The hydra threw back its three central heads and roared, as two of its outside heads darted down so fast I was barely able to follow the motion. They rose again with people - obviously already very dead - dangling from their blood-soaked jaws.
“Let’s go!” Jupiter shouted, her helmet enfolding head. I reached up and activated my own as she ran three steps and hurled a javelin-sized bolt of lightning at the creature’s body. It didn’t look like nearly enough to do the creature serious damage, but when it struck the hydra roared again and its heads turned in our direction.
“There,” Jupiter said happily, “got it’s attention.”
“Brilliant,” I said. “Now what?”
The hydra started to lumber towards us, its heads writhing like a nest of vipers.
“I figured you’d have an idea,” Jupiter replied uneasily.
“Jupiter, go to the right. I’ll go to the left,” Minerva said, stopping beside us, her spear and shield at the ready. “Pluto, straight up the middle when it’s distracted. And for gods’ sake, Jupiter, try not to cut off any of its heads!”
Jupiter saluted and ran off to the right. Minerva went left, and six of the hydra’s heads moved to track them, three to each. To my incredible discomfort, the center-most head remained fixed on me.
This thing was, I suspected, smarter than we were giving it credit for being.
Before I could figure out what I was going to do, someone else took the initiative. What appeared to be an RPG round streaked out of one of the buildings, shattering a window as it went and curving towards the hydra’s body. It struck and exploded violently, making the creature rear up on four of its legs, the two fore-limbs flailing at the air angrily.
Two more rockets struck its chest, but didn’t seem to do much except piss it off.
Other than distract it.
Jupiter struck it hard from the right, darting in and driving a huge spear of lightning into one of its middle legs. Minerva hit the other middle leg from her side, and the hydra howled in pain, toppling forward as they leapt to get clear. It crashed to the ground, then began pushing itself up again, heads snapping at my sister and girlfriend as they retreated.
But it was definitely distracted. I ran and Skipped forward, my short-distance teleportation eating up the ground between me and the hydra as I shifted Cerberus into its spear form. Decapitation was right out...so I decided to see what impaling would do.
When I was close enough, I leaped as high as I could - which, as an Avatar, is pretty damn high - and brought Cerberus’s spear-head down on the center-most head, which was still lifting off the ground. The blade cut cleanly through the creature’s thick hide and drove straight through its skull, brain, out the bottom of its chin and embedded itself in the ground.
The central neck struggled, then ripped Cerberus free of the ground as it whipped its head high. Cerberus and I were dislodged and sent tumbling wildly through the air.
Jupiter caught me in mid-air, and with a disorienting jolt of movement and the pop of displaced air, Skipped back to the ground. She shed momentum by running a few steps and then skidding to a halt before setting me down. “All right?”
I nodded breathlessly as I got my feet under me. “Well, it wasn’t quite an E-ticket ride, but it was dizzying. I give it a 7 out of 10 on the ‘Vomit-o-Meter.’ More importantly, did it work?”
We turned to look at the hydra. Jupiter had brought us to an open spot halfway across the clearing from creature, so we had a nice clear view of it as its two outermost heads roared and raged loudly.
Two more heads were snapping at about a dozen men in camouflage gear with rifles of some sort who were now swarming around its feet. Their rifles chattered as they fired something up at the hydra, and I thought I saw what appeared to be darts embedding in its hide.
Two more heads were keening an awful sound as they examined the center-most head, which now lay limp and obviously dead on the ground.
“Guess it worked,” Jupiter said.
“I believe this is yours,” Minerva said as she appeared with a pop, offering me Cerberus, smeared with the creature’s green-black ichor.
“Eww,” I took it gingerly, then stuck it point-first in the ground and looked at my girlfriend.
Jupiter chuckled and cupped her hands, generating a bolt of lightning that crackled down Cerberus’s length, scorching the goo into a crusty powder which almost entirely flaked away when I gave Cerberus a rap with my shield.
“That’s a neat trick,” Minerva said.
“We’ve had some practice,” Jupiter replied. “One down, six to go?”
“I’m not doing that again,” I said, still feeling a bit dizzy. “What the heck are they trying to do? Tranquilize it?”
“I think so,” Minerva said. “But it’s obviously not working. I doubt that those darts are even getting through its hide.”
The hydra suddenly roared with all six of its remaining heads, then - to my absolute astonishment - two of its heads bit into the base of the center head’s neck, severing it cleanly at the shoulders.
Jupiter opened her mouth to say something, then closed it again.
