Daughters of Artemis
Chapter Seven: Battle for the Sword
by L. M. Townsend
Athtar clung tightly to the sword as she slithered to the mouth of the cave. The Graii had been severely wounded in the battle and Athtar was hoping that they would be too weak to stop her from leaving the cave. She looked at them, three old women now, with only one eye and one mouth between them. The sight mortified her and she grimaced.)O(
Whats wrong, Guardian? sneered the one with a mouth.
You are, she said. What happened to you? I thought you were impervious to steel? The three hags melded into one being, more grotesque than before, limbs sticking out all over the body, but with only one head, encompassing the mouth and eye they shared, but displaying three noses and six ears.
Steel yes, but the wielder now, that is another thing, it said.
Must you make yourselves into this thing? said Athtar, averting her eyes.
Yesss ... it said, changing again, though Athtar could not bring herself to look at what it had now become.
To accommodate each of us, it said. We must be as water poured into different vessels. We cannot re-generate what we have lost.
Why not? asked Athtar, still not looking as she heard the wet sort of sucking sound of the creature changing again.
Are you so squeamish? it said and Athtar heard a horrible chuckle at her expense.
Squeamish, no - you disgust me, said Athtar, shuddering as she heard the sounds yet again. Why cant you re-generate? Quit doing that and answer me!
There was laboured, wet breathing for a moment, then a sigh.
We were wounded ... by the Sword of Artemis, said the voice with difficulty.
Shocked, Athtar looked up, then quickly looked away at the terrible vision before her.
Thats impossible, said Athtar, brandishing the sword in her hand. This is the Sword of Artemis - and I tried to kill you with it. It didnt work.
It is the wielder, we told you, said the thing she couldnt bear to look at.
I am the only wielder of this Sword, said Athtar, angrily.
No, said the thing, wheezing. You are but its Guardian.
With a howl of rage, Athtar swung at thing the Graii had become, but to no avail.
You see? It wheezed a chuckle at her attempt. You will never be permitted to wield the Sword of Artemis. You will never learn its secret.
What secret? demanded Athtar, frustrated.
The Graii became the three old women again, two with gaping holes where there should have been eyes and mouths. That Athtar could bear to look at long enough to get her answer, but it was not forthcoming. Instead, the Graii turned its back on her and remained silent.
Athtar once again attempted to attack the Graii, but it turned and bit her with its mouth, changing into something even more horrific than before. With a scream of pain, rage and frustration, Athtar began to slither back into the cave.
Be prepared - the Sword that wounded us will come for you next, said the Graii.
Athtar, grasping her wounded sword arm, ignored it and continued back to her lair.
Arynë made her way to the Temple. It wasnt far from Aradias house, but the night was dark. The moon which had begun to rise was waning and not yet completely risen. Arynë imagined that the ghosts which haunted this place were all around her, yet she still kept to the shadows, unwilling to be seen by the sentries she knew were posted all about.
She arrived at the door of the Temple and swallowed hard, remembering that the body of the priestess had lain within until just a ten-day ago.
I shouldnt be afraid of her, Arynë whispered to herself, jumping at the sound of her own voice. Technically, she should approve of what Im doing, since its sort of her own idea. Resolutely, she began to open the door, then jumped with a little squeak of fear when a strong hand clamped down on her arm. Arynë recognised the owner of the hand as the sentry from the other night, the one she hadnt recognised then.
Oh, she said, her breathing coming in short gasps as her heart slowed its pounding. Its you.
Yes - what are you doing here, Arynë? asked the sentry, sternly.
I - I ... um, Arynë stammered, unable to bring herself to lie to the woman.
Yes? asked the sentry, one eyebrow raised.
I was, um, Arynë looked down at the ground, trying to think of what to say.
You were going to meet someone here, said the sentry, softly. But I am here to tell you that you mustnt do that - I want you to go back to Aradias house and go to bed.
I cant, said the girl. Theres something I have to do - to save the Amazons. Only I can do this - the priestess said so.
Thats not - the sentry began, then stopped. Suddenly Arynë looked at her, peering through the shadows and seeing her clearly.
