[A/N] So then, what's up with this? Well, to celebrate the near completion of Broken Bow 3, I've decided to take heed of Theia's firm but, more importantly, fair words and therefore, I ask you to give thanks to the sublimely magnificent Shrrgnien who actually succeeded in doing the near impossible and completing a full on beta of this story. So give kudos to Shrrgnien for her beta work and thanks to Theia for the banner she made for this fic (see my profile for the link and make sure you leave a comment for her great work). So what's the point of this reupload? Well think of it as a remastering, but not in a bad, George Lucasy sort of way. On an unrelated note, the part of King Midas will be played by Hayden Christensen.
Standard rules apply for perspectives:
-A- First Person
-3- Third Person
Chapter 1: Assault on the Hunt
On a cold winter's night, a red Camero hovered silently in the midnight blue sky, lights dimmed as its occupant carefully eyed the world below him.
Apollo was not in a good mood. This was surprising, all factors considered. After all, here he was; dressed in one of his favourite formal white suits (which he wore when needing to charm a particular kind of classy girl) out on a simply beautiful night and possibly needing to go see a group of pretty, lithe young ladies.
If anything you'd think the sun god would have quite the spring in his step, a song in his heart and a haiku on his lips. But no, anyone who did happen across the lord of music on this night would not be treated to his usual jovial flirtation; instead, they may quite easily have been reduced to cinders by the burning intensity of his glare.
In case you haven't guessed by now, this was one of the very few occasions where Apollo was not in the mood to play as he hovered above the forest in his chariot, muttering numerous Greek curses while scanning the greenery below him. It wasn't easy; after all, night driving really wasn't his thing.
He was close. Apollo could sense him moving in the forest below, his link tugging the sun god in his general direction, but it wasn't easy. The forest was most certainly not his domain, especially tonight of all nights of the month, when the full moon was brilliant in its intensity, dampening Apollo's imprint and enhancing the other side of his quarry's makeup with its power and making him even harder to track.
He gritted his perfect teeth. He was not one for tracking, nor was he one for the woods, nor was he about to be caught digging around in the undergrowth looking for his objective.
He exhaled a superheated breath. Apollo knew it was risky to allow him to remain in the city. His condo was far too close to the forests on the outskirts, and with the moon being full and also with… her being so close, he knew the call would be almost impossible for him to resist.
And yet, the god of poetry just had to go out chasing his latest booty call, leaving his charge unsupervised. Needless to say it was hard for a god to admit a situation was entirely their fault. And Apollo was damned if he was going to let one little moment of weakness ruin a project he had been painstakingly maintaining for over a decade now. Not even a project that seemed as hell-bent on self-destruction as this one.
His eyes trained to a spot in the distance. He could feel her there. Well, he could always feel her wherever she usually was (unless of course if she were currently supporting the sky in place of a rampaging Titan. At times like that she kind of fell off the radar.) What kind of doting, tender and loving big brother didn't always know where his beloved baby sister was at all times?
After a moment he realized if he couldn't head him off at the pass he could at least buy some time and do a bit of damage control until he caught up with the little runaway. If he didn't, well, the kid was as good as dead. His precious little sister never really was fond of party crashers…
He floored the accelerator on his chariot and sped off towards the clearing where a steady column of campfire smoke rose.
He was sure his twin would be thrilled to see him…
The pain was coming… I could feel its harbinger, a deceptive tingle running up my side, outlining where it would swallow me up from this time. All I could do was keep running…
The moon was overhead, it's light singing the call of wild nature in my skull, drawing me into the hunt. If the pain was coming I would drown myself in my instinct; in a vain hope that it would make me only detachedly aware of what was about to happen.
I knew doing what I was doing, the hunt, would only hasten the oncoming of the pain and make it worse when it finally did arrive. The best I could hope for was that I would make the pain so intense this time that the shock would make me black out instantaneously. I smirked humorlessly at my almost masochistic thoughts.
Close… Bearing down… KEEP RUNNING.
My instincts screamed. My prey was no doubt doing its best to stalk me silently as it ran but I could feel it; the surrounding nature was cringing back from its mere presence. In fact, I'd noticed the predator hiding in the forest before it had even noticed me. I don't know why, but my scent must have been particularly appetizing, as it had begun stalking me almost as soon as it caught wind of me as I passed.
Whatever it was it was big, as big as a bear if not larger. And it was fast, even by my standards, and for me the world was always a blur when I passed through the woods, as if they were ferrying me through them by their own intent. Rather annoying sometimes really, going for a stroll in the forest, losing my focus and ending up miles off course. I racked up a lot of bus fares that way. But whatever it was I could feel it catching up to me and I knew that unless I kept up my lead I wouldn't even have to worry about the upcoming pain. In fact I wouldn't have to worry about much of anything ever again.
I focused and put on a rush of speed, allowing my instincts guide me as the song drove me faster and strangely, I felt myself suddenly altering course as if urged by some tug or force. The song was getting stronger, putting an extra spring in my step and causing me to speed up even more as I felt myself being pulled towards the invisible force like water being dragged down a plughole. I was pulling away from my pursuer in an almost rapturous burst of power. So much so that for a second I forgot my usual self-loathing and the impending pain and dwelled in the sheer intensity of the call.
This time my instinct was telling me something different than what I was actually feeling, which was odd considering they were supposed to be one and the same. My brow furrowed in confusion at the conflict inside me. My gut was telling me something was wrong, and if I were in a right frame of mind I may have listened, stopped and made my stand here. But I was too far gone, and even then there was an edge of danger to those other instincts, telling me whatever I was running to may be even more dangerous than what I was running from. But it didn't matter to me one way or the other. If anything it made it all the more thrilling.
My gut churned harder and for a second worry flashed on my face when I noticed light up ahead; a clearing. A small smirk twitched on my face, alright, I'll stop, it's time for an ambush anyway. I focused on myself, a familiar tugging sensation in my abdomen... I needed my bow.
The Goddess of the Hunt was not thrilled to see her twin.
In fact she had been in quite a jovial mood, as she often was when she and her Hunters celebrated on the full moon. This, however instantly evaporated when she caught sight of her brother's chariot skidding into a landing in the center of the clearing. The snow that had lightly covered the ground around it melted instantly and the grass beneath turned yellow, then burst into flames.
The mood died instantly and silence fell as the Sun God emerged. The light-hearted looks of content on the faces of the Hunters instantly took on one of guarded scorning. None actually voiced their feelings, of course. Apollo was, after all, a god, and it wasn't wise to intentionally ridicule one, so they fell into silent contempt of the deity who had interrupted them. The actual scorning would be left to their mistress.
