03.Vessels


I have spread my dreams under your feet; tread softly because you tread on my dreams


W.B. Yeats, He wishes for the Cloths of Heaven


I


In the end, all Artemis had to do was follow the sound of a stream. No one intercepted her, she encountered no guards.

She walked towards the opposite direction of where she thought she had to go, away from the Houses and the Training Grounds, deep into a grotto that felt strangely familiar.

 

Old whispers caressed her ears, and she felt, to her chagrin, very much at home.

Five years is too long, how could anything compare? The whole land talks to me there, this... this is just a placebo...

 

(... You chose...)

 

She took a deep breath and leaned against one of the trees. The grotto led to a small forest, in which she could find all of her favourite trees. She even caught sight of her birds.

 

She cursed. She should have taken the usual route, or barged in right in the middle of Athena’s speech.

 

Pain spread over her chest and her scars, of which she had many, ached.

 

Breathe, she told herself. Someday you’ll be called back.

 

(... Then leave. You are not fit for this task. You are undeserving...)

 

The voices of those she loved echoed in her ears. The forest reminded her so much of home that she was certain she could see their figures hiding between the trunks.

 

(... never come back...)

 

Small trip, to see my sister. Then it’s back to... to somewhere. That’s all this is.

 

That’s all there is. One day at a time. That’s how we got to five years.

 

Arcade nuzzled her hand and she smiled at him. “I know. It brings back memories.”

 

The wolf suddenly looked behind them and growled, ready to attack. Artemis’ bow and arrows appeared between her fingers and she turned, ready to shoot.

“I’m not your enemy, unless you want me to be,” she said.

 

She had only had contact with the Saints a handful of times, and she had had to repeat that phrase time after time. They were so... touchy.

 

“I know,” Athena said, approaching her. She was flanked by two masked women and a man. Warriors, all of them. Artemis couldn’t stop herself from measuring them, an old habit. One of the girls was a trainee, she was nervous and afraid and was unable to hide it. Easy prey.

The other two...

 

He’s a Gold Saint, the man with the mask. The woman is not to be underestimated either. If it comes to it, who should I shoot first? Not Athena, that’s for last.

 

Her mind raced, used to being aware of her surroundings and assessing her situation. Hunt or be hunted, that had been her life, for the last five years.

 

The man first. Then the woman. Then Athena. The youngest one would be a waste, she can live, for another day.

 

“Arcade, stay back,” she ordered her wolf. She didn’t stop pointing her arrow.

“I’m glad you are here,” the small woman added, motioning at her Saints to let her through. The Gold Saint tried to dissuade her, but finally obeyed.

Once, Artemis would have had people around her as well, just as overprotective even when perhaps not that obedient. It was strange to see that, mirrored in the behaviour between Athena and her saints.

 

This trip was a bad idea, she found herself thinking, once again, as she lowered her bow.

It is going to hurt.

 

“Welcome to Sanctuary,” Athena said, placing her hands over hers. “It’s good to have you here.”

Artemis looked into the woman’s eyes, finding so much strength in them. Something had changed with her, since the last time she had contacted her, at the hospital. She looked far more confident and regal.

Like a goddess should look.

 

“Stranger things,” she found herself saying, the slightest smile on her lips.

 

Stay for a few days, then get the hell out of here, she warned herself. Don’t trust her. This is not for you.

 

II

 

The rumour spread like fire, and by morning, everyone in Sanctuary knew that in the old shrine behind the grotto, there was a visitor. A strange woman, who travelled with a huge black beast and had managed to enter Sanctuary’s grounds undetected.

A witch. A Goddess.


Athena’s land, which was barely recovering from so many ills, didn’t know what to make of it. For most, she was another tragedy about to happen. One more God to stand against them, this time infiltrating them from inside.

To a few, she was a puzzle, an anomaly. If she wasn’t an enemy, then why was she there? Which reason had brought her to Sanctuary?


The small number that had met her before were at odds. They hadn’t seen her, in a very long time. The person she had become was a mystery to them. One of them was pleasantly surprised, certain that there was little to fear, for the woman had always been curious and moved to a beat of her own. Another preferred to stay away. He considered her a trigger, someone that could see into others and bring whatever she had found into the light, where many things shouldn’t be.


The last one wanted her gone. Artemis was unreliable and a liar, and could not be trusted.

They were all correct.


III


 

It wasn’t strange, after a week, to catch glimpses of Artemis figure walking with her wolf around Sanctuary. She dined with Athena, in her chambers, and stayed in the shrine during the night, but during the afternoon she was known to wander, followed by the trainee that had been assigned to assist her during her stay.

She was not an accepted presence, but slowly she was growing into a tolerated one. So it came to no surprise when Eris, the other Goddess staying in Athena’s land, asked for her presence.

What surprised many was that Athena agreed. Was that a display of trust on her part? And if so, towards whom? The stranger or the prisoner? From outside, it was hard to tell.

“Tell us all.” Eris grinned, knowing the woman wouldn’t answer. Artemis was worse than Athena when it came to gossiping. All silent and broody. She hated to say it, but she preferred Saori.

“So you can use it against me, Discord? No, that’s not going to happen,” she replied, looking through the window, at the Saint guarding the comfortable temple Ares’ sister now lived in.


Bastard-sister doesn’t like us, Eris thought, unsurprised.


“You know, I had heard about you speaking like that. Do you both lie about the same things?”

‘’ We don’t lie, we just say the truths no one wants to hear ‘’ she replied, ignoring Artemis’ questioning. It wasn’t her fault that Ellie’s soul had become so strong nor that that Eris’ soul had weakened so much. It was just how things had ended up being. They shared a body. They shared their strengths. They fought their weaknesses together.

‘’ Like you sleeping with a Saint? He looks shattered.‘’

‘’ We like broken ones. And stop reading his aura ‘’ she replied, frowning.

‘’ He hates the other ones... and yet he was able to endear himself to you... perhaps there’s more to his fate than what it seems... ‘’

‘’ Yamero ‘’ Eris got up and closed the window, staring right into Artemis’ eyes.

‘’ I thought you wanted to gossip.‘’

‘’Not really. You just made us wonder. You’ve always been a very isolated creature, who kept herself out of the intrigues of her relatives, so much so that we never considered playing with you. Such a bore. But now you are here. We wonder why. Just to say hi to your Olympic half-sisters or to tease the mortal woman whose past you envy? ‘’

Eris noticed the anger in Artemis’ eyes at her words.


You fall too easily into provocations, bastard-sister.

“We know of those things, we can smell them, those little issues that could cause glorious conflicts. You can tell us about them, you might not, there’s no difference. They are our playground.

“And we met one of your old dogs as well. How do you think we became like this? She was quite reasonable to be yours. No wonder another one stands in your place now.”

 

Eris saw the bile in Artemis eyes and delighted in it.

 

Ah, family. It’s always so easy to rattle them.

 

“Pentesilea.”

She noticed how hard it was for the huntress to mention that name, how foreign it seemed to her. Eris grinned again. She had always known how to bring the worst out of people.

“I’m surprised she didn’t kill you.”

“She judged us, but not under your orders. She said a greater one stands in your place. And with her there, you mean nothing. You are nothing,” Eris continued pressing on, reading further and further into the other goddess’ soul, picking all those little things no one usually paid attention, and which, in her hands, could become deadlier than any dagger.

“They don’t want you,” she whispered faintly in her ear, closing the space between them. She took Artemis’ left hand in hers and followed the path of the white scar that crossed her palm with her index

“No one does, not even the one you care so much about”

Eris’ eyes shone with cosmo and she licked her lips in delight. There it was! What she needed! Ah, her dear, dear bastard-sister had finally become an interesting playmate.

“Poor sister of mine, all you have to do is kill him, and all you miss so much, all you love, will be yours again. What’s stopping you? He’s in Sanctuary, unaware. All you would have to do is call your lovely bow...”

She squeezed her hand reassuringly.

“... and shoot one of your lovely arrows through his lovely heart.”


Artemis had her by the throat and against the wall before she could do anything about it, her gaze murderous.

“Now, now, we were joking!” Eris struggled to say, before flashing her cosmo to call Jabu for help.

Artemis burnt hers and projected it against hers, making it collapse with ease.

“Do you think an abomination like you can do anything against me? Half one thing, half the other, fully neither, you are just a prisoner of the woman your man loves. The only reason I haven’t sent my guardians to finish the job they started, is because the life you are leading is a greater punishment than death...

Eris stared at her, surprised when hearing those words, said in another’s tone of voice. A voice she knew well.

Artemis released her, panting and terrified, seconds before Jabu barged in.

“Ellie!” he let out, getting between them, his cosmo burning around him, ready to defend his charge. “What’s going on?”

“Oh, did you think she was doing something to us? No, no,” Eris said, placing her hand on his shoulder to reassure him. “She’s not feeling well, look. I think she’s choking on something.”

The huntress shot her a deadly stare and tried to move away when she approached her.

“Silly girl, she can be so difficult,” she went on, hitting her back lightly. “Now, now, spit it out.”

“Don’t... touch...me.”

“Are you ok?” Jabu asked her.

“At least she’s speaking coherently. She wasn’t doing that before.”

“Fuck you” Artemis hissed, heading towards the door.

Eris stopped Jabu from following her.

“Let her go. She´s embarrassed.”

“I see...”

Her Saint was also easy to fool, but he was adorable, so she could put up with some foolishness.


Eris hugged him and smiled when he returned the embrace.

“What’s this for?”

“You came all valiantly at my call. We are happy.”

“It’s my job,” he said, foolishly, very foolishly, for those were the very words she didn’t want to hear.


She pitied Artemis. She was cursed by a formidable enemy; her bastard-sister didn’t have a chance. Few did against Mighty Aphrodite, or Melaenis, as Ortygians called her.

The Goddess of Love.

 

IV


Artemis headed towards the shrine in a rush. She scanned the grounds with her cosmo and was relieved when finding Albinach’s at the training grounds. She longed to be alone.


Damn you, Melaenis.


Those days in Sanctuary had made her lower her guard. Behind Athena’s Veil, her nightmares had lessened, and she found the shrine and forest comforting, like familiar ghosts.

She had even enjoyed Saori’s company, from time to time, even when she didn’t understand most of her questions, and the strong-willed woman barely understood any of her answers.

She had weakened, and been an easy prey for one of Melaenis’ curses.

 

Artemis took a turn towards a narrow path she had found earlier, away from the Saints’ usual roads, through the remnants of ruins so damaged that she could barely tell what they had been before.

 

She needed to strengthen her defences. She would have to set wards around the shrine, just to make sure. Get the right herbs... would she even be able to find them, in Sanctuary? Some only grew in Ortygia, who could she ask without raising suspicions?

Does it matter? Eris already knows. Eris, from all creatures

 

A week has been too long.

 

She noticed the presence of the warriors barely in time to slow her steps. Their voices came from a clearing in the ruins, a few metres further ahead from where she stood. She couldn’t distinguish what they were saying, but she could distinguish a very much known low growl.