Mother? the girl whispered, her eyes filling with tears. Her vision blurred and she shook her head to clear it. There stood the sentry, but her face was not Thalias. Im sorry. I thought you were -
Arynë, your mother is dead, said the sentry, smiling sympathetically. I know the Amazons tell tales of ghosts in this place, but really, they are just tales.
No, I know that they are not - but I can see that youre not my mother, said Arynë, chuckling.
So, what are you doing here? asked the sentry.
I ... um, I couldnt sleep - I have a lot on my mind, said Arynë, not quiet lying. I thought I could find some sort of ... something, anyway, in the Temple.
The sentry nodded, sadly and Arynë suddenly felt sick to her stomach for the half-truth she had told.
Well, I wont stop you, said the sentry. But you know it isnt safe yet for girls your age to be out and about at night. Make your prayers quick, then get home, alright?
Arynë nodded and stepped past her into the inky blackness of the Amazon Temple.
As soon as the door closed behind the girl, Thalia stepped out from the shadows.
You let her go in? she said. Hekau appeared from the open window of Aradias house and ran toward the two standing outside of her Temple. Anu, what were you thinking?
What could I do? asked Anu, shrugging as Hekau arrived, standing to stretch into the goddess. Were not allowed to interfere with them, Thalia, you know that.
Well, maybe not directly, said the goddess, her eyes glittering as she looked pointedly towards Aradias house.
Julisa? whispered Arynë. She felt her way to the front of the Temple where the altar stood before the statue of Artemis. Suddenly, there was a flare of light and Arynë saw Julisa standing behind the altar, a lamp in her hand.
I didnt know if youd come, said Julisa, smiling at her.
I had to, said Arynë, grimly.
I know, said Julisa, holding out her hand. Come - we have to go to the cave now.
Wait, said Arynë, frowning. Youre a Gorgon - how do I know that I can trust you?
You dont, said Julisa, shrugging. She held out her hand again and smiled. You just have to have faith. Come on Arynë. Dont you want to heal the Amazon Nation? Come with me - bring back the Sword of Artemis. Its the only way to fulfill your destiny.
How did you know about that? asked Arynë, frowning. Julisa hesitated, her smile faltering.
I ... I was listening, Silly - how do you think? she said.
Arynë took her hand and the two girls made their way to the Temple door. Arynë stopped, listening.
What is it? asked Julisa, impatiently.
Sentries, said Arynë. One stopped me on my way in here.
Oh, said Julisa. Well, theyre gone now.
How do you know? asked Arynë, looking sharply at the other girl.
Theyre patrolling, arent they? They wont be back this way for a while, said Julisa, pushing open the heavy oak door. You couldnt have heard them through this door anyway. Come on before they come back.
With a sigh, Arynë followed Julisa down the stairs to the lower town.
Aradia stirred in her sleep. Something was not quite right. She opened her eyes. Arynës bedroll was neatly made between hers and Mharis, but Arynë wasnt in it. The fire had burnt down to its embers. Aradia sat up quickly and looked around the room. She rose silently and padded into the kitchen. The bowls, cups, and spoons from dinner were clean and neatly stacked on the shelf. Rubbing her sleepy eyes, Aradia went from room to room, but found no sign of the girl. She saw her pack and Thalias sword were missing from beside the door where Arynë had neatly set them.
Aradia swore under her breath and pulled her boots on. Suddenly the room grew very cold and a bluish light appeared before the Amazon Queen.
Thalia? she whispered.
Aradia, you have to stop her - shes going to the cave in the forest, said Thalia, materialising before her.
What? said Aradia, shaking her head, only half convinced she wasnt still asleep and dreaming.
Its a trick - Ares is going to get our little girl killed, said Thalia, desperation in her voice.
Why would she go with Ares? That doesnt make sense, Thalia, said Aradia.
Hes disguised as Julisa, said Thalia. Please, you have to hurry!
The doll? asked Aradia, still half asleep.
No! Julisa, the girl, said Thalia, trying to be patient. The Sword is in that cave - Ares has convinced her to get and try to get it back, but the Graii are there - and so is Athtar. She has the Sword.
Athtar has - never mind - I know the cave, said Aradia, standing. Ill go and get her - dont worry.
