07. Umbra

Because I do not hope to turn again

Because I do not hope

Because I do not hope to turn ’

 

-T.S.Eliot, ‘’Ash-Wednesday ‘’-



I



Pallas waited, holding the unconscious man’s hand in hers as if by doing so she would bring him back; somehow force him to open his eyes.

Yet she knew she couldn’t.

Tatsumi was dying.

It was like watching a movie. The cops, the doctors, the hospital, the dying butler. A drama of which she was just a spectator. That disconnection made her feel guilty.

It made her remember how Virbio had looked when leaving; so alien and unemotional, even when a man laid dying by his hand.


Maybe that was why he had told her to stay by Tatsumi’s side, because he had known she would be able to handle the situation. She was good at doing what was expected of her and had no love for the butler; she would not suffer his loss.

Or maybe the she was just trying to find meaning to something that had none.


The maid settled her gaze on Tatsumi’s face as he stirred in his sleep. The first couple of times he had done so, she had jumped in surprise, certain he would wake up and tell her off for leaving the dishes dirty. She now knew that wouldn’t happen, so she simply squeezed his hand tighter and waited for the small seizure to stop.

Whatever Virbio had done to him was eating him alive.

And that had changed her, in a second. It had changed her world. She knew this, even when she still couldn’t allow herself to feel it, and was marvelled by it, by that human ability of almost seeing herself from the outside, sitting in a hospital room, holding a dying man’s hand. Her mind was busy wondering whether someone at the mansion had taken over her chores, or if her mother had remembered to pick up her child from school. Without a cook, the kitchen would be a mess. And what about the menu? Who would decide the menu with Tatsumi there? The butler was the mansion’s backbone, without him their small world was in chaos. She wondered who would replace him; Miss Kido had never shown any favouritism towards other employees.


Would I have a chance?, a little voice within her dared to hope.


It made her feel like a horrible person.

“Miss...”

“Is she here?”

The doctor nodded. She smiled and stood up. With methodical practice, she straightened her uniform, erasing imaginary wrinkles, and leaned closer to Tatsumi.

“Your Lady has arrived,” she whispered in his ear as she placed his hand on his heaving chest.

The doctor opened the door for her and waited while she stopped to give the massive man a last look. She knew, somehow, that she wouldn’t see him again.

Tatsumi didn’t smile, even when she had hoped he would. They always smiled in the movies when their beloved arrived.

Movies were always so full of crap.

“Over here.”


She followed the doctor to the waiting room, her eyes fixed on the carpeted floor. Now that she wasn’t holding Tatsumi’s hand, she felt comfortable again, back on what her role had been for decades. A servant of the Kido, at her mistress’ beck and call. Again, it was something she could do. Better than to think or wonder.

“Pallas.”

She bowed, covering her nervousness at being alone with Saori Kido and her men.

“The doctor told me you’ve been here since...”

“Someone had to stay, my Lady,” she replied courtly, unable to help comparing the whiteness of her mistress dress with the one of the walls. Everything was so white around them, so terribly blank.

With the same detachment she had been feeling since Virbio had left the mansion, she noticed her legs going weak and the floor suddenly rising to meet her.


“Are you ok?”

She tried to find the face that matched that voice but everything was a blur.

“Bring her some water,” said another person, as a different set of arms from the ones that had stopped her fall lifted her off the ground and carried her to a softer, more comfortable surface.

“Should I call the doctor?”

“I got this,” replied the one that had carried her. The voice was high-pitched. A woman?


She must be really strong.


“Miss, have you eaten anything today?”

“I...”

Pallas frowned, finding it hard to accept that that squeaky voice was her own.

“Yesterday?” her interrogator asked again while he checked her pulse and gently touched the back of her head.

“Maybe if we call the doctor...”

“The doctor will do the exact same thing I am doing now, Andromeda. I am a Gold Saint after all, have some faith in me, I know what I am doing.”

Saint? She could find a face for that word. She had named her son after one. ‘’Peter.... ‘’ she whispered, trying to find an end to that white ocean she seemed to be drowning in.

“What?”

“Her child’s name. Poor woman, she shouldn’t have had to come here in the first place, I am the one that...”

“It’s not your fault, Saori.”

The heiress knew about her boy? It was unexpected. She had always believed the employees at the mansion were nothing but blank faces to her, invisible creatures whose purpose was to prepare the world for her presence.

“Miss...”

“Pallas, that’s her name.”

She needn’t sound so worried over her.

“Pallas, can you hear me?”

“She doesn’t know you, Aphrodite, let me try.”

“Pegasus...”

“Aphrodite...?” she asked. Around her, the world painfully took shape again and reassumed its colours. The comfortable surface she was resting on was a sofa. “Like the goddess?”

A light-blue haired person was kneeling by her side; then she noticed his Adam’s apple and blushed in embarrassment.

“I’m sorry...”

Behind him and staring at her with worry in their eyes were some of the youths that lived at the mansion and the lady herself.

“Very much like her. Disappointed?” the kneeling man finally replied, smiling softly at her. She blushed even deeper, and shook her head as he helped her to sit on the couch.

Miss Kido approached her and offered her a glass of water.

“My lady, you shouldn’t...”

“Drink, please,” she said, placing the glass between her trembling fingers. “You’ve done more than enough already, Pallas, you have my gratitude. Now I want you to go back to the mansion and rest. We will stay.”

“I can take her there, Saori,” said one of her fighters. Pallas looked at him, and tried to remember which one was he. She still remembered their profiles from the wrestling show the Graude Foundation had sponsored, the Galaxian Wars. She had been a fan. Ban was this one’s name. The Lion.

Her favourite had been the Unicorn. It had been a disappointment to see how easy he was defeated by Andromeda.

Miss Kido placed her gloved hand over hers.

“Let him know if there’s anything you need. We’ll call if anything changes here.”

Pallas bowed her head slightly to show she understood and made a mental note to tell someone at the mansion to wait for the call before she went to bed.

She had had enough; she didn’t want to be the one to pick up a phone call that would confirm that which she already knew. The mansion had lost its guardian and waited in chaos.

 

II


Artemis stopped at the ruins near the grotto, where she had first stumbled with Hyoga. He hadn’t followed her this time. She knew her trip was over, that all that was left was finding Arcade and picking up the few things she carried with her from the shrine; the papers Julian had given her, a change of clothes, little more. She had considered saying goodbye to Camus and Milo, but what good would that make? They were both used to her disappearing, why would they expect this time to be any different?


Where should I go?


Those last few years Artemis had roamed forests, mountains, docks, staying on the move and as far from civilization as she could, feeling those she cherished stray further and further away from her. Her eyes had been fixed on the skies, finding solace in them, searching portents and watching possibilities unfold. That had allowed her to intervene when Melaenis began to make her moves, to be there to stop Atalanta from killing Julian, and to reach Athena in the void.


She didn’t want to return to the way those early days had been, that first year of leaving Ortygia. She hadn’t been used to it yet, to being hurt by the bonds she shared with her guardians. She still had been surprised by the blockage she felt whenever trying to reach Hyoga. That first year, denied and rejected by everything she had found dear, had been bad.


It’s been five years now; and little has changed.


Sanctuary had been the last known place in her list.

And it’s been just as Ortygia, unwelcoming and fearful.


Settling somewhere else was an option she had long abandoned. Melaenis would scream sedition and send her Guardians against any poor soul that would dare to follow her; and what would those five years be worth if that were to happen? Much of what she had done had been to avoid lifting her hand against them. Even now, with all that had transpired, she still didn’t want to do so.


I still care.


She had always thought Hyoga had issues letting go of people, but she was none the better.


Would I be here any other way? Visiting my last ghosts.

She felt drained. She had gotten used to the pain, but it was pain still, each word piling up on the previous one, each face joining another. It had been foolery on her part to expect things would be different. She was standing at Sanctuary after all, a land built in the likeness of Athena.

She sighed again, remembering the way she and Hyoga had parted from Siberia. She had believed, back then, that time would make a difference.

Then again, back then she had believed time meant a week.


Things have changed so much and so little.


She still felt comfortable around him. When neither was being defensive, she still found it easy to talk to him, even with her scar triggering up.


The visions are triggering as well. I can’t deny that. This place is too dangerous for me to be in, with Eris in it, with the way the past affects me.


Which left her once again wondering where to go, feeling a vast nothingness before her. She tried to brush the thought away, but it persisted, too close to the darkness in her heart.


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


She still had Nemesis, even when Fortune had abandoned her, and the possibility of her wielding it still remained, as the vision had shown her.


How many times had she seen Hyoga’s back pierced by her arrows? Had seen herself, a terribly severe and cold version of herself, sitting on her throne, at her home, with her people?


Camus would approve of those leashes, they were tight, very.


She could still do that. Make everything nice and clean, as the Fates decreed and most of the people she knew seemed to want. She could still lift that sword and cut down every remaining god, like Dohko feared she would and she had threatened Eris on doing, and thus secure the Cycle of Peace, for a hundred years, until war came again.


“For that is what the Fates have long decided, and what is mine to enforce,” she whispered, looking at her hands.


Make way for the Queen of Ortygia, for my judgement is absolute!


She snickered. What foolery.


Artemis turned when hearing Arcade trotting to her side. He carried a chicken.

“There’s no way you found that in the wild.”

The wolf placed his prize at her feet and she patted his head.

“All yours, cub.”

Arcade sprawled by her side and began eating the chicken. She swatted at the flying feathers.

“Where would you want to go?” she asked him, scratching the underside of his ears. The wolf ignored her, too taken by his prize.


You are ok like this, aren’t you? You, me, the damn chicken; sitting under the shade of the olive trees. You are ok with Sanctuary as well. You are fond of the saints, you can hunt at your leisure and have no competition.


“You are probably even going to get away with stealing that chicken,” she said, resting against him. The wolf shifted to accommodate her weight better. “No one freaks out around you here, and you are freaking-out-worthy, my darling cub.”

The wolf growled.

“Ok, you freaked Ikki out.”

And the truth was that no one was saying a thing about her wolf or his actions because of her.


“Where to?”


She closed her eyes. Ortygia’s luscious forests spread behind them, dark and mysterious. Mist would fall during the afternoon, and everything would be a dream, made of shadows and illusions. She would leave the comfort of her bed by then, Dictina would help her dress up and she would meet Atalanta at her shrine. They would go for the dogs, which Thyestes had ready. Then, if it was needed, they would head to the hunting grounds, where Orion was waiting.

