05.Cervae Captiva

 

‘’ It is the very error of the moon;

She comes more near the earth than she was wont,

and makes men mad ‘’

-William Shakespeare- (Othello, act 5, sc. 2, l. 107)

 



I



Esmeralda had rarely talked about herself. She had been compassionate, quiet, gentle, with a great love for life and so much good to give. Ikki usually cringed when people compared others to angels, but she had been one, to him, during his training.

The great love of his life, a little girl from a forsaken island, with the kind of strength of character and empathy towards others that would always inspire him.

Was the goddess lying? He wondered, eyeing her figure as she circled around him. Her posture was relaxed, but her gaze wouldn’t leave his vital points, her fingers still clutching the frozen bow.

 

Could gods lie?

 

He remembered a myth, of two siblings who had terrorized the gods so much that the Olympians had to flee. The siblings had demanded the embrace of the Queen of the Wild as a condition to stop destroying everything on their way, and she agreed. As they quarrelled over who would be the first to enjoy her, she appeared, metamorphosed into a deer. The one to hunt it would be the winner, they decided.

The myth said that they were so focused on killing it, that when she jumped between them, they took advantage of her proximity and threw their spears.

She was too fast for them, and the spears found home in the siblings’ hearts. All they had hunted was one another.

Gods could trick.

You mistrust my words,” she said, as if reading his mind. He mistrusted her completely. The way she had used her cosmo to force him to light his own, so she would read his mark in it and find his constellation... she was too fast to use force.

 

Like she did when sparring with Hyoga...

 

But she had also been gentle there, displaying a great knowledge of her own strength.

Esmeralda never mentioned a sister.”

She shrugged. “Perhaps she didn’t want to worry you. I wouldn’t know. I didn’t meet her.”

Stop pacing around me,” he hissed. She was making him nervous.

I’m trying to determine if I should. I was told you were a murderer by someone dear to my heart, that you had deprived her of her family. Of her sister and her father. And then I find you trailing me and invading this shrine. I would consider my pacing quite sensible.”

The wolf followed her every step, a black shadow at her heels, its yellow eyes, like hers, never straying from his vitals.

I did hear about you after the war as well. Sensed you once, through my bond with Cygnus. When you mindfucked him. It made me wonder.” She finally stopped. “It’s not strange, you know, for men capable of great heroics to be also capable of great depravity. Even more so when it comes to Athena’s favourites.”

You know nothing about me.”

I don’t. I know that you look like a killer but you don’t feel like one. And that you sincerely came here out of a desire to protect your siblings. Also... the face you make at the mention of that girl’s name is not the one the man who viciously killed her would have.”

He had always believed all that Esmeralda was had ended there, in that flower field, with her father...

If it’s true what you are saying, about a sister...”

Eldest. Cossette. She was training for your cloth, under her father at Death Queen Island, but Sanctuary tore her apart and spat what remained to Elysium, where they finished the job.” She rubbed her neck. Ikki noticed the left side was completely disfigured by a horrible web of swollen scars, as if she had been mauled by a bear. “I could barely reach her. She told me she heard about the murders there. It was kindly informed to her. Fuckers, the whole lot of them.”

For a second, he doubted her reasons, why would she be telling him all that? But he remembered her actions, the way she had threatened him over her wolf. She was protecting that woman... Esmeralda’s sister. Measuring if she should, and in which way.

He would do the same, if he encountered someone that he knew had harmed his brothers.

 

This place...” she frowned, showing her distaste. “I wonder if you notice that its horrors are just as great as those of your so called enemies.”

He looked away, trying to gather his thoughts. Ikki had followed Artemis to find out more about her, and instead it was as if he had stumbled with a graveyard, where his corpses waited.

If what you are saying...”

If she was telling the truth, then what could he say? What could he do? He had killed Guilty. He even felt responsible for Esmeralda’s death. Had she not gotten in the way, had he had the cold blood needed to strike his teacher first, before he could reach her...

Was it really untrue what this possible sister had been told? That he had murdered them? The line was too thin to tell. He was certainly responsible for their deaths. A participant. A witness.

A trigger.

 

You look like her. My friend.”

He flinched. Artemis had closed the distance between them without him noticing, her index following the path of the scar on his forehead. “You also look like you would do anything to bring that girl back; wouldn’t you?”

Ikki felt a knot in his throat, her words hitting him in a place he hadn’t expected, making him feel vulnerable.

She must have been remarkable. Arcade,” she called, “let’s go inside, we’ll leave you be now, Phoenix. It seems there’s more to this than what I heard. Distortions of reality are not uncommon in our world. Matters of perspective, of twisted truths. Even more so when it comes to Elysium and its illusions. I expected a monster. You are a man.”