Without hesitation she took the dagger she was hiding between her clothes and walked into the clearing.

Before her, a young, small man, short and lithe, was playing mock fight with her wolf, which was now standing over the warrior’s body, growling while nibbling playfully the side of his face. She put the dagger away before he could notice and cleared her throat.

The wolf looked up and ran to meet her.

“Traitor,” she chided him. Arcade ignored her and nibbled her hands, trying to get her to join them. It seemed she wasn’t the only one who had missed interaction with other people.

 

The Saint stood up and brushed the dirt away from his clothes. She knew who he was; if she tried, she could even sense the curse hidden under his shirt, the ghost of a threat brought upon him for defying the Gods.

 

Killing them, she corrected herself. She would never be able to approve her relatives’ wars.

 

“You are her! I saw you with Saori,” the warrior of legend grinned, stretching his hand towards her. “Artemis, right? I’ve been told you helped me. I’m Seiya.”

She looked at him, taken aback by his friendliness. She took his hand with hesitation.

“Thank you.”

“I... you should thank Athena. You are much loved.”

The man turned beet red and scratched his head, visibly nervous.

“Well, that...”

“Oh, didn’t mean it that way!” she let out when she noticed the way her words could be misinterpreted, “Like, in the way Gods love. As in favoured. It’s obvious she really appreciates what you’ve done for her.”

She frowned.

“You make a good team. That’s what I meant.”

“We do. She usually does most of work, though. I’m,” he beamed, “the cavalry.”

She couldn’t but smile back. The young man’s energy was contagious.

 

“Stop flirting, Seiya.”

 

I’m lingering for too long, lately. Time keeps reminding me of that, striking back.

 

Artemis swallowed. It could be anyone. The voice was similar, not identical. Besides, Sanctuary was full of Saints, and Seiya was well known, and friendly enough to be greeted with a tease by many. Arcade stood, alert, and walked behind her, towards the approaching steps. Two sets of them, at a distance of some metres, at her right. If they were approaching from that way, they were coming from the Houses.

 

“You are just jealous.”

She could feel the scar on her palm throbbing as much as the day she made the cut. She scratched it, hoping to ease the pain. It was a nervous tick by now, all that scratching, it pissed her off.

“In your dreams, Pegasus.”

“Arcade,” she barely whispered, the need to run away growing within her.

“Hey, is that a...?” The other person, another man.

“... A wolf. The wolf.”

She closed her eyes, feeling her skin go cold. It was him. It was his voice, just slightly more mature. Barely changed by the passing years.

Arcade’s steps turned into a happy trotting. Treacherous beast.

“What are you doing here? Where’s your mistress?”

 

The clothes. Artemis was wearing Albinach’s extra training clothes. Saori had offered her a myriad of puffy dresses and white, flowing tunics, but she had felt strange in them. Even back then, at Ortygia, she had had troubles dressing the part.

She needed to feel she could sprint into the chase; all those delicate dresses constrained her.

Seen from where they stood, shielded by the shadows of the ruins and without flashing her cosmo, she probably looked like was just another trainee.

 

1, 2..., she began to count in her head. She could do that, count to ten, remain in control, then politely head back to the shrine and block the door and handle the curses. She could do that much.


His presence might trigger another one. Who knows what Melaenis has been able to entwine? She’s strong, and cunning, and in her place I would use all I could against a loose thread like myself.


She sighed. That was why she would manage. They had been caught in that dance of theirs for years just because she was just as strong and cunning as her. One day in five years of getting her head messed up wouldn’t make any difference.

 

“He rarely strays.”

Artemis turned around and got out of the shadows. A beautiful man wearing Chinese traditional clothes was standing close to where Arcade was. His eyes were grey and stormy, and she could pick the sound of waterfalls in the shadows of his cosmo.

 

Dragon Shiryu.

 

She knew the names, if not the faces. Their fame was such that it had reached even her. And of course, besides him, kneeling by her traitor of a wolf, the beast happily enjoying having the back of his ears scratched, was Hyoga.

 

Cygnus, her mind hissed. The memories came crashing down on her, as she knew they would, one after the other.

 

You can do this. It’s been five years. He’s just a stranger now. No different than any other Saint in this place.

 

Artemis looked into the eyes of the man she had loved for a long time, the man she hated.

He had changed, the boy she had known giving way to the warrior she knew he would become. His eyes remained the same, extremely guarded and mistrustful, but there was a softness there that was new, a warm quality that had nothing to do with her and plenty with the men that accompanied him.

“Pleased to meet you, Dragon” she said, “Hyoga, it’s been a long time.”

 

It’s been a lifetime, maybe a couple of them.

 

“Artemis.”

 

3, 4....

 

He didn’t linger on her, his interest returning to Arcade, who was still circling around him, begging for attention. “You’ve grown a lot. Who would have guessed that scrawny cub would turn into this beast?”

 

He seemed happier to see the wolf than her. She wasn’t surprised. She had been staying in Sanctuary for a whole week, and he had never approached her, even when she had caught sight of his siblings in arms many times.

 

“Arcade,” she called, loud enough to be heard this time. The wolf trotted to her side and sat at her feet. She caressed his ears to find reassurance.

5, 6...

 

As usual, the contact gave her a slight degree of control. Her wolf’s life was pretty much entwined with hers, his presence the one constant over the years, even in her darkest moments. He kept her whole, reminding her that Ortygia wasn’t something she had imagined.

 

“You know each other?” Shiryu asked.

 

She scratched her scar. What could she tell them? That they were friends? Had been? That they could have been so much more?

 

“She came to Siberia a couple of times,” Hyoga answered, ”to see Camus.”

 

Camus? Her eyes narrowed ever so slightly, the anger Eris had awakened stirring again. Her life was a mess and all he could say about her was that she visited his master a couple of times?

 

Fuck you, Cygnus.

 

Why was she even there? What had she expected? He hadn’t tried to reach her in all those years, why would he behave as if he cared now that she was there?

 

My land is burning because of you and that’s all you have to say?

“You know Aquarius?” Seiya asked her.

Artemis’ gaze didn’t leave Hyoga’s, who remained perfectly unaffected. Like a true ice saint. Years before, he wouldn’t have been able to do so, he would have flinched.

Or blushed and looked away.

 

“I know things about him” she said, turning her attention to Pegasus.

But this is Sanctuary, and these are Her Saints. What was I thinking?

(...They don’t want you...)

 

7, 8....

Eris’ voice hammered in her brain, and she felt like tearing the scar over her hand out of her flesh. Why wasn’t it bothering him? It should be, if hers was burning so much. She couldn’t even sense him. It had always puzzled her, how she had been unable to reach him, when they shared a bond that plagued her so much. The spell they had made wasn’t weak or easy to break, almost as powerful as the ones she had woven with her Guardians.

 

And look at how much good that did. 9.

 

She stared at his left hand, trying to catch shadows of the scar on his palm. It had been a shitty job, the cut a mess. He wasn’t used to wielding blades and even less to use them to cut flesh.

The remaining scar should look worse than hers; a horrible proof that he could verbally deny her but his body would not.

Except there wasn’t any.

She narrowed her eyes, believing herself mistaken. Wishful thinking, on her part. Her eyesight was as good as her marksmanship; she could clearly see the feathers’ on the backs of the birds on the surrounding trees, notice the crows playing on the brow of Athena’s statue.

Should she wish it; she could aim her arrows at them and pierce their beady little eyes.

Of course she could see his hand from where she was standing. They were a couple of metres afar.

 

From deep within, she felt a void growing fast, and the coldness she had sensed earlier threatening to claim her fully.

 

How?

 

That was why she hadn’t been able to reach him. It had healed. His had healed.

 

She wanted to laugh. What a fool she had been.

Instead, Artemis closed her eyes and painfully took control of her cosmo, the focus it demanded from her to keep it that low giving her time to compose her thoughts.

“From Camus I know things like this,” she whispered venomously, her breath condensing into a pale fog due to the cold.

 

She opened her eyes and breathed out, releasing ever so slightly the hold in her cosmo to allow it to stretch around them. The ruins were covered by a thin layer of frost in a matter of seconds, the air around them dropping below zero.

“Among others,” Artemis said, breaking her hold. Temperature returned to normal and the frost splintered, turning into little shards that were soon droplets.

“She trained under him?”

Why did Dragon keep asking things about her to him? Why wouldn’t he ask her directly?

 

Why do I have to put up with this? All these questions and refusals... his wound healed, for Leto’s sake.

 

“I’m here.” she let out, her temper showing.

At her side, Arcade growled lowly. He was picking up her mood, and like the loyal companion he was, he was starting to sense them as enemies. She petted his head.

Saints.” The word was a hiss, full of open contempt. “You forget yourself. I do nothing under anyone.”

Shiryu looked at her with mistrust in his grey eyes and nodded an apology.

She shook her head and turned to leave. He didn’t get it.

Her eyes rested once again on Hyoga’s hand, looking for something that wasn’t there. None of them got it. How could they?

 

They were Athena’s, all of them.

 

“You shouldn’t apologise for things you are not sorry about.”

 

10.

When she arrived to the grotto, she found it far less welcoming than it had seemed before, its shadows threatening; the sounds foreign. The ghosts she had associated with better days now felt like hungry spirits.

Her heart grew heavier with each step she took, the familiar pressure around her chest tightening. If she closed her eyes, she could feel them, those countless invisible arms grabbing her tightly, holding her down. Soon they would be around her neck, hands creeping up her mouth, sliding down her throat.

She swallowed hard. It terrified her how used to it all she had become.

Artemis scratched the palm of her hand, and couldn’t but remember his, perfectly unblemished. Maybe she had dreamed it all, the promises, the blood, the snow.

She couldn’t trust anything anymore.

 

Eris’ laughter echoed in her mind.


(...all you have to do is kill him, and all you miss so much, all you love, will be yours again. What’s stopping you?...)

 

She could see it, the part of her that could see it all, as her oracular skills triggered and showed her mind’s eye the path of possibilities that would lead to that future.

 

She could see his back, broader than it had been, turned to her. A foolish thing to do, from a foolish man, to a foolish Goddess.

She could see that back, feel the familiar weight of her bow in her hands, hear the singsong of her arrow ripping the air in her ears...

 

(...All you would have to do is call your lovely bow and shoot one of your lovely arrows through his lovely heart...)

 

She could see the way an arrow that never missed pierced his heart and he fell, gone already, on the snow, its surface welcoming him like an old lover, frozen and tainted.


V

Hyoga had heard; somewhere, that time made people strangers. It wasn’t something he, a person who tended to be unable to let go of those he made an emotional connection with, believed in. But there was some truth in those words nonetheless.

Time didn’t make people strangers but it certainly changed them in ways that made meeting them a new experience.

Like seeing two persons in the place of one, the one that was known, and the one he or she had turned into.

