The weight of the sky was completely different from what Percy expected, he forgot what it was like the last time, like many other things. His skin burned painfully and his blood boiled. The very bones in his body felt like they were liquefying and fusing together. His peripheral vision turned black and all he could see was sights like they were at the end of a dark tunnel. So very far away and out of reach. The grass and stars blurred and overlapped with everything around him. Silver danced around as Artemis fought while he saw a light blue lightning bolt from Thalia but Luke was a blur. Bianca, he couldn't even see her anymore.
Thalia seemed to be faring well against Luke. Though Luke was the better swordsman, he was still weak from holding the sky while she was fresh and had her spear and gorgon shield.
Artemis and Zoe complimented each other's actions easily. Two hunters who had known each other for millennia fought in perfect sync. Zoe with arrows and Artemis with her daggers. Finally a spectator to Artemis' fighting he could respect the skill but found it completely different from Apollo. It was distracting, especially when he racked his mind on how to save Zoe. There was certainly a way, he just had to figure it out.
Artemis fought with the strength of a bear, the speed of the cheetah and the spring of a gazelle, taking on characteristics of the animals she had hunted for thousands of year to fight on par with the titan of strength in an erratic but incredibly efficient manner. Each step was more of a leap as she flew over Atlas' body, while each strike was fast and as heavy as a mountain. Her daggers glowed silver as they slashed upon his neck letting golden ichor flow.
Atlas roared in pain as he backed up, the speed of Artemis was too much for the titan of strength. He had already been bleeding from the large wounds on his ankles, back and arm. The one in his hand made his grip loose. Golden ichor now stained his jacket while the wounds on his arm had increased and more ichor travelled down the length of his javelin. Each swing was followed by a golden arc of ichor spraying everywhere as the weapon switched between attack and defence unceasingly.
The titan of strength persevered, with his enormous endurance he took another attack on his arm and brought his spear forward with precision. Artemis was caught unprepared as she retreated with her daggers but the spear was upon her in a second, smashing her back to the ground a dozen metres away and he turned to Zoe.
"Noo!" Zoe screamed and her face paled.
"I think it's time to fulfil the prophecy dear Zoe" Atlas snarled and lunged forward.
Percy could only watch in horror as once again the spear hit Zoe. Blood flowed as her body trembled, just like in his dream. Her bow fell from her hand and with but a flick of the spear her body flew back past the shocked Artemis and fell still upon the grass.
"Zoe!" Artemis shouted. The single moment of pleasure Atlas had derived from the pain he caused his daughter was his own downfall. Artemis was upon him with savage attacks, burying her daggers into his shoulders and tearing them free, spreading ichor into the air.
Artemis' sharp voice echoed in Percy's head, her tone was tinged with sadness and potent anger.
Artemis dashed forwards, jumping right over Atlas and released arrow after arrow towards Atlas' face. The titan of strength bellowed as he stumbled back and Artemis followed up with a severe kick in the stomach. Percy took the hit and was subsequently pushed from the enormous weight of the sky and it fell onto Atlas.
Groggily, Percy righted himself and pushed against the ground to stand. He stumbled, barely saving himself from falling and let his vision slowly restore. The painful groans of Atlas erupted near him and the earth trembled from the titan's shouts.
Quickly Percy's attention was diverted to the words of Artemis. The goddess leaned over the still form of Zoe while gently pressing her hand to her abdomen. A silver glow bloomed from her hands but blood continued to seep through her fingers making her tremble.
Percy grimaced and stumbled forward while biting his tongue. His blood burned in his mouth, filling it with the taste of warm iron. Failure was not something he could handle, for both Zoe and himself. If he accepted it, he knew the monster would consume him, it was waiting for the chance. Artemis couldn't save her but there must be some way, something. Just like Bianca, he had to save Zoe.
Instinctively Percy's hand fell upon Anaklusmos, almost as if it was calling to him. There was power in the sword, great power, power of immortality and the sea. The power of Zoe's mother and power which was rightfully Zoe's.
Was this her fate?
Percy didn't know anymore, and admittedly didn't care.
o - o - o - o - o
Artemis's hands gripped Zoe's abdomen, attempting to force the mangled flesh together to heal but the action seemed futile. Blood still seeped out between her glowing silver fingers as the light proved useless in healing the shredded stomach. Her blood soaked hand trailed to Zoe's face and brushed the hair aside, noting the evident wetness. Zoe's face shone and glittered amidst the star light as she perspired. A small trail of blood seeped from the corner of her lips as they fervently moved and Artemis attempted to wipe it away, only resulting in smearing a trail of blood across her cheek.
