Whither Helios At Nightfall

EDITOR'S NOTE: This is going to get a significantly expanded and revised edition soon. This version is about 5k words, the new one is already approaching 10k and will likely end at 20k words, or more. I've decided to do this because my writing group pointed out several flaws with this version: first, the lack of good descriptions of things, second, the very strange pacing with slow scenes but lots of timeskips, third, the lackluster mystery, and fourth, they just really wanted to see more of this world.
“‘Whither Helios at nightfall,’ I guess.”
I looked up from the newspaper at the man behind the newspaper-stall counter, startled. He was pulling on his cigarette as if he hadn’t spoken at all when I looked up. An anemic stream of smoke lofted out of the corner of his mouth and up into the sky, the red-hot tip a little glowing zit in the early twilight.
“What did you say?”
“I just mean, I don’t know. Does it really matter if the economy can’t stay at this pace much longer? Let’s enjoy it while the going’s good.”
“We’ll regret that,” I said, the ephemeral conversation already melting away into the back of my head. The man nodded just slightly, dismissively, an indulgent look on his mid-fifties face under a flat cap which bent his long ears a little bit to the sides. Wouldn’t do to upset the customers.
“I really don’t like that phrase about Helios,” I added, mumbling, and fished a quarter out of my pocket and placed it on the counter. No one even knew where the cliche ultimately came from, and it was silly anyway. We survived for a hundred thousand years without a sun-god, we’ll survive another night without him, I always thought. In any case, Helios was probably sleeping. Everybody had to.
The Álfheimr took it with a quizzical look, and I walked away, wrapping my long coat more tightly around me as I stepped past the building that the stall was adjacent to, into the full force of the whistling wind, and began crossing the intersection.
Cars passed backwards and forwards beside me, a blur of every color under the rainbow and over it, gleams of chrome and coach-built bodies, long and low, melding into a constant stream of homogeneity. When life moves fast enough, it all looks the same. When I got to the other side of the road, I passed a girl with a bobbed haircut and a short red dress talking to a young man idly, waiting for a taxi.
“‘Whither Helios at nightfall,’ man. Got no idea what you’re talkin’ about.”
Flappers always bothered me, with their needless exhibitionism and lack of a grasp on real grown-up life, but it was that phrase that really made me shake my head in disdain as I passed. Guy probably wasn’t even engaged to her.
It was a few more minutes of walking on my worn-down shoes, which were definitely in need of a good shine, I noticed, before I arrived at my doorstep. It was a dark green door, forbiddingly inset into an even more forbidding apartment building, of that kind which can only be found in truly urban cities. The building spread its wide, white wings, like some giant blocky seagull, almost the span of the whole block. A few yards to my right, a large box, composed of more inset boxes forming what could almost be described as a fin, protruded like a wanna-be spire from the main building. The final box on it, rising up higher than the rest, was colored an intriguing shade of dark green, like my door. I finished fiddling with my bent key and the tight lock, and pushed open the door.
As I pushed in to the too-narrow entranceway, nearly bumping the ornamental mirror — placed in a spot where I’d never use it, but where it would always be in the way — I shed my coat and hat, and flipped on the radio.
“AS NIGHT FALLS ON NEW YORK CITY, CITIZENS CAN EXPECT THE CRIMINAL ELEMENT TO TURN OUT IN FORCE. REMEMBER: LOCK YOUR DOORS AND STAY SAFE! HELIOS ISN’T WATCHING. AFTER THAT ANNOUNCEMENT, WE TURN TO THE LATEST STOCK REPORT, WHERE WE CAN SEE AN ALL-TIME...”
  With the newscasters blaring in the background, I began to assemble my dinner in the tiny kitchen that opened off to the right. A sandwich. Bread, cheese, meat, bread. Or a little bit of mustard, actually, since I had it. A guy could afford some luxuries every once in a while. I took the sandwich in my hand and, after wiping down the counter, headed to the living room and sat on the couch, looking out the window.
The sandwich was good.
