Chapter 16.1
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I stared at the man.

He stared back, seemingly completely unbothered - an illusion which was shattered when he stopped his tip-tapping and took hold of his club, pulling it free. “That’s what I thought. Well. Come with me, woman, and-”

I never heard what he was about to say. No, I could see the writing on the wall.

I ran. I’d been fast in life. I was still fast now. This was goddamn Heracles. In the end, though, it didn’t matter who it was. If a man built like a walking anatomical diagram pulled out a hunk of wood, metal, and stone as long as my arm, I was running. That decision skipped my brain entirely and went straight for the primal thoughts clinging to life after millenia of evolution.

But it didn’t matter how fast I was, it turned out. I’d turned for the grand central door of the temple, bolting like my life depended on it.

The briefest of moments after, though, the doors twitched - and then slammed shut. I hit the all-too-solid wood hard, gaping.

When I grabbed at the handle, though, it wouldn’t give. I dug my heels in, hauling for all I was worth, but they only rattled in their frames.

“What are you doing?” I heard Heracles say. A hint of amusement lingered in his voice, but it faded with every passing second. Only wariness was left to fill the void that remained. “Look. Be reasonable. Surrender yourself, and come quietly.”

Come quietly, he said - while clutching that horrible weapon in his hands. I glanced over my shoulder, finding him advancing on me, and skittered away again.

The temple formed a half-circle, framing the ocean view. I sprinted along its edge, booking it for the flat where the building met the cliff. Doors peppered the wall alongside me - but when I grabbed one’s handles, tugging, the end result was the same. Locked, all of them.

As though the temple itself was rejecting me - finally. Why now? Was it Heracles’ presence? Was it my choosing to disobey, rather than go meekly to my doom?

After the first few doors failed me, I gave up on trying. My legs flew beneath me, carrying me to the cliff edge. The corner of the temple lay straight ahead. My heart leapt. I rounded the bend, nearly tripping over my own feet, and ran for-

For the wall of trees and brush that lay across the gap, filling every available inch. The little bit of self-control I’d been clinging to gave way in the face of the complete and total shock washing through my system. At the last moment, I caught myself, keeping my footing, and skidded to a stop.

There were thorns in those bushes. Big, nasty, long thorns. And the brush was thicker here. I knew at a glance that I was screwed - there was no getting through.

It wasn’t the escape I was looking for. And with all of the doors locked to options were beginning to thin out.

“Are you done?” Heracles said from behind me.

I spun, my heart pounding in my chest. He stood at the end of the temple, club in hand, and stared coldly across the lawn at me. At my glance, he smiled mirthlessly. “You’re just taking up more of my time. Stop these useless games. Who are you, and how did you get in here?”

He had plated, old-fashioned boots over his jeans. The detail caught in my mind as he lifted a foot and started to walk, like a snapshot seared into my eyes. Everything here was wrong, even the parts that seemed normal at first.

My pulse beat faster and faster. I just wanted out. Fighting him wasn’t going to do any good - but I didn’t know the way out, and he was in my path.

Praying it wasn’t a mistake, I brought my hands together - and slid my knife free. The weight of it in my palm was more comforting than I would have expected.

At the sight of the weapon, Heracles’ eyes widened - and then narrowed. He leaned forward, bringing his club up defensively. “Who are you?” he repeated. For the first time, an uncertain note entered his voice.

What the fuck did he have to be scared of? I eyed the lawn between us, picking my path of escape. If I could get him with the knife, of course, that’d be the easy way out - but I didn’t think that was very likely, and that was even before the whole question of if I should be stabbing Heracles. That kind of seemed like a bad idea. Even for me.

He was gathering himself for a charge, though, and I was out of time. I shifted myself, gathering my weight on the balls of my feet, and sprang towards the gap between him and the temple. My knife arm came up, a pale defense against the murder-stick in his hands.

I made it. Almost, anyway. I got really, really close. The wind in my hair and my heart in my throat, I dove past him. He swung, bringing the club sweeping through where my legs should have been. I’d launched myself into the air, leaping straight over. I’d thought myself quite clever, until I saw him spin, hurling one mammoth fist at me.

My blood chilled at the sight. My arms came up in front of my face, my knife held crosswise.

Knives suck at blocking, it turns out. A shield it was not. His fist plowed into my arms, hard enough I heard a sickening crunch. My left wrist exploded into white-hot agony in the same instant.

I yelped, biting off the sound before it could mature into the scream it so desperately wanted to be. God damn, it was like being punched by a train. I lurched to the side, my legs fighting to keep me vertical, and hit the side of the temple.

With one gasping breath, I forced my eyes open - and saw the man himself accelerating toward me, his face impassive and his eyes stone-cold. His club still hung at his side, ready and waiting, but again, it was his bunched-up fist that was raised.

He probably doesn’t want to bash your skull in, the dark corners of my mind whispered. Not yet. Not until he knows what you are.

With how close the two of us were standing, I didn’t have long to think about my reaction. Gritting my teeth and letting my still-screaming arm fall to my side, I leaned forward - and hurled myself toward Heracles. The best defense is a good offense, right? That’s what people always said, and taking another hit from him would leave me unconscious in the grass.

His eyes widened. My heart leapt. The tip of my knife gleamed, plunging toward his chest. Didn’t expect that, did you?

I didn’t expect him to simply take one gargantuan step backward, leaving my stubby little knife to sail through the empty air - and then grunt ominously.

The muscles across his chest rippled, the one and only warning that things were about to go totally and completely wrong.