*waves whilst smiling sheepishly as dust clears* I am still alive, despite popular belief! Today's my three year anniverasry on FFN. Whoa.

I sprinted out of my room, down the hall, through the living room, and busted open the door to the driver's cabin.

James didn't even bother glancing up at me.

I looked out the window. The rounded hills seemed to reach towards us, as if trying to swallow us, make us a part of the land. Thunderclouds boomed in the distance, spewing lightning at the hills. The full moon shined down overhead, lighting the land and bleaching the surroundings—like an old black and white movie.

"This isn't safe," I whispered, "traveling through the Badlands at night."

"Unfortunately, we don't have time for rest. We have to be in California in five days," James said, nervously tapping his finger on the steering wheel. His eyes darted across the landscape.

"Those storm clouds are bad news," I murmured, taking a seat next to him.

He nodded. "We're entering Lakota territory. They regarded storm clouds as spirits, you know."

I gulped. "Spirits, huh? Nice ones, I hope."

He shrugged his shoulders. "I'm not familiar with Sioux folklore. But I can't imagine good and nice in the Badlands."

That's what I was afraid of.

The hills seemed to rise as we approached them—like they were trying to stand. I shivered. What if they were trying to stand? And what were they?

"I—I'm gonna go wake the others, so we can be on alert," I stuttered, placing my hand on the doorknob.

"No need," James whispered, shaking his hand. "They're probably already awake. I mean, can't you feel it in the air? It's like… something's brewing outside—like some supernatural force is at work."

I rubbed my goose bump arms. "Can we go around the Badlands? I don't like it here. It's not… safe."

"We're behind schedule as it is, and this is the quickest way. We can't just—" He stopped midsentence as he slammed on his brakes, swerving to avoid a deer that somehow just appeared in the middle of the road.

A scream escaped my lips as I grabbed onto the passenger seat, trying to escape being thrown around.

James desperately gripped the wheel, trying to correct the bus, but it was spinning out of control. It slid off the edge of the road, hit an embankment, and went sailing through the air.

This is it, I thought. We're going to die in a bus crash, of all things. Nope, not a monster attack. Not by the Titan's hands. A bus accident.

Before I had a chance to scream again, we stopped, and silence enveloped the bus. I blinked. The bus was on its side; the front glass was shattered, and I was sprawled out behind the driver's seat, several shards of glass most likely piercing my body.

I groaned, then quickly remembered the situation. I slowly rose to my feet, disoriented in the moonlight. James was restrained by his seatbelt, and was partially leaned against the wall, and partially on the steering wheel. He wasn't moving.

"James," I snapped, shaking his shoulder. I tried to pull him up.

"Mhm," he mumbled, making no indication of moving.

"You need to move. We've got to see what happened," I whispered, tugging on his seatbelt.

"Go check on everyone. I'll come as soon as I can," he said through clenched teeth. He still hadn't made any attempt to move. But he was speaking coherently, so that was a good thing.

"Be careful," I said, then propped open the door separating the cabin and the rest of the RV, and lifted myself up. I fell out the door, and onto the floor—well, the wall. Everything looked like it had been tossed around—stuff was scattered all over the floor, the refrigerator door was open, and food had escaped from its icy belly. I didn't see anybody, though.

"Guys? Donnie? Sarah? Alexa? Abby?" I called out. "Where are you? Are you hurt?"

"Jemma?" Donnie whimpered. "Is that you?"

"Yeah, it's me!" I shouted, maneuvering over the furniture that had been jumbled during the accident. "Where are you?"

"We're in the hallway," Sarah said. "Hold on, we'll come to you."

I kept attempting to make my way to the hallway. The four of them suddenly materialized at the beginning of the hall, a few feet from me. Well, I say materialized—they really just stepped from the shadows.

Before I could ask, Alexa said, "I gathered everyone in the hallway so nothing would be tossed around to hurt us. And I already checked everyone for injuries. None accounted for."

"Oh, well, okay then," I said, somewhat dumbfounded. "Wait—why didn't you warn us so we could've avoided the crash in the first place?"

The blonde shook her head. "You know I can't do that—it would change everything. It was supposed to happen like this."

I gritted my teeth, but dropped the subject. "Um, James is hurt. He's in the driver's cab. Can you go—"

Alexa nodded and leapt over one of the overturned couches. She closed her eyes momentarily and winced. Once she opened them, she said, "Everyone needs to pack up their belongings. We won't be coming back to the bus. Make sure you pack extra clothes and try to grab some food." She bit her lip then continued making her way to James.