The mustard helped.
~ ~ ~
        The next morning I woke up on the couch, the crust of my sandwich on my stomach and a bottle of beer in my hand. Nursing a little bit of a headache and squinting at the sunlight as it streamed through the window, I hobbled over to the trash can, threw the sandwich and beer (nasty stuff, tastes like piss) away, and draped my clothes over the single chair at the table in the kitchen before heading into the shower across the hallway.
        I phoned in to tell Holt I’d be late.
        It was gonna be a good day, I could tell. Had all the warning signs.
        The newspaper room was busy, full of clacking typewriters and shouting voices. Any other day and it might’ve been comforting, but today it just made my headache worse. I saw Holt waving from the other side of the room as I entered, and made my way into his office, sitting down in the low chair that was anchored in front of his ostentatious mahogany desk. I traced the starburst of engraven lines that splayed out from a little replica of The Weekly Sun’s building on the panelling behind the desk while he shut the door behind me and made his sweet time to the other side of the desk. When he was finally settled in it, and had finished adjusting his cloud-like white hair, had folded his hands slowly, and had begun speaking just as slowly, I started paying attention.
        “Now, White, I know you’re a good guy,” he began his opening gambit, in a frustratingly wheedling, consoling voice. I didn’t need to be consoled. I could take whatever he dished. “But I’ve got to run a business here, and you’re just not contributing to it. Everyone has to do their part.”
        I nodded dumbly, waiting for the old man to get to the damn point.
        “So I’ve got a proposition for you. You were a fine reporter in your day, so I’ve decided I’ll give you one more solid chance. Whaddya say?”
        “Sure, boss.” I said, nodding my head. What was he gonna give me, some kind of last-page toilet-paper-fodder story about some Joe losing his car?
        “It's actually a bit of a big fish. One I think you’re well suited to. Deals with all that supernatural shit.”
        My ears pricked up. After Helios showed up and routed most of the demons and ghosts and such outta town, there wasn’t much of that shit to go around. “I’m all ears, Holt.” I leaned forward.
        “We got a call yesterday, some hysterical dame sayin’ Helios was gonna die.”
        I had to suppress a gasp. Not much surprised me, but Helios? Dying? That was new. Better: that was news.
~ ~ ~
        The woman peeked timidly out from behind the door of her sprawling suburban house and stared at me.
        “I’m here from The Weekly Sun, ma’am,” I repeated. “Here about that interview you asked for. About Helios. Dying.”
        “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” she said, calmly, big blue eyes staring right at me, through me almost. I suddenly felt self-conscious about my five-o’clock shadow and unironed clothing.
        “This is the address we have, ma’am. Know anyone around here who might’ve made the call?”
“No, not really,” she said, and closed the door in my face. I was used to that reaction from ladies. It was a natural reaction to someone with a face that looked like the one I wore.
I took off down the street again, looking at the ritzy neighborhood feeling a little proletarian as I passed under the copious leafy-greens nestled between the long and low white houses with their expansive front lawns. Down with the bourgeoisie and all that, I guess.
I felt the air shift a little bit. Like the wind had changed direction but... no, it was still going the same way. A reptilian instinct stirred at my brain stem. That feeling. Unmistakable.
Magic.
I looked to my right, at the house I was passing. It stood just as bright white as all the others, just as sprawling, but far less innocent.
The shadows were missing.
I walked right up to the doorstep, feeling more alive than I had in about five years, heart pumping and that tingle in my hands that I always felt when I was readying magic. I put my right hand against the door, and spoke two words.
“Impedimentum removetur.” A little surge of static electricity passed through my arm, out my hand, and into the door, followed by a little gust of wind that fluttered my coat. I had to grab my hat before it floated away. I pushed through the door, which now had the consistency of jello. Not what I meant to do, but you had to watch out for those synonyms.