He could recognise the ghost of the girl he had known in the woman that was staying as Saori’s guest. She was still so... terribly present. Just hearing her voice had made his body react like it used to, the old mix of excitement and uneasiness making his blood rush.

 

The old disappointment and the resentment that followed.

And she was someone completely unknown to him as well. She had always been severe, but now there was a definite harshness in her eyes he would never have associated with her. Her movements had also become more precise, betraying the huntress in her; her gracefulness had turned deadly. And there was also her cosmo. As far as he remembered, Artemis’ use of Camus’ skills had been... ridiculous at most. Like a child playing with a new toy, which he used to be certain was the only thing the ice meant to her.

 

They way she had needed so little power and had shown so much control to lower the temperature of the area had impressed him.

The person he knew wouldn’t have been able to do that. She would have overdone it gleefully, demonstrating power over finesse. Somewhat like what was happening to him, all that excessive force he could barely harness.

 

A good way to describe her as well.

 

He feared what that meeting would bring. Maybe that was why he had been both unsurprised by hearing of her return. He had been certain that someday, somehow, it was going to happen. He had always been at the mercy of powerful encounters.

Twice before he had been given a chance to meet old relations, to live through that strange meeting of known and unknown, and it had always ended in death.

Camus had made a warrior of him at the cost of his life in one of them.

On the other one, he had found the friend he admired on opposing sides of the battlefield, forced to test their convictions against one another as equals.

He had come out profoundly changed from all those encounters.

 

Now Artemis was there, the woman that had almost destroyed him before claiming his cloth...

 

A Goddess, on Athena’s Sanctuary, who had managed to make the ice her own and whose body spoke murder with every movement.

 

“So that’s why you turned me down when I told you I wanted to see the new goddess in town” Seiya commented as they walked back to the barracks. “I assume Camus wasn’t her only reason to go to Siberia.”

Hyoga ignored the prying tone in his friend’s voice.

“Her reason was a whim,” he said.

“Like helping us, or being here now. She’s capricious. I told Saori about this.”

“Are you certain, Hyoga?” Shiryu asked, his voice measured. It was the tone he used when he meant that he didn’t agree at all with what was being said. “There’s something...off about her.”

“She’s scary” Seiya simplified, hurrying his steps. “Her wolf is friendly, though. And taller than I. He placed his paws on my shoulders before throwing me on the ground and I had to look up.

“That’s because you are a midget,” Hyoga teased with a smirk.

Shiryu shook his head.

“Don’t worry. Artemis will stay for a while, and when she gets bored, she’ll pick up her things and leave without a word. That’s what she does. If Saori expects anything else from her, she’ll be disappointed, or worse.”

“Were you?” Seiya asked, looking impishly at him from over his shoulder, “Disappointed.”

“I was fucked over,” he said, “Trust me; there’s no one in Sanctuary who is waiting for her to leave as much as I am. And she will. I told you, that’s what she does. People change but not that much.”

 

At the worst moment, when you most need her, he remembered telling Saori. The instant you start counting with her, she’ll be gone.

 

Hyoga rubbed the palm of his hand. For some reason, it had started to burn.


VI


Saori sighed, looking at the pile of papers on her desk. She had asked Dohko to bring her whatever documents there could be from the previous incarnations of Athena. So now, she had several volumes of parches, books and scrolls to look through. Sometimes she didn’t understand why she asked for things when she already knew she wouldn’t like the result.

Tentatively, she stretched the first scroll, just to be greeted by a thick pile of dust, where under it she could make out ancient Greek characters. Great. Now she was going to have to translate it first.

‘’ Later,” she exclaimed, standing up and glaring at the parchment with hate. She had too many things to think about right now as to lose her time struggling to decipher an old piece of scribbled fabric.

Like Artemis’ take on what happened at the hospital, or having two goddesses under her roof.

Both things were difficult to handle, and in both, she felt the best thing to do was be ready for the worse, and hope for the best. In other words, wait and see.

The same thing the huntress mocked her for, Sanctuary’s constant vigilance.

She was having trouble making her mind about her. She was thankful, of course. Artemis had helped her twice.

But she was avoidant on the details of the woman that had attacked Seiya.

 

(... She was there due to my... mingling in certain events. That’s nothing you have to worry about. I told you, you go around things the wrong way. You won’t be attacked again...)

She sounded so eerily certain each time she said that, and the times had been many. Saori was known to press until getting the answers she desired.

And Artemis is cryptic. Good at finding and keeping secrets.

 

She had been warned about that, about many things, by those that knew her. Camus had been, perhaps, the one to describe her best, there was no wonder why he was known as one of the greatest teachers in Sanctuary.

 

(...She comes from a different land, where different things are valued. The way she perceives the world differs from most. It will differ from yours.

If you allow me to advise you, I don’t think that’s necessarily bad. You can enrich each other, if you learn to see through the differences. She will seem to you, sometimes, archaic. But the Cycles, Cosmo, the underlying layers of what make the conflicts between the Gods, few understand those things better than she does.

At the same time, she understands very little beyond that.

Remember that Ortygia is the island where the old ways are preserved, lost in time and with little contact with the outside world...)

 

(...Also... Artemis is a lonely, proud, independent creature. If she left her isolation, she must have her reasons, what those are I don’t know and will strive to find out. What I know is that, as her symbol, she can appear greater than life sometimes, but she also wanes, and vanishes.

I don’t believe you should be afraid of taking her hand if she offers it, by all means, do it, but be careful of holding on too tightly, least you find yourself holding empty air...).

 

Hyoga had been far harsher, but the message had been similar. Artemis was changeable, secretive and should be taken as a momentary presence.

Saori so far found her difficult and intriguing.

 

A light knock interrupted her musings.

 

“Yes, Marin?” she asked, recognizing the cosmo of the woman on the other side of the door.

From all the female saints she had known, it was Marin’s blank mask which perturbed her the most. There was nothing to read in it, like a blank canvas.

 

“Athena, Jabu informed us that the meeting between Eris and Artemis has finished without inconveniences.”

“That’s good to hear.”

“Also...”

She signalled her to continue.

“A Gold Saint wishes to speak to you. Pisces Aphrodite.”

 

That. As if she hadn’t enough with getting attacked at the hospital and having to figure out a goddess’ intentions, there was also the matter of the Gold Saints to deal with. She had wondered after her speech how long for them to start knocking at her door. It seemed they had finally started.

 

 


VII


 

 

Pisces Aphrodite kept his eyes fixed on the floor, his head lowered, helmet kept under his arm. Ever since he had been saved from death’s clutches once again, he hadn’t stop thinking about that moment, about what he wanted to do with the life that had been given to him, one he doubted he deserved but was determined to make the most of.

The conclusion he had arrived to, unsurprisingly, was that it wasn’t for him to decide. He had once trusted Saga’s power, believing him to be more able than a small woman, and had helped in the destruction of one of the greatest training grounds and the death of one of their best teachers.

This time, finding himself once again before the Goddess they had all indirectly helped to kill, he was not going to make the same mistake.

As the criminal he had been, and the Saint he was, he would put himself at his mercy and trust her judgement.

‘’ You wanted to see me ‘’ Athena said, her dark eyes fixed on him with a confidence that suited the Goddess of War.

 

(... I don’t like fighting... but I can’t get away from it either... I can’t live at peace with myself knowing others are suffering, not when I could do something to stop their pain, anything...)

 

Andromeda’s words echoed in his head. It was admirable to be able to retain that sort of idealism in the sort of life they led, where training usually hardened them one punch at a time. It was terrible, also, that Hades had attempted to twist that idealism and make it a mockery of itself. That Shun still endured and his empathy and compassion had not been broken was a testimony of the strength of his willpower.

The Gold Saint felt lacking when comparing himself to that. He was certain he was too far gone for that sort of self-sacrifice.

‘’ I wanted to return this to you,” he finally said, outstretching his hand towards his Goddess, the chain she had given him earlier resting in his palm.

Athena frowned, yet did not move. ‘’ That is a present. A symbol of my gratitude for your actions against Hades.‘’

‘’Something I am, in turn, incredibly grateful to receive. But what about my actions against you, Goddess? I attempted against your life, there’s no greater crime. I don’t deserve this token, many who did found their end under these hands.”

“Pisces... do you think I forgot about that?”

He stared at her, surprised by her words.

“I don’t know what bothers me more, that you think that I have, or that you doubt my judgement. I gave you that,” she pronounced, her godly cosmo shimmering with confidence. “Athena is a Goddess of War, Aphrodite, I don’t expect to be able to escape bloodshed. But what I want others to remember, is that even in something as terrible as the battlefield, she can also be a Goddess of Mercy.”

 

(... I don’t like fighting... but I can’t get away from it either...)

 

Aphrodite couldn’t but think how terrible it had to be, for that young woman, or what it had been for Shun, to be caught in a war that spun ages, to feel the weight and responsibility of harnessing those impending slaughters. He was a holy soldier, born to fight for an ideal. Which usually translated into him being a very capable killer in a very violent world, who did as his superiors told him to when need arose; something that wasn’t as bad as it sounded when there was only one person in Sanctuary that qualified as such. His lot was simpler.

‘’ It’s not your judgement which I doubt, but my worthiness. But if I am still of any use to you, then you need only say the word, and I’ll obey,” Aphrodite fixed his gaze on the Goddess’, his light blue eyes meeting stern, yet gentle, black ones, ‘’My loyalty, and life, are yours.‘’

He placed his helmet on the floor, and brushed his long aquamarine hair over his shoulder.

Aphrodite smiled at the Goddess who looked at him in wonder, then gathered his hair over his shoulder. With a flash of cosmo and a swift movement from his other hand, the long, beautiful, wavy tresses fell on the floor.

‘’You gave me a symbol of your trust. Let me give you a symbol of my repentance.” he said, lowering his head and offering her the mane of silky hair he had been so proud of.

She smiled gently and stood before him. She took his offering and placed a reassuring hand over his shoulder.

“I appreciate the sincerity of your words, and your gift. You are one of my beloved Gold Saints, the one that guards the last House that protects me. I was proud and felt safe with you in that post. Now you do me even greater honour.”

She took the chain with the owl that he still kept in his hand and placed it around his neck.

“Let this be your pride, Pisces Aphrodite, for your Goddess finds you worthy of it.”

He caught her delicate hand within his and squeezed it tightly; unable to find the words for what she was making feel.

‘’ Is there anything else you want to tell me?‘’

“Thank you,” he whispered breathlessly against her hand.

She had made him whole. No. She made him better.


And he knew, with certainty; that as long as he lived, no one would get through the Twelfth House of Sanctuary. That woman would be safe. Perhaps he could not hold the world on his shoulders like she did, but that he could do.


------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------


Merry and tragical! tedious and brief!

That is, hot ice and wondrous strange snow.


(A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1595-6) Act 5, sc. I, l. 58)

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------



VIII



It was dark when he sensed her cosmo brushing his, the temperature in his temple lowering ever so slightly for some seconds.

