I’m just getting back in the swing of things after a week away in the blistering heat of Southern California’s high desert. Although the blaring sun nearly fried my brain, I’m still gearing up for the release of The Trials of Hercules on 18 October and piquing your interest by providing interviews with the characters and a peek behind the stories that inspired the book.

This week, we’ll take a snarky look at the myth of Hercules’s second labor in which he battles a nasty water monster. To give you an idea of how I’m turning these rather lifeless myths into an action-packed novel, I’ve provided an excerpt from the book below.

The Myth

The hydra was a fearsome serpent who lived in a swamp in Lerna and who had a nasty habit of waking up every now and then to ravage the countryside. With nine heads, a mouthful of teeth and poisonous venom, you pretty much tried to stay out her way.

Eurystheus sends Hercules off to kill the hydra. Deciding that he could use some help against the creature, Herc takes along Iolalus who is Hercules’s nephew or cousin in some sources, and just a very reliable friend in other sources.

Hercules and the Hydra, (c. 1475) by Antonio Pollaiuolo - note the lion skin he's wearing.
Hercules and the Hydra, (c. 1475) by Antonio Pollaiuolo – note the lion skin he’s (barely) wearing.

The two set off to Lerna, but the hydra doesn’t want to play and holes up in a cave – hydras can be a bit anti-social. Hercules sends a few calling cards in the forming of flaming arrows and the hydra comes out to see her visitors. Unfortunately, as you might guess, she doesn’t like being disturbed and is in a foul mood so, using her snaky tail, she yanks Herc up by his foot. This doesn’t stop our intrepid hero who proceeds to take a few whacks at some of the hydra’s heads.

That’s when he realizes he’s got a bit of a problem.

Each head he smashes sprouts two more heads. Luckily, he brought along a friend and also lucky that Athena just happens to step in every time Herc has a sticky situation. She tells Iolalus to use a torch to cauterize the wounds to prevent new heads from popping up (in some sources he comes up with the idea on his own).

With this bash and burn method, Herc and Iolalus manage to conquer their watery foe. Upon returning home, Eurythesus (weenie that he is) says the labor doesn’t count because it was Iolalus who truly defeated the hydra. Thanks to tricks like this, although Hercules was originally assigned ten tasks, in the myths he ends up doing twelve.

In the Book…

The battle against the hydra occurs in Chapter 11 of The Trials of Hercules and is told through the viewpoint of Iolalus. If you need an orientation to who’s who or the layout of Osteria, please explore The World of Osteria. Although this excerpt starts about a third of the way into Chapter 11, it is a bit long, so I’ll just let you jump into it…

I don’t know what kind of establishment Iole is running at the House of Hera, but her horses and chariots are built for the long distance races Portaceae once held. I have vague memories of attending the races as a boy, but not like the older people of the polis. They can still recount moment by moment the excitement of the races in which each lap was a battle. A single race lasted twelve laps at break neck speeds around the mile-long track on which riders fought for the best position to clear the hairpin turns. It was as much a test of the horses’ speed as the riders’ bravado.

Once Eury took the Solonship, it wasn’t long before the track fell into disrepair and the pounding of hooves drove ruts and holes into the surface that was supposed to be smoothed after every race. When race after race saw champion Astorian horses bred by Poseidon himself breaking legs or suffering career-ending injuries, the horse owners abandoned the lame steeds and refused to bring their mounts to any race in Portaceae.

These Herene horses could be those abandoned steeds or at least their offspring. Once outside the city gates, we let them fly and they never flag over the journey north. They even pull against the reins to go faster. When we dare to let them set their own pace, the chariots glide over the road like a sleek boat on a placid lake. Just as racing chariots were designed to absorb shock and reduce the strain on the driver, so are the ones Herc and I have our feet planted on—they may even be the same chariots that once whipped around Portaceae City’s racetrack. As I lean into the padding along the chariot’s front edge, I doubt even Eury’s carriage provides a more comfortable or more exhilarating ride.

Thanks to its lack of use, the Lerna Road hasn’t been rutted by the hooves of horses or the wheels of carts and remains in good enough condition to allow the horses to speed along. We’re making excellent time, but the perfection of the morning is ruined by low clouds settling down into a thin fog. The moisture and wind race over me and chill my skin. When an uncontrollable shivering takes hold, I’m forced to slow my horse and wrap my cloak tight around my shoulders. Herc, who has his chariot alongside mine, also slows.

