06.Bestiae


When we two parted/ In silence and tears,/

half broken-hearted/ To sever for years, /

Pale grew thy cheek and cold/

Colder thy kiss.


(When we two parted – Lord Byron -)



I



Saori hadn’t slept well. Before heading to bed, as she tidied up her desk, she had found something in one of the journals of her predecessors that had piqued her interest.

She had encountered the same phrase in a dozen more. The same last line, in the last journal or parchment of many of the women that had once been called Athena.

It wasn’t long, or descriptive, but she needn’t much to be able to understand it, not after the life she had led.


(...Not everyone is your enemy, not everyone wants the world...)


And then you dare tell me I go at things the wrong way. Words rarely reflect reality.


It had broken her heart, a little bit. She had wanted to believe things could be different this time.


“Rough night?”

“The heat. I wish we could install a better electricity network, enough to maintain at least some basic cooling systems, but with the Veil around... Coffee?”

“For Leto’s sake, yes, please.”

Artemis didn’t look that good herself, but she rarely did so in the mornings. The Queen of the Hunt was mostly nocturnal, as she had warned her when she accepted her invitation for breakfast. She hadn’t lied; she looked as if getting out of bed had been the most dreadful ordeal she could have been subjected to.

“How do you manage? At Ortygia.”

The huntress looked at her from over the rim of her cup.

“There are many trees.”

“Excuse me?”

Artemis laughed.

“For shade. There’s no electricity, the concentration of cosmo there makes it impossible; so I guess we don’t even try? We start the day later, in summer, and bathe often, too. Plenty of streams, and the shores. Mmh...”

She grabbed a napkin and took Saori’s pen. The smaller woman carried notebooks and pens everywhere, things she jokingly referred to as Athena’s Gear.

“The houses, also, they are... mmh...somewhat like this... Tall ceilings, open plan. Airy. We only use marble, stone and wood as building materials. Can get chilly in winter. I remember one being built when I was a kid, but we mostly maintain the ones already standing. Some are over a thousand years old. Like the ones here, except, well, here they are in ruins. Ours are not. Maybe you should have yours fixed.” Artemis chatted as she scribbled, her usually severe face warming up. Her guest smiled more and became more approachable when talking about Ortygia. Saori could tell that, like herself, she missed her home.


She had told her that she couldn’t go back to it, when she asked her about the woman at the hospital, the one threatening Seiya. Artemis had left her home under the care of Melaenis, and dismissed the Guardian’s presence at the hospital, as much as their attacks on Ellie and Julian, as minor mistakes that wouldn’t repeat themselves.

She had actually told her “I have that covered, so don’t worry about it”, and refused any further delving on the subject.

Saori was, of course, not having any of that, and was pretty much intent on delving each time she could.

“This is the kind of things you like?” she asked, handing her the napkin. “The kind that can be built.”

Saori took it, checking the simple drawing. It was something an archaeologist would kill for.


If only I could trust you. Like I was warned, you can be charming.


“You never thought about improving it? Adding some of the advancements of our times?”

“What for?”

“To make life more comfortable, more efficient.”

The huntress gave her one of those amused looks that betrayed their differences. “Efficiency has nothing to do with life, Saori.”

“I beg to disagree.”

“Of course you do. From our relatives, you are the one that loves civilization the most.”


It would always feel strange how their cosmos could recognize one another. Sisters. Saori knew that they weren’t related by blood, that the woman before her was mostly a stranger, someone she was barely starting to know, but she had only to sense a figment of her cosmo and ancient memories and feelings of comfortable familiarity would fill her own.

The same thing happened when she was around Ellie; her cosmo would only see Eris, the Goddess of Discord, and warn her to be cautious. She would see figments of a terrible, terrible war, caused by the blue-haired woman’s cunning and disruptive mind, of which Athena had been a foolish pawn, something the Goddess of War hadn’t forgiven. Beware, her cosmo whispered to her each time she saw her. This woman knows others weak points before they know them themselves, and will use all of us to plant the seeds of chaos.


Her cosmo was much quieter around Artemis, for whom she sensed nothing but distant acknowledgement; recognition of an existence that shared little with hers, except for their father. There were no warning signs whispered into her spirit, but there was no love either. Athena recognized the woman as her sister, but Artemis remained a mystery even to her.


Like she does to me. Everyone has warned me that we are too different.


Yet there they were, agreeing to disagree while sharing breakfast.


And a longing for home, and the solitude of our roles.


“Perhaps you are right. There’s much potential in what people can do. Unknown potential.” She reached for some fruit and turned to the dark-haired woman, “What’s that which you love then, if not civilization?”

Artemis fixed her ice-blue eyes on hers, measuring her, and placed her hand over hers.

“Close your eyes, and I’ll show you,” she ordered gently.


Saori did, and the universe opened up to her, endless cosmos being born and dying all around her. She could feel those that were known to her burning close by, and uncountable ones she didn’t know. A woman made of darkness was next to her, vast and ancient. Her hair was the night sky and the moon sat on her brow, forever changeable. In her eyes, she could see her own reflection, a golden creature crowned in glory whose mind left a trail of exploding suns.


Athena


It was impossible to grasp it all. Everything was in constant mutation, flowing into newness, limits faded. Fear grabbed her heart. It would devour her, she would be more...


... Don’t fight it, sister. Cosmo has no boundaries, no ends...


...What I love is being a part of all this, experiencing so much strangeness. It fills me with wonder; everything about this world does. It is all so... beautiful...


Saori opened her eyes, unable to sustain it. That was why she couldn’t understand her, why she found her so... off most of the time. Such an alien to basic conventions, to what the world was, to her. She had thought it had to do with her being raised in an island, caught off from the modern world, but it was more than that.

Her perspective on life was completely different from hers; she was too close to it, to the core of what they were.


“Why aren’t Dohko and Aiolia here?” Saori asked, fearing for them. The two warriors were stationed at the hall by the balcony. By the power they must have unleashed, they should already be there.


Did she do something to them?


Artemis laughed, burning her cosmo. Her white, cool aura shone over her pale skin and Saori could feel Aiolia’s mark bursting to life, Leo’s warmth checking on her. She appeared him.

“You weren’t using it,” she accused, narrowing her eyes.


You never cut the link off. You are enamoured by it, just as I am with what the mind can conjure, like you said, with the things that can be built.


You are in love with... being. With that which we are.


You made of cosmo your playground and never left it.


“Old power seethes in Ortygia, it overflows. I can kill with a spell there, heal with a whisper. Here... not so much.”


...Civilization needs you, Athena. Your wisdom can do wonders. And at the end of the day, when there’s no room for light and the mind is gone, it needs me...


Saori listened to her whisper through their cosmos.

“That’s why the Balance of the Cycles is upheld from there, the reason you were given the title of Keeper?”

“Ah, the Balance. Someone’s been doing her homework. I was wondering when you were going to bring that up again.”

Artemis put her cup down and leaned back on the chair. She looked a like a cat enjoying the sun. “Maybe. It all depends on perspective. Our sister sits on that throne now, so the title is hers.”

“Why did you give it to her? There’s power in a title.”

“There is.”


Don’t evade me.


“So why? What’s your perspective?”

Artemis smiled turned impish, and Saori knew she had missed her chance. A direct hit against a huntress was meant to fail.

“It’s mine to keep.”



 

II



Artemis hadn’t expected to like Saori Kido. She still thought that Athena was a warmonger and a self-righteous liar, too keen on using her gift of wisdom to trick others and pretend she had not had an active hand in the conflicts she had been involved in.

Yet she was finding it increasingly comfortable to be around the bright young woman. Not really agreeable, as they didn’t seem to agree on anything. Not in a way that made her want to confide in her.

But she wouldn’t be against spending more days like that, sitting by the shade with her, saying nothing. There was something reassuring in that implicit acceptance of different points of views. Their worlds were different, but that didn’t mean they clashed.


Except at war. The reasons we fight for, the people we support... those have always made us stand on opposing sides.


At peace, Artemis had to admit Saori was impressive. Her Sanctuary was being rebuilt with confidence, her people, most of them warriors older than her, trusting her knowledge blindly.


It would be stupid not to. Her Wisdom turns to devious cunning in war, but at peace it’s a remarkable tool.


“My lady, Eris is here.” Dohko announced, interrupting their shared silence.


Or not.


“Really, Saori? Breakfast with the two of us? Are you trying to make her feel less like a prisoner?”

