Chapter no 18

The Burning Maze

Whoa, there, Medea Don’t be all up in my face With your hot granddad

Rule of duelling etiquette: when choosing a weapon for single combat, you should absolutely not choose to wield your grandfather.

I was no stranger to fire.

I had fed nuggets of molten gold to the sun horses with my bare hands. I’d gone swimming in the calderas of active volcanoes. (Hephaestus does throw a great pool party.) I had withstood the fiery breath of giants, dragons and even my sister before she’d brushed her teeth in the morning. But none of those horrors could compare to the pure essence of Helios, former Titan of the sun.

He had not always been hostile. Oh, he was fine in his glory days! I remembered his beardless face, eternally young and handsome, his curly dark hair crowned with a golden diadem of fire that made him too bright to look upon for more than an instant. In his flowing golden robes, his burning sceptre in hand, he would stroll through the halls of Olympus, chatting and joking and flirting shamelessly.

Yes, he was a Titan, but Helios had supported the gods during our first war with Kronos. He had fought at our sides against the giants. He possessed a kind and generous aspect – warm, as one would expect from the sun.

But gradually, as the Olympians gained power and fame among human worshippers, the memory of the Titans faded. Helios appeared less and less often in the halls of Mount Olympus. He became distant, angry, fierce, withering – all those less desirable solar qualities.

Humans began to look at me – brilliant, golden and shining – and associate me with the sun. Can you blame them?

I never asked for the honour. One morning I simply woke up and found myself the master of the sun chariot, along with all my other duties. Helios

faded to a dim echo, a whisper from the depths of Tartarus.

Now, thanks to his evil sorceress granddaughter, he was back. Sort of.

A white-hot maelstrom roared around Medea. I felt Helios’s anger, his scorching temper that used to scare the daylights out of me. (Ew, bad pun. Sorry.)

Helios had never been a god of all trades. He was not like me, with many talents and interests. He did one thing with dedication and piercing focus: he drove the sun. Now, I could feel how bitter he was, knowing that his role had been assumed by me, a mere dabbler in solar matters, a weekend sun-chariot driver. For Medea, gathering his power from Tartarus had not been difficult. She had simply called on his resentment, his desire for revenge. Helios was burning to destroy me, the god who had eclipsed him. (Ew, there’s another one.)

Piper McLean ran. This was not a matter of bravery or cowardice. A demigod’s body simply wasn’t designed to endure such heat. Had she stayed in Medea’s proximity, Piper would have burst into flames.

The only positive development: my ventus jailer vanished, most likely because Medea couldn’t focus on both him and Helios. I stumbled towards Meg, yanked her to her feet and dragged her away from the growing firestorm.

‘Oh, no, Apollo,’ Medea called out. ‘No running away!’

I pulled Meg behind the nearest cement column and covered her as a curtain of flame sliced across the garage – sharp and fast and deadly, sucking the air from my lungs and setting my clothes on fire. I rolled instinctively, desperately, and crawled behind the next column over, smoking and dizzy.

Meg staggered to my side. She was steaming and red but still alive, her toasted flowers stubbornly rooted in her ears. I had shielded her from the worst of the heat.

From somewhere across the parking garage, Piper’s voice echoed, ‘Hey, Medea! Your aim sucks!’

I peeked around the column as Medea turned towards the sound. The sorceress stood fixed in place, encircled in fire, releasing slices of white heat in every direction like spokes from the centre of a wheel. One wave blasted in the direction of Piper’s voice.

A moment later, Piper called, ‘Nope! Getting colder!’ Meg shook my arm. ‘WHAT DO WE DO?’

My skin felt like a cooked sausage casing. Blood sang in my veins, the lyrics being HOT, HOT, HOT!

I knew I would die if I suffered even another glancing blast from that fire.

But Meg was right. We had to do something. We couldn’t let Piper take all the (quite literal) heat.

‘Come out, Apollo!’ Medea taunted. ‘Say hello to your old friend! Together you will fuel the New Sun!’

Another curtain of heat flashed past, a few columns away. The essence of Helios did not roar or dazzle with many colours. It was ghostly white, almost transparent, but it would kill us as fast as exposure to a nuclear core. (Public safety announcement: reader, do not go to your local nuclear power plant and stand in the reactor chamber.)

