Daughters of Artemis

Chapter Eight: Sword of Artemis, Sword of Truth

by L. M. Townsend

e-mail: QueenLaese1@aol.com

Disclaimers: Here there be subtext. J Don’t like it, click general stories.


Aradia and the Amazons tracked the cat through the trees. Only a flash of her white fur was visible in the darkening forest. The moon was no longer visible as the trees grew closer and closer together, their trunks gaining width as they approached the oldest part at the centre of the forest. Still, they could see Hekau despite the darkness. They came to the clearing of the cave and stopped.

"This is where that three-headed serpent was," said Anaea.

"Aryn blooded it - that would make it even more dangerous," said Aradia, grimly.

"Oh, the smell," said Thraso, grimacing. "It didn’t smell this bad here before."

"No, but listen," said Aradia. Night birds, tree frogs, and crickets could be heard chirping their individual songs in the night.

"What?" said Thraso. "I don’t hear anything."

"Ah, but you do - listen again," said Aradia, smiling.

"Just ... crickets and stuff?" said Thraso.

"Exactly - this place was completely silent when we passed through here before," said Aradia. "Come on."

The Amazons followed her to the mouth of the cave. "Oh, Goddess!" cried Anaea, holding her nose. "The smell is a lot worse in there."

"We need torches - Thraso, Protho, grab some dead fall and get a fire started," Aradia ordered. "I’m not going in there in the dark."

"Aryn did," said Mhari, her eyes glassy in trance. "She’s in there now - the Graii is no more, but the Guardian ..."

The shamenki shuddered and her eyes cleared. "I am not permitted to see any more," she said.

"That’s alright," said Aradia, patting her shoulder gently. "We’ll get her back. Are you alright?"

"Yes, of course," said Mhari. "Just worried, naturally.

""Naturally," said Aradia. Thraso and Protho got a fire burning and approached with blazing torches. "Are we ready?"

"As we’re going to be," said Thraso. "That stench though - agh!"

"Well, then you wait here," said Aradia, taking a torch from her.

"No way," said Thraso, shaking her head. "Anaea, Protho, and I are going with you - we’ve already decided it."

"Oh, really?" asked Aradia, one eyebrow raised.

"Yes, really," said Anaea, bringing another torch to the group.

"What is this, mutiny?" asked Aradia, chuckling.

"No, your Majesty," said Anaea. "On our journey home, Aryn told us many tales she had read in the Amazon Scrolls - she also told us about a very old law, which we are invoking now."

"What law is that?" asked Aradia.

"No mother whose child is in danger may lead the mission to rescue her," said Thraso. "If the daughter or other family member of a queen is in danger, her lieutenants may temporarily relieve her of command in order to make the rescue."

"You just made that up!" said Aradia.

"No, they didn’t," said Mhari, shaking her head. "That law was written very long ago. It was a tragedy - one of our ancient queens had a sister, Antiope, whom she raised as her own daughter after the death of their mother. When Antiope was kidnapped, Oreithyia led the entire army across the continent to ‘save’ her sister and left the elders and children behind with no one to protect them. That was almost the end of the Amazon Nation."

"What happened to her?" asked Aradia.

"That’s not important right now - someday I will tell you the story of Antiope - or Aryn will," said Mhari. "For now it is enough to know that after that, it was felt that a mother was not capable of thinking clearly enough to act rationally."

"Since I spent the better of my childbearing years dealing death rather than life, I hardly think I qualify as anyone’s ‘mother’," said Aradia, wryly.

"It’s not the bearing that makes a mother, Aradia," said Mhari, gently.

Aradia looked thoughtful for a moment, then nodded once. She hefted the torch with one hand and drew her sword with the other. "Very well - lead on," she said, inclining her head towards the cave. Anaea, Protho, and Thraso raised their torches and stepped gingerly into the entrance of the cave. Mhari began to follow, but Aradia stepped in front of the shamenki. "Whoa, Old-Mother," she said. "Where do you think you’re going?"

"Aryn may be hurt," said Mhari, patting her healing herb pouch. "I’m going, too, Aradia."

"Alright, alright," said Aradia, exasperated. She looked towards the platoon of warriors, standing by. "Anyone else? Never mind." She held up one hand as the entire platoon started towards the cave.