Inside the house it was white. Not just the walls, not just the floor, not just the light or the furniture or the decorations. It was like standing in a white box, totally featureless. Well, I lied. Not quite. Lying in the middle was a small scrap of thick typewriter paper — white like everything else, except for the fact that it was covered densely in a tiny, extremely vertical handwriting. I walked over to the paper and picked it up. The strange shifting feeling was still happening at the base of my neck. This room was an alium locum, by the feel of it. The paper was totally normal, though.
What was written on it, however, was anything but:
...IT DEGRADES IS ENDING AT SUNDOWN THE GOD GOOD AND NATURED HIS HOTEL DESCENDS THERE UNTIL IT REVELATION WILL BRING END TIMES THERE IT DEGRADES WILL BUT BEGIN...
It continued like that through the whole page, all capitalized, no punctuation, the writings of a deranged philosopher, no less. I was about to crumple it up in a ball and throw it at one of the blinding walls when I noticed the final line:
...AT THE END OF THE TWILIGHT OH THERE BUT NOONE WILL TELL YOU WHAT (YOU) GOES THERE GOES THERE GOES THERE GOES THERE...
The end of the twilight, I thought. Goes there. You “goes there.” Go there? It was worth a shot. It's not like I had a life to return to. Or a job, if I didn’t try every option. I pushed my way out of the jello-door again, and flagged a taxi at the edge of the suburb.
~ ~ ~
I waited until just before nightfall. I’d been given two days to sort this out, and now I had one. But hopefully by the end of today I’d be that much closer to getting a good story out of this. Then, about two hours before sunset on the dot on the little clock above my bed, I pulled on my coat, seated my stockman hat, the only really good-quality thing I had left, on my head, and headed out into the cold wind for a little investigation. I carried my wand this time, a thin metal number, collapsable. Cheap and new, but it’d have to do if I ran into any trouble. It sat, collapsed and heavy, in an inner breast pocket, where another man might keep a gun.
When I arrived at the house, I wasn’t surprised to find it gone. The two houses that had been on the right and left of it earlier that day were now right next to each other, and nothing else seemed to have shifted in size or proportion, not even the length of the street itself — as if the building had never been there. I walked up to the house on the right and knocked on the door. A timid little man, eyes small behind thick glasses on a pear-shaped head on a pear-shaped body with stick-limbs, greeted me timidly. I pushed past him into his house, and walked directly to the left side wall of the house. The timid little man followed behind me.
“W-wh-what’re’ya doing?” he asked.
“None of your business. I’ll be in n’ out in no time, don’t you worry your bird-head about me.”
The little man kneaded his thin, white, office-worker hands. “Its my house. I have a right to know. I could call the police, you know.”
“How do you know I’m not the police?” I asked, as I felt up and down the wall, spreading my hands carefully over the uninspiring beige wallpaper. The timid man was silent.
“Alium locum aperitur,” I muttered. Nothing happened.
“Alium locum ostenditur.” Still nothing.
One more try. “Alium locum fateor!” I felt the power go out of me. It was like losing a few hours of sleep. Nothing new. But still no effect.
I turned around and pushed my way out of the office-worker’s house. He closed the door after me. I stormed all the way out to the middle of the quiet street in frustration before I stopped. I stood there, hand pushed under my tipped back head, grasping my hair, turning around and looking for another clue.
The phrase recurred to me: “Whither Helios at nightfall?” I grimaced.
Where was I supposed to go at twilight? I’d already wasted an hour. One hour left. While I was thinking, my hands slipped into my pockets to rest there, and found that damned piece of paper again. Maybe reading it again would reveal something? So I read it again. Nothing seemed useful besides those two sentences? Snippets? I looked where the house had been, sandwiched between the two houses that were right next to each other. Something between taken out.
“Hmm,” I grunted to myself, and looked at the paper again:
...IT DEGRADES IS ENDING AT SUNDOWN THE GOD GOOD AND NATURED HIS HOTEL DESCENDS THERE UNTIL IT REVELATION WILL BRING END TIMES THERE IT DEGRADES WILL ONLY BEGIN...
