04.Exile

 


"What?"...you mean...

Your memories are really screwed up.

Have you forgotten that your hobby is destroying my happiness?


Die -Kaine: Die to live no endorufin-

I

“She’s fine.”

Shun nodded, smiling brightly at his friend. They had been waiting for hours for news on Albinach’s condition.

“A miracle,” she said, her masked face meeting his eyes. “There’s no trace of the poison, no major damage. Albinach even opened her eyes and smiled when I entered the room.”

June sighed. “I’m so relieved.”

“I told you she was going to make it.”

He just hadn’t expected Artemis to be involved in said recovery.

“You did. Now I have to drink this,” she said, showing him a bottle full of a thick concoction. “Albinach says it tastes like shit. Very herbal shit. Makes you puke for hours. I am so looking forward to this.”

“I’ll hold your hair up.” He said, walking her out of the hospital.

“I’ll be very grateful.”

Slowly but surely, Artemis was making a name for herself. He wondered why. He really wanted not to judge her without reason, but his experiences with Gods had made him cautious.

“Deep in thought again, Shun?” June said, poking his shoulder. “She’s fine. I’m fine. Mu is sending some bottles of this over to Andromeda Island, for the rest of the team. We should celebrate.”

Shun smiled, glad she was there. He had come to understand Sanctuary, but still longed for the philosophical, relaxed atmosphere of the island he had trained in. Albiore had really been an anomaly, in that world of myth and power, his absence a tragedy.

“Hey, Shun...that’s your friend’s cosmo, isn’t it?”

“Huh?” Shun followed June’s index to the training grounds, where he could see the clash of two cosmos similar in nature.

He looked up and caught a snowflake in the air.

“Looks like he’s training with Camus... ‘’ he said. It seemed Hyoga had finally decided to stop moping and ask his teacher for help.

“Let’s go and see!” June closed her hand around Shun’s, and led him down the stairs.

“June, we can’t just barge into a Gold Saint’s training.‘’

“Oh, come on, Andromeda! The training grounds are opened to everyone, you know that.”

He relented, defeated. “It will be your fault if we catch a cold.”

“It’s a deal,” she accepted before running down the stairs. Shun laughed, glad that she was once again the spirited young girl he had met at Andromeda’s Island, and followed her suit. Even if that meant they were probably going to end inside a cool and conveniently unbreakable ice coffin.

 

II


“What are you laughing about?”

“You have to admit this is hilarious, Artemis” Milo said as they walked towards the Houses. He had been laughing by himself for the last five minutes. “Sorry, Holy Artemis. The Healer. How will people talk!”

“Fuck you.”

He had been about to leave her shrine in their usual and mutually appreciated ‘get out of here fast least we have to talk about this’ silent agreement, when she stopped him and told him to get Aphrodite and samples of his roses, and meet her at the hospital.

It was strange to spend time with her outside of a bedroom, to see what she was like when she was not desperate.

He was impressed.

“Maybe this is not so bad.”

“What?”

“You and I talking like normal people.”

Artemis smirked. “I don’t think so, Milo.”

“You certainly know your poisons. That’s one topic in common.”

“Family trade,” she answered, struggling to keep her hair in place against the cold wind.

“It’s really blowing,” he said, looking at the sky. It was heavy with clouds, a strange sight to be seen in Athens’ sky.

“Oh.”

“Want to see, Milo?” she asked, her eyes fixed on the training grounds ahead. A snowstorm was blowing there, the cosmos clashing so known to both of them they could have been their own. “Our other topic in common.”

“It’s the first time... I feel it again, like that. He hasn’t been training.” Milo whispered, closing his eyes to enjoy Camus’ cosmo. He could taste the snowflakes on his lips.

“Maybe you are right. We are best being abnormal.”

Artemis smiled at his words. “They certainly,” she observed as she began to walk towards the grounds, “know how to put on a show.”



III



June thanked Athena for her mask the moment she reached the grounds. If not, she doubted she would have been able to hide her awe at the scene that was taking place before her.

Despite she was used to the impressive manifestation of elemental saints’ cosmos, she had never seen the power of an ice saint before. In all of Sanctuary, there were only two persons trained in that tradition, and seeing them spar was magnificent.

They had made of the training grounds a foreign land; covered by a thick layer of frost over wish a snowstorm was blowing.

She trembled.

“I told you it was going to be cold,” Shun warned her, rubbing her shoulders.

June nodded absently, still taken aback. She was sitting next to her friend, close enough to share his body temperature. They were the only ones there, everyone else avoiding the cold. Her masked gaze was on the arena, her eyes moving from Aquarius to Cygnus and then back again. The Gold Saint was keeping a loose defensive stance, the gusts of icy aura that protected him dancing with his deep blue mane. On the other hand, Cygnus was maintaining a steady offensive, slowly forcing his master to attack back.

This didn’t take long to happen.

‘’It’s beautiful,” she whispered, seeing the fight develop... it was like a dance, a beautiful deadly waltz.... Aquarius would dodge Cygnus' fist and shards of ice would flow from his hand, just to be avoided by the younger saint with one fluid movement. They would move away, to later meet again in a cold reunion of fists, kicks and ice. Diamond Dust floating everywhere, enveloping everything.

There was something they weren’t satisfied with, both of them stopping often, the older Saint giving directions.

‘’It’s terrible.”

June looked at Shun. Her friend knew that behind the beauty of that waltz, a deadly end awaited, one that had once taken Aquarius’ life and was close to ending Cygnus’.

‘’Shun, want to train with me?‘’ she exclaimed, wishing to cheer him up a little bit, “a little mock-fight for the sake of the good old days. Besides Albinach, there are no other saints with our skills here either. We could show the rest what battle at long range means.”

He met her veiled gaze, as if trying to read the blank expression of her mask then shook his head slightly. ‘’I’m not in the mood for training, June... ‘’

She was about to tease him for saying something like that, when a voice she didn’t know interrupted them.

‘’Perhaps I could help you out, Chameleon Saint... if you would accept‘’

June turned around, frowning slightly when meeting the owner of that voice. She hadn’t realized that someone was approaching. That was bad.

Standing a few steps from them, was a tall, black-haired woman, dressed in black training clothes. Her face was severe, with eyes the palest blue and full lips that seemed, oddly, prone to laughter. She wasn’t wearing a mask.

And Scorpio accompanied her. The man that had taken her teacher away from her was standing next to the stranger. Old hatred stirred within her.

He was under orders of Sanctuary, she reminded herself. If you let your hate towards him rule you, you might as well hate the whole organization, and then you fail. Albiore taught me better than this.

 

“Of course,” June ventured, surprised when meeting Shun’s ‘please, don’t’ look. What else could she have said? It was impolite to refuse an invitation for training, and if this was a friend of Scorpio, she could at least get the satisfaction of blowing some steam.

‘’June...‘’ Shun pleaded. She ignored him and stood up to lead the girl to the arena.

‘’ Shall we?”

The stranger stared at her face.

‘’So this is really where he found it. A man I know wears a mask similar to the one you are wearing. Is it comfortable? Wouldn’t you prefer to fight unmasked?”

“It’s a tradition; female saints have to wear a mask...” began Scorpio, but she just waved her hand to dismiss him.

June found it odd that a trainee would behave so familiarly towards a Gold Saint.

“I know that, Milo. I’m just curious. Doesn’t it limit your vision?” she asked, reaching her hand to June’s face.

“It’s a tradition,” Shun repeated, closing his hand around her wrist to stop her.

“Shun?”

Scorpio merely shrugged, looking at Aquarius and Cygnus, who had stopped their sparring and were now approaching the small group.

“Don’t touch me.”

Shun released her and the woman moved her hand away.

June frowned. She could understand a female saint not wearing a mask, it was a fad among some of them, after Shaina stopped wearing hers. Not a fad she approved, but one she trusted would soon fade away, like all fads did. But how could the woman not know at all about the masks and their uses? Even trainees did, it was the first belonging they were given when they reached Sanctuary. No woman consecrated to Athena walked her land with her face bare, least they were at the females’ barracks.

And there was Shun’s animosity, and Milo’s presence, and her disregard of hierarchy; and then words she had used to take her friend’s place in their training.

 

I’m going to get my ass kicked.

 

“There’s a slight loss of peripheral vision, but it gets balanced by an improvement in long distance sight; and the filters are a great protection against poisons and adverse weather” she explained. All her questions had been valid; the woman was a stranger from a land with different rules. Shun and Milo’s defensiveness was more surprising.

“So there’s a tactical advantage to it, besides the psychological one. That’s Athena for you. Why aren’t you wearing one, Milo?”

“I told you, tradition” the Gold Saint sighed.

“Religion,” June corrected, feeling herself suddenly the target of all looks.

“We represent Athena, the warrior goddess, when we are wearing the mask. That’s why there are restrictions.”

“Because with this on, you are her. Something,” Artemis commented, looking at Milo’s groin, “you obviously can’t be.”

“Obviously.” Milo agreed, unabashed.

June laughed, and even Shun found it difficult to keep a straight face.

“Thank you for explaining this to me, Chameleon.”

“Thank you for healing the girl under my command.”

“Albinach. I like her, she’s like a rabbit. Always jumping around.” Artemis smiled graciously. Her face seemed less harsh when she did so. “So what now? How do female Saints train?”

“Pretty much like men,” June commented, guiding her to one of the arenas. “We beat each other to pulp.”

She felt the Goddess’ eyes on her back then heard her laughing heartily.

“Oh. This is going to hurt.”

 


Shun felt like he had to do something. Like few others, he knew what it meant, facing a God, and while Artemis presented an approachable visage, he couldn’t but fear for June.

He took a step forward, but a warm hand latched to one of his shoulders, stopping him with firmness.

‘’She won’t like you doing that, Andromeda. The Chameleon Saint is not the kind of woman that needs a knight in shining armour.”

Shun looked at Milo, who was watching the figures of the two women as they reached the arena.

“What is going on?” Hyoga asked.

