Chapter 23~Closed for Renovations
“Ash, wake up. I think we’re there,” Joe called as I felt a hand shake my shoulder. I woke up a bit groggy and let out a long yawn before blinking a few times, trying to adjust to the light.
“You think?” I asked, noting the tone of his voice. How could you think you were at the right place?
“Well, just look,” Joe motioned, pointing ahead to an island. At first, I wasn’t sure what he meant as the island looked tropical and was surrounded by plenty of ships. It did in fact remind me of some kind of high class day spa. I got the mental image of a bunch of stuck-up rich people coming here in their cruise ships, private jets, and amazing cars that could drive on water. As we got closer however, I started noticing things.
The sign out front was broken, with neon lighting flickering every so often, but most of the lights were out. The palm trees I saw from the distance now appeared to have skeletons tied to them of everything from people to monsters. There was a sign saying to turn back now at the docks, which wasn’t surprising. It was like I was in a pirate movie or something.
“Do you think this is Blackbeard’s hideout?” Angel asked.
“No, it must be some other pirate’s secret layer,” Joe said sarcastically, causing Angel to stick her tongue out at him. I looked back at the docks and saw something that turned my blood to ice.
“Is that El’s ship?” I asked looking at it. On the side of the hull was the insignia SS Orca, the name of El’s ship. Everyone went silent for a long time.
“Come on, let’s get our ship docked,” Joe said and we sailed into an open spot on Dock N, or at least that was the sign said, complete with a smaller sign under it saying Turn Back Now. It was like the slogan of the island or something. As we walked, the island seemed completely abandoned as we pasted by empty pools and beach bars that had seen better days.
“This is creepy,” Angel said as she looked around, and I had to agree. We kept walking and saw a faded welcome sign over a doorway.
“I’ll take point,” Joe said as he took out his weapon which transformed into a spear. Angel took out her trident and I took out my sword. We walked in and the torches in the hall lit themselves as we walked down, as they seemed enchanted. We passed by rooms that had things like Massage Room 2 and Waxing Room 27 on it, like a regular spa. We all froze when we heard two voices from a large room ahead of us.
“Our captain is on his way back,” the first guy said. He sounded big, with a deep voice that kind of made me scared to walk forward anymore. The other person sounded much less scary, having a much more feminine voice. “And it appears he has a guest with him.”
“It’s about time; I’ve been stuck on this island ever since he punished me for failing to get that control disk. It is so boring here and who would be stupid enough to come to Blackbeard’s base of operations,” she said. I then realized that we were the stupid people that she was talking about.
“That’s Sayu,” Angel whispered in my ear. Now that I knew who it was, the voice sounded familiar. However, we kept quiet, hoping that maybe we could learn something.
“I’m going to go check on the prisoners again. It might be fun to tease them a bit,” she said and the big guy just huffed. We then heard the footsteps echo on the marble floor, walking toward us of all places.
“Hide,” I said and we jumped into one of the empty rooms. We kept the door cracked a bit and watched as she walked past us down another hallway.
“She said she was going to see the prisoners. Maybe El is there or the other demigods that went missing,” Joe suggested. We all agreed and silently followed Sayuri down the hallways. It wasn’t that hard considering the torches pretty much lit a trail for us, as they activated whenever she walked down a hall. She then pushed open a very heavy door that creaked with every motion, like the hinges had rusted over.
Once she had stopped and the door was completely open, I wished I could hear the sound of the hinges over the sound I currently heard. From the room, I heard the sound of crying, of people begging for help, the sad songs of those in cages. It was all too much.
“Keep quiet and maybe you’ll get some food today,” Sayuri said as she banged her sword on one of the cages. It did little to actually quiet the crowd, as they seemed to only get louder.
“I can’t take this anymore,” Joe said as he rushed forward. Sayuri had no time to react as Joe rushed into the room, hovering slightly over the ground so he wouldn’t make any kind of sound. He hit her over the head and she crumpled to the ground.
“Sayu!” Angel yelled as she ran over. She pulled her head up and checked for injuries, noticing some blood dripping from her forehead, but it didn’t appear to be that bad. Now that I was in the room, it looked just as bad as it sounded. The room was filled with young women trapped in various different prisons. Some were trapped in cages while others were chained to walls. It was depressing.
“Please release us,” one called. Others followed their example after seeing us. The room became a combined cry for freedom. I could barely take it and I went to open one of the cages, but Joe stopped me.
“Ash, wait,” Joe told me. “You can’t release them.”