All she had to do was look into her eyes to know that she was. That, and probably word of their previous meeting had reached her ears, and Athena was not as easy to fool as her Unicorn.


That’s why you summoned me first? Still waiting for me to use my bow against you?


She sighed, turning her attention to the view before her, Athena’s mighty Sanctuary; a land dedicated to war and engineering. So different to all she had known.


What I am expecting to find here? The home that is lost? Being around people who know who I am, who can understand it? Athena loves civilization, but she’s still a relative, someone where cosmo rages. They might not value it as I do, but they still value it.


I need to answer my question soon. Why am I still here?


I am... pushing the limits too hard. Even I would consider this something worth of alarm. Three Goddesses under one roof.


I am daring Melaenis by staying here. Worse.


I am tempting Fate.


“You look so preoccupied that we’ll forgive you for not greeting us.”

She looked at the other woman, with her bicoloured hair. She was the only one of the three that looked refreshed, a beautiful woman, by all means, femininely dressed in a long, flowing red dress, which made her stand out from Saori’s preference for white and her own short saffron tunic.

The tone of her eyes was blue that day. Of course. Ellie wouldn’t be able to deal with that meeting.

“Eris.”

The goddess smiled and sat next to them.

“No servants?” she asked, looking around.

“Enjoy this as it is, sister. Leisure time. You have lots of it.”


It had been her request. She didn’t like to be served upon, least it concerned hunting.


“So do you. Only poor Athena here is busy,” Eris answered, getting a cup of tea and turning to Saori, “I worry for your health.”

“You are my guests. I wish you to be comfortable here.”

“We are.” Eris smiled, and Artemis was worried by the sincerity of those words. The last thing Athena should want was for the Goddess of Discord to feel comfortable in her land. “We sometimes long for Japan, though. Don’t you?”

“Sometimes,” Saori admitted.

“Even from here? The view is magnificent. Look at all your Saints, scurrying around.”

Eris smiled broadened.

“We see your work over there, Artemis. We had to walk around it on our way here. Your glacier.”

Artemis smirked.

“I was told the trainees are very thankful,” Saori commented. “Even more so with this weather.”

“It’s good to hear that.”

“What was it like, training with Camus? I heard about it, that you trained with him at Siberia.”

 

Flashes of endless nights going against her nature to learn his echoed in her memory.

 

(...It’s beautiful, isn’t it? And hard to master. Very. Your form is not good for it. Your speed is off. The way you move is worthless for this. Your strengths are in all the wrong places. But I can teach you. You will have to focus, though. All your attention must be on the ice. You can’t allow yourself to think of anything else.

But if you are able to do that, this will be yours. The End of Day, the Aurora Execution...)

 

“Interesting.”

Eris was listening attentively, which wasn’t good. It was never good. She didn’t want to discuss anything regarding the past near that woman. It was too dangerous.

 

She is too dangerous. Saori... you shouldn’t have done this.

“When will you start rebuilding-?”

“Now, Artemis. That’s not all you did in Siberia, is it?”

 

Have it out of your system already, Eris. That’s your nature. You just can’t help yourself from turning everything into a mess.

 

“We heard the most outrageous rumours.”

Eris sipped her tea, not bothering to hide the glee from her blue eyes. She had probably been waiting for that moment since their talk.

 

Are you so bored, Eris, that you will turn to petty gossiping?

 

Then again, that was all she had ever done, as far as Artemis was concerned. Petty things.

 

“It seems Artemis’ reasons to be there were quite opposed to that maiden image of hers. Did you know, Saori? That she used to long for your Cygnus? We heard she pined for him, chased him around, like the good huntress she is. Can you picture it? Poor Hyoga. Apparently she did so for years, up to the day he got his Cloth.”

 

Artemis smirked. Leave it to Eris to know how to make her seem pathetic. She had expected some sort of scene from her since the woman had managed to read her, during her visit.

But expecting it didn’t make it feel any better, hearing those words aloud, from lips that knew nothing of her, that had nothing to do with her. It brought her back to her last few months at Ortygia, to the constant bickering and accusations, to the frivolous pettiness she particularly hated.

Since her departure, for the last five years, Siberia and what it meant for her had been hers alone, something that she found precious and private.

 

“We can’t tell if it’s true or not. Probably not. He wouldn’t be here now, if that were the case. He was just a trainee then, it would be quite sad if you couldn’t turn a simple boy into one of your own. Also, he never mentioned you when we were together,” she giggled, “It was such a silly relationship, neither of us had any experience whatsoever. Well, Eris did. Not Ellie.

“It’s probably one of those rumours, likely, that flow around when Goddesses appear in places they should not be.”

“Eris.”

Artemis looked at Saori, surprised by her interruption. She was pressing her hand over hers with firmness, as if trying to reassure her. The gesture seemed so foreign to her. Had she been scratching the scar again? Was that why she was behaving like that? She couldn’t tell if she had.

 

If so, she found herself thinking, that’s bad. Things slipping away from me.

“I have no desire to hear about my Saints’ private lives, and if you insist on discussing it, I will have to ask Jabu to escort you back to your rooms.” Her tone was absolute, the one of someone that’s used to command, leaving no room for discussion.

Artemis remembered how she had seen her through her cosmo; a golden woman, crowned with glory.

“I find frivolous conversation so...vulgar,” she went on, wrinkling her nose with distaste, her expression the one of the perfect cultured heiress. “Only their devotion to our cause matters to me.”

Eris rolled her eyes. “For a woman that surrounds herself with attractive men, you can be so boring. There’s so much going on around you. Aren’t you curious?” She laughed. “And you speak of devotion? Let us pretend then, that our dearest sister was there to train. How did you convince him, Artemis? A Saint, to give away his techniques to the Keeper? Aquarius seems so... stoic.”

Artemis sighed and removed her hand from Athena’s hold to run her fingers through her hair. She longed for wine, but there was none at the table. Water would have to do.

“Actually,” she explained as she filled a glass, “he offered.”

“And then you want to leave it at just ‘interesting’. You are a cruel woman.”

“It’s been said.”

“Or he is a fool, giving the Keeper another weapon to use against Athena.”

 

It seems I am not the only one that’s pushing limits. This must be quite the opportunity for you. Saori probably doesn’t let you wander away from your little prison often, and knows better than to keep your company.

 

“You two are really into titles today,” Artemis commented, reaching for some cheese. “I haven’t used that one for a while.”

“That’s why you don’t play by its rules?”

Saori’s gaze settled on her, attentive.

“The Cycles have been kept, as far as I am concerned,” Artemis said evenly.

“So we won’t have you jumping at our necks for being naughty? That’s your job, right? The reason you are here.”

“Is this what you wish to talk about? My... what did you call it? Job?” she laughed. “I never really had one, I’m afraid. Well,” she sighed, “maybe trainer and healer? Your Saints have kept me busy.”

Athena eyed her cautiously. Or was it a warning? “I know what the Keeper does.”

 

Of course you do, why wouldn’t you, when in that name Julian and Ellie were attacked, and your precious Pegasus was threatened. All should know it.


Artemis wished they would leave the subject be. It had cost her much.

“You are so... trusting, Saori. We find it harder, after her Guardian tried to kill us.”

“Whatever complaint you have,” she interrupted abruptly, “take it to Melaenis. You are boring me, sister, with such idle talk. Are you bored yourself? That’s why you keep yapping at me?”

 

Artemis stretched her back, enjoying the feeling of the sun against her skin. She would take a nap once breakfast was done. “I’m just a momentary disruption in Sanctuary’s life. Nothing more. I told you, Saori. Ask me to leave, and I am gone.”

She closed her eyes and let the world around her change its shape, back to the one she navigated, made of lights and shadows and ever-present cosmo, her presence unseen to all except those she wished to reach.

...And remember, Ellie, if you ever want to get rid of Eris...

 

She stretched her hand to the mortal woman inside the turmoil of clashing weaponry that was the Goddess of Discord, sensing her presence. Their essence was similar, shared, and so was their fierce love for Athena’s Unicorn, but within Ellie there was a longing that was hers alone, to be back home, working next to her friend, with children she cherished as her own.

... I can do that for you...

 

She opened her eyes and focused them once again on the view, on that great remnant of the glorious days of the Gods; and on the men that fought and bled for Athena. But her attention remained there, in that woman, and the Goddess that now was also listening in mocking disbelief.

 

... The sword, after all, still answers to me...

 

A Goddess that was, with reason, terrified.

 

...One word from you, and I’ll make my half-sister sleep, for this is the Cycle of Peace, and you, Ellie, should be free from her, as her actions defy it...

