulgi had seen a glimpse of the true Joohyun the night before they fought the Chimera and she found herself wanting to see more of the girl’s personality.
That left Seulgi once again walking alongside Seungwan as they chatted. Seulgi had to admit it was nice talking to Seungwan. And after the other girl’s godly heritage came to light Seulgi didn’t miss the irony that was the two of them basically being cousins. The No-Jam Duo, daughters of Apollo and Artemis.
They were in the middle of a conversation about Seungwan’s favorite Korean singer when Procyon trotted up next to her, eyes bright and tail wagging. Something scaly was trapped in his jaws and he deposited it on Seungwan’s shoe with a wet plop. “Oh that’s disgusting, Procyon. Sooyoung! Get over here and put a leash back on your mutt before I feed him to the next monster we find.”
“Seungwan wait,” Seulgi reached out and grabbed the back of Seungwan’s shirt to prevent her from leaving, using her other hand to point at the “present” Procyon had brought the daughter of Artemis. She nudged the small mass of scales with her boot and turned it over.
It was some sort of monster, that much was obvious. Seulgi would have thought it was just a normal lizard at first glance but upon closer inspection she saw that the creature had not one, but three heads. “What is this thing?”
Seungwan squatted down and gently poked at the creature’s unmoving body. “It’s dead, that’s for certain. And it has been for a while but I can’t tell what exactly it is with the decomposition. Maybe a baby basilisk or a baby drakon?”
Sooyoung joined them a second later, giving Procyon a loving scratch behind the ears. “That’s my good boy, what has he found?”
“Your ‘good boy’ dropped a rotting corpse on my shoe,” Seungwan grumbled petulantly. “It’s a baby monster, but I can’t tell exactly what it was.”
“Why do you sound worried then?” Sooyoung asked. “We’re in the Everglades, there’s bound to be wild monsters everywhere.”
“Because wherever baby monsters are you can be sure its mother isn’t far off.”
As soon as they reached the campsite something seemed off. A single wooden shack stood at the edge of the campsite clearing, a broken sign reading “Medical” hanging above the door by only a few haphazardly hammered nails.
“That’s weird, I know this place is in the middle of nowhere but you’d think there’d be at least some sign of human activity,” Seungwan muttered as she approached the shack. The door creaked as it was pushed open, revealing a small room with a rusted bunk bed and a single desk. Papers covered the entirety of the desk and a first aid kit had been bolted to the wall but everything was covered in a thick layer of dust.
“Yeah, I don’t think anyone’s been here in ages,” Sooyoung agreed, making a beeline for the papers and beginning to shuffle through them.
“The trail we came here on was well worn though,” Seulgi mentioned. She joined Sooyoung in looking through the abandoned paperwork. Her brain had difficulties processing the letters on the paper and she sighed, remembering that since this wasn’t written in Ancient Greek she’d have a hard time reading it.
It took the two of them a few minutes to go through most of the papers but eventually they found something. Sooyoung cheered, holding up an official-looking memo from the Florida Game and Fish Department.
“Here we go. ‘Due to the recent sightings of bull sharks in Lostmans Five Bay this campsite is hereby closed to all visitors until October.’”
“Sharks? In the Everglades?” Yeri looked doubtful. “Are you sure you read it right, Sooyoung-unnie?”
Sooyoung stuck her tongue out at the younger girl. “I’m positive. Bull sharks are one of the only species of shark that are able to cross between freshwater and saltwater, and they’re pretty aggressive to boot. It makes sense that the Park Service would close this place down if there were sightings.”
Everyone turned to stare at her. “What? I’m not stupid, I learned about sharks in my third-grade science class.”
“Moving on,” Joohyun steered the conversation back to its original purpose. “I guess this means the whole campsite is empty. There won’t be anyone around to bother us while we rest.”
“That’s the first good news I’ve heard all day,” Seungwan said, yawning and stretching her arms. She turned to the first aid kit that had been bolted to the wall. “Hey Yeri, mind opening that for us? No one’s around and we could always use more medical supplies.”
Yeri’s answering smile at being asked to break into something made everyone break out into laughter.
A couple of hours later found Seulgi sitting on one of the boat docks overlooking Lostmans Five Bay as she watched the sun slowly begin to sink. They had managed to rest for a while without any interruptions, making Seulgi feel a lot more refreshed than she had earlier.
She took off her boots and dipped her toes in the water, enjoying the sensation even if it was murky and warm from the afternoon sun.