Artemis, however, noticed something somewhat odd in her brother's demeanor. The first thing she registered as amiss was the fact that he hadn't even spared a look towards her Hunters; not even acknowledged that he knew they were there. Not so much as a kissy face or sultry glance. His eyes were burning directly into her and her alone. Secondly, judging by the look in his eyes, either the Titans were back again or the mortals were planning to blow up the moon. It wouldn't surprise her if they tried. When he finally approached her and stopped, his tone of voice and the heated aura he was emitting confirmed something was genuinely off with her twin tonight.
"I would speak with you, sister" The sun god stated in a level tone. Without another word he walked past her into an enclosed part of the clearing.
Artemis was taken aback by her brother's odd behavior and uncharacteristic formality, and so she followed behind with a curious frown on her face. She raised a hand as soon as Thalia began to follow her, halting her on the spot; she had a feeling her brother wished to talk in private, and frankly the less interaction he had with her Hunters the better.
"Well Apollo, what is it that demands such a rude interruption? You should know fair well this is one night of the month we wish to be alone," she demanded sternly of her brother, who currently had his back to her, his blonde hair glinting in the moonlight as he stared into the forest. He was silent for a moment, then spoke.
"I came to request a favor of you tonight, Artemis." he said, not turning about.
Artemis raised one perfectly formed eyebrow, "Really brother? And what is this request, so I may take swift pleasure in scorning it and return to my Hunters quickly?"
Apollo turned around, the pupils of his eyes ablaze with angry light, "I am not here because I want to be!" he snapped, the ground around him singeing from the sudden heat.
Artemis' eyes narrowed. Her brother's attitude was most curious tonight. "Very well, Apollo, I will listen."
"I simply need you to promise me something. No, I need you to swear something to me."
"You are being even more impertinent than usual, but I'm still listening."
Apollo clenched his teeth. Considering he was the god of poetry, he wasn't very good at phrasing his words. "There is something about in these woods tonight."
"A beast?" she enquired in an almost amused tone. "You feel the need to warn me of such a trifle?"
Apollo shook his head, "No, not a beast. A…hunter."
Artemis' frown deepened, "Mortal? You know what I do to mortals who dare try to witness my hunt, no exceptions," she reminded him sternly.
"The hunter may not even happen across you, but if this person does, I need you to swear to me: no killing, no maiming and no transformations. I just need you to keep that hunter busy until I get back."
Artemis smirked disdainfully. "And why, brother, should I agree to such an outrageous proposal?"
Apollo sighed dejectedly, "Though I cannot say why, I will swear, on the River Styx itself, that it is of the utmost importance for both your sake and for the hunter I speak of that you allow no harm to befall that person." Thunder boomed overhead at his words.
Artemis was taken further aback at the sudden oath her brother had made, as even he knew the seriousness of doing such a thing. Either he was telling the truth, or he at least believed he was. "Why? What is so special about this person?"
"Just swear to me sister, I beg you," he said quietly, the difficulty of making the request clear in his voice.
The goddess' eyes burned into her brother's for a moment in silence, and then she made her decision. "Very well."
The sun god breathed a sigh of relief, "Thank you, Artemis. Now do you swear, on the River Styx, that the next hunter who may or may not happen upon you and your camp tonight will come to no harm from you or your Hunters-in fact, they may not even touch this person- and that you yourself will not kill, maim, mutilate or transform this person. Also, that you will keep this person occupied in whatever way you deem fit until my return and not permit that person to escape under any circumstances?"
"What do you mean, 'your return'?"
"I must keep looking elsewhere; as I said, there is only a chance the hunter may come across you. I suppose I could just wait here to see if this person shows up or not, but then I'd have to wait with you and your friends all night long." He added the last part with his usual playful smirk.
Artemis scowled, "I would prefer the oath, but how can you be sure when you will need to return?"
The sun god looked almost sad for a second. "If the hunter comes, I'll be able to tell if I need to come back. Trust me, I'll know. Now then, do you swear upon the conditions I have laid down?"
She hesitated for a second, and then spoke. "On the River Styx, I swear it" she said in a level tone, thunder rumbling directly above, signaling the pact.
Apollo frowned as he glanced up, "You ever get the feeling we're a little ostentatious?"
The huntress sighed, "If there's nothing else, Apollo-"
Apollo looked far more relaxed, "Of course not sissy, I'll be making tracks right away." he said lightly as he turned to walk back to his chariot.
"Wait," she began sharply, bringing her twin to a halt. "This 'Hunter', is it a man?" she enquired, the last word laced with her usual venom.
Apollo paused as if thinking. "Hmm…no. Not a man. If anything, this hunter reminds me very much of yourself," he said and continued walking off, laughing silently under his breath.
Artemis remained on the spot for a second, her silver eyes burning into her brother's back, suspicions flooding through her. She followed a second later, choosing not to dwell on what she currently had no control over. The only thing she could be sure of is that her brother was hiding something from her.
Apollo stopped only to blow a kiss to Thalia. The girl merely glared back angrily in response, thankful she was almost totally immune to the sun god's charms now... almost. Without another word he boarded his chariot and sped off into the night sky, leaving a scorched patch of earth behind in his wake.
Thalia approached her mistress uncertainly, "Lady Artemis?" she enquired to her goddess who had walked back into the clearing, and was now staring after her brother with an unreadable expression on her face.
Artemis didn't take her eyes off the sky when she spoke, deep in thought, "Thalia, spread the word to your sisters; the next person who enters this clearing, no matter who it may be, will not be harmed, nor will you or the others touch, attempt to restrain or fight that person. Should someone come I will handle the situation myself."
Thalia stared at the small goddess in bewilderment. As if reading her emotions (and in fact, she was), Artemis' head tilted round to regard her lieutenant out of the corner of her eye. She didn't say anything but her meaning was clear. Thalia immediately snapped out of her confusion, "Right away, Lady Artemis," she said and turned to pass the command to the others whilst Artemis continued her skyward vigil, her thoughts full of suspicion aimed at her brother…and something else, something nagging on the edge of her perception that she couldn't quite put her divine finger on…
Her calm focus was shattered a few moments later when something large exploded out of the undergrowth across the clearing.
Still had to keep running. Wasn't time to stop and think but I knew I had to get in position as soon as possible. I had to be ready for it.
I saw the glint of silver light in the corner of my eye as it formed around my hand. I closed my left fist around the ball of light, causing it to instantly shape itself into my bow.
I spied a rock semi-concealed under a hedge up ahead and immediately got placed my right foot on it to get some leverage, thrusting myself into the air and turning round to land facing the undergrowth... and my concealed prey.
I had landed as well as could be expected, sliding back a few feet in the snow covered grass. I immediately nocked the two silver arrows I had already formed earlier and loosed them into the darkness.
I paused, listening. The only sound that responded a second later were two simultaneous thunks as the two arrows embedded harmlessly in a tree.
I gritted my teeth in frustration and jammed my bow into the earth next to me, not taking my eyes off the forest as I unsheathed the bronze sword strapped sideways across my lower back and stood ready... I could see it now; rising up out of the darkness. Obviously its wits weren't as dull as I'd first thought. Blood red eyes could be seen glistening in the moonlight, regarding me hungrily from the darkness.