 

You’ll behave after this, won’t you, Discord? This is something even you can understand.

 

... I leave her presence in this world, for the moment, on your hands. That is my judgement...

 

“Eris,” Artemis said, pointing at her cup. “Your tea is growing cold.”



III



Marin hurried through Athena’s temple, a faceless ghost dressed in vapid blues, a colour she kept in respect of her Cloth. Saints and trainees alike bowed their heads as she passed by them, not one of them stopping her.

She reached the Goddess’ chambers and headed to the balcony. Aiolia, Dohko and Jabu were standing inside, keeping watch while the three women had breakfast. The sight of them was like a beautiful painting she was afraid she would have to ruin.

Aiolia smiled at her, a gesture he couldn’t see she reciprocated. The Kyoko approached her and she leaned close to him, to whisper her motive to his ear.

He nodded and moved aside, allowing her to reach the balcony.

She burnt her cosmo, announcing herself. Athena’s warmth answered, enveloping her, and she could sense Eris’ electric touch and Artemis’ coldness, so similar to Camus and Hyoga.

“My ladies,” she said, bowing profusely.

“Marin.”

She offered her leader the note she was carrying and waited for her command.

Saori opened the envelope and after reading its contents, turned to her guests.

“I apologise, it seems we’ll have to continue this some other morning. Something of an urgent nature has been brought to my attention.”

“Is everything all right?” Eris asked.

“Just some personal matters.”

“I’ll finish my nap at the shrine,” Artemis said, getting up.

Saori nodded.

“Now, if you’ll excuse me.”


She headed inside, closely followed by Marin. “Jabu and Aiolia, please escort Eris back to her rooms. Dohko, Marin, come with me. I need to make a phone call to Japan.”



IV



The news spread like scorching fire among the Bronze Saints. The rumour of Tatsumi’s illness had affected them all, and now they waited, or at least most of them did.

Of the ten saints that had spent their childhood at the Kido mansion, only eight were sitting at the temple’s hall, waiting for news.

“They’ll come,” Shun whispered. It was the sixth time Seiya looked at the door, expecting to see his missing brothers.

“Stay still, Pegasus,”

Seiya looked at Jabu, who was standing against one of the pillars, eyes closed. He had barely seen him since their arrival. Ever since he had been appointed as Eris’ guard, the Unicorn had remained at her temple, his presence at the barracks scarce.

Yet even he had come when hearing the news. He, like all the bronze saints that had had to retake their training after being defeated at the Galaxian Wars, had come to Athena’s temple the moment they heard Tatsumi was dying.

“Sit, Seiya,” Shiryu said, patting the empty space next to him. Seiya obeyed, slumping next to his friend. He was happy Shun and him were there. He had never been good waiting for news. He needed to be given a mission, told what to do. Anything but waiting.

Without them it would have been unbearable.

He stood up when the door to the throne room opened. Marin’s masked face met his.

“She’ll see you now.”

Seiya walked inside and knelt with the rest of them in respect to their Goddess and their Kyoko. Something he only did because he was at Sanctuary, at Athena’s representative’s holy room.

In Japan, he would have ran to Saori’s side and held her in his arms.

It was because they were at Sanctuary that she didn’t ask them to stand right away.

He searched for her gaze, but her black eyes eluded him. She was sitting on the throne and had her business expression, the mask she wore whenever she had to deal with the Foundation’s partners.

 

She should have called for me the moment she heard the news, Seiya thought. She still insisted on bearing things alone.

“My lady...” Jabu ventured.

“Saori.”

 

This time she did look at him, the mask fading slightly.

 

“My dear friends,” she said, “You heard?”

They nodded.

“Then things will be easier. A note from the Mansion arrived this morning, letting me know about Tatsumi’s situation. I contacted them. He’s at the hospital under a coma. The doctors...” she paused to gather herself. It took all of Seiya’s effort to stop himself from rushing to her side. “The doctors say his condition is bad; and getting worse by the minute. They don’t think he’ll make it.”

“There has to be something we can do. Maybe the healers here. Other doctors...” Geki let out. Nachi placed his hand over his arm and shook his head.

“Nachi-“

“Guys.”

Shun’s voice held a firmness that silenced the warriors. “Saori, please,” he called, inviting her to continue.

 

...she’s exhausted those possibilities already...

 

Shun looked at him when Seiya brushed his cosmo, and nodded. Of course she had, she wouldn’t be telling them that if she hadn’t done so.

“I had to discuss certain arrangements with the Kyoko, that’s why I couldn’t inform you of this right away.”

“Saori...” he said, standing up, “You don’t need to apologize to us, we are family. So it’s Tatsumi. We’ll handle this together.”

She stared at him, the unshed tears in her eyes betraying her forced composure. He had finally reached her.

She nodded. “Thank you, Seiya.”

He wished she knew that there was no need to thank him either.

“What do you want us to do?” Shun asked. None of them were kneeling now.

“I’ve...” Saori took a deep breath. “I’ve decided to go back to Japan, to be by his side in this time of need. See if there’s something I can do from there. If any of you wants to come with me...”

“You don’t need to ask.”

“Of course she doesn’t, Seiya. Wherever you go, we are going.”

“I am so grateful for this, but I am afraid you’ll have to stay, Jabu.”

“What?” Her unicorn looked at her pleadingly, “It’s the old man we are talking about. He’s an idiot, and a brute, but he’s still ours. He...”

“He raised us.” Geki finished.

“I would gladly let you come, but you are the only one Eris allows near her, and I can’t take the risk of leaving her unguarded. I’m so sorry.”

He looked at the floor, visibly torn.

“I understand. I don’t like it, but I understand.”

“Thank you,” she replied sincerely. She left the throne and walked to his side to rest her hand on his arm. “I will send him your love.”

“Tell him to get better or I’ll kick his ass,” he let out, brushing his tears away roughly with the back of his hand.

“So, are we leaving now?” Shiryu asked.

Saori nodded.

“We’ll leave in fifteen minutes. I’ll meet you at the main arena; the plane will be landing there.”

She rubbed her hands together and forced herself to smile, once again making Seiya’s heart hurt “Guys... once again, thank you.”

Ban beamed at her and nudged her shoulder. “We’ll be waiting at the arena.”

She nodded.

They followed Marin out of the room, until Seiya, Shiryu, Shun and Saori were the only ones remaining.

Seiya closed the door.

“Do forgive them, Saori. Hyoga... he said he doesn’t mourn the living. As for my niisan...”

Saori gently shook her head to stop him from apologizing. There was no need to explain. She knew well why Phoenix had not come. Ikki could be a warm man, who had left must of his past behind him, but the way Tatsumi had behaved towards him...

She could understand.

It still surprised her that so many of them were willing to go with her. Tatsumi was extremely important to her, so much more than a butler, or a guardian. He was family, the only one she had thought she had, until Seiya and the rest taught her to open up to them. She hadn’t expected they would see him that was as well.

Those were her boys, always surprising her.

“They are being idiots. They should be here.”

“It’s ok, Seiya.”

He frowned, bothered.

“It really is.”

“I’ll only listen because you say so.”

“Thank you.”

“My lady,” Dohko interrupted, entering the room. “Aphrodite is ready.”

“That’s good to hear. We’ll go meet him now.”

“Pisces...?” Shun asked.

“Yes. He’ll be coming with us.”

Shun failed to hide his mistrust, but yielded to her decision.

“Why?” Seiya asked, puzzled.

“He’s Sanctuary’s expert. Tatsumi has been poisoned.”


V


She shivered, leaning against one of the walls of Eros’ room, inside the White Temple. As everything about that temple, the room was large, extending into one small garden, and then the edge of the mountain. If she looked ahead, there was only the sky, as far as her eyes could see.

If she walked towards the garden and looked down, there was only the abyss, the sea and the rocks.

She stood inside, watching the curtains that separated the garden from the room dance like maddened ghosts.

The temperature had gone down thanks to the northern wind.

She sighed and picked the silk robe he had given her from the floor, to cover her naked body.

“I like you best without it.”

Obediently, Dictina let the robe fall.

“Much better.”

“It’s cold up here.”

She heard the sound of rustling sheets as he shifted into a more comfortable position. Despite she had her back turned to him, she could still picture him in her mind to perfection; lavender hair falling lightly over golden shoulders, a body that appealed to her instincts, emerald eyes showing her his naked desire.

Like she had thought from the start, a man to please and be pleased.