He didn’t doubt, even when he wished he would, at least for appearance’s sake. It was always bad with her. She made him see everything he hated about himself, and what he appreciated the most.

In her, Milo thrived and gleefully wallowed in that which hurt him and made him feel utterly alive.

He wondered what were the Gods playing at with him? How was he so intrinsically tied to Camus, as to end up involved with everything he found precious?

Maybe it was his possessiveness, a need to hoard everything that had a little bit of him in it.

For more than four years he had lived with his death.

He still couldn’t live with him being there.

So he didn’t doubt, even when he knew what to expect, that there was only wallowing to be found, a painful licking of wounds he had already tasted and found both exultant and destroying.

As Sanctuary’s assassin, he slid unnoticed with ease down the Houses, through the grounds, into a forgotten grotto with a forbidden forest guarded by a huge wolf that ignored him, and a small shrine which walls faintly sparkled and bled moonlit water into a pool.

 

He flashed his cosmo to announce himself, and felt the coldness of hers answering, which was still, like back then, so dreadfully similar yet so different to the one he loved.

 

Four years before, he had met her by chance in the Eleventh Temple, believing to have felt Camus’ ghost within. What he had found had been a remnant, instead. A dark, hurting Goddess with his mark in her cosmo, there to mourn him. After a week she was gone. It had been enough.

 

“Artemis?” he called. The shrine’s hall was small and barely lit.

“Here,” she struggled to answer, her voice hoarse.

He found her sitting against a wall in a secondary room, a hunched figure with black hair so long that it pooled around her. She was pressing her left palm, the one with the scar, with her right hand. There was blood over it.

Milo hurried to her side and knelt beside her, checking the wound. It was superficial.

“It feels better this way. Easier to handle,” she said, struggling with each word.

He grabbed her chin and checked her face. Her eyes locked on his, her gaze naked, as it always was between them. There was pain in it, but more than anything there was anger, a very deep-seated rage.

He wasn’t surprised, at all, to find her like that. That was what she meant to him, darkness and shadows, a place where things he didn’t want anyone else to see could be accepted.

“Can’t breathe,” she hissed.

“Take it easy.”

She cursed and placed her hand behind his head, pulling him closer. He was certain her eyes, which never left him, could see as far as he could see into her.

Artemis was the place for his secrets.

“Calm me down, “ she whispered, kissing him. He answered with ease, trapping her against the wall. Her legs circled his waist in an embrace that, in contrast to her cosmo, was warm and familiar. Their bodies still remembered each other, but how could they not?

 

Let’s lick each other’s wounds, she had told him in Aquarius’s bed after reading into his soul.

 

He had no idea why she was there, what she could mean for Sanctuary. She had no idea why she had intervened after the battle against Hades. Affection towards some of Athena’s Saints? Compassion towards their struggle? A passing whim? A display of power? He couldn’t tell. He was a stranger to her mind, even when he was familiar with her pain.

To him, she meant being raw and human; far more than his duty to his Cloth allowed; and what he needed, they needed to stay sane.

 

He pulled down her trousers and underwear and sunk between her legs. She tugged at his hair while her hips rocked against him to meet his tongue and fingers, little gasps escaping her throat. There was no shyness between them, no pretence. There was no point. Neither cared much about what they thought of the other.

Artemis pushed him back and took off her shirt, her pale skin, marred by plenty of scars, seeming to glow under the half-light of the room.

“Undress,” she ordered as she climbed over him. He obeyed and placed his arms around her when she took him inside her. He caressed her sides, her breasts; his lips locked over the dreadful scar that marred completely the left side of her neck and which was usually obscured by her hair.

She moaned against his neck when he did so; and grabbed his wrists in retaliation, pinning them at the sides of his head and keeping them there. He smirked. The huntress had turned stronger that what he remembered her to be.

Milo took the sight of her as she leaned back to sit on him and rode him at her leisure. Beautiful, he thought, of her, of how he felt within her. Then he thought of nothing else, closed his eyes and let oblivion take him.


IX


 

Hyoga woke up by the sound of worried voices. Shun was standing at the door of the two rooms house they shared at the feet of the path to the Twelve Houses, talking to a shadow.

“I’m worried, Shun,” said a female voice, slightly muffled, “Mu says it isn’t good. Maybe it was because I pushed her too hard, I thought she could do it, she has so much potential...”

“Is everything ok?” he asked, getting off the bed.

“Oh, sorry. I didn’t mean to wake you up,” the Chameleon Saint apologized.

“Don’t worry. Want to come in?”

Shun looked gratefully at him.

“Please, do, June. Let me make you some tea.”

“I’ll make it,” Hyoga interrupted, heading to the small adjacent kitchen.

Shun led his childhood friend inside and sat next to her on his bed.

“Start again, June” he said, holding her hand.

Hyoga would always feel a deep admiration for the way Shun could relate to people and put them at ease, as if it were the most natural thing in the world.

“Albinach, my trainee...”

“I didn’t know you were training Saints already.”

“Of course not! Well, maybe. I don’t know,” she said, shaking her head. “Someone has to do something. Perhaps you didn’t notice, but with Albiore and most of the Silver Saints gone, there are no teachers in Sanctuary. It feels like a gigantic orphanage somehow, all these trainees, with no teachers to lead them.”

“Andromeda Island is the one that took the heaviest blow. Albiore had multiple trainees there. When it all came down, I took those I could and brought them here, with me. We are in charge of repairing the island now. I asked for that,” she clarified before Shun could interrupt her. “You and I, Shun, we are Albiore’s heritage, that place is our responsibility now. Mine. I won’t allow anyone else but us to have a saying on the place that was his pride. Marin accepts this.”

“You could have asked for my help,” he replied.

“Oh, Shun, don’t be silly,” June said, elbowing his side. “You were fighting wars, saving the world from Gods gone insane. You have Japan, and your brothers. You are part of Athena’s strange, personal guard.”

“I have that Island, and Albiore’s legacy. That’s what I chose, not what was imposed to me.”

“You are so stubborn.”

“Tea.” Hyoga interrupted, placing two cups on the table.

“You aren’t getting any?” June asked.

“I thought you might want to talk privately.”

“It’s ok. You two... it’s good you are spending more time here. You are Saints, extremely important ones, and a part of this world. You should know more of what goes on here, there’s so much you could do.”

Hyoga pulled a chair close to them.

“It really shows you two trained together.” It seemed Albiore’s greatest teaching was a focus on serving and being useful to others. It was no wonder Saga had saw him, and his trainees, as such a threat as to send two Gold Saints against him.

Shun smiled at his words, pleased.

“You must introduce her to me, June. And all the others. I want to meet them.”

“I would, Shun, gladly, but that’s the thing. Albinach collapsed today. Andromeda Island is... pretty damaged right now, not what it used to be. The battle affected the environment; we’ve been getting very nasty storms and tsunamis. Albinach has been curving them out of the way. Like you, she can affect air currents. She came here, with me. She’s the one that found out Artemis was here. She’s assigned to the shrine. I thought it would be an easy job, one that would work as a break between what she does at Andromeda. But Artemis is here now and she’s now assigned to babysit a Goddess.”

June placed her elbows on her legs and cupped her masked face against her hands.

“Mu found her near the training grounds. She’s at the hospital now, he is looking after her, but it doesn’t look good. It seems Andromeda Island’s ground is poisoned now, after the combined attack of Aphrodite and Milo. Gold Saints, Shun. What good do they make? When the fucking storms hit, there are fumes. We didn’t know. She’s thirteen, for Athena’s sake.”

“ What about you?” Shun asked, his voice surprisingly hard.

“Me?”

“You’ve been handling the island’s repairs since the start.”

“I...”

“June.”

“I had some nauseas and fainting spells. I thought they had to do with my period.”

“Hyoga, I am taking her to the hospital and checking on the girl.”

“I’ll go with you.”

Shun shook his head.

“Thanks for offering, but let me handle this. I need to take care of it myself. June is right, Albiore’s legacy is something that’s on us to protect.”


X

 


Hyoga stretched on his bed. From June’s broken voice, he could tell the trainee was in danger. It was terrible to think that there were still consequences of the Holy War. It had been four years since then. It was a horrible legacy.

Chameleon was right; he and his brothers had no idea of what was going on in Sanctuary. Life had kept them too close to Athena, as to experience the life on her land.

The trainee was thirteen. She would get a Cloth soon, if she lived.

He was surprised at feeling protective towards a stranger. Maybe it was the conversation with June which had triggered it. The idea that they, as Saints, had a responsibility towards that land and those that lived in it.

A legacy to protect.

He couldn’t but notice the differences in his training. It seemed those who had had Silver Saints as their teachers had a more sympathetic and connected vision of the world, laden with ideals. Seiya and Shun certainly shared that.

He and Shiryu, on the other side, both trained by Gold Saints, were more technically proficient warriors, but lacked that group mentality. They had been trained to deliver results and work alone, more like heirs to inherit the Cloth than as part of Sanctuary’s community.

He was beginning to understand why the current lack of Silver Saints was so important and was finding June, like Shun, increasingly admirable. She, also, was able to do something that was impossible to him, so naturally taking charge over a situation that needed solving, for the sake of others.

She had mentioned the girl was in charge of watching over Artemis...

 

Someone who could heal and kill alike, and was particularly good with poisons.

He muttered a low curse and closed his eyes, letting his cosmo stretch around him, picking up the marks of those in Sanctuary. He was growing old, behaving all responsible towards the youngsters.

 

It didn’t take him long to find her, her coldness hitting him like a wall. It still impressed him the way she had made the ice her own, the warrior in him puzzled by what she might be able to do with it in a fight, and envious of that finesse he was currently lacking.

... Artemis...

 

It wasn’t good. Up to that afternoon, he had been able to be in control of the situation. He felt proud of the way he had managed their meeting, of resisting the urge of seeing her earlier. Touching her cosmo like that wasn’t something his brain could process that easily. He could feel everything in it, and know she could pick up plenty about him in his. Her curiosity and doubts about his reasons...the desire to break their link apart... everything was scattered for him to see.

 

... I don’t talk to fucking strangers...

He growled, ignoring her.

 

...The trainee that’s been showing you around is at the hospital, she collapsed due to poisoning...

 

...How?...

Her incisiveness took him aback. He had expected her to ask him why she should care.

...Andromeda Island’s grounds are messed up, after Milo and Aphrodite used poison-based attacks there some years ago. These fumes seem to have affected her body... Artemis?...

 

...I’ll do it...

Artemis broke the link before he could thank her, shunning him off. He placed his hands behind his head and stared at the ceiling. A summer storm was brewing outside, the sound of droplets leaking from the roof keeping him up. He would have to look at it in the morning. It seemed everything about Sanctuary needed fixing.

Or at least he told himself that the sounds were the ones that were keeping him awake, and not that strangeness he felt, after sensing her cosmo like that.

He was thankful Seiya and Shiryu had been with him earlier. He was unsure he would have behaved the same had he met her on his own. It would have been too much like back then, when there was no one else in the world but them.