That was interesting. Good natured hotel. I caught a taxi at the end of the street and was at The Weekly Sun in a few minutes. I bustled in and past a few of my old buddies, who looked askance at me. Usually, when I had nothing to do, I was always game to hang around and share a few smokes. Not this time. I had a mission. I walked up to Holt’s office and knocked. He let me in, slowly as always.
“Mind if I use your phone? Gotta locate a hotel.”
“Working the story?”
“Yes sir.”
“Then have at it.” The old man motioned to the black phone sitting on the desk. I picked it up.
“Hello operator?”
“How can I help you?” A tinny female voice asked through the earpiece.
“I’m looking for a hotel? I don’t really remember the name but an old buddy mentioned he was staying there while he was here. Something like ‘good natured hotel’ or something?”
“‘Wherefore Helios’ shi— ’ I mean, sorry sir, but I haven’t got any idea where that is.”
“Well, thanks anyway miss.” I said, and put the phone back in its cradle.
“No luck?” asked slow Mr. Holt.
“No luck.” I said, and then nodded to him and headed out the door again. As I passed, one of my old buddies called out: “Get a magic story, Dan?”
“Sure ‘nuff,” I said right before the door closed behind me. I didn’t know if he heard me.
‘To give up, or not give up, that is the question: whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to accept the mystery and the inevitability of total failure, or to take arms against a sea of questions and by opposing solve them.’ That was the question. Fat lot of good my degree got me, besides misusing Shakspeare. I hailed another taxi. This was costing me. Probably, over time, more than it would’ve just to buy a car. But after the last one got impounded, I hadn’t had the heart. I asked the taxi driver if he know a hotel that fit the description ‘good natured.’ He said he knew a lot of very good hotels that were staffed with friendly people. I told him that didn’t sound right. There had to be just one for the puzzle to make sense.
Unless I was looking at it wrong?
No. I’d keep going this way.
“What’s the biggest park in the city?” I asked. It would have the most “nature.”
“Oh, I know that one,” the man said. “Pelham Bay Park, in the Bronx.”
I nodded, and realized he couldn’t see me. “Take me there.”
~ ~ ~
        Half an hour of driving later, threading our way at dangerously high speeds through the traffic of sunset New York City, we finally arrived at Pelham Bay Park. A few minutes of walking later, and I stood along Park Drive where it split and bellied out into an eye and iris shape, the inner iris surrounding a circle of largely empty green grass, before the eye closed again and the road joined again. Just inside the inner circle of road was a circular path of dark square stones. Inside that second ring, trees dotted the bright green grass, and a few bushes stuck up here and there.
        I stepped onto the stone path, and then past it, and closed my eyes, pressing my fingers to them.
        “Fateor.”
        I felt another loss, and even more tired. I would sleep like a log tonight, but right now I was still awake enough to function. That was all that mattered. I opened my eyes and looked around.
        Hovering above the flat path-stones in a ring around the green were huge monolithic stones, like the ones found at Stonehenge. Across the tops of a few of them leaned other stones, forming a stone burial circle. I turned and looked at the center of the green again. Above a ring of bushes a tower hovered about five feet off the ground. It was roughly twenty feet in diameter, black against the sky and rising to a point some hundred and fifty feet in the air. It cast no shadow, like the monoliths. At the base was an open archway, with spiral stairs twisting up and away into its shadowy bulk.
        Large letters, engraved in some gothic script above the flagstone, announced this message:
“HOTEL FOR THE DEAD. SEEK ASYLUM HERE.”
        It was almost night now. The last fading streaks of sunlight shone on the waters of the small lake between the park and the rest of the peninsula. I could feel the magic stronger now, creeping up and down my spine, insistent. This magic felt cold and ancient. Hotel for the Dead indeed.