The forest would be theirs then, and she would marvel at Orion’s strength and Atalanta’s speed, and at that land that she loved dearly, in which the breaths of carefully tended power could be felt everywhere, and her heart would race and her chest would swell, full, until she would finally disappear, the ancient powers within her spreading instead, vast and as old as that land. She would be a part of everything, riding through that well of power, and she would be nothing at all...

She opened her eyes and rubbed her eyes, brushing the tears away.

“Not there.”


Siberia instead, her heart whispered, showing her the endless plains and white horizons. Frozen seas and arctic foxes. Polar bears. That biting, deadly cold. Everything was so different from all she knew there. It was the home of the ice, the one she had fallen for the first time she had seen Isaak and Hyoga’s clumsy attempts to master it. The Aurora had been given to her there, that beautiful horror Camus guarded. She found herself in Ortygia, thrived in it, exalted, but Siberia... she had fallen in love with it.


She turned, nestling against Arcade. Siberia had given her the wolf, her cub, who was now a very grown up wolf, but she would always see him as a scrawny newborn. It had given her Camus, who had saved her life and given her the Aurora.

It had given her Hyoga, whom she longed for, with his quietness and his bite, with his inner struggles and the way he just couldn’t let go, not really.

With each of its gifts, Siberia changed her.


“Not there either.”

Nowhere came to mind.


Some island then, some forgotten piece of land, where I can lay low for a while, untraceable. Wherever the first ship of Solo Enterprises we encounter take us. We’ll see from there.


The wolf licked her hand. Artemis stared at him and laughed at the sight; he was covered in blood and feathers, pretty much the guilty culprit.

“You are a terrible thief, Arcade.”

She stood up and the wolf followed.

“Let’s get this over with.”



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Ein Augenblick, gelebt im Paradiese, Wird nicht zu teuer mit dem Tod gebüsst


(One moment spent in Paradise / Is not too dearly paid for with one’s life)


-Friedrich von Schiller-



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III



“Here.”

Shun took the cup that was being offered to him and stared at the dark content with tired eyes.

“It’s black coffee. I thought you might need some,” Aphrodite said. He leant against the wall and looked through the glass door of the hospital room. On the other side, Athena was sitting next to her butler, holding his hand tightly in hers. She was reading aloud a children’s book with a bull on the cover, the design making him think of Taurus.

Standing behind her, next to the window, his eyes more set on their goddess than on the ailing man, was the ever-vigilant Pegasus, Athena’s Saint of Hope.

“Wasn’t the albino inside?”

“Huh? Ichi? He left with the doctor. Some of the blood tests came in and he wanted to check the results.”

“I see.”

If the bronze saints hadn’t proven him their capacity for doing the impossible, Aphrodite would have considered Hydra’s task a useless pursuit. Even if they managed to reproduce the poison, which was pretty much impossible considering half the agents had already vanished from the bloodstream, and then managed to prepare an antidote, half of the man’s organs were already compromised and the nervous system severely damaged.


I can’t save his life, but I can make his passing painless’, he had told Saori.


It was the second critical case of poisoning he had had to deal with in a week. He hoped there wouldn’t be a third.

Poisons were not one of Sanctuary’s strong points. It was a great tactical advantage for those few warriors that used them, as the battle against Cepheus and his trainees had proven. The lingering damage to Andromeda Island was a living testimony of that.

Poisons made him perfect for his position as the guardian of the Twelfth House. Even if he was bested, his roses would remain.

They were a wonderful tool of destruction which most foes underestimated and were unprepared to deal with, and as a man who knew how to wield them in his favour and respected their properties greatly, they were proving to be a crack in the collective armour of Sanctuary.


Like a worn-out Cloth, Sanctuary is fractured after all the wars, and it keeps showing.


“Albinach got better.”

Shun’s words brought him back from his thoughts.

“That’s Chameleon’s trainee, isn’t she?” he mentioned, lingering.

“Say what you are thinking, Aphrodite.”

He ran his fingers through his hair, a gesture he was doing often since he had cut it short. It still felt odd.

“Hers was a different case; fumes with narcotic and debilitating properties had affected her bloodstream and digestive system. We were warned on time and knew exactly which toxins we were dealing with.”


And we had Artemis and her directions,cosmo and concoctions.


The goddess hadn’t disappointed him. His teacher had warned him about the Ortygians and their knowledge of his craft.

 

Life and death, that’s what you are dealing with, Aphrodite. It’s a craft that demands precision,’ she had told him. ‘Sometimes only dosage is the difference between saving a life and ending it.’


“This time, we haven’t been so lucky.”

He wondered why Saori hadn’t asked Artemis for help. He could have suggested it as well, but the thought made him apprehensive. It meant showing too much trust, something Sanctuary wasn’t ready to do. The opportunity to strike was too inviting. Athena’s entourage could involve some of her legends, but it was still a small group to handle a god.


And Pegasus is still having problems with his cosmo...


“Andromeda...”

 

 

 

Shun looked at the older warrior. He never knew how to act in front of Aphrodite. The man had been his enemy once, one of the few he had actually hated and wanted to engage in combat. He found it curious that he didn’t feel the same way about Milo, even when it was Scorpio who had delivered Albiore the finishing blow.


June hates him enough for both of us.


His anger had been stirred by Pisces instead, the man that had denied his master the chance to fight on equal terms.


The chance to live. I believe Cepheus Albiore was a warrior who could have bested a Gold Saint.

With all the battles that followed, and the man’s actions against Hades, he was at a loss.

 

That’s not true. I just don’t feel the same way anymore. I don’t want to carry with any sort of hatred.

 

“Yes?”

“Pegasus’ problem... that was Hades’ doing. What’s yours?”

He was perplexed by his question.

“I was thinking about how his cosmo seems to be... blocked. Then realised I haven’t noticed yours since... well, since I’ve returned.”

He looked away. Of course he would notice. Someone would, eventually. He was surrounded by extremely capable warriors with highly developed cosmos.

“I...”

 

I’m terrified of Hades. But how can I tell him that? He was my enemy. He killed Albiore. He’s not someone... who can understand me.

 

Aphrodite’s gaze softened. “You don’t have to answer if you don’t want to. Besides, should anything happen, Dragon is at the waiting room with the rest, and I’m here. That’s enough.”

“You think something might happen? Police said the perpetrator was probably a hired hand, from one of Graude’s competitors...”

The one that seemed perplexed this time was Aphrodite. “I’m... a Gold Saint.”

A faint smile appeared over his glossy lips. “And you were raised away from Sanctuary, to claim a Bronze Cloth. I forget that, sometimes.”

“My job is to protect her. Anywhere. And I am used to seeing Saints from a different station as under my command,” he added sheepishly. “That’s why I asked. I was thinking that with Seiya’s situation, should anything happen, anything big, the real resources we have here are Shiryu, down at the waiting room, you, and me. Then it hit me. You haven’t burnt your cosmo once, not even to check on Athena’s butler.”

“I don’t know how to do that. The healing... thing you gold saints do.”

Pisces frowned. “It doesn’t heal. It’s a numbing technique, it blocks the pain. And when used in a Saint, it allows you to notice a person’s health through their cosmo.” He sighed. “We are going to have to do something about this.”

“About what?”

“All of Athena’s people have a purpose. Bronze Saints are Sanctuary’s arms. They are usually the ones sent to missions that involve espionage, retrieving items, investigation and so on. The five of you... are terribly ill-suited for the task now.” He rubbed his eyes. “Ah, that’s why Camus pushed Cygnus into that travesty with Artemis at the arena. He could have discussed it with the rest of us; stubborn man only has eyes for his student...”

“Aphrodite... I’m sorry, but you are losing me.”

“Sorry. You are overpowered, Andromeda, and part of the personal guard Athena should make official. You should broaden your skills. This,” Pisces allowed his cosmo to flow over his hand and Shun could see the gold speckles flowing towards him, “should be something you should be able to do.”

He moved away, terrified of what the other man could find within him.

“...Andromeda?”

“I’m sorry,” he let out. “I need some air.”

The Gold Saint’s frown deepened.

“Come with me, then,” he ordered, heading towards the stairs.

“I just need some time by myself...”

The man stopped and eyed him from over his shoulder, his gaze leaving no room for excuses. “I wasn’t asking.”


 

The air was cool at the top of the hospital, and the view impressive; Tokyo’s skyline spreading before them as a beautiful giant of human engineering. Aphrodite approached the edge, marvelling at the amount of buildings and their diversity. Below, millions of people scurried in their daily routines, coming and going from endless intersections.

“It’s easy to forget this sort of place exists when living at Sanctuary.”

Shun followed his gaze, trying to see the world as the other man was seeing it. For him, Japan was home, and Sanctuary the strange one.

“I feel the same way at Greece,” he confessed.

“Hopefully, that will change one day. Anyway,” Aphrodite turned to face him. “what’s going on? Why did you back away?”

“It’s ... nothing.”

“I told you. I am a Gold Saint, Andromeda.”

“And you see others as your underlings?” he mocked.

“I protect Athena, and right now I see one of the warriors of her personal guard freaking out when seeing a numbing technique,” Aphrodite explained, ignoring his taunt. “I am aware I am not... the man you would be more comfortable around, but still, we serve the same ideal.”

Shun eyed him warily.

“Eris is at Sanctuary,” he finally muttered.

“Eris? She’s under Unicorn’s watch, and Aiolia is overseeing...”

Shun walked towards the edge of the roof and pointed at the orphanage less than a block away.

“That’s where Ellie works. We were raised there, my brothers and I. She as well, and Miho, her best friend, the girl who came with Nachi this morning. The kids there love her; they say she’s their mom and Miho their dad.” He smiled, “Miho is somewhat bossy.”

“Ellie was born to become Eris’ host, a goddess that almost killed my best friend and tried to absorb Athena’s cosmo into her own. We fought her and managed to seal her into a golden apple, and Ellie was able to return to her daily life.

“Then some warrior comes and threatens to kill her because of the actions that goddess made, and Eris awakens within her once more.

“We had sealed Poseidon as well, and Julian contacted us to let us know the god was flowing through him again.”

Shun closed his eyes.

“How long will it be, Aphrodite, until Hades crawls back in?”

“Around 243 years, give or take, maybe.”

He stared at the Gold Saint.

“What?”

Aphrodite walked to his side.

