Rise of the Titans 1
OLYMPUS AT NIGHT WAS AS beautiful as it was by day. The air was clean and fresh, and a sense of peace prevailed. The temperature dropped, but only by a fraction. Flowers that bloomed only after dark unfurled their delicate petals and released their fragrant perfume into the air.
This was the time when the night dwellers emerged from their homes. Their pale, thin skin almost glowed in the starlight. Their voices were hushed. Night-dweller children never raised their voices, even while they played. And, like all Olympians, the night dwellers bowed in respect as Emily, Flame of Olympus, strolled past.
Emily walked through the gardens at the back of Jupiter’s palace with her dog, Mike, leaping playfully at her side. Mike was her newest family member, brought back from Athens on her last trip to the Human World. It seemed like a lifetime ago, even though it hadn’t been that long.
Approaching the river, Emily saw the glow of torches and heard the sound of laughter. She smiled as she recognized the yelps of her friends Joel and Paelen, and she sped up so that she could join in the fun.
Just ahead she spotted Pegasus. The winged stallion’s head was held majestically high, his wings immaculately groomed as he glowed brightly with health and joy. The sight of him still stole Emily’s breath away.
She stopped to appreciate the beauty of the stallion and remind herself just how much he meant to her. Her entire life had changed the moment they’d met, and they’d been through so much together. He was such a part of her now that she couldn’t imagine a day without him.
Pegasus was with his twin brother, the winged boar Chrysaor, who looked much less groomed. His coarse brown feathers stood at odd angles, and he looked as though he’d recently been rolling in mud.
Three young night dwellers were with them. A girl in her early teens with long white hair and a voice as soft as a gentle breeze turned and greeted Emily with a formal bow as she approached. “Flame, it is an honor to see you this night.”
“Hi,” Emily said back. “Please, you don’t have to bow to me. Just call me Emily.”
The night dweller gasped. “But you are the Flame of Olympus! I cannot call you anything else. It is said you have powers greater than those of Jupiter himself! You must be respected at all times.”
Emily chuckled. She still wasn’t used to this elevated status. It was true that she fed the Flame of Olympus—the source of Olympus’s power. And there was even a temple dedicated to her. But most of the time she just felt like Emily Jacobs, a girl from New York City who happened to have a winged stallion as her best friend.
She smiled at the night dweller. “I may be the Flame, and yes, I do have powers, but I’m still just a girl like you. Please, as a favor, would you call me Emily?”
An odd color rose in the girl’s ghostly pale complexion, and she nodded. “I am Fawn. This is my brother, Dax, and our little sister, Sapphire.” Fawn smiled extra wide, displaying her small, sharply pointed teeth.
The boy was a bit older than his sister, and seemed even shyer. There was a calm beauty about them both as they stood there with Pegasus. Emily was certain that if they held their hands up to a bright light, the light would shine right through them.
Their young sister looked about five or six. She was bright and bubbly, and seemed more interested in petting Chrysaor’s wings than in meeting Emily.
“I see you’ve met Pegasus,” Emily said, trying to draw Dax out. She stepped up to the winged stallion. “Hiya, Pegs—isn’t it beautiful out?”
Pegasus nickered and pressed his head close to her.
“You are magnificent,” Fawn said to Pegasus as she stroked the stallion’s muzzle. “I have seen you around Olympus all my life, but this is the first time we have had the opportunity to meet.” She looked wistfully into his eyes. “It must be wonderful to have wings and fly.” She turned back to Emily. “You are so fortunate to be friends.”
“I know,” Emily agreed. “I’d be lost without Pegasus.”
Emily watched Pegasus blush from the compliments. Then he neighed and pawed the ground lightly.
Fawn’s dark eyes sparkled. “May we?”
“What did he say?” Emily asked. Even though she had lived on Olympus for a very long time, she was still unable to understand the stallion’s words.
Fawn was practically jumping out of her skin. “He said that one evening we can all go flying together. He will let me ride on his back.”
“That’s a great idea,” Emily agreed. “There’s nothing better than flying with him—especially at night.”
The stallion’s head bobbed up and down and he nickered softly to Fawn. She dropped her head shyly. “Thank you, Pegasus.”