Melaenis, how can your son have so much power over me?, she wondered.

He made her feel helpless and subdued. A word of his, and she would gladly do anything, her desire for him burning her from within.


But of course it does, I am bedding Desire himself. What can I accuse him of? That’s his nature.


She knew well that attracting the attention of the gods was always paid with a heavy price. She wondered, sometimes, what would be hers. When she was not in his arms, she feared sleep. The nightmares were there, waiting for her, her Erynies. Her guilt.

By bedding him she had destroyed the plans of a joint priesthood Hippolytus and her had carefully constructed.

Oh, yes, he would still marry her if she wished, and look the other way should she slip at night to meet her lover, but how could she do that? What good would that bring? Her mind was full of Eros, the mere idea of sleeping with someone else, even for the greatness of Ortygia, was impossible to her. The way she had handled her duties ever since his arrival had been pathetic, at best, forcing Hippolytus to pick up the load.

He deserved better.

Ortygia deserved better.

 

Her love for the foreign god had taken over her life. She hadn’t thought it possible. Like usual, she was comfortable in the shadows, unseen.

She had desired him from the start, for it was impossible not to do so, but she had kept her longing there, with her, out of sight.

 

I am tired of waiting for you to come to me, he had told her once, a year or so after Artemis had left, in that voice of his she could listen to for hours. Years of looking, of wanting, and still you will do nothing? Why do you deprive yourself, he had said, taking her hand and placing it over his chest, when nothing is stopping you from taking what you want?

 

A hunter able to know the perfect bait for whoever he decided would be prey. She had only seen such a perfect command of their craft in her sister.

 

Eros drove her away from the shadows she loved so much and made his light shine on her. How could she resist someone that would do that?

Tomorrow I’ll tend to my duties. I’ll check if anyone in town needs healing, and what’s missing for the granaries to be ready for winter. I’ll do the rituals, and light the fires, and talk to the other Guardians...

 

Hippolytus had returned from Japan already, and news from Iphigeneia had arrived. She had never managed to find the chance to warn Melaenis about her, and now it was too late to stop her. She had put a ritual in motion, and the consequences...

 

It was all Artemis’s fault. She should have known better. She had trained with them; she knew their methods, methods she had kept close to her heart with pride.

Now she would be the recipient of them. How could she not know it would come to that?

She had forced them to do so.

 

Please, Leto, let her listen to Iphigeneia’s attempt to reach her. Let her listen and obey it, and not take it as a challenge. Dissuade her, mother. I wish her no warm, even when I should.


She had discarded them after all, friendship, sisterhood, duty, all that had meant nothing to her. All those words and vows she enjoyed so much had been lies.

 

Why do you insist on destroying this Island, sister, which loves you so much? What did we do to provoke your anger? We gave you what you wished, at a great cost.

 

It was no wonder, perhaps, why she had turned to Eros. She had her blood in her, was doomed to become neglectful.

 

But I would never abandon this land. This is what we are. What I am.

 

Eros must have noticed the growing tension in her body, because he got up and walked to her side. His fingers ran along the length of her arms with gentleness, making the coldness disappear by burning his cosmo over them. Her desire grew instead, as he flooded her mind with images and sensations of promised sensuality.

 

What a wonderful power, to know and deliver a person’s desires.

 

“You are worrying again,” he sighed in her ear.

“You were taking too long to come here,” she cooed, turning to meet his eyes.

He laughed. “Was I? How terrible of me. I’m here now.”

Eros buried his head against the curve of her neck and kissed her there, then slowly climbed up, to nibble her earlobe and lick her ear.

She stayed still, riding each sensation he triggered within her.

 

Subdued, again, I can’t do anything but give in to him

 

“Dictina.”

“Yes?” she hummed.

He bit her neck and pulled at her skin slightly, making her moan.

“Turn around.”

She obeyed, placing her hands against the wall in anticipation.

Eros’ fingers brushed the line of her spine, to finally rest his hand on the small of her back.

“Open your legs.”

She did as told, her desire increasing with every second he lingered.

He was close to her, she could feel his heat, but wasn’t touching her yet except for that hand that remained still.

“Do you want me, Priestess?”

Eros gripped her ass forcefully at her silence.

“Answer,” he demanded.

“Yes.”

“Good girl.”

He stopped touching her altogether and she whimpered. Then one of Eros’s hands grabbed her from the back of her neck and the other one gripped her hip, while the length of his penis rubbed against her.

She let out a scream of pleasure when he entered her. With every stroke her body was pushed against the wall, her nipples brushing against the coldness of the marble, in stark contrast to the heat between her legs.

 

“Are you enjoying this?”

Eros burned his cosmo further, drowning them both in it and picking on her pleasure to take for his own. “Ah, of course you are.”

“My love,” she sighed as he drove her further and further away from herself.

“You are so wonderfully pliant,” he murmured, biting her neck again, this time harder, enough to leave a mark. It was the left side. “Tell me, Dictina, is your sister anything like you?

 

A part of her brain found the question odd, but she was too far gone, desperate for release, her hips meeting his every thrust.

 

“You two don’t look alike, but still, same blood, and her favourite has quite the reputation...I cannot but wonder.”

His ragged voice overflowed desire.

“Anticipation... is such a thrill.”

He began to ride her faster, his fingers sinking through her hair and pulling back.

“Come for me, Priestess,” he ordered.

It didn’t take long for her to do so, thanking the wall for keeping her standing until he did so as well.

She turned around when he pulled out of her and placed her arms around his neck, kissing him soundly.

“I love you” she whispered as she ran her fingers through his silky hair, mesmerized. They slid to the floor, and she kept him close to her, trapped within her arms.

“Of course you do,” he said, nestling against her breasts, “I made sure of that.”

She nodded absently, feeling chilly again, even when she always found his closeness so warm. It was that damn wind, rising from the depths.



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


Beside the river, swerving under ground

Your future tracked you, snapping at your heels;

Diana, breathless, hunted by your own quick hounds


-Andrew Motion –


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

VI



“There will be a blood-moon soon.”

Jabu stirred and stretched his arm on the left side of the bed. It was empty.

“Ellie?”

“We are here.”

He propped himself up on one elbow and rubbed his eyes, trying to find her in the shadows.

“Come to bed, it’s late,” he muttered hoarsely. He found her leaning against the wall, her beautiful figure stressed by moonlight. At times like that it surprised him that a woman like her would want to be with him.

“Nonsense. It’s early. This is just a beginning. The beginning of terrible things,” she purred. Her eyes were blue that night, as they had been since Artemis’ arrival to Sanctuary.

The goddess swayed her hips as she walked back to the bed.

“We know about those things.”

“What?”

Ellie had always been cryptic in her speech, but since Eris had reawakened within her, she lapsed into what Jabu called strange talk more often. He didn’t really mind, even when he didn’t get most of what she said. All his life he had carried a torch for Saori, and he didn’t understand her much either.

Geki had told him the problem was that he didn’t understand women in general, but he begged to differ. He was a simple man and took pride in that. He wouldn’t have understood a man that talked like them either.


Ellie giggled and crawled on top of him, the saint too drowsy to offer resistance.

“We can sense Discord growing. It’s a wonderful thing, it grows, and grows, and then pops, and everything turns to chaos.” She could feel his heartbeat under her fingertips and the love she felt for him moved her. He was her handsome boyish man, hot-blooded, loyal, and surprisingly caring. She kissed his chest, over the place where his heart was, taking in the scent of him.

“That tickles.”

“We know about the Moon, and the Owl and the Foam-Born... we know it all.”

“Good for you,” he let out as he pulled her closer to him.

“Silly, this is important, you should pay attention.”

He smiled sleepily when she kissed his forehead, hugging her tightly.

Jabu sometimes treated her as his pillow.

She nestled against the curve of his neck, planting little kisses on his collarbone. He hummed something then fell asleep trustingly.

What a silly, silly man he was. She loved a fool. If he would only listen, there was so much he would be able to do. Greatness seemed to be always knocking at his door.

He never opened. That was why she cared so much for him; his ability to ignore all those signs shrieking around him worried her.

He had been so depressed, when Athena forbade him to travel with her back to Japan. She should have taken the both of them. She missed the city.

(...One word from you, and I’ll make my half-sister sleep, for this is the Cycle of Peace, and you, Ellie, should be free from her...)

 

The bitch. Both of them were; the maidens. What a lie.

“We will keep you safe,” she whispered in his ear. He stirred and she kissed his cheek gingerly to appease him.

He hug tightened, and she was satisfied.