He sat on the bed when he felt her cosmo burn from the hospital, this time unbidden and noticeable to everyone in Sanctuary.

That was perhaps the worst about her; it was very easy to believe in her when she was capable of doing things like that.

He fell back and turned around, hiding his face against the pillow. His encounters had always been meaningful, how could this time be any different, with her there, once again at the reach of his cosmo?

Five years and still a part of him felt like home around her.

He remembered everything. Every single thing.

But why tell her? He hated her for that.


................................ . .................................


‘’ First... to concentrate... then to focus one’s cosmo on the objective.... and release it! Diamond Dust! ‘’

His fist collided against the glacier, cracks spreading over the surface. But it hadn’t been enough. All he had done was use his strength, and his strength was useless. Camus had made that clear. Strength was something he should never rely on. Cosmo was. Cosmo, that eternal and infinite mystery that was extremely elusive and far, far from his grasp.

Short of breath, he left himself fall on his knees to recover and placed some snow over his knuckles to numb the pain.

Isaak was so much better at this than him.

“You suck at this.”

He looked over his shoulder when hearing that voice. Sitting on a pile of snow there was a thick blanket covering a huge winter coat that had a girl that seemed to be a bit older than him inside. Her gaze met his, and she smiled.

It was the first time he saw eyes like those, so light.

“Are you lost? Townspeople usually don’t come this far, it’s dangerous.”

“I’m not from town. I heard a woman calling me, to help her deliver her child. He wouldn’t have been born otherwise. Then I noticed there were Saints here.”

Her voice was as strange as her eyes. Her Russian was good, but it had an accent he couldn’t quite make out.

A Saint. Aquarius Camus. He’s my teacher. He’s important.”

“So I heard,” she beamed. “So what are you supposed to do?”

“Break the glacier. You shouldn’t be here, I told you; it’s dangerous.”

“I can be wherever I please. Why break it? You need to cross through it? It’s easier to climb it, it’s not that tall.”

“You don’t understand.”

She shrugged. “Well, I don’t. Unless you are trying to do that pretty thing the other boy can do. The sparkly ice thing.”

He hated her immediately for referring to his bane as sparkly ice thing. And reminding him that Isaak was ahead of him, like always. He had even offered to help him out, but that wasn’t the point. He really wanted to reach him, stand next to him, not behind him.

“You are missing the point, then. It’s not about hitting. It’s about changing the temperature, isn’t it? Of the vein, till it cracks and breaks the glacier down. Like drawing first blood.”

“First blood?”

She stood up, struggling with her blanket, and posed as if she were shooting an arrow. Even under all those clothes, he could tell her stance was beautiful.

“Hunting.”


................................ . .................................



'' Diamond dust!''

The crack stretched and the ice wall came crumbling down, the rumbling of the falling fragments echoing in the immensity of the place.

Isaak cheered at Hyoga’s success from a nearby rock. They had both mastered the Diamond Dust but the habit of congratulating each other every time they performed it remained. Of course, as long as Camus wasn’t around to tell them where they had failed, how poor their stance was, for how many millimetres they had missed the centre of their objective, or how much lower they should drop the temperature to be worthy of being called ice saints.

'' Well done, Hyoga! '' Isaac said, making some room so Hyoga could sit next to him.

''Yes, well done,'' grumbled Artemis, sitting near them with the wolf cub she had rescued sleeping by her side. Her visits had become more frequent, to the point where they had started to expect her every month or two.

''You've both mastered that technique a year ago.''

“You’ve been toying with it far longer and still have a terrible control over it,” Hyoga teased, leaning back to stare at the aurora dancing over them.

“Camus says he’ll teach me.”

The boys stared at her. The Saint was usually tolerant but distant towards the visiting Goddess, and firmly insisted on her not being present during the hours they spent training with him.

“He noticed I sort of made a thing that looked like an iceberg,” she mentioned, toying with a lock of her long black hair, “and said I needed a better understanding of his craft least I hurt myself or others.”

“That’s so unfair. You have all this power and that’s what you do with it?” Isaak shook his head, “An iceberg?”

She leaned forward, excited, “I just kept going and everything went so cold, so cold, and then this thing started to form in the sea, and sprung up! And it was so beautiful!” her gaze darkened, “he found me then, and cracked it. There are little pieces now, floating on the sea. I saw a polar bear on one, looking for seals. Camus said it was dangerous and irresponsible. Me, doing that. Not the polar bear. Well, the polar bear is dangerous, for the seals. And not seals. I don’t know if it is irresponsible.”

“Unfair,” he repeated as he stood up and headed back to the cottage. “Hyoga, hurry back.”

Hyoga began to follow his lead but stopped when seeing Artemis’ confused expression. “He doesn’t mean anything by that, he’s just... he’s like that with everyone.”

“No, he is not. I don’t understand what he expects of me. I do things, the important things he likes. Good things. I just...”

Hyoga stared at the back of his best friend. “He wants to be a Saint to change the world.”

Artemis’ eyes shone slightly, like they sometimes did, infused with cosmo. She had told him not to pay attention to her when that happened. She sometimes caught possibilities, triggered by words and actions. Like the oracles of old.

“That’s not true. The world... yes. But he doesn’t want to be a Saint. Not really. He wants something that will echo his idea of Justice, but that’s not Athena. He forgets that Athena is a Goddess of War, and War is unjust by nature.”

She sighed, her eyes returning to normal.

“Hyoga, I made an iceberg, I didn’t know I could do that. It was lovely and I wanted to show it to you. A shame you couldn’t see it.”

He wished he could. The ice always flowed strangely in her, lacking the intentions of a warrior. She hadn’t learnt it to fight.

Sometimes, he could understand Isaak’s frustrations. There was so much power in her. In Isaak’s hands, that power meant his dream of being able to protect the innocent from the unjust, like the Kraken he admired. In him... how easy it would be for him to break the ice covering the sea where his mother laid with a figment of a God’s cosmo.

“You are thinking of it again, aren’t you? Camus forbade you to try that. He has good reasons.”

She shook her head and frowned, bothered.

“Can’t you just appreciate what I’ve done instead of imposing your wishes upon me? You two congratulate each other over a blasted technique you know by heart now. I made something that was unknown to me and I wanted you to see it. And now Camus knows and he’ll teach me to do it right.”

Hyoga couldn’t understand her anger. He had wanted to see it, he just hadn’t known about it till she had mentioned it, how could he guess?

Her eyes fixed on his, so similar in colour to the ice the two of them manipulated.

“It was beautiful and it was for you, and you can’t get it, at all.”

She took a deep breath and brushed the snow from her oversized coat. She didn’t carry her blanket everywhere anymore. Nor she needed the coat for that matter. She could use her cosmo to keep warm.

She had told him once that that defeated its purpose.

“Tonight Camus will train with me. I won’t need more than one lesson for what he wants to teach me. I won’t be returning after that. Will you miss me?”

He felt annoyed by her question. How could she say something like that? It troubled him, greatly. Artemis generally did. He never knew what she wanted from him.

He smirked and turned to catch Isaak, preferring to take her question as what it was, her pulling his leg again, trying to mess up his pace.

“Don’t say foolish things, Artemis”


She did leave after that night. It hurt him, and he wondered if she would have stayed, had he said something. But he knew that was people did, even more so women, leave. So as much as it hurt, it was expected.


................................ . .................................


 

“Hyoga.”

That voice. He lifted his gaze towards the door, already knowing who he was going to see. Artemis was standing at the entrance of the cottage, her figure stressed by the light coming from outside.

Hyoga hadn’t left the place for a week, ever since Isaak sacrificed himself to save him. Camus hadn’t said a word; he had just left to one of the glaciers, to meditate. Camus probably hated him. After all, he had killed his favourite pupil. Isaak’s blood was on his hands.

And now she had come. He couldn’t even look at her in the eyes. Isaak had been so important to all of them, a friend... a brother he had wanted to impress so badly. And now he would never be able to do so.

Why couldn’t he just let him die? He was sick and tired of having his loved ones throw away their lives for him, how could they be so selfish?

It was always him who remained alone once they were gone.

The door creaked as she closed it behind her, leaving them in the dark. He could hear her footsteps as she made her way towards him.

''Won't you look at me?'' She knew him too well, knew where to start with. He had expected she would kill him fast, but no, that wasn’t her mark, she was far more subtle than that. She wouldn’t want him to go so easily. She would want to make him suffer first, make him regret it. She would play with her prey and deliver justice in the form of one of her arrows.

''I can't'' he muttered, feeling a lump forming in his throat.

She closed the distance between them and knelt beside him. He could smell her scent, earth and warm and foreign, and sense the heat coming from her body. He hadn’t realised how cold he felt.

Her fingers caressed his cheek softly and he flinched, looking up at her surprised.

''See. You could.''

“Go away,” he hissed.”You know what happened, that’s why you are here. Did Camus tell you? I killed someone you cared about.”

“You did not.”

He chuckled darkly.

“But I did, Artemis. You weren’t there; you...Get the hell out of here. You don’t want to be here.”

“That’s not for you to decide.”

“You left once already,” he growled, clutching the rug on which he was sitting.

“And it would have taken a word from you to stop me. Do you really want to fight? Will that make you feel better? I won’t shy from it.”

He looked away.

“I’m angry. It bothers me, that I’m so fucking angry. Why did he have to do that? He was important to me, by now he mattered. It wasn’t me. He was the one that befriended me, the one to approach me; he had all these talks with me, talks I never initiated and he made me listen to, he didn’t have the right to make me care about him to just, so selfishly... do this to me.”

“Neither did my mother,” he muttered, lifting his gaze once again towards her. “And neither do you.”

She sighed and sat beside him. Once again, she stretched her hand towards him. He glared at her, moving slightly away from her reach, like a beaten dog.

“Don’t you dare.”

“That’s a problem, you see,” she said, as she burnt her cosmo to light the room. It felt different, from what he knew it to be. Warm, and pale, like moonlight, barely able to allow them to see their faces. And still it felt so strong, so quietly present and impossible to disturb. It was hers indeed, not the ice she borrowed, but her cosmo, reminding him of old things long gone, of ghosts and shadows and very ancient gods. Her fingers reached again his skin, and this time he stayed still, allowing her to caress his cheeks. He leaned in to her touch, both terrified and longing. “There’s so much I want to show you.”

He felt the tears he hadn’t been able to shed gather in his eyes and grabbed her hand between his own, keeping it tightly against him. Artemis placed her arm around him and pulled him close to her gently. He hid his face against her neck and clutched her shoulder tightly, feeling utterly defenceless. A sob shook his frame and many more followed, as he finally felt safe enough to stop holding onto all that pain that was eating him alive, and cried.

................................ . .................................


They were sitting back to back over the glacier where they usually watched the aurora. Artemis had found out he had reached his mother’s ship and had made it clear she was furious about it.

“I hope whatever you found down there was worth it,” she hissed. They had been arguing over the last two hours and were now exhausted.