Emily had no idea what he had said, but from the expression on Fawn’s face, it had made the young night dweller very happy.
Mike was barking, desperate for someone to play with him. Dax leaned over to pat him, and before he knew it, the large dog had jumped up and wrestled him to the ground. The boy’s soft laughter rang out as they rolled on the grass together.
“We’re going for a swim,” Emily offered. “Do you want to join us?”
“Thank you, Flame—I mean, Emily,” Fawn said. “But we must go to work.”
“What do you do?”
“We work in the nectar-tree orchards,” Dax explained as he wrestled with Mike. “It is our job to draw nectar from the flowers. This can only be done when the sun is down and the stars are shining, which opens the flowers.”
“I carry water,” Sapphire said. “It is a big job.”
“I’m sure it is,” Emily agreed, completely enchanted by the young night dweller.
Dax released Mike and rose to his feet. He caught his little sister by the arm. “I am sorry, but we must be going.” He smiled shyly at Emily, and she noticed how strangely attractive he was. His eyes were elliptical, like a snake’s, and even though they were as black as night, they still sparkled and shone. His features were sharp, but not unpleasant. It was then that Emily noticed that his ears were pointed, like elves’ ears. Fawn’s and Sapphire’s ears were mostly hidden by their long white hair, but Emily could now see their pointy tops sticking out.
“Of course,” Emily said. She focused on Fawn. “Just let me know when you have a free evening and we can go for that flight.”
Fawn’s eyes sparkled with excitement as her brother led them away.
“Pegs,” Emily asked, watching them leave, “back when Jupiter allowed visits to Earth, did any night dwellers go?”
The stallion nickered and bobbed his head.
“I’ve heard that they never go out in daylight because it hurts their eyes and burns their thin skin. Is that true?”
Again Pegasus nodded.
“Hmmm,” Emily mused as she studied the other night dwellers in the area. “I wonder if they’re the origin of the vampire myth on Earth. They have large, dark eyes and pale skin that burns in sunlight, just like vampires. I know the dwellers don’t drink blood, but their teeth are pointy and the nectar they collect is red—maybe that’s it.”
Pegasus nickered and Chrysaor squealed, but the meaning of their words remained a mystery to Emily.
As Emily and Mike walked over to the river, the sounds of shouts and laughter grew louder. Mike ran ahead, and when he saw Joel in the water, he leaped in.
Joel laughed as the dog paddled over to him. Then he looked up at Paelen, who was standing on a diving board. “C’mon, Paelen, just like I showed you—jump!”
It had taken some effort for Joel to convince Jupiter that they needed a diving board. But once it was built, many of the Olympians enjoyed using it, and there was talk of making another, taller board for where the river was deeper.
Emily watched Paelen bouncing on the end of the board, wearing his silken Olympian water trunks. They weren’t too different from baggy shorts, but were solid white and had tiny, neatly folded pleats. His body was smooth and thin, but it didn’t reveal the great strength or unique ability it held to stretch out and manipulate its shape to fit any space or reach almost any distance. Emily had met Paelen back when he had used these talents to be a great thief, but with those days behind him, Paelen was now one of Emily’s closest friends.
Emily’s father, Steve, stood at the side of the river, giving Paelen diving instructions, but they weren’t helping. As Paelen sprang on the board, he soared high into the air and over the water. But instead of putting out his arms and angling his body to dive, he crashed into the surface on his stomach.
“Ouch!” Emily’s father cried.
Paelen resurfaced, coughing and spewing out water. “I will never learn.”
“Sure you will,” Joel laughed. “It just takes practice.”
Joel’s laughter made Emily’s heart flutter and caused a smile to rise to her lips. Like her, he had come to Olympus from New York City. And even though he was human, Joel looked right at home. The only thing that set him apart was his silver right arm. He had lost his real one during a fight with the Gorgons, and Vulcan had made this powerful replacement.
Three water nymphs surfaced behind Joel. Their pale eyes sparkled as they stroked Joel’s artificial arm. In the torchlight, the metal looked like blazing gold.
Both Joel and Paelen blushed at the beautiful nymphs as they started to sing.
