An eerie silence had descended on the forest.
Only the light of the moon and stars illuminated the woods, their rays snaking between the branches and limbs and giving just the faintest trace of visibility on the forest floor which seemed devoid of life.
No creature moved and nothing stirred. Even the winds seemed to have gone silent as if the entire forest were holding its breath, waiting for something that had yet to arrive.
An outsider could only describe the scene as serene. It was as if the entire forest was a snapshot, a moment frozen in time that could not be disturbed.
If only that were the case.
The serenity of the night was destroyed when a young boy, no older than twelve, burst through the trees, his torn and tattered sandals slapping the forest floor as he sprinted as if his very life depended on. His raven black hair was long and unkempt and his clothes, perhaps once a chiton and cloak, hung torn and tattered from his slender limbs as he tried to avoid the dense coppice and all its branches and obstacles threatening to slow him in his desperate attempt for escape.
In the distance behind him, a much louder thudding of footsteps could be heard. Branches snapped and the smaller trees were simply run over as a monstrous dark figure chased its prey. The sheer mass of the it moving through the forest nearly shook the trees down to their roots.
The boy weaved through the trees at speeds that seemed impossible. His endurance was starting to fail him though. Only adrenaline and the primal instinct of self-preservation kept him moving. He could feel the figure closing in on him. It's superior size allowing it to close the distance on him at an alarming rate. Only the dense foliage slowed it down and kept him alive though he knew he was already on borrowed time.
As he jumped over some underbrush, the boy's heart seemed to stop completely.
Ahead of him, maybe twenty yards away, the forest cleared for a stretch. He could faintly make out some source of light on the other side of the clearing.
Not that he would ever be able to reach it.
He was at the end of his rope. Without the woods to slow the monstrous creature down, it would catch him within seconds. He couldn't change course either. On either side, the woods thickened to the point that not even his small form would be able to navigate them without running into something or tripping over the many branches, roots, and rocks on the forest floor.
Accepting whatever fate would befall him, he burst out of the tree line and made a mad dash towards the light. He couldn't even pick his head up to find the source of the illumination in the darkness, forced to keep his focus on putting one foot in front of the other in fear of stumbling and losing what slim chance of survival he had.
He hadn't even made it a quarter of the way through the clearing when he heard, or more like felt, his attacker hit the clearing, its monstrous paws pounding the ground in pursuit. Knowing he wouldn't make it even half way across, his pace slowed just enough to slide his hand into his belt line.
There he found the dagger his mother had given him.
The thought of his mother almost distracted him, though he knew better than to let himself get caught up in bitter memories. For all her struggles, the only worthwhile thing she had been able to give him was this one blade, an old and rusty bronze dagger that barely looked worthy of cleaning the bottom of a sandal, let alone for self-defense.
But she had been right. The blade was the only reason he was alive at that moment. The creatures, or better yet, the monsters that seemed to find him at increasing rates seemed almost afraid of the blade. The few that had been brave enough to attack him had ended up as a pile of dust when the blade broke their scaly skins.
He could still remember the snake woman who had looked beautiful at first and then tried to eat him a few weeks back.
But regardless of that successful encounter, he knew he had run out of luck. The little dagger probably couldn't break his pursuer's skin, let alone kill it.
Ignoring the hopelessness of his plight, he had no intention of just lying down and accepting his death. He would give this giant monster something to remember him by, other than the meager meal he guessed his frail form would provide.
Just as he felt its rancid hot breath on his neck, he made his move.
Or… That was when he was planning to make his move.
Instead, he thought he ran into a solid wall of rock. His almost bounced off the sudden object in his path and into the jaws of the monster but instead hit it more to the side and was knocked off balance, stumbling the ground a few feet away. He quickly got back to his feet but froze at the sight before him.
A mountain of a man, not overly tall, but thick and muscular, with long blonde hair stood in the spot he had planned to make his move. His attacker seemed to have found a similar fate but judging by the way the man's hands were still outstretched, it appeared he'd shoved the monster rather than let it run into him.
Now that he was stopped, he finally got a look at his attacker. A hound with fur as dark as the night and eyes the color of blood was crouched a few feet away from the man. Though it towered over him, being a good foot taller and just as thick, the monster seemed wary. It barred its fangs at him and growled threateningly.