Athena could still own a part of his heart, but he was hers. No one else wanted him. Poor, poor Unicorn of hers.

 

And I will let no one else ever do so. Mine.

 

She sighed. The power Melaenis held was awful. Hearts were difficult to change, to own. She couldn’t plant in them that which she wished.

 

But the seeds of discord, those are mine.

 

Eris closed her eyes.

 

And they have taken root between the Moon and the Foam-Born.

We saw it in the moon, in the blood-red halo that will soon surround it.

Stupid Bastard-Sister. You can threaten us all you want, with that damn sword of yours that shouldn’t exist. We’ll even behave, for a while.

But in the end it really doesn’t matter.

 

This trap was set for you a long time ago, and it will close around you.

 

You’ll be hunted by your own. Melaenis... has really been remarkably cruel to you.

 

We fear her more than we fear you.


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


The truth is often a terrible weapon of aggression. It is possible to lie, and even to murder, for the truth.


-Alfred Adler-


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



VII



A teenager was guarding the entrance to the room, his hair a striking orange flame. He was entertaining himself by making a plastic ball float up and down over his hand, something that didn’t seem to be working. He looked bored as hell.

He stopped playing with the little ball and tried to hide it clumsily behind him when he noticed her.

The ball ended up against her feet.

She picked it up and offered it to him from where she stood.

He blushed and called it back to him, the ball floating its way towards him.

 

Telekinesis. Nice.

 

Artemis smiled and pointed at the door.

“No need to announce me. I’m expected.”

The saints stopped their conversation and turned to look at her when she entered the throne room.

Ok, so this is uncomfortable.

 

She had felt Saori’s departure during the previous day, and had been waiting for his visit ever since. He did not come to the shrine. At dawn, Albinach and June knocked on her door. The girl was well enough to return to her post, but her teacher wanted to assist her during the first couple of days, just to make sure. They carried a message with them.

The Kyoko was making her go to him.

She conceded, but was four hours late, the sun already high in the sky when she reached Athena’s temple. Let it not be said she was not magnanimous.

“Goddess.”

She was starting to regret her magnanimity. Two gold saints, two silver saints, the Kyoko and Hyoga were all looking at her. Or at least she thought they were looking. It was always hard to know with the ones with the masks.

She sighed and rubbed her eyes. She hoped they weren’t all there for her. She didn’t want things to go wrong, which they easily could without Saori around.

 

(... you should keep a tighter leash...)

 

Camus’ words echoed in her mind, from another time. She wished he were there, it would have been a good sign. It wasn’t the case.

She had met both Gold Saints during her stay. Leo, the man that had been guarding Athena during breakfast, who seemed very much the kind of warrior her sister favoured; warm, loyal, approachable. Aries was the other one, the one that had been handling Albinach’s illness. His energy and movements were very similar to the boy outside.

Like Camus and Hyoga, master and student.

“I can come back later,” she murmured. There went her magnanimity down the drain.

She had already met Athena’s staff chief as well. Albinach had told her she was Pegasus’ teacher. No wonder Saori had entrusted her with that post.

 

She remembered their first meeting, by the shrine. Marin, that was how Saori had called her at the balcony.

She had considered killing her. Marin, and Albinach and Dohko, when they found her at the shrine, on her first day in Sanctuary.

Artemis had an impressive memory when it came to people she had looked upon as targets.

The other woman she didn’t know. Her face was bare, which surprised her. She had grown used to seeing women wearing masks around Sanctuary.

She feels so familiar...

 

What was it? She was certain she hadn’t seen her before. The woman was beautiful, with a face that would have been angelic hadn’t been for her arrogant expression. Her posture betrayed a penchant for aggression, and had no problems in openly measuring her, her eyes fixing on hers without fear or reverence.

She searched for her mark in her cosmo, and smiled when grasping it.

 

Of course.

 

Ophiuchus. The snake-holder.

 

Her attitude is the same as Atalanta’s, a challenger.

 

She found herself liking her immediately. She had always had a soft spot for women who knew what they wanted and did as they pleased.

 

Maybe this will not be that bad.

“There’s no need. I was expecting you,” the Kyoko said.

 

Or maybe it will. Damn.

 

Her gaze went to Hyoga. He looked... like shit. She had heard Saori’s departure had to do with an employee of hers being sick. Did he know him?

Of course he does. Just look at him.

He had dark circles around his eyes, his skin showing he had too many hours without sleep on him. His gaze softened, for a second, when meeting hers, then looked away, his brows knitted together, as if reproaching himself the admission of vulnerability.

It was as if time hadn’t gone by between them, and she knew he was locking himself up, deep in that place he retreated whenever loss would threatened him.

 

Shit. Hyoga, what’s going on?

All those saints weren’t there for her. Whatever was happening was bigger than she thought. She hadn’t... seen anything, though. Her oracular skills could pick nothing, no possibilities related to that man’s condition, nor to Athena’s departure.

Maybe that employee is really important to them all. If he is from Japan, Saori and Hyoga probably know him since their childhood.

Athena had left with most of the bronze saints. That was probably it.

 

Or maybe it’s just because it’s happening there. My Sight is clearer from Ortygia, and the distance never allowed me to see clearly into the land my sister now calls home.

 

“We’ll be right outside, Dohko. If there’s anything Kiki and I could do, just... well, you know, we are here for whatever she needs,” Mu said. “Artemis,” he saluted as he walked pass her.

She nodded.

One by one the remaining Saints followed his example, placing themselves at Dohko’s service and bowing slightly to her on their way to the door.

Or barely looking at her with open mistrust, in Ophiuchus’ case.

What was it that Camus said? Something about approval?

I have a soft spot for rebellious people.

Hyoga didn’t look at her, at all; his back slightly hunched, eyes never leaving the ground.

It still hurt her to see him like that, and as usual, it bothered her that it did.

 

Damned if you, damned if you don’t.

 

She smiled at Dohko when the door was locked behind her, and tried to force herself not to scratch the scar. She couldn’t do so for long. Even when Hyoga was out of the room, she could still feel his lingering sadness and confusion through the broken bond between them.

 

If you are going to lock your grief up, Cygnus, then do so better, she thought, frustrated.

She wasn’t very fond of her mind lately.

 

“You probably heard that Athena had to leave Sanctuary yesterday,” The Kyoko said.

Artemis narrowed her eyes, wondering how things would play between them. Rogue goddess and guard dog? Or had Athena finally understood what she meant, about going at things the wrong way?

“I know. You had to put down the Veil for the plane. Half an hour of being unprotected.” She shook her head. “A dangerous thing to do nowadays.”

“We took precautions.”

“You scattered more unskilled guards?”

“If you find that insufficient, perhaps there are threats we are not aware of.”

Artemis chuckled at the amused tone in the Kyoko's voice.

“Ah, Kyoko. The things I would give to see the expression on your face right now. Can I call you Dohko? That’s who you were before, right? Libra Dohko.”

She began to pace around the room, a natural habit. She always did so when on guard, unconsciously circle around her prey.

“You take your mask off for her. But not for me.”

She looked around the throne room. It was even more regal than the other rooms at Athena’s temple, with velvet curtains and a large throne standing proudly over some steps at the end of a vast hall, perfect for Sanctuary’s leader to address his grovelling Saints.

“It’s of bad taste, to summon me to a room with a throne for a mortal but none for me. Do you expect me to kneel?”

The masked face looked around.

“I am still not used to this,” he apologized, taking the mask off. A broad, friendly face looked at her. “Dohko is fine. Not used to Kyoko either.”

 

Loyal, warm and approachable. Saori, you have a type.

 

“I can tell,” she smiled, appeased.

He checked their surroundings once again, as if looking for something, then give up and took off his cape and placed it on the floor, and without much ceremony, sat on it, legs crossed. He invited her to follow.

“Will this do, or do you prefer the throne?”

“This is perfect,” she sighed, sitting by his side.

“Not one for ceremony, I see.”

She shook her head. “I don’t understand yours. They baffle me.” She stretched her arms. “All this does. Why velvet? What’s with the style of that throne? It’s not Greek. Why is everything so cluttered here? You have mirrors in a room meant to address your men. Baffled.”

He laughed heartily, his shoulders shaking. It was a contagious sort of laughter. “Let’s start again, then.”

She looked to the sides. There were no windows. For all its size, the room was claustrophobic.

I’ll have to leave. He’ll ask, or he should.

A shame, couldn’t answer my question at all. What did I expect by coming here?

