((written at 3am lololool))
Aylen brings us into the dingy hotel near the thrift shop. It seems like it used to be a grand place, reserved for only the finest of visitors. Something must’ve happened to burn the gold paint off the ornaments, to turn the red carpets dull.
The aura is even stronger here, almost like a stench. I haven’t been around it for almost a year, but the precautions are coming back in my head now. Always have a weapon on you. Always keep an eye out for anything that could even be remotely dangerous. Always be aware of your surroundings. Always be as inconspicuous as possible.
I make a mental note to dispose of my phone later.
Once Aylen chats with the woman behind the desk and she lets us through, we naturally fall into a line. I take the rear, behind Stella and her comrade. Raven follows Aylen, and she leads us up three flights of stairs.
Aylen’s alone, I realize. Usually, the Hunters stick together, at the very least, in pairs. A solution bubbles up in my train of thought, but I ignore it. There’s no way it’s possible.
Aylen takes us through a maze of hallways. I automatically try to memorize the directions. Take a left on the stairs, then left, then the first right.
Her room’s 420, so there must be rooms on the ground floor.
She fumbles with the lock for a few moments, and leads us all in. The need for silence is implied, especially when Stella hisses, “Nathan!” after her comrade nearly trips over his own feet.
“There’s a couch over there, if you want.” Aylen jerks her head inside the room and closes the door behind us. Raven slowly edges into the far side, and Stella and Nathan take the other two seats. I shift nervously, bouncing on the balls of my feet.
Aylen reappears in the room with glasses of water, and hands them out to us. She seems more relaxed now, but it’s forced. It’s like the fake enthusiasm for job interviews, but at least she’s trying.
When she gets to me, she mutters, “Throw out your phone as soon as possible. And by the way, it’s nice to see you again, Sam.”
I nod, and she adds, in a normal voice, “You can sit on that other couch, too, you know.”
I nod again, and do as I’m told. The cushions shift as she plops herself next to me.
Stella exchanges looks with Nathan. They’re having a silent conversation. I turn away and accidentally make eye contact with Raven.
She takes it as a cue to blurt out, “Okay, why are we all here?”
Aylen slowly raises her eyebrows. “Right, yeah, that.”
“Yeah, I’d like to know, too,” Stella pipes up. “First, someone says I’m a demigod, then someone has a panic attack, and now you’ve appeared from out of nowhere to bring us to a shady hotel, and, it’s just – what’s going on here?”
Aylen shoots me a look. I shrug, and she replies, “Well, you are demigods. All of you, I think. And that means that you’re the children of Greek gods.”
“I, uh, got a weird vibe from you first,” I add, nodding towards Stella. “You probably have a goddess for a mother, and I’m thinking Athena.
“But Aylen’s right, you’re a demigod too.” I say, looking at Nathan. “I didn’t get a vibe from you at first, but that’s probably because I’m not familiar with your parents. I’m guessing Apollo or Ares, but it could even be Hermes.
“You, however,” I say, turning towards Raven. “I think it was you that was the worst. A primordial’s child? Really? Unless you’re really good at hiding or something, I’m surprised you’re not dead by now.”
“Mhm, Sam’s got quite the nose for demigod-smelling,” Aylen says, chuckling, and the mood lightens somewhat. “But, yeah, if you want more information on your ancestry, you’ll have to visit Camp Half-Blood.” She holds up a hand to stop Stella’s question, and says, “Which I will talk about later. Anyways, there’s a goddess, her name’s Artemis, and she’s got, ah –“
“A girl gang,” I supply. “In a way, I guess. It’s called the Hunters of Artemis. She basically gets a group of girls who are usually demigods, and they fight with her to like, save the whales.”
Aylen laughs. “What Sam means is that we – or, they –“ she corrects, her tone hardening, “– fight things to help others. This could mean killing monsters, or delivering things, whatever.”
Stella’s smirking now. The idea probably appeals to her. Nathan’s nodding, impressed, and Raven seems interested too.
“So, now that they know what we are, do you have anything else to explain?” I ask Aylen.
She furrows her brows, and replies, “You go first, Sam. Tell them how you, ah, left the Hunters.”
I frown at her, puzzled, but continue anyway. “Okay, well, I’m Sam, nice to meet you, pronouns they and them but if some idiot comes up, just use her or she, and, well, I used to be a Hunter of Artemis. Aylen didn’t mention this, but when you become a Hunter, you don’t age. It’s very slow. So, I look like a teenager, but I’m actually 144 years old, I think. And Aylen’s even older.”
“250,” she says, proudly.
“Yeah, that’s ancient. The geezer could probably name the #1 hit from 1821, which, by the way, was Beethoven’s Ode to the Dankest of Joys, for the 69th week straight. ‘Twas remixed by ya boi Ducreux. But she looks 18, can you believe it? Dermatologists hate her.”
Nathan chuckles, Raven’s grinning, and even Stella’s almost cracking a smile.
“Joking aside, though,” I continue. “I was a Hunter for about, 130 years? I became one when I was pretty young, but I don’t think I really ever fit in. I mean, I was pretty good at the fighting, but, I don’t know, I just didn’t really feel the girl power, y’know? So fast forward to the 21st century, all these LGBTQ+ issues are coming into play. That’s when I discovered what non-binary was. It used to be classified under a mental illness or something, or maybe it wasn’t even recognized.”
Aylen’s nodding. “Yeah, bring that stuff up in the 60s, and people are going to throw you out.”
“But anyways, when they started raising awareness for us non-binary kids, that’s when I felt really comfortable talking the girl boss, Artemis. I told her that even though I loved helping her save the world, I just didn’t feel like I
belonged with the Hunters because I no longer identified as a girl. She was really nice about it and she didn’t zap me into a bajillion pieces, she let me leave in peaces. That was about a year ago and I’ve been living here for about the same time. So, long story short, I join the Hunters, I realize I am not a girl, I leave the Hunters.” I turn to the other Hunter in the room, and raise my eyebrows. “Your turn, Aylen. Tell them your story.”