Chapter OneRed blood bloomed from underneath Helen’s torn fingernails, pooled in the crescents of her cuticles, and trailed down her knuckles in little rivers. Despite the pain, she gripped the ledge more tightly with her left hand so she could try to slide her right hand forward. There was grit and blood under her fingers, making her slip, and her hands were cramping so badly that the center of her palm was starting to spasm. She reached with her right, but didn’t have the strength to pull herself any farther forward.
Helen slid back with a gasp until she was dangling from her rigid fingertips. Six stories beneath her kicking feet was a dead flowerbed, littered with moldy bricks and slates that had slid off the roof of the dilapidated mansion and broken into bits. She didn’t have to look down to know that the same would happen to her if she lost her grasp on the crumbling window ledge. She tried again to swing a leg up and catch it on the windowsill, but the more she kicked the less secure her grip became.
A sob escaped from between her bitten lips. She had been hanging from this ledge since she descended into the Underworld that night. It felt to her like hours, maybe days had passed, and her endurance was flagging. Helen cried out in frustration. She had to get off this ledge and go find the Furies. She was the Descender– this was her task. Find the Furies in the Underworld, defeat them somehow, and free the Scions from the Furies’ influence. She was supposed to be ending the cycle of vengeance that compelled Scions to kill each other off, but instead here she was, hanging from a ledge.
She didn’t want to fall, but she knew that she would get no closer to finding the Furies if she went on clinging here for an eternity. And in the Underworld, every night lasted forever. She knew she needed to end this night and start the next anew, in some other, hopefully more productive, infinity. If she couldn’t pull herself up, that left only one option.
The fingers of Helen’s left hand began twitching and her grip gave way. She tried to tell herself not to fight it, that it would be better to fall because at least it would be over. But still she clung to the ledge with every bit of strength remaining in her right hand. Helen was too afraid to let herself go. She bit down on her bloody lip in concentration, but the fingers of her right hand slid across the grit and finally came away from the edge. She couldn’t hold on.
When she hit the ground she heard her left leg snap.
***Helen slapped a hand over her mouth to keep the scream from erupting across her quiet Nantucket bedroom. She could taste the flinty grit of the Underworld on her cramped fingers. In the pewter-blue light of predawn, she listened intently to the sound of her father getting ready for the day down the hall. Thankfully, he didn’t seem to hear anything out of the ordinary, and he went downstairs to start cooking breakfast as if nothing were wrong.
Lying in bed, trembling with the pain of her broken leg and her pulled muscles, Helen waited for her body to heal itself. Tears slid down either side of her face, leaving hot tracks across her chilled skin. It was icy cold in her bedroom.
Helen knew she had to eat to heal properly, but she couldn’t go downstairs with a broken leg. She told herself to stay calm and wait. In time her body would be strong enough to move, then stand, and then walk. She would lie and say she’d over slept. She’d hide her sore leg from her father as best as she could, smiling and making small talk as they ate. Then, with a little food in her, she would heal the rest of the way.
She would feel better soon, she told herself, crying as quietly as she could. She just had to hold on.
***Someone was waving a hand in Helen’s face.
“What?” she asked, startled. She turned to look at Matt, who was signaling her back to earth.
“I’m sorry, Lennie, but I still don’t get it. What’s a Rogue Scion?” he asked, his brow wrinkled with worry.
“I’m a Rogue,” she answered a bit too loudly. She’d faded for a second there, and still hadn’t caught up to the conversation.
Helen straightened her slumped shoulders and looked around at the rest of the room to find that everyone was staring at her. Everyone except Lucas. He was studying his hands in his lap, his mouth tight.
Helen, Lucas, Ariadne, and Jason were sitting around the Delos kitchen table after school, trying to catch Matt and Claire up on all things demigod. Matt and Claire were Helen’s best mortal friends, and they were both incredibly smart, but some things about Helen and her past were too complicated to be taken for granted. After everything they’d gone through, Matt and Claire deserved answers. They’d put their lives on the line to help Helen and the rest of the Delos family seven days ago.
Seven days, Helen thought, counting on her fingers to make sure. All that time in the Underworld makes it feel like seven weeks. Maybe it has been seven weeks for me.