Aradia followed Mhari into the mouth of the cave, holding her torch aloft. She found the others a few yards into the cavern all looking at a gooey-looking puddle on the cave floor. One tooth and one eyeball floated atop the mess.

"Artemis! Is that where the stench is coming from?" asked the queen, poking about the stuff with her sword.

"Yes - the remains of the Graii," said Mhari.

"Come on," said Thraso. "This ... stuff doesn’t pose any danger to us now, does it Mhari?"

"Only the danger of losing our suppers," said the shamenki, holding a bit of her cloak over her nose and mouth.

"Look here," said Protho, holding her torch closer to the floor of the cave and pointing.

"What is it?" asked Aradia, leaning in to look.

"Blood - not a lot, but still, I think maybe that thing may have gotten one good hit in before Aryn killed it," said Thraso, grimly.

"Damn!" said Aradia, panic rising in her chest. "Come on." She tried to move ahead of the others, but Thraso held her back.

"Hold it there, ‘Mama’," said her Second in Command.

"Damn it, Thraso, that’s not funny!" said Aradia.

"I didn’t mean it to be," said Thraso. "But we need to slow down. There’s not that much blood. If Aryn’s wounded, it’s a small one. For all we know, this isn’t even her blood. Something’s not right here, though and I don’t want to go rushing in before we know what that something is."

"Alright - your point is taken," said Aradia, calmly. "Can we get moving now?"

The Amazons made their way slowly through the passageway from the cave’s entrance. The smell of the dead Graii faded as they got further away, but was replaced by another smell more sinister. None of the Amazons could really identify the odour, but it still made them edgy and nervous. Worse than the smell were the sounds which grew louder as the went further through the passageway. A sibilant, dry sound, almost like a host of whispering voices echoed through the cave.

Bringing up the rear, Aradia heard Thraso utter a quiet curse.

"What? What is it?" asked the queen, peering through the darkness.

"Bloody snakes!" said Thraso, disgusted. "Must be hundreds ... thousands of them."

"Alright," said Mhari, stepping up to where the others had stopped. She looked and her eyes widened. "Blessed Artemis! This is where that smell is coming from."

Aradia shouldered her way through the group gathered around the opening to a cavern. She held the torch aloft and saw them. Like Thraso said, there hundreds of snakes all over. They carpeted the floor of the cave and hung from natural shelf-like formations along the walls and ceilings of the chamber. Aradia took a deep breath, then blew it out slowly. She did this three times, then looked around at the serpents.

"Okay," she said, quietly. "It’s cold, so they’re nice and slow."

"Yes, but not slow enough," said Mhari, taking a pouch from her belt. "This should do it."

She set about making a paste of the herbs and some water from her waterskin. Moulding the stuff into a ball about the size of her fist, Mhari threaded a piece of twine all way through the ball and lifted it to one of the torches, setting the twine alight.

"Now," she said. "Toss one of those torches to the floor there."

Protho complied with the shamenki’s demand. Instantly, the serpents moved away from the blazing wood.

"Quickly now," said Mhari, moving toward the flame and setting the ball of herbs next to it before lifting the torch once again. The ball began smoking as the wick burned down to the paste. A thick, white, aromatic smoke filled the chamber and the sound of the snakes ceased.

"Mhari, what is that stuff?" asked Thraso.

"Just a mild sedative," said the shamenki "Mild for us, that is. For them, well, they will sleep as if dead for some time. Still, we should hurry now."

The elder looked worried and the Amazons forged ahead through the chamber into a narrower passageway.

"Do you think there are anymore inhabitants of this cave?" Anaea whispered to Aradia.

"I don’t know," said the queen, grimly. "I can’t even be certain that those were inhabitants of this cave. We just have to keep our eyes and ears open." Anaea nodded.

Thraso led them through the passageway, but stopped just short of the next chamber. She lifted a finger to her lips, then moved them all back a bit.

"There’s a light in that one," she said, her brow furrowed with concern. "I don’t know who - or what - is in there."

"There’s one way to find out," said Mhari, pulling a small, silver mirror out of another pouch.