He was having troubles finding the words to explain it to her. It had never been so much about what he would find there. A shipwreck. His mother’s body, surprisingly preserved, like a sleeping beauty. That was what laid there. But it wasn’t about finding her as much as it was about reaching her.

The image of her looking at him as he was dragged away on the boats, her stoic figure turning, alone, to return to her room in the ship, all that was burnt into his mind, part of his daily nightmares.

He could bear with her death, but could not bear with her loneliness.

He had needed to reach her, for all she had done for him. To be able to show her, that he was there and she was not alone.

Artemis wouldn’t understand it. No one probably would.

“I am not going to apologize.”

Her back felt warm against his.

“I don’t expect you too. What’s the worth of an apology if you are not sorry?”

His chest heaved. They were both so stubborn; it would always be a mess each time they argued.

He was surprised, as he always was, when his thoughts betrayed him with feelings of continuity. She had become a constant in his life.

He had been terrified when she told him she had found out. He had feared she would leave, had been so certain about it. She had yelled at him. A lot. Called him a myriad of things in a myriad of languages. But she had never threatened to leave if he didn’t stop, or stormed off. She had fumed until she was so tired she had to sit.

He knew that would change him. It was already doing so.

Hyoga turned on his side, resting his weight against her back.

“You are heavy,” she growled.

He stretched more comfortably, pushing her further down behind him.

“Very heavy.”

“I know.”

He toyed with a strand of her hair. It was pitch black, and soft to the touch.

“I know,” he repeated as he closed his eyes.

“We are not talking about your weight anymore, are we?”

He chuckled and shook his head.

“Someday,” he went on, “I promise I’ll make it worthwhile.”

She stayed silent for some minutes; then turned to shove him on the snow, placing her torso over his to keep him down.

“Oh, God, you weight a lot.”

Artemis laughed.

“You shouldn’t call your God in vain,” she admonished playfully. “And be careful what you promise to me, Hyoga, I don’t take broken promises kindly.”

He brushed her messy hair away from her face.

“I know.”

She narrowed her eyes, as if measuring the seriousness of his words, and leaned in to kiss him. He was surprised, at first. He had been wishing to kiss her for longer than he cared to admit, but hadn’t had the courage. He felt a bit like when Isaak had mastered the Diamond Dust and he was still stumbling with it.

It was his first kiss; it wasn’t, clearly, hers.

He laughed against her lips, finding his thoughts foolish, and placed his arms around her, holding her as tight as he could do without hurting her. He followed her lead, slowly, enjoying the moment of discovery, until he didn’t know who was leading whom anymore.

She broke the kiss to look at him. Her hair was a mess again, his fault this time.

“And say that kind of things to my face.”

His walls were being bludgeoned to the ground by an unstoppable force. He hadn’t had a chance. With a smile, he yielded.

“I am.”

 

................................ . .................................


For the next six months, she stayed mostly in Siberia, leaving for Ortygia for a few scattered days in between. She looked relieved whenever she came back. Something was going on at the Island but she avoided talking about it.

He was surprised by that new understanding, of being able to notice others beyond the superficial, to look at them.

He was looking at her a lot.

Camus seemed grateful for her presence, and Hyoga felt comfortable enough around her as to cherish it while the last months of his training progressed.

His days were made of heavy training under Aquarius, who, even when he had never accused him of anything on regards of Isaak’s death, had become more severe and demanding since. With his new understanding, Hyoga could tell his master was worried and wanted to pour all he knew on him, make him as good as he could. He had one student now, all his focus was on him.

The few hours he had for himself he spent with her.

Artemis made a blasted iceberg while he watched. And experimented, trying to merge the skills of the ice saints with her training as a huntress. The results were usually... both beautiful and horrifying. He had teased her for weeks about the way his predecessors were currently turning in their graves due to her uncontrolled, unsophisticated, irresponsible abuse of their craft.

He could understand as well, that the lesson she had had with Camus, years before, on regards of her personal interpretation of the Diamond Dust, probably involved a lot more than techniques, and maybe included something on her being a distraction to their training.

Or that Camus was grateful she was there now because she had dragged him out of the cottage, and when she was around Isaak’s absence wasn’t so terribly there.

He was growing.

They took walks through town, to the point people started to gossip; and kept Isaak’s tradition of long nights watching the aurora.


He felt caught in a pleasurable instant he wanted to prolong and knew was approaching breaking point. He would soon try for the Cygnus Cloth; that would mean he would officially become a Saint, under Sanctuary’s command. It would mean leaving Siberia and returning to Japan.


It was such a surreal future to consider, when he finally believed his present was somewhere he belonged.


................................ . .................................

“Camus is running out of chocolate,” Artemis said while she went through the cupboard.

“We got some a couple of days ago,” Hyoga answered, joining her search. His teacher was in town to call Sanctuary and get some provisions.“Here.”

She looked at him expectantly.

“Lazy,” he teased.

“I’m the guest here, the honoured guest,” she said, standing by his side while he prepared the drinks.”It also tastes better when you make it.”

He smiled at the compliment. She couldn’t just ask him for it, could she?

“So, Hyoga...”

“Mmh?”

She pressed her shoulder against his.

''You are going to try for the Cygnus Cloth next week, aren't you? ''

He almost dropped the cup on the floor. How had she found out? Camus had told him the previous night and he had been waiting for the right moment to tell her since.

“Will I have to call you Cygnus from now on? Please say no.”

“Of course not,” he laughed.

She leaned her head on his shoulder. He left the things on the sink and turned to hug her.

“Of course not. Should I have called you Goddess all this time?”

“For Leto’s sake, no!” she pressed her head against his chest. “Everything feels right here. This place... you.”

Artemis took a deep breath.

“I can’t go to Japan, and I won’t follow you to Sanctuary.”

He knew that. Artemis had an open disregard towards everything that had to do with Athena, matched with a strong territorial sense. They had stumbled into each other in Siberia, and the wilderness had given them a freedom that made the outside world disappear, but that world was still there. When she left to Ortygia, and now when he had a Cloth and duty to answer to.

“I can visit you in Ortygia.”

“No, you can’t. Not as you’ll be.”

Extremely territorial. That Island was a mystery she kept for herself and her followers.

He frowned, thinking. “Then let’s stay here.”

She looked at him, puzzled.

“Stay? You are going to Japan.”

“And you live in Ortygia. I can return, whenever I don’t have a task somewhere else. This place belongs to the Ice Saints, and we both like it here.”

Artemis pushed him away and began to pace around the room.

“You want me to be your little dirty secret?”

“That’s not what I meant. And I didn’t know this was a secret, we are not doing anything forbidden.”

She laughed.

“There are many who would disagree with you, but,” she shook her head and took a deep breath, “I am not one of them. I know you didn’t mean it like that.”

He walked towards her and pulled her close again. “In a week, I’ll be a Saint. After that, let’s meet here. Whenever we can.”

She placed her arms around him and ran her fingers through his hair. She did that often; pet him as if he were her wolf.

“That would be nice.”

“When I’m with you, like this, everything seems so real,” he whispered against her skin, planting a kiss over her scarred neck, “so worth it.”

 

And he had the certainty, then, that it was going to be over with them. If things went on as they were, they were going to drift apart after he became a Saint. What point would that have? He had learnt to manipulate ice to reach his mother, and he accepted that the price for that, even more so after Isaak’s death, was him wearing the Cloth. He owed it to his friend, and to his mentor.

He knew he would become Cygnus Hyoga, he had no doubts about that.

But why did he have to pay for that by letting go of her? He could touch her now without feeling she would disappear into thin air, and that certainty had led him to understand things beyond himself. She was, as he had told her, real to him. How could he make her understand?

 

“I promise.”

She laughed meekly. “What are you promising now?”

He cornered her against the table and made her sit on it. He could see the faint scar that betrayed a cut on her lower lip. The terrible one, over her neck. That one wasn’t that old. It looked as if a bear had mauled her. He grabbed her hands and kissed them. There were plenty of scars there, over her lower arms, over her fingers.

Promises, the Ortygian way.

“I promise I’ll come back here as much as I can, to see you.”

“And if I am not here?”

“I’ll wait. Patiently.”

“I don’t have much patience.”

He smirked. “I know.”

“And if you need me, for anything, I’ll be there. There’s a whole world out there, and much to show each other.”

“I’ve always wanted to take the train. The trans-Siberian.”

“We can do that, once I am a Saint. We can do anything. I promised it would be worthwhile. The heavy load.”

“I don’t hold you to that promise, Hyoga. I know what it means me being here, and what you are training for. Besides, I don’t mind.” She squeezed his sides, “You weighting a lot.”

“I do hold myself to it.”

“Look at you being so assertive,” she teased, cupping his face with her hands.

“Artemis...” he warned, freeing himself. “I’m being serious here.”

“And so am I,” she said, her eyes glowing with cosmo, “Chaos awaits us, Hyoga. Magnificent desolation, just outside these doors, ready to claim us.”

She looked away, frowning.

“What was that?”

“Not good.”

She squeezed his arm, troubled. Her eyes were locked on the floor, her gaze intense. She was measuring possibilities, interpreting what had flooded her mind.

She bit her lower lip. “I can’t... divert this. It’s fated.”

“Artemis”

She looked at him, at a loss.

And then he realized. It was simple, really. They weren’t normal people, they had never been. She was a Goddess and he was a Saint. Their world would always be changing and putting them at risk. For her to believe him; he had to make a promise he could keep, worthy of a Saint, in a way the Huntress would understand it.

He kissed her meaningfully.

“I promise that whatever happens from a week onwards, I’ll be there.”

The look in her eyes eased and he knew she approved.

So he grabbed the kitchen knife on the table and made a cut on his palm. It was more difficult than he had thought, and hurt and stung more as well. There was more blood than he expected as well. But he felt pleased with himself. Incredibly so.

“What the hell are you doing?” she let out, jumping of the table and dragging him to the sink. “No, no, no. No Ortygian ways for you. I told Camus, I promised him, I wouldn’t claim you for myself; that I wouldn’t interfere with your training...”

She kneeled, searching the drawers.

“Keep that hand under the water! Shit, where are the bandages...”

“Artemis...”

“Don’t Artemis me!”

“Artemis,” he repeated firmly, kneeling by her side and closing the drawers.

“That’s a promise from me to you. You did nothing.”

 

She sighed and sat on the floor.

“Tell that to Camus.”

“I will. He has nothing to do with this.” She took his hand and stared at the cut. “You are terrible with knives.”

He laughed. “I’m not used to gutting things.”

“You eat the things I gut without complaints.”

Her fingers followed the wound, her eyes intent over it.

“What is it?”

“I was thinking that to have a loose, flexible thread connecting me to a Saint of Athena, that’s not so bad. Something I can live with.”

He laughed. “Glad to know is not that terrible to bear.”

She smiled. “We don’t know that yet.” Her gaze fixed on his, her tone of voice becoming secretive.

