Artemis (1 week after the Battle of Manhattan)
"A Hunter's child to answer the call,
A broken oath or all shall fall.
An unlikely pair to each other keep,
To charm the Earth and make her sleep."
The trance broke as the chanting ended. Apollo fell heavily back into his throne. Silence filled the Hall of the Gods. Artemis kept her eyes trained on the hastily cleaned scorched floor. A Hunter's child. The words echoed in her suddenly blank mind.
"Gaea," Zeus breathed after a moment.
"She's awakening," Athena agreed quietly, voice thick with emotion. Artemis' mind latched on to that, searching for something, anything to distract her from what was happening. Why is Athena so upset? She thought. Ooh…her daughter. Annabeth. Right. That line of thought was no more comforting that her previous one.
Artemis could feel gazes turn her way. She refused to look up.
"How long," Zeus asked after a long moment.
Artemis sensed her brother shifting uncomfortably before answering. "It's hard to say," Apollo said slowly. "Not today or tomorrow for sure. The prophecy has the feel of the semi-distant future. Thirty or forty years I'd say."
"The Earth Mother would be slow to awaken," Hades' deep steady voice came from the direction of his newly fashioned throne. It calmed her somewhat. "At least this time we'll have time to prepare."
To break an oath you mean, she though harshly. No, don't think of that she told herself.
Poseidon cursed loudly. "Will we get no peace!?" he roared, fist slamming down on his thrones armrest.
He grieves for his son, Artemis realized before discarding that thought as well.
"Peace is for the weak," Ares grumbled.
Artemis saw red. White hot fury filled her in an instant. She had lost too many hunters, watched too many of her friends die in the recent war to allow such sentiment. Her twin silver hunting knives appeared in her hands, and she was halfway across the chamber before she realized what she was doing. Athena reached Ares first. Aegis struck the God of War with enough force to throw him from his throne, directly into the waiting reach of Poseidon's Trident. A two-handed downward swing caught Ares midair, slamming him into the Hall's floor with the force of a meteor. Olympus shook. Athena's spear was at Ares' throat in an instant.
"ENOUGH," Zeus bellowed, lightning flashing overhead. Athena's spear froze. She turned to their father, glaring through red rimmed eyes. Zeus ignored her. "We have more important matters to deal with. Apollo, heal him. He'll answer to me when he wakes," Zeus finished darkly.
Artemis glanced toward her brother. Apollo slowly lowered his bow, never taking his eyes off the unconscious war god. He nodded suddenly and strode forward. We've all lost people we care about, Artemis thought looking around. Children and friends. Nearly everyone in the chamber was on their feet with weapons in hand. No one appreciated the bastard's comment.
"I can't heal him here," Apollo said behind her. "I'll need to take him somewhere else." Zeus grunted his assent. A moment's pause. "Artemis."
Ooh gods no, she thought. Hesitantly, she turned to face her brother.
"If you want to talk, you can come with me," he said, pity filling his blue eyes.
Something inside her broke. The precarious composure she'd held onto past few minutes crumbled. He would never hurt her on purpose. He loved her more than life. He meant well, she knew he meant well, but in that moment he could not have picked a worse thing to say. She did not want to talk, she did not want to acknowledge the reality of her situation. With a soul-wrenching cry, she fled the Hall. She found herself on top of a cliff, wilderness stretching out behind her, and the sea before her. Falling to her knees she cried. Great heaving sobs wracking her child-sized body. The light of the full moon, normally so comforting, did nothing to calm her.
Hours passed her by.
"Why!?" she shrieked at the dispassionate Fates. "Why me?"
A small hand touched her shoulder. "You'll get no answers that way, my dear," Hestia said. A wave of calm serenity washed over Artemis, pushing the hysteria back, keeping it at bay. Hestia's presence brought comfort. It's who she was. Artemis turned and hugged her favorite aunt, the sobs subsiding. "Come now, my dear," Hestia said after a moment. "Let's talk."
Taking both her hands, Hestia led her to a boulder at the very edge of the cliff. The two sat looking out across the dark ocean. Minutes ticked by. Artemis refused to release her aunt's hands, terrified the hysteria would return if she did. Hestia smiled sympathetically, eyes still on the distant horizon, resting both pairs of hands in her lap. "You have a difficult choice to make," she said without preamble.
Artemis chuckled bitterly. "You and I both know I have no choice Aunt Hestia."
Hestia nodded, but said "The prophecy could be referring to one of your hunters."
Artemis shook her head. "None would stray unless I ordered them to, and I will not do that to any of them!" she said, eyes flashing with anger.
"Even if you did the prophecy would fail," Hestia said, patting Artemis' hand soothingly. "An oath must be broken. By ordering a hunter to stray you'd be releasing them from their oath."
"So that leaves me." There, Artemis though, I finally said it out loud. "The man-hating eternal virgin must find a man and birth a child."
"One of three eternal virgins," Hestia reminded her. "But you must do more than that Artemis. You must come to love you child's father as well. An unlikely pair to each other keep, to charm the Earth and make her sleep." Hestia turned to her then, flaming eyes burning warmly. "I don't know how, and I don't know why, but your love for each other will be the key to putting Gaea back to sleep."
"I would not give my maidenhood to a man I did not love Aunt Hestia," she said. "The world can be damned before I do that."
Hestia turned a warm smile on her, "That's good, because it would be even if you did. Come, we should return to Olympus."
"I need to speak with my hunters first, Aunt Hestia," Artemis said. "They deserve to know before anyone else." Hestia grimaced and turned away. "What happened?" Artemis asked in alarm.