I'd lost its scent, my senses were currently being assaulted by smells of burning firewood, cooking venison and… people, a slightly soaped scent mixed with natural oils. If my focus wasn't dead ahead I would've rolled my eyes;
But first things first; it seemed to be hesitating, as if wary of attacking me for some reason now that I was in the clearing.
Still a ranged target.
Slowly, very slowly, my left hand drifted to grip my bow again. This proved to be a mistake. The instant my arm extended the silhouette tensed and, with speed I found I could only feel sheer awe at, lurched forward and free of the greenery and was in the air in front me. It seemed to hang there suspended and I finally got a good look at my opponent.
It had leapt directly for my slightly extended left arm, its huge canine bulk spinning me once and slamming me flat on my back.
It fell on me, and immediately I felt the creature's crushing weight pushing down, forcing the air from my lungs. I flipped my sword up to guard just as a razor sharp claw descended to try and rake my chest open. I managed to grip the hilt with both hands to try and hold the paw away. It pushed hard, my own sword was being tilted back and pushed into the skin of my arm and I was idly aware of the bronze blade digging into my skin.
I slammed my knee up under the hilt guard and pushed the blade upwards into the beasts paw. Thankfully the creature seemed far more upset at the prospect of having sharpened bronze digging into its skin than I did, because as soon as I saw a small spray of dust erupt from where it was forcing itself down, the monster reared back with a howl of pain.
I had a split second to act before it came down on me again to finish me off. I swung my sword up, point aimed at the hound's soft furry underbelly, and with one hand on the pommel I placed a foot under each side of the hilt guard. Without even looking the beast lunged forward with an enraged roar and effectively threw itself straight onto my upturned blade.
The roar died and was effectively swallowed back down its throat as the creature felt the tip of the blade pierce it's chest. It fell silent and then let out an almost comedic squeak as I thrust my feet forward, driving my sword into its heart.
The hound exploded into a satisfying shower of golden powder, leaving me laying on my back, breathless, slightly bloodied, and coated in dog-dust. Needless to say I fought the urge to gasp for breath until I was sure I wouldn't be inhaling copious amounts of my fallen prey.
I spared my foe a moment's thought as I dragged myself to my feet, trying to fix my disheveled appearance slightly in the process.
Not bad. Thankfully wasn't a big one, must have been another leftover from the- BEHIND!
My eyes widened as I realized how tense I still was. I had bested my enemy but for some reason every hair on my neck still stood on end; raw animosity was in the air. Something wanted me dead… no… a lot of somethings wanted me dead, and I had a sinking suspicion I was now surrounded by a large group of them. That was when I heard her voice, laced with indignation, superiority and overwhelming contempt…
Artemis' head whipped around the instant she sensed the undergrowth being disturbed. Before she had even finished reorienting the rest of her body towards the disturbance, her Hunters had drawn their blades and bows and were readying to attack. They obeyed her orders well and held their fire, however. She idly observed the shadow erupt from the darkness, turning and landing to face the way it had came with reasonable grace. That was when she noticed two things that made her less than amused:
Not a man, she recalled her brother say. "A boy" she hissed under her breath. She was going to make Apollo pay for this.
Second was the weapon the child was wielding with ease of skill that usually came from years of practice; a bow, a silver bow. Normally this wouldn't have given her even remote pause, but it was the shape and the intricate ancient Greek carvings which were almost identical to her own bow that stunned her. That is, the bow her father had granted to her as one of her wishes when she was six years old. How a child could've attained such a perfect replica eluded her, but the indignation of a boy wielding the symbol of something so precious to her angered the goddess greatly.
She calmed herself enough to regard the child from behind and also to analyze the mental image she had taken when he had emerged from the woods: mid teens, about fifteen or sixteen perhaps; not particularly tall, standing less than 5 foot 3; unkempt neck-long caramel hair; sharp features with a pair of piercing grey… no, not grey… silver eyes; he had the frame of someone not unfamiliar with the hunt, small and compact but slightly muscular, and was garbed in an oddly traditionally styled dark-green-and-brown hunter's tunic designed clearly more for ease of movement than comfort. Judging by the small pack hanging from his shoulder he wasn't intending to be on the hunt for any prolonged amount of time. She also found it odd that for someone who carried a bow he had no quiver and the only arrows he had were the two in his right hand. The only other weapon he seemed to have was the single-handed sword on his back.
She looked past him into the undergrowth at what was approaching. Hellhound, slightly less than average size. She was bound by the oath not to destroy the vermin that had infested her camp, but she was not however required to stop anything else from killing him.
She observed as the child fired two arrows into the undergrowth, but the creature had halted once the boy had entered the clearing and lowered itself down out of caution. She wondered if perhaps it had sensed the presence of her and the Hunters. However, had it still been going as it had when the boy leapt into the clearing then the arrows clearly would've pierced it clear in the skull and at the base of its throat. His aim was true, this much she would hand him, but a little late.
She did another double-take when she spied the unmistakable glint of the celestial bronze blade he drew. She then noticed his hesitation between blade and bow. It was understandable, as both would've been acceptable in this instance.
However, at a time when the balance between hunter and prey was at such an impasse, any hunter should know they don't have the time to hesitate. And so the goddess wasn't surprised and didn't react as the hound leapt out of the bushes and pinned the boy down. Luckily for him his reactions were enough to defend with his sword.
She idly wondered if she would stop the beast before it managed to rake the child's flesh from his bones. She wasn't as unsympathetic as most thought and she could clearly sense Thalia's barely contained urge to stop the beast, even if it was for the sake of a boy. But the lady of the hunt didn't move; she knew it wasn't over, as much as part of her wanted the male annoyance removed. She watched as the boy repelled and quickly impaled the Hound, dispatching the threat.
Curious, she didn't feel quite as frustrated at the outcome of the boy's survival as she first thought she would.
Artemis observed her Hunters immediately shift the aim of their bows from where the hound had been to the back of the newcomer; their arrows half drawn and the others with knives unsheathed. They would follow her orders not to attack, as much as they wished to do otherwise. But that didn't mean, of course, that they couldn't take on an appropriately offensive posture.
And as for the child, well, as Apollo said: keep him occupied in any way you see fit. A merciless smirk twitched at the corner of her mouth. She didn't need to transform the boy into a rodent in order to discipline him appropriately.
However, it would be fitting that since, due to his posture, he had clearly sensed their presence, he would at least turn and face them.
She observed as he idly dabbed the cut in his arm from where his sword had been pushed into his arm. That alone raised an important point; the celestial bronze had cut him and that could mean only one thing: Not a mortal…a half-blood.
His archery skills befitted an Apollo child but his combat instinct marked him apart, plus his appearance differed in several distinctive ways. So that begged the question: who was his Olympian parent then?