Paelen swam closer to them. “Yes, Joel has a silver arm, but look what I can do.” He lifted his arm out of the water and used his powers to stretch the bones and muscles out. He wiggled the fingers on his hand. “Is this not as amazing as a silver arm?”
The three water nymphs weren’t impressed. They turned from Paelen and smiled again at Joel, giggling softly. Then they disappeared beneath the water’s surface.
“Wait. Do not leave!” Paelen cried in disappointment. “Come back!”
“Let ’em go,” Joel said. “You’ve still got to learn to dive.” When his eyes landed on Emily on the shore, he grinned. “Hey, Em, would you please show Paelen how to dive?”
Any traces of jealousy Emily might have felt toward the beautiful water nymphs vanished now that she was the focus of Joel’s bright smile. She handed her towel to her father and climbed up onto the diving board. Then she bounced twice and leaped gracefully into the air, performing a perfect dive.
Joel splashed water at Paelen. “See, that’s how you do it!”
“That is exactly what I did,” Paelen said. “I just looked a little different.”
Joel burst out laughing. “What are you talking about? You belly-flopped!”
“Same thing,” Paelen said as Pegasus entered the water, followed by Chrysaor. As Emily swam over to the stallion, she noticed Paelen and Joel staring at something. Emily followed their gaze to see Diana, the great Huntress, striding toward the river.
She was wearing a golden swimsuit, and her long black hair was out of its usual tight braids and flowed across her shoulders and down her back. She always looked beautiful, but they rarely saw Diana look relaxed like this. Diana’s face lit up with a smile as Emily’s father turned to greet her.
Emily laughed at her two friends with their eyes glued on Diana. She splashed water into their faces.
“Hey, why’d you do that?” Joel demanded.
“You both look like you need cooling down,” Emily teased.
Emily’s father kissed Diana on the cheek. They entered the water and started swimming together down the river.
“Are you okay with that?” Joel asked. “I mean, with your mother and all . . .”
She nodded. “I know my dad really loved my mom. But she’s been dead a long time, and he’s still young. I wouldn’t want him to be alone. And I know Diana really likes him.”
Pegasus swam up behind her and gave her a gentle nudge. He nickered softly.
“Diana has been alone too long,” Paelen told her. “Pegasus says he is happy that she is spending time with your father—they are a good match, as your father is unafraid of her temper.”
Emily stroked the stallion’s white face. “I thought it would be weird seeing him with someone else, but Diana is different. She’s already like family to me.” Emily turned her attention away and her father and Diana swam to shore. She climbed back up on the diving board to try to teach Paelen how to dive.
• • •
Later that night Pegasus escorted Emily back to the apartment they shared with her father, Joel, and Paelen. Even though the stallion had his own suite, most nights he kept watch over Emily. She insisted she didn’t need protection, but she welcomed the presence of her dearest friend.
Pegasus dozed near the door while Emily lounged on her bed and shuffled through the pages of an old diary. It had been written by Agent B of the Central Research Unit. He had fought beside her when she had time-traveled back to the war with the Titans. At first an enemy, by the end of the war Agent B had become a very close friend.
It was still hard to believe that she could ever call an agent of the CRU anything other than an enemy. Almost from the first day she had met Pegasus, the CRU had been a dark shadow hanging over them. They had hunted down the Olympians and created clones from their blood. They had tortured her and her friends for information. The CRU was the cause of most of their troubles. Yet somehow Agent B had proved to be a loyal and trusted friend.
She had read the fading pages of his diary so many times that she’d practically memorized each entry. But still she kept coming back to it. That book, her own diary, and the silver Pegasus pendant she always wore were almost the only pieces of evidence left from their journey deep into the past.
Of course, Mike was still with her. The abandoned street dog was snoring softly beside her. Occasionally he would growl and kick out his legs as he ran in his dreams. Emily wondered if he was fighting Shadow Titans again.
But apart from the dog and a few of the Original Olympians who had experienced everything with her, no one remembered the events of the past. All the suffering they had endured, all the losses and finally the triumph, had been erased from the memories of those who had traveled through time with her.
It was exactly as Agent B said it would be. After Emily had used her powers to destroy the Titans’ weapon, a cosmic reset button had been activated. Everything returned to normal—as though finding the weapon in modern Greece had never happened.