I have only vague memories of a time when the Lerna District was populated and those memories may only have been formed from tales my grandfather told me about the area. As with other poli, Portaceae is divided into districts such as Nemea to the east, Augea to the south, and the now-defunct Lerna to the north. The Solon cannot be expected to be everywhere at once—especially not a Solon as incapable at the job as Eury—so each district has a governor who manages the land, collects rents from tenants, and serves as judge.

My grandfather had made a point to tour his polis once each year, sometimes twice. Each visit to the Lerna District added to his realization that the district could not continue. The water monster was driving residents, farmers, and merchants from the area. On top of desirable people leaving, bounties on the monster’s head attracted too many undesirables who developed their own version of the law and did not hunt fairly. They poisoned the lake and fashioned homemade grenades that destroyed all the wetland fauna except the monster they were after—the monster that ended up being given the name of the dying district. Angered over their lack of success, the bounty hunters turned on each other and those few people still residing in the district.

With every attack on her home, Lerna became meaner. With the easy pickings of men distracted by brawling one another, she grew larger and stronger than ever before. Once the poachers were gone, Lerna turned to devouring the travelers and traders trying to pass through the district on their way to Portaceae City. The governor pleaded with my grandfather saying the district was impossible to manage, the swampy land was good for little, and Lerna had clearly staked her claim. Reluctantly, my grandfather agreed, rehoused those who still lived in the area, and began a public works project so travelers would no longer have to pass through the district.

Lerna was a legend in herself. When people still traveled to Portaceae, the two best-selling souvenir postcards they purchased were those featuring drawings of the Herene peacocks and those sporting a rendering of Lerna. She is a part of Portaceae’s identity, but for Herc and me to survive, this day will have to be her last.

The sun, visible only as a gauzy spot of yellow through the low clouds, is already past its midday height when the worn roadside sign that warns travelers to go no further comes into view. With his horse hobbled in the field beyond the muck of the swamp, Altair warms himself near a fire he’s built on the road. When he sees us, he picks up his camera and trains it on us.

“Do you think Iole likes watching you in that chariot?” I ask.

“Iole is a Herene. She has a vow of chastity to uphold. Their virginity protects the polis.”

“From the state of Portaceae, I think one or two of the Herenes haven’t stuck to their vows. Besides, I don’t think Iole would mind risking the wrath of Hera for you.”

Herc tells me to shut up, but I don’t miss the twitch at the corners of his mouth as he tries to suppress a grin. We slow the horses to a stop.

“Gods be with you, Altair. How are your children?” Herc asks as he reaches for Altair’s hand and shakes it in greeting.

“And with you. They are well. Quite well. But my wife is feeling ill. Probably just some bad meat from the butcher.”

“How long have you been here?” I ask looking to the fire.

“Since early morning. Fog always gives me a chill. The road was the only dry place to build a fire.” He looks sheepishly between Herc and I probably worried that, as vigiles, we will insist he adhere to laws regarding campfires.  “Should I put it out?” He clicks off the camera.

“No, it’s not as if anything in this swamp would burn anyway,” I say. Herc and I step out of the chariots. When I take my first step, I sway as if walking on the deck of ship caught in a storm. After being on the chariot, the ground feels like it’s still moving under me. Altair’s horse whinnies to ours as we work to release them from the chariots. Once the horses are hobbled and dining on dew-soaked grass, Herc and I gather our weapons and Altair grabs his camera.

The Lerna Road ends at the sign and as we continue beyond the warning, the grassy field changes over to tall reeds and the ground squishes under our feet. The horses’ nickering to one another echoes off a steep rock face, but other than their calls, the area is silent. Even at midday, the fog that gathers over the lake is thick enough to block most of the sun’s warmth.

“She’s been in there since I arrived,” Altair says pointing to a deep cave in the rock wall. “I’ve been checking the area out since I got here. The lake feeds into that cave. I’m not sure how far back the cavern goes, but you can see the size of it. The dikes have cut the lake off from the river just a bit north, but water has seeped into some of the lower areas to make sloughs. The sloughs and the rock face are catching this fog and making it stick.”

“And Lerna’s in the cave, you’re sure?” Herc asks.