"Mila-" Zoe mouthed and seemed to pause to swallow her blood. Artemis's eyes trembled shut.
Knowing the fate of her friend was ending was entirely different to seeing it end, it was far worse. Among her hunters, Zoe was the oldest and more of a sister than a daughter though she hadn't been in the hunt as long as Phoebe. They had understood each other quite well but now the onyx eyes, as dark as the night when a new moon rose, listlessly stared to the sky and reflected the constellations. The scowl was gone, replaced by weak twitches as her eyes rolled around. In moments, perhaps they would vanish as her waning strength lost the will to keep her eyes open.
"Zoe" she whispered. Millions of memories passed through her mind of their travels together and their close friendship. But one was always the most important and the very beginning.
o - o - o - o - o
Artemis skipped across the grass, leaping over a pillar of rock and across a small waning creek to land softly on the sand without leaving a footprint. Her stride didn't break but only increased as she travelled farther west. The stag ahead leaped faster and faster but always ended up losing the distance it sought to keep.
The maritime pines thinned, letting the light of the moon shine through, sharpening Artemis' vision, and the barbary stag came in clear view. It was much smaller than its cousin red deer but suitably fast for her taste.
Artemis licked her dry lips as a perfect line of sight over a hundred metres appeared. With ease she continued to run while unslinging her bow from her back. An arrow quickly followed from her leather skin quiver which she deftly placed upon her string.
The creak of the bow sounded and the string strained. Finally she came to a full stop and her chiton shifted to a gentle halt as the headwind waned. Time appeared to stop, only continuing when the arrow was gone. A soft twang sounded and the arrow was true.
Fate did not fail Artemis, the hunt was exciting and evidently not over. A ridge came into view and the barbary stag leaped down, letting the arrow fly overhead and into a tree.
"Humph" Artemis intoned and once again leaped forward. The ridge appeared and she jumped a dozen metres forward, agilely landing upon the jagged rocks below to continue her chase. The stumbling clatter of the stag's hooves upon rock echoed and Artemis smirked.
Her bow was already drawn with an arrow notched. Instinct told her to wait and so she did. She was rewarded with a change in the wind. Her hair and chiton fluttered to the side as the wind brought about new scents and she adjusted her aim.
Her nose twitched briefly at the scent of a woman and her gaze turned to her left. The light of the moon served its purpose and she saw a lone girl digging up a plant by hand in a valley far in the distance.
Artemis withdrew her bow and placed the arrow in the quiver. The stag was long gone into the deep woods. Though she could catch it, she chose not to. Slinging her bow, she headed to her new curiosity. Each step brought her a dozen metres closer to the maiden until she paused behind an old worn pine. Branches appeared to be haphazardly cut off by a notably blunt knife. Even the bark had been shaved off, though in a poor fashion, presumably for a fire.
'Evidently not a hunter' she mused thoughtfully and stepped out from behind the tree. Her silver eyes dulled till she looked somewhat mortal.
A lone maiden was hunched over the ground, digging around a patch of flattened long grass. She wore a tattered white chiton smeared with dirt and grass which showed her weary body but something told Artemis the girl was more than a mortal. Sweat and a hint of blood entered Artemis' nose and she stepped forward with concern.
Only by her own volition did the grass creak out sounds from her foot which attracted the maiden's attention. The girl snapped around in a panic, quickly taking in her appearance and stumbling back onto her backside. Her onyx black eyes shook nervously before she realized it was a woman before her.
"Thou- Thou scared me" she stuttered out breathlessly.
Artemis' brow rose and her lips curled amusedly. "I did not intend to."
The girl nodded, and trembled as she stood up. Her chiton fell against her, clashing with her dark skin and showed the large tears along the sides and bottom. Made for easier movement from what Artemis could presume.
"Art thou a hunter?"
It was an innocent question, though laced with disbelief, and she clutched her worn, dirt covered dagger in her hand. A hint of hope shone in her eyes which peaked Artemis' curiosity.
"Can a maiden not be a hunter?" Artemis questioned indignantly. Her eyes lit with a teasing glance.
