From One Puzzle to Another, Part 2
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Gale-force winds buffeted Sam’s face as he braced his feet against the wet ground. The shockwave was so strong that even he might get blown away from it.

Hades’ balls, kid! Chiron exclaimed. That’s one nasty skill you’ve cooked up... we should call it something... how about the Clapper?

“You’re making... jokes now?” Sam grunted.

What else am I going to do while watching you struggle against your own power from my comfy couch? Chiron chuckled. You can’t get this kind of heart-pumping action on cable...

“Glad you’re so entertained,” Sam sighed. “Now, tell me if we got him.”

Sam’s tsunami traveled the length and breadth of the lake, crashing mightily on the far shore where Apex had originally come from. Eventually, the waters calmed and the winds stilled. But of the aforementioned villain, no sign could be seen.

“Holy Horus, that was incredible, mate!” Jackboot called from behind him.

“He does tend to surprise us sometimes, doesn’t he,” Farsight chimed in.

“Like an actual hero, you mean,” Thunder added in a teasing tone.

Compliments had been quite rare in Sam’s life, so he took each new one he got with a wide grin plastered on his face.

Wipe that smile off your face, kid, Chiron chided. You’ve got incoming...

The lion’s head hood rose up from the water a mere eight feet from where Sam waded. Apex’s massive body — water droplets dripping from his hardened muscles — appeared moments later, and he didn’t look happy at all.

I guess we should have known that dropping a tsunami down on a descendant of Hercules wouldn’t be enough to waste him, Chiron said disappointedly. It’s not like he’s as weak as you, kid.

“Not the time,” Sam sighed.

It was lucky for Sam that [Herculean (Δ)] was still active, otherwise, he might not have had enough speed to dodge the punch that Apex launched at him. Unfortunately, Sam’s inherent clumsiness caused him to trip over the wet sand beneath him and tumble down into the water below. Funnily enough, this did nothing to dampen the master’s voice inside his head.

Way to show your heroic side, lame-brain, Chiron sighed.

Sam didn’t have time for a retort as Apex’s hand speared into the water to catch him by his shirt. Then he lifted Sam over the water and up into the air where they would be at eye level with each other.

“Impressive, pretender,” Apex’s own grin showed off the two sharp fangs protruding out of his upper lip. “You have more inner strength in you than your frail body shows.”

“Let me go... and I’ll show you just how strong... I am,” Sam managed to say despite Apex’s fingers pressing heavily against his chest.

“Bravado, such a childish response—”

Apex’s words were cut short by the arrow which he caught with his free hand an inch from his head.

“Foolish—”

The arrowhead ignited and then lit up so brightly that both Apex and Sam were momentarily blinded from it. He felt Apex let him go, but Sam didn’t drop all the way down into the water. Someone had caught him. He didn’t know who it was until he heard, “I’ve got you, mate!”

Sam and Jackboot didn’t get very far before they were both pulled back by their collars and thrown into the lake. It seemed Apex was determined not to let them out of the water.

“Sam!” Thunder yelled.

He could hear the frustration in her voice, and he could guess why. Lightning and lake water didn’t exactly mix, and so she was powerless to watch from the sidelines while Sam felt Apex’s fist smack him in the cheek, driving him further down into the water so that his back struck against the sand below.

Fight back, kid, Chiron urged.

Sam was trying. For Zeus' sake, he was kicking and punching out for all he was worth, but he somehow couldn’t bring out his full strength. Not in the water. Somehow, just being underwater despite how shallow the depth brought Sam’s old fears of drowning rising up to the surface of his mind and preventing him from being his usual self. Obviously, his rising panic automatically deactivated [Herculean (Δ)] too, so that he was too weak to struggle against Apex’s strength.

Oh, gods, I’m going to die down here, Sam thought worriedly.

Through the murky haze, Sam could see Jackboot struggling to shove Apex off him. Unfortunately, his kicks, although powerful enough to clock a horror’s lights out couldn’t even dent the fur coat wrapped around their foe. After the initial shock of that flash-bang trick shot, Farsight’s arrows did little good either, although she was working with one hand tied behind her back.

No, Sam would need someone stronger to jump in and help them, and he wasn’t thinking of Thunder. Despite the water depriving his brain of oxygen, he managed to glean just that bit of insight he needed so that when Apex loosened his grip for just a second to deal with the annoyances that were Jackboot and Farsight, Sam’s head cleared the surface. Then, after he took that much-needed gulp of air, Sam yelled, “He’s the descendant of Hercules!”