She turned around and headed towards the shrine, her back vulnerable to his attacks. A sign that she didn’t see him as a threat.

Come talk to me later, if you wish. You already know where the big bad wolves are staying.”

 


II

 


Saori stood at the top of the Twelve Houses, standing before the colossal statue of the Goddess Athena. Last time she was there, the moon had been shinning above its head, a silent witness of the dreadful things that were happening before that statue’s eyes. She stared, in wonder. How many wars had that statue seen? How much blood stained its steps? How many tears had it cried? For how long had the Cycles spread? How many vessels had stood where she was now standing, bearing the name and power of Athena?

So many lives to atone for, thrown away in the quest for Justice.

So many questions.

She had tried, with all her might, to look for answers in the scrolls and journals of the previous reincarnations, but every word they had written led to new mysteries, new doubts.

‘’If only you could talk, that would make things easier‘’ she whispered, caressing the cold surface of the statue.

The role she found herself in was strange, now that they were not at war. Even though two other goddesses were now in Sanctuary, she felt little in common with either. Eris was her enemy... her prisoner, even though she had made everything in her power to make sure she was comfortable. She felt sorry for Ellie; in that way, she had been lucky. Athena had not tried to possess her, she was more like... a presence, in her life, a comforting hand that worked through her.

The way Eris and Ellie lived in a fractured state of mind was a cruel reminder that not all powers were as understanding.

And then, there was Artemis, an outsider from a foreign land, of strange traditions and with a hidden agenda she hadn’t yet been able to fathom. She had expected to find some of the answers to her questions in her. She was older and seemed so comfortable in that world of living myths, but as Camus had warned her, it seemed the differences between them were too great.

All the Gods she had met so far had attained godhood at their teens. Julian, Shun, Ellie, herself. They all had a distinct, separate persona through which the Gods manifested. That’s why they were called Vessels. Inside of them, the gods worked and stirred.

Artemis reminded her more of Hilda. The Huntress hadn’t understood her questions, when she asked her when her power had manifested. She had been born that way, she had said, and had lived most of her life in Ortygia, except for some travelling and the last few years, which she had spent in solitude. Like Odin’s priestess, that life that still seemed alien to Saori was all Artemis knew.

She wondered if she would be more like her, like them, had she never been taken away from Sanctuary by Aioros. Raised as Athena, to lead that land, in the midst of myths and traditions that had little to do with the outside world, surrounded by people that would constantly define her for her role and with very little doubts about who she was, or what she had to do. It was possible.

But even so, even when the drawback were feelings of inadequacy and strangeness, Saori felt extremely thankful to have grown outside those walls, as a person instead of a symbol.

She sighed. Maybe that statue felt as lonely as she was feeling lately; surrounded by so many yet standing alone.

 

Dohko.”

The kneeling man lifted his head when hearing her, waiting her commands. As Kyoko, that was his task now, to advice her, protect her and be her voice, a coveted role that had claimed Shion’s and Aioros’ life, and Saga’s sanity.

My Lady.”

Saori turned from the statue and walked to the edge of the steps. The view was privileged. She could see all Sanctuary from where she stood, her land laying at her feet. The twelve houses, the barracks, the coliseum, the grounds, and far off, on the outskirts of her holy ground, the small shrine dedicated to Artemis. The only sign that betrayed that this archaic paradise was not alone. Other beings like her existed; ruled and commanded. Like her, but not as her. Just like the saints in her command were different from one another. Just like people differed.

Unique. Different. Pulled apart.

Loneliness stirred back in her heart, and despite the beauty of Athens, she found herself missing Japan.

Tell me...” she began, looking over her shoulder at the former Libra Saint. ‘’ You don’t have to wear your mask with me, I don’t mind ‘’

Thank goodness,” the Kyoko said. Dohko’s warm, earthy face smiled at her. The mask had made his fringe stick to his face.

She smiled back. The Saint had a contagious energy; when he wore the mask... it felt strange. Like if he was another person. She had found it easier to reconcile the traces of the small, wrinkled man that used to advise her Dragon under the now young, muscular figure of her Kyoko. The teasing mirth was thoroughly his, regardless of his form.

‘’ Better, right? ‘’ she said, her eyes drifting from him to the female grounds, the small cottages and wooden barracks lit by midday’s sun. ‘’ Do you... ‘’

Saori bit her lower lip, tousling a strand of her mauve hair. The world was different from atop the stairs. She could see everything... everyone, almost as if she were walking between them. Dohko had told her before that all was due to the resonance between the statue and her Cosmo, that both worked together, so she could take care of her people from above. He told her that he could do the same at Star Hill. That there were places whose magic was not lost yet, no matter how many centuries might have passed.