“Your acquaintance is helping June train,” Shun explained, as he reached for the crystals at the tips of his wavy mane. “There’s frost in your hair.”

 


Camus looked at his over his shoulder. Milo smirked at the display of vanity.

“You two..” he tsked, sliding his fingers through the length of Aquarius’ hair. A shower of small shards met the ground.

“Thank you” Camus said. Milo waved his hand and looked away. He was still having trouble meeting his eyes.

“Why aren’t you saying anything? I am the only one that thinks this is dangerous?”

“What?” Hyoga asked.

Shun sighed and pointed at the arena. “That.”

The ice saints looked at each other.

“Artemis can handle herself in a fight.”

“It’s June I am worried about.”

“She’s a Saint.” Hyoga said, puzzled.

That’s a Goddess.”

“June should be honoured, then,” Camus commented, taking a seat, “it’s a rare opportunity.”

“I don’t know about this.”

“At last, someone that sees reason.”

“I don’t know if I was a fool for not thinking of asking Artemis to spar myself, or if this is better. They make a pretty picture.”

“Perhaps you should go back, Milo,” Camus said.

“After they are done. June needs to get it out of her system. The rage over Albiore.”

“Perfectly valid rage.”

Milo nodded, leaning back. He was sitting two steps below Camus, and feeling extremely aware of his presence. Like always. “No one is denying that, Andromeda.”

“Why were you two here?”

 

Of course you would ask. Ever the worried teacher.

 

“Andromeda Island got fucked up after Aphrodite and I were there. We didn’t know and had trainees rebuilding. A girl got really messed up.”

That was an understatement. The girl’s condition was critical, without Artemis’ healing skills and the herbs she had Aphrodite prepare she wouldn’t have made it through the night. He was still astonished about it, at what the battle against Albiore had done to that island. It was always hard to predict the consequences of war.


“Someone asked Artemis for help and she dragged the two of us to the hospital to find out what kind of poisons we tinker with,” he added, eyeing Cygnus. Camus’ student was perfectly poised, sitting between his friend and his teacher. Leave it to the ice saints to perfect the art of remaining immutable.

“Can’t you do something about it?”

Milo blinked, meeting Shun’s clear gaze.

“About the earth there. That’s what’s poisoned.”

“Aphrodite is on it. Pisces thinks that growing certain plants might help, he’s going over the plans with Marin.” Milo laughed at the younger saint’s troubled face. “Trust me; he’s the man you want on that job. He knows his trade.”

“He’s being very helpful, lately,” Camus commented.

“He found his inspiration” he mentioned, pointing at the little owl around his neck.


 

Artemis looked at the Saints from the arena.

“Are they always so...?”

“Gossipy? The Gold Saints, for sure. They are the old ladies from Sanctuary. Too much free time on their hands, if you ask me,” June answered, “So, do you know how to use a whip? Chains?”

The goddess stared at her.

“Not really. Should I? I thought your people didn’t favour weapons.”

“We islanders like to bend the rules a little bit.”

Artemis smiled. “I know what you mean. Arrows, bows, knives. Those are my things. Lovely things to play target with, not so much for one on one sparring. I’m somewhat decent with blades, but I wouldn’t bet my life on them.”

“So how should we solve this?”

“If we were on Ortygia, I would say a race.”

June laughed, “You are not in Ortygia.”

And dashed forward, ready to hit.

 


“You know how to block.”

“I had a somewhat decent teacher. Also, life on your own,” Artemis pushed June away, gaining some distance, “really does wonders to self-reliance.”

 


“Still fast. Very. Her form has improved,” Camus observed. He couldn’t find fault in it. It was still fluid, still belonging more to a hunter than a warrior, but the movements were confident and adapted well to the arena. It seemed it wasn’t only the ice which she had made her own the last couple of years.

“I’m surprised she hasn’t put a knife to her neck already. Where did she learn to fight properly?”

“Knife? Knives aren’t allowed on the arena.”

“I doubt Athena’s rules apply to her guest.”

“Shun, tell June to watch her back.”

“You are talking about knives!”

“Shun, her back.”


 

Artemis elbowed her from behind, making June fall to the ground. The speed difference was too large, and she kept managing to get behind her. Her fighting was... weird. Evasive, fast, and focused mostly on reaching her blind spots. Most of the blows, fortunately, were weak.

But they are all on vitals. With a knife in her hands, she would be deadly.

 

“You know...”

June made her whip crack once on the floor to use as distraction, then caught Artemis’ leg and pulled. The Ortygian dashed forward to avoid the fall and freed herself. June cracked the whip again between them, from stopping her from getting closer.

 

Let’s see if you can get behind me now.

 

“Technically speaking, mid-range, non-projectile, flexible weaponry is not really considered a weapon. Per se. Under Athena’s eyes. I don’t know how we managed to do that; whips and chains? Completely valid.”

Artemis laughed. “Islanders. Will always love them. Give them one rule...” she reached behind her, pulling two hunting knives from under her shirt. “... and they will break it.”



“... knives.”

“Knives.”

“Indeed.”

“Can you even call that sparring?”

“She has two knives. Hyoga. Camus. If she hurts June, I am holding the two of you responsible. Stop her.”

“I have no idea how to do that.”

“Hyoga!”

“I’m being honest, Shun. What on earth are they doing?”

Camus smiled looking at the women at the arena, the gesture making Milo feel warm inside. It was always a rare, welcomed sight to catch him smiling.

“They are playing, Hyoga,” Scorpio answered. “Camus, care to explain the rules?”

“At the moment I think they are: Artemis wins if she gets behind June and puts a knife at her throat, June wins if she can stop her.”

 

 


“What now?”

They were a tangled mess. Chameleon had managed to make Artemis drop a knife and had both of her arms caught in her whip, while Artemis had managed to get behind her and kept her remaining knife inches from her neck, the whip the only thing between her skin and the blade. If she managed to cut it, it was over.

“Now,” Artemis said, “It’s tag and you are it.”

She dropped the knife and used her cosmo to freeze the whip, breaking it, before getting some distance from the Saint.

“The arena is hardly challenging for that.”

“You are right on that...” Artemis mentioned, looking around her. “Hey, June...I will do nothing to hurt you. Do you believe me?”

June nodded, wondering what she had in mind.

“Do call your Cloth, then. You’ll need the whip, and its heat.”

Like before, at the ruins, it took only a second. She had closed her hands, and when she opened them, the arena was frozen, covered in frost. Large blocks of ice sprung from it, making it look like an obstacle course. June watched, surprised, and looked at Camus.

 

Three, then, who can bend temperature and drop it to their will.

 

She called for her Cloth, and welcomed its embrace like few times she had welcomed it before.

 

 

 

“So it’s true what Seiya said. She has your techniques.”

“Mine.”

“Sorry, Camus. Yours.”

The ice saint leaned forward, elbows on his legs, chin on his hands. His eyes had that look that Milo and Hyoga knew, the one that betrayed he was plotting a million things in his mind.

“She really made it her own.”

“I thought so as well,” Hyoga commented. “It’s not careless. There’s a tremendous amount of...”

“Finesse. Like with her arrows.”

“And control.” The longing was evident in Cygnus’ voice. “Look at that, it’s easy to let the ice freeze everything in its way, to go further down, more with her power. But she’s keeping it at the right density, right temperature, right amount, to... throw snowballs at June.”

“June is pretty good evading obstacles. And snowballs. Good strength in her arms, really good balance. Rather decent, for a Bronze Saint.”

“That was out of place, Milo.”

“I was complimenting her. Albiore was a good teacher.”

“One of the best we had.”

“I’m starting to feel uncomfortable.”

“Sorry, Shun. I do mean it, you know. I know it doesn’t amount to much, but it wasn’t a job I enjoyed. There was little to enjoy, those days.”

“... It’s fine. Well, it’s not, but it’s as fine as it will be.”

“Now that’s beautiful.

“I didn’t know she could use the Diamond Dust like that.”

“Beautiful. To the ground, to reach the legs and stop an escaping foe, while keeping her stance and distance,” Camus’ eyes shone, “If she had her bow, she could shoot a still prey in whatever vitals she preferred.”

“Don’t tell me she’s using her bow next.”

“Ignore them. They are nerds, Shun. Ice nerds.”

 

Aquarius had never thought he would have the chance to see what she would do with his skills; that the day would come in which he wouldn’t dread a future in which Orytigian hunters would wield the ice against Athena because of his leniency.

The skills he had been entrusted with and had once feared would perish with him, were now in the hands of two persons that had taken them to levels he hadn’t thought possible.

And what if the price is a future with ice hunters as much as warriors? What if it comes a time when they clash, forced against one another over opposing views? What a grand battle that would be!

 

He had been horrified the day he caught Artemis using ice for the first time. She had been so focused on lowering the temperature of a single point in the sea that she made an iceberg, something he couldn’t do.

 

It looked so pretty I wanted to try it, she had told him. Her form, the wasted movements, everything had been a mess, but the power was terrifying.

She had picked up his skills from watching his trainees. Few other times he had been so conscious that the power she wielded was beyond human.

Now she made it into a hunter’s weapon and can exercise so much control over it that she can play with a Bronze Saint. No, it’s more than control. It’s comfort, and the ease that comfort brings. She has no doubts she knows what she’s doing.

 

“Perhaps...” he said, watching the way Artemis used the cold she had already generated to control her surroundings. June was an interesting match. As Milo had said, the Bronze Saint had good strength in her arms, and a firm stance, developed to avoid being thrown down if a trapped enemy pulled her whip off her hands. The Chameleon Saint was a still point, able to attack mid-range and bring her opponent to the distance she pleased, as much as to cut off most of the attacks directed her way. He could see Albiore all over her, in the balanced mix of offense and defence, in the deceptive harmlessness. The saint cracked her whip against the incoming diamond dust and shattered its direction, making it fall around her in a circle. Now she had a little ice barrack to stand behind.