“For a small place, with few people, in which everyone is important for the survival of the other, in Ortygia a promise given is a promise taken, sealed in blood.”

She took the small knife she hid at her back, under her shirt, and drew a thin line over her left palm. It wasn’t as deep or messy as his, and judging from her expression, it had barely hurt.

“I’ll always love you,” she said, resting her wounded hand over his and locking her fingers between his.

He looked at her, at a loss of words, again. There was his unstoppable force. Whenever he thought he had caught up with her, she hit harder and did something like that, messing him up completely.

He caressed her cheek, looking at her face, as if trying to imprint her features in his memory, the slightly slanted eyes, ice blue and with lurking darkness, her nose, her lips, and the slight scar over them. He placed his hand at the nape of her neck and leaned in for a kiss, loving the feeling of her, the warmth of her mouth, her tongue.

Hyoga pulled back, breathless, his eyes fixed on her swollen lips. He kissed her again, deeper.

It wasn’t enough. Lately it rarely was. They had begun exploring their bodies, but being completely alone with her was rare.

She leaned back to lie down on her back and dragged him down with her. He pushed her legs opened and settled between them, pressing his hips against hers, and smiled when he made her squirm.

He loved watching her, listening to her moan.

He loved her, had done so for a long time, even when he couldn’t tell her yet.

“Artemis,” he muttered, leaning over her. Her legs closed around his waist to press harder against his erection, and his hand went under her shirt, to caress her stomach, her breasts. Unsatisfied, he reached for the closer drawer and took the bandages.

“You knew where they were?” Artemis glared as he quickly bandaged his hand, then hers.

“That’s such a poor job,” she mocked.

“Will do for now,” he replied, taking off his t-shirt and placing it under her head.

“I wonder why I would need that...”

“Shut up.”

She kissed him, snaking her arms around his torso, her hands over his back and sides, his neck, his face.

“I like feeling your skin,” she confided, stopping to get rid of her shirt. She got stuck and laughed, her head caught inside.“Help.”

“I never thought I would refuse,” he said, admiring her flushed body. Softly, he brushed his fingertips over her stomach, watching her heave, “a woman’s cry for help.”

He caressed the sides of her breasts and bent down to kiss them, taking his time to enjoy her.

“Slow down,” he told her, holding her hips down with his own. He was going to come in seconds if she kept rocking like that against him.

“Can’t”, she moaned.

“Always the uncontrolled one”, he sighed in her ear, moving slightly away from her to place his hand inside her trousers. She grew still, her fingers digging into his shoulder. He pulled her shirt away and watched her expression.

“Don’t look at me that way,” she managed to let out between whimpers of pleasure, as she covered her face with her arm. Her breathing became hurried and she moved the arm away, reaching out to caress his cheek instead, “Wait.”

“What?” he asked; kissing her thumb.

“Do look at me that way.”

He complied and held her as she came, wet and messy and vulnerable.

 

“Let’s go to the bedroom, the condoms are there.”

She nodded impishly. “You know...It’s my first time with a man,” she confessed

“It’s a first for both of us then.”

Artemis laughed heartily.

“It doesn’t show.”

“Foreplay is all we’ve managed to do; I’d like to think my skills have improved.”

He was certain she was going to tell him that it was his fault for refusing to do it outside and insisting with the bed, but she just smiled tenderly at him.

“Ever the perfectionist. Take me to bed then.”

She placed her arms around his neck and he picked her up, her legs around his waist.

They weren’t out of the room when she cursed.

“Don’t say it.”

“Sorry.”

Please.

“ Camus is close by.”

“I told you not to say it. I’ll be in the bathroom. Again.”

She laughed and kissed him when he put her down. “Think of me.”

“How funny,” he grumbled.

“I’ll clean this up” she said as she put back her shirt and threw his at him.

When he came out, she was standing at the door, her expression puzzled. Arcade was standing at her feet, the wolf had returned from feeding.

“How strange this is, Hyoga,” she said, her back to him. Her cosmo was flowing around her, cold and unfocused as usual, “He’s not alone.”

Hyoga stretched his own cosmo through the area and sensed Camus’ known presence. As Artemis had said, he wasn’t alone. The second cosmo was....different. Strong and constricting. Foreign, yet not completely unfamiliar.

He looked at Artemis. It reminded him a bit of hers.

“A friend of mine is with him. I’ll go meet them, be right back.”

 

He stood by the doorframe and watched her go, tagged by her wolf. He could see Camus approaching on the horizon, followed by a woman. A redhead, as he noticed when they were closer, her long hair flaming at her back. She was wearing a black coat, and under it, armour of that same crimson, the tell-tale glint of metal reflecting the snow betraying its presence.

She carried a bow and arrows.

A Guardian, Ortygian.

 

Hyoga’s impression that something was wrong at Artemis’ Island returned. There was something aggressive about the stranger, in her movements and cosmo. He felt uneasy.


Artemis didn’t seem to share his fears. She met the two of them about fifty metres from the cottage, and threw her arms around the woman merrily. She returned the hug, her hands lingering at the small of her back with familiarity.

“Atalanta! I’ve missed you”

Their voices carried in the open landscape. He was glad she had so much awareness of her surroundings. It would have been embarrassing to be found out by his master and her guardian, terrible first impression.

“Same here, it’s good to see you,” the woman replied. She had a thick accent, Scottish maybe. And was strikingly beautiful, like an arrogant model in a magazine. That arrogance softened when looking at Artemis, but hardened like steel when seeing her bandaged hand. She grabbed it forcefully then pushed it away.

Hyoga straightened, the uneasiness growing.

“You said you wouldn’t,” she commented bitterly, “You are so full of crap. That’s why you look like that?”

“Artemis...” Camus warned, his eyes fixed on her hand.

Artemis brushed her hair away from her face, visibly annoyed.

“All is fine, Camus. And you are wrong, Atalanta. Again.”

“Am I? He’s all tense and ready to defend you, like a proper Saint, ready to put his life down for someone that can crush him with a bat of her eyelashes. Does he even know what you can do? “

“Atalanta...”

“He doesn’t look like much, Orion will be broken-hearted.”

“Aren’t you listening to what I-? Camus, I said it’s fine!”

The Gold Saint ignored her and stormed off towards the cottage.

“This is what you came for? To throw a jealousy fit? Speak now, Atalanta,” Artemis’ cosmo flared around her, making the snow dance at her feet, “and speak well, for I am not feeling very forgiving.”

“Inside,” his master said evenly when he reached him.

“What is all that about, Camus?” he asked as he followed him into the room.

The Saint grabbed his hand and removed the bandage to check the wound; his gaze, serious and focused, once again betraying he was handling a million thoughts at the same time.

“So it’s true,” he said darkly. “What were you thinking? You are to be a Saint of Athena.”

Hyoga moved his hand away.

“This has nothing to do with you.”

His distinctive brows knitted together in disappointment.

“It has everything to do with me. I feared this was going to happen, I shouldn’t have trusted her.”

 

Why are they all freaking out?

 

“Camus, she did nothing wrong...”

“Saying that just shows that I’ve miscalculated greatly. I’ve taught you the skills of a Saint, but you still don’t have the mind of one.”

“That’s-!”

The Gold Saint rubbed his forehead. “The truth.”

It was the first time Hyoga saw him so... involved. Aquarius was a fair master, but greatly detached. Isaak’s death could have made him harsher, but it hadn’t damaged that logical, distant approach to life.

“You can’t serve two masters, Hyoga.”

“I’m not serving her,” he hissed, hating the word.

His teacher looked at him with disdain. “And you wounded your hand because...?”

 

Because I... I wanted her to be a part of my life.

 

He didn’t answer. It was one of those things Camus would mock, and he didn’t want his disappointment.

 

“You might have forgotten, but that girl outside is the embodiment of the Goddess Artemis, Queen of the Wild, Keeper of the Balance. She has an Island of hunters under her command. And her cosmo is... haven’t you noticed the power she wields?”

Camus placed his hand on his shoulder.

“Think like a Saint, I know you can do it. Why do you think she has all those scars? They are not wounds of battle. That’s what she does, Hyoga. She bonds with her Guardians over a promise in blood.”

He remembered her telling him that he could not go to Ortygia as he was. Was she... luring him in, before he took the Cloth? Why would she do that?

“She said she told you she wouldn’t claim me...” Hyoga remembered.

“ I made her swear it. My priority is to make you a Saint. If you needed her as a momentary clutch to get to here, so be it.”

A clutch?

 

He glared at him. How could he call her that? “She’s not...”

“She is.” His teacher and his damn absolutes. “You should call things for what they are, without disfiguring them with your emotions. You’ll understand, once you wear the Cloth.”

Camus moved away from him and began to pace around the room.

“Things aren’t as simple outside this place. When Gods walk the earth, it’s always because great tragedies are about to start. They might seem charming, alluring, kind, but they are also cunning, whimsical, and deadly; and always, Hyoga, always, caught in webs of great strife with one another, of which people are the victims.”

Hyoga rested against the table, clutching the edge. They were talking about Artemis there, the girl he... Camus was describing a stranger.

“She’s a huntress, not a warrior,” he muttered, already doubtful.

 

Who openly mocks Athena, a little voice in his brain whispered, and can kill with ease.

“That she is, one whose arrows never miss their target,” Camus pointed out, seeming to read his mind, “What would you do if she turned them on Sanctuary?”

“You want me to doubt her!”

“I want you to think. Not everything you’ll face will be as simple as a battle of fists.”

 

Artemis hadn’t doubted when she tried to kill the trapper that had killed her cub’s pack. If it weren’t for them, she would have done so without hesitation. And the way she wielded the ice... She had picked it up from watching them train; something that had taken him, and Isaak, years to muster, she could do in a whim.

 

She’s not abusing the skill; that new-found voice pointed out, that’s the lowest damage she can do with it.

 

He remembered Isaak’s disgust at the way she put her power to use.

He remembered the icebergs. He couldn’t do that. Could Camus even...?

 

“You allowed her to be here... to keep watch on her and Ortygia. You never trusted her.”

“Of course I didn’t. A Goddess appears out of nowhere, showing a fixation on a child under my care and picking up the skills I am meant to guard. Her kind has started wars over things smaller than that, why would I trust her?” Camus answered with the certainty of someone who knew their path in life, making him feel like an idiot. “I am not saying she’s a threat. I am saying she could be. I’m a Saint. My duty is to serve Athena and protect Sanctuary.”

“Hyoga,” his teacher went on, his dark blue eyes digging into his soul, “Once you wear the Cloth, there’s no room for anything else.”

He pressed his fingers over the wound and let his cosmo flow over them, a power Hyoga knew he would never achieve and which he respected greatly and felt indebted to. “An ice saint should be as still and solemn as the eternal glaciers, and become a wall no one will break. This...”

Hyoga grimaced. Through the wound, he could sense Artemis outside, in a way that was different from reading her cosmo. She bonds with her guardians over a promise in blood, Camus had said. He could sense her displeasure, her worries. Her growing anger. There was a whole pit of it, deep-seated and terrible.