So if she tried, she could see whoever she wanted. She could see Marin sitting at one of the steps of the coliseum, looking at the trainees with Aiolia, who kept commenting on the gifted ones even when she was more than able to recognise them herself. She could see Shura and Shiryu at Capricorn’s temple, the Gold Saint talking amiably with the younger man about his training days and how had he managed to master Excalibur. She could see June at the hospital, introducing Shun to Albinach, the young trainee stumbling over words when facing one of Sanctuary’s living legends.

And she could see them. Training together under the scorching sun. Shimmering cosmos clashing against one another in friendly rivalry. The Snake-Holder and the Winged Horse, engaged in a dance of fists and electricity that they knew by heart. Ophiuchus and Pegasus.

 

My Pegasus.

 

‘’Has any vessel taken a lover? I couldn’t find any precedents on the records.”

Dohko looked at her, remembering another young woman, standing by that very statue, a century earlier, her eyes warm and warmer still when fixed upon her favourite saint.

I wouldn’t know. Athena was always very independent. But she was not unloving”

Like her female saints. To kill or to love. They are fierce individuals”

Frightening, most of the time” Dohko confessed.

She closed her eyes and nodded with a smile. “That as well”

Sorry to have burdened you with this task. You would probably enjoy more being out there, with the rest of them.”

Dohko shook his head. “I’m an old man, I feel comfortable watching over everyone from up here. Reminds me of Rhozan, except instead of a waterfall there are stairs, and instead of a couple of children to worry about, there’s a legion.”

She laughed, covering her mouth with her hand.

Poor Dohko. Do you miss it?”

Very, even when I know my place is here. Do you miss Japan?”

Very, even when I know my place is here” she sighed.

Perhaps you should visit, when you have the chance”

When the godly relatives are not visiting and freezing arenas?” She had felt the energy surge when Artemis was sparring with her people; it was her plan to see the result in the morning. Everyone was talking about Sanctuary’s new ice brink.

For example. You could take some Saints with you. I could think of someone that might be missing Japan as well.”

She blushed, her smile broadening. “The things you say, Dohko.”

I have no idea what you are implying, my Lady, none at all”



III

 

 

 

Artemis stared at the ceiling as she rested on the bed, the soft-mattress sinking under her weight. She was extremely aware of her own breathing, of the heaving of her chest. It was hard to hear any other sound through the marble walls.

Even though the room was cool and marble rarely heated, the day’s warmth was starting to bother her. She yawned. The heat made her feel drowsy.

 

Or maybe was the wine.

 

She had found some bottles of ouzo inside the food basket some saint had left at the hall. She had been clear about not wanting to be attended by anyone but Albinach. She felt close to her, after saving her life. Besides, her recovery wouldn’t take long, a couple of days at most. She could endure.

 

Can’t believe they bought that.

 

But they had, and she now had the shrine all for herself.

 

Finally.

 

It had been a very bad, very long day.

 

Is this what I came for? What was I expecting?

 

Had she stumbled with Phoenix before she left Ortygia, she would have dragged him before Egeria and let her get the truth from his blood. But it was now that she found him.

 

And he didn’t kill her. Not like she was told in Elysium. His cosmo burns for that dead girl the same way Egeria’s does. Ah, my dear Harpy, you caught the attention of too many Gods, and as it tends to happen, our love was unkind and seething with lies.

 

Now there was no point.

Her arm wasn’t hurting so bad as it had. The muscles felt strained and sensitive, but the crippling waves of pain seemed to be over. Her head hurt more.

She had pushed herself too hard.

Damn Cygnus.”

Camus had been right, though. She was, in the end, partially thankful. She had enjoyed sparring against him.

She just wished she wouldn’t hate feeling that way so much.

Like his cosmo, Hyoga seemed to have changed with the years. The darkness that used to plague him seemed gone, and he didn’t seem as defensive.

 

And he treats Camus as his equal, another thinghe pretends not to notice.

 

Even the way he managed his anger towards her had changed. It didn’t seem to trouble him as much as it did her. He had jumped to fight her without much thought.

 

Everything around him felt so calm, when we stood on the glaciers. So quiet. All the noise, for some seconds, vanished.

 

Artemis growled, turning on the bed. The world spun around her at the sudden movement, making her wish she hadn’t.

 

Don’t long for him, you fool, she admonished herself. That’s the wine talking. Remember the scar. Gone.

 

She focused on her own, vicariously, on that absent bond, on how she couldn’t stop sensing traces of him through it, but couldn’t make herself heard. The known silence met her probing.

Fucker,” she muttered, not sure of who she was insulting.

Reluctantly, she stood up and dragged herself to the bathroom. She filled the large bathtub, placed her clothes on a chair and got inside. The water was pleasantly cool.

She let out a sigh of pleasure.