Not even Pegasus remembered their journey. That was the hardest thing of all—not being able to talk to the winged stallion about it because, for him, it was part of a different time line, and not one he’d experienced. Often she would look at the healthy young winged stallion and suddenly recall the ancient Pegasus who had died in her arms.
Because Pegasus had died in her arms—whether he remembered or not.
Emily stopped at a diary entry she had read so many times before that she could recite it by heart.
Emily and Joel have grown so much closer. After the death of Paelen and now Pegasus, something has changed between them. They are inseparable—and it worries me. If anything should happen to Joel, I don’t think anyone could contain Emily’s rage. I’m convinced she’ll lose control of her powers. They’ll overwhelm her and none of us will survive it.
I know Emily—talking to her won’t work. All I can do is be there for her and offer whatever guidance or support I can. I’m also going to keep a particularly careful eye on Joel. I’ve spoken with Jupiter and the others about it and we all agree. Nothing must happen to Joel. For Emily’s sake—and our own.
“He was frightened of me,” Emily mused aloud as she looked down on Mike. “He was scared I might go ballistic and lose control of my powers and destroy everything.” Emily knew that would not have happened.
But then Joel’s handsome face flashed before her eyes and she thought again. Maybe Agent B was right. What if something had happened to Joel—what would she have done? She might well have lost control.
Emily flipped through the pages of the diary and found a sketch Agent B had drawn. It showed Emily and Joel sitting close together, roasting Olympian apples over a campfire. They were laughing as ancient Pegasus rested beside her.
She remembered many nights like that. Time spent with Joel—not always speaking, but saying everything. Knowing each day could have been their last made every moment together that much more precious.
Emily tilted her head to the side. The sketch was good. Agent B had captured Joel so well. Looking at the picture made her heart skip a beat. She felt her face flushing as she recalled their special kiss.
He loves you, you know, Riza said softly within her mind.
Emily smiled. The voice of the ancient Xan living within her had scared her at first, but now Riza was like a twin sister to her and she couldn’t imagine her life without her.
“Yes, I know,” Emily responded.
And you love him.
Emily blushed brighter. “Yes.”
So what are you going to do about it? Riza teased.
Emily shrugged. “I don’t know. Joel doesn’t remember telling me.”
You can’t fool me, Emily. Riza chuckled. The problem isn’t Joel not remembering; it’s you. You are too frightened to tell him everything that happened back then. You should let him read Agent B’s diary.
“I’m not frightened,” Emily said in a voice that didn’t even convince herself. “It’s just that . . .” She paused.
Yes . . . ?
A strange sound from outside her window spared Emily from having to answer. Peering out, she caught a movement that was too quick to follow. Instantly on her guard, she called the winged stallion to the window.
“Pegs, there’s something strange happening outside.”
Emily pointed when he reached her side. “I heard it first, and just as I got to the window, I saw something moving very quickly toward the back of the palace.”
Pegasus nickered softly, then sniffed the air. His head bobbed up and down. He peered at Emily and then dropped his wing to invite her onto his back. Without hesitation, Emily climbed up and hung on to his mane. Pegasus leaped gracefully out the window and started to fly.
The journey was short as the stallion beat his large wings and took them toward the back gardens of Jupiter’s palace. In the starlight, Emily saw they were heading right for the large green hedge maze.
Pegasus touched down at the entrance of the maze and bobbed his head again.
“In there?” Emily asked. She climbed down and, with Pegasus at her side, walked into the maze. She had no sense of danger, just a curiosity that couldn’t be ignored.
Pegasus sniffed the air again and started to trot. As they neared the center of the maze, Emily heard gentle sobs.
Rounding a final bend, she saw what looked like a lion but with a human upper torso and large, eagle-like wings. It was crouched down in the corner of the path, weeping quietly.
“Alexis?” she called softly.
The Sphinx of Olympus had her head resting on her paws. Her large eagle wings were drooping to the ground. When Alexis looked up, Emily saw that her lovely green eyes were puffy and red.
“What is it?” she called, racing to the Sphinx’s side. “Has something happened?”
Alexis sat up and tried her best to wipe her eyes with her large paws. She sniffed back her sobs. “It—it is nothing.”