 

Your student has your confidence, Albiore. She doesn’t have your temperance yet, but maybe that went to your precious charge, Andromeda.

It was harder to find himself in Artemis. He would have to ask Milo about it, there was always the danger of subjectivity when judging something that involved him. It was easier with Hyoga, but he was his pupil, his precious charge. The kind of involvement he had in his life couldn’t compare to... well, to his relationship with anyone. Mentoring was his life.

Has been, he corrected himself. The gripping fear that had been plaguing him since his return from Hades showed its ugly head. Camus pushed it away by watching Artemis spread the ice spikes around June. She smiled, satisfied, when the saint had to shift her stance and take a step back.

 

He leaned forward, amused.

 

You can play a decent warrior, but you’ll always be a hunter, and think like one. A warrior would focus on making her lose her control of her immediate surroundings; take her whip, make her waver. Break her defences in order to have an opening to attack. You are cornering her, stripping her from options, trying to get her out of her safe zone and leaving her nowhere to run.

Camus wouldn’t use such a strategy –he doubted any in Sanctuary would. He hadn’t trained long with her, only a couple of months, before he was summoned back to the Twelve Houses. She had learnt fast.

 

She had to. Either she made training her life, or she died.

 

He could see traces, ghosts of his movements, mainly in her defence. It was fun to watch. There she was, a fast, fluid, dangerously playful to a warrior’s eye, creature; then she would turn to a solid, collected defence stance. He could also notice it whenever she was at hitting range. It didn’t show, but she probably was having troubles relying so much on fighting moves, holding her hand back from reaching her vitals, like she had done before.

She would shift from her natural awareness of her surroundings and tendency to use them to her advantage, to a domineering control over them, more similar to his approach.

 

Artemis has made me her shadow, something to rely on to avoid forcing her hand.

He felt the same tenderness he had felt when seeing how happy Hyoga had been when he couldn’t find fault in his Diamond Dust. It had been one of the first smiles he had seen in the usually withdrawn child

 

“She’s using it as a bridge...” he whispered.

 

He met Hyoga’s puzzled gaze. “You said so, Hyoga. She would just put a knife to someone’s throat before. It made it impossible to spar with her. Look at her now. She knows our language.”

 

And if the price is a pack of ice-wielding hunters, then so be it.

“Camus... Sometimes, when she blocks, she moves like...” his student began saying, his tone serious. But he stopped himself.

 

You’ve noticed too. She reminds you of me.

He was impressed he had noticed as well; then again, Hyoga had a tendency to do that. The day they had faced each other, he had known Cygnus had surpassed him and grown beyond anything he could expect.

As much as the battle against him would always pain him, it would also remain, in his heart, the greatest moment in his life. To be able to see his student take the Aurora from him and best him with it had been a gift he had never believed would happen; there he was, finally, an ice saint greater than himself. He had succeeded, he could rest.

 

He swallowed, and again, pushed the fears at the memory of the void behind him. Was that why Hyoga had stopped himself from asking? He didn’t want to remember their fight? Or he didn’t want to confirm what he was seeing?

“Remind me to ask her to spar with me before she leaves,” Milo said, interrupting his thoughts.

“Tempted, Scorpio?”

“Don’t pretend you don’t feel the same way, Aquarius.”

 

Of course he wouldn’t. A Gold Saint rarely found a challenge.

 

Camus knitted his brows together, his thoughts starting to run. Artemis had managed to slip behind June again. The whip was a powerful weapon to control an enemy, but demanded its user to be constantly watchful of having their opponent on sight.

“Oh, no. There it is.” Milo smirked. “Aquarius’ infamous ‘I am about to have an idea’ look.”

“Hush.”

Scorpio laughed.

“They are always bad, Camus.”

 

 

 

June looked around her, at the wall of ice that had been her protection and was now her cage, at the knowing smile on the woman blocking her way. She looked up.

Artemis tsked to dissuade her.

If June tried to jump, she would leave her legs completely open and would be pulled down.

Chameleon’s metallic laughter resounded from behind her mask.

She placed her whip around her waist and stretched her hand. “I yield.”

 


“Hyoga...”

“Run for your life, Cygnus, now.”

Camus shoot a deadly stare at Milo, who laughed and looked away, oddly... uncomfortable. Again.

He would have to deal with that later on. Things with him had been difficult, his friend’s behaviour strangely avoidant.

“Why don’t you ask her?”

“... ask her what?”

“Bad idea, Camus,” Milo interrupted again.

“He needs control.”

“I can see where you are coming from, but still, bad idea.” Scorpio shook his head, visibly bothered. “You always consider the result over the cost.”

“It’s beyond my ability, Milo,” he admitted, the words both paining him and filling him with pride. “You can certainly see that.”

This time his friend did meet his gaze, taken aback. It was a heavy reality they all had to deal with. Athena’s favourites had surpassed them all; the Gold Saints weren’t any longer an unbeatable challenge to them.

“You are such a manipulative bastard,” he exclaimed, looking away.

“What are you talking about, Camus?”

Shun interrupted him before he could answer.

“He wants you to spar with her, Hyoga. To get your control over the ice back.” Andromeda looked at him. “You can’t help him with it.”

“I can’t. But she does. And you know it.” Camus replied, turning back to his student.

“You can’t...” Milo growled, bothered. “Great. You already thought about it; right, Cygnus? Ice saints, you are all so...”

“Driven.” Camus mentioned.

He shook his head, and chose a word Camus hadn’t expected to hear from a man who tortured his opponents. “Cruel.”

“If that’s so, it comes with the skills. She’s pretty good at cruelty herself.” Hyoga ran his fingers through his hair, “Why is she here, Camus?”

“I don’t know,” he replied honestly, “Why don’t you ask her?”

“Andromeda, get June and come sit with me further up the steps.”

The younger saint couldn’t hide his perplexity.

“If they spar, it’s going to get ugly. I prefer to watch it from a tolerable distance and not have to worry about covering Chameleon’s ass from backlash. Also,” he added, standing up, “I don’t want to listen to this crap.”

Camus grabbed his wrist to stop him, the other Gold Saint glaring at him.

“You said you met her while helping a trainee.”

Milo’s stare hardened. He was genuinely angry, and when angered, as Camus well knew; Scorpio was always a force to reckon, made, like his sign, of deep buried secrets he would always use to harm and be harmed.

“I don’t remember saying that, Aquarius.”

 


IV


 

“You know. Your Sanctuary... is really, really coming apart if you need me to fix every little shit that’s going on here. Heal the trainee, fix Cygnus. He’s your baby, not mine. He said so himself Apparently, all I ever did in Siberia was visit you. A couple of times,” she mentioned, glaring at Hyoga. Camus stared at him admonishingly. Why would Hyoga say that to her? Had something happened in all the years he... he wasn’t there?

 

Was he missing something important? Was that why Milo had been so aggressive?

 

Or was Hyoga’s abrasion against Artemis still because of the way she had left Siberia? It had been five years, he should have let go already.

 

Then again, it’s Hyoga. Letting go it’s not a part of his nature.

“Also, a please, a thank you, a something¸ wouldn’t be so bad.”

“It comes with the job.”

Artemis’ eyes hardened. “It doesn’t. Not really.”

“All this...” he mentioned, looking at the frozen arena, “it was hard, wasn’t it, keeping it so clean.

Something flickered in her eyes at his words. He was right. “Camus... this has to be the worst idea you ever had. It can go... really bad. Heed my warning.”

“Why would it? You impressed me, against June.”

She laughed bitterly. Something had happened, something he didn’t know about, in that void he felt so close to his shadow. Around... four years had passed since he had last seen Artemis. He had done her a great disservice, before, and to amend that, he had given her his skills. He had lost track of her, after that, but he had expected Hyoga to have seen her again. During his training they had been close.

And there was the blood bond between them, which he still wished they hadn’t made. His student was... a caring man. It wasn’t in his nature to turn his back on anyone he grew close with, no matter his anger or disappointment.

“Artemis...”

“But it’s so proper of you, as well. To push everyone hard, until they deliver what you want. Until he delivers. Your perfect little saint. It’s also proper of you... to be right. You know us, sometimes more than we know ourselves.”

She scratched the palm of her hand. For a moment, he thought she had grazed it against Chameleon, but then he noticed the scar and remembered. It was strange, though. It was a bad one, with new scabs on it. Artemis’ cuts were clean.

“It is hard, all of this,” she confessed. “And I do want it.”

The darkness he had seen flickering in her gaze strengthened. What landmine had he stepped into? There was more than anger there. There was hatred.

 

What have I missed?

 

He felt... frustrated, a feeling he greatly disliked and had never managed to get used to. It meant he was missing information, and that... that always led to mistakes. His eyes turned to Milo, who was sitting at the top of the steps with the two bronze saints.

What do you know, Scorpio; that I don’t?

 

“To meet him like this, one of the men that has committed the hubris of defeating Gods. You are granting me a very, very dark wish, Aquarius.”

She smiled. “I hope you don’t live to regret it, and to find myself thankful to you. So...” she went on, raising her voice and turning to Hyoga, who was standing by the edge of the arena. “How much do you want it, Cygnus? This?

Her cosmo flared, this time beyond the hold she had kept it in when facing June. That was it, the power he remembered, able to turn sea water into icebergs, able to make him feel cold, something he barely did, after his training.

The wind strengthened around them, a snowstorm brewing over their heads.

It had taken her so little to do that; and he knew that with that same ease, she could make it end.

Like pulling a bow and keeping it strained.


Hyoga smirked, getting into the arena. “Unfortunately, more than I care to admit.”

 

V


“I’m at a very big disadvantage. I’ve been playing with June. That was tiring. Exhausting,” Artemis said while Hyoga approached her. Snow had started to fall already and his cosmo was glowing brightly around him, protecting him. He stood before her and reached his hand behind her back. “What do you think you are doing?”

He showed her the extra knife and threw it at the edge of the arena.

“You are at Sanctuary. There are rules.”

“... you are such a bore.”