I had no strategy to defeat Medea. I had no godly powers, no godly wisdom, nothing but a terrified feeling that, if I survived this, I would need another set of pink camo pants.

Meg must have seen the hopelessness in my face.


I hated that idea. I was tempted to yell back, WHAT?

Before I could, Meg darted off.

I fumbled for my quiver and pulled forth the Arrow of Dodona. ‘O Wise Projectile, we need help!’

IS’T HOT IN HITHER? the arrow asked. OR IS’T JUST ME?

‘We have a sorceress throwing Titan heat around!’ I yelled. ‘Look!’

I wasn’t sure if the arrow had magical eyes, or radar, or some other way to sense its environment, but I stuck its point around the corner of the pillar, where Piper and Meg were now playing a deadly game of chicken – fried chicken – with Medea’s blasts of grandfather fire.

HAST YON WENCH A BLOWPIPE? the arrow demanded. ‘Yes.’


‘She’s half Cherokee,’ I said. ‘It’s a traditional Cherokee weapon. Now can you please tell me how to defeat Medea?’


‘But you just said –’


The arrow went silent. The one time I wanted it to elaborate, the arrow shut up. Naturally.

I shoved it back in my quiver and ran to the next column, taking cover under a sign that read HONK!

‘Piper!’ I yelled.

She glanced over from five pillars away. Her face was pulled in a tight grimace. Her arms looked like cooked lobster shells. My medical mind told me she had a few hours at best before heatstroke set in – nausea, dizziness, unconsciousness, probably death. But I focused on the few hours part. I needed to believe we would live long enough to die from such causes.

I mimed shooting a blowpipe, then pointed in Medea’s direction.

Piper stared at me like I was crazy. I couldn’t blame her. Even if Medea didn’t bat away the dart with a gust of wind, the missile would never make it through that swirling wall of heat. I could only shrug and mouth the words Trust me. I asked my arrow.

What Piper thought of that, I couldn’t tell, but she unslung her blowpipe.

Meanwhile, across the parking garage, Meg taunted Medea in typical Meg fashion.

‘DUMMY!’ she yelled.

Medea sent out a vertical blade of heat, though, judging from her aim, she was trying to scare Meg rather than kill her.

‘Come out and stop this foolishness, dear!’ she called, filling her words with concern. ‘I don’t want to hurt you, but the Titan is hard to control!’

I ground my teeth. Her words were a little too close to Nero’s mind games, holding Meg in check with the threat of his alter ego, the Beast. I just hoped Meg couldn’t hear a word through her smouldering wild-flower earbuds.

While Medea had her back turned, looking for Meg, Piper stepped into the open.

She took her shot.

The dart flew straight through the wall of fire and speared Medea between the shoulder blades. How? I can only speculate. Perhaps, being a Cherokee weapon, it was not subject to the rules of Greek magic. Perhaps, just as Celestial bronze will pass straight through regular mortals, not recognizing them as legitimate targets, the fires of Helios could not be bothered to disintegrate a puny blowpipe dart.

Whatever the case, the sorceress arched her back and screamed. She turned, glowering, then reached behind her and pulled out the missile. She stared at it incredulously. ‘A blowpipe dart? Are you kidding me?’

The fires continued to swirl around her, but none shot towards Piper.

Medea staggered. Her eyes crossed.

‘And it’s poisoned?’ The sorceress laughed, her voice tinged with hysteria. ‘You would try to poison me, the world’s foremost expert on poisons? There is no poison I can’t cure! You cannot –’

She dropped to her knees. Green spittle flew from her mouth. ‘Wh-what is this concoction?’

‘Compliments of my Grandpa Tom,’ Piper said. ‘Old family recipe.’ Medea’s complexion turned as pale as the fire. She forced out a few words,

interspersed with gagging. ‘You think … changes anything? My power … doesn’t summon Helios … I hold him back!’

She fell over sideways. Rather than dissipating, the cone of fire swirled even more furiously around her.

‘Run,’ I croaked. Then I yelled for all I was worth, ‘RUN NOW!’

We were halfway back to the corridor when the parking lot behind us went supernova.

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