“This isn’t ‘nothing.’?” Emily reached out and gently wiped away the Sphinx’s tears. “Please tell us what’s wrong?”
Alexis sniffed again. “It is Juno. She has commanded me to return to the palace. She feels I have been neglecting my duties here. She just does not understand how it is for me, with the life I have chosen for myself.”
“With Tom, you mean,” Emily said. “You don’t want to leave him.”
Alexis nodded as her tears continued.
Emily sat back on her heels. Tom, once known as Agent T, had been a dangerous agent within the Central Research Unit. It was his job to hunt down and capture the Olympians to exploit their powers. Then Cupid enchanted him and the lethal agent changed. But that change wasn’t complete until Tom met Alexis and traveled with Emily and Joel to Las Vegas.
When Agent T had met the equally deadly Alexis, it was love at first sight. But then Tom was critically wounded and paralyzed. The only way Jupiter could save him was to turn him into a willow tree. From the moment he arrived in Olympus, he and the Sphinx had become inseparable.
Alexis sniffed. “Tom is my life. I cannot bear to be away from him for a moment. But when I asked Jupiter to move him here, he said that Tom would not survive the transfer. At Juno’s command, we are to be parted.”
Emily knew how deeply the Sphinx cared for Agent T and how much he loved her.
“She just does not understand,” Alexis said. “To leave Tom is like ripping out my claws, one at a time. But still she insists I must return to the palace.”
Alexis looked miserable as she turned to Emily. “Tell me, what am I to do? How do I make her understand? I must not defy Juno, but I cannot stay.”
“I could talk to her if you want?”
Alexis shook her head. “That will not work. She is adamant. Unless we find a safe way to move Tom here, I will lose him.” Alexis lowered her head to her paws again. “It is hopeless . . . ,” she wept. “Just hopeless . . .”
Emily, there is a way. Riza spoke softly in Emily’s head. I should have thought of it before. Leave Alexis here—I have an idea. But we’ll need Pegasus.
Emily patted the Sphinx’s shoulder. “Don’t give up, Alexis. We’ll find a way for you and Tom to stay together. I promise. Just stay here for a moment. I’ll be right back.”
Getting to her feet, Emily directed Pegasus out of the maze.
“So what do we do?” she asked Riza.
Let’s get to Tom. This might just work.
“Pegs, would you take us to Tom? Riza has an idea.”
The stallion lowered his wing and Emily climbed up onto his back. In moments they were in the air. With starlight to guide them, they left the lush green grounds of the palace area and crossed over a barren, sandy desert toward the home of the Sphinx.
Pegasus touched down before a tall and leafy green willow tree. Emily looked up and saw what looked like a large tree house built into the branches of the tree. It had a large, flat platform and one wall. The rest was open for easy flight in and out.
“Tom?” Emily called.
“Emily!” the tree responded with its high, leafy voice. “And Pegasus. How wonderful of you to visit. But if you’re looking for Alexis, I’m afraid she isn’t here.”
“I know,” Emily said. She stepped up to the tree and patted the thick trunk in greeting. “We just left her in Jupiter’s maze. She was crying.”
The leaves on the tree started to shake. “Is she all right? Has something happened?”
Emily shook her head. “No, she’s fine. She just misses you. Juno has commanded her to return to the palace, but she doesn’t want to.”
“I don’t want her to go either,” Tom said sadly. “The days and nights will be endless for me. But it is her duty. If Alexis understands anything, it is duty.”
“Tom, do you remember Riza?”
“Of course I do. Hello, Riza.”
“Hello, Tom,” Riza said through Emily. “I’ve had an idea that could help you both stay together. But we need your consent.”
“Really?” Tom said, sounding more hopeful now. “Tell me, please.”
“Well,” Riza began. “For many millennia, my people knew how to manipulate matter. Not unlike what Jupiter did with you. But he was unable to repair your human body, so he did the best he could and made you as you are now.”
“And I am grateful to him,” Tom said. “I wasn’t much of a human, if I’m perfectly honest.”
“You were fine,” Emily said, taking over.
“And you’re a terrible liar, Emily Jacobs.” Tom chuckled. When he laughed, his long leaves rustled gently, with a pleasant brushing sound. “Emily, you know as well as I do that I’m better now as a tree than I ever was as a man.”