        And then, on the horizon, I saw Helios, in all his shining glory, rocketing up on a trail of flame and light, then arcing down toward the Hotel. Against the darkening sky he was as bright or brighter than the fading sun — but something was wrong. I, like an innumerable number of New York City residents, had seen him many times, during the day, rocketing about on whatever business he was on, beating back some new demon, or protecting us from some invasion of Deep Ones and followers of Dagon from the sea. I knew what his trail and his flight should look like, and this wasn’t it. There was a pale and sickly glow to his light, and he flew slowly, falteringly, more like someone gliding after their engines have stalled than the bright and joyful and powerful flight I had always seen.
As he approached and his features resolved into something I could see, he lowered down towards the ground, and barely missed the floating monoliths as he glided to the ground, his final landing met with a soft “thump” in the grass. He looked tired. Was he dying? Was that the decay that the paper had mentioned?
I knew that guess was wrong a moment later.
Just outside the ring of monoliths, I heard a voice. Whispering at first, it grew louder and louder.
AT THE END OF TIME END OF TIME END OF TIME.... DECAY HAS COME AS IT DOES TO ALL THINGS DECAY DECAY DECAY DECAY
It chanted. It took me a moment to realize that it was not speaking these words, but whispering them into my brain. I shuddered and shrunk back behind the trunk of a nearby tree, hiding myself in the darkness. The sun was nearly set now, only a tiny sliver left on the horizon. The darkness was coming.
I looked around, but still couldn’t see DECAY.
I looked at Helios. He looked shocked and tired. It was clear that he couldn’t fly anymore. Suddenly, one of the monoliths, propped atop two others, cracked with a resounding thunderclap. I nearly screamed. Then, one of the two halves was raised into the air as easily as a styrofoam replica, and hurled at Helios. He raised his hands weakly and caught it, but before he could lower it to the ground, the other one hurtled at him, and slammed into him. His cry of pain was sepulchral, seeming to emanate from the stones around him as he was forced back, back, back, making a deep trench in the lovely green grass before he finally stopped at the base of one of the other monoliths, legs trapped. Why wasn’t he fighting back? He still had his strength, it seemed... but where was it going? What had happened to him? His glow was fading still, more sickly and pale than before.
THE SUN SETS ALWAYS AND ALL THINGS MUST EVENTUALLY DIE DIE DIE DIE, DECAY said.
“I’m an immortal,” Helios said, trying to summon his strength. He raised both fists and struck the boulder that laid atop his lower half, breaking it in two and forcing his way out between the halves. “You’re not supposed to kill me. It is not the way.”
WAY WAY WAY WAY DECAY DECAY DECAY DECAY EVEN WAYS DECAY, SUN GOD
I looked around, but still couldn’t see DECAY. Helios raised his hands and fired beams of light out of them in a semicircle above the tops of the monoliths, which stood silent in the darkness, sentinels abstaining, witnesses observing, a tribunal judging.
There was a laugh, but nothing else. Helios turned and fired at the other semicircle, then spread his hands and let out a blast of energy in a circle around him. Finally, a cry of pain, a shriek belonging to a bat or some strange night-bird, a shriek that called back all the strange and fearsome, frightening sounds that I had ever heard in my childhood, the feeling of huddling under blankets at midnight, after a nightmare, sure I had heard something. I let out a small cry of fear.
Helios looked straight at me, as if he could see right through the darkness and the tree.
“Mortal witness, I entreat your help. Your reward will be generous.”
There was that cackling laughter again.
MORTAL MORTAL MORTAL it said. YOU ARE AFRAID A COWARD TOO WEAK AND SCARED.
I was never a brave man. In fact, right then, I was shaking in my boots. I might have pissed myself, if I’m honest. But if there’s one thing I couldn’t take, it was being called weak. I’m probably the strongest magician on the East coast, and I spent a lot of time and effort getting that good. Plus, I didn’t want to see Helios die. That didn’t seem right. So I unbuttoned my coat, letting it fall down to my sides like a true magician’s cloak, took out my wand, and flicked it to full length, feeling it sizzle in my hand and grow warm. Almost too hot to hold, but not quite.
I now knew ‘whither Helios at nightfall.’ It wasn’t pretty.
I stepped out from behind the tree.
That was a mistake.