“... is a crack. And she knows it. Her kind can read into you more than you will ever be able to read into them. Clutch or not, I should never have left her stay.”

The Gold Saint released him and walked towards one of the walls, leaning his back against it. He ran his fingers through his long, beautiful hair, his forever-thoughtful expression clouded. He was at a loss.

Hyoga felt pain in his chest. Twice he had failed his master’s expectations, twice Aquarius had taken his failures as his own.

 

“Camus, there are some complications...” Artemis entered the cottage and stopped in the middle of the room, “What on Leto’s sake is going on here? Why are you both looking like that?” She sighed. “If this is about the bandages, I’ve already told you it’s not like that.”

“So we are not taking the new guy with us?” the redhead asked, standing at the doorframe.

“I’m a Saint.”

“He speaks.”

“Shut up, Atalanta.”

“You know that, don’t you?” Hyoga asked, his eyes fixed on the dark-haired girl.

“Oh, he speaks to you.”

“I said, shut up.” Artemis glowered.”Of course I know that.”

“Then why...” he trailed of, closing his hands into fists. “Would you endanger everything that matters to me?”

She stared at him, puzzled. “It’s not like that.”

“Now I see why you like him,” Atalanta mused, “he’s your type. Pretty and broken. Did you show her where it hurts, Saint?”

Hyoga felt slapped by the woman’s words, forced to a place of vulnerability. How could she know? She was nothing but an ill-mannered stranger.

“You poor fool, you did. That’s why you came back here, Artemis? Couldn’t help yourself, could you? Don’t worry, boy. She did the same to all of us.”

He looked at Artemis. Was the woman right? Was Camus? He didn’t want to be there, didn’t want to listen anymore.

 

They are right, I am a fool.

He shouldn’t have accepted her when she returned.

 

“Atalanta, wait for me outside” Artemis warned.

“She gets into your skin, all power and understanding, and you just can’t let go after that. You have to cling.

It took less than one second, and Hyoga couldn’t catch any of it. All he knew was that before he could see it, he felt cold, Camus was standing before him, Artemis had the woman pinned by the neck against the wall and the room was frozen.

“What is wrong with you?!” she let out, her voice cracking. Her cosmo, that cold winter she had taken from them, was burning around her, endless and terrible, worse, far worse, than anything Hyoga had felt before. Outside, the world had darkened, obscurity descending upon them.

 

That’s a Goddess, then. A distant, dreadful thing which the Saints, simple men, must face.

 

“At least now you are looking at me,” Atalanta murmured, touching the faint scar over Artemis’ lips.

 

(...You know...It’s my first time with a man...)

So that was the cost of walking among Gods?

 

Look, the Saint in him whispered, growing stronger, that’s who you could become.

 

“Artemis, it’s enough,” the Gold Saint ordered.“You are hurting her.”

 

(...An ice saint should be as still and solemn as the eternal glaciers, and become a wall no one will break...)

 

So that’s why, Hyoga thought, his heart hardening and retreating into a known, comfortable, cage, he needs me to think like a Saint.

She cursed and pushed Atalanta away, her cosmo, and the world with it, returning to normal. “I could hurt you all.”

“You could,” Camus agreed. “That’s why you will never do that again here.”

“I’ll go play with the wolf,” the redhead said, rubbing her neck. There were signs of frostbite around it, which she healed with her own cosmo. A normal person’s neck would have splintered and broken under such circumstances.

 

That’s a Guardian, Hyoga thought, imprinting what had happened into his memory. Strong and resilient, but unstable. Hunters which can easily, for whimsical reasons, become killers...

 

If he went back to where he had been, before she found him, after Isaak’s death... if he reached that place again...

 

...Unrestrained and emotional...

 

He could become a Saint.

...Like the one they serve.

 

And nothing would ever hurt again.

 

“You need to keep a tighter leash on them,” Camus observed when the Guardian left the cottage.

“They are not dogs.”

“True enough. Dogs tend to look for their master’s approval.”

“Her search of approval is not what I appreciate about her.”

 

“Then what is it you appreciate about her?” Hyoga asked coldly. “Why is she here?”

Artemis looked at him, confused by his tone.

“I told you. She’s... a friend. She brought me news from Ortygia. I have to go back, for a while.”

It was so strange, how he could listen to her without actually listening. Everything seemed so... far off.

“I see.”

Hyoga wondered why he had left that place within him in the first place. He felt so... comfortable there. Stronger.

Protected.

If he asked her, she would probably say he was a friend as well. A petty voice that sounded too much like the Guardian made him wonder if she seduced all of her friends.

 

“I’ll be back before you get your Cloth.”

“Artemis...”

“Camus, it’s ok. Can you give us five minutes? I’ll handle this.”

His teacher looked at him and nodded before heading to his room, leaving them alone.

“That won’t be necessary, Artemis.”

“But...” she knitted her eyebrows, troubled. “ Why not?”

He looked at her without seeing her.

“I’m a Saint”

“I know that. Why are you telling me that? I don’t understand what you are saying...”

He smirked, “I’ll be leaving for Japan in a week. It’s time we stop the pretence.”

“I wasn’t pretending anything...”

She walked to his side and stretched her hand towards him. Instinctively he pushed her away.

“Don’t touch me. Just... don’t.”

 

Artemis stayed still, her expression hurt.

 

Something within him ached at seeing her like that, but he refused to acknowledge it. The Guardian had been clear, she would use his pain against him. Once already he had fallen for her manipulations, he wouldn’t do so again.

“Go back home.”

“You went back there... inside... don’t. Don’t do that,” she said lowly, “what was it...? Something Atalanta said? I didn’t...I never,” She grabbed his hand forcefully, “This doesn’t get in the way of your life as a Saint.”

Once again he pushed her away.

“That’s not for you to decide.”

“Damn” she let out, biting her lower lip. She leaned against him, resting her head on his shoulder. Hyoga remained still. If he went very deep into himself, it was as if he wasn’t there, and he couldn’t hear her anymore. Her words would not reach him, and all that mess would be over.

He still couldn’t believe he had almost betrayed Isaak’s memory and Camus’ efforts. All that, thrown away, for making the mistake of trusting her while ignoring so much about her.

How easy it must have seemed, to her.

 

To fight for justice, his sole friend had told him, watching the aurora. Now that he had reached his mother, and his reasons to fight were over, giving himself to an abstract cause seemed a good way to life what remained of his life. It would mean no more struggles with himself, no more detours.

No more expecting things that weren’t there. The people that mattered to him were meant to leave him or betray him. That was it.

Maybe Camus had been right, and he had held onto her like a clutch, when the truth was out there for him to see. He needed nothing now, he had his dead.

“I can’t stay to work this out now.” A part of him could still register how desperate she sounded, how unsure of what to do. So atypical of her, who seemed to have all the answers. “I don’t have the time. Have to do some of those important things, the ones Isaak liked. But I’ll return before you get your Cloth. I promise.”

“I don’t want anything to do with your promises.”

He heard her heave, her hands clutching his shirt tightly.

“Maybe you’ll see things differently in a couple of days. I trust you will.”

She let go of him. “But you don’t trust me now. Don’t you?”

“Hey, Hyoga.” Artemis whispered, “will you miss me?”

“Stop messing with my mind and get out of here!” he exclaimed, moving as far as he could from her.

He could notice her cosmo through the wound on his hand, a terrible mess of images and feelings he couldn’t figure out. Was his bleeding into hers the same way? Could she see him, see all those things he didn’t want anyone to see? He focused there, thinking only of the glaciers that had protected the Cygnus Cloth for who knew how long, and felt satisfied when the bond began to numb. It was like listening to someone ring and just refusing to open the door, something to start with.

 

Artemis sneered, her eyes turning to her bandaged hand. “No one listens to me. You think that you can become a Guardian over such a small thing? You are insulting me, Agios, in what’s turning to be a very insulting day”

She laughed bitterly, turning to the door.

“Can’t you see? You never had what it takes to become one, you are not hungry enough. That’s why you are not mine to claim. Athena is written all over you.”

 

He knocked the door and entered his teacher’s room. He was sitting at his desk, his back turned to him, seeming so lonely and strong. For the last five years, that man had dedicated his life to making him a warrior, at the cost of his most precious pupil. He had adapted to him, walked with him, to make him a man worthy of the Goddess he served, and even then, he had trusted him.

He could have left with Artemis. Or listened to her. And all that work, the dead, would have been for nothing.

And he still had trusted him. For years he had been the teacher he needed. As much as he knew he would never be worthy of him, he would strive become the student he deserved.

“Camus, can I take the test sooner?”

The man’s back flinched.

“Whenever you want to. All you have to do is claim your armour. It’s frozen inside the glaciers. After today you are already a Saint.”


..........................................




Hyoga opened his eyes. He was shuddering despite the heat of the night. Shadows danced over the walls of his room, projected by the Moon. He could remember the myths about her, the stories of death and victories. Nothing else surrounded the Queen of the Hunt, only of despair and madness. Of vengeance. She was a Goddess of Life and Death, tender and ferocious, soft and harsh. Like her symbol, she was dual and inconstant.

A two faced woman he had learnt to hate.



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‘’Odi et amo: quare id faciam, fortasse requiris. Nescio, sed fieri sentio et excrucior’’

-Catullus


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XI


‘’My Queen, the Deceiver is still in Greece ‘’ said Egeria, kneeling before the golden throne.

“Tell me, why does she test me so? “ the Goddess in veils whispered, her voice honey. The Ortygian preferred not to look at her directly. She found the sight too beautiful to endure.

“I am trying to be understanding. Always am. But this position means there’s a limit to how long I can turn a blind eye to her little challenges. All she had to do was accept my gift, graciously.”

“What has she accomplished? Five years of wars, and no promise of peace after that. The Cycles, the Balance, all she was meant to keep... why does she push it so much?”

Egeria flinched at the venom in that lovely voice. She hated it when the Goddess was angry, she had done much for them; she didn’t deserve to feel that way.

“It must be hard for you, too. To know she’s aiding the people that took your family away. The man you hate should be dead already, with all of them, in my uncle’s devastated land.”

A warm hand that smelt of spring grabbed her by the chin and lifted her head gently. Green eyes, like emeralds, met her gaze.

“I’ll see to that, someday. You know I tried.”

The woman known as the Harpy nodded, leaning her face against her touch.

“If she had not insisted in taking that sword away with her, all this wouldn’t have happened. And still... you are my witness, Egeria, all of you. Still I held my hand, and asked her only to stay away.”

The woman leaned back. It was hard to tell where the throne started and where she ended, everything was so golden about her, her hair, her clothes, her skin.

''Tell Iphigeneia I wish to see her. We’ve given my sister enough time already. This is as far as Ortygia will tolerate. She needs to know that. Needs to learn.''

''Your mercy will always be remembered and praised, my Queen.''

“I just wish she wouldn’t make me use it so often.”




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