That was all the time he had as his head was shoved back down into the water, but Sam imagined it was enough — and he would be proven right seconds later.

“It would be wise not to incur a god’s wrath for they have long memories,” a priestess of Zeus had once said to her congregation. “And they hold grudges so long that even your children and their children’s children might not be safe from retribution...”

The automaton appeared above him as if by magic. Then, with a glare so fierce that Sam was grateful it wasn’t aimed at him, Achelous bellowed, and his roar caused the very realm to shake. His bronze fist came soon after, and the force of it sent Apex crashing into the cornucopia’s altar.

Then Sam felt himself get raised up by the scruff of his neck so that his body was hanging in the air and he was staring into the bronze god’s golden eyes.

“Are you sure he’s one of Hercules’ brood?” Achelous asked in an angry tone.

Sam nodded wordlessly as speaking had momentarily eluded him. That’s how difficult it was to be staring into the face of an angry god.

“I thought he looked familiar with those ridiculously big muscles and that ridiculously stupid-looking headgear... I wasn’t entirely sure though, but I believe you... I can tell you’re not lying to me right now,” Achelous commented.

Dude, shouldn’t you be a hundred percent sure before you hit someone? Sam thought. I’m not complaining or anything but... thank Apollo he didn’t whack me in the head when he heard me yell out my power...

There came an inhuman roar from the very center of the island that caused Achelous to drop Sam back into the lake possibly so he’d have use of both his hands. He would definitely need them with the way Apex was flexing his muscles.

When Sam got back up on his feet, he discovered all his friends gathered around him. Achelous’s automaton was standing in front of them, almost like he was shielding them from the wave murderous aura emanating from the island.

“Yes, this one is definitely that buffoon’s descendant,” Achelous snarled. “I can sense the bloodlust even in this toy I’ve taken over...”

Achelous snapped his fingers, but the sound he released wasn’t the usual ‘snapping’ that came with the act. Weirdly enough, it was the ding of an elevator.

“You best run along now, mortals,” Achelous said. “Things are about to get biblical here...”

An elevator door slid open in the air behind them, and a familiar darkness lay beyond it.

“Magic,” Jackboot whispered.

“It’s just a weirdly shaped portal, Jack, which can easily be explained in science,” Farsight commented. “Finally, we get to leave this fates-forsaken realm.”

She was the first to jump through the door. Fearless as always. Even when she was blind.

“I’m actually pretty amazed at how brave she is, you know,” Jackboot said in an impressed tone. “I’d be a little warier about jumping into empty space... who knows what chthonic beast lay in wait beyond.”

“There are no chthonic beasts over here!” Farsight called from beyond the door, although her voice was slightly garbled. “I’m back inside the water tower’s elevator!”

With a shrug and a wry smile at Sam, Jackboot followed Farsight through it. Thunder remained to help Sam up as he was still feeling uncommonly weak from his struggle in the water.

“I think we’ve found your kryptonite,” she teased.

Sam didn’t have the strength to retort. Besides, his focus was elsewhere. It was impossible not to notice them as each of their blows caused shockwaves that blew past Sam and Thunder.

“Let's get out of here,” Sam said.

The last thing he saw before Thunder pulled him through the portal was the god and monster crashing into each other. And, with the way broken bronze parts were flying around in the air, Sam could almost believe that the god was losing — and that was a frightening thought.

 

Heya True Believers!

Told you you'd get faster chapters now. XD So, I'm curious if you guys are trying to solve my riddles yourselves. Let me know in the comments the next time you see one. ;P

Joining my Patreon now will give you some advanced chapters too. XD

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Also, let me remind everyone that the Level Up Hero: Vol. 1, Rebirth ebook is out now on Amazon/Kindle!

Level Up Hero: Vol. 1, Rebirth Link

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To my patrons, thank you for continuing to support LUH! You guys rock!

Spoiler

Zachary Lee, Blade Tytan, Berserker-Boy, Daniel Aasa, Unsaintlyangel, Belduim, Patrick Camp, Primordial Jay, Karanbir Nijar, Tomasz, sqeesqad, George Dashner, Blake, John Balman, Coleman Bland Puri Iresan, Keto_Nick, JDF8, and Wethebesthora!

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