The maiden abruptly shook her head. "No- No… I was asking. Nothing more."
"If you must know I was hunting a barbary stag when I caught wind of you" Artemis said and her lips curled. "Subsequently it got away."
"I'm sorry…" The maiden mumbled before confusion took its place.
"It is also called an Atlas deer" Artemis added to assuage the maiden's confusion. Her dark silver eyes glinted at the tremble that ran through the girl.
The maiden's lips folded as she bit upon them and she gripped her dagger a little tighter. "Is something the matter?"
"No" The maiden hastily said. "Thou can have some of my herbs."
The maiden grasped her dirt covered bag and held it open to grab a handful. Most were mustard plants among others, though none were incredibly poisonous, only two were edible in large amounts. Artemis trailed behind the girl to the half dug up plant.
'Goosefoot' she noted curiously. The girl before her was obviously a novice. "Do you eat it raw?"
The maiden clutched the plants and nodded.
"Boil them first" Artemis said and stepped forward. Her hand picked out the inedible plants and tossed them aside. "The rest are somewhat poisonous and have poor benefits."
Artemis studied her for another moment and shook her head. "Your pack, where is it? And your camp?"
"I have none" the maiden admitted reluctantly.
"And you expect to survive. There are fierce monsters about" Artemis chastised. The maiden was a real novice, but she had courage amidst her foolishness. "What is it that brought you to these parts?"
The maiden hesitated, looking somewhat troubled. "Dost thou know where I can find Lady Artemis?"
Artemis lips curled bemusedly as she took a seat. 'She is before you.' "First one must know where they are to seek a goddess."
"I- I don't know." The maiden hesitated enough for her to know it was a lie, out of fear or shame or perhaps even untoward motives was another question.
"You are west of the Atlas mountain range" Artemis supplied. Again a tremble ran through her body which she attempted to suppress but it was easily caught by the moon goddess.
The girl shook her head fervently. 'Another lie?' Artemis contemplated it slowly but held her judgement. "South of the pillar of 'Heracles'" she ground out. The name of that male poisoned her tongue more than enough for her liking but unfortunately it was the common name for the island now.
The maiden's dagger shook as she held her breath. Her eyes fluttered open and closed a dozen times as she tried to control herself but not nearly well enough. A budding hatred burned in the onyx eyes which assuaged Artemis' thoughts and her own anger grew in turn. The girl was betrayed by Heracles evidently but to travel on her own was too much to ask for a novice. The only thing a few days from here was the Garden of the Hesperides.
Artemis paused and gazed intently at the black eyes, noting the similarities in her mind to another and piecing together the reactions she saw. The girl before her was not immortal but her scent was not quite demigod either. Evidently she was cast out from her home. "You are far away from home daughter of Atlas."
"I-" The girl gasped and stepped back fearfully. She looked terrified and confused. If anything she was naive despite the fact that she may be as old as Artemis herself.
"Did Heracles betray you?" Artemis pressed sharply.
The maiden hesitantly nodded.
Artemis tilted her head, eyeing the girl. Her mind focused on the aspects and took them favourably. For a novice to survive a few days in the wild was quite a feat. A worthy feat for her hunt. "What is your name?"
"Zoe… Nightshade." Zoe gazed to the ground shamefully. "I am- I was a Hesperide."
"Cast out by your family" Artemis grimaced thoughtfully. She had already pictured everything and knew her thoughts were correct. "And you seek the goddess Artemis to join her hunt?"
"I hoped Lady Artemis would…" Zoe murmured.
Artemis smirked openly. "It is not your decision whether the goddess accepts you. Your father does not matter in her eyes. Only the worthy can join but she sees you favourably already."
Zoe's gaze travelled up looking thoroughly perplexed.
Artemis stood and took a dagger from her waist and held it forward. In the moment her gaze left the maiden, her eyes returned to their natural bright silver colour. "I Artemis, ask you if you wish to join my hunt."
Astonishment found itself on Zoe's face and she froze from the shock.
"Well, do you accept?" Artemis teased.
o - o - o - o - o
Artemis never would have thought the young girl she found would become her closest friend and her greatest hunter. She blinked the tears away and her vision cleared to face her frail best friend. At the moment words failed to describe the depth of their relationship.
"Milady…" Zoe struggled. Her blood smeared lips finally parted and red ichor dripped out, exacerbating her flickering life. "Have I served thee well?" Her voice was barely a whisper among the coughs and a tear escaped her eye.
