“It was a dark, stormy night-”
“Wait,” Arion interrupted. “Do all you stories have to start with ‘It was a dark, stormy night’? Come on, man, be original.”
Jason let out a grumble. “Just let me tell the story.”
“Amarantha, Dee, and I were walking through the forest. It was in the middle of the last war, and we were trying to get a message to a Mr. Simmons, but according to the government he didn’t even exist. We had to find him on foot, and our sources told us he was located somewhere in the Andes Mountains – boy, was that hard. Anyway, we were walking through the forests of South America, when suddenly we emerged in a clearing. As I mentioned, it was late night, so we were going by the light of the moon.”
“Why were you traveling in the dark?” Winter frowned.
“We had a tail,” Amarantha explained quickly. “It’s a long story, but someone was following us, so we had to shake him off.” She motioned for Jason to continue.
“So just like this morning, he blocked out the moonlight. He introduced the show, hacked into the government facilities to get our names, and made us fight robots. Then, of course, he came down to greet us himself. He said, ‘I am Nobody! Having fun? We will have even more fun together!’ And he drew a sword.”
“How did you know he drew a sword if you could not see him?” Artemis asked, puzzled.
“We could hear it,” Dee replied.
“He tried to kill us. As it is, we barely escaped with our lives. We were so lucky. Someone had left a fire open deep in the forest, and in the burning South American weather, it burst up immediately. Flames swept through the trees, and we ran. We assumed that Nobody had either burned to death or left somehow, but we didn’t meet him again.”
Jason sighed as he finished the story. “That guy was such a pain, honestly. Another thing we owe to Nephthys.”
Arion looked across the temporary camp they’d constructed at Nephthys. She was propped up against a tree, the late evening light falling upon her in shafts. She was still unconscious, but Arion suspected she was having nightmares.
Jason, following Arion’s train of thought, muttered, “She must’ve entered the surreal world. Who knows when she’ll wake?”
“We’d better hope it’s soon,” Dee mumbled. “We’ll need her help if we’re going to survive this.”
“So we’ve agreed we’re not going to tell Madelene about any of this?” Amarantha asked anxiously.
“You mustn’t,” came a growl from the undergrowth. Cara-delle pushed through the bushes without quivering so much as a single leaf, fixing her amber-eyed stare on each of them in turn. “If Madelene gets ahold of them, who knows to what advantage she’ll use them for. Better to even out the score, not exhaust them and the world. They are here to help the world, not harm it, as are we.”
“The strange talking fox is right,” Jason announced. “As much as I respect and revere Madelene, she would most likely try to vanquish the demons with them by her side. As Cara-delle says, we must even out the field. Hybrids can take a better place in the world.”
“The strange talking fox is glad to be of assistance.” She rolled her eyes (and actually managed to pull it off even though foxes shouldn’t be able to do that).
“Then it’s settled.” Amarantha seemed assured now. “We’ll keep this to ourselves until we figure out what to do.”
“Of course you will,” came a voice from above, “unless you fail to realize when eaves are being dropped around you.” A strange flesh-colored device fell from the trees.
Arion leaned over and picked it up, noticing that there were more scattered across the grass. “Listening devices.”
“That’s right!” the voice cackled. “And now I’m off to tell Madelene. I’m sure she’ll be delighted to know her favorite mortal is keeping secrets from her.”
“Not so fast!” Amarantha whipped out her baton and clicked a button, pointing it in the direction of the voice. A net spiraled out, ensnaring the owner of the voice.
“Hey!” the voice yelped, and Arion could see a dark shape tumble to the ground. “Let me up!”
Artemis and Winter strutted forward to gather around him, reaching him a few seconds before the others did. They heard a sharp gasp from Artemis and a soft squeal from Winter, and they drew forward quickly.
The wind picked up, and the ground began to shake.