She pushed the temperature down a little further and smirked at the way his cosmo matched it.

“That’s... interesting. Maybe we should have done this earlier.”

“You were undisciplined and careless.”

“I always thought the problem was that you were weak.”

He glared at her words. She ignored him.

“So... that means now I am not? Undisciplined? Careless? Did I impress you, like I did Camus?”

Hyoga shifted his stance into a defensive one.

“I’ll take that as a compliment.”

She remained relaxed, ice dancing on her fingertips, tresses of black hair, loosened from the ponytail due to her game with June, framing her face.

“There’s this thing about me... You might have noticed. You were always observant,” she commented, quietly letting the cold grow around them. A few grades lower, then some more. “I noticed it these last few years. Became quite self-aware.

“Anyway, as I was saying; this thing.” She brushed a strand of hair away from her face, carefully placing it behind her ear. “I don’t really enjoy making the first move, like June did before. Dashing forward, very much a brave warrior; unless I really have to.”

“That means I should make the first move?” he asked with a smirk.

Artemis shook her head, laughing, her hair falling back to its place messily.

 

It had been so long since he had heard her laughter. It was... difficult.

 

“Don’t be foolish!” Her ice blue eyes fixed on his, almost teasing him, like she used to. Except they were harder now. Everything about her seemed to have hardened. It troubled him. “That means I lay traps, and wait.”

 

Again, less than one second, and the ice had crept over his feet and legs, keeping him in place.

 

Diamond Dust.”

 

He splintered the block into shards and slid back before her blow could reach him.

 

Damn huntress.

Her laughter again. “I thought it would be really, really hard to lift my hand against you, Cygnus. It seems I was wrong. This might even be fun.

 

He dashed, leaving a trail of triggered spikes behind him. Again, fast, too damned fast, she made a wall of ice spring between them inches before his blow connected. The wall shattered around them, shards falling everywhere, but his speed was slowed down and she managed to block him, closing her hand over his fist.

She looked at it, her eyebrow lifting quizzically at the way the ice flowed from it over hers.

“Now what do we have here...? Oh, Hyoga,” The familiarity in her tone was heart-wrenching. Strangers, that’s what they were, fatefully meeting again, “you didn’t.”

Gold speckles flashed in his vision as he used his free hand to release the diamond dust. She used her hold on him to push herself backward, the flow of ice following her closely. His gaze locked on hers, and he knew, right there and then, that part of him, like she had said, was enjoying it greatly.

She focused her cosmo around her arm and drove her hand into the flow, pushing it aside. It went over the steps and climbed up until it was stopped by Camus, who was standing before the other saints, gold shining around him.

Artemis shook the ice away from her arm.

Hyoga cursed inwardly. The way he was fighting was a mess, all over the place, like he had been since they had returned from Hades.

And by the look in her eyes, she could tell, and was gloating.

“You did. That’s why Camus wants you to spar with me. So careless, Hyoga,” she whispered, her full lips refraining a revelling smile. “So very undisciplined and careless.”

She laughed again, darkly.

“This is so ironic. What you need is something mine. Again. Camus can be a real bastard sometimes”

“We can stop if you want.”

“I never said that. It’s... hard for me, to find someone who can do this,” she commented, showing him the frosted sleeve. “I appreciate that. Like Camus said, it can be a pain to keep things so clean. And still...you can’t see it yet, can you? Even if it’s right here, before you. Wonder if you’ll be able to get it. Will it be worth it, to show you?”

She glared at him. “You certainly don’t deserve it.”

“I didn’t ask for-“

 

...The trainee that’s been showing you around is at the hospital...

He could hear the whisper in his cosmo, and shuddered at the longing and anger it provoked within him. Had she felt the same way, when he reached for her? She had to. If not she wouldn’t be doing the same now. That was Artemis. She waited for her prey to step into her trap.

Then went for the heart, or the jugular. Whatever was open for her to reach.

 

...That’s what you said. To me. You asked, Hyoga. You. Asked....

She took a deep sigh, and scratched her hand. He noticed red drops on the ground. There were scabs on her palm.

First blood, he thought. That’s what she would say.

“What... happened to you?”

Artemis tsked.

“Hyoga. You fought Gods.”

Her cosmo flared like an explosion around her, and the snowstorm became so hard it had turned into a sharp white curtain. Hyoga could hear a rumbling around him, one he had heard before.

Glaciers...

(... I made an iceberg, Hyoga...)

He jumped before he got covered by the snow, reaching higher, to stand at the top of the walls, a white, irregular, expanding field standing before him.

The blow came from his right, under his ribs, sending him against one of the blocks of ice. He hissed. A kick, a warrior’s move, made to put some distance between them. Something Camus would do to be able to use ice attacks and dominate the surroundings.

He dodged right before the diamond dust hit the spot where he had been.

He had taught her, but when? Why? He was certain she wasn’t able to fight like that when he last saw her.

“You should know by now something so basic as to never lower your guard when facing an opponent”

She stood over the glacier, framed in white. He narrowed his eyes, shifting his stance again. Offensive. Only way to take down a hunter was close combat. There was something he was failing to see. Something important.

Gold speckles flashed once again in his vision.

Until then, she had the advantage.

...And I concede. Get it because I will not repeat myself...

VI


“Camus, you have to stop this now.” Milo said. He had felt the brush of Dohko’s questioning cosmo in his, had had to appease him.

“It’s ok.”

“It’s not ok, the arena is a fucking glacier now.”

“Just the arena.”

He was burning his cosmo, keeping them out of the storm and protecting them from the stray remnants of Hyoga’s uncontrolled blows.

“And that’s supposed to mean...?”

“The first time I saw her use the ice, she was by the sea. It wasn’t her cosmo what I first noticed, but a temperature drop, a bad and highly unusual one. I walked towards the centre of it, from the cottage. Had to tell Isaak and Hyoga to stay in, for their protection. I thought an enemy, one I, a Gold Saint, could consider such, had reached Siberia. I felt cold, Milo. It takes a lot for me to notice coldness as something to protect myself from.

“When I reached her, she looked so happy. There was an iceberg before her. One she had made, by making the temperature of the sea go below absolute zero. She hadn’t noticed the snowstorm she had caused, how it had spread to the cottage, to town. She hadn’t expected it. The iceberg. Had been so thrilled about it that she didn’t notice anything else.

Milo listened. It was the first time he heard Camus talking about it. Aquarius was very private, and rarely talked about himself or his charges. Sometimes, for very specific reasons. Or when he was pissed at them. He had told him about her presence there, had told Saga as well. Because it was what a Gold Saint had to do. But the details? Not really. All he had said was that what she was doing was of no consequence to Sanctuary.

What little else he knew was from Artemis’ herself. About those months she had trained under him, between Hyoga’s departure from Siberia and Camus’ arrival to Sanctuary.

He did something for me I can’t repay, she had told him, as he marvelled and despised feeling the shadow of his cosmo in hers.

 

“This, what she’s doing now. She’s shooting arrows, Milo. This is what Hyoga must understand. Precision. Finesse. Instead of letting the ice ride her, she’s absorbed it, made it her own. She will shoot actual arrows soon, at him. Made of ice. A huntress, with her own techniques.”

He sighed heavily.

“The one that’s not noticing things now is Hyoga. That’s why he has to spar with her. She’s been there. Hyoga’s problem is that he’s grown too much. He’s too strong, and still uses his moves as if he were weaker, he hasn’t realised how much he’s grown. So it’s the ice that’s controlling him. Is it so bad that I should make the most of her presence here, then? I can’t lead him out of where he’s stuck, but she can. It’s an opportunity he won’t have otherwise. And Artemis... she will never hurt him. Not really.”

Camus’ usually severe, thoughtful gaze left the grounds to look at him. Milo’s stomach sunk at seeing it hurting.

“That’s why you called me cruel, didn’t you? You know I am taking advantage of that. You’ve... talked to her. But what can I do? I am, and always will be, his teacher.”

He could see tracks of frost over his cheeks, like the ones he had seen on his dead body, at Aquarius Temple, after his fight against his beloved student.

“Milo... this is so strange. I shouldn’t be seeing this. What am I supposed to do? This boy...he’s my legacy. I know that, in every fibre of my body. But I can’t give him anything more. So why...”

Camus shook his head and returned his attention to the grounds. Milo looked away from him, unable to sustain it.


You wanted to say why you are here, alive, again. That’s... awful, Camus. That’s why you are cruel. Your craft is cruel. All that wield it are so intensely single-minded, to the point where you can’t see anything before you but that endless white which cuts deep within you and feeds in your humanity.


And then you wonder why, why you are hurting, when there is so much more around you to ease that pain.


“I’ll hold her back,” he found himself saying, watching Artemis dance over the ice. “When this pushes her over the edge, I’ll steady her hand.”

“Thank you.”


He sneered. He was tied to them, in some horrible, twisted way, to all three of them. Caught in a sick fascination he had no intentions of breaking free. Might as well do honour to his house and get through it fully. Let it never be said Scorpio didn’t own up to its passions, no matter how bitter they might taste.


VII

 

So that was why Athena’s Saints were to fear. Couldn’t Hyoga notice it, really? Had he gotten so used to it already? He kept slipping into his seventh sense with ease, gold tinting his cosmo, and remained blind to it.

 

Was it because it was her, someone he hadn’t been able to see fully before? Would it have been different if it were any of her relatives?

 

You are facing a God, Hyoga. I am the stuff of nightmares. The thing that freaked you out, five years ago, when you chose to remain blind to what I could do.

 

You weren’t able to even see me move, then.

He still couldn’t accept her, could he?

Don’t go that way, she told herself, focusing on the battle. It’s dangerous to do so after last night.

 

She stretched her hands before her, using temperature and air to make a wave of ice spikes spread towards him. He moved further back, towards the edge of the arena, in a small clear space.

There.

 

She changed her stance to one that came natural to her, one arm stretched forward, clutching the ice bow that formed within her grasp, the other pulling the thread of air backwards. He took another jump back, the arrow hitting the ground where he had been standing.