“...Wow,” Minerva said. “That’s...just...”
“Wrong?” I asked.
“Wrong and sick,” Jupiter said. “Wrongsick.”
I never should’ve introduced her to Kim Possible. Not that she was wrong.
Two new necks sprouted from where the dead one had been, small heads mewling piteously at the ends of them. They grew at an insane rate of speed, and were the size of the others within seconds.
“Oh, good, now it has eight heads,” I said dryly. “That worked so well. We need a new tactic.”
A moment later all six legs were carrying it towards us. It flattened two or three of the rifle-wielding men before they could get out of the way, roaring an obvious battle-cry with four of its heads.
“Aw, crap.” Jupiter sighed, then vanished with a pop.
Minerva disappeared a moment later, as I held my ground and the beast’s attention. I had, after all, hurt it, and it obviously recognized me now.
“Ideas quickly, please,” I said lightly. “I can’t stay here.”
“Hit it with those incendiary rounds while Jupiter and I distract it,” Minerva’s voice said in my ears. “You’ll have to get all of its heads quickly, or it’s just going to do that again.”
“I can be distracting,” Jupiter laughed.
“Yes, you can,” I agreed, Skipping back another fifty yards, which brought me almost to the edge of the jungle again. But it bought put me almost a hundred yards back from the accelerating hydra, which gave me enough room to work.
Minerva suddenly Skipped in from the left, putting her shoulder behind her shield and slamming into the thing’s front leg at a sprint. That doesn’t sound very impressive...until you realize that a sprinting Avatar can comfortably do fifty or sixty miles per hour over short distances. Minerva ricocheted off like a pinball and tumbled across the ground as the hydra’s leg buckled. It stumbled and skidded, coming to a halt to regain its balance.
In the meantime, I had flipped Cerberus around and shifted it into its rifle form.
Jupiter appeared in mid-air, slashing a blade of lightning across one head’s eyes before disappearing again as another head tried to chomp down on her. By then Minerva was on her feet again and vanished with a pop.
I pulled one of the big magazines of incendiary anti-tank rounds from a pouch and pushed in into Cerberus’s receiver. Cerberus’s body expanded to accept it, and the ejection port grew a bolt-action lever. The barrel shot out almost three feet, and the end of the muzzle expanded into a large, squarish brake. My shield immediately separated into wedge shaped segments, circled around and folded into a slim disc on my left wrist.
Minerva shot in from the right this time, aiming her shield for the hydra’s front right leg. To my surprise, its tail lashed around and made her shield ring like a gong as she crashed through one of the low wooden buildings.
Uh oh. It had learned. And quickly.
“Jupiter, stop!” I shouted, flicking the button under my thumb on Cerberus’s grip. The bipod folded down from the barrel and shot into the ground, anchoring itself against the impending recoil.
“I saw,” Jupiter’s voice said calmly in my ears. “Minerva, you alright?”
“Ow,” Minerva groaned. “My arm is numb all the way to the shoulder. I think it’s dislocated, too.” She made an unhappy sound. “My shield is dented.”
“Maybe now Mom’ll finally let you get one that looks like Cap’s,” I said, putting Cerberus’s stock against my shoulder and aiming at the head furthest to the left.
The men with machine guns were back, coming in from the side this time. Their guns started to chatter, and darts began appearing in the hydra’s right flank. Jupiter Skipped in among them and began hurling bolts of lightning along with their massed fire.
“These guns are doing squat,” she said. “Hurry up, Pluto.”
“On it,” I said. My helmet interfaced with Cerberus and did the job of a scope, providing me with wind direction and velocity, distance and elevation information as I sighted on a head that was rearing back to strike at the shooters. I slid my right leg back, leaned into the rifle and bipod, let out a slow breath, and pulled the trigger.
I swear that I actually saw the muzzle break belch fire and smoke an instant before the impossibly loud BOOM and shockwave struck me, washing over me and making the hem of my dress ripple around my thighs. Cerberus itself simply swayed back gently, the bipod absorbing most of the recoil. What was left I was able to manage, which was a definite improvement over previous attempts to fire it solo.
The head I was aiming at vanished in a brief explosion of fire and gore that left the stump of the neck burning ferociously, as if it had been sprayed with white phosphorous. Which it might well have been - I had no idea what Daedalus had used in these rounds. Maybe it was some sort of highly concentrated Greek Fire.
To my intense relief, the neck did not split in two or anything like that, nor did a fresh head sprout from the stump. The hydra did roar in obvious pain, and two of its heads reared back to repeat its previous act of self-mutilation.