“Seulgi?” Joohyun’s voice came from her left and she turned to look at the older girl.
“Oh, Joohyun. How are you feeling, did you manage to get some rest?”
Joohyun smiled softly at the remark. “I did. Mind if I join you?”
Seulgi shook her head and scooted over so Joohyun could sit next to her. “When should we leave to start looking for another Labyrinth entrance?”
Joohyun shrugged. “Probably later tonight. I had some time to think and I realized that I was pushing everyone way too hard back in the Labyrinth. If everyone wasn’t so strong I might have gotten someone seriously hurt. I…wouldn’t be able to forgive myself if that happened.”
“You have a lot of responsibility right now Joohyun.” Seulgi splashed her feet in the water absentmindedly. “Thanatos did have a point, there’s a lot riding on this quest but that doesn’t mean you have to do this alone.”
Joohyun hummed in agreement. “I think I’m starting to see that now. I need to be a good leader and I can’t do that if I’m just mindlessly focused on what the end goal is for our quest. I made Yeri sad earlier when I wasn’t listening to her pain…” she paused for a second, eyebrows wrinkled concern. “I won’t do that again.”
Seulgi smiled at Joohyun. “That’s all we ask. At the risk of sounding cheesy, we’re all in this together Hyun.” Joohyun blinked in surprise and Seulgi realized what she had just said. “I’m sorry, do you not like that nickname? Seungwan has a habit of giving everyone nicknames and this one just seemed to fit and I—”
“—You’re rambling,” Joohyun said, not unkindly. They sat together in silence for a minute while Joohyun figured out how to respond. She hoped Seulgi was too distracted watching the scenery to notice that her cheeks had turned pink. “…I don’t not like the name. Actually I think it’s cute.”
Seulgi on the other hand was watching the scenery in front of her in the hopes that Joohyun wouldn’t notice the stupid smile on her face. They basked in each other’s presence for a few precious minutes more. Seulgi picked up a pebble that had become lodged in the tread of her boot and tossed it into the bay. Being able to relax like this with a Joohyun who no longer had to worry about constantly meeting people’s expectations was a refreshing change of pace compared to their last couple of days.
Of course that meant the other shoe had to drop. And soon.
As Seulgi threw another pebble into the bay she noticed that the ripples stemming from the pebble’s point of impact were getting bigger. And were they…bubbling?
The muddy swamp water began to gurgle ominously, cutting their bonding moment short. Seulgi yanked her feet out of the water and reached for her backpack, pulling out her bow and keeping a watchful eye on the disturbance. Something definitely felt off.
“Uh, this may be my imagination and my lack of quality beauty sleep, but is the water…acting strange?”
Joohyun looked at her, then looked at where Seulgi was staring. Sure enough, there appeared to be something lurking just under the water’s surface. And she was pretty sure it wasn’t a bull shark. Bull sharks didn’t have glowing yellow eyes.
“Oh, that’s not good at all…”
Seulgi muttered under her breath, recalling the body of the baby monster they had found earlier. “Well Seungwan did mention that its mother was probably nearby…”
Joohyun looked horrified as she drew her swords and yelled out to warn the other three girls. “Hydra!”
Three monstrous heads breached the water’s surface, beady yellow eyes immediately honing in on Joohyun. Seulgi gulped audibly. If only the Hydra’s heads were rising up out of the water she shuddered to think about exactly how much of it was settled below the surface. She thought the Chimera was huge, but this monster was on another scale entirely. It hissed, the fins on the side of each of the Hydra’s faces flaring with anger.
One of the heads lunged for Joohyun on the dock and she quickly leaped out of range, narrowly avoiding getting chomped in half by the Hydra’s sharp teeth. And while the attack missed hitting Joohyun it did take a sizeable chunk out of the already fragile wooden dock the two of them were standing on. It creaked underneath Seulgi’s feet and she felt Joohyun’s hand around her arm a second before she was tugged back onto dry ground. The dock collapsed into the bay a moment later.
“What’s that about a Hy—” Seungwan came crashing through the brush, stopping in her tracks as she took in her surroundings, gaze slowly following the monster’s long serpentine neck as it pulled back to the center of the bay. “—dra. my life, that thing is huge.”
“Language!” Joohyun said almost on instinct as Sooyoung and Yeri joined them, weapons already drawn.
“I think I deserve to swear at least a little bit right now, Joohyun,” Seungwan argued, drawing her own bow and aiming for the Hydra. There was a shrill scream as her arrow hit its target, one of the heads now sporting a bright b