 

“Why did she leave?” Artemis asked instead, running her fingers through her hair. It bothered her. It wasn’t safe, not for Saori nor for her Sanctuary. A very stupid move, for a wise goddess. “It is an odd time.”

“You wouldn’t have done so?”

“Of course not. You have empty Houses, and the damage in some of them is too big. They aren’t good anymore.

“Too many trainees and too little Saints. Easy to use the untrained as hostages and forced the hand of those that could actually be of use. And you have two very dangerous Goddesses, none of them known for being gentle little flowers, inside your beloved grounds, without Athena and most of her warriors of legend to hold us back should we rebel. Sanctuary...”

Her eyes narrowed, and something inside her sent her a warning. She didn’t know for whom, if Sanctuary or her.

Run or chase. Which one?

 

The word slipped with ease from her mouth.

“... is unbalanced now.”

 

It still is so natural to notice.

Saori had asked her about her perspective, during their failed breakfast, while she was called by a name she had long, like Hyoga had done with his skills, disowned.

 

I’m pushing too hard. I must leave. Asked or not.

 

“In her place, I wouldn’t have left.”

Saori has to return, now.

 

“I wouldn’t have put down the Veil either. But who am I to question Athena’s decisions? She’s been doing quite well as she is.”

‘’Don’t you think that perhaps she trusts you?”

Artemis couldn’t believe his words. Did he think she was a fool? That she hadn’t noticed anything? Her awareness of her surroundings was one of her strengths.

‘’Don’t treat me like a child, Kyoko, and never lie to me. I wouldn’t trust myself, why would she?”

She regretted the words the moment she said them. Dohko’s expression had changed, the warrior stirring, for a second, before returning to his amiable self.

“Her... right hand at her company is ill. She thinks it was probably an action from one of Graude Foundation’s competitors.”

“I hope he recovers soon.”

“We all do. Hopefully Aphrodite can find a way to clean his body from the poison”

Artemis’ index played with the scabs over her scar, her eyes meeting Dohko’s with curiosity.

“Poison? I thought he suffered from some ailment.”

Dohko shook his head. “He seems to have ingested large amounts of a mix of atropa belladonna and some unknown herbs.”

Deadly nightshade.”

“Excuse me?”

 

Artemis smiled faintly. Belladona. That was Hippolytus’ favourite poison, a plant that grew abundantly in his garden.

The reason the man was dying had nothing to do with corporations; or with Athena for that matter. The message was for her.

It was a poison only she would recognize.

Deadly nightshade, the belladonna’s vulgar name. A well-won nickname. As Mu already knows, I have some knowledge on poisons.”

Athena had left the previous day. She should have told her, asked for her help. She had to know she had helped June’s trainees.

Hadn’t Hyoga told her she could do something? He had told Mu, before. Milo and Aphrodite knew this as well.

 

They aren’t certain I wasn’t involved.

 

It was too late now. If it was Hippolytus’ doing, the poison’s action was well over its peak; the antidote should have been given to him a couple of hours after he collapsed, at most.

A full day had gone by. The man was dead.

 

She took a deep breath.

“A pity. It’s difficult to treat. I...”

She closed her hand into a fist to stop playing with the wound. If she continued scratching it she would end up removing the scab again. “I will leave. Without her here there’s little point for my presence, once she returns I might contact her again”

“That won’t be necessary. She wishes you to stay here while she’s away, and wait for her return.”

Artemis narrowed her eyes.

“You are lying to me again, Dohko”

“I was warned about this, your issues with honesty”

“Warned?”

“By Hyoga.”

Should have seen that coming.

She wondered how much Dohko knew about that. Had Saori told him about what Eris had said? Had Hyoga done so himself?

 

He’s not that petty, she admonished herself. She could accuse him of many things, but not that.

 

Or at least he wasn’t, back then. Could she actually say she knew him, now?

 

“Let me be honest, then. Just as you are baffled by us, we are baffled by you. I admit it, the current circumstances make it... difficult. I advised Saori against it. Having both Eris and yourself here, it’s, as you said, risky. A big leap of faith, for a place like Sanctuary.”

 

She was glad he could tell. At least her Kyoko wasn’t as a fool.

 

“But you’ve been of help to us. You healed Albinach.”

 

I could have saved Athena’s servant as well, the one that will die because of me. You learn nothing, Saori. I told you. You go around things the wrong way and now it will cost you dear, again.

 

“And trained with our Saints. We are not used to... to people like you, training. Chameleon insists on you staying, she seems to be fond of you.”

“It’s my charm,” she teased. “What did Cygnus say? He was here just now.”

“He... “

“Tell me, Kyoko.”

“He insists that you have no wish for conquest, and should our trust in you be misplaced, he’ll... take responsibility.”

 

She glared at him.

 

Fuck him. Fuck. Him.

 

“Responsibility? Do you even...”

 

Artemis knew she had to keep her anger under wraps. She had to. That whole week had been too much for her. She had had too many episodes, too many situations that had served as triggers for the curses, and it always happened when she got angry or lost control.

It always happened when Hyoga was involved.

 

She knew.

But her mind could do little when inside she was burning.

 

“... hear your words?”

 

How dare you, Agios?

 

“Cygnus will face me, should I turn rogue? Do you think he even stands a chance against me?”

How dare all of you?

“Do you think you have the right to control me, to tell me what to do, least I piss off the Saints?”

 

It’s the same damn thing everywhere. Like in Siberia, in Ortygia, and now here... Nothing but people expecting things I am not, telling me to behave and keep myself from doing things I have no plans of doing in the first place.

“Fuck you, Kyoko. I’m not your prisoner. I am Athena’s guest. You forget yourself.”

“That’s not what I mean’t-”

“I’ve warned you already, don’t lie to me,” she hissed.

 

Dohko knew he had made a mistake somewhere. He had stepped on a landmine, but couldn’t see where.

There was... some truth in her words. He was, all were, unconsciously, treating her like a potential threat. But could she blame them? She was a goddess. How many had they faced already? None had ever aided them, all had had a secret agenda, all had attempted against Athena’s life. Why would they believe her to be different?

He should have listened to Marin’s offer to hanle that meeting, she was better at reading people than he was.

No. I should have behaved as the Kyoko and ordered Hyoga or Camus to go to her shrine and deal with her themselves, use their relationship with her as leverage. She’s fond of them. That’s what Shion would have done. This post... it demands coldness and trickery, andt I am unused to both. I’m too much of an old man, unable to see the saints as little kids and all Gods as Hades, dark powers to watch until they strike. But the moment I accepted this mask... in this room, in this role, I must command. Shion knew this. Even Saga did.

Protecting Sanctuary can’t be done with gentleness. Not when the things we must face are like her.

“Artemis.”

“Speak.”

“I need to know. Why are you here? Gods, they don’t just do things out of a whim.”

She sighed, tired. “Don’t we? It’s all a matter of perspective.”

They really were a bunch of paranoid vigilantes. So much so, that when it mattered, they had been unable to see that they had a master healer in their grounds. All they saw was a puzzle, someone that would turn against them the moment they lowered their guard, and had been so busy, worrying and preparing for that, that they missed their chance.

They never... listened to her.

They couldn’t just take her for what she was.

 

Then what is that? Plenty agree that just a lie.

 

She licked her lips and pushed away the need to grab her bow and show them what kind of lie she could be.

Again I am judged, and measured, and found failing. Now the price is a man, easy to overlook, next it will be a Saint. Because Gods aligning themselves together are a threat to the balance, that makes all of our relatives slightly twitchy. Killing each other is perfectly fine, but this? Not so much. This should be the Cycle of Peace, in which the Gods sleep, and people rebuild that which was destroyed, till Athena is born again, and with her, the wars she planted.

 

The Gods are, right now, very much awake.

 

That’s the warning, Dohko, which you are terribly missing.

“This is the last time I shall say this” she growled, her voice cold. “I am not here to take over Sanctuary or make any attempt against Athena’s life”

 

I have no dreams of lands or power.

“I came out of curiosity, and because I was invited. If she wants to see me again, she can find me next time.”

 

I came after doing her a favour that you are all set on forgetting. You breathe thanks to me, Libra Dohko. I reached my hand into the Void and pulled you out before it was too late. How dare you doubt me? It was Limbo for all of you, and for her.

 

Her anger stirred further, and she sensed the darkness that walked with her since she left Ortygia, those curses that felt like arms springing from her shadow, so willing to embrace her and pull her down.

 

It is so proper for Athena’s lapdogs to think that we Olympians want nothing but to dethrone their warmongering queen.