“I could see the outline of something in there. It could be Lerna, it could be a boulder, but whatever it is hasn’t stirred and there’s been no movement to ripple the water.”

“Maybe she’s dead already.” I say.

“We don’t have time to find out. We need to get her out of there.”

Herc touches his chest, feeling for his vigile charm out of habit. All vigiles develop this ritual for good luck and, perhaps, for comfort. I’ve seen Herc do it more than once since giving up his charm and each time he drops his hand and shakes his head as if chastising himself for the superstitious gesture. He slips his bow from his shoulder and strides back to the fire.

“You may want to start filming,” I say as my hand drifts to my own chest and touches both the charms I now wear—Herc’s larger peacock with its clutch of a dozen arrows and my smaller peacock that grasps ten arrows. Altair hoists his camera onto his shoulder and clicks a button.

From his quiver, Herc selects several arrows with a black muck coating the spot between the shaft and the head. We don’t use this type of arrow often as vigiles—part of our job being to put out fires, not start them—but we do keep them on hand for Portaceae’s Founding Day. The arrows are dipped into a bonfire and then shot up into the air. With hundreds of vigiles doing it, the flaming arrows create a waterfall of fire that arcs into the river. Once I’d gotten old enough to get over my fear of swimming, I would go back the day after Founding Day to retrieve as many arrows as I could from the water. It was one of the few things I could do to impress Herc who has always been a poor swimmer.

Herc dips an arrow into the flames, notches it, aims for a fraction of a second and fires. Five more flaming arrows fly off in a span of only a moment. Each arrow lands in the cave, lighting the interior and hitting what is clearly not a boulder. Lerna, her moss-green hide glowing under the burning heads of the arrows, lets out a shrill call like the sound of a thousand hawks keening at once.

Lerna shows no sign of her age as she springs from her lair into the pool of the lake. She’s massive. Her body could house our three horses and the chariots with room to spare. She has no legs, but if rumors are to be believed, she can slither her body faster than a centaur can run. The end of her fat tail is tipped in rattles, which she shakes above the water line as she lashes her body back and forth. There’s no doubt the sound is a warning to back off.

I wonder how Herc can stand there, sizing her up as if she is simply another wrestling opponent. I’ve already taken several steps back without even noticing my feet were moving. I do not want to face this creature. My gut roils into a churning mess, not because of the rattling tail, but because of the horror at the other end.

Dear gods, the other end.

I hadn’t believed it even as a child, but there it is only a stone’s throw away from me hissing and screeching its anger. The neck, something the size of an oak tree, sprouts into nine thick branches topped with nine reptilian heads that snap, writhe, and twist against one another. Each time she lets out another hawkish cry, Lerna shows nine mouthfuls of jagged teeth that look as sharp as broken glass. At every moment no fewer than ten of the monster’s black eyes are fixed on us.

“Any ideas?” I ask.

“She can’t leave the water,” Herc observes. “She’s too big. She’ll suffocate under her own weight.”

“Then let’s get her out. Easy as can be.”

“There’s not time. It could take her a day or more to die and we can’t risk taking the blood with those heads still active.”

“So we cut off the heads.”

He gives me a grin of approval. “Exactly what I was thinking. Guard me.”

We drop our bows and arrows and loose our short swords. With a yell as if going into battle, Herc runs to the lake’s edge. He’s either betting on the element of surprise or he’s simply getting the deed over with quickly before having second thoughts. I chase after him, keeping to his side.

Lerna lunges out of the water at us but slithers back in as we swipe our blades at her. She isn’t going to be tricked into coming out of her habitat. Herc paces the edge of the lake in a crouched, cautious stance. He waves his sword in time with the heads’ rhythmic swaying. I understand what he’s doing—judging the timing to make a strike—but have no idea how he intends to reach any one of the necks. My own eyes flick to each one of the reptilian heads. I ready my sword to attack if any of them makes a lunge toward my cousin.

“The tail,” Altair shouts.

I jerk my head, but the warning has come a moment too late. I curse myself for my stupidity of ignoring the old girl’s hind end. Her tail has slithered around to only a hand’s breadth from Herc’s leg.

“Herc, back up,” I yell.

Herc takes a step, but the tail is already flying like a whip. It snaps out straight, the end giving off a sharp rattle like hail on a thin roof. In less than a heartbeat, the tail coils around Herc’s leg. In another whip-like move, Lerna yanks the tail up, dangling Herc in front of her heads.

