“No, I’m not leaving you guys!” Seulgi couldn’t believe what she was hearing. After she and Joohyun had reunited with the others, the conversation quickly turned to their next move. To which Seungwan had brought up the unthinkable: escorting Seulgi back to camp.
“Nyx is literally looking for you, Seul,” Seungwan argued. “We’d be bringing you right to her!”
“Yeah, and I’m no Athena kid but that’s just a bad strategy,” Sooyoung added.
Even Yeri got in on the argument, “It’s literally like putting up a flashing neon sign that says ‘Free Dawnbreaker to a good home’.”
Seulgi crossed her arms, looking at Joohyun and fixing the daughter of Hades with the biggest puppy-dog eyes she could. The others could complain, the only opinion that really mattered at this point was Joohyun’s. She would go back to camp if Joohyun told her to, but she really hoped the older girl would understand.
Again, it wasn’t something Seulgi could put into words, not exactly. All of her instincts were telling her to forge onward.
To her surprise, Joohyun seemed to understand. The older girl shook her head. “As much as I want to agree with you three, this isn’t my choice. It’s Seulgi’s.”
“Oh come on, you two haven’t even kissed yet why are you—?” A tendril of darkness crept up Sooyoung’s arm, effectively silencing the daughter of Ares. Sooyoung gulped, the unspoken threat having been received loud and clear. “—Fine. If she wants to put herself in harm’s way who am I to stop her?”
Joohyun turned to Seulgi. “Are you sure you want to continue? Just say the word and we’ll go back. Your life is more important to me than finding Persephone.”
The genuineness in the older girl’s voice made Seulgi’s heart melt just a little bit more. Joohyun really had matured as a leader over the course of their journey and it was a beautiful sight to witness.
The daughter of Hades nodded.
“Okay then. That matter is settled, Seulgi is coming with us whether the rest of you like it or not.” She met everyone’s eyes individually, almost daring them to argue with her. No one did.
Seemingly satisfied with the decision, the Labyrinth rumbled and a section of rock next to the murals crumbled away to reveal a rough-hewn entrance, beyond which they could see another passage lined with torches. It was clear that wherever the path lead there was no going back. Procyon whined and tugged Sooyoung towards the opening, cementing their suspicions. Persephone was just down that passage.
“Guess we’ve reached the end of the line, ladies. Who wants to take a guess as to what’s behind door number one?”
They walked into a large cavern. Pristine stalagmites and stalactites jutted up from the cave floor and down from the ceiling. A huge pool of water sat in the middle of the room, the water reflecting an image of the woods around Camp Half-Blood on its surface. The atmosphere of the cave was humid and stuffy, smelling faintly of blood and something sweet that Seulgi couldn’t quite place.
“This is it. This is the cave from my dreams.”
“Looks like we came here at a good time,” Seungwan commented, leaning down to examine a pile of humanoid bones that were riddled with teeth marks. “Doesn’t look like anyone’s home.”
“Except for a goddess,” Yeri breathed, and four pairs of eyes snapped to where she was pointing.
Shackled to the far wall and barely breathing was the woman Seulgi had seen in her dreams. Persephone. The goddess’ light was noticeably dimmer than it was when Seulgi had been in her mind, and her body was wreathed in a multitude of scars and bite marks. Some of them looked mostly healed but others were fresh and still trickling golden ichor. A black blindfold had been tied around her eyes, under which more golden ichor dripped.
Surrounding the goddess were four smaller cages, in which Seulgi could see the bodies of her four siblings, Solar, Hoseok, Jihyo and Somi. She couldn’t tell from this distance but she could only pray that they were still alive.
“Who’s there?” Persephone’s voice was hoarse.
Joohyun stepped forward, carefully picking her way past the skeletons and approaching the weakened goddess.
“It’s me, Mom.”
“Joohyun? How—” Persephone lifted her head up, and despite the blindfold, Seulgi could feel the goddess staring at her directly. “—You. You shouldn’t be here. She’s looking for you.”
“Told you,” Seungwan muttered under her breath. Seulgi shot her an exasperated look.
Joohyun gently untied the blindfold around Persephone’s eyes, unable to stop the small gasp that escaped when she noticed the goddess’ eyes had been completely mangled. “What--?”
“I’ll heal,” Persephone assured her. “What matters is that you five need to get out of here before She comes back.”
Seulgi had the sinking feeling that she knew why Nyx had effectively blinded Persephone. Had she known that Seulgi had walked in the goddess’ dreams that one night and mangled her eyes so it wouldn’t happen again?
“First things first, we need to get Seulgi’s siblings out of those cages.” Joohyun’s voice had taken on the same tone it had when Seulgi played capture the flag with her. Strong and powerful. And incredibly attractive. “Yeri, do you mind?”
The maknae shook her head and walked over to the first cage. Solar’s body leaned against the far side of the metal bars.
“Not at all. Seungwan-unnie I’ve got these two, can you free Jihyo-unnie and Hoseok-oppa?” Yeri tossed her spare lockpicking tools to Seungwan and continued working with the locks on the cages. “You’re the only other one here with experience.”
“On it.” Together the two of them worked quickly and freed Seulgi’s siblings. They were in pretty bad shape. Whatever Nyx had done to them had left them so incapacitated that they barely noticed Yeri and Seungwan breaking in and untying their chains. If it weren’t for the steady rise and fall of their chests Seulgi would have thought the worst.
And it was all because of her. This shouldn’t have happened to them.
It was as if Joohyun could read her mind because a smaller hand slipped into hers and the daughter of Hades said, “Hey, no. This isn’t your fault. This is all on Nyx.”
“Joohyun they could have died because of me. What if we hadn’t found them?”
“Don’t think like that,” Joohyun scolded her. “Look, Seungwan’s healing them, they’re going to be fine.”
Sure enough, when Seulgi looked up, Seungwan was busy pulling squares of ambrosia and little pouches of nectar out of her backpack and handing them out to Yeri and Sooyoung. Together the three of them saw to the Apollo quartet. It was tense for a few moments but as soon as Somi started coughing and swearing softly under her breath Seulgi knew things would be okay.
“Thank the gods,” she muttered. “We can’t forget about Persephone though,” Seulgi called out to their youngest and pointed to the chains binding Persephone. “Yeri, how about these chains, can you try and unlock them?”
“I mean sure, but those are Prometheus’ chains. You know the ones that Zeus used to chain Prometheus to a rock as punishment for giving humanity fire?” She looked around at everyone’s blank expressions. “Really? You guys made me study this crap for months before I came to camp and you can’t even remember this?”
“They’re unbreakable,” Persephone interrupted, perhaps sensing that Yeri was about to start an argument. Her breaths were labored, as though the action of even speaking too quickly took energy out of her. “If Nyx hadn’t siphoned so much power from me and the others, I could have probably managed to break them but as it is, I’m afraid I’m not much help.”
“Why has Nyx been siphoning your power?” Sooyoung asked. “Like no offense, but isn’t she stronger than all of you?”
“Sooyoung!” Joohyun hissed. Persephone might have been weak but she was still a goddess.
“No, she’s rig