“No you don’t,” I muttered.
I quickly worked the bolt action lever, ejecting the big spent shell and loading a fresh round. A slight shift was all I needed to sight on one of the two heads…then, inspired, I shifted my aim down and Cerberus boomed again. Another shockwave washed over me and the second head and neck were blown clear of the hydra’s body at the shoulders in a spray of gore and fire.
I worked Cerberus’s bolt action again, ejecting the second shell and loading the third. “I need to have a word with Daedalus about why these rounds don’t register as semi-automatic...”
Minerva appeared nearby with a pop, cradling her left arm against her stomach. “Don’t stop!”
By way of response, I pulled the trigger. Cerberus boomed violently, and a third neck dropped free of the hydra’s body in a burst of flame. Minerva had to lean forward a bit to brace herself against the shockwave Cerberus was making when firing, but three necks were on fire now and showed no sign of regenerating.
The hydra’s remaining heads roared, a mixture of pain and rage. Then one of the heads opened its mouth and...spat at me. A ball of greenish-yellow goo that looked to be about the size of my torso tumbled through the air towards me.
Minerva grabbed me with her uninjured arm, and Skipped us twenty yards to the left. Cerberus was ripped free of the ground and the bipod automatically retracted as the glob of goo hit the ground where I’d been standing an instant earlier.
It didn’t actually splash, but it did spread out rather disgustingly. The ground it struck seemed to sink and dissolve, sizzling and smoking.
Minerva and I stared at the spot, both of us startled into immobility.
“What the hell was that?” Jupiter asked.
“Since when do hydras spit acid?” I asked.
“They don’t!” Minerva protested. I thought she sounded offended.
It spat again, and Minerva Skipped us back and to the right, practically into the tree line. The piece of ground we’d been standing on hissed and started dissolving.
“This complicates things,” Minerva said flatly.
“Cover me, girls,” Jupiter said, and I saw her appear on top of one of the buildings nearby. “My turn. Extreme measures time.”
“What the hell...” Minerva grunted and Skipped away.
I unfolded Cerberus’s bipod again, reloaded, and fired. It was a quick shot and not as accurate as my first three, but still satisfactory. I blew one of the remaining necks off just ahead of the shoulders, leaving a burning stump. Then I Skipped away as a glob of acidic spittle burned away the ground I’d been standing on and the trees behind me.
The sky was growing dark. Ominous looking clouds were rolling in and beginning to slowly rotate above us. When I glanced in her direction, Jupiter had her arms raised and her head tipped back to the sky.
“Holy crap...” Minerva said. “Forget distracting it -”
“I’ll distract it,” I interrupted her, trying to stay calm. “You get the workers under cover.”
“Right,” she replied. I saw her appear near the hydra’s feet and vanish again with one of the shooters. They immediately realized they were in danger and ran for the nearest buildings.
Thunder rumbled above us and lightning flickered in the clouds.
“By the gods,” I whispered. I’d always known that as both daughter and Avatar of Zeus, Jupiter was powerful; more powerful than any other Avatar in some ways. I’d seen her throw around some impressive amounts of energy. But I’d never had any idea what that meant until now.
She was usually so gentle with me...
Lightning crackled down from the clouds and struck her up-stretched hands, flickering down constantly to touch her, connecting her to the storm.
“OH YEAH!” she yelled in my ears, making me wince. I fired another quick shot, blasting a burning chunk out of the hydra’s flank. The sky opened up and rain pelted down, but didn’t put out the flames. Definitely some sort of Greek Fire, then. Cool.
The hydra staggered and roared as Minerva flickered in and out of view, grabbing running workers and disappearing with them. But it was undeniably distracted, paying no attention to my girlfriend the lightning rod.
Instead, it spat another glob of acid at me. I Skipped away again. Small hailstones were pelting down out of the sky now, and the clouds were circling so fast I thought they might start to form a tornado.
“FIRE IN THE HOLE!” Jupiter bellowed, her voice bigger and more stentorian than I’d ever heard it. She sounded...like a female version of Zeus, and my body responded automatically. I Skipped under the shelter of a nearby building’s overhang without even thinking about it, cradling Cerberus in my arms. The smell of ozone was thick in the air.
I didn’t see any more people out in the open, and a moment later Minerva appeared beside me with a pop. I had enough time to realize that we were both soaked to the skin before the world exploded.