Her impatience won over in the end and she decided that the intruder had had enough time to smooth himself down and now this male would explain himself. Plus she could sense her Hunters practically begging her with their eyes to do something about him.
"Boy!" she barked. She noticed his shoulders tense, not in shock, but as if he had sensed the loathing and scorn in her voice and didn't especially like it. If anything he seemed to find it so familiar in his mind that it enraged him slightly. Everything else in his head seemed puzzling to her, as if he were intentionally keeping it blank.
He turned around, not sheathing his sword, but hooking his bow over a shoulder, and once he had completed his 180 turn planted his feet firmly in the ground and without answering immediately began scanning the area.
Artemis knew a threat assessment when she saw one, so she gave the boy a moment, watching as his silver eyes darted about the clearing. They flicked from Hunter to Hunter, weapon to weapon, scanning for exits, searching for the biggest threat. Part of her even empathized with what he was doing. After all, it was what she would do; find the biggest threat. She was pleased the boy was having a hard time choosing just who out of her Hunters was the biggest threat, although she noticed his eyes would dart back to Thalia every now and then; a smart move, he was doing well. Now all he had to do was clock it. It seemed, however, that something within him was trying to stop him from registering her presence, like some deep-rooted fear, and it was only after he appeared to force himself to face her that his now almost fearful silver eyes met hers across the clearing and his assessment stopped dead.
There you go, boy…
Artemis smirked. Time to begin…
Find the biggest threat; the alpha of the group.
There were several imposing girls amongst them. Oddly enough the only one who didn't look at me like I was something she had stood in (although was still looking very disapproving at my presence) was coming across to me as one of the main threats. I wasn't sure if it was the fire in her eyes or the strange scent of ozone she was emitting but I felt I had to keep my eye on her. There were several more physically imposing ones but I dismissed most of those and their glares as mere posturing.
But this wasn't an issue of three or four posturing girls, there had to be nearly two dozen of them, and they had totally encircled the entire clearing. I figured at best I could take maybe five (assuming I avoided the aforementioned girl with the silver circlet on her head and the ozone smell) before I was transformed into a pincushion by their bows.
None. All points taken, they had even covered my point of entry. But what about-
No, not that way, keep looking, there has to be… But it was such a huge gap in their defense and I could see only one person-
Not that way!
I shook my head to clear it. My gut was screaming at me to avoid what would normally be an obvious escape route. I gritted my teeth. Logically it was the only way out, and so with great difficulty forced my instincts down. Slowly I creaked my head round, followed by my entire body, to find out just exactly why I was so afraid. And I immediately found out…
And there it is: biggest threat.
There she was, alone, a gap of several feet between her and the other girls. Standing calmly and at this point, not even armed. Her bronze sword was embedded in the earth but not out of reach of her hand. There was a quiver of arrows by her left leg, but strangely I couldn't spy a bow, strung or otherwise.
Something told me that that wouldn't stop her. It didn't stop me, after all.
I had tried my best to avoid them, trying to simply categorize her based on size and stature, which wasn't too bad. She was short; not reaching five foot, barely into adolescence but with the nimble trim figure of an acrobat. Logic told me it should be child's play to bat her aside and be out of here in a flash. And then… I saw her eyes, and they told me everything. And for a second I had to focus to prevent my knees buckling and resist the urge to drop before her in reverence. I shook my head and practically swallowed the sensation down with disgust.
But there they were; silver orbs boring into me across the common. In them I saw everything my gut was telling me, as if she were intentionally projecting these feelings with them: fear and exultation; the rush of the hunt; the instant of the kill frozen in time; loathing; twisted amusement.
I dug my feet deeper in the snow and inhaled a deep calming breath. I knew I should blank my head and just relax. Unfortunately, that would mean I would have to rely on instinct, and that instinct would lead me right back to her.
Logic it is.
Negotiate… Or a surprise attack?
"I think you will find both of those options exceedingly difficult." Her voice spoke up suddenly. It was smooth and infinitely calm.
Wait… How did she… Did she just-
"Yes, I did."
Telepathy… The imposing presence… Just like Apollo... But that would mean she's an... Ah crud.
"So you're the hunter Apollo spoke of. Tell me; what name do you go by, boy?" she enquired, her tone superior and dripping with undisguised disrespect.
"Apollo" I muttered out loud and began pacing slightly, mumbling that name over and over under my breath, "Apollo, Apollo, Apollo…"
I had ignored the girl's question and her scorning tone. I felt my fist clench at that name. Always Apollo, always there when I don't want him. I had spent most of my time living alone after Apollo adopted me when I was five (or after 'the messy bit,' as he called it). From there he had me tutored at home. Turning up when it amused him most (or as he would put it 'when your uncle Apollo is needed most'). This usually coincided with the times when the more attractive of my tutors were in. This also provoked a strange feeling of deep-seated disapproval I could never quite place. I will admit there were times he showed up when I needed him but it was mostly just this; manipulating my life. Keeping me like a nice housetrained pet in his little cage, and when I did escape he was always there, lurking somewhere in the shadows, manipulating the events so I would always end up running right back into his clutches.
"Always Apollo!" I hissed. I felt an irrational rage build up inside of me and for a second I felt my fear of the impending pain and the fear of this situation simply disappear.
"So, you are acquainted with Apollo, are you?" I heard her enquire, seemingly having accepted I wasn't about to answer her previous query.
"Am I acquainted with Apollo? Pah!" I inclined my head angrily and scoffed mirthlessly at the question.
"Boy!" She snapped again, and I'm not sure if it was her tone of voice or my rage at Apollo, but I snapped and redirected my anger at her, as for some reason I was deeply angry at this girl as well and for the life of me I couldn't figure out why.
"I HAVE A NAME YOU DIMINUTIVE FREAK!" This I practically roared across the flat area at the solitary figure. I would come to regret this choice of action.
Artemis wasn't quite sure, but she really had no comeback for something like that. Normally she would've obliterated the boy on the spot, and if it weren't for the oath he would already be a toad… Or perhaps a guinea fowl …she liked those.
Her Hunters had fallen dead silent. There were several mouths hanging open. The shock would wear off and she knew her usually stoic Hunters would no doubt soon transform themselves into a lynch mob.
With extreme restraint, she managed not to break her oath, but she could feel nature going mad around her. Wolves in the forest were howling, deer were running blindly without direction and even the moon seemed to be glowing with blinding anger. Even the boy, who seemed to have calmed himself down, appeared to be sensing her anger and had reassumed his former poise and had even took a cautionary step back.
The goddess calmed herself however, as she sensed there seemed to be a purveying sense of sorrow fuelling the boy's anger, which she had inadvertently sparked by mentioning her brother. Her indignation was quelled further by the slightly amusing thought that her brother's name could ignite as much irritation in another as it did in herself. And it was because of this that she did something she very rarely did; she repeated herself.
"Very well, I shall ask you again. What name do you go by, boy?"