"Great Goddess, Mhari, what else do you have in your bag of tricks?" asked Aradia, grinning at her.

"Hopefully whatever we need," said the shamenki, turning around and holding the mirror over her shoulder towards the opening. Slowly she lowered the mirror and turned.

"Mhari, what is it? You’re pale as the moon," said Aradia. Mhari shook her head and handed Aradia the mirror.

The queen took the same position as the shamenki had. Then with a curse, she dropped the mirror, drew her sword and sprang into the chamber before any of the others could stop her.


Aryn saw the creature behind the altar and drew her sword.

"Y-you’re Athtar? Q-Queen of the Gorgons?" she stammered. The creature glared at her and hissed, brandishing the Sword. "That’s the Sword of Artemis!"

"Yesss," said Athtar, slithering closer. "Mine!"

Aryn backed away, holding her sword before her. "No, it isn’t," said the girl, swallowing hard. "I’ve come to take it back to the Amazons where it belongs."

"You’ll die in the attempt," Athtar spat, coming ever closer. "You will die in any case." Aryn backed away until she hit the cave wall behind her. Her eyes narrowed and she held her sword before her in a warding gesture.

"Then I have nothing to lose," said the girl, lunging at Athtar. Athtar laughed and evaded the girl at the last moment. The girl, unable to stop herself, fell. Carried by the momentum, Aryn hit her head on the stone shelf which resembled an altar and fell unconscious to the cave floor. Athtar loomed over the prone girl, grinning. She raised the Sword of Artemis over her to make the killing blow until Aradia burst into the chamber, the other Amazons following close behind.

"Come on Athtar - pick on someone your own size!" cried the angry Amazon queen.

Athtar hissed angrily and slithered over to Aradia. "With pleasure!" she said, swinging.

The blades clashed once. The Sword of Artemis sliced Aradia’s sword in half, but before Athtar could recover and parry, Aradia sliced off her sword-hand with the bottom half of her broken blade. The hand, still clutching the Sword of Artemis fell to the ground.

"Noooo!" Athtar howled, falling to the ground. Her lower body began to undulate and move of its own volition and Athtar screamed in pain as it split into two legs. Scales merged into skin and then Athtar grabbed the hilt of the Sword with her other hand, rising up with a triumphant yell.

The blood stopped spurting from her wrist as the hand grew back. Her legs once again merged into a scaley snake’s tail. Aradia and the Amazons looked on in awe and revulsion. Athtar swung the Sword of Artemis at Aradia, but missed, though Aradia stood only inches before her. Athtar frowned and swung again; again, she missed.

"What ... what - that’s not possible!" she howled, swinging yet again. Aradia felt the silver key growing warmer between her breasts. She dropped her broken sword and pulled the key out of her tunic. Suddenly, the silken cord from which it hung around her neck snapped and the key grew into a sword - the Sword of Artemis. The Amazons looked at it in wonder - it was identical to the one clutched in Athtar’s hand. Athtar stared in amazement, looking from one Sword to the other.

"It’s a fake!" she cried, lunging with the one in her hand at Aradia.

"No, it isn’t," said Aradia, suddenly understanding. "Athtar, the Sword in your hand - it is the Sword of Artemis - and so is this one."

"There is only one Sword of Artemis - and it is mine!" cried Athtar.

"No, Athtar, the Sword of Artemis - the true Sword of Artemis isn’t a sword at all - don’t you see?" said Aradia.

Aryn sat up, rubbing her head and looked wide-eyed all around her. As quickly as she could, she grabbed her mother’s sword and ran to the other Amazons behind Aradia.

"Don’t be a fool, Aradia - it’s right here in my hand - and it is a sword," said Athtar advancing again upon the Amazon Queen. "It holds the power of the Amazons and their goddess and it is all mine, now."

"Athtar, the Amazons are more than just our weapons and our goddess doesn’t need steel to be powerful. You can’t hurt me with that blade, Athtar," said Aradia, calmly sheathing her sword. "You can only harm yourself by holding on to it."

"It’s a trick," Athtar spat. "Get me to drop it so you can take it from me - it’s mine!"

"Athtar, that sword is what keeps you ... the way you are," said Aradia. "Just now, when you didn’t have it, you had legs - you have to let go of it, Athtar."