“That’s the Cycle. After Saori dies, there will be a period of relative peace, and then war, again. As far as we know, Solo Enterprises and the Graude Foundation seem to be in a race for the prize of humanitarian company of the year, with all the rebuilding they are doing after the flood. And I am sorry about Ellie, we hope she’ll be able to find a way to harness Eris’ power, that’s why Jabu was given that post. To give her a sense of familiarity.

“If things progress here as I think they will, I don’t see why she shouldn’t return to Japan. I wouldn’t trust her with kids just yet, but who knows? Stranger things have happened.”

Shun shook his head. “How can you be so certain? You have no idea what it was like, the last thing I want-”

The Gold Saint placed his hand on his shoulder.

“Shun. Hades wasn’t sealed. Athena drove her staff through his chest. Until his body recovers, and that will take centuries, we won’t see his face again.”

The younger saint covered his eyes, unable to let go of the weight he had been carrying around ever since Hades had left his body. And then felt a warm energy surround him and the scent of roses filled the air. As the first time he had sensed Pisces’ cosmo, he found it both dangerous and graceful, just like his flowers.


...Give it a try. Or will you wait until you have to? Do you need me to attack you? You aren’t the type would need brutish methods, you are smarter than that...


Aphrodite’s smile remained on his face, teasing him. Now that Shun could talk to him without wishing to kill him, he could appreciate his beauty. That was the man protecting the Twelfth House, Athena’s last Gold Saint, the one Saga had trusted until the very end and all of Sanctuary knew for his outstanding looks.

The Saint sent to assist Scorpio because the rebellion at Andromeda Island had to be made an example; someone who had died under his hand, once, and had tricked the gods in Athena’s name.

A familiar stranger.

“Do it, and I’ll teach you the numbing technique. Or I’ll get some other Gold Saint to do so, if you prefer. I’ll understand. I’ll be pissed off, but I’ll understand.”

Shun laughed and released the hold he had been keeping around his cosmo, terrified to find darkness in it. Instead, the well-known gentleness of Andromeda, her willpower and courage, spread within him. What had Hyoga told him that Artemis had said? That he was disowning his power?

 

I’m sorry, Andromeda, I won’t do it again.

“That wasn’t so hard now, was it?” Aphrodite asked, watching the familiar pink glow over Shun’s arms. It was a cosmo to be reckoned.

“It was terrifying,” he confessed.

The Gold Saint laughed.

“Poor Andromeda. You are stuck living your life as the new prettiest man in Sanctuary. That’s what people are saying.”

“You are teasing me now.”

“Yes, but it’s also true. Sanctuary is so gossipy. Spend a couple of months there and you’ll find out. Gold Saints are the worst of the lot.”

“June would blame all your free time.”

“Chameleon is welcomed to check how long it takes to maintain a garden of roses the size of mine.”

Shun’s smiled deepened.

“Thank you, Pisces.”

“My pleasure,” he answered, covering the awe the younger man’s cosmo made him feel. Those five boys had grown into frightening creatures.

“I still hate you a bit, you know. I doubt I’ll ever stop. But...”

“Yes?” he questioned, unaffected by the confession. It wasn’t uncommon, for a Saint, to have to coexist with those that had once been enemies. Shun himself had killed him, and Saga, the man that had started Sanctuary’s war, still wore Gemini.


In things like this is when their ages show. Or that I am older. Their cosmo grew too much, they’ve been at war for too long, for them, as persons, to catch up.

And I can’t but notice this and wish to do something about it.


“I would like to take your offer.”

Aphrodite could picture himself in gardening gear, watering the bronze saints. He laughed at the mental image, to Shun’s confusion.

“Don’t mind me. It will be my pleasure. Now that I know that should anything happen, there are two warriors I can use; why don’t you go back inside?”

The young man looked at the stairs.

“He doesn’t have long,” the gold saint pressed on.

“Because I have not yet lost my hopes,” Shun finally said. “My brother and Hyoga, they are not here because they don’t believe someone like Tatsumi can fall this easily. And I won’t believe in that either. Maybe that way... if we all wish it hard enough... he’ll make it, don’t you think?”

Aphrodite’s eyes went wide at Shun’s words, but they soon softened. Andromeda’s way of seeing the world was so beautiful... he had been able to see the world like that once, with hope. He couldn’t anymore, but was glad someone else could, and that that person was close to Athena.

“Maybe. Who knows? Gods work in mysterious ways.”


IV


 

The White Temple, was technically speaking, a palace. Like Athena’s Temple, or the locked up Artemisium.

Living gods needed, after all, living quarters, for them and for their followers.

Athena had built herself a fort, on a cliff, its path protected by twelve, this time technically speaking temples, made for twelve Gold Cloths, the real owners of those buildings, from which she could watch over her people from the heights like a towering guardian.

Artemis had opted for one that reflected her mysteries and her great love for the hunt, placed in the middle of the forest, away from the prying eyes of her followers. Scattered through the land were the shrines, locations she deemed holy and which her favoured ones protected. Like herself, her presence was elusive but stretched to all corners of the island.

Melaenis on the other hand, had ordered her home to be one of pleasures, made to stimulate the senses and lift the spirits. It was built to inspire, and that was the reason it stood higher than the huntress’, throwing shade on all that stood below it. Unlike Athena’s, the path to reach it wasn’t a harsh one. It was marked with white pebbles that honoured its name and there were no obstacles, no posts for warriors every hundred steps. It was an inviting road, surrounded by beautiful scenery and from which the sound of music and laughter could be heard, coming from above. For that was its whole purpose, to be a dream no one would ever want to wake up.


Anyone learnt in the way of the gods knew the three of them were equally deadly.

Inside the walls of Melaenis’ home, deep in the maze of its rooms, on the goddess’ very own bed, Orion slept, his silver hair sprawled over his shoulders. The man was one of the Nine, and like his namesake, favoured by many goddesses. He was an outstanding hunter, roughly handsome, with weather-beaten skin, a smile that lit his face and a very competitive heart, one that for years had beaten in longing for the huntress and now laid at rest by Melaenis.

The goddess watched him, tempted, as always, to erase the memory of Artemis from that heart that laid bare to her. She could see his love for his former leader, his unrequited desire that had led him to push her away from the island; and stronger than both; an overwhelming self-hatred. Her diversion was an emotional masochist, set on destroying himself to spite his former mistress.

It would be easy for her to claim him fully, like Eros had done with the high priestess. To use her skills to drive him closer towards her, till Artemis was nothing but a bad dream. She could turn him into a warrior, fighting devotedly for his golden love.

But she nursed his hatred instead. She could turn anyone she wished into a devoted warrior, but a twisted hunter, strong and bitter in his resolve and far from the man Artemis once knew, wasn’t as easy to find.

That whole island, and the men and women that lived in it, were weapons in her hands, which she carefully nursed against her sister.

So had been Fated, and so she would do.


You should have given me the sword, Artemis, and we would never have got here. You could be doing all that wandering you like, and I could be keeping your people in constant bliss while the Cycle of Peace turns and stretches.


The pain you force me to inflict on them is your doing, sister. And so is the one I must inflict on you.


She kissed the man’s forehead and left the bed to walk into the next room, where Leda, Io and Galatea waited to attend her. The women had been her companions in Cyprus and she had brought them with her to Ortygia, finding the thought of starting a life in that wretched island without them unbearable.

As expected, they had a bath ready for her, to which she graciously allowed them to take her. They scented her skin and hair, combed the long, blond waves until they were shiny and perfect, and after drying her skin, dressed her in one of her many translucent tunics.

She kissed their cheeks, pleased, and made her way through the palace to a nearby inconspicuous hallway. She pressed the wall and it slid to reveal a stair going downwards. The wall slid back to its place behind her, and Melaenis descended, leaving the lofty comforts of her temple for the depths of Ortygia, where ancient cosmo beated fast and hard, like a strong heart.

There was her room, the real one, the one that befitted the title for which Ortygians referred to her, the dark one. Not a bedchamber, not a room for pleasure and superficial pleasantries. It was a square room carved on the stone, at the root of the mountain; a small and humid place, the air so heavy with the perfume of flowers and the scent of spices that it was nauseating.

Bowls and vases filled with water and several undistinguishable ingredients laid scattered everywhere, making it hard to move.

 

She had been patient. She had given her sister nine days of grace, which she had wasted committing offense after offense against the Balance she had once been charged to keep.

No one could blame her for what she was to do.

 

“You have always forced our hands, Alpheia,” she whispered, picking a luscious red rose from one of the nearby vases, and swayed towards the centre of the room, where a large silver bowl stood on a small pillar. The fumes coming from it and the surrounding receptacles turned liquid when touching the ceiling, which was carved with little veins that made the droplets fall rhythmically inside that silver bowl, one after the other.

The poison of more than fifty spells, targeted to that same amount of people.

“And the Owl and the Moon will weep in shame, and they will lower their heads in understanding once they have tasted my gifts”, she recited.

Near the silver bowl was an overturned golden helmet, a relic from the times of old, once worn by Odysseus, the man Athena had favoured above all others.

She dipped her fingers in the muddy waters inside it and allowed her cosmo to burn around her, with all the promises it held.

 

“The fragrant petal of a red rose for the one that sets the laws...” she murmured, watching how the petal turned dark and sunk into the depths of the helmet.

 

Her attention returned to the silver bowl. Years and years of curses marinated in its contents, which had blended into a murky, thick substance. It was hard to look at it, never before had Melaenis cursed a person to that extent; it was her greatest, most terrible work. Her sister’s resilience impressed her, her ability to sustain all that and still keep her mind.

She ran her index over the stem of the rose, flinching slightly when a thorn tore her golden skin.

 

“One bloody thorn for the one that keeps the rituals alive.”

 

Aphrodite dipped the stem into the bowl, smiling lovingly when the dark surface turned into a bloody red. Carefully, she took the stem and allowed a single drop to fall inside a bronze vase shaped in the form of a swan. Satisfied, Melaenis dropped the stem back into the silver bowl, her job finished.

I pity you, my sisters, thrown against me, she thought as she made her way back to the stairs, careful not to touch nor trip against any of the bowls and vases around her, each a person she had had to taint in order to secure her position and satisfy the wish of the Fates. Guardians, Saints, Generals and Gods laid at her feet, doomed to her will.

 

Artemis should have given her the sword. She couldn’t spare her, the Fates would not have it, but she would have been, at least, kinder.

She had no room for that, not anymore.



V



Saori only allowed herself to cry when everyone else had left the room. She had contained herself from doing so since her arrival, too used to knowing she had to present a strong facade to the outside world, for their sakes.

Alone, she could be vulnerable for herself.