 

They started by toying with her fingertips, then circling her chest tightly, making it difficult to breath. Then those hands got into her mouth, and made a nest deep in her throat, as they always did.

Hold it, Artemis, she reminded herself. Don’t let him see it, not in full.

“That should more or less save you from questioning others about me. As for my visit, as I told you, without Athena here, it is over. No need to worry about potential conflicts, no need for Cygnus to take responsibility over anything.”

 

You insult us, all of us, by forgetting she’s not the only one who has looked upon people kindly.

She prepared to leave but Dohko held her arm and stopped her.

“Unless you want to lose an arm, you’ll stop that,” she growled, flashing her cosmo and turning the room white.

He released her, his confusion visible in his eyes.

“I apologize... It seems I failed at delivering my message. Athena told you that Sanctuary’s doors are open to you. They remain that way.”

She laughed bitterly.

“You are lying again. Athena’s doors... they aren’t welcoming at all. They close too fast behind you, once you are inside. I don’t like them at all.”

Artemis looked at the man before her, the leader of her sister’s army, a survivor of two holy wars.

“Tell me, Dohko, what is it that makes you so set against me? I haven’t, once, lifted my hand against Sanctuary. Not to my knowledge.”

The warrior that had spent over a century as a guard dog of her uncle looked at her.

“You are a god.”

“So is Athena.”

“She’s different. She protects mankind.”

She laughed.

“Let’s pretend the Goddess of War does that. What is it that I do that’s so harmful? Ease birth? Hunt animals in the right season for food? Care for those that have earned my favour? ”

“You are powerful.”

“I would never call my sister weak.”

She lowered her gaze, that known darkness covering everything.

“Don’t tell me that your only reason is that I am god that’s not your own.”

We protect her.”

“Even from those that mean no harm?”

“You are not to be trusted. ‘The keeper came. It’s over, until it is not again’. That’s the last entry in over ten journals written by the previous reincarnations of Athena. Saori wishes to discuss that with you when she returns.”

She blinked.

So that’s it.

 

“You and your paranoia can go fuck yourselves.”

“The Keeper sits in Ortygia’s throne, with Tyche and Nemesis in her hands;” the Kyoko recited, “Fortune and Divine Justice; aiming her arrows to make sure the Cycles are Kept, and the Balance Remains.”

She couldn’t believe it. “That’s something every trainee should know, it’s the same bullshit as Athena being a goddess that returns to earth every hundred years to protect mankind.”

Artemis leaned closer. She was taller than him and had to look down to keep eye contact.

“From wars she planted on the previous cycle, and wielding Victory, Niké, as her staff. What a protector you picked. You are messing with things you don’t understand.”

A burning pain on her hand caught her attention and she noticed she had scratched the wound open again. She took some steps back.

 

Damn this place.

 

“Now I take my leave, Kyoko, and you won’t try to stop me again. I mean no harm, but I am more than capable of causing it”

He took a step forward.

 

That’s Athena’s dogs for you. So willing to fight something that could crush them with a whisper. They’ve been killing us with that willingness for centuries.

 

“My orders were for you to wait for her return.”

“And what if I insist on refusing? Were you asked to force me?”

Dohko looked away.

“... no”

She smiled.

“See, that’s why I like Saori. She’s wise.”

 

Artemis couldn’t see well when she turned to leave. The gate was somewhere at her right, then after that the hallway, then stairs from a land that belonged to another, a grotto and a forest that were nothing but pathetic ghosts of those that stood in Ortygia, and a shrine in her name that was not her own. A little prison, like the one where Eris was kept.


There’s nothing here for me.


 

VIII



Hyoga had lingered at the outskirts of Athena’s Temple. Without his friends around, there were little places he had to be in, and with the way he was feeling, he didn’t want to be around Camus.

He had long accepted that his teacher wasn’t the best person when it came to emotions.

But Japan wasn’t an option. He understood why Saori had to be there, why many of the bronze saints wished to be there. He just... couldn’t.

What for? To hold the hand of a man he barely tolerated? To be there for his friends? They had each other; there was little he could give them.

 

And she’s here, after five years, and I don’t know for how long.

 

She is dangerous. Also...there’s something... off with her. I don’t know what that is. She’s different from the person I remember her to be. But she won’t attack Sanctuary’, he had told Dohko when questioned about her. ‘She has no wish for conquest. I don’t think she ever did.’

 

He ran his fingers through his hair, wishing he could ease his thoughts the same way.

Hyoga wasn’t surprised he had insisted on her staying. He had too many questions to ask her, was still, as in those fateful meetings of his, trying to figure things out.

 

(...enjoy your new found power...)

 

That exultant, almost alien... joy she had shown him, of the way she saw the world, had left him wondering about too many things.

 

If she left, she would disappear. Artemis couldn’t be tracked least she wanted to be found.

When Dohko summoned him, he hadn’t even understood why they were discussing her leaving, why it was such a big issue that she should stay.

 

The same way I failed to see why Camus accepted her presence at Siberia.

Aquarius would say; like he had said back then, that he wasn’t thinking like a Saint; but it was Artemis they were discussing. When he had asked her to leave Siberia, she had done so, and he had been nothing but a boy, a trainee. Why wouldn’t she leave Sanctuary if asked by the Saints?

 

His master had said he had made her a disservice, and to ask her about it. He had also told him to ask her why was she there. He hadn’t had the chance yet.

 

If it’s a matter of concern, then I’ll stop her if she turns against us,’ he had offered the Kyoko, ‘She won’t, Dohko.’

 

He needed more time. To look at her, as she had told him. It was hard to find the girl he had known in her, he needed to see the woman she had become.

I... want to. No. I need to. Each time the past comes into my life, I need to.

 

Camus would chastise him for not letting go, like he couldn’t let go of his ambivalent feelings towards Tatsumi. Maybe, this time, his teacher would be right. Hyoga would never find out, it wasn’t in his nature to do so.

 

“This is not good‘’ he muttered. Lingering. What did he expected to find? Understanding?

 

(... a clutch...)

When he was grieving for Isaak and she refused to leave the cottage, he had loved her so much.

 

“Damn them all.”

He turned when hearing her voice. Artemis was walking down the path between the temple and the houses. She looked bad, like a fury. Far from the playful, irresponsible girl he had known.

(...Look around you, then look at me...)

Her words echoed in his mind. The path was a busy one, with traders from town and idle trainees. Like June had said, there were many of them, and they were all reckless and bitter. They had all lost their masters during the Civil War, under their hands or the Gold Saints’, the very same warriors Sanctuary celebrated.

Their eyes wandered, sometimes eyeing him, but mostly eyeing her. Her stunt at the arena was well known, and so was her description, an unmasked female in her early twenties, tall, dressed in black training clothes, her skin pale and her hair darkness. No one else matched it.

That’s the foreign goddess that turned the training grounds into a glacier and sparred with Cygnus’, that was in their eyes, that and a reckless desire to challenge her.

Like June had warned them, the kids were out of control. They were growing with their tales, the ones of the Bronze Saints defeating all odds.

They hadn’t been taught what kind of power cosmo was. Why anyone with a cloth was worth fearing, and more than anything, why to dread the Gods.

He noticed one of them, in a group, a brat around fourteen with a very underdeveloped cosmo, taking a step forward.

 

...Do that and I’ll make you regret it...

 

The kid stopped, staring at him with fear and confusion in his eyes. It was probably the first time someone reached him through cosmos. He signalled at his little clique and they turned to leave.

 

Hyoga returned his attention to Artemis. She kept rubbing her left arm with her right, her expression pained. Five years, she had said.

Five years ago Artemis left Siberia because her Guardian came for her. Not because I asked her to. She talked to that woman, outside the cottage; then decided to leave.

 

(... I have to do some of those important things, the ones Isaak liked...)

 

Before they sparred, he had believed Artemis overdid it when she used the ice. Before, he had thought that wherever she was; she behaved as if in Siberia, like she was now behaving in Sanctuary. Helping around when she felt like it, getting into people’s nerves, and needing space, lots of it. Little more.

Ortygia was an abstract place, in his mind, where she did the same things except that with people he pictured pretty much like her. In his childhood, he had believed she had a gang there. He hadn’t given it much thought.

 

In Siberia, she had always been there for him and that was all that had mattered to him.

 

(...If you needed her as a momentary clutch to get to here, so be it...)

 

He hated it when Camus was right.

 

“Artemis,” he called. She flinched and her slanted eyes met his with surprise.