"Never!" Athtar cried, clutching the Sword to her breast. "I have sacrificed too much - it is mine. I will never let it go, do you hear me?"

"I do hear you. You are a fool, Athtar," said Aradia, sadly. "Keep the Sword. The Amazons have no need of it. We have the true Sword of Artemis."

She turned to leave and motioned for the others to follow her. Aryn glanced back to see if Athtar would try to follow them, but the Guardian was cradling the Sword like a baby, crooning some lullaby to it. The girl caught up to Aradia.

"Um, I - " she began.

"Don’t talk to me right now Aryn," said Aradia. "Right now, I’m done with being scared for you and on my way to very, very angry."

"Um, okay," said the girl, dropping her head and falling back to walk beside Mhari. "Are you mad at me, too?

"No, not mad," said Mhari. "Just puzzled. Why did you do it, Aryn?"

"Julisa told me that to fulfill my destiny and save the Amazons, I had to retrieve the Sword of Artemis," said Aryn, quietly. "Only that wasn’t Julisa."

"No, it was Ares," said Mhari.

"Ares? Why would he want me to retrieve the Sword?" asked Aryn.

"He wouldn’t," said Mhari looking at the girl sharply.

"Oh," said Aryn, looking away.

"Ah, Child, who knows why the gods do anything," said Mhari, patting the girl’s shoulder. "And don’t worry about Aradia; she’ll be done with being angry with you soon. Then I suspect that she’ll be terribly proud of you."

Aryn looked between the straight shoulders of her foster-mother walking ahead of her and somehow doubted that statement. She remained silent the rest of the way out of the cave.

They emerged from the cave to be greeted by an anxious Amazon platoon, all clamouring to hear what had transpired in the cave. Aradia raised her arms for silence and received it before she spoke.

"Aryn killed the creature guarding the cave - the Graii - and led us to find this - " She unsheathed the Sword of Artemis and held it aloft. The Sword shimmered in the moonlight. It seemed to draw the light of the moon into itself until it shone with a light all its own. The Amazons were silently reverent as Aradia handed the Sword to Aryn. The girl gazed at the glowing blade, feeling power thrumming down to the hilt. Her fingers tingled with it and she handed the Sword back to Aradia. The Queen sheathed it, smiling at her.

"Now let’s take it back where it belongs," she said, one arm around Aryn’s shoulders.

Dawn arrived at the steep incline leading to the lower town of the Amazon city just as the Amazons did. As weary they were, all were excited to get home and spread the word that the Sword had been retrieved.

"Aradia," Aryn whispered. "Shouldn’t we tell them that’s not the real Sword?"

"Aryn, weren’t you listening to what I told Athtar?" said Aradia, smiling enigmatically. "This is the real Sword of Artemis. Didn’t you feel it when you touched it?"

"Yes, I did," said Aryn, frowning. "But I just don’t understand how there can be two."

"Look around, Little One," said Aradia, as they ascended into the lower town. The warriors who had preceded them had already spread the word to all the warriors who were camped around the ruins of the fortress which would be their barracks as it had been in the "old days". They went up the steep staircase to the upper town where the warriors were pounding on doors and shouting to all the Amazons that the Sword was back. Women came out of the houses and began to gravitate to the Temple. Soon, the entire Amazon Nation was gathered there, spilling out of the doors, yet hovering close as they could. They parted to allow Aradia, Mhari, and Aryn to enter. The three walked to the front of the Temple and turned to gaze upon the Amazons.

"I’m looking - gosh, there are a lot of us, aren’t there?" said Aryn.

"Yes, though not nearly as many ..." began Aradia. She shook her head. "Yes, there are. But look, Aryn - try to understand because this is important. We, the Amazons, are the Sword of Artemis."

"That’s hard to understand, Aradia," said Aryn, frowning. "You also told Athtar that the Amazons were much more than our swords."

"Together, we are," said Aradia, smiling at the throng of women.

"I still don’t get it," said Aryn with a sigh.

Aradia unsheathed the Sword and held it aloft for all to see. The sun, streaming through the open window hit the blade, casting a dazzling brilliance throughout the Temple. As Aradia gazed at it, tears welled up in her eyes.