"Why won't we be coming back to the bus?" Abby asked, clutching the locket around her neck. Her black hair was frazzled and frizzy and her eyes were puffy and tired. She looked so vulnerable.

I tried to shrug my shoulders nonchalantly, despite the cold chill running up my spine. I attempted to steady my voice. "I dunno, but we ought to listen. Better safe than sorry, right?"

Donnie nodded his head and took one of my hands in his. "What do I need to pack, Jem?"

"A couple sets of clothing—and that includes underwear and socks," I said sharply. "Pack lightly. If you can live without it, don't take it, okay? Be careful opening your doors and going into your rooms. Stuff will probably fall."

The three nodded and headed to their rooms. I sighed. Just when I was starting to feel at home, we had to leave, again. I ducked into the hallway and positioned myself to open the door. It opened easily, which assured me nothing would fall out. I then hoisted myself up and into it.

Everything was thrown against the wall, which seemed odd that nothing had blocked the door. Maybe Fate was giving me a break. The fountain I used to Iris Message Zac had been torn from the wall and was currently smashed under my bed. My wardrobe was upside down and leaned against the wall, the door unable to be opened. Great—no shirts. Maybe I could find some of Zac's; that's what I used to do if I stayed over at his house when we were younger. Gods, I missed him.

I was able to open my dresser, and pulled out a couple pairs of shorts and undergarments. I stuffed them into a backpack that miraculously wasn't squished, crushed, or otherwise. I think the bag was enchanted—it held way more than it should have. Probably Megan's doing.

I spotted one of my Doc Marten boots and quickly grabbed it. Luckily its mate wasn't too far away—or in a precarious placement. I kicked off my flip-flops and slipped on a pair of socks and then the teal boots. No doubt my feet would be thanking me for the arch support later on.

There wasn't much else in my room that I'd need. Honestly, I hadn't spent much time consciously in it. I opened the door once more and hoped down. A bit late, but I remembered to check my pockets—the picture and letter from my parents was in there, along with the note from Des. I wasn't sure where the mirror was. Alexa or Sarah probably had it.

I realized I was standing on James' bedroom door. I had a mini heart attack, thankful that the door hadn't broken as I landed on it. Someone would need to pack his clothes, but how would they get into it? And once they were in it, how could they get back out? It'd be impossible. Maybe he could fit into Zac's clothes?

I turned on my heels and walked down to the next door—Zac's. I positioned myself to open it, then pushed. There was something blocking it, but it wasn't too heavy. Once it opened, a lamp flew out, shattering as it hit the ground. Oops.

Making sure nothing else was going to fall, I hoisted myself up into his room.

Moonlight streamed through the small window that was now overhead, its tendrils illuminating everything in odd patches. From what I could make out, the walls were painted to resemble the view from a skyscraper back in Manhattan, at night. The walls twinkled with light, actually.

The furniture seemed to have a 'modern' vibe to it—dark colors and seamless lines, which I didn't think fit Zac much. I supposed the rooms were made to reflect your godly insides, which would explain the nautical feel to my room. I like the theme, though.

All the furniture had fallen to the wall I was standing on, but again—miraculously—nothing blocked the door. Thanks, Fate.

From what I could tell in the heap of crushed furniture, he didn't have a wardrobe, which meant there must be a closet somewhere. I spotted it in the upper left corner of the room. I'll spare you the details of reaching it and grabbing the shirts that now reside in my bag, because, well—it wasn't fun. I nearly had a heart attack after almost plummeting to my death several times.

One of Zac's quirky habits actually made things easier on me—he always hung his pants in his closet. I managed to grab some of those, too, for James.

Just as I was about to lower myself from Zac's room, a shard of glass caught my eye. A few inches over, there were more pieces, a picture resting below. I gently brushed aside the glass and picked up the photo, smiling. It was of Zac and me back a few years ago. He had a black eye that, unfortunately, I had given him. We were wrestling at his house, and well… I sometimes didn't know the limits of my strength. I was missing a tooth, as well, which was also a result of wrestling from that day. Back then, things were so carefree, so… simple. I sighed and folded the picture then shoved it in my pocket.

I quickly lowered myself from his room and readjusted my backpack. Alexa was evidentially still with James, but her room was on the bottom, so I couldn't pack up her things. She could share with me or Sarah, I guess. Everyone else could pack for themselves. And besides, I had to pack food, too.