“It sounds confusing, but it’s not,” Ariadne said when she realized that Helen wasn’t going to continue. “There are four Houses, and all four Houses owe each other a blood debt from the Trojan War. That’s why the Furies make us want to kill someone from another House. Vengeance.”
“A billion years ago someone from the House of Atreus killed someone from the House of Thebes and you are expected to pay that blood debt?” Matt asked dubiously.
“Pretty much, except it was a lot more than just one death. We’re talking about the Trojan War, here. A lot of people died, both demigod Scions and full mortals like you,” Ariadne said with an apologetic grimace.
“I know a lot of people died, but how does this blood-for-blood-thing get you anywhere?” Matt persisted. “It never ends. It’s insane.”
Lucas laughed mirthlessly and lifted his eye from his lap to meet Matt’s. “You’re right. The Furies drive us mad, Matt,” he said quietly, patiently. “They haunt us until we break.”
Helen remembered that tone. She thought of it as Lucas’s professor voice. She could listen to it all day, except she knew she shouldn’t want to.
“They make us want to kill each other in order to fulfill some twisted sort of justice,” Lucas continued in his measured tone. “They kill one person from our House, we kill one from theirs in retaliation, and on and on it goes for three and half thousand years. And if a Scion kills someone from his own House, he becomes an Outcast.”
“Like Hector,” Matt said tentatively. Even saying the name of their brother and cousin set off the Furies’ curse, angering the Delos clan. “He killed your cousin Creon because Creon killed your aunt Pandora, and now you all feel an irresistible urge to kill him, even though you still love him. I’m sorry. I’m still not seeing how that’s even remotely like justice.”
Helen looked around and saw Ari, Jason, and Lucas gritting their teeth. Jason was the first to calm himself “That’s why what Helen is doing is so important,” he replied. “She’s in the Underworld to defeat the Furies, and stop all this senseless killing.”
Matt gave up reluctantly. It was hard for him to accept the Furies, but he could see that no one at the table was any happier about their existence than he was. Claire still seemed like she needed to clarify a few things.
“Okay. That’s an Outcast. But Rogues like Lennie are Scions who have parents from two different Houses, but only one House can claim them, right? So they still owe a blood debt to the other House,” Claire spoke carefully, like she knew what she was saying was difficult for Helen to hear but she had to say it anyway. “You were claimed by your mother, Daphne. Or by her House, rather.”
“The House of Atreus,” Helen said dully, remembering how her long lost mother had returned to ruin her life nine days ago with some very unwelcome news.
“But your real father– not Jerry— even though, Lennie, I have to say, Jerry will always be your real dad to me,” Claire amended passionately before getting back on track. “Your biological father, who you never knew and who died before you were born…”
“Was from the House of Thebes.” For a moment Helen met Lucas’s eyes, then quickly looked away. “Ajax Delos.” “Our uncle,” Jason said, including Ariadne and Lucas in his glance.
“Right,” Claire said uncomfortably. She looked between Helen and Lucas who refused to meet her eyes. “And since you were both claimed by enemy Houses you two wanted each other dead at first. Until you…” she trailed off.
“Before Helen and I paid our blood debts to each other’s Houses by nearly dying for each other,” Lucas finished in a leaden tone, daring anyone to comment on the bond he and Helen shared.
Helen wanted to dig a hole straight down through the tiled floor of the Delos kitchen and disappear. She could feel the weight of everyone’s unasked questions.
They were all wondering: How far did Helen and Lucas go with each other before they found out they were first cousins? Was it just a little kissing, or did it get ‘scarred for life’ serious?
And: Do they still want to with each other, even though they know they’re cousins?
And: I wonder if they still do it sometimes.
It wouldn’t be hard for them because they can both fly. Maybe they sneak off every night and…
“Helen? We need to get back to work,” Cassandra said with bossy edge in her voice. She stood in the kitchen doorway with a fist planted on her slim, boyish hip.
As Helen stood up from the table, Lucas caught her eyes and gave her the tiniest of smiles, encouraging her. Smiling back ever so slightly, Helen followed Cassandra down to the Delos library feeling calmer, more self-assured. Cassandra shut the door and the two girls continued their search for some bit of knowledge that might help Helen in her quest.