 

“You never miss,” she heard him whisper, and smiled when shooting again, this time against the walls of ice around him, which cracked and crumbled, like the eternal glaciers must have done when he got his cloth.

 

You left before I could see you. I did go back to Siberia, slightly later than I would have wanted, but went, as I had promised. And you weren’t there. You took the test early. That’s how freaked out you were. That was how far your word went.

Liar. Look at you now, facing me so carelessly.

Her palm throbbed and she had to open and close it a couple of times.

“That’s the problem with mid-range attacks, like yours, like June’s. Get close, and there are blind spots, weakened blows. Get further away, and what can you do? Your kind is so... unused to long-range,” she mused, walking over the glacier, “it’s no wonder Saori first fell to an arrow.”

 

Once again the golden speckles filled the air and the pile of snow was pushed back. She covered her face to avoid the shards, and when she moved it down, Hyoga was before her, his cosmo so wonderfully... vast.

 

You can’t even see yourself right now, how do you expect to harness your power?

She hit the ground with her heels, over a fissure. The glacier fractured; the side where Hyoga was standing falling down. His blow connected against the standing wall, which shattered at the pressure. So did the one behind it, and once again Camus was forced to deflect the chain reaction.

Artemis hopped between the blocks to the ground, shaking her head.

“You know, this is what Isaak would call a waste of power. So much energy, thrown away. Disappointing. What good is it, if you can’t control it?”

“You said you would help,” he heaved. He had managed to get behind her, a consequence of the frozen ground. It was easy to slide over it, making their moves faster. “Then do so.”

“But I am.”

She turned; pretending to elbow him, then moved down, grabbed his leg and pushed him down. “That’s what Isaak would say, not what I would.”

“Hyoga, look around you, and when you are done, look at me,” she whispered in his ear; then moved away from his reach, leaving him grabbing air.

“What I would say is that your awareness of your surroundings is poor, your knowledge of your skills is fractured, and you completely underestimate your opponent. Are all of you Bronze Saints going through the same thing? Disowning your skills?”

“I’m not-“

She avoided the ice blast; the tips of her hair frosting, and had to turn to use the diamond dust to divert the excessive flow away from the steps once again. Some wretched trainees had been lured by the display of power, and she could see more gold saints approaching.

“Take the kids away,” she ordered, without caring for an audience. “Now, you were saying?”

Hyoga looked away, frustrated. He was out of breath and looked like a mess. For someone like him, the lack of control had to be difficult to handle.

 

You’ve become quite the poster boy for what a Saint of Athena should be.

 

A part of her longed to reach out for him, tell him how easy his situation was. But the greater one hated that feeling within her. She was showing him in the way he deserved. That was kindness enough.

“Sanctuary is such a weird place at the moment. So different from what I remember from it. I was here, for a while, four years ago. After the five of you wrecked it.”

Get angry and you might notice.

 

“It wasn’t like that.”

She laughed, mockingly. “Really? Didn’t seem that way. I came to see Camus’ grave, and give my salutes. It was a very short visit, but still the place felt different then. Maybe it was because the wounds from the war were still so... open. Dread was still present in the air. Perhaps it had to do with the deaths still to come. What do you think?”

“What does that have to do with anything?”

“Everything,” she shrugged. “Now Athena’s guard fear their own cosmos and the gold saints became second hand warriors. An interesting time for Eris and me to be here; a creature that lives for strife and another that can’t miss her shots. It would be so easy, to take all of you down.”

She blocked again, the blow’s strength forcing her to slide back until her back met the glacier.

“Cornered,” he hissed, inches from her.

“This is what I meant by disowning your skills.

The blocks of ice at their sides cracked.

“He tried to push her down before they collapsed over them but she stopped him.

“Don’t touch me,” she growled, shooting one of the ice arrows towards the sky. It pierced one of the falling blocks and spread around them like a spider web.

She threw the bow away and placed her hands together. “Diamond Dust!”

The ice spread over the web like a wall, which she kept flowing until she couldn’t feel the rumbling of the falling ice anymore. At her side, she noticed Hyoga doubt and stop himself from aiding her.

And that’s how you are crippling yourself.

“That’s a Saint for you,” she muttered when done, “Good for protecting someone that doesn’t need it and little else.”

“How can you...?” he said, looking around. He ran his fingers through his hair, as if trying to brush away the frustration. “You couldn’t do this before. No, that’s not it. It was too much.

She scratched the palm of her hand. The throbbing was back.

“You never listen to what I say; I told you, look around then look at me. You did neither. Why are you...?”

So blind when it comes to me?

 

Artemis stopped herself. It wasn’t something she was willing to say aloud.

“It wasn’t,” she said instead, feeling the ice with her fingertips, trying to find a thinner spot to make a way out. “You are closer to it now, that’s all. You can see it, that’s a huge difference.”

He frowned, still not understanding.

 

Damn you.

 

“We’ve been fighting on a glacier, Cygnus. One I could do thanks to the clash of our cosmos. Aquarius had to block the excessive power of your skills. I had to do it.”

“That’s why... I’m lacking control.”

She smirked at his admision.

“That’s such a lie, Hyoga. More of the stuff Isaak or Camus would say. Very Saint like, but still a lie.”

 

She condensed the water in the air until a new bow appeared in her hands, took aim and shattered the protective half-sphere they were under. Artemis was glad to see the sky again.

 

“And as such, you don’t listen.”

He’s still terribly stubborn.

 

The world was white around them, turned by them into a strange mixture of Siberia and Ancient Greece. She took a deep breath, enjoying the coldness she had grown to love. Considering the temperatures they had been pushing, the ice would remain for a while. Athena’s new frozen arena. She found the idea hilarious.

At the steps, she could see saints still watching. The Kyoko had joined Camus and the rest. He was probably freaking out; like Camus had freaked out the first time he saw her using the ice. Thankfully they had taken the trainees away.

Hyoga hadn’t freaked out once, and he had been taking her blows one after the other as if it were the most normal thing ever. It was so... ironic, that blindness of his.

“It’s beautiful.”

“Always thought so,” she sighed.

“What you said...”

“I say a lot of things.”

He smirked. It was so strange to be talking to him like that, over the ice, almost... relaxed. Only the aurora was missing, and she would be back in Siberia.

 

This is Sanctuary, she reminded herself. Never forget that.

 

“About disowning.”

“Oh, that. You’ve taken a look, then.”

“Maybe.”

She laughed.

“Then what have you, perhaps, noticed?”

“You never harnessed it, did you?”

“The ice? How could I?”

“Your cosmo.”

She frowned, perplexed. He had looked at her, as well?

“That’s-“

“Something a Saint would say,” he interrupted teasingly.

“Cosmo is not something you harness, Hyoga. It’s something you are.”


VIII


When he was told she was there, he had thought a person he hated had arrived. Someone that had played with the things that mattered to him, that had put him into a vulnerable position out of her own, manipulative, selfish reasons. She had been this abstract, both familiar and unknown figure. Even after seeing her at the ruins, she had remained like that.

Even when watching her spar with Chameleon.

The reality of it all only hit him then, when they were standing on the frozen arena, talking after he had endangered them both.

Artemis was back.

And with her, all she implied.

“What now?” he asked.

She shrugged. “Want to try again?”

“Weren’t you tired?”

“Exhausted,” she answered dramatically, a faint smile over her lips. “Come,” she added, extending her hand towards him.

It was her left, the one he had seen her scratching from time to time. There was a recent cut, the one she had taken the scab off, and a really bad scar underneath, made of swollen tissue.

He took a step back, puzzled.

And that was all it took. She looked at her stretched palm and put it down, her gaze darkening.

“...I see. Sorry.”

Was that what remained from her attempt to lure him in? The cut she had made herself, from when they were still teenagers? She was a good healer, why had the wound closed so badly? Maybe she had...

 

What? Cut herself, on the same place, as a mistake?

“Is that-“

“Let’s try this,” she interrupted him. She had turned her back on him and was placing some distance between them.

Something had changed; the atmosphere between them gone, her gaze avoidant.

“Artemis-“

“I could be a really scary fucker right now, and use my cosmo to guide yours through this. But don’t worry. I won’t.”

He frowned, taken aback by the aggressiveness of her words.

“Use your diamond dust. My way. It won’t spread, I’ll keep it contained, tr-” she closed her eyes and scratched the scar.

“I’ll handle it.”

“It won’t heal if you keep removing the scab.”

A bitter laughter escaped her lips.

“Wise words. Now pay attention, Cygnus.”

His frown deepened. Whenever she called him by the name of his Cloth it sounded so much like an insult.

 

“It should be easy. It’s something you mastered like a decade ago. Here,” she went on, lifting her hand once again.

He shifted his stance, feeling the temperature drop.

 

Diamond Dust!”

The water in the air condensed and turned solid, forced against her. Artemis caught the flow in her hand, her cosmo answering to his. With her free hand, she released the same attack against the frozen ground, spikes of ice sprouting at each side of the stream of the diamond dust, containing it.

 

She doesn’t wait till it’s solid, that’s why it takes the form of spikes when it hits the ground. She lowers the temperature enough for the molecules in the air to turn liquid, and the water freezes after it splashes against the ground...

 

“Pay attention, Cygnus.”

“It sounds so wrong when you call me like that,” he growled. His blow was hitting all over the place, cracking the tips of the spikes as it turned unstable. “I’m going to lose control over it.”

“Stop doing that.”

“What? I am not doing anything.”

She sighed.

“Don’t lie to me.”

“I’m not!”

She countered with her own Diamond Dust, sending him to the ground.

“I said, don’t lie to me! Now get up, we are trying again.”

“What are you so pissed off about?”

“Again.” She took a deep breath and softened her tone. “Come on.”

He got up and obeyed.

Once again, the ice left his hands, and she caught it.

“Don’t control it. That’s what you are trying to do, again.”

“Then what do you want me to do?”