DECAY broke off a thousand tiny spikes from one of the monoliths, and sent them whistling through the air at me like a million bullets. I dodged to the side, back behind the tree, and then out on the other side as the thick “thunk”-ing sounds told me the missiles had been neutralized. On the other side, I pointed my wand at the sky, standing firm with my legs apart. I would have to stand still for a bit with this one, but DECAY seemed to attack slowly. This was a chance worth taking.
“Fulgur vocantur!” I shouted. Lightning crackled down from the dark sky in a huge ladder as thick as a tree trunk, like a crack in the sky with a thousand little cracks branching off. It connected to the tip of my wand. I felt the power flow through me, grounding me.
Then, I pointed my wand at the monolith where the missiles had been separated from and released the lightning.
“Fulgar illud oppugnat!”
It shot out, bright as the sun and brighter than Helios, and found its mark. A great wail of pain went up as I dodged out of the way of another shower of rock missiles. I rolled to a crouching halt behind a tree that was more bush than not.
“He is wherever he strikes from last!” I shouted. Helios nodded, and sent a blast of pale energy to the place where the last shower of missiles had come from. But before his blast could reach, the rocks reshaped themselves into a shield.
We’d need to get more creative.
As Helios dodged back and forth, avoiding the shower of hailstones, skirting around the Hotel of the Dead, and firing back at wherever DECAY         last attacked from, I pondered. Then I got up.
“Omnes hostes mei videbo,” I said quietly, so that it couldn’t hear me.
I felt the power go out of me again. Now I was really exhausted, as if I hadn’t slept at all last night. The hangover didn’t help, but I managed to blink the blurriness away and look carefully into the darkness. Sure enough, spinning away in a cloud of un-matter, was DECAY.
It was a thing that was fundamentally impossible to describe, like something that had negative volume, a collapsing hole in reality that nonetheless had width and height and depth. Volume in the shape of a man with fingers almost as long as his forearms. Ladders like dark lightning flitted out from it, touching random adjacent objects, and the outline of the demon pulsed to some insane heartbeat. It was like no kind of demon I’d ever seen, nor a ghost or necromancer or anything else. I wondered if it was of the same species as Helios.
It didn’t really matter.
“Sphaera lutorum illud capit.”
I pointed my wand at the now-visible daemonic entity. Sure enough, a huge section of dirt underneath it peeled itself away from the ground, three feet thick and nine feet in width, more in height, slitted like a projection map so that when it folded around DECAY it formed a perfect sphere. I breathed a heavy sigh of relief. Good grammar pays off. That hadn’t been a memorized spell, just an off-the-cuff, shoot-from-the-hip attempt, and with those, if you made a mistake you never knew what could happen.
Don’t ever try a future-tense spell, kids.
The massive sphere of dirt held DECAY for a couple minutes, as I rushed to Helios’ side. Seeing him flying over the city hadn’t prepared me for his actual presence: he was almost absurdly tall, surely seven feet at least, and his build was definitely worthy of a god. About his head tisted and lashed a thousand tendrils of sunlight like solar flares, and he had a glowing aura around him. Just standing beside him it was hot, like standing next to a barbecue. He turned his deep-set eyes and bearded face on me.
“What is this thing?”
“I don’t know.”
“What’s wrong with you?”
“That is not something a mortal should know.”
I felt a flash of frustration run through me, but I was too tired and winded to really care.
There was a sound of crumbling, and we turned around to face DECAY again. Or at least, I did. Helios peered slightly to its left. I didn’t have the time to format the grammar necessary for me to make him see using first-person phraseology. Irregular verbs are a bitch.
~ ~ ~
        We fought for hours. I slowly grew more and more tired, but Helios’ loss in power was outpacing my own. By midnight, he seemed to have lost all his power entirely: he was barely stronger than a normal man, and his aura seemed to have dissipated into the night-winds. Even his height seemed to shrink a little. He did what he could, but by one o’clock in the morning, I was carrying the fight alone.