"Oh, Thalia, how right you are," she whispered. "The symbol is nothing but a dream compared to the reality of life." She turned to Aryn and handed her the Sword. "Put it back where it belongs, Little One."

Aryn turned to the statue of the goddess and carefully fit the hilt into the marble hand. She stepped back and waited with the rest of the Amazons, holding her breath to see what would happen. She released it after a moment, and turned to whisper to Aradia, then saw the cat Hekau from the corner of her eye, jump up onto the altar. Her eyes widened and she turned.

"Hekau, no! You can’t ..." she began, then stopped as she saw a beautiful woman standing where the cat had been.

"You," said Aradia, staring at the woman. "You’re the one who released me from the gladiator’s cell. Who are you?"

"I am the one you Amazons call ‘Great Mother’, though I have as many names as there are souls who call upon me," said the Lady.

"You are the One to whom even Blessed Artemis must answer," said Aryn in a reverent whisper.

"Yes, Little One," said the Goddess, smiling and laying a gentle hand affectionately on the girl’s head. Then her smile faded and her expression grew grave. "Aradia, you remember when I told you I needed you elsewhere?"

The Queen bowed her head and nodded once.

"This is the elsewhere," said the Goddess. Aradia looked up quickly.

"What do you mean, Lady?" she asked.

"I mean, Daughter of Artemis, I needed you here in this place," said the Goddess. "The Romans are marching upon you as we speak. You must lead the Amazons against them."


Myrina made her way back to the Gorgon settlement. She would have the women pack up and they would leave for Hesperia this very day, whether Ares helped them or not.

"You failed." Myrina turned at the sound of the voice.

"No, I didn’t," she said.

"I sent you in there to be my champion - you lost - and to the Second in Command! You didn’t even challenge Aradia." Ares growled in rage, his eyes were flames. "You were fighting in my name - and I do not back losers!"

"That’s not what I heard, Ares," said Myrina, calmly. "You backed Yarg."

"Where did you hear that?" asked Ares. "You were eavesdropping!" Ares grinned.

"When I hear the voice of a strange man in my queen’s private chambers, it is my duty to make sure that she’s in no danger - and to do it discreetly," said Myrina with a shrug.

"And I thought you had no vices," said Ares with a chuckle.

"As I said, it was my duty," said Myrina. "So what about Yarg? You backed him and he lost."

"I backed him until he outlived his usefulness to me," said Ares, growling with annoyance.

"Oh, I see," said Myrina, softly. "And Athtar? Did she outlive her usefulness, too?"

"Just about," Ares muttered.

"Well, I suppose you will kill me now," said Myrina with a resolved sigh. "May I ask that you at least make it quick? Or shall I merely fall upon my own sword - ?" She unsheathed it.

"Wait," said Ares, his eyes gleaming. "There may be a way you can redeem yourself and gain back my favour."

"Why does this not surprise me?" said Myrina, re-sheathing her sword. "My mother warned me to never bargain with the gods. I should have listened. What do you want of me, Ares?"

"Actually, I think you may find this task mutually beneficial," said Ares, stroking his beard thoughtfully. "How would you like to retrieve the Sword of Artemis?"


Aradia stationed four platoons of foot soldiers around the perimeter below the lower town. Another two platoons of foot and two of archers were positioned in the lower town. She placed the remaining warriors in the upper town at both ends of the steep stone staircase and an elite squad of swords-women were assigned to protect the Temple where those both too old and too young to fight would be sequestered until after the battle.

Aryn stayed by Aradia’s side, watching her foster-mother go about the business of planning a war. Although the old forge had been located in the ruined fortress in the lower town, the smiths were hard at work in the upper town, arming all of the Amazons in the city. Craftswomen, planters, animal breeders - all were preparing to stand with their warrior sisters and defend themselves and their home.

"I’m more convinced than ever that I don’t want to be a warrior," said Aryn. "I’m scared, Aradia."

Aradia looked at the girl and sighed. "Truth? So am I, Kiddo." Aryn’s eyes widened. "But we all are, Aryn. We don’t fight because we like it."

"I know," said Aryn, quietly. "So do I fight this time?"