“But you’ve changed,” Emily argued.
“I’d like to think so.”
“Tom,” Riza said seriously. “Jupiter didn’t have the power to restore your wrecked body. We do. But only if you want it.”
“You can really do that when Jupiter couldn’t?”
“Yes,” Riza said.
“You mean it?”
There was a long pause. Finally the willow tree asked hesitantly, “If you have the power to restore me, could you turn me into something else instead?”
“That depends on what you want,” Riza responded.
“You want to be a Sphinx,” Emily guessed.
“Yes,” Tom agreed. “So I can be just like my Alexis.”
“It will be so,” Riza said
• • •
“Are you sure we can do this?” Emily asked.
“Yes,” Riza said aloud. “But we need something from Alexis. Something that will help us replicate her pattern with Tom.”
“You mean like her DNA?”
“Exactly,” Riza said.
“Like hair?” Tom offered. “Her hairbrush is here on her platform.”
Emily climbed up the small ladder leading to the platform that Alexis called her home. Overstuffed satin pillows were scattered in one corner, forming a lounging area. On the other side of the platform was what looked like a dressing table, with a mirror above it. Laid out in a neat row were different-sized combs and brushes, which Alexis used to groom herself.
Emily frowned. “How does she use these with her big paws?”
“It’s not easy,” Tom answered. “It takes her ages, but Alexis is very determined.”
Emily lifted one of the brushes and pulled out strands of long, dark hair. “Will this do?”
“Absolutely,” Riza said. “We’ll also need a handful of new leaves from Tom.”
Emily looked up and saw some opening buds. “Is it okay for me to take some of these?” she asked Tom.
“Take as many as you need.” He sounded excited. “I can’t believe this. You’re sure you can do it?”
“We are,” Riza said.
“You are, you mean,” Emily corrected. “I’d have never thought to try.”
Riza chuckled softly. “That’s because you still don’t understand the depth of our powers.”
Emily climbed down the ladder and stepped away from the tree. With Pegasus at her side, she looked up at the tall willow. “So what do we do now?”
“Emily,” Riza said seriously. “You must let me take full control of us. This will take a lot of concentration—we can’t risk a mistake. Will you give me your full cooperation?”
Emily didn’t hesitate. “Of course, but how do I do that?”
“As I rise to the surface, I want you to relax. Don’t speak, and try not to think. Just imagine yourself floating in a peaceful lake. . . .”
Emily felt Riza growing stronger within her. The Xan’s calm presence was lulling her into a gentle, peaceful state of mind. Emily felt no fear as Riza took full control of her body and mind.
Through foggy, dreamlike eyes, Emily watched Riza lift “her” hands. She could feel immense powers course through her, almost like a kind of static electricity from rubbing shoes on a carpet. She felt that if she was to touch anything, there would be a big spark.
Riza merged their powers together and then used them to intertwine the strands of hair and the willow leaves.
“Don’t be afraid,” Riza called to Tom. “You will be safe.”
Energy coursed through Emily as she’d never felt it before. Every nerve was electrified as Riza used their combined power to command the tree’s physical matter to change.
As Riza drew more and more power, Emily started to feel peculiar. At first it was just an odd, tingling sensation. Not painful, but strange. Her calm feeling was fading away. . . .
“Riza . . . ?” Emily knew she shouldn’t speak, but she had to warn the Xan. Something was going wrong. Pain started, deep in her mind. It was bad—very, very bad. “Riza, stop!”
Emily’s tiny voice was lost in the crackling sounds of energy being drawn from their core. The Flame was there, as were all her other powers. But as the moments ticked by, something was starting to fracture and split apart. Their very center would not hold much longer.
“You’re using too much power. Please stop!”
Emily tried everything to make Riza hear. She pounded on the walls of her mind. She screamed louder than she ever had in her life. But nothing was reaching the Xan.
More power surged.
Emily was spinning uncontrolled in the tight confines of her mind. She could no longer see or hear anything. But still she felt the draw of power increasing. As she started to fade into darkness, she felt, more than heard, a great tearing deep within her. Unable to cry out, Emily fainted.