“Why!” I said angrily, my blood boiling. These people were in trouble and he was telling us to leave them here in this place.
“Because these are Circe’s handmaidens. While they are trapped they can’t use their magic, but if we free them…well let’s just say I don’t want to be turned into a pig or something,” Joe explained.
“But we can’t just leave them like this!” I argued.
“Yes we can,” Joe said back, but it was obvious that he didn’t want to. He turned his back to me and walked past Angel toward another hallway. He seemed to be walking slower as he got farther away. I looked over at Angel and she wasn’t moving either. In fact, no one was moving. The girls all around the room had stopped moving all together.
“What the Hades,” I said as I looked around.
“Over here, quickly I don’t have much time,” came the voice of an older woman in the back of the room. “Now child!”
I seemed compelled to walk toward her and I followed her instruction. After getting a good look at her, I saw that her grey hair was a mess and her clothes were torn to shreds. She looked like she could have been beautiful once, but now looked just like an old lady trapped in a cage.
“Who are you,” I asked her. “How are you able to do this?”
“You haven’t figured it out? I am the ruler of this island, or at least I was,” she said, with a bit of sadness in her voice. “I am Circe.”
“But you’re so…”
“Ugly!” she yelled.
“I was going to say old,” I said back.
“Same difference,” she said. “But that isn’t important right now. I need your help. I need you to set me free so I can retake my island from those blood thirsty pirates.”
I was about to do it until I remembered what Joe said about her.
“How do I know you won’t just turn us all into pigs or something? I’ve heard stories about you, I mean that story of the son of Poseidon getting turned into a guinea pig is one of the funniest things at camp. I mean less funny now that I’m face-to-face with you, but it was funny before,” I said, kind of rambling.
“I remember that son of Poseidon. He was the one that caused all this. You heroes talk about all your great achievements, but never look back on the pain you cause to us as a result. I’ll admit that I may have gone a little too far at times, but I can see that now and can change. Just let me free,” she told me. I heard something in her voice that made me want to open the cage, but I managed to hold back. “Please boy, it took me years to gather enough magical power to pull this off. I don’t have a lot of time.”
“I’m sorry, I can’t,” I told her.
“How about a trade,” she said.
“What do you have to offer?” I asked, at least giving her a chance.
“Information,” she said. “Your young friend over there has used the Fountain of Youth. I saw him about a week ago pass through here, but couldn’t stop him. He is also prevented from talking about or even remembering ever visiting the lake. No one does after leaving this island, it is part of the magic.”
It was only then that I noticed that Joe had never once talked about how he had been changed into his current age. He mentioned that it happened during his trip to this area, but he never mentioned where it was or what happened. It also seemed strange that I had never just asked him where the fountain was.
“He may also be stuck like that forever if we don’t act quickly,” Circe said, setting my attention back to her. “You don’t know, do you? If he doesn’t take the antidote, as you could say, he will be that age forever. Sure he will age and eventually die, but he will always look like he is fourteen.”
“Thanks for the information. I’ll come back to set you free later if you promise on the Styx that you and all that follow you will stop turning innocent people into animals,” I said before turning around and waiting for her to run out of power so time would resume.
“Do you know where it is? Do you know how the magic works? Are you willing to risk your friend exiting the pond looking like Father Time?” she asked, a smug look plastered on her face. She had me beat.
“Alright, I’ll set you free, but promise on the River Styx that you won't transform or harm in anyway any innocent people,” I told her. Like Joe, I also didn’t want to be turned into a small rodent. Promises on the River Styx were tricky as people were always trying to find loop holes. If I made her promise not to harm anyone, does being turned into a pig count as harm? I didn’t know, but didn’t want to find out.
“As you wish. I swear on the River Styx that I or those that follow me will not use our magic to harm those that have not done harm to us,” Circe said.
“Which includes transforming them into animals?” I asked with a raised eyebrow.
“Which includes turning them into animals if they are not a threat,” she said begrudgingly. There was a clap of thunder and the deal was made. I took out my sword and slashed at the lock on her cage, which swung open. I expected some kind of grand explosion of magic or something, but there was nothing. She slowly got up and walked past me over to a small pond in the center of the room. She walked into the pond and completely submerged herself in water. I wondered if she had drowned herself or something because she didn’t come out. Just then the surface of the water broke and a young woman arose, running her hands through her hair.
“Please excuse my previous appearance and allow me to reintroduce myself,” she said as she turned to me. “I’m Circe, ruler of this island and mistress of magic!”