She felt impotent, something she hadn’t felt since her grandfather’s death. There she was, someone who had braved Hades, who had managed to reach for the lives of her saints and pull them out of the void. She had faced impossible odds one after the other.

But she couldn’t save her friend, the one person that had been loyal to her since her childhood and had stood next to her for as long as she could remember.

Tatsumi had no other family. There had been no one to call or contact. As the devoted servant that he was, all his life had been for the Kido, and because of that, it was for them that his life was being taken away.


What I am going to do without you?

“You fool... how come you didn’t realise they were feeding you that?” she sobbed, holding his hand so tightly in hers that her knuckles were turning white. “How could you allow that?”

Her saints had tried. Ichi had gone through the tests over and over again, showing a focus she hadn’t believed the young punk of their group to be capable of, even to the point of finding some of the missing toxins. But as Aphrodite had warned her, the damage was too great.

She took his broad hands to her lips and kissed them gently.

“I should have been here. This is my home, where my family is” she whispered. But she knew that was impossible. Sanctuary needed her, she was at their debt. All those warriors had fought, killed and died for her sake, for what she represented to them.

You are just as great as they are, Tatsumi. Your cause is the same.


She had been so happy since she had left the hospital. Many lives had been saved, and the plans to rebuild Sanctuary and the training grounds excited her. For once, all she knew, all she had learnt, could be put to use. The mighty Graude Foundation her grandfather had left her could finally show the world what it could do.

She had believed herself unstoppable, and her company untouchable, so much so that she had never consider one of its competitors could attempt something against it.

Saori had learnt to trust humanity too much. She had forgotten how envious could some people be when power was involved.

How god-like they could behave.


She should have remembered how once a single saint had turned her beloved mansion to rubble.

A strangled sob escaped her throat when he stirred, whatever dignity she had been able to retain running away from her as she hugged him, trying to keep him still. The seizures were feebler now, yet any of them could prove fatal.


I assure you, Athena, from now on he’ll feel no pain’, Aphrodite had told her, after asking her permission to administer the sedatives, ‘And know him to be a lucky man, able to walk the last stretch of his life with a goddess at his side.’


“Don’t leave us,” she cried, hiding her face on his broad chest, knowing Tatsumi didn’t care about her godhead. He loved Saori, the spoilt rotten heiress, who owed much of her entitled behaviour to him giving in to her every wish.

Aphrodite had meant well, and had spoken like a true Saint, with the scope of vision his Cloth demanded. But that man there was hers, and she wanted to keep him with her. She wanted to be capricious and cling and demand until she was satisfied.

“Don’t leave me alone.”

She brushed her tears away when she felt a knock on the door. Seiya came into the room, his friendly face unusually serious. He was the only person that remained at that hospital floor. Everyone else had said their goodbyes already, some of the men heading to the chapel next to the waiting room, others taking some air at the rooftop, Geki and Aphrodite at the main hall, talking to the police for the sixth time.

She could sense them everywhere, like little lights hovering around her, and if she closed her eyes, she could even see them, but none, none of them, not even her dearest Pegasus, could reassure her like Tatsumi’s warmth next to her could.


You are home to me.


“Is something wrong?” she asked.

Seiya sighed and rustled his hair, like he always did when he was troubled.

“Everything is, isn’t it?”

She smiled and nodded faintly. “I’ll stay with him. He likes me being around.” Saori said, squeezing Tatsumi’s hand. “Don’t worry.”

Seiya shook his head and took a deep breath, walking behind her. She looked up and flinched when he closed his hands over her shoulders.

“You big stupid oaf,” he let out, his eyes, full of tears, fixed on the dying man, “I have it covered, you hear me? We all do.”

She looked away and shielded her eyes behind her hand.

“How can you do that?”

“What?”

“Cry so easily,” she barely managed to say, biting her lip.

“Because I feel sad,” he replied, his voice showing how obvious he thought his answer was, “He’s a brute, and an idiot, but he raised us all and kept you safe, like the guys said, he’s family.”

Tatsumi shook again, and Seiya tightened his hold over her shoulders.

“I want to stay here, Saori,” he said, his tone serious.

She leaned her head to one side and rested her cheek against his arm and nodded.


Another seizure.


Saori sighed and stood up, patting Seiya’s hands to let him know it was all right.

She bent over and kissed her guardian’s forehead.

“I love you, Tatsumi. Always will,” she said in his ear, before unleashing her cosmo, the godly power that lived within her flooding the room. As she had once done with one of her silver saints, she reached to the man’s spirit. “Let’s meet again, in another lifetime,” she whispered.


...I’ll be waiting for you...


She closed her hands over his broad chest, a now still vastness that had always been her refuge, and allowed herself to cry like she had only cried for Mitsumasa, to be, in Tatsumi’s honour, a little girl bereft.


It was different how, unlike her grandfather, her guardian was leaving her with a family around her; with boys he had confided her life to, with friends that cherished her as much as she cherished them.


He had done a great job. Tatsumi deserved every tear.



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



In despair, there are the most intense enjoyments, especially when one is very acutely conscious of the hopelessness of one’s position.


-Fedor Dostoevsky, ‘Notes from Underground’-


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



VI



Artemis wasn’t surprised to find Chameleon and her trainee waiting for her at the shrine. It was such a travesty now, the fake forest, the fake shrine, the fake warriors. Like a play made to please her.

Albinach jumped towards her –the girl’s way of walking had somewhat of a spring to it and reminded her of a little bunny, with her white hair and white mask. She had been told she was aiming for the Lepus Cloth, which she found completely fitting-. Since her recovery, and hearing that she had refused to accept any other attendant until she was fit to serve her, the trainee had been particularly clingy towards her.

Behind her, by the door, June waited.

Artemis had hoped Dohko would have taken her words seriously and cleared the area. She was tired of seeing saints all around her.

“Welcome back. Is there anything you need? I cleaned the shrine, and brought some food. Also,” the girl said, her masked face betraying nothing, “the bath is ready, in case you want to refresh yourself.”

She looked down, at her clothes. They were dusty and some feathers had stuck to it. “A bath sounds good, thank you. Also, there won’t be any need for further services, I’m leaving this afternoon. Go back to your training. June, shouldn’t you go with her? She needs your guidance.”

“But... you are leaving? Now?” the girl asked, her posture betraying her feelings of loss. She still had a long way to go to master the perfect imperviousness of the female saints. “I thought... Can’t you stay any longer?”

“Sorry. Something came up.”


Same words I used with Hyoga. Damn. Sanctuary is déjà vu-land. All that is missing now is Atalanta barging in and stomping on all possible landmines.


The girl fidgeted. “I see...Can’t you...?” she stopped and grabbed her hands in a sudden burst of courage.

“Can’t you stay for one more day?”


Silly, silly girl, you’ve been ordered to do this as well? To find a way to keep me here?


“Why should I do that?” she asked evenly.

“My Cloth... Well, maybe my Cloth... I am attempting to claim it tomorrow morning, if I pass, I’ll be a saint, the Lepus Saint.”


The rabbit warrior. I wonder what you’ll be able to do with that Cloth.


Artemis sighed and looked at June.


...Is this a ploy, Chameleon?...


The warrior showed her experience by betraying nothing, staying immutable at her silent prodding.


... She knows nothing. She’s a trainee, Artemis, we don’t risk them as cannon fodder...


She must have noticed her disbelief, for the saint corrected herself.


... I won’t risk her...

 

That was something she could work with.

“What does that have to do with me?”

“Well, nothing, of course, I didn’t mean to sound entitled... it’s just that... well...”

Artemis grabbed the girl’s chin.

“Remove your mask. It’s ok, isn’t it? For a woman to see your face.”

The girl did as she was told. She was a child, around thirteen, with a pale oval face and large red eyes with white lashes. She had noticed she was an albino, her skin and hair betraying her, but hadn’t expected her to be that young.

“You can make it so that it has to do with me, Albinach, if you say what you mean properly. That’s how you should deal with my kind.”

Why I am doing this? I keep throwing myself into these situations... Is it because she’s a child? Or because I was stopped from keeping the promise I made to Hyoga? I am looking for closure in this place?

 

“I...” the girl’s expressions betrayed her every emotion as she tripped with the words, “I... thought you might want... no, I... I would like you to be there. When I take the test, at the arena...please?” the girl took her hands to her cheeks, “I mean, if it’s not too much trouble... It will be in the morning, early... Ah, I’m so nervous.”

Artemis smiled.

“The Lepus Saint, huh? Once...” she said, “I promised someone I would be there, for his test. Couldn’t do so. Maybe this time...”

Artemis cupped the girl’s face between her hands and kissed her forehead while burning her cosmo around them. She forced her to light hers in return, like she had done with Ikki to pick up his mark.

“You have my favour, Albinach. Use it well.”

 

...June, tell Dohko I am gone after the girl takes the test, and from this very instant, I don’t want any saint or trainee crossing the grotto. If I see one, no matter who that person is, I’ll consider it a breach of the rules of hospitality and Sanctuary’s declaration of war on me; and shoot him or her dead. Is that understood?...

“Albinach,” June called, “Let’s go to the arena and go over the basics. Tomorrow is your important day, let’s make sure you are ready.”

 

...It is. I’ll let him know...

 

The girl put her mask on and nodded.

“Thank you,” she let out cheerfully. “It’s at 9 o’clock, at the arena, I promise to do my best!”

“You’d better get that damn cloth,” she said, certain the girl would do so.

Arcade nibbled at her fingers when they were out of sight, demanding her attention.

“Yes, I know. Atalanta would say it’s my soft spot for the broken ones kicking in again,” she said, heading into the shrine.

“She’s wrong, I like them resilient. Look at you, my cub,” she cooed, scratching his head. “There’s no one I’ve loved that hasn’t grown to be glorious.”




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


She takes just like a woman, yes, she does

She makes love just like a woman, yes, she does

And she aches just like a woman

But she breaks like a little girl


-Bob Dylan, ‘Just like a Woman’-


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



VII



[... One fragrant petal of a red rose for the one that sets the laws...]



Saori rested her head against the car window, relishing in the coolness of the shielded glass. Her eyes were fixed on the grey sky, watching the clouds go by.

The memorial was going to take place in the morning. She had made sure it would be fit for a Kido, a family member. Shun had graciously offered to handle all the letters of condolence that kept arriving at the Foundation, while Shiryu was working with the police to figure out the culprit. Ban and Geki were at the mansion, to inform the staff, and Nachi and Miho had taken Ichi to the orphanage. Hydra was blaming himself for not having found an antidote on time, even when both the doctors and Pisces had reassured him that even if he had, if he had found it right at their arrival, it would still have been too late.