It had been too long since she found herself in such calm. The last five years she had spent on the go, staying wherever she could, as away from people as possible. The simple comforts of the shrine felt like luxuries.

 

(…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…)

 

As if she could do that. She was the one with the godly cosmo between them, the seer. She was the one that, back then, had understood what their roles meant. Whatever feelings she had had, they were hers. As much as she hated him for the way things had turned out, and blamed him for much of her suffering; she knew herself to be as much to blame.

 

(...Kill him, and prove your worth and commitment...)

 

She closed her eyes and sunk her head in the tub, wishing to put an end to the memories. It was always the same, one thought after the other. She had to stop drinking. Her mind wandered into strange places when she did, brought back voices she didn’t want to hear.

 

(... or leave. You promised. You swore...)

 

She felt those dark arms stretching around her once again, closing in, grabbing her tightly and pushing her down...

No!” she let out, forcing herself to sit. She brushed her hair away from her face, spitting water. “Fuck,” she cursed, clutching her legs.

She couldn’t call Milo, not after the way she had treated him that afternoon.

 

Count to ten, she told herself, chuckling bitterly. Again.

 

Her gaze went to the scar on her hand, wishing she, like him, could make it disappear, and knowing it wouldn’t. “Get the fuck out of my skin.”

 

Can’t blame him

 

‘”I wish I could break you...”

 

Make him share, a little bit, how I feel. It’s my right.

 

‘’ I wish I could kill you, but that’s... ‘’

She hid her face between her arms. She couldn’t do that either. She would have done so already, when it mattered.

She scratched the scar. He had asked her to stop. Stupid man, it was a bad habit now.

Artemis smirked. Bad habit indeed.

 

All I am right now is...

 

‘’ ... a lie... ‘’

 

 

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

‘’ Since your eyes cannot see, cannot weep, then what use do you have them for? ‘’

-Temptation-

 

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

 

IV

 

The air was cooler by the seaside. It was also calmer there, even more so at dusk. Most saints were at the barracks or the training grounds, and those who weren’t were trying to sleep through the heat. No one came to the shore at that time, least they wanted to be alone.

Hyoga liked the spot. Like Isaak, he had always loved the sea.

He flexed his fingers and his cosmo answered, dancing over his fingertips joyfully. Artemis had been right; he had been disowning it, afraid of his own power.

He hadn’t expected she would help him. Nor had he expected she would push him away. She had never done so before.

 

(...look around then look at me…)

 

Something very fundamental about her had changed in those years. Had made her aggressive, and withdrawn...

 

(...What would you expect? It’s been hurting for five years...)

 

He ran his fingers through his hair. He could understand her teasing him, mocking him even. He could understand her trying to get under his skin again. He couldn’t understand her rejections, the way she had shoved him off when he tried to look at her arm.

At her scarred hand.

He remembered being so freaked out when she returned to Siberia with that wound over her neck. He had felt so scared something had happened to her, that she had been attacked. He had been a kid and a fool, thinking she needed his protection. She had treated him as both, so pleased with herself. It’s just a promise, with a friend. I found the last of my Nine, Hyoga, she had told him, beaming, through this I sense her fire and quench her hunger. If only you could feel it as I do.

 

He should have listened, or, like she had told him at the arena, looked at her. He wouldn’t have been so naive as to mimic her ways.

 

He looked at his own hand again, shining with cosmo, the wound gone without a trace.

Hers had been such a mess, it was surprising. She was a good healer.

He frowned and placed his feet in the water, looking for solace. It felt cold, soothing. He had gone to the shore to ease his mind and all he had managed was to feel more confused.

Everything had felt so... natural, so comfortable, when they were standing on the ice, talking. He had thought he had reached something important about her, one of those things that had made him appreciate her.

And then all that anger she was carrying lashed out and she locked him out. Once, he had had the selfish certainty that her eyes would always be able to reflect him, that no matter how lost he was, how much of a mess he was, like an anchor, he could look at her and find himself there.

More of his childish, wishful-thinking, and a great miscalculation for a Saint to be. Like most of his relationship with her in Siberia.

He picked up a stone and threw it in the sea, watching it jump against the waves and sink.

If only forgetting her would be that easy.

But of course, it wasn’t. She had almost managed to break him once. He had almost cared.

 

I had really wanted to.

 

(...Oh, my dear boy, poor you. That’s women for you. Let me tell you a secret. Never trust us, or we’ll break your heart. All we want is to have our way, so keep your feelings safe, if you want to be strong. We’ll leave you otherwise..)

 

The words echoed in his mind. Who had told him that? Had it been... his mother? He couldn’t remember.

What do you want from me?” he said out loud.

She had asked him the same thing.