The apparition nodded once and left.
Aradia, whats going on? asked Mhari. Aradia looked up to see the shamenki standing in the doorway.
Ares has Arynë and is leading her to her death, said Aradia, shortly as she strapped on her sword. Im going after her.
So am I, said Mhari, pulling on her boots.
No, Mhari - its too dangerous, said Aradia.
Im going, Aradia, said Mhari, firmly. She donned a woollen cloak against the nights chill.
Aradia simply nodded, knowing from long experience that there was no arguing with the older woman.
The two left the house and made their way to the steps leading to the lower town.
Mhari, are you sure? That climb is bad enough in daylight, but at night - and especially since youre already injured - began Aradia, but the firm set line of Mharis mouth stopped her.
With a sigh, Aradia went to the warrior camp in the lower town and roused Thraso. Briefly, she explained to her Second in Command and Thraso awakened a platoon to accompany them to the cave.
Im going, too, said Thraso, strapping on her sword-belt.
Alright, but one of us has to survive this, okay? said Aradia, chuckling coldly.
Thrasos only reply was a curt nod which conveyed the message that they would both make it out alive if she had anything to do with it.
The group made their way cautiously down the incline, the warriors helping Mhari over the worst of it and began to march through the woods, watching for signs that the two girls had been there before them.
Shes not leaving a trail, said Aradia, frowning in frustration. How is that possible?
Ares, said Mhari, grimly. Hes trying to hide her from us. Little does he realise that night belongs to his sister - all things are revealed by her shining face. The shamenki pointed a blur in the brush. Aradia looked and saw Hekau, leading them. She nodded and followed the cats trail, motioning for the warriors to follow.
Arynë followed Julisa through the trees, tripping and stumbling. The other girl set a fast and furious pace through the trees, pulling on Arynës arm when she Arynë wasnt moving swiftly enough to suit her.
Hey, slow down! she said with a hiss of pain as a branch flew back and slapped her in the face.
We have to hurry, said Julisa, looking up. Theyll miss you soon and come looking - we have to make it far enough that they cant interfere.
Interfere ... ? What are you talking about? said Arynë, stopping.
Come on Arynë, said Julisa, her nostrils flaring in anger. Arynë had never seen the girl like this before.
No, she said, setting her pack down and crossing her arms. Im not going another step. Im tired and I want to rest for a minute. She sat down on the ground and glared at Julisa.
Arynë get up, said Julisa with a growl. She walked up to Arynë and grabbed one of her arms, yanking the girl to her feet. Get your pack and lets go.
Arynë fell back to the ground, defiantly crossing her arms again, still glaring at Julisa. What did you mean, interfere? If Im doing such a great thing, why would the Amazons try to stop me? she asked.
Julisa took a deep breath, gathering patience, then smiled. You tell me, she said. Did you tell Aradia you were going? Of course you didnt, because you know she would have stopped you - or at the very least, tried to send a couple of platoons with you.
Im beginning to think a couple of platoons - or even the whole Amazon army - might not be such a bad idea, said Arynë with a sigh.
But the Amazons couldnt touch that thing, remember? said Julisa. Only you could hurt it - and you have to, Arynë. That thing is standing between you and your destiny.
My destiny, said Arynë, as she rose to her feet. She picked up her pack with a sigh. Okay - Im rested. Lets go, Julisa.
With a feral grin, Julisa grabbed Arynës hand and began to move quickly through the thickening trees. The forest grew darker as the trees blocked out the moonlight. Arynë was growing more weary with each step. She stumbled and almost dropped her pack. Quickly, she felt for her sword and relaxed as her fingers brushed the cold metal hilt.
Julisa, I cant see where Im going - we really do have to slow down a little, said Arynë, pulling her arm away from the other girl.
Its okay - were here, said Julisa, as the girls emerged into the clearing where the cave sat like a great black maw, ready to swallow them.
Arynë looked at the cave and took a deep breath. The moon was shining down upon the clearing, bathing it with a silvery, ethereal light. Arynë swallowed hard and took a deep breath. She drew her sword and flipped, almost absently, in a swift neat move. Julisa saw that and raised an eyebrow, but led her to the mouth of the cave.