Artemis nodded as tears pooled in her own eyes. "Yes… one of my finest" she said hoarsely.
Zoe smiled slightly, her expressions became less pronounced along with her paling face but a profound moment of peace overcame her. Her eyes lost the life filled spark and gazed at the sky once again, letting the stars dance upon her onyx eyes that had lost their sheen. "I- I can see the stars milady."
Those painful tears finally gained freedom and fell down Artemis' cheeks. "Yes, my brave one. They are beautiful tonight."
A dark shadow cast over Zoe as Percy came kneeling before her. With his sword in hand he swayed with each movement, weak from holding the sky. A notable few strands of white hair now graced his features and briefly caught Artemis' eyes. Artemis glared at him but Zoe shuddered beneath her and her gaze returned to her lieutenant. Zoe was leaving her and nothing was more important.
"Zoe" Percy whispered weakly. Sweat beaded on his forehead and his body trembled as it tilted slightly to the side and his mouth twisted in pain.
"Percy?" Zoe hissed, gurgling up blood as she tried to force a smile. Her breaths quickly became ragged but as she forced out each word. "I was… no… I am… I am honoured to see thou carry my sword."
"This sword?" Percy mused as he held the blade while his eyes looked lost to the world.
"I have carried it for a long time but it was never mine." Percy grinned mockingly, his eyes looked tired and weak as if their last moment was nigh. "I told you I would give it to someone who was worthy and there is no one better than its owner."
Artemis watched in shock as the sea green eyes shined and a gold rim appeared around his pupils like an eclipse. Percy's pupils sparked to life as the sea green followed suit soon after and the two colours raged for dominance in a struggle for power. Slowly the gold encroached upon the sea green, appearing to devour it, and Percy's eyes shown in ageless wisdom and dangerous power but still weak as a candle flickering in the wind.
The sword? Artemis' eyes flickered to the glittering blade.
The sword in Percy's hand shone with bronze brilliance before returning back to a hairclip which then disappeared completely into his clutched right hand. His left hand meandered in the air in a dangerously familiar fashion to Artemis but eventually it fell upon her hand and gripped it tightly.
Artemis' eyes widened at the gesture but stopped when she saw Percy's eyes glow brighter as he weakly stared at her expressing a silent plea. The golden eyes seemed to suck her in, not only herself but her own power felt drawn towards it. The sudden heat Artemis felt in her hand grew to excruciating levels but the energy that flowed from it was enormous and all of it was directed to healing.
"Your immortal power, it always belonged to you. I'm just giving it back" Percy chuckled with a weak smile.
Artemis watched the weak eyes grow hazy and his hand raised just in time to stop the blood he coughed from falling on Zoe. More blood began dripping from Percy's nose and eyes, boiling under the heat and his eyes quickly began to lose focus and violent trembles wracked his limbs.
"Boy?" Artemis asked in shock.
Zoe's chest abruptly shuddered and rose like the breath of life had just been forced into her. The blood on Artemis' hand stopped flowing and made its way back into Zoe of its own volition. Within moments Zoe's complexion quickly recovered and her eyes gained life which soon morphed into complete surprise, followed closely by horror as she noticed Percy's sickening appearance.
Percy?!" Zoe shouted, grimacing in pain. She supported her body with her arms and threw off Artemis' hand.
"A promise like this…" he groaned weakly.
Percy's eyes had long since lost their golden glow and returned to the sea green but the vibrancy was lost to a dull colour. The pupils themselves quickly glazed over as he collapsed to the side. The blood seeping out of his orifices bubbled against his skin and dried a dark inky black.
"Zoe?" Artemis questioned disbelievingly. Just moments before she was watching her friend die, and now here was her lieutenant alive and energetic. Her hunter's gaze travelled over her in panic before it frantically studied Percy.
"Milady! Percy! Please help him" Zoe stuttered worriedly.
Reluctantly Artemis stood and went over to Percy to check for injuries, not even bothering to develop thoughts in her daze. His body lay unmoving like last time and his skin quickly turned an angry red. His temperature was through the roof so to speak but not at levels like the last time.
Carefully Artemis began to heal Percy but she wasn't really sure of what to heal except from wherever the blood came from. It appeared to be nothing more than a dangerously high fever but the blood spoke of something far worse. His skin burned, but now she garnered it was like something was pulsating inside of him, seeking to break free. It was a volatile energy of some sort but strangely familiar though unplaceable. It wasn't the sword alone.