        Has anyone ever described to you what it feels like to fight a god? I’m sure Diomedes could tell you, but he’s long-dead. So I’ll tell you: it's overwhelming. It’s like holding a conversation with someone twice as intelligent as you. Someone like John von Neumann. The kind of person who can read Tale of Two Cities and remember every word, or divide two eight-digit numbers in their head at age six. You struggle to keep up, words going over your head, you forget what they said a few seconds ago, and no matter how hard you try, the gap just gets bigger and bigger until you either have to give up and ask them to slow down, or in my case, just die.
        Every action I took had an opposite reaction all right, but it wasn’t equal. Some few minutes after my dirt-sphere exploit, DECAY switched from hurling rocks to just outright deleting things from existence, pointing one of those terrifying long fingers and pronouncing his sentence like the will of some omnipotent Judge.
        A few hours after that he disappeared from view again, shifting to some new plane of reality that my improvised sight spell couldn’t follow. I didn’t even know that was possible. Veritas spells were supposed to be theoretically omnipotent! I kept at it though, hiding behind the Hotel of the Dead and using area-of-effect spells to catch him so he couldn’t dodge away. They weren’t as effective but that was all I could do. Helios looked on, occasionally offering what advice he could, but he was clearly used to relying on his godborn abilities and not veritas magic.
        A few hours after that, DECAY reappeared, seeming to have exhausted whatever was keeping him hidden. I had run out of different energy spells to try, since none of them seemed to have any lasting damage, and switched to just trying to defend us. The monolith circle, as damaged as it was, was a strong focal-point of defensive magic, linked to the souls of those who had died unable to seek asylum, and those who had died and granted their magic to the asylum itself in gratitude. I l  inked the power of my shield spells to them, and was able to delay DECAY’s advance for an hour.
        By now the fight had been going for eight hours — eight sleepless hours, on top of the lack of sleep caused by using first-person spells. I couldn’t go on much longer. I put up another death shield, smaller this time. We had to huddle in the doorway of the Hotel of the Dead, since the shield anchored to it barely extended a foot beyond its own hovering bulk. That held for another hour, probably the most frightening of my life: DECAY stood at the door of the hotel, massive spindly hands spread over the shield itself, muttering, faceless head peering in on us as we waited to die.
        But, just as the second death shield was falling, the sun began to rise. I first noticed when the space we were huddling in began to get brighter and brighter, as the first colorful rays of done shone out over the lack behind DECAY, who stood as a black cut-out in reality before the scenic view. I was just glad I would see the sun rise one more time before I died.
        And then I looked to my right. Helios was glowing again, his aura gaining strength by the second. He stretched out an arm, palm flat facing outward, and just as the death shield he let loose a pale blast of energy, knocking DECAY back several yards. He grabbed my arm and we jumped out of the tower.
        His full power wasn’t back yet, but it was returning. With him at my side we were able to beat DECAY back to the water: even the daemon-Titan himself was beginning to fatigue from the protracted battle.
        The battle only lasted a few hours more. By ten o’clock in the morning, four hours after the sun had risen, Helios was at a normal level of power — not as powerful as I’d seen him those days when he flew over the city around lunchtime, when the sun was highest in the sky, but he was powerful enough to send DECAY packing. He rose up into the sky, sunbursts of energy curling out in jubilance, brilliant arcs and curls of sunfire. Great gouts of flame licked out at DECAY, streaks and beams of fire, balls of it, weapons and shields made of plasma and magnetic fields. DECAY was driven first into the lake, and then back into the depths he came from.
        Finally, when all was done, Helios landed next to me where I sat, exhausted and disheveled, covered in sweat, my coat missing, head in my hands, on a park bench. He sat down beside me.
        “You did well, Dan White of The Weekly Sun. You are a brave warrior, worthy of being a demigod.”
        I grunted in appreciation.
        He patted me on the back.
        “Would you like a ride back to your house?” he asked.
        “You have a car around here?”
        “No. But I can fly.”
        It was a good day after all. The story made the front page.

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