Her reaction surprised him. She hadn’t realised he was still there. It was odd. Her awareness of her surroundings was usually flawless.

“Cygnus.”

As usual, his cloth sounded as a mockery from her lips. She could hide many things, but not her disdain for Athena’s saints.

“I need to get to the shrine,” she murmured, turning her back to him.

“I’ll walk you.”

She laughed, rubbing her face. For a few seconds, she kept it hidden behind her hands, as if to recover her semblance.

“Oh, please. What for?” her voice said evenly, “To take responsibility?”

“What?”

“Why did you even...?” she shook her head. “Forget it. I don’t care anymore.”

The curious eyes worsened. She hurried her pace. As he had seen her done before, she was toying with the scar on her hand nervously, stopping from time to time to close her hand into a fist and flex her muscles.

 

After Isaak had damaged his eye, Hyoga had had a period in which he would take his hand to his face often, to make sure it was still there. A stupid thing, but he had needed the reassurance. He could feel the pain as if the wound were still open. Sometimes his vision would be impaired, even when there were no physical reasons for that to happen. It didn’t happen anymore, but he still woke up covered in sweat from time to time, certain that his eye was gone. It wasn’t the only battle he had nightmares with. Those that involved Camus were worse.

He still needed to check on him often, to make sure that he was there, alive.

But she’s not a warrior, and Ortygia has not been involved in the Wars...

 

Or maybe it had? What did he honestly know about that place? About her, for that matter?

 

(...Look at me...)

 

Like their match, there was something he wasn’t seeing.

 

He remembered her presence as she guided his cosmo, that woman where darkness and light co-existed, so knowing and ancient.

He remembered the way she used the ice at the arena, the speed at which she had stopped her Guardian at Siberia.

He was certain she had been at the hospital, when they were recovering.

And there was the path they had followed in Hades, towards a moon-shaped door.

“Artemis...” he tried again, just to be interrupted.

“I will lock you out of the shrine once I get there. This is a waste of time.”

“Stop for a second.”

“This Sanctuary of yours is full of people, everywhere...”

Hyoga grabbed her wrist to lead her off the main path, and thanked Camus for making him face her before. She was fast, turning with a fluid motion before reaching for his neck. He managed to change his stance in order to avoid being thrown down, but she locked her leg around his own and pulled, destroying his balance.

His back hit the floor and she pressed her weight against him to keep him down.

“How many times will I have to tell you not to touch me for you to get it?” she growled.

“There’s a secondary path there, mostly unused,” he struggled to say. The few people that remained around them scattered. It wasn’t unusual for fights to start around Sanctuary, and most had learnt to stay away when that happened.

“How could you do that? Discuss me, with them, as if I were...? How could you?” she murmured, her lips trembling.

 

Her eyes started to shine, full with cosmo, like they did whenever her oracular skills noticed possibilities.

 

All I have to do is call my bow, and shoot one of my arrows...” she went on, tightening her hold around him, “...and head back to Ortygia, my worth proven. Ready to severe her, and him, and reclaim my throne, with my Nine hounds tightly leashed and blindly obedient at my feet, adoring and terrified of my wrath. And then my eyes will set upon Athena, and there will be peace until it is time for war again, for that is what the Fates have long decided and what is mine to enforce

Her cosmo went aflame around her, frost spreading through the path and she leaned closer. The warrior in him could notice there was no hesitation in her grip, no empty threats in her words.

Make way for the Queen of Ortygia, for my judgement is absolute...No!

 

Artemis released him and moved away, heaving. She screamed and fell on her knees, holding her arm.

Hyoga coughed, trying to regain his breathing, and walked towards her.

“Don’t!” she warned, “Don’t you dare. Stop following me around, Hyoga.” Her voice was barely a whisper. “It’s not safe now.”



VIII



Artemis barely managed to reach the path. It was rocky, steep and stretched down the side of the houses. It wasn’t an easy one. It seemed most of the debris from the battles the temples had seen had ended up there.

Her arm was hurting her badly, and she was out of breath. She closed her eyes and tried to find Milo.

She opened them. He was with Camus and some other Gold Saints she didn’t know. It was a bad idea to reach him with them there.

 

I could go to either of their houses and ride this through there. Aquarius is close by.

 

The vision had been bad, but it had, still, been just a vision. A possibility, nothing more.

 

Threatening Eris and the talk with Dohko must have triggered it, that’s all. All that Keeper talk.

“...count to ten...” she whispered.

The voices echoed in her head, one after the other, making it impossible to focus.

(...Kill him and prove your worth and commitment, or leave. You promised. You swore...)

The arms she felt around her pulled her further down, towards the void.

She had grabbed him so tightly. Had he not been a Saint, and a damn good one at that, she would have broken his neck.

 

(... As you are now, you are undeserving...)

She tried to burn her cosmo around her to use as ward, but the backlash made her puke.

Artemis cleaned her mouth with the back of her hand.

So this is what a goddess stands for.

 

She laughed darkly. Carefully, she crawled towards the closest rocks and sat against them, her knees close to her chest. She lowered the temperature over her hand and placed it over her eyes to refresh herself.

“You are a stubborn fucker.”

Really?

She glared at Hyoga from between her fingers. Her dearest bane, who know not only looked like shit, but seemed also to be royally pissed off.

I am betting Julian’s credit card that I look worse. Or better not.

 

She liked that credit card.

 

“You have a death wish, Cygnus. And no sense of dread around me. Why is that?”

He walked towards her and sat by her side, his back against the rocks. From the look of it, in some hours he would have bruises around his neck.

Artemis had to bury a whimper from the pang of pain in her arm. If he noticed, he pretended not to.

“You used to put stuff in my food when I was a kid; of course I have a sense of dread.”

“They were herbs, and they were good for you. Besides,” she chuckled, brushing her hair away from her face, “I only went to Siberia to see Camus.”

“You are still going on about that...”

 

Count to ten....

 

Camus.

“Should I have the hubris of saying you went there for me instead?”

She rested her face against her knees and covered her head with her arms.

“Do me a favour and kill yourself.”

“Artemis... what’s going on?”

There’s no point in telling you, Hyoga. You should have listened to me.


“Indigestion.”

“Don’t be a brat.”

“A stubborn fucker. That’s how you called me. How dare you. I don’t even know you.”

She noticed him moving closer and she straightened her back to look at him. She felt drained.

“Keep your distance.”

He shook his head. “Whatever it is, it’s hurting enough to make you cry.”

She rubbed her eyes roughly. “No, it’s not.”

“Please. What’s going on? Since you came here... something is wrong.”

He caressed her cheek and her gaze was on him. She really wished she could lean into his touch, that she could just stay there. He made her long for calmness.

Artemis closed her arm around his wrist and pushed him away.

“Hyoga... get away from me.” She stood up, brushing the dirt of her clothes, “It’s... worse when you are close by. The pain.”

He placed his hand away, confused by her words.

“What do you mean by that?”

She sighed.

“Why did you tell them you would take responsibility, should I try to kill Saori? ”

Hyoga frowned. “Those are not my words. What I said was...” he stopped himself. “It was different.”

The man he had become, the saint that didn’t fear facing her and could stand as equals next to his master, stretched his arm towards the path.

“You said to me, ‘look around you’. Look at this place. It has suffered so many wars already. You...” He shook his head, his hair, as messy as always, obscuring his eyes. “They don’t know you.”


Artemis knitted her eyebrows together and looked at her surroundings, at the debris that covered the path, at the blocks of broken marble, which was so damaged that, like the ruins near the shrine, it was impossible to tell to which building it had belonged. Some were even stained, oxide red. Blood which had been shed and whose owners were forgotten.

She saw destruction that could have been avoided, her sister’s legacy, of the cycles she had started when she claimed mankind for herself and maddened her relatives... but Hyoga still had a point.

Artemis understood Dohko. She even understood Saori. But how could she accept it? She had no margin to do so, to remain understanding and patient like she used to be, playfully approaching the world and laughing it off whenever it bit back.

 

The world had mauled her.

 

I’m... too messed up at the moment, wishing for a crown I don’t want and a man I can’t have.

Someone you care about was poisoned, Hyoga, just to warn Athena that she shouldn’t get close to me. A life, thrown away, because I lingered.

So many of these important things that Isaak loved and I never could are going on, shredding everything to pieces.


“Do you, Hyoga? Know me?”

“I know you are not here to harm Athena.”

She smiled.

“That proves you know nothing at all.”


 



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