A slight blush formed on his cheeks as he realized she had indeed asked for his name previously. He breathed out a sigh and met her gaze once again, replying in a level tone, "Dove, Armani Dove."
"Half-blood?" she asked.
"So I'm told," he responded in the same tone.
She could sense he meant no insult by the reply; as if it was just because he was told and not because he actually believed it. And so she asked the question that had been truly nagging at her, "Who are your parents?"
She noticed his eyes narrow in irritation, "Orphaned, I have no parents."
Artemis' brow knitted in frustration, "No, who is your Olympian parent?"
Armani appeared confused by the question, "Like I said, no parents. Apollo advised me to say undetermined."
Now it was Artemis' turn to look confused. She could sense the boy's emotive state so she knew he spoke what he believed was truth, and yet, "You speak untruthfully, you must be..." she found herself saying.
Armani sighed and strode forward slowly, stopping a few yards from the goddess. She quirked up that eyebrow again in question at his approach. "Sorry, but we just seemed silly shouting across the clearing. I may be here against my will but that doesn't mean I can't be civil. Now, back to your comment; why must I be lying?" he asked tersely, as if being accused of mistruth was deeply offensive to him.
The goddess narrowed her eyes at the boy. "All Olympian deities made an oath that they would claim all of their children upon their coming of age. Who claimed you?"
"No one claimed me. Perhaps my parent wasn't aware of my birth or perhaps it could be that I'm not even a half-blood."
"Firstly, a god always knows of the children they have sired or birthed. Secondly, your blade is celestial bronze is it not?" He inclined his head in response. She then indicated the cut on his arm. "If you were mortal that blade would not have inflicted that injury" Armani stared at the cut in distaste for a second before turning back. "There is also Mist around this area. A mortal would've been deterred and avoided it, plus a hellhound would have had little to no interest in a mortal."
"How very succinct of you," he muttered, the subject of his lineage obviously not something he enjoyed discussing. "Do you yourself have a name, or shall I simply refer to you as you?"
Artemis' eye twitched in irritation, "You mean you have not guessed the answer yet?"
The boy glanced around at the girls, "I have a vague idea but it's not one I feel inclined to entertain. You're an Olympian, this much I will presume."
"She is-" Thalia spoke up indignantly however Artemis raised one hand to silence her, an amused smirk on her face. Thalia recognized it. It was usually followed by her destroying something with her bare hands.
Armani had paused, glancing between Thalia and Artemis, "Carry on," Artemis said.
"Shall I dismiss 'goddess of the Girl scouts'?"It was a light jibe but provoked a wave of angry hisses and muttering. "And by the looks of general dislike from your female counterparts and their outlandish appearance I can only assume you to be the good Lady Artemis: goddess of the moon and the Hunt; protector of virtuous maidens; goddess of wild nature, forests and hills, fertility and childbirth…" he paused to think as if trying to remember any additional titles. "I think that's all of them."
Artemis inclined her head. It was the closest thing to a respectful remark he had made since they had met. "So, you know of me then?"
Armani sighed distastefully, "With all due respect, if I hear one more haiku about how precious and fragile you are, just one more sonnet about how wonderfully the moon reflects the light of the sun, just one more poem about Apollo's precious little virgin sister, I think, to be frank, I will scream, throw up, pass out and hopefully in that order."
"Truly?" Artemis said drily, though she took no offence. If the boy had indeed spent that much time with her twin then she was impressed the child had even a single thread of sanity left in him at all. But that was not what was important right now; the most important emotion the goddess of the hunt had surging through her right now was frustration. "Then if you know me, you should know well what I do to boys who dare to stray upon my hunt."
Armani Dove fell silent for a moment as if thinking on something, "Yes, your petulant outbursts at the opposing gender are quite notorious." Several more intakes of breath followed, "but something occurs to me."
Her anger was back at the edge in his tone, and this time it was visible on her face, "And that is?"
"That if you had indeed intended to lash out, you or your associates would have done so by now. So why don't you tell me; what's stopping you Lady Artemis? Could it be...Apollo?" he asked, a ghost of a smile on his face.
"You vermin" she hissed at him. Both the way he used her name and his words were getting to her, but then that malicious smile returned. "However, you are correct; I did make an oath not to kill or maim you nor use my power to change you into a more apt form. Apollo did however leave me with the request to 'keep you occupied' in any way I deem fit."
The implication was clear as he had reflexively leapt back from arms distance. Artemis' face took on a calm, extremely disturbing smile. "You would be surprised, young boy, just how much damage I can do to a person without actually maiming or killing them."
Never provoke the gods; trust me, we find a way to make you regret it. One of the few pieces of advice from Apollo I should've taken heed of. But, in for a penny, as they say. I didn't have much time, the pain was coming and a prolonged fight was not what I had in mind. My instinct to run was flaring but my gut seemed to accept there was no getting away from Artemis unless she permitted it. I had to assume her Hunters weren't permitted to get involved but now that I knew my opponent's identity I knew I may as well have been alone with her in the open area and still have the same chance of escape. And so I focused on the fight, there was no avoiding it.
I consoled myself that there were, after all, mentions of half-bloods besting Olympians in one on one combat.
He was a half-blood of the big three and was in his own element! She's the goddess of the hunt and you're fighting her in the forest under a full moon!
I clenched my fist to force back the hopelessness of the situation and took on a fighting stance. I couldn't let her know time was against me; let her come to you.
When she did, I regretted it. With a blur she had crossed the distance between us and I found her elbow embedded in my chest. I skidded back three feet in the grass. If my feet weren't embedded in the ground I would be hurtling through the air right now.
Don't let her get you to the ground!
I went into auto-pilot from there on. It was useless to stop and think about the fight, she was far too fast for that. If I stopped to pause for even a second, she'd beat me into the dirt. My mind went blank as the song of the hunt filled my skull again.
Without hesitation I dropped to one hand and swung my leg around to swipe at her ankles. With blinding speed she leapt three feet straight up, causing me to miss by a millimeter. She clenched a fist and drove it down at my skull as she landed, but I reacted as soon as my leg swipe missed and had already flipped myself back onto my feet. I swung my foot up the catch her in the chest but she was already gone, having propelled herself up off one hand and back onto her feet. Before I could recover a small hand clamped itself onto my extended ankle and the next thing I knew I was being hurled round and through the air like a ragdoll. I landed a good five meters away, back in the middle of the clearing.
I coughed for the air that the impact had knocked from my lungs. I rolled over onto my back. The moon was glaring down at me, and so was she. And both seemed to be doing so with contempt.
She planted a small foot on my upper chest and slowly began increasing the pressure. I found it increasingly difficult to breathe; I knew I had seconds before my ribs began to fracture. The attack was meant to subdue but the imagery was clear; she was quite literally grinding me underfoot.