There was an enormous crack of thunder, and a bolt of lightning - so huge and intense that it blotted out my vision for a moment before my helmet compensated - leapt down from the swirling center of the storm above us and struck the hydra. The shockwave that rolled off of the impact knocked me off my feet and bounced Minerva off the wall of the building we were sheltering at.
Thunder rumbled above us, but the hail stopped and the storm eased up on its ferocity a little. I pushed myself back up and stepped out into the rain to see the hydra collapse into two huge pieces...front and hindquarters, with its entire mid-section, legs and all, just plain gone. Its necks flailed for a moment, then crashed to the ground, still and limp.
Jupiter was still standing on top of the building across the way, though the roof around her was scorched and blackened. “Thor ain’t got nothin’ on me,” she said shakily, then collapsed.
“Eos!” I cried, collapsing and holstering Cerberus as I Skipped up onto the roof with her. I slid to my knees and scooped her up against me, my fingers finding and triggering the release on her helmet as mine retracted. The rain was easing up and felt refreshing on my face after the sweltering humidity.
Her eyes were closed as her face became visible, but they fluttered open after a moment and she smiled up at me weakly. “Th-that was a hell of a thing, wasn’t it?”
I laughed and realized I was crying at the same time as my fingers caressed her face. “You scared the heck out of me for a second there.”
Her eyes drifted shut again. “Just need some sleep...” she slurred.
“Relax,” I murmured, “I’ve got you.”
I looked up as Minerva appeared, her left arm still cradled against her stomach, a tight expression of pain on her face. She had a length of oversized chain coiled up and draped over her right shoulder. “Is she all right?”
“I think she’s just exhausted,” I said quietly, touching the pulse point on Jupiter’s neck. Strong and steady, if a little slow. “Pretty sure. But I want to get both of you in to Michel’s office right now.”
Minerva nodded. “Next stop. But you’re gonna love this...”
“I stopped to talk to the guys who work here, to find out about the demigods Daedalus said had worked with Persephone on rounding up the hydras.”
I took in her pinched expression and realized it wasn’t just pain. It was tension. “Wait, let me guess...they were the two people we saw being eaten when we arrived.” I gestured to the chain with my chin. “Cut?”
Minerva smiled grimly and nodded. “You are undeniably a daughter of Athena. Yes they are, and not cut, but rusted through. Which is crazy, because they say Hephaestus made these chains.”
I frowned and glanced down at Jupiter who was now snoring faintly, which was kind of cute. “Who has the power to make a hydra grow beyond its natural limits, become able to spit acid, and cause something Hephaestus made to rust?”
“I suppose Echidna could’ve cross-bred a hydra with some sort of dragon,” Minerva said uncertainly, referring to the co-called ‘Mother of all Monsters’. “But the chain...” She trailed off, looking uneasy. “It’d take a god or a really powerful demigod.”
“Precisely like Demeter,” Minerva nodded. “But...come on, I know she’s pretty much our only real suspect, but it’s totally out of character for her!”
“Juno,” I said. “Anyway, is it really?”
Minerva winced. “Fair, but I don’t think Juno’s behavior was entirely out of character. It was more like...she was stuck in a rut. And all we have to go on are stories and hearsay.”
“Semantics,” I stood up slowly, cradling Jupiter in my arms. I might not have been as strong as my girlfriend, but I was still much stronger than even a professional mortal weightlifter. To me, she was as light as a feather, but infinitely more precious. “We can talk about this later. Right now, you’re both hurt. Are they going to be okay down there?”
The storm Jupiter had whipped up was slowly dying down, but she’d obviously messed up the weather patterns in the area pretty good.
Minerva nodded. “They said they’d manage, and thanked us for arriving when we did.” She winced. “I didn’t mention that our arrival might’ve set off the attack.”
“We don’t really know that it did,” I said reasonably, though I firmly believed otherwise. “No reason to cause alarm. I’m sure they’ve got enough trouble to be getting on with right now. Come on.”
She nodded, and I Stepped from the Yucatan into the Underworld.
Josh is a life-long native of Western Massachusetts. He spends his daylight hours disguised as a mild-mannered IT specialist, trying to get inanimate objects to talk to him and work the way he tells them to. He spends his nights trying to keep all of the animated characters in his imagination from saying too much…and work the way he tells them to.
For the past couple of decades, Josh has been creating worlds for his characters to inhabit, and dreaming up ways to push at the practical implications of a wide variety of Science Fiction and Fantasy tropes. He loves telling stories, entertaining his readers, and sparking fun debates about how to make the implausible plausible. He has a degree in Folklore & Mythology from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.