I passed by James' room once more, then made my way out of the hallway. Food was scattered all around the room, smashed and crushed, mostly. I did my best to dig around, grabbing what could be salvaged of the canned and packaged foods.

I then decided to check on James and Alexa, to see if she needed help. I nearly glided over the fallen furniture in my path, my steps silent. As I approached the cabin, I could hear Alexa whispering low and fast: "He's on his way. I can see him coming."

James responded in a quiet whisper, "Are you sure it's him? If Duke really is near, that means Kronos—"

"I know his energy like the back of my hand. Things are going to… complicate," Alexa said. "You know what I have to do. The consequences are too high to ignore. And Ri said—"

I bit my tongue, but I couldn't hold it in. "Who's Duke?"

I heard sssshhhhh… then Alexa called out in a careful voice, "No one of your concern at the moment." Her head appeared in the doorway as she leapt over the frame to the space in front of me. Her eyes were dark, worried.

"And why does James get to know? Secrets are deadly to keep—you know that," I spat, not quite in control of my reaction.

Alexa's mouth twitched. "You're one to talk," she said sharply, then turned back to the door opening, where she helped James over onto my side.

I'm one to talk? About what? I drew in a sharp breath, like I couldn't get enough air. I felt my heart sputter at an increased rate before skipping several beats. Oh, like that. I had forgotten about my deteriorating health. Ever since the Bandersnatch clawed the bejesus out of my chest and face, breathing was becoming difficult. Not all the time, but it was happening much frequently. Yesterday, I had a bit of a coughing fit, and a little blood came up, no bigger than a fingernail—nothing to worry about. I had to keep telling myself that.

Alexa turned to me. "My and James' rooms are unable to be entered," she said rather coldly. "I presume you packed for us, then?"

I was surprised at the tone of her voice, but decided against matching it. "Yes, I did. You're welcome."

"You're a doll, Jem," James said, placing a false smile on his face. His usual cocky demeanor had vanished, though; replacing it was something I was terrified of—fear. If Death himself was scared… well, what would we be facing?

"Jemma, we're ready!" Donnie shouted from the shadows of the hallway. He emerged from the darkness, a bag on his back. Abby followed, a messenger back across her shoulder. Sarah loomed in the hallway, though.

"Come on," Alexa muttered, trudging through the mess that once was the living room towards the door, which was currently in ceiling position. James gave my arm a squeeze and took off, too. I trailed his path, dancing over everything with relative ease.

Abby and Donnie approached Alexa as she ran towards the wall; her feet gracefully shot her into the air when she pushed off the wall, where she grabbed onto the doorframe. She slowly shifted her weight to one arm, then reached with the other to the door handle, which she gave a shove. It flew open, letting a stream of moonlight in.

She let go, landing with effortlessness in front of James and I. She addressed him: "I think I can pull everyone up, if you can hand them to me."

I started to object, because she was so tiny, there was no way she could lift any of us. But James obviously thought differently. He nodded and motioned for Donnie.


Sarah was still in the darkness, where I could only see her silhouette. She held something in her hands.

"Sarah, you alright?" I asked. "Are you hurt?" I took a step towards her.

"I'm sorry, Jemma! I'm so sorry!" she said in fury. "I didn't know—I mean, I didn't think about it—I—"

"What? What's wrong?" I asked, then stopped. The mirror.

She tentatively stepped closer to me, her hand outstretched. I closed the gap, and snatched the looking glass from her. I was afraid to look.

"It—it's not so bad. Only a tiny crack," she said.

I looked down at the tarnished handle, rising slowly to the dark glass itself. Then I saw it. It—the jagged, inch long crack in the lower right corner. "Oh," was all I could muster.

"It's just a crack! It'll still work, right, Jem?" Sarah asked, peering into it. "It's gotta work…"

I stared into the perpetual blackness of the mirror while I was screaming inside ''TNOTWORKPLEASEPLEASEPLEASE.' "I don't know," I said numbly. I placed the mirror into my bag, surrounding it in with a cushion of clothes.

Sarah's eyes widened, but she said nothing. James called her over, and I turned. Donnie and Abby were nowhere to be seen. Did she seriously lift them up?

James cupped his hands and told Sarah to put her foot in them. He lifted her up, and Alexa grabbed her outstretched hand. She easily lifted her to where Sarah could grab onto the frame, then gave her a push up.

