Epic

Sienna Ramirez is faced with an impossible choice--eat the food, or leave it? But what happens when the food comes at a grave price?
This meal is fictional, obviously.

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Chapter 1

The Hydra

Have you ever been taunted by a pomegranate? Okay, that was a stupid question. Of course not. Besides, the pomegranate wasn’t actually taunting me, but let me tell you, that sure is what it felt like. I’ve never had a stronger desire to destroy anything, and I’m the daughter of Ares. Inanimate object or otherwise, never has there existed a greater source of loathing for me than that despicable fruit.
My apologies. I’m getting ahead of myself. You wouldn’t understand unless I started at the beginning. Not the very beginning; I’ll get to that later—but the important bits? That all started with the hydra.

Maneuvering skillfully among the scattered rocks, I evaded one of the raging heads lashing out at me. I thrust the tip of my sword into the monster’s slimy eye, and it drew back, hissing ferociously. I stood my ground, even though I knew I was losing energy fast. Under normal circumstances, a hydra would’ve been an easy victory for me, but not when it brought a legion of its monster buddies with it. I wondered which god had sent them this time. Not that it mattered.
I decided my best strategy was to keep letting it attack, in the hopes that it would eventually exhaust itself. It would take longer, but hydras were rather tricky since you couldn’t just decapitate them—and my sword arm was starting to feel like lead. Not to mention the awful location of this battle: I’d been forced down into this rocky ravine while I was fighting the manticore, and I couldn’t regain a height advantage.
Another head struck, gnashing its dripping fangs. Usually, hydras have a pattern to which head they’ll attack with next, but this one was almost completely unpredictable. I managed to leap out of the way at the last second, but my foot got caught when a rock shifted. I went sprawling, gritting my teeth as pain erupted in my ankle. My sword was knocked out of my hand as my right shoulder slammed into the ground. The hydra reared for another strike, and I knew I had to act fast. I rolled aside, pressing myself against the ravine wall. My ankle screamed in agony as it was wrenched free from the rock.
The hydra’s nine heads twisted and flailed wrathfully amongst each other. I glimpsed my sword lying at its feet. Acid spewed from one of the hydra’s mouths, and the blade became an oozing puddle of molten bronze. I let out a moan of despair; the sword had been my only weapon. Now I could only keep dodging the hydra’s attacks, and pray that the gods would take pity on me.
Forcing myself to stand, I dragged my battered self away from the hydra, hugging the wall for support. If I could just put enough distance between us, maybe I’d be able to flee to safety. With every step, my ankle felt as if it were being seared with a white-hot poker.
The hydra made no move to attack. I guessed it was amusing itself watching my pathetic attempts at escaping. I tried to recall if I’d ever been in a situation this bad before, but the pain made it impossible to concentrate. All I knew was that I had to keep moving, that nothing else mattered except getting as far away as possible.
My salvation appeared at the edge of my line of sight, virtually unnoticeable to the untrained eye—a narrow crevice in the far wall, just large enough for me to slip into. I’d have to cross ten feet of exposed ravine to reach it, but it was my only chance. I let go of the wall and tried to walk, but my bad ankle was utterly useless. I collapsed onto all fours and began to heave myself over the rocks.
The hydra crept closer. Its heads bobbed at the ends of its nine scaly necks, but still it didn’t attack. It was several yards away from me, but it could easily close that distance before I could reach the other side of the ravine. I crawled desperately, hoping the hydra wouldn’t be smart enough to realize that fact. Sweat rolled down my face, plastering my dust-laden hair to my forehead.
With an earsplitting bellow, the hydra struck. It leapt at me, heads darting out with lightning speed. I picked up a rock and threw it frantically, forgetting about my injured shoulder, which felt like it was being torn from its socket. The rock connected with the closest head, knocking it off course. I flattened myself to the ground, pulling myself along with my elbows. Another head sprayed acid, dissolving my shoe. The crack in the ravine wall was barely three feet away, but it may as well have been three miles. The hydra plunged in front of me, blocking the entrance.
I glanced around in vain. There were no rocks to throw, nothing I could use to defend myself. I struggled to rise, but the hydra pinned me to the ground with a foot. I fought against it, but sharp claws sank into my flesh.
Defeat washed over me. I squeezed my eyes. I hoped whoever had done this was satisfied. Anger pushed at the corners of my mind. Anger pushed at the corners of my mind, and I forced it back. The gods could go ahead and fight their ridiculous war. So what if they trashed the entire planet, including their precious Mount Olympus? It would happen no matter what. I’d seen it. At least I’d be long gone by the time it took place, and my secret would die with me. I relaxed and let the pain envelope me.
As my heart rate slowed, the hydra’s claws suddenly receded. I was flung against the ravine wall. Winded, I opened my eyes. The monster’s nine heads whipped about violently as if possessed by some unseen force. Its eyes glinted in agony. Instantaneously, the entire thing exploded in an enormous burst of energy. All that was left was a smoking pile of ash.
I was stunned for about half a second. Then I pushed myself to my knees, backing up against the wall. My gaze swept across the ravine, stopping abruptly when I saw him.
A boy about a year older than me stood atop a boulder fifteen feet away. He had deep chocolate skin with close-cropped curly hair, and he wore jeans and a black tank top that showed off his well-muscled arms. He didn’t seem like an immediate threat, but I looked around for a sharp rock, just in case.
“You’re welcome.” His voice was smooth and mysterious. When I didn’t answer, he added, “For saving your life.”
“I’m not telling you.” My fingers closed around a particularly jagged hunk of granite. There was only one thing this boy could possibly want from me. “Go ahead and kill me.”
“Who said I needed to kill you?” Those dark, hypnotic eyes, boring into my own, were devoid of all expression.
My stomach dropped as I realized who he was. “You’re Hades.”
The boy arched an eyebrow. “Nice to meet you, Sienna Ramirez.”
I pressed my lips into a line. It was pointless to try and fight the Lord of the Dead alone, even with a full reserve of energy. Still, fear was a foreign concept to me.
“Leave me alone,” I muttered.
Hades jumped down from his perch on the boulder. “But I’ve only just met you,” he said.
“I already told you, you’re not getting anything out of me.”
“Unfortunately, that’s no longer your decision to make.” Hades’ eyes began to glow, and I dissolved into blackness.

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