Artemis chuckled.

“That’s a very good question. You are not going to like the answer one bit. It’s not very saintly.”

He glowered at her. She smirked.

“Enjoy your new found power.”

She’s fucking joking with me.

 

Except she was not, that was the way she approached cosmo, she had been showing it to him during their match. With a sense of wonder and discovery. He had always thought she was abusing the ice saints’ skills when she began using them, as if they were toys. The trainee in him had found her disrespectful of all those traditions that were so hard for him to achieve. Isaak had believed her irresponsible. Camus a threat to others and herself. They had all echoed each other, ignoring what was right there, for them to see.

What she had shown him, when she took him to the sea and froze it until there was that damn iceberg she had been so thrilled about the first time she realized she could make it.

She had discovered something she loved, and was testing it, growing into it. Making it her own.

That was why, now, her ice seemed so different. It wasn’t control, like he and Camus had believed.

It was her, everywhere.

 

He looked at his own hand, at the ice flowing from it. It was stronger than what he had thought himself capable of, before.

Before, he wouldn’t have dreamt of defeating Camus. Nor of being able to survive facing a God.

His eyes moved to Artemis, whose attention was focused on keeping his Diamond Dust’s backlash from getting out of hand.

Last time he had seen her, he hadn’t been able to see her move, when she locked her hand around her Guardian’s neck and froze the cottage. It had... freaked him out, so much, all that power.

This time, he hadn’t doubted from facing her. Milo had been right about that. As he watched her play with June, he hadn’t been able to stop thinking about sparring with her, in awe of the way the ice danced over her fingertips.

 

It has always done so.

His chest heaved. Instead of trying to steady the flow and keep it under his control, he lowered the temperature; the stream becoming harsher, broader.

Stronger.

Artemis shifted her stance to get a firmer grip on the ground.

“Now let go.”

Slowly, he began to release his control of it fully, just focusing on sensing the temperature around him. It wasn’t working, not completely.

 

“Of your cosmo, Hyoga.”

He tried. It was hard, a part of him refusing. It was as if the swan that represented him was resisting him. Why was he asking him to stop his flight, close his wings? Why when he now could soar in the highest, coldest skies?

 

...not everything is a battlefield...

He met Artemis’ gaze when her cosmo brushed his own, this time probing, as if asking permission. Against it felt so familiar, so known, that he couldn’t but feel wary of it. Of her, her traps, her words and rituals. Of everything she was.

He felt her wane, and retreat; the memory of her back turned towards him as she left the cottage flashing into his mind.

 

...Stay...

 

Her eyes betrayed her confusion. He wasn’t sure himself, but she had helped him so far. Pushed him around, insulted him, ordered him, but still helped.

He began to feel pissed off.

 

...That’s going to do wonders...

 

Even through her cosmo she could project sarcasm.

Her reach furthered, as if her hands were over his. He closed his eyes and sensed momentary hesitation. A shadow of fear. But soon they were both gone, replaced by a quiet firmness. The swan within him stirred, cautious and guarded.

...Don’t read too deep into this, Hyoga. It’s one of those things, the ones Isaak liked...

 

In his mind’s eye, he could see a woman made of stars, her skin the night. Over her brow, the moon went through its changes, shining and dying and being reborn. She stretched a hand towards him and this time he reached it. Countless skies flashed through his mind, and lakes and meadows and a whole world of possibilities. The swan felt he could soar, yes, but could also rest. He could fight a snowstorm and let warmer, kinder currents take him. There was pleasure in everything, and something to lose, sad, and painful, as well.

The shades were endless.

The woman retreated, and so did Artemis’ presence in his cosmo.

“Try again.”

Hyoga obeyed, feeling his own cosmo, that swan of his which had grown so much he could barely recognize it. He didn’t feel he was being asked to surrender this time, to give up all that he had accomplished and had made him what he was.

This time he felt there was far more he could do.

 

He opened his eyes. His ice didn’t feel so foreign anymore, and it was flowing steadily. It wasn’t as strong as he could push it, or had pushed it before, by far. As it was now it was barely a weapon, something a trainee would easily survive.

But all he could think of was that it was beautiful and it was his.

 

“Satisfied?”

He nodded and closed his hand, ending the current.

“Thank you,” he blurted out, the words not seeming enough.

“Comes with the job.” Artemis sighed and sat on the ground. “You are welcomed.”

She rubbed her forehead, visibly tired. Once again, she kept her gaze away from him, as if something were troubling her.

Had it been what she had done?

Her cosmo was shining over her left arm, shattering layer after layer of frost.

“That was...” he let out, walking towards her.

She lifted her hand to stop him.

“It’s nothing to worry about. Now go celebrate or whatever Saints do after they train. What do you do?”

“Rest, usually,” he replied, ignoring her warning to kneel by her side. He grabbed her arm. She was right, it wasn’t that bad. Superficial frost, of which there was barely any remaining. No signs of frostbite.

“Rest? That’s so boring. Now go. Poor Andromeda looked like he had a couple of heart attacks”

“Artemis...”

 

What’s wrong with you? Your voice sounds so strained, like you are talking and not talking at all.

“Why did you do this?”

“What?”

“Help me.”

“Oh.” She smirked. “Fearing I might lure you into my fold again?”

“I...I didn’t mean it that way.”

“Hyoga,” she repeated evenly, “go do whatever Saints do. It’s better for you, it’s better for me.”

Now that the frost was gone, her fingers were once again over the scar, scratching.

“Stop that,” he said, grabbing her hand.

 

Artemis glared at him and pulled her arm back forcefully.

“Don’t touch me.”

She stood up and ran her fingers through her hair, upset. “What do you want from me now? What is it you want to hear?”

“Artemis, I was just concerned-”

“Don’t go there. Just...” she shook her head, “don’t.”

She let out a whimper and grabbed her hand, pressing forcefully. “Damn, not now.”

“It’s hurting you.” Hyoga said, reaching towards her once again.

“Of course it is,” she hissed. She closed her eyes and pressed harder. “What would you expect? It’s been hurting for five years.”

He frowned, whatever doubt he could have had about the nature of that scar vanishing. “It should have healed by now.”

“That’s what I keep telling myself, but it isn’t that surprising. Not really. These sorts of wounds don’t heal quickly. Not for an Ortygian.”

This time she cried out and bent over. Hyoga tried to grab her once again but she avoided him and got hold of his wrist instead, twisting it so that his palm was showing.

 

“You don’t have the right to touch me. You forgot. Unlike you, I mean my promises.”

She let go of him and started to walk away, furious.

“Artemis-”

Without a warning, her cosmo flared and the ground under them shifted, the glacier changing at her will. He tried to reach her but a wall of ice got in his way. When he made it crumble, she was nowhere to be seen.

He looked at his palm again, at the place where the cut he had made should have been. It hadn’t lasted long, gone by the time he had reached Japan. He hadn’t given it much thought, after that. What could he say to her words? At that time, she had been something he didn’t wish to remember.



IX



Dictina stood in the middle of the Outer temple. She tried to remember how long had it been since she had entered it. Three years? Four? After Artemis had left, Melaenis had given orders for a new temple to be built, far from the one her sister used to dwell.

One that will throw its shadow over the Artemisium, the goddess had said.

The new temple, the White Temple, as they called it, had been built far from Artemis’, over the single mountain of the island, and indeed, depending the hour of the day, its shadow would sometimes obscure it.

In all those years, that new temple had been more than enough for her. Yet now she found herself back under that known roof, obeying the urge to come back to it, to cross the forest and abandon her shrine to enter that abandoned temple, searching for... who knew what.

The Outer temple was as far as she could get. The heavy stone door, carved with figures of stags, moons, wolves, bears and all the symbols of her sister, could not be moved.

Behind it lay the Inner temple, a large cave with an underground lake, where her sister’s throne was. Before, while she was still among them, all she would have had to reach it was light her cosmo and press her hand over the door.

She did so, and as expected, nothing happened.

(... You decided to leave me, then you’ll leave everything that I am ...)

 

She shuddered and moved her hand away at the memory of those harsh words.

Artemis had been true to her word and had sealed the Inner temple, leaving the Armoury and the Grotto out of their reach.

Melaenis and her son, Eros, had tried to break the seal, but it hadn’t been possible. Dictina wondered if someday that door would open again. When Artemis left, she hadn’t expected it would be for so long.

Nor I expected all the things she’s done these last few years. So much for all we stood for, for the Balance and Ortygia.

 

It had been hard to see her again. In the long list of things Dictina hadn’t expected; meeting her sister at the hospital was a part of it. It had been a possibility, of course. After all, she had intervened when Atalanta was sent to deal with Julian Solo, and had stretched her hand towards Asgard, two things that she should never have done. Poor judgement, on Artemis’ part, probably clouded by the levels of destruction Odin’s land had suffered, and by Poseidon being momentary sealed.

But Athena and her Saints... how could she lead them out of Hades? Warmongering dogs full of hubris, all of them, at the service of the warmongering bitch herself.

How could she intervene when she went to the hospital, to correct her mistake?

 

You looked so different, sister. You used to be such a pretty girl. I don’t know who the harsh woman you became is.

Was your act of rebellion worth it? Your refusal of an offer made out of love for you?

 

She had felt like a stranger; the same way her Tunic something felt, after using the beautiful veils and dresses Melaenis’ favoured.

“Priestess.”

Dictina turned, surprised by the company. Few people came to the Artemisium, even less so inside the Outer Temple.

“Harpy,” she whispered. The hunched woman walked from the shadows to kneel before her. An acquired demonstration of loyalty. Formalities had never been a big part of Ortygia’s life. Rituals, yes. Even religion. But there had never been much room for cultured pleasantries in a land that demanded so much work. The curtsies they had adopted still felt like a novelty, a game.

“What brings you here? Came to reminiscence?”

“I come often. I stumble with the others, too. We pretend we don’t notice, wait till we are alone again. We all crawl back here from time to time.”