She would have to check on him later on. Make sure his guilt was fleeting. But that night was for her; that drive through streets she knew, with someone she felt close to.

A pause.

“I missed the city. All the lights, the people. Sanctuary’s isolation can be lonely at times,” she whispered, her eyes not moving from the window. Tokyo was beautiful at dusk. “I’m glad you are all here, Seiya. I know the way he behaved towards you, when you were kids, was hateful. Even if his reasons were to protect me, they were still harsh.”

“When I came back from Greece for the first time, I pitied him. There was nothing he could do to me anymore. He seemed... pathetic. This man that had been so afraid of little children. I changed my mind the night he told us that you were, well...”

“Athena,” she finished. Saori shifted on her seat to look at Seiya while he drove. He didn’t lift his eyes from the road, concentration making his usually childish face seem serious. When she was a kid, she had thought him loud and uncouth. She had been perplexed at how all the other kids seemed to laugh when he was around. Whenever she looked at him from her room, she had wished to be able to play with him, instead of smile vicariously at his pranks from above.

She would never have believed that little orphan boy would grow to be so important to her.

“Why?”

“He knew, Saori. He knew the truth, who knows for how long. He knew those children would have to protect you, the person most important to him. He had to deal with the fact that so many dangers were waiting for you, and he couldn’t protect you from them. You had to face them alone.” He shook his head. “Worse. With us. Maybe that was why he was so harsh on us. He suspected what would come.”

“So much for someone that couldn’t protect him.”

This time Seiya did look at her, his crimson eyes revealing his concern.

“That’s not true,” he stated flatly, before returning his attention back to the road.

“Seiya...” she said, looking at the streets around them. “This is not the way to the mansion...”

‘’ I know ‘’ he said, driving towards one of the exits. After a few minutes, he pulled over.

 

‘’ Saori, what happened to Tatsumi... it was an accident. Accidents happen. It wasn’t your fault; it had nothing to do with you... ‘’ he finally said, resting his eyes on hers, his hands once again over her shoulders.

There was nothing she found more reassuring than his touch.

“You can’t save us all.”

“What’s the point of all this power I hold, if I can’t protect the people I love?”

“Don’t say that. Look outside, Saori. This city could have sunk due to Poseidon’s flood. You stopped that. We did. Without you, the world would be a bleaker place, left to the gods to feast on. Thanks to you, we can hope. Tatsumi knew this. I know this. That was why I know that if he had had the chance to choose his fate, he would be by your side once again, not changing one single thing about his life. Not even his death.”

 

You are not talking about Tatsumi anymore, are you, Seiya?

“You scare me when you talk like that.”

“I am scared each time a god shows his or her face, and I see you walking into danger, ready to put your life on the line to protect this world.”

She laughed. “I’m never scared when I have to do that.” Saori placed her hand over his. “I know you’ll be there. I hate putting you all through that, and wish you would be able to lay down your cloths, yet at the same time I am certain that at the end of the day, you’ll be there for me.”

“Of course I will. I have your back, Saori.”

“I’m still such a spoilt girl,” she smiled sadly, shaking her head. “All his fault, for being a doting tutor.”

“It’s fun to dote on you. It’s no wonder Tatsumi did it all the time.”

She looked away and bit her lip to hold back her tears.

Seiya pulled her close into a hug, the warmth of his body comforting her. She closed her hands over his t-shirt and pressed her face against him.

“I miss him already,” she managed to say between tears.

 

He tightened his embrace, wishing to light his cosmo to keep her warm, but the phantom pain from the place where the sword had cut through stopped him.

 

For all my big talk, I am useless to her at the moment.

 

He had even had to ask Aphrodite to trail them from a safe distance, should anything happen. It had been hard to ask that, to have to depend on someone else for the one thing that defined him. Perhaps that was why he was finding it so easy to understand Tatsumi. The butler must have felt the same, when realizing he would have to leave his task to a group of teens.

He needed to find a way to recover his cosmo, soon. He wouldn’t have the right to stand beside her otherwise. It was something that had been worrying him lately. He had noticed Shun burning his that afternoon. That meant only he was missing from their small troupe.

Seiya prided himself in his optimism, so it felt strange to him to be dragging that feeling of insecurity around, as if he had no defences against it. Since he had woken up from the coma, he hadn’t been able to stop feeling that way.

But how could he not? Saori worried so much over them, and seemed to be so oblivious to the fact that she was the greatest fighter civilization had on its side. How could they not risk their lives for her, when she was risking hers all the time, for everyone?

His dearest Saori, that small, delicate, spoilt woman that fitted inside his arms.

 

Without his cosmo, he had nothing to offer her.

 

“Want us to stay here a little bit?” he asked when she stopped crying.

Saori nodded and lifted her face from his chest. They were about the same height, and he felt acutely aware of her closeness, of the weight of her body leaning against his, of the scent of her favourite perfume. He shifted slightly on his seat.

Her dark eyes were fixed on his, making him nervous.

Saori’s fingers traced the contour of his face and stopped him from looking away.

“Saori...?”

“I tried to thank you, once, when you saved me from Jamian, but was interrupted.”

From Jamian? He remembered the crows, the fall... stone and flowers...

“There’s nothing you should thank me for, Sao-”

She pressed a perfectly manicured finger over his lips and leaned in to kiss him. Seiya remained still, at first, surprised by her actions, but soon gave in, his hands resting on the small of her back.

He had dreamt of it, time after time. In his dreams, he was the one that initiated the kiss, her Saint of Hope. He could feel her now, the warmth of her mouth, the softness of her lips, the way her feelings tried to reach him.

He loved her. Had done so for so long, probably since the day she had visited him at the docks, somewhere around the time she threw away her jewellery into the sea after he taunted her, proving him that he was wrong about her, that there was so much more about her than what he thought he knew.

“My beloved Seiya,” she sighed against his lips. He had leaned back against the car’s door and she was nestling over him. He caressed her back and sighed when he felt her fingers under his shirt, against his skin. With her other hand she grabbed his and pushed it down, over her ass. He squeezed and pressed her against him.

His dreams rarely went that far, as if the saint in him were stopping him from going further. She was Athena, after all.

“My Pegasus...”

He could feel her cosmo flooding him, so known and beautiful and strong, capable of stopping Gods with its fortitude and of leading men to Victory.

He pulled back slightly to take the sight of her, of his beautiful and powerful Saori, her godly cosmo shining over her skin, making it seem golden, like her Cloth and the ones of her warriors.

He frowned, holding a lock of her hair.

“What is it?” she asked him.

“I... can’t. Not like this,” he let out, pushing her away. She stared at him, confused.

“Why? I thought...you felt the same way.”

He grabbed her hands.

“I adore you, Saori!”

“That’s too much, Seiya,” she said, narrowing her eyes, “I never asked for that much.”

“You deserve better.”

“That’s...that’s ridiculous. What I want or what I don’t, it’s my decision. Not yours.”

“As I am, I can’t give you what you need. With Tatsumi gone-”

Her expression hardened and she moved her hands away from him.

“Don’t you dare to use his name for this; his death is not a card you can use.”

“Saori-”

“Get out of the car.”

“What? Saori, wait a second.”

“That’s an order, Pegasus. I’ll send one of our drivers for you.”

“Come on, you don’t mean that.”

“I do. I am not going to have this conversation with you. I don’t want to listen to this nonsense, not tonight.”

“Saori, think, it’s not safe...”

“And you will protect me? I thought you just said you couldn’t give me what I needed.”

He stared at the wheel and clenched his hand over it, feeling as if she had just slapped him.

“Out, Seiya. Or I’ll get a cab. I really...” she knitted her brow together, angry, “I really don’t want to see your face right now.”

He was too shocked by her words as to do nothing but comply, leaving the car.

“I’ll get to the mansion myself, I can use the walk” he said, unable to meet her gaze. “Be careful.”

Saori switched seats and started the engine, heading smoothly into the night. She turned on the music system and picked one of her favourite piano solos, her mind going through the notes while her fingers tapped the steering wheel. It was a difficult one, which kept her mind busy, and away, away from all the emotions she could feel overflowing, like poison, from her heart.


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


Proprium humani ingenii est odisse quem laeseris

(It is part of human nature to hate the man you have hurt)

-Tacitus-


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


VIII



[... One bloody thorn for the one that keeps the rituals alive...]



Hyoga stared at the temple from the depths of the forest that shielded it, oblivious to the rain beating his body or the thunderstorm roaring over his head.

Poor awareness of your surroundings, Hyoga’, Artemis would say in that mocking tone of hers. ‘You should stay away from trees when my father’s symbol is falling from the sky.’

After the moon had claimed its throne, the heat wave had finally given in to the much needed rain. He had thought it would give him comfort, but the weather remained overtly humid and being inside the house had felt suffocating, its walls seeming to fall on him at any moment. Outside, under the open sky, he could at least breathe.

His walk had been aimless, or so he wanted to believe, that he had somehow ended there by chance and not over some unconscious desire. He had gone out of the barracks, past the ruins, into the grotto and through that small forest, to end up close to the shrine she had claimed as her own, staring at her figure while she drank the remains of a bottle of wine at the peristyle, protected from the rain. She was sitting on a large wooden chair sprawled with cushions, her long legs, as pale as the moon that sometimes shone over them, bent against her chest. She had a white mantle over her shoulders and her eyes were fixed on the sky above them.

The sight of her was the first thing that brought him a slight calm in that night, and hated feeling grateful for her presence.


Why are you here, goddess? When I faced Camus, he made me a man at the cost of his life, forcing me to take all that he was and prove him that I could wield the ice without becoming him. When I met Isaak again, our ideals brought us against one another. I had to stand up for mine, as an equal, against the boy I had always wanted to please. So what will you become? What will you make me prove?


Isaak and Camus had acknowledged him, and they had all been able to, as Artemis would probably put, see each other for what they were.


And she’s here and tells me to look at her, and I’m terrified. She’s not the person I remember, and she is.


It’s the second time I look for her, here. I should turn back. Leave her to drown in her wine.


He walked down the path clumsily instead, the bushes tearing the hem of his trousers, and found himself welcomed by an angry frown. Her cosmo flashed and a bow appeared in her hands, this time milky-white and made of some alloy he couldn’t recognize, followed by a quiver in the same material at her back, full of arrows, the sash that went over her chest made of silver chainmail and white fur. She took it off, placed it on the ground, and rested one of her feet over the edge, for easy access.