I rush forward, but can do nothing. The creature is too far out of reach. Herc doesn’t pause a moment. His sword slashes out each time the tail swings him near a head. His third attempt connects with a neck and one of the heads tumbles into the water below. As Herc lets out a triumphant holler, the monster gives another of her piercing shrieks while she writhes and splashes about. Her distraction and movement allows Herc the chance to slice off two more heads in quick succession. The air fills

with the scent of her blood—a smell that reminds me of rotting cherries.

I dart forward with my sword ready, but before I can aim a blow my sword plops into the mud at my feet. I scramble to pick it up, but can’t take my eyes off the sight before me.

From each of the stumps left by Herc’s sword, two heads emerge. Starting as buds bubbling out of the blood that pulses in time with Lerna’s heart, the buds stretch up like bean sprouts reaching for light. In little time the hideous things are fully formed with snapping mouths filled with shards of teeth.

I don’t know if Herc notices the regeneration or not. If he does, my cousin is an idiot because he continues hacking and hollering until there are fifteen heads dancing around him.

One head has to control the others. All fifteen can’t lead or Lerna would be pulled in more than a dozen directions at once with every move she makes. But if the lead head is cut, will she die or will another take over as leader? The only sure option will be to cut all the heads off, but that is proving impossible as new ones keep growing from the fresh wounds.

Fresh wounds. Can that be it?

My chain of thought is broken by a scream of pain. One of the heads, apparently tired of playing, has bitten Herc’s leg leaving ragged wounds across his thigh. His face pulled tight in anger, Herc lifts back his sword to cut the head off.

“Herc, stop,” I yell. “Wait.”

“Wait? Wait for what?”

“Look about you.” Herc scans his opponent. Realization and then fear sprout on his face as heads pop up from Lerna’s wounds. “No more cutting,” I tell him. He lowers his sword as he swings past me.

“No problem. I’ll just hang out.”

I sprint back to the chariots and grab our clubs. I rip the padding off the front of the vehicles and lash it onto the top of the clubs with the lacing from my boots.

At the fire, I dip the clubs into the low flames as I kick off my loose boots. The dry padding catches fire instantly, but, without pitch on hand, I can only hope the makeshift torches will stay lit. I rush to the lake’s edge shifting both clubs into one hand as I run. As I was taught to do as a boy and perfected in vigile training, I leap from the ground to mount Lerna imagining her as the meanest, ugliest horse I’ve ever ridden. Unfortunately, I’ve never been trained to leap onto a horse’s back while clutching two flaming clubs and don’t make as perfect a landing as I’d hoped. Just as I’m righting myself, a head swings down at me and snaps with its shattered-glass teeth. I tilt sideways. It misses but the mouth is so close I can see the glint of fish scales on the jagged teeth. With my thighs clenched tight, I use my elbows to grip Lerna’s scaly trunk of a neck and pull myself up.

“What are you doing?” Herc asks as he swings by me. From hanging upside down, his face has become a swollen eggplant.

“Wait to cut until I give the word.” I continue crawling up Lerna’s neck, thankful for her rough, gnarled skin that gives me a foothold even as it grates at the flesh on my legs and arms. I push away the worry of what will happen if her vile blood drips into my wounds.

Once to the top of her main neck, it’s like being in a den of giant snakes. My skin crawls and I pray to whatever gods have given rise to this creature that I’m up far enough without being in the path of Herc’s sword. I hold tight with my thighs leaving both hands free to wield the torches.

“Now!” I shout.

Herc hacks through one, two, three heads with one stroke.

“Hold!” I yell. Herc stays his hand.

As quick as I can, I jab the flames into the wounds. The sizzling flesh and blood stink of burning vinegar. I pinch my lips tight to keep any spatters out of my mouth.

Lerna screeches and bucks. Still holding the torches, I fling my arms around her. She whips her heads back and forth attempting to knock me off, but years of horseback riding have given me the strength to ride this thrashing serpent. Herc whizzes past me, his leg still bound tight by the tail.

“I think we pissed her off,” I joke as Herc makes another pendulum swing past me. He laughs. And then his laughter is falling away from me. Lerna has released her tail’s grip.

