“Are you sure you know where we’re going?” Marcus asked for the umpteenth time. He adjusted one of the packs filled with their food and supplies.
“No,” Evie answered, her voice flat. “But I think when we turn the wrong way, that’s when the symbols go dim. Do you know where the zodiac constellations are in the sky?”
Marcus stopped, turned to her. His expression said, Puh-leese.
“Right then. We’ll be following my lead. Either we’re going the right way…” Or we’re going in the complete opposite direction. There was no pressure, of course. Either they found Hercules and somehow saved Pompeii, or they failed and an entire city was scorched. With only twelve days left until the supposed doomsday Aelia predicted, Evie walked a little faster. She wished some geologist had been able to pinpoint exactly what day the volcano blew. Was it the twenty-fifth? Or days later? Days could make a difference.
The longer they walked, the more their shadows shrunk. When the sun was overhead, Evie stopped. “Pass me the water, please.”
“We need to conserve it.”
“I’m going to pass out if you don’t pass it to me. Then you’ll have to carry me, too.”
“Pity you didn’t keep that mule.”
“We would have had to keep Tatius, too.” She caught the water from Marcus and took a long drink until he yanked it from her hands and closed it.
“Don’t drink it all right now.”
“It’s not like we can’t get more.”
“Stopping to get more wastes time. And Tatius wasn’t so bad.”
Evie shifted her weight back onto her hip and folded her arms over her chest. “Right. You hated him.”
“He was weak. I didn’t hate him. I didn’t respect him—”
“You were glad when he left. Besides, he’s not an adventurer.”
“At least he did what you said.”
“Yeah, unlike you.” Evie expected a retort that never came. Instead, Marcus shook his head and continued walking. She had to jog to catch up. “I thought I was the navigator.”
“Shouldn’t I walk ahead?”
Marcus stopped. He waved one arm in front of him. “After you, o great and mighty chosen one. Better you lead anyway. Then, when we watch that mountain spew fire from a league away, you can take responsibility for leading us in the wrong direction.”
Evie didn’t answer. She didn’t know how far a league was, anyway. She held her chin high and walked ahead of him. The two of them didn’t speak all afternoon. Occasionally, the symbols on her wrist would light up and she’d change direction. Evie wished she’d asked Aelia how to navigate with these symbols. She couldn’t even try to find the constellations with the sun out. Maybe Aelia intended them only to travel at night?
They skirted around a small village. Evie wanted to stop, but Marcus reminded her they had to find a demigod and convince him to save Pompeii four months early.
“I don’t know what demigods and gods do when they’re not on quests, but it might be difficult to sway his mind.”
“I know what I’d be doing if I wasn’t on this quest,” Evie muttered. Nightime. She’d probably be reading from her collection of history books or watching some documentary about the ancient world. She loved to watch and try to find things to correct. It wasn’t an easy challenge, because they were usually well researched, but some of the documentaries with lower production value provided ample fodder for her brain game.
“We should make camp,” Marcus announced.
“No. Not tonight. I think we should press on, I mean, we only have so much time.” Evie wasn’t sure, but Marcus looked proud of her in the disappearing light.
He fashioned a torch and when they passed by a farm with a fire brazier in the front, he dipped the torch in to light their way. The symbols on Evie’s wrist brought them into the mountains, to a cave. They stood at the mouth of the cave and Marcus waved the torch at the opening.
“Checking for bears?”
Evie snatched the torch from Marcus. “Well you’re not going to see much from out here.” She marched into the cave, tailed by his protests. They came to what Evie thought was a dead end, but she squinted past the light of the torch to see that two tunnels branched off in opposite directions. Her wrist didn’t show any symbols.
“Maybe we’re not supposed to be here,” Marcus said.
“Why would the symbols lead us to the cave but not through it?”
“Maybe we’re supposed to have the third member of our party by now.”
“What third companion?”
“You didn’t listen to the whole prophesy, did you? ‘Rings of Saturn and companions three.’ I count two of us.”
Evie argued they were supposed to come and find the map. Marcus said that Aelia was always vague and launched into a tirade about how she shouldn’t trust priestesses because they’re vague on purpose. He accused Aelia of not really knowing what the gods wanted anyway.
Evie clamped a hand over his mouth and shushed him. He licked her palm, so she recoiled. “Ew, gross,” she wiped her hand on his tunic and shushed him again. “Listen.”
Voices echoed from the tunnel on the right. There were other people in this cave.
“I think we should take this tunnel,” Evie pointed the torch toward the one on the right.
“No. The other,” Marcus insisted. “They’re probably bandits.”
“You’re a bandit. What’s wrong, lose your nerve?”
In the flicker of the torch, Evie saw the contours of his face change. His expression shifted from annoyed to angry. “If you want to get yourself run through, then follow the voices. We don’t know how many there are.”
“If they run me through, at least I don’t have to traipse all over Italy with you anymore.” Evie pushed past him to enter the tunnel to the right.
Evie didn’t answer. She couldn’t constantly guard her tongue. In the midst of all this questing, she forgot there wasn’t technically an Italy yet. There wouldn’t be for a long time. Over a millennium. I have thousands of years of intelligence on these people. I don’t need Marcus. Or Tatius. Or Aelia. Hell, do I even need Hercules? But Evie didn’t know how to stop a volcano from erupting or how to initiate time travel when the bracelet that brought her to this time melted into her wrist. Even the memory burned.
But then, when Aelia held her hand over the fire in the temple, she didn’t feel it. Maybe I have a brain tumor. This is all just a figment of my overactive imagination. I’m having delusions.
The voices from ahead grew louder, but Evie couldn’t make out what they were saying. The sound bounced around too much. She rounded a bend and a soft glow reflected on the tunnel wall. She was close.
Someone grabbed her from behind. The torch fell and the flame died as Marcus pushed her back against the wall and clamped his hand over her mouth. His skin smelled like soil and sweat.
“Let me go first,” he whispered.
Marcus removed his hand and released her. He bent to pick up the unlit torch and handed it to her. “Someone attacks you,” he said, keeping his voice low, “you swing this at him as hard as you can. Aim for his head or his…erm…nethers.”
Evie almost laughed at Marcus’s embarrassment to say groin or any other off-color term he might have drummed up.
“It’s not funny. If you get me killed, I’ll give you hell in the Underworld.”
Evie nodded, forcing her face into an solemn expression. The Underworld. Right, like that exists. Then again, they were on a quest from the gods to find a magic map that would lead them to Hercules. Evie gripped the torch tighter and followed Marcus toward the voices and glowing light.