“You should have picked leaving.”

She picked one of the arrows from the quiver and tensed her bow. He couldn’t but find the movement beautiful, as he always did. What she had done with the ice was impressive, but archery suited her best.

“I noticed your presence and thought, why not wait? Your hesitation was a good sign. But no, you had to take that extra step. Was any saint too difficult for Dohko to understand? Did he think I would be kinder towards you?”

“I have no idea what you are talking about,” he said, brushing his wet hair away from his face. He was drenched and it stuck against his neck and over his eyes. “I haven’t spoken to Dohko since this morning.”

Her frown deepened and he felt her cosmo searching for the truth in his own, its force making his own burn.

“That’s...invasive.”

“It’s quick,” she shrugged, the bow and quiver vanishing in a pool of light. “And annoying, prodding your cosmo is like going through a concrete wall. If you are so prickly around me, I pity your enemies.”

At first he couldn’t understand her words, but the warrior in him noticed he had indeed tried to block her out, as much as he noticed that the bow she had summoned could only be the one belonging to her Tunic, the Ortygians’ equivalent of Cloths. It seemed that after her talk with Dohko, she had upped her threats.

A monstruous black shadow confirmed his thoughts when it walked between them, growling its warnings.

“Sanctuary’s paranoia is growing on you too, Arcade?”

The wolf tilted his head to one side, his yellow eyes fixed on his, puzzled. He took some steps towards him and sniffed the air, his body growing relaxed.

“He didn’t recognize you,” she said, “We had our share of uninvited visitors. And you look like crap.”

The wolf licked his hand and Hyoga smiled at him, scratching the side of his head. He understood why Artemis travelled with him, it was relaxing.

“Getting wet won’t do him any good, or you, for that matter,” she commented. “Arcade, come here.”

The wolf turned his attention back to his mistress and trotted to her side. She stood up and crouched next to him, covering him with the mantle to dry him off. Affectionately, she dried his face and planted a kiss on the top of his head before whispering something in its ear.

Hyoga had forgotten that there was kindness in her. For so long he had associated her to that last day, to the goddess able to put Camus on guard and who had made him feel vulnerable and used, that everything else seemed to be buried underneath.

He remembered her trying to kill the trapper vividly, but had almost forgotten the memories of her nursing the cub. The first weeks after rescuing him she had devoted herself to Arcade fully, to Camus’ joy. He didn’t like the presence of the wolf in the house, but it kept her away from his students, which meant no distractions during their training.

Hyoga had avoided her during those days; he hadn’t believed the cub would make it, none of them did.

He had been terrified of attachment, back then. And even when life had changed him and he had managed to embrace connections with others, the fear would always remain there, dark and known, and utterly present during that night.


It’s no wonder I chose to stay. Like with the cub, I had to keep my distance...


Artemis stood up and the wolf looked at him one last time before heading to the shrine. She placed the wet mantle on the chair, leaned against one of the pillars and turned to him.

“So, what brings you here?”

He rubbed the back of his neck while trying to find an answer. “I don’t know. I was walking and somehow ended here...”

Her eyes softened as an amused smile crept over her lips, “Walking? In this weather? I thought you were more careful than that.”

“I didn’t know you drank. I guess time made us reckless,” he said. He was starting to notice the dampness of his clothes against his skin. It made him shudder.

“The rain kept me from sleeping, and I need to wake up early to watch Albinach fight for her Cloth. Wine seemed as good an option as any,” she shrugged. “She’s grown attached to me because of your intervention, Hyoga. Keep an eye on her when I’m gone.”

He was unsurprised by her mentioning leaving. She was never one to stay.

“Shun is considering helping June at Andromeda...” he started, welcoming the change of subject. He would pretty much welcome anything but silence.

“Still avoidant,” she muttered, her gaze darkening. “I’ll handle it then.”

“Shun’s training is more in tune with hers.”

“Andromeda fears himself too much to be of any use to anyone at the moment. Besides, I asked you to keep an eye on her, not to train her.” She sighed, “Is it really that hard to listen to what I say?”

“What do you mean by that?”

“Whenever I say something, people understand something else. That’s what I meant,” she answered, puzzled.

“No, not that. What you said about Shun...”

“You want to discuss that while standing under the rain? I told you before. You and your friends, you are fearing your cosmos...Is it because he carried Hades within him, once? He doesn’t anymore, Athena vanquished him. Who knows how long it will take him to be strong enough to leave the Void again? 200, 300 years? Poor uncle, he’ll return madder than he was, but Shun will be long dead by then.”

She stared at him then rubbed her eyes.

“But of course, you didn’t notice because you were too busy disowning your own cosmo. And you were never good at this.”

Her pale eyes hardened.

“Noticing where others hurt. You are too blinded by your own pain. You seemed different, when we met at the ruins. More at ease with yourself. But people only change that much, don’t they?”

Artemis looked at the floor and softly kicked a pebble down the steps of the shrine, into the pool of water that surrounded it. It was a shallow one, less than forty centimetres deep, but with the rain, it was overflowing.

“This place, there’s blood everywhere, and you are all pretending not to see it.”


Hyoga watched the pebble disappear into the pool. Her words were hard to take. But what could he tell her? That he didn’t agree with them? That they bothered him? It was him the one that had looked for her, the one that had breached the forest.

Was she even wrong? He had told her, hours before; that Sanctuary was barely recovering, and asked her to be understanding.


I didn’t ask her shit. She gives in when asked. I justified us, and that’s different.


“Does your silence mean you acquiesce?” she asked softly, looking at him through dark lashes. “What a surprise. Why are you here, Hyoga?”


Because I have questions to ask you. I need to know why you are here. Why Camus agreed to train you. Why your arm so fucked up, why you are so fucked up. What happened to you, in all these years, and why you only come back now, when the wars are over.


That wouldn’t do, not with her. Artemis demanded honesty, and would take nothing else.


Because you are a friend.


No. The reason I came is because...

“Tatsumi is dead,” he blurted out, voicing it making it real. He expected her to tease him, to taunt him after being right.

Artemis sighed and put the bottle down. She didn’t seem surprise. “That’s the man from Japan?”

Hyoga nodded.

“Shun called the advanced post at the outskirts of the Veil, and they brought the...”he chuckled darkly, placing his hands over his eyes, “news about an hour ago. The worst part is that when I found out, all I could do was come here. Straight into this place. How pathetic is that, Huntress?”

“Very,” she replied, running her hands over her shoulders to keep herself warm. The short linen tunic she was wearing wasn’t much protection against the weather. “Selfish, too.”


White doesn’t suit her; she’s too pale for it, he found himself thinking. It made her look like a ghost, too much like the dead, for a night like that.


“Come inside, you’ll freeze to death.”

He shook his head and lifted his hand in refusal. Artemis’ attentive gaze met his, and for a second, he felt back in Siberia, talking to her at the glaciers.

“Come here,” she repeated. He refused once again. Did she even notice how bossy she always sounded?

“Tatsumi is dead. How strange is that? He used to terrify us. He beat the crap out of Seiya and Ikki...He never... put a finger on me, but I was so withdrawn from everything back then, why would he? ...When we heard he was sick, I couldn’t go with them...I used you as an excuse. I used him as an excuse.”

“You thought you would be glad, once he died. But you are not, are you?”

“I don’t know what I am feeling right now”

She took a heavy breath and stretched her hand towards him, beckoning him. He could see the swollen scar vividly.

He remembered her telling him that being near him made it hurt and how pissed off she was at his healing, how even Camus had asked him about it. It was an old foolish thing, why did it matter so much?


How many times did she warn me, in Siberia, that she didn’t take broken promises kindly?, he chastised himself. She might have used me but I denied her.


He had done so again, when meeting her, as she kept reminding him, saying she went to Siberia to see Camus.


And then she did, and no one tells me anything about it.


“Come stand here, away from the rain, you look like a drenched cat, Hyoga”

He shook his head.

“I’m fine here. I need some distance from you.”

She tilted her head to one side, visibly surprised. The gesture reminded him of the wolf.

“And why on earth would you say that?”

“This. You, me. Feeling like shit, my head a mess. Brings back bad memories.” He smirked, “Tonight I can’t trust myself not to trust you.”

She remained silent for a few seconds, her expression guarded, then laughed.

“Hyoga, that’s giving too much credit to someone you barely know.”

“Stop it with that.”

“I wasn’t the one that started it,” she hissed.

“You are right,” he swallowed and met her gaze, feeling defeated, “You came to see me, and each single time I welcomed you. Satisfied?”

She narrowed her eyes. “And then I am the cruel one. It’s always the same with you. You won’t come here.”

Artemis hesitated for a second; then took a step forward into the rain, making his chest tighten.

“But you’ll make me reach you. It bothers me, you know, greatly.”

She pulled her hair neatly over her shoulder, the scar on her neck showing. The rain made her tunic stick to her skin, and he had to keep his gaze on hers not to stare. She was barefoot and the ground was muddy, but she still managed not to make a sound. Somewhere around them lightning stroke, casting shadows all around them, and the sound of thunder soon broke the night.


(... stay away from trees when my father’s symbol falls from the sky....)


“You pull, and I can’t but push” she said, taking one of his hands in hers and placing it behind her waist. He grabbed her tightly, feeling her flesh under the fabric. Her other hand, the dominant one, with that scar she seemed to hate, went to his cheek, and he leaned to her touch, feeling how everything in his heart seemed to unravel at that known warmth.

She swallowed and bit her lip when he kissed her palm.

“You are a selfish, unfair man.”

“I know,” he confessed.

She sunk her fingers into his hair and finally kissed him, with that hunger that was hers and hers alone. She tasted of wine and rain, and was too much, too soon.


Uncontrolled and unstoppable, his voice whispered in his mind, and he relished in it, trying to match her. She was back, and all that it entailed was back with her, for how could it not? She had left a mark on him, like all those that mattered to him had. Five years, ten, it wouldn’t change a thing.

Her mouth was warm and wet and when she pulled away to breathe he had to catch her again, cupping her face and keeping her close, needing the undeniable life in her to make sure she was real, both of them were, and alive in a night that reminded him too much of death.


Have I come to her to feel better? Because being next to her does this to me, makes me feel whole, when I am not? If it is so, then she’s right, and I am crueller than I thought.


She had always looked so beautiful when she was a mess of want and desire.