"Sweet mother Rhea," I mumbled. "How in the—"

"Training," Alexa replied, still stiffly. James' strength was impressive, too. Not just anyone could lift a body like he did. "The both of us," she added.

"When did you guys have time to train like that?"

"I'm getting tired. James, hand me her, will you?"

James held out his hands and I stepped up. "You're dodging my question," I said as the Hades-reincarnate lifted me to Alexa.

She grabbed my wrist with a firm grip and hoisted me 'til I was level with her. I grabbed the frame and started to pull myself up.

Alexa leaned closer to my ear and whispered, "I knew James before this quest."

"Wha—" My hands started to slip. What the hell? Or, Hades? Or—

Alexa grabbed me and gave me a push as she whispered, "Not a word of this to anyone. You shouldn't know." Then I was on top of the bus.

James and the suddenly-very-moody-Alexa joined us. I have no idea how they managed, but they did, and I was in no mood to look at them. How do they know each other?

I gazed at the imposing land in front of us. The storm gathered over the Badlands was growing and becoming more violent. And we had to go through it.

The hills just started. I mean, out of nowhere, they just rose up. The dirt and rock was washed-out in the moon's tendrils, creating a very unassailable fortress. A dash of gold caught my eye, and I turned towards it.

A golden deer—and I do mean golden in the most literal sense, like fourteen karat—stood in the road, staring (pardon the pun) doe-eyed at us.

James followed my gaze, and a grimace formed on his face. "That's the bastard that jumped in front of the bus!"

Everyone else saw it, too. "Is it golden?" Yes, Donnie, that's how it seems. "Is it hurt?" 'Course not, it only totaled the bus, Sarah. But it's GREAT. "Is it a girl?" Who even cares?

Alexa's sour mood seemed to lift as a smile graced her pale lips. "Artemis' Golden Deer. I feel her presence, my other half, my twin." Her voice seemed different as she said that, ancient. Apollo. "Come on!"

She leapt off the bus and started after the deer with renewed energy.

"I wonder what it feels like to find your immortal half," I whispered to James as Donnie and Sarah slid off the bus. They yelled for us to come, and Abby took off with them.

James shrugged. "I dunno. Persephone was killed before I could meet her."

"What about Amphitrite? What do you think he/she would be like?"

His eye twitched. "A jerk." He sat down, about to slide off the bus.

"You think so?" I asked, sitting down beside him. "How do you know?"

"Uh, he's probably just not a very good guy," he mumbled and pushed off. He landed on his feet, and held out his arms to catch me. I must admit, I was thankful for the help. Gods, my chest hurt.

"But why do you say that?" We started walking towards the deer.

"Just a… hunch, okay?" James said hurriedly, running a hand through his raven locks.

Secrets don't make friends.

Ahead, Alexa made it to the deer. It allowed her to pet it. Weird. Once it caught site of James and I, it took off into the woods.

"You have a wonderful effect on animals, James," I said, jogging the rest of the distance to my group, who was staring into the woods. Granted, it was dark, and I'm sure my one eye was deceiving me, because standing next to the deer with eyes like the moon, stood a boy with the same silvery eyes, holding a glowing bow in his hands, aimed straight for us. Could it be the Duke Alexa and James were talking about, or someone new entirely?

Before I could ponder further on that question, a crackling bolt of white hot energy burst across the sky—seemingly from the gathering storm clouds over the Badlands; it jagged through the air straight to the overturned bus. The lightning connected with the metal frame, and the bus lit up in a fiery explosion, sending me diving to the ground, covering my head.

August thirteenth, just past three a.m., and I already knew it was going to be one of those days. But I was used it, after all, and welcomed it like an old friend. One of those old friends that makes you question why your bond ever existed, but a friend nonetheless. Excellent.

Gods, I'm so sorry for the loooooooong absense. Writer's block struck me bad. Though, it also helped me write several short pieces in which I entered in some writing contests that I won. :D In fact, one of my recent prizes is a signed copy of "Unholy Night" by Seth Graham-Smith!

There's a poll on my profile asking about the length of chapter you prefer and where you'd like me to write author's notes at. Please vote on it!

Like I have promised from the begining - I will finish this. Just stick with me. :)

Oh, and there's a special message on my profile for all of you amazing people. Thank you all.

Any ideas about the mysterious silver-eyed boy? What about this Duke character? Are they they same person, or two different ones entirely?

I'd love to hear your thoughts about the chapter, so leave me a review!