 

He turned when hearing footsteps behind him, meeting his teacher’s dark blue eyes.

Hyoga.”

Camus stopped at his side and watched the waves before them. The currents were soft, the water stumbling against their feet like a caress. The minutes went by without the need for words.

I guess I have to thank you,” Hyoga ventured, breaking the moment.

It’s her you should thank. I did nothing.”

Artemis” Hyoga shook his head, “She’s really back. So are you. It’s almost like back then. We even have glaciers now.”

Camus remained silent, his eyes still fixed on the sea.

You won’t ask?” he finally said.

Hyoga sighed, rubbing his forehead. “I don’t have to. You trained her, to fight. She moves like you, sometimes. I thought...I thought you hated her.”

Camus closed his eyes and smiled faintly, “Of course I don’t. I never did. My reasons are not...”

Emotional,” he completed.

Indeed. I couldn’t put you at risk, and she was one.”

 

As much as she was a useful clutch. Ah, Camus, you are my teacher and I will always respect you, but your methods can be ruthless.

 

Then why? You risked Sanctuary by doing so.”

I had made her a disservice and she... needed it.”

Hyoga looked at the man that had been his role model for a decade, the father-figure he had adopted. Again, like back then, he found him stoic and lonely, with a heavy burden on his shoulders, looking at the world the same way he stared at the sea, intensely but dispassionately, least it swallowed him away.

 

What happened between you two there? You would barely speak to her when she was around.

 

What disservice?”

That’s not for me to tell.”

Camus knelt and dipped his hands in the dying waves. “There was a time when I loved days like this. Warm. Well, maybe not this warm, but still. France has mild weather. Pleasing, even, like almost everything about it. Now I can barely tolerate them. I love Greece, but I miss the cold.” His golden cosmo grew around him, the temperature around them dropping. The water around his fingers frosted and broke with every coming wave.

She came back, Hyoga.”

What?”

The older saint rubbed his neck to refresh himself.

Artemis. Some days after you got your Cloth. She stayed for a couple of months, until I was called back to Sanctuary. I taught her then.”

I...”

So she had returned to Siberia, like she had said. His unstoppable force.

 

Not mine. She never tried to contact me again, even when she knew where I was. Even when I went back time after time to the cottage.

 

He closed his hand into a fist.

I see.”

 

This has nothing to do with me.

 

Why tell me this now?”

I thought you had met her again, after I-” Camus stopped himself, “After all that happened. You didn’t, did you?”

I chose my path.”

Cygnus,” Aquarius murmured, again with one of those rare smiles of his. The younger saint couldn’t but notice the pride in the tone of his voice, feeling suddenly bashful. He had never expected to hear Camus speak of him like that. Had never expected to hear him again.

 

Hadn’t Artemis reached Saori, I wouldn’t be here now, having this chance.

 

The thought made everything seem so fragile, so precious.

Hyoga,” his teacher’s voice was back to normal, even, unattached. “When did your cut heal?”

He blinked, surprised by his question. Why was that so important?

You heard her? I don’t know... why?”

Because I am asking.”

He tried to remember. It had stung and he almost got an infection, to the point that he had feared it would get in the way of his test. He still had it bandaged when he took the ship to Japan, had had to carry his suitcase with his other hand, the friction made it ache.

 

Oh.

 

It was there that he had heard those words. ‘Keep your feelings safe, if you want to be strong’. The woman on the ship had told him that, on his way to Japan. He had forgotten all about her, even when at the time he had been stricken by her beauty. She had asked him about the bandages. What was it he had said? That a friend had done that to him? Something of the sort. He had been so... bitter back then. Wounded.

He couldn’t quite make out her face, but he remembered that at the time, she had reminded him a bit of his mother.

Must have been somewhere around the Galaxian Wars. Never thought much about it since then.”


 

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

His death concerns the gods, not those men, no!

(Sophocles)

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

V

 

 

Aren’t you tired?”

The maid looked over her shoulder at the frowning young man, then smiled. “Not really.”

He nodded slowly, as if taking in her words, yet remained by her side, his yellowish eyes fixed on her callused hands.

 

Wolf eyes, the rest of the maids at the mansion had said when first seeing him, harsh and angry.

 

To her, they just seemed distant.

 

God, if you want to wash the dishes so badly, then be my guest.”

The man’s severe features softened slightly as she moved to the side, allowing him to finish her chores. It had been like that since his arrival, the same day the Lady left. Naoko, the cook, had fallen ill out of a sudden, and the agency sent him.

Virbio, the foreigner with the wolf-like eyes, quiet ways and an obsession with doing his job right.

What...?”

You wash, I dry.”