Hyoga placed his hands on her buttocks and lifted her up, her legs locking around his waist while her hips pressed against his.

“Slow down,” he growled in her ear, biting her earlobe.

She pulled him by the hair and met his eyes daringly.

“Catch up, Cygnus

A small warning sounded within him, but he unheeded it, carrying her towards the shrine. He almost stumbled against the steps and she had to put her legs down. Artemis grabbed him by his shirt and pulled him towards her, stretching over the staircase.

“Your back-”

“I’m not the one that’s going to stay below,” she smirked, biting his lower lip. Her hands were now under his shirt, pulling it up. He threw it aside and she pushed him under her, climbing on his lap. Her tunic was a mess by now, barely covering her.

Once again, light flashed, illuminating her; and thunder followed.

“This time there’s no one around to get in the way,” she whispered in his ear, and kissed him soundly before straightening her back. He leaned forward and pushed the fabric aside to kiss her breasts, his hand going down her stomach until he slid his fingers inside her underwear. She shuddered, staying still for some seconds, then moved her hips to meet his touch, grinding against him.

“Artemis,” he sighed breathlessly, holding her hand in his tightly. She released him and placed hers over his chest, forcing him to lay back.


The alarm sounded once again, and this time he noticed it. Something was wrong. When lightning struck again, he noticed she wasn’t meeting his eyes, her expression distant.

He stopped touching her and reached for her face, gently caressing it. She was still, the fires lighting the shrine casting shadows over her skin.

Hyoga sat, steadying her on his lap while he did so.

“Hey-”

She pushed him down again, both of her hands on his chest this time. Her fingers were trembling.

“Artemis,” he said, placing his hand over hers. “If you don’t want to, we don’t have to.” He couldn’t ask her if anything was wrong. Everything was. They were two drenched cats under the rain, on a bad night, looking for each other for the wrong reasons. It was far from ideal.


But I still long for her. I still... belong, somewhere, here. There’s something between us, that keeps pushing us here.


When she took that first step he had had no doubts in his heart. Whatever path would open due to rekindling his relationship with her, he would take it.

“It feels good, doesn’t it? To know someone will catch you this way when you are crumbling.”

Her voice was barely a whisper, to the point that he had to make an effort to listen to it over the rain.

“I lay traps and wait. Right now, I could have been the monster you paint me as. I could see it. I could have made you come, then make you leave. After all, you already had what you came for.”

He frowned at her words and tried to sit up. That wasn’t the truth, he wouldn’t... he wouldn’t be so careless as to sleep with her just because he felt like shit. He hadn’t even considered things would go that far, that he would even end up in that forest.


I just thought I could... talk to you. My friends are gone, Camus would never understand this, and you are here, and you always knew how to... At the arena, and today when we were sitting at that path... I felt... comfortable, around you.

You were someone I... I wanted to care about.

I didn’t think further from that. I didn’t think at all.

I should have.


“I didn’t mean-“

She placed a finger over his lips.

“See? You already feel a little bit like a bastard over this. But that’s not why you are here. You can be cruel and selfish, but not the type who would come here for a fuck to feel better.” She chuckled darkly, “Look at you. You even cringe at the word. I do know you.”

She moved away from him and stood up, fixing her tunic. He tried to grab a hold of her but she slipped away, climbing the remaining steps to pick up the mantle and place it around her body.

Hyoga rubbed his face, trying to gather his thoughts. He stood up and picked up his t-shirt, and tried to wrench some of the water away, in vain, before putting it back on. It felt terribly cold and uncomfortable.

He climbed the steps and walked towards her. “You told me to come here and get off the rain,” he explained when meeting her gaze.


Artemis glared at him. She could feel herself all over the place, her anger, her desire, her frustrations. Everything kept overlapping, making her head a mess. She wanted him away.

“And now I want you to leave.”

“Artemis, don’t do this.”

“Do what?”

“Stop pushing me away whenever I try to talk to you.”

She was taken aback by his words. How could he even have the nerve to use those words on her?

“Now you know how it feels like,” she spat venomously.

He tried to grab her hand but she stopped him, her eyes fixing on his palm. The temptation of opening the wound crept into her stomach. To make him taste her poison once and for all.


If you are the one to do that, you would curse him, her inner voice stopped her. That’s not what you want.


But what was it that she wanted? What was left for her to want?

She tried to warn herself not to go there, not to let the darkness creep into her mind, but it was too late. It was everywhere.

“I don’t want you here right now. I don’t want to deal with this. Neither do you, not really. The person you came to see, she doesn’t exist anymore. While I...” she said, pressing her hand over her chest, “I can’t allow myself to give a fuck over you.”


There’s not enough me left to do so.


“Why is that?”

“Are you dense? Why are you insisting so much? It doesn’t become you.”

He shook his head, frustrated.

“You keep saying things that only lead me to questions! I haven’t heard from you in five years. You fight like Camus now, and he won’t say a thing about it, except that you went to Siberia for a couple of months after I got my Cloth, and that he made you this disservice that merited him teaching you all he knew, all he had been zealously keeping away from you before. You intervened to get us out of Hades, and there’s something you did at the hospital as well, something you did to Seiya, to get him out of the coma. I noticed you there.

“And yes, you’ve changed, but of course you did. We all did. Life happened. I don’t expect you to be the girl you were.”

“Then what is it that you expect me to be?”

He looked away, frowning deeply.


You have no idea, do you?


“If you are going to be acting like that around me, then better know the answer to that question.”

“I...know you are not something easy in my life.”

“You are wrong there.” She smirked, wishing there was something stronger to drink than wine in that damn shrine.

His gaze was back on hers. It still amazed her that after all he had gone through; his eyes had lost some of their edge, of that mistrust that had been very much him. He has softened with the years and found strength in it, while she had hardened. Neither were the ones that they had once been.

“It is easy; I am not a part of your life, at all. You said it yourself. Why should you have heard of me? Why should I explain myself to you? Don’t you remember what you asked of me? I do, unfortunately. Each word. Good memory.”


Drop this, Artemis, now. You are calling for it, she warned herself. You are giving Melaenis something to set her claws upon. Since you’ve arrived here, her curses have been triggering all the time. Stop tripping with them. Stop it.


If only she could.


“You said, ‘let’s stop the pretence’. You thought there would be no consequences? I told you a hundred times. Never promise anything to me, for I don’t take broken promises kindly.”

She grabbed him by the wrist and closed her eyes, forcing the world to become darkness around them, to turn into the one she loved and marvelled at. She could see her hands, made of stars, and know herself to be able to reach whatever she pleased. Even the neck of the swan standing before her, his strong wings which could make him soar in the coldest skies unable to do a thing against her.

She opened her eyes and they were back at the shrine.

“What girl I used to be? I am the kind of thing that Isaak loved. Did you forget? It made you spurn me, once. Why should I tell you anything? You would never understand it.”

The last words spilt from her mouth with ease, each one carrying the venom he had once placed in them.

“You are a Saint, Cygnus.”


 


IX



If asked, Hyoga would have never expected to see Artemis so rattled. He had thought her intense, and passionate, but difficult to perturb.


Emotional and unrestrained.


She was bleeding through now, everywhere.

He would have been pained by her words, before. But it was hard to do so when she looked like that, chest heaving, eyes clouded. Her fingers scratching that damn scar.

Not once had she reached for him since she arrived. Not even in Limbo she did so, reaching Saori instead. Even when he had told himself he would avoid her when he found out she had arrived to Sanctuary, he had ended up looking for her again.

It had been him to breach the forest, to visit her at the shrine.


You...


It wasn’t anger what she was showing, it was fury, and hurt.

He rubbed his forehead. His head was hurting. There was something wrong, again, which was about to slip by, but it was closer this time. Almost at his reach. That last day of hers in Siberia returned to his mind, the redhead woman, his fear of failing his dead, of failing Camus...

His terror at her power, and how even Camus was careful with it.


He was still missing something.

What had she said that day? That there was something she had to do at Ortygia. He had been thinking, back then, before that day, that there was something going on there. She had seemed bothered whenever the island came up in a conversation, or when she had to go back.

What could Camus have done to consider he had made her a disservice?

He looked at his own hand, searching for a mark that he knew wasn’t there. His master had still referred to her as a risk.

“Like I told you at the arena, go do whatever you saintly people do, and forget about all this. You are good at that. Forgetting.”


Camus’ words screamed in his head, ‘Think like a saint’.


And then he grasped it, his wish to let go of it proving him right.


Camus... wanted you away because I wasn’t ready to handle your kind. I was the one risking my own training, the one that saw himself in that woman’s behaviour, that found truth in her words.

I was ashamed of myself and what I felt for you was the cause.


“What will it take to make you leave?” she hissed, trying to push him towards the steps. He grabbed her hands with one of his and cupped her chin with the other, forcing her to look at him. She broke free and almost stumbled against the chair.


That’s why Milo called Camus cruel. At the arena. Scorpio... knows you, somehow. As much as Camus knew, back then, that a part of me had doubts about what to do, and I was refusing to acknowledge it. A part of me... would have followed you anywhere, because you were my clutch, and I had no idea how to be without you.

That terrified me. What I felt for you did. I was... a mess back then. Before befriending Shun and the others. Before Sanctuary’s war.


She was right to call him selfish. He found it easy to be loved by her, but loving her... that would have meant facing all his traumas.

It had taken Camus’ death and Shun’s sacrifice for him to do so.

That day at Siberia was a self-fulfilled prophecy. You had failed me. I could stop trying to get out of the place I had locked myself in. Everything could go back to... normal.


He took a step towards her and she kicked his stomach, pushing him against one of the pillars. He leaned against it and spread his hands in a sign of surrender.

He knew he could leave now, obey her wish. Let her be. She would leave Sanctuary, eventually, without a trace for him to follow.

Hyoga reached for her wrist again, and her cosmo flashed, freezing his hand.

“What do you want?” she growled. “What will it take for you to leave?”

“I don’t want to leave,” he managed to say.

Artemis ran her fingers through her hair nervously.

“What the fuck are you saying?”

“The truth.”

She broke the ice and lunged against him, pinning him against the pillar, her hand around his neck.

“Your truth means nothing. It lasts as long as things fit your ideas, and I never fit. I won’t take any more backstabbing, Cygnus”

There were tears in her eyes and her lower lip was trembling. Hyoga knew his answers were in those five years, in getting her to tell him what everyone else kept telling him to ask her. It had to go beyond what had happened between them. That alone wouldn’t turn her into such a mess.