I pushed up at her foot with both hands but she had me held fast with both her heel and with her eyes which were boring straight into me. "Typical male" she practically spat.
It wasn't her scorning voice, but the look deep in her eyes, like there was some inherent disease in me and all I was good for was being culled.
Of course I knew those eyes… I felt my stare momentarily drift to the scar that ran across the back of my right hand. I'd gotten it when, after staring at myself for long enough in a mirror back home in an attempt to identify the feeling of inadequacy and self-loathing that had always burned in me for as long as I could remember, I had snapped and in a rage slammed my fist into my own reflection with such force the entire wall mirror shattered (it pained Apollo to no end to remove all the mirrors from the condo as a precaution…oh my heart wept) and now here she was, standing over me and having the gall to look down on me with those eyes...my eyes.
I'm not sure if she could sense the building fury in me or could simply see the clenched teeth but I had one thing to say to her.
I felt my muscles burn as I pushed her foot up inch by inch, "I won't let you…look at me…with those EYES!" I practically roared, and with one last burst of strength forced her foot up. The sudden movement knocked her off balance and she staggered back a step. Working on anger alone I sprung off my shoulders and right back onto my feet. Planting my left foot, I swung my right foot up, intending to catch the smug goddess square in the jaw, but she staggered back again just out of range. She had backpedaled once again, as if taken aback, first by my outburst, then my attack. Why wasn't important, the fact of the matter was she was taken aback...No...She was off guard.
I knew if there was any chance to land a blow on her then within this one second it lay, but I was seeing too much red to come up with a decent attack so, dropping all pretence, I charged her head on. I caught her eyes widening in shock the instant before my shoulder impacted her smaller frame with all the finesse of a large hippopotamus. Enveloping her between my arms, I charged forward and slammed her with all my might into a well-placed and most unforgiving oak tree. I felt something crack. It was in all likelihood the tree, but a small malicious part of me genuinely hoped it was her.
From between me and said tree I felt my arms being forced effortlessly apart, and then felt my upper body being pushed backwards. I stared down as Artemis raised her head up slowly and a pair of unnaturally silver eyes glowed with undisguised and indignant fury. I tried to pull away but was held fast. A flick of her wrists sent me staggering back a few paces. I stopped, but then knew instantly this was a mistake.
Keep backing off!
But it was too late as Artemis had gripped the tree for leverage, lifted one small foot and booted me flat in the abdomen with all the force of a freight train. And I found it depressing to no end that, as I sailed through the air, only two words managed to come to mind.
And when I did hit the ground I wasn't entirely sure if the groan of pain was from the impact or the bad pop culture reference. All I did know was one inescapable fact… I didn't stand a chance against her. She was stronger than me, my instincts were good but hers were several steps better, every time I moved on gut feeling she read ahead and had already planned a counter, and I also had the distinct feeling that if she was toying with me before, then the kiddie gloves had just come off.
I also had to admit, between the pain of my possibly cracked ribs and bruised spleen, that I was impressed with the force she could release from such a small frame. Impressed, but still angry, and now so was she...well…angrier.
She strode intently across the plain towards me with murder in her eyes. In a single motion my hand reached over my shoulder and whipped out a transparent bottle from my bag. I held it extended to my side; it was filled with amber liquid.
The goddess paused, her eyes flicking between mine and to the bottle. Holding her eyes I twisted off the top between my thumb and forefinger and immediately began downing the contents almost angrily. I opened my throat and pored half a liter of nectar straight into me.
I could tell why she wasn't attacking. She was most likely assessing whether or not it was a lethal dose…and to be honest, it probably was. I could feel it burning through me. Another mouthful and I probably would've erupted into flames right there, but I held it together, the pain dulled and I felt strength surge into me. A calculated risk.
"You could've destroyed yourself," Artemis observed dryly.
"Like I care," I snapped back. I knew I had moments, possibly seconds, in which to conclude things. As whilst boosting healing and strength, nectar has the side effect of boosting the metabolism along with it which meant it...the pain... would be coming on quicker. I had to end it now and get to safety.
I dropped the bottle into the snow as my hand drifted over to my sword, its tip still embedded in the snow. I grasped it, yanked it free and swung the blade around, pointing the tip at Lady Artemis before sliding into a guarded stance.
"Tell me Goddess of the Hunt; this no maiming rule, which of us does it apply to again?" The question was, of course, entirely rhetorical, as the lady had already stepped back and lazily drew her own blade from its sheathe. Her sword, unlike mine, wasn't raised but hung lazily down at her side. Something told me her deceptively lax guard was nothing but a very inviting cover to attack and that she was as equally deadly with her blade as with her hands. But like I said, I didn't have time to worry.
I let my irrational anger take hold as the burning surge of the nectar in me combined with it. With an utterly clichéd battle cry which even I found cringe worthy, I charged forward as she stood waiting, expectantly.
I had one shot, so I dodged to the right and forward onto a bolder and, using every ounce of the burst of strength the nectar had granted me, I leapt almost six feet into the air, bringing my sword up for one most likely futile attempt at an overhead strike.
In any other circumstances it would've probably made a picturesque moment; leaping in the moonlight, blade glistening as I lunged for the death strike.
I was aware of Artemis raising her own blade, and time seemed to slow, as it usually does in the critical moment of the hunt. She twisted her body and angled the flat of the blade to the side. I got the feeling that if she wasn't going to try and cleave me open with it, then she was at least going to give me a nice blade-shaped welt on my face as a consolation. On my side I figured that if I had to lop off one of her arms to escape, then so be it. I mean, it's not like I could kill a god, could I? She would heal, right? As I hit the peak of my jump I instantly realized the question was moot as the tingle up my side turned suddenly into a shiver, then spread all over my body.
I felt my very existence lurch as the tear in me reached the surface... And then it opened…
Here it comes…
Lady Artemis was well prepared. The ground attack with a sword was suicide of course, the overhead, only marginally less. She would normally gut her prey in two with a single swing in such circumstances, but there was still the oath.
She prepared to strike, then she noticed something odd that all transpired over the course of a second: whilst in midair his expression changed to one of shock; then fear; then despair and he seemed unable to keep his sword up as his hand spasmed and the sword was flung over his shoulder and stabbed in the earth behind him.
Her frown melted as her silver eyes widened in shock as, in that instant frozen in midair, his entire body flashed with silver/blue light like an x-ray shined over his skin with his skeletal structure below visible for a second. Artemis took a step back as he crashed to the ground in front of her. He spasmed again, this time pulsing with a golden light, his skull once again visible beneath the glow.
Whatever was happening clearly wasn't pleasant, as it tore an unearthly scream of agony from his throat as he thrashed on the ground, his outline flashing between gold and silver light. At one point it pulsed silver continuously and this must've been particularly bad, as the next hoarse scream was bellowing and laced with the power of the wild. Artemis staggered as the tone shook her core and she sensed the nature in the surrounding environment suddenly go absolutely berserk. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw his bow suddenly glow blinding silver, and she watched in horrified curiosity. She gasped in shock as it then suddenly cracked and exploded into a shower of silver dust.