He blinked then shrugged; making room for her to do as she pleased. He always did; end up doing what others wanted him to do, even when most took advantage of his helpful nature to make him do their job. It bothered her, but he didn’t seem to mind nor notice, never having voiced a complaint about it. Silently, he would comply with everyone’s wishes.

He was far more similar to an underdog than a wolf.

Don’t you... don’t you ever get tired?” she whispered shyly, “They are just using you.”

I am used to hard work.”

She scowled; as annoyed by the way he had avoided her question as she was by the way their colleagues trampled over him.

I could talk to them-“

I don’t need help,” he growled. She took some steps back, taken aback by the harshness of his voice. She had never seen him like that, not once in the weeks they had been working together. To everyone, he was the quiet, reserved, new cook; the fool that did everything they said. The fool that did not raise his voice, that did not criticise Tatsumi behind his back, that did not join them in their evening card games. A very boring man that was easy to pick on.

I’m sorry, I did not mean to scare you,” he muttered, returning to his work, “I am not used to...”

You are strange, Virbio, you are not used to having others worrying over you?”

His lips curved in the faintest smile.

Something like that.”

Pallas smiled broadly; yet didn’t push the conversation further. She, like the yellow-eyed man, valued her privacy greatly, and understood the need of keeping things to oneself. Not hiding... just not telling. Though she couldn’t but wonder which reasons pushed Virbio to hide behind that severe, grumpy mask. Hers had always been clear to everyone in the house, an open secret. The maids had made sure of that, talking about her and her past, when they thought she wasn’t listening. They had built a cross for her to bear, their murmuring voices making it feel heavier and heavier on her shoulders: the single mother, the whore.

 

I made a mistake. I was a fool, and let a man lead me through the wrong path. I tried to escape my life, and failed. Yet learnt my lesson, no one escapes this mansion.

 

Those words would follow her everywhere, and warn everyone of what she was, making them keep their distance.

Yet he hadn’t seemed to notice. Perhaps he didn’t even care. The new guy treated her just like he treated the rest. With a polite distance and helpful manner.

Boy.”

Pallas almost dropped the dish she was drying when she heard that voice. Boy, the man had said. He couldn’t even treat them with respect. Not them, mere servants in the house.

 

We have lived all our lives here; our parents, like yours, have served the Kido. Each day we make sure this mansion lives up to its honourable lineage. Our jobs matter.

 

Not to him. He always treated them as his little slaves.

 

Virbio seemed puzzled by her reaction. He took the dish from her hands and placed it on the table. He didn’t understand, did he? He didn’t fear him yet, he was too new to the power dynamics of the house. He would learn to do so, though. Everyone did, eventually.

Sir.”

Tatsumi glared at the pair disapprovingly, his all-mighty presence taking over the room. Pallas hid behind Virbio’s broad back, wishing she hadn’t been promoted to the main building, where Tatsumi ruled without mercy.

But then her fear disappeared. Just like that. All she could feel was a warmth sensasion creeping from her toes to her head, embracing her. She looked up, fixing her gaze on Virbio’s untroubled face. The mansion’s wolf.

He did not look afraid. He did not look taken aback. He just stood there, silent and ready to serve, as always. His eyes didn’t move from Tatsumi’s, but there was no defiance in them, no anger. Only a look of humble obedience and a reassuring calmness.

The Lady won’t be returning today, so make sure to keep dinner simple,” the massive man said, ignoring Pallas. She wondered how many times he would say that phrase, ‘the lady won’t be returning today’. He had repeated it since she had left on her trip to Europe; making them work hard all day long in case she might do so, just to tell them all had been useless during the evening. She wanted to kill him when he did things like that. One of the servants’ hobbies was fantasizing the ways in which they would do so.

Yes, Sir,” the younger man answered, bowing his head respectfully, almost as if honoured by his orders.

Tatsumi nodded, turning his back on them to return to his own tasks. But a dry cough forced him to lean on the doorframe. He had been having it for some time now, and it seemed to be getting worse day after day.

Are you well, Sir?”

 

No, he wasn’t. He would have to go to the doctor, even when that meant allowing the house to turn into chaos for a couple of hours. Maybe if he asked the doctor to come to the mansion...

Yes,” he managed to answer, the cough’s harshness making his throat ache. His breathing was heavy, and he took his hand to his chest. He felt like he was being torn and ripped from the inside.

Do you want me to call the doctor, Sir?”

He shook his head at the girl, refusing her help. “It’s just a summer cold, don’t worry.”

Here.”

Tatsumi looked at the boy and nodded, accepting the glass of water he was offering him. “Thank you.”

And Virbio smiled openly. For the first time since he had been working there, a broad, friendly smile curved his full lips, honest and caring.

Tatsumi, renewed by the cool water, turned to continue with his task. But the cough went on until it was replaced by a wheezing sound.