"Be gone minion of Hades!" The man roared, seemingly unintimidated by the monster's aggressive display.
After a short standoff, the monster seemed to realize that it was just one guy and lunged at him. The boy was sure this was the end of the hulking man but at the last second, he threw himself forward, driving a shoulder into the hounds exposed chest and bringing it the ground.
The giant hound tried the recover but the man must have had a grip like iron. He grabbed handfuls of fur and threw the creature to the ground a few feet away, hands full of the pulled out monster fur. He charged after it, jumping onto its back before it could make a retreat. He grabbed hold of its head and slipped an arm around its neck. The hound tried to buck but this just gave the man the leverage he needed. With a sickening twist of his arms, the oversized pooch's neck snapped and it fell limp to the ground. Within seconds, its body seemed to melt into shadows and vanish from underneath the mammoth of a man.
The boy wasn't sure what shocked him more; the dog melting into shadows or that the man just snapped its huge neck with only his hands.
With the beast finally out down, the man stood back up to get a look at the kid he had just saved.
"Blasted Hellhounds," he grunted. "They never give up once the latch on to a demigod's scent."
The boy took a couple steps back. While he was grateful for the save, he had no idea who this guy was or what he was talking about.
He quickly pushed that thought aside to focus on the man who could very well be an even more dangerous threat to him.
"Thank you m'lord." He said putting a little more distance between himself and his savior, ready to make a run for it again. To his surprise, the man just smiled.
"I'm not a lord boy. And you're welcome for that." He paused when he noticed the frightened look in the kid's face. "What's your name?"
The boy took yet another step back, "I don't want any trouble. I didn't mean to disturb you, I'll just be going now."
He shook his head, "And go where? To find the next Hellhound and become their dinner? I'm not gonna hurt you kid. Just tell me your name. I'll get you fed and somewhere safe, you have my word."
The boy stopped retreating but still looked wary.
"My… My name is Perseus." He said tentatively.
The man held out his hand, "It's nice to meet you Perseus. I am Heracles. Now let's get you some food and you can tell me how you got a Hellhound on your trail."
Perseus sat on a log in front of a small fire. He was silent and the bowl of stew lying next to him was practically screaming at him to be eaten. But he quelled the desire for food and kept his eyes trained across the fire. Every fiber in his body was on edge, ready to bolt at the first sign of danger. This was nothing new to him either. He had spent the past year living on edge, always watchful and wary of anyone around him.
Since the death of his mother, he'd been on his own, often sticking to the cities where he could usually steal himself enough food to get by. But after the incident with the snake woman, he had been on the move, the past three days he hadn't found even a morsel of food, only water in a river that ran through the forest.
The looming figure across the fire looked up from his meal and frowned.
"You should eat. It looks like it's been a while since your last meal."
Perseus' eyes flickered to the bowl and back to the man, still unwilling to give in to his hunger yet. He was wary, and rightfully so. He had run into men who seemed helpful in the past, but they had really just been interested in helping themselves to a part of him. His speed was the only thing that kept him safe but he was worried he wouldn't be quick enough to outrun this giant of a man. And he knew once he was in his grasp, there would be no escape.
Heracles stood up. Perseus immediately jumped to his feet but the larger man just held up his hands. He slowly walked over to where Perseus' bowl was sitting untouched and grabbed a piece of meat from it, throwing it in his mouth and making a show of swallowing it. He walked back to the other side of the fire and sat down.
"I am not going to hurt you child. Just eat the food. If you wish to leave, you may at any time but you should at least eat something."
Perseus didn't move at first. He kept his eyes on Heracles until he was convinced the food gave him no ill effects. Then in one flurry, he grabbed the bowl and foregoing the spoon, snatched a handful of the meat and stuffed it in his mouth, eating greedily. Within seconds, the bowl was empty and his body felt near a state of euphoria, his painful hunger finally quenched.
Heracles looked at him with an arched eyebrow.
"How long has it been since you last ate?"
Perseus looked across the fire, embarrassment replacing his satisfied expression. He quickly wiped his mouth trying to clean up after his animalistic display.
Heracles chuckled softly at his face, "Relax boy, you need not feel any shame in front of me." He loaded up another bowl from the pot cooking over the fire and held it out to him. "Have some more, perhaps you can take the time to taste it this time around."