Thalia staggered forward, her instinct to do something overriding her duty, "Stay back!" Artemis snapped at the black haired girl.
She froze, "B-but, he's…what's happening? Is it the nectar? Is this what happens when you drink too much?"
Artemis shook her head mutely as another scream echoed into the night, "No, this is something different. Something's wrong…very wrong…with him"
All the other Hunters were staring in morbid shock at the thrashing boy. None had any love for members of the opposite gender, but neither did they take particular pleasure in seeing one who currently looked like he would be happier if someone set him on fire to dull the pain.
Tears were flowing down his cheeks and had apparently had no more strength to scream out in pain as Artemis approached him slowly, her hand reaching out.
Suddenly there was a screech in the air as Apollo's chariot screamed to a halt in the skies above. Obviously in too much of a haste to park, the Sun God had simply leapt out from the height of the treetops and landed with a burning flash in the middle of the clearing, "Stay back!" he immediately snapped at his sister. Somewhat at a loss for words, she complied and backed up a few paces.
Apollo approached the thrashing boy, shaking his head sadly, "Oh Armani.What have you gone and gotten yourself into this time, eh?" If Armani Dove was aware of his presence he didn't show it.
The sun god's face became all business again and quickly peeled off one velvet glove and walked over until he was standing over the fallen child. He pointed his bare hand over the boy's chest and stopped as if waiting for something.
Apollo's body began to pulse with brilliant golden light and every pair of eyes reflexively averted themselves from the sun god, each knowing the sign of an Olympian about to return to their immortal form.
The clearing was suddenly illuminated by his divine light. It was only Artemis who could look upon him now and saw that it was only that hand that had reverted to its immortal state. It stayed that way as Armani flashed silver, and then, the instant he glowed gold again, the god plunged his insubstantial hand into the boy's chest. The golden light became blinding as Artemis watched Apollo send wave after wave of his own power into the boy's essence. His body glowed silver and the flow of energy intensified until that light was apparently dyed gold by Apollo's light. The sun god kept up this for a second longer, as if making sure of something, then yanked his hand free and it resumed its corporeal form.
Armani inhaled a massive breath of shock as his back arched one more time and then collapsed back into unconsciousness.
Apollo had replaced his glove in silence and was staring down at the silent form in thought. He seemed, Artemis realized, unhappy with something, as if whatever it was he did hadn't quite had the result he had been hoping for.
"Damn it, Armani," he cursed quietly, then bent down without another word to collect the child.
"Wait!" Artemis snapped, "Who is he Apollo? What is he?"
Apollo let out a sad breath, "It's none of your concern sis, and…it never will be." he added the last part in almost a pained whisper and then, with the child under his arm, turned, collected the boy's artifacts, and walked off. The chariot had lowered itself down to meet its master, and drove off into the night once he was aboard.
Artemis watched her brother disappear, then walked silently over to where Armani's bow had been and bent down to examine the silver dust that lay there. She stood up and walked back to her Hunters, observing the silver sand as she rubbed it between her fingers. Suddenly her fist clenched angrily.
"…Lady Artemis?" Thalia enquired uncertainly.
Artemis' arm returned to her side and let the dust fall free as she spoke, "The oath was only valid for tonight. I know Apollo will never answer me. He delights in keeping from me the answers I desire most. But the boy…now there is a much easier target… Thalia!"
"Tell the others to gather their possessions, we're moving out early. I suddenly find this place too stained in the scent of outsiders to rest in it comfortably."
"At once, my lady," Thalia responded with a bow, but she didn't need to be telepathic to know her mistress' thoughts were now on other matters. She did not envy Armani Dove should Lady Artemis catch up with him. She knew that, sooner or later, Lady Artemis always caught her prey.
I regained consciousness as Apollo slammed the door of the condo overlooking the bay that I called home. I was too tired to care about the scolding that was about to come, but I spared a moment to reflect on the night…
A good hunt and a totally mismatched-but quite exhilarating-fight to top it off…all in all I'd call it a decent night's work. However I didn't feel good about it. I rarely did afterwards. The exultation and enjoyment was all but forgotten, like a dream, swallowed by the tear and engulfed by the pain. I didn't make any move to notify Apollo that I was awake, but I suspect he knew, he always knew.
As we entered the living area, he tossed me unceremoniously onto the sofa as he passed. The first sign he wasn't in a good mood. The second being that he was now staring out of the large glass windows muttering Greek curses to himself whilst gripping the lapels of his suit jacket in front of him so hard I was pretty sure I could smell burning silk.
He didn't speak for a moment, probably wondering if I would speak first, "Well?" he enquired, not turning round. I could see his smoldering eyes in his reflection in the glass.
"You went… Hunting." It wasn't a question.
"I did. The pain would have come tonight one way or another, I could feel it. If I was going to experience that agony I thought I may as well do one of the few things that bring me pleasure in this world."
Apollo swung about angrily, the action leaving a nasty scorch mark in the carpet. "You knew? And you didn't think to tell me?" he demanded. I could feel the force of the sun god's fury but I forced it aside, my own anger surfacing.
I didn't trust myself to stand so I settled on stabbing a finger at him, "YOU were out doing your best to sire your latest half-blood! How was I supposed to call you for help? Last I checked gods don't carry cell phones!" I noticed that he did reign his temper in somewhat. He had obviously had this thought earlier tonight.
"All right, but then why did you take it upon yourself to pick a fight with Artemis?"
"That brat refused to let me leave! At the risk of sounding petulant: she started it!"
I regretted my choice of words as Apollo's anger rose a notch. "First of all, my little sister is not a brat. She is merely somewhat sensitive, a trait which I personally find quite endearing-"
"- I find your obsession with your twin sister quite disturbing." This had obviously struck another nerve as, in a blur of movement, he had grasped his bow and loosed a golden arrow, which embedded itself in the couch a centimeter from my head. I didn't flinch; it wasn't the first time he had done this, but then, you can't teach an old god new tricks. Next will come the idle threat...
"If you were anyone else, know there wouldn't be an atom left intact of you for a remark like that. Not even my own children would've escaped my anger!"
I rolled my eyes, "Yes Apollo, but I'm not one of your own children am I? Certainly not, you spend far too much time with me!" The sunlight burned across his eyes now. I sighed. "Look, are we going to posture all night? You won't hurt me and probably, for some odd reason, never will. So where were we?"
I watched as Apollo reigned in his temper but the frustration of a god desperate to smite someone was clear, "You provoked her, didn't you?"
"The provocation was mutual, she doesn't especially like boys, did you know that?" I was being sarcastic, but he rarely noticed.
"I did, that's why I had her make that oath."
"Ahh yes, the oath that still permitted her to kick the living stuffing out of me. Thanks for that."