Pallas thought she was dreaming when he collapsed.

 

Sir!” she cried. Her fear of him vanished and she ran to his side. She knew some first aid, had learnt it for her kid, maybe she could so something...

Don’t. Call the doctor.”

She stood there, frozen, trying to understand why his words troubled her, why she had the strong feeling that she had to disobey him and stay. But Virbio was right. Tatsumi needed a doctor.

She nodded and ran towards the main hall, leaving them alone.

 

I don’t... “

No, you don’t,” the yellow-eyed man whispered, crouching next to the fallen man. He took his hand in his reassuringly. “You don’t need a doctor, sir. Not for what is happening to you right now.”

It is only... a cold...”

Virbio smiled and placed his free hand on his forehead. He was feverish already.

Not really...” he corrected, unbuttoning Tatsumi’s shirt to check his breathing. Ragged and broken. The lungs were already compromised. “It’s the slow-burning poison I’ve been putting in your food. It’s making effect.”

The man’s dark eyes went wide when hearing those words, understanding hitting him like a rock.

You... tr..trash. Which company sent...t... you?”

Virbio frowned, his gaze darkening. For an instant, Tatsumi was certain he had angered him, and felt glad about it. He had made the mistake of allowing that man into the house.

Don’t you dare to confuse me with greedy vermin. You won’t be able to speak soon, so choose your last words wisely.”

Tatsumi’s eyes went dim in disbelief, yet his body proved the stranger was right. He could barely move it.

‘’ M....m...y.... L....a... ‘’

Your Lady?” Virbio asked, puzzled , “Oh, Athena. Don’t worry, this warning is not for her, we have no interest in the Girder-on-of-Arms... Why are you crying? Does this trouble you?” he leaned forward, his lips whispering in his ear, “The fact that you are not dying for her troubles you? You have the soul of a warrior, even if you lack the courage... so I will tell you this: Your death will save her from harm. Its sole reason is to keep her away from it, safe from those that would threaten her. Now sleep, old man. And rest. She will come to your side soon enough and bid you farewell.”

Sir, the doctor... oh, my god... is he... ? “

Virbio stood up. “Not yet.”

Pallas knelt by Tatsumi, surprised by the butler’s tears.

Virbio... “ she whispered, turning for help. But he was already walking to the main door. “Where are you going?”

Stay by his side, Pallas, and don’t move until the Girder-on-of-Arms comes. He is still conscious; even if he can’t speak. Let a woman be the last thing he sees, even if she is not the one he treasures.”

‘’What do you mean?”

Do as I told you. It will be easier that way.”

And he turned and left, ignoring the girl’s cries and the man’s ragged breathing.

 

It was done.

 

It was an unfair kill, something he wasn’t proud of doing. A small, defenceless prey, unworthy of a hunter with his skills. He couldn’t understand why Athena kept such a weak man at her side. But it was far from him to commit the hubris of pretending to know what went on inside the hearts of the Gods.  

He was just a priest from Ortygia, devoted to the Island and to its function: to keep the cycles in motion, and strike down those that threatened the balance that kept them going. Aiming was the task of whoever sat on the Island’s throne. He was merely the arrow.


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

Je déteste les victimes quand elles respectent leurs bourreaux

(I hate victims who respect their executioners)

- Jean-Paul Sartre -

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

 

VI


She waited, as she always did. To wait and set traps was a part of a hunter’s life. It was easier that way, swifter. Knowing her prey saved the helpless from unnecessary pain.

She took no pleasure in that, in bringing pain.

Yet sometimes she had to; for others’ own good. Some people just brought it upon themselves.

And that’s where she came in, Ortygia’s inquisitor, forced to nudge them back into the right path.

 

The path of her Goddess.

 

She hadn’t been surprised when her skills had been called for. She had expected it would happen sooner. Who else but her could make the Deceiver see the errors of her ways? Few knew her like she did.

Fewer still had the stomach. It took courage, love, and great selflessness, to protect people from themselves. To watch them cry and ask for mercy, to know they were hurting and still be able to continue, to push them harder, until they understood their errors.

It was a very delicate job, which in this case in particular, needed a delicate trapping.

Her prey would be there soon, the little helpless being that would serve her purpose. Her bait. When the Deceiver had still reigned in Ortygia, she had listened, paid attention. She was not a stranger to the power of sacrifice.

It was something Artemis would understand. Gods loved blood shed in their names. And once she did, once she understood, she would see.

She would learn.

 

And once she did, she would stop being the disappointment and threat she had become, and would stop hurting them. She would be happier, a better person. A better Goddess. Everyone would rejoice and there would be much merriment. Maybe even a party. She would insist on the party.

She loved helping others to improve themselves. It was her gift.