In there, she whispered.
Arynë set her jaw and stepped into the inky blackness of the cave. Suddenly a horrible creature rose up, howling and roaring at her. She recognised the wounded serpent and raised her sword, backing quickly away from it at the same time. Julisa shoved her back inside.
Get it - Arynë, the Sword is in there - you have to get past this thing to get it! yelled the girl.
Arynë began fighting in earnest. The creature got in one slash of its claws, but Arynë lunged and swung, finally taking all three heads from its shoulders. Her shoulder hurt where the thing had clawed her. Sweat dripped from her brow, stinging in her eyes, and she was covered in blood - both the creatures and her own. The thing lay at her feet, dead, but still wriggling in a mass of jelly-like stuff.
Ew! Arynë cried, holding her nose at the stench of things dying.
Arynë, the Sword is back there, said Julisa, taking her arm and pulling her deeper into the cave.
Julisa, wait, said Arynë, looking around for something to clean her sword. With a grimace, she grabbed a corner of her cloak and swiped off her blade with it before tucking it back into her belt.
Wish we had a torch, said Arynë, shivering in the dampness of the cave.
Its okay - I know where were going, said Julisa.
How do you know? asked Arynë, slowing her steps.
Ive been in here before, remember? said Julisa.
Yeah, I do remember, said Arynë, quietly. Why?
Because ... because the Sword is here, said Julisa.
But how did you know that? said Arynë, slowing to a stop. Julisa reached back and grabbed her arm, but Arynë pulled away. Stop doing that! My arm hurts from that thing cutting me.
Oh, sorry, said Julisa. I just did, okay? Now come on - youre almost finished.
Arynë sighed and followed Julisa, one hand on the other girls shoulder as they made their way through the dark caverns. Suddenly Arynë heard a noise.
Whats that? she asked, stopping again.
Nothing, said Julisa. Come on, lets get that Sword.
No, I heard ... something, said Arynë, fear causing the goose bumps to rise on her arms as much as the cold dampness of the cave. Oh, no - Julisa! Something just moved over my foot! I felt it!
Would you be quiet? said Julisa with a hiss.
Julisa - theres something in this cave besides us, Arynë whispered as once again the other girl pulled her deeper into the cave.
Like what? asked Julisa, a slow grin spreading over her face.
I dont know - its too dark to see, said Arynë, straining her eyes to try to see anything. She felt something glide over her foot again and struggled not to scream. She felt another something, cold and smooth brush across her cheek, then her shoulder. She heard a plop as whatever it was fell to the cave floor. Nausea roiled in her middle.
Blessed Artemis, she whispered, cringing.
Julisa reached back and slapped her. The crack echoed through the cavern and the sharp sting brought tears to Arynës eyes.
Oh, sorry, said Julisa. I thought there was something on you there.
Arynë rubbed her cheek. She was cold and tired. Her shoulder ached, though her cheek was now numb and tingling where Julisa had hit her. Something was scaring her, though she didnt know what; the creature which had guarded the cave was dead.
Julisa, something is not right here, she said, turning her head and trying to see anything in the absolute darkness of the cavern. She could hear a dripping sound and something else, as well; a slithering of sorts just under the echoes of their footfalls. Arynë felt a slow panic rising in her chest. Her throat felt like it was closing and her chest was heavy. Her breath was coming in short gasps and she felt dizzy.
Julisa, I cant breathe, she whispered through her constricting throat. I think maybe that thing had poison in its claws. Im scared, Julisa.
Dont be such a baby, Julisa said, impatiently. There was no poison - the Graii doesnt need it to kill. Now come on.
The cavern opened up and suddenly Arynë could see a little. There was a rocky shelf, similar to an altar in the centre of the chamber. Behind the shelf was a creature almost as frightening as the Graii, half woman, half snake. Suddenly Arynë heard laughter. She looked at Julisa and gasped. Her friend had transformed into a man and stood there grinning at her.
Arynë, daughter of Thalia, meet Athtar, Guardian of the Sword of Artemis, he said, disappearing from the cave.
fiction index |
homepage | what's