Herc crashes into the lake. The heads, snapping the entire time, plunge in after him. I hold tight as I ride the neck and keep the torches as high as possible so the splashing water won’t extinguish them. My grip digs one of the torches into the old girl’s skin and she rears up. Her heads gnash aimlessly trying to latch onto whatever has burned her.

The distraction gives Herc time to struggle to shore. He’s bleeding from the bite in his leg and from wounds on his arms as well as from his back where the gashes from the lion have reopened. The heads regain their interest in my cousin and dive forward after him.

Herc spins around. Without taking a single breath to think, he readies his sword as one of the heads careens toward him. He swings once, removes one head, then takes another one on the back swing. I grapple toward the stumps. Two fists of growth emerge from the pulsing blood of the first wound. My stomach churns at the overwhelming foul fruit stench. When a newly formed black eye opens, I cram the flaming club into it. Before the second stump can begin its growth, I sear it shut with the other club.

“Don’t cut more than two at a time,” I say. It’s only by the luck of the gods that the clubs are still burning and I fear to guess how much longer that luck will hold. I want to hurry, but I also don’t want to face more heads than already threaten us if I can’t close the gashes from Herc’s sword.

Herc cuts and I cauterize until after what seems like days, only two heads remain. Old Lerna has stopped her shrieking. Instead, the heads howl a lament to each other. Despite all, the sound tugs at me. I want to leave her. She’s done nothing to deserve this.

Without warning, Herc cuts. One head splashes into the lake and I race to cauterize the neck. In my sorrow for the creature, I’ve loosened my hold on the clubs. Newly formed necks begin their sprout-like growth as I scramble to renew my grip on my torches. I manage to dip one of the flames into the regenerating flesh. Lerna jerks her remaining head back, grazing my head. I fumble, and the club slips out of my hand. With a reach that nearly unseats me, I narrowly catch the torch’s end in my fingertips. It isn’t enough. Lerna’s head whips back around knocking the flaming club from my fingers.

“Don’t cut. Don’t cut,” I yell.

There is no time to grieve the loss of the torch. Left alone, the final head of the old girl is not about to give up. It lunges toward Herc. He manages to leap back leaving her jaws snapping at the swamp. With her face in the muck, Herc hits at the head with the broad edge of his sword. The blows make Lerna jerk her head out of the lake, sending water spraying in every direction. Droplets rain down on me as I struggle to protect the remaining torch. It’s no use. The final flame sputters and hisses out.

With a curse that would make a centaur blush, I jump off Lerna’s back and land hard on a flat stone hidden by the mud. A thousand pins shoot through my legs. Ignoring the pain, I race to find a heavy stick that will work as a torch.

The whoosh of a blade sucks all sound from the air and locks my body in place. The world turns into an endless tunnel. From outside the tunnel I hear Herc curse and something heavy hit the ground. The tunnel squeezes tight and spits me back to the Lernean Swamp.

I spin around. The creature’s final head rests at Herc’s feet. Already buds are emerging from the bleeding neck that flops at the shoreline. My mind shouts at me to use my vigile training, to ignore my frustration and kick myself into action, but I’m too stunned to curse let alone react.

From behind me I hear an approaching yell. Out of the corner of my eye, a flame races toward me like a fireball from a catapult. Faster than I would have imagined his stick legs could carry him, Altair flies past me and plunges a burning log into Lerna’s neck. All the while he manages to hold tight to the strap of his camera. Even after the wound has sizzled shut, he yells and jabs the flame into the old girl’s final stump again and again. A wave laps to the shore dousing the flame which finally silences our cameraman. Staggering back from the water, Altair sucks in deep gulps of air keeping his eyes and camera fixed on what he has done.

Old Lerna’s body collapses in a heap sending out ripples across the body of the lake. The final head’s black eye still stares up at us, watching us. The eye blinks a few more times, each time it opens a little less. My throat tightens when the eye opens no more.

In an unsteady voice Herc says, “We need to collect the blood before it won’t flow and before she sinks into the muck.”

Standing knee deep in the mud Lerna’s thrashing has churned up, we make small cuts into the side of Lerna’s lifeless body and arrange the water skins in rows. Using the hollow reeds that grow around the lake as taps, we fill skin after skin with the thick, rotten cherry-scented blood.

Altair, his hands still trembling, clicks off his camera.

“Done filming?” Herc asks.

“I think they got enough of a show.”