The woman was taller than her, but it was hard to tell as she was. Her back was knotted and twisted, with a slight hump. Whenever she straightened, she towered, a looming danger. As she was now, she presented a strange figure made of elements that didn’t seem to fit together, her hunched back and bony fingers, semi-atrophied in a way they resembled claws, a stark contrast with the nobility of her face and the luscious mass of golden hair.

Whenever Dictina saw her, she couldn’t stop noticing how lovely Ortygia’s Harpy, Egeria, must have been, before torture and captivity twisted her like that.

 

Once, she would have thought her a sister, for being part of the Nine, Artemis’ chosen. It felt strained to do so now. The years had drove them apart, the day of the schism still hanging heavily over their heads.

“This place makes my hunger stir. Reminds me your sister betrayed us, after all her honeyed words.”

She looked up and sniffed the air. Her movements fitted her Tunic, the ever-hungry Harpy. There was something birdlike about her movements, like a vulture, heavily pacing around leftovers.

“There traces of her scent in the air, here,” she liked her lips obscenely, “ of her taste.”

Egeria, sighed with longing. “It’s been so long since I drank from her. Wicked Artemis. I thought with her the hunger would stop, but now it’s worse. So much for her promises to ease it.”

“Is that what she promised you?”

Egeria shrugged. “I don’t remember anymore. Maybe. This hunger clouds my judgement. Why are you here, Dictina?”

“I wonder that myself...It was strange, seeing her again. It’s nostalgia, perhaps.”

I saw an enemy, no matter how much I wish it wouldn’t be so. Artemis, why?

 

“I keep making the wrong assumptions about her. Still, never would I have believed she would turn into that which we were supposed to fight against.”

The Harpy smiled, her angelic face lighting up. “You think too much, Dictina.”

“That’s true. It comes with the job. It’s not easy to keep this Island together.”

“Too many monsters in it?”

She shook her head. Dictina had nothing to fear from monsters. “Too many rituals to be observed.”

The Guardian laughed. “Indeed.”

Dictina stared at the carvings again, at the figure of a woman riding a carriage pulled by stags.

“What is she doing? Why push our hand so much? She knows our ways; that we are ensuring a much needed period of peace between the Cycles. It must be done. It’s Fated.”

 

Was this wise? Oh, Leto, if you could only guide my hand now, mother. She’ll earn the wrath of the Gods if this goes on, and there’s little I can do against that.

 

“You worry.”

“Always done so, she’s my little sister. I wish her happiness.”

Egeria nodded knowingly. “It’s natural to worry for our sisters. A natural, yet hopeless worry.”

Her face darkened with a pained expression, “In the end, sisters are taken from you. They get ensnared. I pity you, Dictina. I know your suffering.”

She moved closer, and straightened her back, the great carrion-eating bird of Ortygia, looming over the much smaller woman.

“I also know that I’ve been betrayed, and that one day I’ll feed from your sister. Whatever love I held for her, is over now that she’s aiding Sanctuary, a place that should have been destroyed centuries ago, eaten by the Gods. I came to let you know that, out of respect for the bond you two share.”

Dictina looked up to meet the taller woman’s gaze.

“Are you threatening me, Egeria?” she asked curiously.

“I am doing nothing but what I said. I understand the love of a sister. But if this goes on... there will come a day when you’ll have to choose, Dictina, you better start thinking about it.”

Dictina knew that already. Could she still fight to recover the girl she had lost? She couldn’t fight for the woman she had encountered. Those thoughts were a constant in her mind.

 

“Ortygia or Artemis. You say you don’t know what your sister is doing, but you do, we all do. She’s been very clear about it. She’s openly opposing the Balance, the Cycles, and her role in it. All things you believe in.”

Egeria leaned down to reach Dictina’s ear, her words barely audible.

“She’s been doing so since she left with that sword.”

The Harpy took a step back, once again hunched and small.

“We are all defining our positions. As our leader, you shouldn’t drag behind. You won’t be able to be both sister to Artemis and high priestess of Ortygia for long.”

Dictina measured those words carefully.

“There’s something I haven’t been told. Something that’s been done.”

It had started then. Egeria was right, she didn’t have much time. Her land couldn’t give her any more days of standing in both paths. She would have to choose, or others would choose for her.

“An act of mercy.”

She frowned, puzzled. They were going to attempt to kill Artemis? That was...

“Not our kind of mercy,” Egeria interrupted, reading the priestess’ thoughts in her expression.

“Our Goddess’. She is giving your sister another chance. Again. Artemis has been very lucky, that Melaenis came here. She’s so... measured, and patient. How long will she be able to stay that way, considering the constant provocations?”

The Harpy sneered. “Imagine what your sister would have done, if having to deal with a traitor.”

She needn’t imagine. It was Ortygia’s way.

 

An arrow to the chest. Clean, simple. Absolute.

 

“What is she going to do?”

“She sent Iphigeneia and Hippolytus, to remind her that she’s overstaying her welcome.”

“That...” Dictina began to pace around the hall, like she had done a million times, when decisions had to be made for Ortygia and her sister was either too young or wasn’t around, as it grew to be the norm, to deal with them. Pacing and thinking and measuring what would be best for her land and the people that lived there. “That’s not going to work.”

“Of course it’s going to work, Iphi’s there!”

“Melaenis should have sent someone that would nudge... “

 

It should have been me. Or Pentesilea, she could have blended in Sanctuary’s society of warriors with ease. The rest of the Nine won’t keep a steady hand, and two won’t even follow.

 

“Iphigeneia is unable to do that.”

Egeria hissed. “You are underestimating her”

“I’m not, that’s why I know she’s a bad choice. Iphigeneia is a sadist. That’s why Artemis always kept her on a tight leash...”

The Harpy pushed her off her feet and threw her on the ground, climbing over her.

“What could the deceiver know about us? She mindfucked us all, then left,” she growled, baring her teeth. “What could you know? Your sister is still breathing out there, after saving the lives of those that took mine.”

“Seems Iphigeneia isn’t the only one who needs her leash tightened,” Dictina observed.

“You two share the same blood... will your cosmos taste the same?”

“Egeria,” the priestess warned. “Are you, now, trying to threaten me?”

Eyes shining with a thirst for blood and death blinked at her before confusion set on them. The woman moved away.

''... I... I’m sorry. I’m not. It’s.... this hunger...It should have mellowed; Artemis had managed to do that... Has it returned by her will, as a way to punish me for asking her to leave?''

Dictina stood up and fixed her clothes.

“We’ll find a way to handle it,” she told her, pacifying.

Of all the Nine, Egeria had been the one to suffer the most, torn apart by the darker aspects of both Sanctuary and Elysium before Artemis found her.

Only her sister had been able to reach her, to show her that there was more than betrayal and death in the world, a task that had almost cost Artemis her life and had left her with a patchwork of swollen scars on her neck.

Her rage wasn’t difficult to understand, same as her fear of returning to the monster Hades had asked her to be.

“How come... you are not angry at me?”

Dictina smiled with the gentleness that characterized her.

 

I could swallow your cosmo whole, dear Harpy. There’s no monster great enough for me to fear.

“I’m your priestess.”

Blood to Artemis and Apollo, child of Leto. I’m too used to being the calm that steadies my sister’s hand.

 

Anger... I’ve always left that to her.



X



The White Temple was, as its name implied, white. It was also beautiful, made of large open halls sustained by tall columns, flowing curtains of gold that filtered the light from outside, tinting it, vases full of flowers, and large cushions where one could usually find Melaenis’ nymphs sleeping the afternoon away, or gathered together to listen to one of her many musicians. It was a house of illusions and pleasure.

It always took Dictina’s breath away.

Oddly enough, that day it was empty.

 

''It’s always lovely to find you here.''

Almost empty. The sights weren’t the only things about that place that left her breathless. She turned around and knelt in greeting.

Curtsying here, curtsying there. We do more curtsying than running, nowadays.

 

“My Lord,” she murmured, kissing the hand that was being offered to her. The god took the chance to grab her wrist and pull her up.

“There’s no one else in the White Temple right now, there’s no need for you to do that,” he said with one of his teasing smiles. As always, Dictina found him beautiful, which was easy to do. A man of spring, with the same golden-skin and emerald eyes than his mother; and gracious and elegant manners. Bred to please and be pleased.

“Beautiful women should never kneel before a man; they should walk proudly among them.”

“Are you calling me beautiful, my lord?”

“And proud,” he replied, “A true daughter of Ortygia. Who is probably here to see my mother. Cruel, too.”

She smiled, taken by his words. His playful, fluttering speech was something she had appreciated since his arrival to the island. Pleasant conversation was also one of the things where her beloved island was lacking.

“Fortunately,” he whispered, leaning closer. The scent of flowers and spices that were foreign to her filled her nostrils, with their promise of unknown pleasures, “my mother noticed the beautiful day we are having and decided to spend it outside. An idea all of her celebrants, musicians and helpers shared.”

“If you must see her, just head to the gardens and follow the music,” he went on, taking some steps away from her. “Must you?”

She looked away, tempted. It was always the same around him. She couldn’t resist him, at all. But she had to talk to Melaenis, dissuade her from sending Iphigeneia. She had to advice her properly.

 

Iphigeneia will overdo it, and when she does, Artemis will feel threatened. She retaliates when threatened, and without me to stop her hand...

 

Oh, dear mother, dear Leto, is this hubris speaking through me? Is it me the one that longs to be needed by her so much, that thinks that without me she can’t manage herself?

 

What has the stranger I saw at the hospital done to my little sister?

 

She flinched when she felt Eros’ finger caressing her brow.

“Don’t do that. You are looking so distressed, it breaks my heart.”

“I apologize, my lord.”

He held her chin and made her look at him in the eyes.

“That’s better. Much better.”

Her heart jumped at his words, as she lost herself under his emerald gaze.

 

I’m being preyed upon. I know that look, the one of a hunter locking on his prey. It’s in his body, everywhere. Strong arms, gracefulness in movement, balance, leanness...