He held the bowl out, waiting as Perseus seemed to weigh his options and decide if another serving were worth the perceived risk. Slowly and with trepidation, he crept closer and grabbed it from his hand, returning to his seat on the other side of fire. This time he pulled the spoon from the bowl and fed himself at a still quick but controlled pace.
Heracles just watched him eat. He wondered where he had come from. He knew he was a demigod, a Hellhound would have ignored a mortal. And the fact that it was a Hellhound made him curious as to the boy's parentage if Hades was willing to release a hound from the Fields of Punishment just to kill him.
As Perseus finished his second bowl of stew, he set it down on the log beside him. The nourishment seemed to have calmed his nerves a bit but he remained on edge. Anyone so willing to help a peasant like himself would almost certainly have ulterior motives.
"Where do you come from child?"
Perseus seemed a little surprised by the question. After a moment of silence, he decided to answer.
"I don't come from anywhere. I was born in Thebes but I have moved around for as long as I can remember."
"Thebes, you say? I also hail from Thebes. Who is your father?"
His face darkened a bit in firelight. He looked into the flames silently for a moment.
"I don't know my lord. My mother said my father was a powerful man but people just call me a bastard."
Heracles nodded, already guessing that answer. He wasn't sure which one but he was convinced this was the son of an Olymian.
"And your mother? Where is she?"
His face flashed with sorrow but it was gone just as quickly as it appeared, "Dead. She died as we tried to make our way to Argos."
Heracles nodded somberly, "I am sorry for your loss."
Perseus just brushed it off, "I should be going, it's important that I keep moving." He stood up and looked around as if he expected some kind of ambush.
"The monsters hunt you, do they not?" Heracles asked watching the way the boy looked around, ready for the next threat.
This seemed to catch his attention. He stopped his surveillance of the area and looked at the seated man with interest and uncertainty.
"They haunt me as well." Heracles became very serious. "They don't hunt you because they think you're weak. They hunt you because they know the strength you possess, the power hidden inside you at this very moment."
Perseus no longer looked like he wanted to run. He stared intently at the older man who couldn't have been more than twenty or twenty one.
"I can explain to you why they're after you and I can show you how to make them stop. Travel with me boy, you may leave when you please but I swear to you, on my honor, that I will not hurt you."
Perseus stared at him, the look on his face already made Heracles guess his answer.
"What do you want from me? I know who you are, you are the son of King Amphitryon. Why would you wish for an orphaned bastard to accompany you?
This surprised him a little until he realized the boy probably had some bad experiences with strangers in the past.
Instead of saying anything, Heracles stood from his seat. He turned his back on him and stared out into vast darkness of the forest.
"You have not been in Thebes for a while, have you?"
"No," he replied. "Not since I was a small boy."
Heracles pushed back painful memories of his home.
"I am no prince of Thebes. I am more like you than you would think and like you, I am alone. The roads are long and lonely and a companion would be a welcome change. In exchange for your company, I can teach you how to protect yourself from the monsters that are hunting you this very moment."
A silence descended between them. Only the crackling of the fire could be heard in the small forest clearing.
"For a little while," Perseus said finally. "I will go with you, for now. But I'm not a slave and I don't need charity. I owe you for saving my life so I will accompany you for a while."
Heracles slowly turned around, his long blonde hair was in his face until he brushed it aside and gave a small smile, "Good. In the morning, we begin the road to Delphi."
A.N: Stop! I already know what you're gonna say. This is just an idea that has been bouncing around in my head for a while. It has a couple chapters written but I don't know if I'll even continue past that. I may just make it a collection of short stories. This is merely the prologue/teaser.
But... This is something I need to work on. In a lot of my fics, the characters are flat, they lack depth and don't grow as the story progresses... This one will allow me to develop not only Percy but several characters throughout the story. And Percy will NOT be OP/Gary Stu, whatever you call it. This story will progress slower and if I decide to run with it, I think it has the potential to be my best yet.
But I'd love to hear what you think of the idea, I've been thinking about writing this for a long time. Oh, and I need a better title... suggestions?
And the next update for Seven Kingdoms and Lost and Found will be in the next couple days or on the weekend.