Herc then gathers all the arrows from our quivers and dips them in a pool of blood at the end of one of the reeds. Once he has coated them all, we work together to shove Lerna’s body into the lake where it bobs for several moments before the water swallows her whole.

As a final gesture of respect for our foe, we bury Lerna’s last head in the field beyond the lake.

“Good bye, Old Lerna,” Herc says with a shaky voice. “You were a worthy foe even if you didn’t deserve to die.”

“Hera protect Portaceae,” Altair and I mutter.

“Let’s get these skins to our Solon,” Herc says. His words boil with disgust.

We load the chariots and fit the horses back into their harnesses. Herc tosses my boots to me and I slip them over my muddy feet before climbing into my chariot. The faint orb of sun that shines through the clouds is still two hand widths above the horizon so we don’t hurry our way back. The three of us ride in silence the full distance.

With the cloud cover and our somber moods, we pay no heed to how quickly the sun dips into the horizon. Too late I realize we should have given the horses free rein. By the time we reach the gate to the city, the tender has already pulled his heavy iron bars across the city’s main entrance. We race toward him.

“Hold,” I yell. “Hold the gate.”

Two vigiles step out holding spears as the gate tender, a portly man of about fifty, continues working the crank.

“You’re late,” the left vigile says. “Gates are shut at sunset. Your business will have to wait until dawn.”

“You idiot, Odysseus,” I shout. Even in the low evening light I can’t miss his smooth Illamosian accent. “Open the gate or I’ll give orders for the centaurs to bugger you until you shit ponies.”

“Iolalus?” Odysseus asks and then starts laughing. We’d served patrol duty on Portaceae’s outskirts only three months ago and passed the time seeing which of us could come up with the most outlandish punishments. My one about the ponies left him conceding defeat and for days after, he would laugh at the oddest moments as he muttered, “Shit ponies.” 

“Tender, open the gate. It’s our new commander and—” He jerks to a rigid vigile stance and then bows low. “My apologies, Commander Dion, I should have recognized you.”

Herc shifts uncomfortably on the chariot platform and his unease passes through to his horse who begins tossing his head and tugging on the reins. “It’s fine. Just open the gates, if you will.”

With a look of annoyance etched on his face, the tender hauls the gate back open. As we ride through, the vigiles bow again to us.

Once through the gates, Altair says his goodbyes and Herc and I wind our way through the city to the road that will take us up the hill to Eury’s ridiculously large estate. As we pass through Portaceae City, the streets are strangely quiet and the metal-rimmed wheels of the chariots clatter as loud as thunder over the cobbles. Even on the cloudiest summer evening people usually mill about gossiping and sharing samples of their latest batch of fruit wine. Tonight, the streets are empty. A few faces peek out of windows and give us a cheery thumbs up, but they duck back inside as soon as they’ve caught our eye.

Once up the hill, we guide the chariots to the courtyard. Eury, who must have seen our approach, stands at the entry to the yard with two men dressed in olive green tunics and hardened leather chest plates embossed with crossed swords. Military dress for the vigiles of Ares’ polis.

“Herc, Iolalus,” Eury greets us with false warmth as we step out of the chariots. We must look like monsters ourselves. Herc is covered in his own blood, and Lerna’s scales have scraped me from chest to calf. To top off the effect, my tunic is tatters and my feet are caked in dried mud and half shod in unlaced boots.

Herc and I haul the skins from the chariots, piling them at Eury’s feet. After dropping the final one Herc says, “Your delivery, Excellency. Consider this task complete.”

Eury’s false smile transforms into a vicious grin.

“I don’t think so, cousins.”

“We destroyed the serpent and took her blood as you asked,” I protest. My arm twitches, ready to punch Eury in the face.

“You didn’t complete it. Remember, I was watching. All of Portaceae was watching. Seems the real hero of the day is that cameraman. He dealt the final blow, not you.”

I lunge toward Eury, but Herc grabs hold of me.

“So we die?” I ask struggling against Herc’s arms. “We do this, we kill that poor beast and we still die. You’re a bastard.”

“No,” Eury says, his face composed but wary. “I think our cousin still holds that title. Now, I’m busy. Go back to that house of frigidity and get cleaned up. You’re disgusting.”

“And our lives?” Herc asks.

Eury turns. He raises his eyebrows and curls his lips in a condescending sneer.

“Are still in my hands.”

* * *