Where are you, girl?” she whispered impatiently. “I need you.”

 


VII

 


In her dreams, the girl stirred, troubled. It wasn’t so much what she was dreaming that bothered her, she was used to having vivid dreams, had had them for as long as she could remember. She had seen her tutor in one, before meeting him. And her love. She had seen him, too, many, many times.

It was the voice she was hearing in the dream that made her anxious. It was full of distress. In her sleep, someone was calling her and their need felt real.


...Help me...


...I need your help...


...I need your caring spirit and sense of justice...


...Your strength of character...


... But more importantly, I need your skill to reach the gods...


She opened her eyes, trying to adjust her sight to her surroundings. The shadows casted into her room by the light of the moon seemed like ghosts, eager to claim her.

Who’s there?” she asked.

The sweetest laughter she had ever heard embraced her like the summer wind.

 

...I need you...

 

She got up and covered her milky shoulders with her shawl. The night was cool and humid. It would rain soon.

Once again, she heard the voice, fainter though, its mirth gone and replaced with panic.

 

...Help me, please...

 

Wait!”

The voice stopped crying. She walked out of the cottage, towards the mountain path, trying to find traces of it again. Like Shiryu, Deathmask and Dohko had done before; the owner of that voice was able to whisper its plea directly into her spirit. Whoever it was, he or she knew of cosmo.

 

...Help...

 

She flinched and tried to find the source of that call. She entered the forest, unafraid of the darkness that shrouded it. Those trees had grown with her, knew her. There was nothing to fear in the trees, in the mountains. She was theirs.

 

...I need...help...


She reached the waterfall where Shiryu used to train and looked around. At the top of it, she found the person that had been calling her. The stranger was cloaked in green and brown, the colours making it seem to be a part of the rocks around it. Its figure was small. Even shorter than her, its frame wisp-like.

A woman.

A girl.

 

Who are you? Are you a Saint?” she asked, puzzled.

Tell me, Shunrei of Rhozan,” the girl said sweetly, her voice slightly high-pitched, like the one of a child, and just as innocent. “What do you see when you look at the waterfall?”

Shunrei frowned. “Is there something wrong at Sanctuary? Did something happen to Shiryu? You said you needed my help...”

I do. But first I must make sure that you are the person I’ve been looking for. Misunderstandings can be fatal. So, Shunrei, what do you see when you look at the waterfall?”

The Chinese girl fixed her eyes on the body of water she knew so well. It seemed almost black under the night sky, the stars’ reflections shining like scales over the surface.

Of course.

I see a Dragon.”

 

My Dragon

 

The figure giggled and pulled down the hood that covered her head. A girl with short golden hair was smiling at her, her huge hazel eyes full of joy.

A Dragon. A wise answer, the answer the kind of person we need would say.”

We?”

She jumped down from the waterfall to stand before her then bowed theatrically at her. Her movements had been fluid, like a dancer. Shunrei’s heart missed a beat. She had caught glimpses of green metal under her cloak. A Cloth.

Monoceros Iphigeneia, at your service, Shunrei of Rhozan,” she introduced herself, her sweet smile and aura of happiness never abandoning her. “Guardian of the Balance and daughter to Ortygia, with a message from my mistress, Mighty Melaenis, meant just for you.”

Shunrei had heard that name before, somewhere...

Aphrodite...?”

I knew you were special. You know that Gods have many names,” the girl observed, pleased.

What do you mean?”

I will take you to your Dragon, Shunrei. We need a messenger. A poetess. Poets are much loved by the Gods. And you are perfect, just as I knew you were going to be.”

I... I can’t leave like that, I don’t have anything ready. Did Dohko send you?”

I’ll have nothing of that. Your task is at Greece. Now,” the girl insisted. She took her cloak and placed it over Shunrei’s shoulders, keeping her close to her. As she had thought, the stranger was wearing armour.

 

A Saint? But she said she was a Guardian from Ortygia....isn’t Ortygia the land of the Queen of the Hunt...?

 

Because you are the message, Shunrei, you are the note, the paper over which I’ll write Melaenis’ blessed words. It wouldn’t be the same without you.”

 

I’ve heard of the Guardians, somewhere..., she thought, a part of her telling her she had to get away, escape.

 

But why, when the girl’s cosmo was so lovely? She was burning it around them, its warmth enveloping her like a mother’s embrace. It was pure, and full of gentleness.

It reminded her of Athena.

 

I like you, Shunrei of Rhozan. Your spirit is full of feelings,” Iphigeneia whispered, holding the older girl’s braid with care. She leaned closer to place a soft kiss on her hair. “You are perfect. The perfect sacrifice.”



____________________________________________________________________

next -->

written by derrewyn ::: info ::: contact ::: facebook ::: home :::