But what would?


“I told you not to call me that way,” he muttered, placing his hand over hers. As he had hoped, the words appeased her enough to release him.

“I need to know, Artemis.”

Her eyes measured him.

“What is going on?”

“Why are you asking?”

She laughed when he remained silent.

“No answer, mhm? I wonder if this is the moment Camus dreaded when he realized that the child visiting his pupils was a god that wasn’t his own. Let’s make a bet then. I say I can get you to leave this shrine, regretting having lingered.”

She lifted a finger with every syllable she said, as if counting the hammering.

“Tatsumi,”

“What?”

She met his gaze and he feared what he saw in it.


This is her, laying traps and waiting. Hunting. Like Camus and his ideas. This is bad.


“The man in Japan, the poison. It’s hyperborean. Ortygian. I found out by chance, when I talked to Dohko.”

“Why would your people...” he began, but stopped himself. He knew the answer. Why had they gone to Siberia, before? “Because you are here.”

“Because I shouldn’t. Like I shouldn’t have been at Siberia, I suppose. I do lots of things I shouldn’t.

“I could have saved him, you know? If anyone had told me the previous day. I was supposed to do so. They chose a poison I would notice, a slow one. It was meant to be a reminder, not to take his life. Some spy must have told them I helped the girl. Albinach. It wasn’t a bad plan. Why wouldn’t Athena ask for my intervention again, in a similar situation? I wonder the same, you know. Except she didn’t, because she’s, well, her. You did, before. Why didn’t you this time? Is it Sanctuary’s paranoia showing its ugly face again? This land’s tendency for hubris?”

Artemis shrugged at his unresponsiveness.

“So what will you do? Will you stay there? Should I look for more wine? I’m certain I saw more somewhere in there. We could have a goodbye toast, for the dead.”

Hyoga’s gaze stopped at the bruise over her neck. He had noticed the kiss mark before, and this time he couldn’t brush away the memory of the redheaded woman.

“That’s how far your people have to go to get you to return to your island now? Murder?”

She tilted her head, confused.

“To return? What-? You... have no idea, do you? Neither Camus nor Saori told you. You didn’t even figure it out alone. You come here, to put me through all this shit, without knowing anything. This is so like you.”

She shook her head and placed her hand over her neck.

“And stop staring that way, minutes ago it didn’t seem to bother you. I haven’t seen Atalanta in months. Before that, in years.”

He smirked. “Another friend of yours then?”

Hyoga found the words petty the moment they left his lips. It wasn’t like him to do things like that. He knew that as things stood between them, there was nothing he could ask of her. Regardless of what she said, he hadn’t expected her life to have stopped after she left Siberia.


They why did I say them? Why do I feel all this... confusion, when it comes to her?


“I have no reason to answer that question. Is it jealousy, or are you disapproving already? The path out is that way,” she said, pointing towards the forest.

She tsk’ed when he didn’t leave.

“I suppose I am the type that would fuck someone because I feel like shit, it eases me. There’s compassion and understanding. Kindness. And pleasure is a good anaesthetic.”

“I don’t want to know that.”

“Perhaps you should. You said you needed to know.”

“I didn’t mean-”

I think you should.”

She leaned against the shrine’s walls, her eyes never leaving his

“Atalanta and I used to do it after the hunt, when we were teens, after Camus informed me that it was not a good idea for me to stay in Siberia. Remember the iceberg? The years after that. The thrill of the chase left us too stupidly happy and excited. She’s an amazing huntress. Faster than I.

“I wonder... Do Saints feel that way after a battle, too? Warriors aren’t supposed to get their kicks out of victory over their enemies? Over bloodshed?”


Don’t let her get to you, he warned himself, if you want your answers.


She was taunting him. He would be a fool not to understand that. All she was missing was to start pacing around him and checking his vitals, the rain being the only thing probably keeping her from doing it. ´Think like a Saint’, he kept reminding himself. Artemis was a private person, and he knew already she was more comfortable with her body than he was, and had a penchant for overdoing pleasurable things. What she was telling him was just confirming things he already knew, nothing but clumsy attempts to get him to leave.


Except she’s not usually clumsy.


Her left arm was tense; it was probably bothering her again, and her breathing was irregular.


Watch, don’t listen, the Saint in him whispered.


“When she came for me to Siberia, it wasn’t just my bandaged hand that made her doubt. She noticed I was turned on after our little foreplay at the cottage. She...” Artemis frowned, her fingers once again at the scar, “misunderstood the reasons. The ritual through which my hunters get their Tunics does that to me, sometimes. All that cosmo can be overwhelming.”

She rubbed her neck and swallowed hard. She seemed as bothered as he was by what she was saying.

“You should know the things about me that don’t fit, or you should leave. The path remains there. I won’t tell you anything that matters otherwise. I-”

She bit her lips, struggling with the words.

“I don’t trust you.”

It was hard, really hard, not to listen.

He had told her the same words, before. Many of the things she kept telling him since her arrival had once been in his mouth, directed at her. Leave, don’t trust you, don’t touch me.

He had said them all, having no idea how much it could hurt to receive them.

Hyoga could accept people, but she was right when saying he couldn’t see what make them hurt. That had always been her turf.

“You... You always make things so difficult. Can’t you for once, just-”

He scratched the back of his head, not sure about what he wanted to tell her. He didn’t care who she had slept with before, or her reasons for doing so.


But it bothered you before, and bothers you now, a small, dark voice whispered in his ear. The redheaded woman. The others she doesn’t talk about.


He frowned. It wasn’t that. It had bothered him, as a teen, to think that he could become like that woman. That he would cling to her, one day, in such a way, when her infatuation with him was over. It had made him let her go first. That was all.

That had to be all. He thought himself better than that; that the years had made him better.


“You can be so frustrating,” he glowered.

“So can you”

“Does Saori know, about Tatsumi?”

Artemis shrugged. “Maybe. The Gold Saint with her, he knows his craft. His mentor might have been Ortygian. If it was so, he’ll find traces of an herb that only grows there soon enough.”

She rubbed her face.

“What? Don’t look at me that way, Hyoga, I was probably a baby when he got his Cloth. Besides, infiltration is not something only Sanctuary can do.” She sighed. “Do us both a favour and leave now. I am cold, tired and want to sleep.”

“You have to stay and tell her.”

She chuckled.

“Not going to happen. I have no intentions of letting Sanctuary turn me into a second Eris, and no matter what I say, that’s what they would understand. Would you guard me then? Would they think that I would put up with their stupidity for the sake of whatever I feel for you? Get out, stay, I don’t fucking care. I shouldn’t have set a foot on this place.”

Artemis started heading towards the entrance of the shrine, but he grabbed her arm and stopped her.

“Then why did you? Why are you here?”

“I wish I could answer that question.”

“Your kind, Artemis, you are all so...”

“What? What do you have to say about my kind?” she growled, her expression hardening.

“I mean no harm to Athena, you know that, I know that, we all fucking know that. I know what happened to Tatsumi hurts her, but that’s on her as much as on me. I told her these aren’t times to take risks. And then she went and even dropped the veil, how stupid is that?”

Let her anger rule her, the Saint whispered in him. Remember. Hunters are strong, but emotional and unstable. Rattle them and they weaken.


He kept his hold on her, feeling strange. He had no intention to weaken her. To hurt her. It would take a fool not to notice she was far from herself, that she was barely keeping herself together. She had been on an edge the last few days, they had even argued that very afternoon. She had failed to cover her surroundings, then, a mistake he didn’t think her capable of.

She was in Sanctuary, a place she had always hated.

“My kind? The ones you crippled, maddened, weakened and locked up? I had this conversation with Dohko. He told me that Athena isn’t included, when you, Saints, mention my kind. It was easier to see his point, considering he hadn’t bedded any of them.”

The accusation surprised him. He hadn’t expected her to know. Artemis pointed towards the location of the temple where Ellie was staying. “I guess all the sex talk made me remember that Eris likes to talk. A lot. I find it strange that you would reject me for what I am, but didn’t seem to have problems with her, someone who actually threatened your beloved Athena. Why was it?”


It was after the wars, I was a different person already, and I thought it would be a simple relationship, except I don’t seem to want simple things.


She clutched her shoulder tightly; to the point her knuckles went white.

“At least answer something. Is it because she looks more like your mother?”

Hyoga couldn’t stop himself from flinching at her words, taken aback. He hadn’t seen them coming, at all. Not from her. Even her expression was shocked.

“That was a new low, even for you,” he murmured accusingly. “Ellie is kind, and gentle, and understands loneliness”

“Oh,” she let out. “I see.”

Ellie didn’t make me feel so fucking vulnerable all the time.

Why did he even have to explain himself to her? She was being a bitch. No matter what had happened during the last few years, there was no justification to Artemis’ behaviour; to her using what she knew was something that would always plague him against him.

He had confided in her, because she had made him believe she cared.

“It was never about what, but who. That’s... a relief. In the end, these are the things that can be expected from prying into the past.” She wasn’t looking at him anymore, her eyes fixed nowhere. “What a foolish thing to do. Let go of my arm, please.”

“Is that an act? Damaging your hand. The panic attacks.”

He slid a finger down her neck. Her chest heaved, her breathing falling apart. “That’s what they are, when you feel you are drowning. If it’s not an act, what’s panicking you, goddess?”

“You are the one that’s being low now, Hyoga.” she said, digging her fingernails into his hand to force him to release her. This time he did.

He felt beaten, almost as bad as he had felt when asking Camus to hasten his test.

“It would break my heart to shoot you, but right now I fear I would.”

 

“No need. You win the bet. I am leaving.”


X

 


Artemis watched his back as he walked back into the storm, away from the shrine. It was a broad back; that she associated with warmth and difficulties and heavy loads. It was strong, but it didn’t seem so that night.

It was known and distant. Not meant for her.


But it’s close enough to be a target. He’s here and no one else will come till morning, not after my threat, a little voice whispered within her; I can kill him now, and have it all back. Crown, power, hounds. Sanctuary is nothing without Athena, and no matter their strength, my island can’t be reached. They can stumble, leaderless, for as long as they wish, till vultures turn them into nothing but memories.

And the Cycles will turn once again, sliding easily through Peace.


When she closed her hand, she was not surprised to feel the coolness of her bow between her fingers. Over her chest there was the pressure of the sash, on her back the mild weight of a full quiver, death in each and all of her arrows.


Make way for the Queen of Ortygia, for my judgement is, indeed, absolute.



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