"Only if you have to, Aryn," said Aradia. "I want you to stay in the upper town, though."

"Do you think the Romans will get that far?" asked Aryn. Aradia was silent and thoughtful for a long moment.

"I just don’t know," she said, looking off into the valley towards the approaching Legion of Rome.


Ares led Myrina to the clearing in the centre of his sister’s sacred forest. He pointed to the cave. "It’s in there."

Myrina looked around the clearing before cautiously stepping out of the trees.

"Are you sure the Sword is still there? Someone has been here - many someone’s by the look of things," she said. "There was a fire and at least four torches." She pushed some charred bits of wood with the toe of her boot.

"What?" said Ares, swiftly stepping into the clearing, his nostrils flaring. "Amazons! Damned Amazons!"

"Judging by the way the fire was built and put out, yeah, I’d say it was Amazons, alright," said Myrina, squatting to examine the remains of the fire more closely. "There was at least one platoon out here - looks like they stood watch around the fire for at least an hour - maybe longer. The ground under the dirt they used to smother it is still warm, too."

"So it’s been what, a couple of hours?" asked Ares, anxiously.

"I’d guess they left a few hours before dawn," said Myrina, standing and brushing off her hands.

"Get in that cave and make sure the Sword is till there," said Ares. "Now!"

Myrina looked at him, her face expressionless. "And if it isn’t?"

"You’d better hope that it is," said Ares, his voice quiet, but dangerous.

Myrina walked across the clearing to the cave, her head high and shoulders straight. There was a faint odour of something rancid and a dark stain on the floor of the cave just past the opening. She skirted the stain and went on. As she proceeded deeper into the passage, she thought longingly of the remnants of the discarded torches outside. Daylight permeated the passage only a few feet, then Myrina was in complete darkness. Keeping one hand on the hilt of her sword, the warrior felt along the rough rock wall with the other, shuffling her feet across the uneven cave floor.

The passageway opened into a larger chamber, dimly lit by a small flickering flame on the floor. The room was sweetly scented and Myrina had an eerie feeling that she was not alone in the chamber. She frowned and shook off the feeling, continuing swiftly through the room and into the next dark passageway on the other side.

Once again, she felt her way along the wall. She continued that way for some time until it felt as though she had been walking in the dark for days; the concept of time no longer had any meaning for the warrior. Again she tried to shake off the feeling. She began to count her heart beats and re-gained her focus as she walked. Finally, she saw the end of the passage opening into a lighted chamber. A flash at her feet caught her attention and she bent down to pick up a piece of polished silver.

Amazons were here, alright, she thought. And not just any Amazon - this is a scrying mirror. A shamenki’s tool, or perhaps even a priestess’s. She slipped the mirror into her belt and stepped into the chamber, shocked by what she saw there.

"Athtar?" she whispered, then swiftly drew her sword as the Guardian turned and hissed at her, baring sharp fangs. She was cradling the Sword of Artemis in her arms as though it were an infant.

"Begone, Traitor!" said the creature. "The Sword is mine!"

"Athtar, I thought you were dead," said Myrina. She looked at the thing her queen had become and felt sick. "I think ... I think maybe you had better come with me, Athtar. You need a healer."

"All I need I have right here," said the Guardian, raising the Sword. It dazzled Myrina’s eyes.

"Yes, that is beautiful, indeed, Athtar," said the warrior. "So beautiful it seems a shame to have it hidden away in this terrible place, don’t you think?"

"You just want to take it from me - like Aradia and that girl," said Athtar, hissing again.

"No, I really don’t," said Myrina. "I just want you to come back to the Gorgons with me - they need their queen. Was Aradia here, Athtar?"

"Yesss...." said the Guardian, her eyes narrowing suspiciously at Myrina. "Don’t you know that already, Myrina?"

"No," said Myrina, shaking her head as she moved her eyes about the chamber, looking for a way out past the Guardian.

"I know you are with Ares," said Athtar, slithering slowly closer. "What did he offer you, Myrina?"

"Safe passage back to Hesperia," said Myrina.

"You fool!" spat Athtar. "You didn’t need him for that."

"The Romans - " began Myrina.