He’s not one of us, but he is. A beautiful, terrible form of hunter.

 

That’s why I desire him so much.

 

“Dictina?” he asked with a knowing smile.

She laughed nervously. “I apologize, my lord.”

He followed her laughter this time, one that was contagious and echoed in the emptiness of the room.

“Will you tell me, then,” he asked, catching a lock of her hair between his fingers and placing it behind her ear, “what’s bothering my favourite Ortygean priestess?”

She frowned, trying to remember.

“Now, what did I say? None of that.”

“I...” she smiled, taking a few steps back.“I find it hard to focus around you, my lord.”

“You are accusing me of being distracting, Dictina?” Eros said, closing the gap between them. His scent filled her lungs again and she felt aroused. “I’m honoured.”

He caressed her cheek with warm, gentle fingers. “Sorrow doesn’t fit you; you are too lovely for that. Delicate and elusive... a strange flower one wouldn’t expect to bloom in this land.”

“It’s a beautiful day outside...” he continued, his thumb running gently over her lips. She let out of a sigh. “Perfect to spend it somewhere cool and shaded. Don’t you think so?”

“I think what you think, my lord”, she managed to say, heaving slightly.

“Perfect words, from perfect lips”

His arms snaked around her waist and pulled her close for a kiss she had been longing for since hearing his voice, and she melted against him, her hands clutching his shoulders not to fall.

“Eros, my lord, my love,” she sighed against his lips.

“Come with me.”

She nodded, and let him lead her to his rooms, her mind so full of her desire for him, that there was nothing else. Nothing at all.




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

‘’ ... Nessum maggior dolore,

Che ricordarsi del tempo felice

Nella miseria ‘’

(There is no greater pain than to remember a happy time when one is in misery)

-Dante Alighieri- Divina Commedia ‘Inferno’ canto 5, l. 121

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



XI



She was waiting for him at the ruins near the grotto, sitting under the shade of an olive tree. Her hands were covered in frost, her cosmo focused around them.


Numbing the pain, like a true ice saint.

“There are three things to do when chased. You can be a stag, and run, run so fast that your persecutor will lose track of you. You can be a rabbit, and hide in a lair till he leaves. Or you can be a boar, wait for him and gut him with your tusks.”

He ignored her and sat close by, against the remnants of a column.

“I haven’t come to this place in years. It was a favourite of Shura’s and Aioros’. You can tell by the clean cuts on the marble. As if sliced by a knife. Or the paths on the dead trees. Lightning. We should investigate this more, the consequences of our attacks in the environment. What happened to those kids in Andromeda Island could have been prevented.”

“There’s no need for this, Milo.”

“The hurting has nothing to do with the way it healed.”

She smirked at his words and kept numbing her left arm.

He shook his head and walked towards her. She stopped him.

“I don’t want to fuck you right now, and there’s nothing else I want from you, Scorpio. There are things that can’t be solved with sex.”

“That’s not what I am here for. You know, now that we’ve been talking more than we, well, ever have, I must say that you have a very foul mouth. For a Goddess.”

“I have been told that many times. Foul mouth, a foul personality. Foul ways. Foul is something many agree upon.” She leaned back against the tree trunk. “Unrestrained, careless, undisciplined. Irresponsible.”

She smiled bitterly.

“Oh, uncontrollable. They day someone says something nice about me, I won’t believe it.”

“Is that an opening for me to say something?”

“Don’t be an ass.”

“You care too much,” he observed, sitting before her.

“I’m not believing it.” She sighed.“Milo, I don’t want a friend right now. Nor a father, nor a lover, nor a mentor. I want to be left alone for the afternoon. Then we can all be merry again. Even meet at the shrine at night. My mood might change.”

“I never know how to feel about that.”

“Neither do I.”

He smiled at her honesty.

“Let me see that.”

“Nope.”

“Don’t be childish.”

“Tusks, Milo. Gutted by tusks. Horrible death. Painful. Gory. Good meat, though. Can feed many. Makes it worth the risk.”

“Stop it.”

“What do you want me to say instead?”

The seriousness of her words caught him off guard.

“Why are you here, Milo? Did Camus send you, after he asked me to fix his student? Did he ask you to fix me now? Is that what I should say?”

She laughed at his silence and stood up.

“Psychosomatic. The pain. So of course it hurts. But it’s nothing to worry about. You can tell Camus that. Helping Hyoga didn’t fuck me up anymore than what I already am. Not regretting it one bit.”

She flinched and closed her hand into a fist, her laughter turning bitter.

“Maybe a bit.”

He grabbed her hand to stop her from leaving.

“Why are you here in Sanctuary?”

Artemis looked at him as if he was asking the most stupid question in the world. “I missed people.”

She broke free and turned her back on him, heading towards the grotto.

“But you are all so demanding. Save the trainee, cure the bronze saint, fix Cygnus; and there are so many whys, all the time. This isn’t working at all, so I’ll be leaving soon. That’s what I do.”

 

 

XII


Arcade was waiting for her at the entrance to the shrine, an oversize ball of hair curled up against the steps with an anguished look on his face.

He whined pathetically.

“Don’t guilt trip me,” she said, “you could have come with me, but no, you were chasing...” she found the remains of his prize close by. He had left part of it for her. Adorable. Now the Saints would think she was practising witchcraft, “rabbits.”

He whined again.

“I’m sorry. Missed you too. Happy?”

The wolf stood up and trotted towards her. He jumped and placed his paws over her shoulders and licked her face.

Artemis laughed and struggled to break free. She knelt by his side and placed her arms over his neck, resting her weight on him.

“Missed you loads,” she repeated, taking in his warmth. There was something reassuring about his presence that calmed her down immediately. The pangs of pain coming from her arm lessened. She hid her face against his fur. “My little, non-judgemental cub.”

(... do you prefer animals because you are so bad with people?...)

 

Asshole, she cursed, remembering Eros’ words. It wasn’t about preferences.

The wolf nuzzled her neck, tickling her.

He had been such a scrawny little thing when she found him. They had all feared that without his mother, he wouldn’t make it.

“They underestimated my nurturing skills, didn’t they?” she asked the beast, grabbing the sides of his head. It was twice the size of hers.

Her dogs were at Ortygia. The whole pack of them. Arcade had never managed to be a part of them.

 

That’s a wolf for you.

 

He was a part of her life in Siberia. It had been so natural to take him with her when she left the Island.

She noticed the tension on his muscles, the way the hair on his back stood. “Shh, my cub, I know. Ignore it.”

The wolf broke free from her grasp, making her fall on her back, and ran towards the forest, his teeth bared.

“Fuck.”

Territorial, disobedient bastard. Any of her dogs would have listened to her.

 

She stood up and followed his trail, using her cosmo to create a bow of ice.

Five minutes. That’s all I wanted. Five minutes by myself.

Sanctuary and her weren’t agreeing with each other.

 

Arcade’s growling became stronger and she could hear a man’s voice.

She aimed.

 

Five fucking minutes.

 

“I don’t care who you are or what you want. Touch a single hair of him and you are dead,” she warned, locking on her target. The man was sprawled on the floor, Arcade on top of him, his teeth inches from his neck.

“You are actually saying that to me, and not the wolf, right?”

She tensed the bow.

“My tolerance for jokes ran out for the day.”

The stranger narrowed his eyes, measuring her. She had meant every word, and he noticed.


Wise one.


“You’ve been trailing me since the match. I saw you, at the grades.”

“I seem to have underestimated your awareness. And your protectiveness.”

“A deadly mistake. Two things I excel at.”

“I can see that. Care to ask him to move away?”

“Give me a good reason.”

The man frowned, bothered by her answer. He was about her age, dark haired, with dark blue eyes.

“You are the intruder here.”

“I guess I am. I was curious, ok?”

Arcade growled, almost rasping his neck with his teeth.

“Really?”

“One hair, remember. He doesn’t believe you, why should I?”

“Hyoga was rattled. All of Sanctuary is, a little bit, by your presence here. I wanted to see who had managed to do that.”

“Why?”

“Curiosity.”

Arcade snapped, biting the air at the side of his face.

“Shit! Lady, your pet needs training.”

“You were saying?”

He sighed.

“Protectiveness.”

“Arcade, come here.”

The wolf looked at her, snapped at the saint once more then walked to her side.

“Mr. Intruder is worried over his home and friend and doesn’t like to admit it. We do fit the part, don’t we?”

She lowered her bow and allowed it to splinter, the shards of ice falling on the ground.

“Of the big bad wolves.”

The man smirked as he stood up. He was tall, and muscular. Very much the warrior, with a scar on his forehead to bear witness of his deeds and everything. There was something threatening about his looks, which contradicted what she sensed in him.


He’s like Arcade. A big, scary looking, territorial puppy.


“You’ll like him,” she told her wolf, who was still growling. “Let’s chat another day, mister...”

Artemis used her cosmo to reach his, forcing him, to his displeasure, to burn it. It was easy, like grabbing something and giving it a tug.

A second bow grew in her hands.

“I heard about you, Phoenix.”

“Name’s Ikki. I take it we’ve been making much noise.”

She shook her head.

“From before the wars.”

He was the puzzled one, this time.

“You murdered my friend’s little sister.”

“Whoever told you that is lying; I’ve never faced a woman in combat.”

She was growing used to not being listened to by Athena’s men.

“I said murdered. Not faced in combat.”

“Then a greater lie.”

He didn’t seem the type, at all. From what she had heard, she had expected a monster. Phoenix’ cosmo was troubled, yes, but there was too much warmth at its core for the tales of horror that involved him.

“Her father was an avid reader. My friend’s,” she mentioned. “He named his daughters after characters from his favourite author. Cossette, my friend, his eldest. She doesn’t go by that name anymore. And Esmeralda, the one you killed.”

His expression changed when she mentioned that name, as if she had stabbed him.


Ah, you knew her.


“I promised my friend that someday she would get the chance to face you, and look at this. Here you are.”



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