"I figured it best you collapse in a place where they were at least under oath not to kill you and where I could find you easily rather than me sensing what was happening to you and still having to go dig through the bushes looking for you."
I accepted his logic glumly, and then he asked me a most peculiar question.
"My sister, what did you think of her?" He enquired with a raised eyebrow.
My eyes narrowed, I had lived with Apollo long enough to know there was usually a deeper meaning behind anything he said. I answered in a guarded tone, "an adept fighter. Short tempered, but then considering she's an Olympian that's unsurprising, no offence"
He inclined his head at the obvious truth, "none taken, go on"
"And that's about all I could gauge; she fights, she kills, she hates half the human race…"
Apollo objected quickly as if genuinely trying to convince me, "There's more to her than that! Much more; she's not a … not a bad person."
I inclined my head. "Technically-"
"If you say 'technically she's not a person at all' I will hurt you." I closed my mouth, but had to ask:
"Why do you care? Something tells me this has more to do than you asking me just to tell you how great your sister is."
That threw him off, instead of answering my query he merely turned to leave, "Just go to bed Armani, you'll need your rest after tonight."
As soon as his hand touched the doorknob I spoke up, "I'm dying… aren't I?" My tone was calm and neutral; deep inside, I knew the answer. But I had to hear it.
He turned back; he had put on the mask of the light-hearted fool he delighted in playing. "What, are you mad? Of course not! Every time that keeps happening, I'll just fix you up so… You know… Chill." he said this with as convincing a smile as possible.
"The tear's getting bigger," I responded in the same tone. His eyes widened and I knew: whatever it was (he called it the rip in my existence) he knew what I was talking about. His confident mask melted, and now that he was listening I elaborated, "The time between bursts after you heal me is getting smaller and the pain is getting worse. Before, it would only come from one place; a leg, an arm, etcetera. But it spread, and now it opens up all over. It feels like I'm bursting at the seams."
Apollo's expression was unreadable as he spoke, "The pain is caused by the essence in your body from your Olympian parent at war with my own; that is, the part of my essence that I'm using to seal what you call the tear. Every so often your parent's essence reaches up and rebels, forcing out my energy like a disease that's foreign to the body. It used to be easy; a small patch job and you were fine. But now the tear's grown with you, and is all-encompassing now that you've almost come of age."
"So I was correct?"
Apollo regarded me, his expression again unreadable. "Yes, you are dying," he said in an emotionless tone.
I felt oddly calm at having it confirmed. "I see."
Apollo nodded, "When the rejection reaches the point when my patch fails entirely and the tear reaches critical intensity, your life force will bleed out in every direction and that will be that. You will simply…fade."
I nodded, "and how long until this 'critical point' is reached?"
This time he did seem unhappy, as he averted his eyes when he answered, "Over three years ago."
My eyes widened a tad there. "So you're saying-"
"My essence is the only thing holding you together right now. And the more you use your power as a half-blood, the more the rejection kicks in and the less time you have. You see, the more accustomed to your power you become, the more your body becomes identified with it and the more it will learn to reject mine." He laughed ironically, "See, being the god of healing does have its uses."
I inclined my head; I had accepted my own short mortality long ago so I felt oddly content with the conversation, "How long? Are we talking years?" I asked as the bottom line. He remained silent. "Months…" He remained silent still. Suddenly a knot formed in my gut.
He appeared genuinely uncomfortable with answering, but knew he had to. He inhaled a deep breath, then spoke, "Assuming you don't go out, don't summon your bow and don't go hunting…you have at best a month left in you before my patch fails entirely."
I smiled a small sickly smile. "So you're saying that this was-"
He nodded. "Yes, this was the last time I could do it; in fact I barely succeeded this time around."
"And if, say, I chose to go all-out and hunt?"
"More than likely it would kill you if you overexerted yourself to any degree while doing it."
I did the only thing I could do, and nodded again. "I'd say the Underworld awaits, but…" I rested my hand on my chest and looked down. This was the part Apollo that seemed to upset Apollo the most, as his voice was shaking as he spoke and I could feel what he was about to say, deep in my core.
"It's not just your body that's fading, Armani, it's bound to your soul. When you fade, your soul will die with you." At this point his eyes actually looked quite moist and it shocked me that he was genuinely upset. I suppose even gods mourn the passing of that which should be immortal.
I felt as numb as always. "No more pain, one way or the other…"
"Do you want to die?" he asked with genuine curiosity.
I pondered the question for a moment, "No. But I've never been particularly fond of being alive, either."
Apollo shook his head. "You never should have been born… I'm so sorry." believe it or not, this was actually him trying to console me.
Never should've been born...
I smiled sadly. That was the truth of my whole existence; the feeling I had about myself all my life. "Don't be, although there is one question I feel I must ask."
Apollo inclined his head for me to continue.
"Why is it Lady Artemis doesn't know I was born?" at that Apollo's head snapped around in shock. I felt a small smile twitch at my lips. "I sensed it; the call. It wasn't just in her, it was her. She anticipated my every move as if she would've made it herself…and her eyes were just like my own, in more ways than just color. My power…my essence…could only have come from her. Granted, she's only the second Olympian I've met, but I know when I'm right."
Apollo was smiling slightly too. "You always were far too perceptive for your own good."
I laughed ironically. "So that annoying little twelve-year-old-"
"-happens to be your mother," Apollo finished, letting me off with the annoying remark.
My brow furrowed in confusion. "I thought Artemis was a virgin," I enquired. The prospect of her as my progenitor was preposterous at best, but something told me it was true. Apollo, however, looked offended that I would even question the fact I had just stated.
"And she doesn't know I was ever born?" I proposed.
I rubbed my brow in exasperation. "Apollo, did Zeus ever have 'the talk' with you? Do you know how babies are made and how they come out? Trust me; mothers tend to notice the second bit!"
Apollo groaned in exasperation. "Let me just assure you; both your conception and birth were immaculate, so immaculate my sis didn't even know what happened"
Putting aside my immediate and unavoidable demise, I decided to ask. I wasn't one to die in ignorance, after all. "And what exactly did happen?"
Apollo sighed, "Perhaps I should tell you in the morning. Maybe you should get some sleep…"
I could tell the sun god was weary but I didn't feel like letting up just yet. "Apollo, I'm measuring my life expectancy in hours now so I'd rather not waste eight of them unless it's absolutely necessary."
He gave a defeated sigh. "Very well. You'd best make yourself comfortable Armani." I didn't budge, since I was already sprawled out on my back. "Okay then, let me ask you, Armani Dove... What do you know about Midas?
To be continued…
[A/N] Not really that much to say, I only modified the beta a little bit to my taste but otherwise kudos to Shrrgnien. I'll probably be redoing the next chapter later on, the rest of the chapters will be reuploaded soon.
See you in Chapter 2: Birth
(I'm feeling quite nostalgic going back through this again….)