Zoe soon shifted beside her, looking like she hadn't fought at all. Her onyx eyes worriedly prodded Percy with a notably lacking amount of distaste. "Will he be alright milady?" she stuttered in a panic ridden tone.
Artemis studied her lieutenant closely, finding the change odd. Zoe was worried about a male that a week ago she wanted to kill.
Zoe noticed and gave a small endearing smile. "He is still a male… but I find him a far better person than the others I have met."
Artemis nodded her head grudgingly. "He will be fine but…" Whatever had happened before was unnatural and surprisingly she answered her friend honestly. "I am troubled with whether I should let him die or not…"
Zoe looked at her with a slight pleading look.
"He is definitely reliable but his habits are displeasing" Artemis hissed. A frown marred her face as she remembered him touching her on the butt, her cheeks warmed considerably at the memory. No demigod had the gall to harass a goddess such as herself. That was not even addressing what just happened.
Zoe grimaced as she shared that thought.
Artemis caught it and glared at the boy in front of her. A jackalope demigod was a very appealing idea, perhaps she could even leave him here to get killed by Ladon. "Has he harassed you as well?" Artemis hissed.
Zoe hesitated but it was enough to tell Artemis something happened. "Not after-"
"Hey is Percy okay?" Thalia asked behind them. The daughter of Zeus sluggishly supported Bianca with her shoulder as she forced herself forward. Her eyes quickly fell to Percy's limp form and moved more fervently.
Artemis sighed, pushing aside the thoughts of jackalopes to address the gathering demigods. Fate had been overturned, nothing could be done about it now. "Yes, he seems fine but I don't know what's wrong."
Bianca looked curiously at the boy without worry. "He looks the same as when he was in the desert."
Zoe and Thalia both nodded their heads in agreement.
Artemis frowned as she studied Percy closely, regardless she found little to discern the cause. "This has happened again?"
Zoe nodded sharply. "In the desert, we were attacked by a Talos in the junkyard of the gods."
Artemis winced shamefully. The words of Atlas once again rung in her mind. "Which hunter died?"
Bianca laughed with a happy smile. "Nobody, the Talos was destroyed by Percy, he made a cliff and the thing fell down it."
"Nobody died on the quest?" Artemis whispered in surprise. Whether it was a good thing or a bad thing was undecided. Rarely does fate change but only at the interference of an immortal privy to such sight. Perhaps the death was never meant to be, or it was misconstrued by Atlas. Artemis eyes briefly glanced to Percy suspiciously before returning to her lieutenant.
Zoe shook her head with a rare half-smile.
"Then where is the fifth member of the quest?" she asked quickly.
"The satyr Grover went with the Ophiotaurus to camp half-blood" Zoe answered.
Artemis blinked and shook her head bitterly. She had failed to kill the monster she had been hunting, in fact she had been outdone by demigods as a goddess of hunting. "You found it?"
Zoe grimaced as she shared her sentiments. "Yes… Percy knew about it the entire time, he said he saved it and only after did he find out what it was."
Artemis groaned, the boy was far too perceptive for his own good. "He is still a male." She whispered to herself. It was more to boost her damaged pride.
"Can we go soon, we tried to delay the monsters but they will be here in a few minutes" Thalia warned.
Artemis gazed at the far edge near the fortress and nodded. The monsters climbing up the mountain would be here any moment. Her hand grasped the horn at her hip and brought it to her lips. The sound travelled down the mountain and valleys, clashing delightfully with the cries of anger from Atlas.
Snapping her fingers, an unconscious Annabeth appeared beside her.
"Annabeth!" Thalia shouted as she dropped to her knees and took Bianca with her.
"She will be fine" Artemis said. "She is tired from holding the sky."
Thalia nodded in relief.
Artemis gazed at the sky and took pleasure as she saw her chariot come. The moon brightened and shone down upon them, shining at her freedom. The groans of Atlas completed the scene. She was leaving this place and she never wanted to come here again.
Well it's nice to close up that part of the quest, or almost. And I will say, my knowledge of ecology about Greece is pretty much non-existant so I probably made some mistakes here.
Atleast I finished more than 100k words. I figure If i reach 1million, maybe I'll achieve a quality story like Reversed Life.