Hestia spoke again after a moment. "Hera and I were just at the camp trying, and mostly failing, to calm the children. Apparently the foretelling was powerful enough to spill over from Apollo to the Oracle. No, do not blame your brother, he would have stopped it if he could," she said hastily when Artemis' eyes flashed with anger. "Things are as the Fates decreed. Your hunters are holding up better than most, but all are near panic. They've lost more brothers, sisters, and friends than I care to count these past few years. The thought of a larger war on the horizon has them terrified, and to make matters worse, their champion has vanished. The poor children are leaderless and almost overwhelmed."
Her mind, shattered by shock then lulled by Hestia's calming presence, grabbed onto the least important detail of her aunt's answer. "Hera tried to help the demigods?" she asked disbelievingly.
Hestia laughed, soft and warm. A feeling of contentment spread through Artemis. "I thought her stern reputation might work where my words would not, so I asked her to come."
Artemis nodded, then looked away from her aunt, chin resting on her own shoulder. She gazed into the wilderness behind her, thinking long and hard on what she should do next. Hestia waited patiently, gently stroking the backs of her hands and humming a calming lullaby. "You're right Aunt Hestia," she said finally. "I must go to Olympus, I need to make some requests of my father."
"I'll be at you side the whole time, my dear," Hestia said. A column of flame engulfed them. When it faded, Artemis was standing before her father's throne, Hestia still holding her hand. Looking down, Zeus waved a hand to silence Dionysus.
"Artemis," her father said, relief evident in his voice. "I'm glad you're back."
Artemis nodded in acknowledgement to her father, then sent her brother a small, reassuring smile. She didn't feel very sure of herself, but after her earlier display her brother would be worried sick. Turning, she walked hand in hand with Hestia to the hearth. Staring into the warm coals, Artemis finally spoke. "We all know the meaning of the prophecy," she said.
Zeus cleared his throat. "We do," he agreed, "But I swore on the Styx long ago to never force you to marry, Artemis. If this thing is to be done, it will be your choice."
Just like that, she thought, still staring into the flames. The fate of Olympus, of the gods and demigods, of Western Civilization itself in my hands. Shaking herself, she turned to her father. "I will do it, but I have conditions."
Zeus's face remained stoic, but she could see the pride burning deep in his electric-blue eyes. "Name them," he said.
"First, no matter what happens, my hunters will stay at camp. They will retain my blessing and be Cabin 8's permanent campers until I return for them." She paused, looking at her father. She was lying to herself, and they all knew it. The Hunters of Artemis most likely wouldn't exist when all this was done, but she needed to know her girls would be ok.
Zeus considered a moment, looked to his brothers who nodded, then turned back to her. "Done," he said.
Artemis gave a relieved sigh. The other conditions she could do without, but making sure her hunters had a place in the world was essential. "Second, I will be leaving Olympus." A chorus of murmurs rose around her. She pushed on. "The child will have to be a demigod, and I can find no mortal men here." Zeus nodded. "Third. You will give me 15 years to find a man on my own before you intervene. Apollo says we have at least 30, so 15 is a reasonable request."
Zeus turned to her twin brother. His face was pale, but he nodded at their father's questioning look. "Even losing 15 years, we'll have enough time to intervene if we have to, I think. Prophesy is difficult to gauge, but like I said, this one has the feel of distance."
Zeus turned back to her, and considered for a long moment. "Done," he said finally.
"Lastly," she said, taking a deep breathe, "you will not try to find me in those 15 years. I have to do this alone."
Pain etched across her father and brother's faces, but both nodded, accepting her request. Her father stood. "Everyone leave now, I would like a few moments alone with my daughter before she leaves. Apollo, you can stay."
Flashes of light lite the hall, as the council left. Zeus strode forward, raising a brow at Hestia. "Please," Artemis said quickly. "Let her stay. She's all that keeping me sane right now." The pain on her their faces returned, more defined than before.
"Despite all that's at stake, for the sake of my oath I must say it again, you don't have to do this if you don't want to," her father said.
"Thank you Father, but what's one maiden's oath against the whole world? I have to do this," she said.
"In that case farewell, Daughter, and good luck," he said, disappeared in a flash of lighting.
Artemis turned to Apollo. He pulled her into a hug and whispered, "Good luck little Sis," with a sly grin. He flashed away before she could swat him with her free hand.
She turned to Hestia. "To the camp?" her aunt asked. Not bothering to wait for Artemis' answer, flames engulfed them. They reappeared outside of Cabin 8.
Artemis hesitated upon entering. "After I do this I will no longer be the Goddess of Maidens," she said slowly. "That title will most likely pass to you." Hestia nodded, telling Artemis her aunt had guessed as much. Steeling her nerves, Artemis took a deep breath before continuing. "Then I abdicate that title now," she said formally, "and pass it to you. Hestia, new Goddess of Maidens." Thunder crashed overhead, sealing her words.
Hestia nodded again, as if expecting this. "The hunters will remain yours for now, but when an appropriate amount of time has passed," Hestia said beside her, "I will offer to be their patron. They will be well taken care of Artemis. You have my word."
Had anyone else said those words, jealousy would have overcome reason in Artemis, but she knew in her heart Hestia wanted only the best for the hunters. Artemis threw her arms around her aunt, murmuring "Thank you" into her hair. Unwrapping herself from the shorter goddess, Artemis wiped her eyes. Hestia waited patiently. When she was finished she breathed, "Ok, let's get this over with."
"One moment, my dear," Hestia said. "If you're to be married, you should be of marrying age."
Artemis looked down at herself and chuckled with her first genuine amusement in hours . "I believe you are right, Aunt Hestia. This body isn't even capable of bearing children." With that, she allowed her body to grow. In seconds, where a small, 12 year-old, auburn haired girl had stood, now stood a lithe, long haired, 20 year-old beauty.
"You're beautiful, my dear," Hestia told her with a warm smile. Hand in hand, they walked through the door.