"The Romans are marching on the Amazon city as we speak," said Athtar. "Ares set it up - he played you for a fool, Myrina, just as he did me."

"Ares did this to you?" asked Myrina.

"No, not Ares - Medusa," said Athtar. "Ares tricked me into this cave - she was waiting here for me."

"Who is Medusa?" asked Myrina.

"The new goddess of the Gorgons," said Athtar, again baring her fangs.

"I don’t understand," said Myrina.

"It doesn’t matter - we will both die in this place," said Athtar, lunging at Myrina with the Sword.

Myrina stepped swiftly aside, evading the blade, but narrowly. Quickly, the Guardian recovered and swung. Myrina jumped back, feeling the wind brush across her middle. With a growl, Athtar again sliced forward and Myrina sidestepped the blow. She reluctantly swung her sword at Athtar, cutting the creature’s scaly hide where her thigh would be if she still had legs. A thin red line appeared as blood welled up out of the wound. The creature screamed in pain and anger. Again she lunged. Myrina tried to block, but missed. Again she felt only the wind following the blade as it barely missed her throat.

"What is this? Why can I not score a single hit with this Sword? Is it not the best blade ever forged by the gods’ hands?" Athtar cried out in frustration. Taking advantage of Athtar’s distraction, Myrina swung her sword upward in a short, chopping move, catching the hilt with the edge of her blade and flipping the Sword up out of the Guardian’s hand. Myrina whirled around and stepped into the Sword’s descent, catching it neatly with her empty hand, before finishing the revolution and facing Athtar with both swords raised.

"Give me back my sword!" said Athtar. She fell to the floor of the cave, writhing in agony. Myrina watched in horror as her scaly snake’s body split into legs, one bleeding profusely from the nasty gash delivered by Myrina’s sword.

As Myrina looked upon Athtar, writhing and undulating in a tantrum worthy of a spoiled two-year old on the dirty cave floor, she realised that the Gorgon Queen truly was no more; Athtar had finally completed her descent into absolute madness.

Sadly, Myrina turned and walked out of the chamber, unnoticed by Athtar. The light in the chamber dimmed as she carried the Sword out. Holding it aloft in front of her, Myrina found it illuminated her way better than any torch. She almost screamed when she came to the sweetly scented chamber and saw its inhabitants; thousands of serpents, drugged into a stuporous, somnolent sleep. Instead, she pressed her hand against her mouth to forcibly hold in the scream and swiftly made her way across to the final passageway.

It was a much quicker journey through the cave with illumination and Myrina emerged from the cave with the Sword of Artemis still held aloft, her own sword sheathed at her belt. Ares appeared before, grinning.

"I knew you could do it," he said, though Myrina detected a false note behind the forced cheerfulness.

"Yeah," said Myrina, looking at him through narrowed eyes. "Here. Now we’re done, Ares." She thrust the Sword of Artemis at him. Ares jumped back, fear in his eyes.

"Ah, um, no - you hang on to it, Myrina," said the god, placing both hands in front of him in a warding gesture and backing away.

A slow, sinister smile spread across the Gorgon warrior’s face. "Don’t tell me the god of war is afraid of a sword," she said, playfully thrusting the blade at him.

"Stop it!" cried Ares. "I’m not afraid."

"Is that so?" said Myrina, twirling the blade ever closer to Ares’s face. Then quickly, she reached around and slapped his backside with the flat of the blade. Ares became pale and dropped to the ground.

Myrina frowned and poked at him with the blade. Ares groaned and then lay still, but he was still breathing. Myrina laughed.

"Of course," she said to herself. "Artemis’ sword is Ares’s bane - that’s why he couldn’t get it for himself - for him, one touch of the blade is like being hit by lightning for a mortal." Briefly, she considered simply killing him, then decided it wasn’t worth the repercussions. As long as she held the Sword, she believed Ares would avoid her and the Gorgons.

She turned and walked away from the clearing back into the trees, glancing back only once at Ares, who still lay unconscious on the ground.

"I must be getting soft," she said, shaking her head, then continued on back to the Gorgon settlement. They would have to move swiftly if they wanted to get home to Hesperia before the Romans finished with the Amazons.


(To Be Continued)

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