Beady black eyes stared into his soul with a fiery calm that could only come from murder. It stared at me, unblinking, and within seconds he felt the lethal pinch of its pincers piercing the paper-thin skin of his cheek. Fire itched along his nerves determinedly as a rapid-spreading virus. This is the end.
Pain ricocheted through his nerves, pounding his body with heat flashes that shook him to his core: one moment a burning flush that slicked his body with sweat and the next a bone-chilling cold wracking his body with shivers.
Another pinch on his neck, biting and quick as a hastily delivered injection. No…. He groaned, hacking at the viscous blood that welled in the back of his throat. No… Artemis… Prayers brushed past his lips like poison-laced feathers, begging some higher god or goddess (as though his whole life hadn’t revolved around loving one). Sand swirled in flurries, falling into his slightly parted lips, making his throat gritty with dried, sandy blood. Beady black eyes reappeared in his peripherals. The scorpion is back. Its eyes were glinting murderously in the setting sun as it raised its stinger high. Orion simply tensed his throat, waiting for the inevitable, lethal pinch that would put an end to his pathetic human life forever.
But it never came. As if in some faraway dream, Orion heard the slosh of desert sand. Like an angel wreathed in the heavenly sunlight, she appeared in his vision, towering over his body. Coughing and spluttering up blood, his lips mouthed her name but all that came out was a gurgling croak. Shadows flickered across his face as the flowing white silk of her toga billowed in the breeze. She raised her boot-clad foot ominously, yellow-hazel eyes glinting with an emotion he couldn’t quite place. He tensed, squeezing his eyes shut and waiting for the final blow, the imminent pain…
Crunch. It was a sickeningly slow sound. Orion’s eyes snapped open to see Artemis’s boot splattered with an oozy black goop, the crumbled shell of the scorpion scattered across the sand in broken pieces like a smashed bottle; Artemis’s lips quirked into a tiny grin, tossing her shining auburn curls over her shoulder. He could have sworn that she had a glowing silver aura pulsating around her, painting her moonbeam pale skin in glittering light. An avenging angel. After all I had done, she saved me.
Kicking away the scorpion remains, the goddess crouched beside him in the sand, placing a silver cup to his lips. The liquid was cool and sweet like vanilla soda, the deep golden hue of the liquid seeming to hide glimmering secrets. Ambrosia. The drink of the gods.
Night was rapidly creeping over the rolling dunes, the crimson-gold painted sky receding into black. A brilliant crescent moon hung lonely in the starless oblivion above. Orion’s eyelids drooped, a drowsy smile playing across his lips as he stared out into the dusk, Artemis warm beside him; she smelled faintly of jasmine and pine, tinged with the beachy scent of sand.
“I love you,” he whispered into the dark. They were words he wouldn’t remember saying for the remainder of his immortal life. Orion thought he could hear a sad sigh over the perpetual noise of wind whistling in the sand.
“I love you too,” Artemis paused, seeming lost in thought. Pursing her lips, she looked tenderly down at the pale huntsman, the red sting marks dotting his right cheek like… a constellation. Eyes drooping lower, he saw her hold a hand to the sky, bright pinpricks of stars appearing where she dragged her fingers. He would awake tomorrow morning with hardly a memory of the scorpion that almost killed him, forever sealed into the fate of being Artemis’s mercenary.
The beautiful maiden goddess let her hand fall, surveying her creation, written across the sky in stars. A new constellation, one that would be marveled at for millenia to come. Orion: The Hunter. Running a reverent hand over his forehead, she closed his eyes. As he was drifting off into a warm, vanilla-sugar sleep, he heard her whisper,
“Sic itur ad astra.”
Thus you shall go to the stars.
Drawing his bow, he let an arrow fly skyward, watching it disappear into the clouds. Sic itur ad astra. The thought leapt across his mind randomly, as it always seemed to when he thought of her. Throwing a hand up to his cheek, he felt the raised skin of the faded white scar as though on some level he could feel her touch there if he concentrated hard enough.
“Why did you do that? We have to find them now or she’ll- she’ll…” The young mercenary trailed away, voice quavering. Orion narrowed his eyes at his pathetic quaking, bounding ahead once again. The young man came up beside him, panting.
“We’re going the wrong way! They went that way!”
“Yes, they did.” The words were icy and emotionless on his tongue with an edge of superiority that came from millenia of murder and doing what he did best: hunting. I have no need to explain myself. I answer only to Artemis. My one and only love. The last thought was quiet, nervous, as though even in his own mind Orion was afraid she would hear it.
“The Mistress will- she’ll-” The Huntsman shouldered the scrawny man hard, breaking stride to slam him against the alley wall. He recoiled back. Red hair mussed. Fresh blood dripping in satisfying streaks from the new scrapes. Emerald eyes frenzied and fearful; Orion looked like a golden god of war reflected in his panicked stare.
“Kill us? Toss you away like street scum? Yes. She will.” Frustration bubbled in his throat, searing hot and threatening to boil over in a torrent of white-hot words. “Stop your incessant sputtering. Artemis,” he saw the mercenary’s eyes widen at her name (no man was ever to speak her heavenly name, not even her own assassins), “has no mercy. No love to give your pathetic, yearning heart.” Orion cringed, eyes squinting with the pain of that venomous word. Driving a boot into the young man’s gut, he laughed at the groan echoing off the bricks.
“Artemis will kill you without hesitation if you fail. There was ever only one exception, a long time ago…” his thoughts drifted to a lethal sting, stars painted across the sky, the waves of her auburn hair gleaming under the lonely moon. No. No. No. Snapping back to the crumpled mercenary, his throat raw with emotion,
“That was a lifetime ago. It will never happen again. The arrow to the sky was a message of distress, directly to Artemis. Alerting her to watch over us, track our progress and dole out punishments for those whose services are lacking. As for going the wrong way? We aren’t.” He pointed to the opening of the alley just in time for the staggering gaggle of girls to slink past. Eyes burning with passion, Orion yanked the young mercenary to his feet and took off without missing a beat.
Watching someone die is a lot different than what I had imagined. And trust me, I’d imagined it a million different times, a million different ways ever since Inara had taken off that night.
You always think it will be dramatic. Gasping breaths, whispered last words, reverent hands reaching for the sky only to fall down halfway. In reality, death is a more of a creeping phantom than a grand grim reaper.
I winced as the viscous blood gushed between my fingers, repeating to myself over and over, It’s not her. It’s not her. It’s not her. The glassy blue eyes staring up into space were not the sparkling emerald of my sister’s. Yet the setting was the same, the bumpy roads of Kommetjie that haunted my dreams, the roads where I envisioned her dying every night. It had been years since she had taken off into the night, headed for the bustling little town she had fallen in love with, heart soaring and head filled with dreams of a bakery of her own and a townhouse on Main Street. I never heard from her again.
“Zara!” Kenna hissed, yanking my arm. I fumbled with Daria’s limp body as we took a hard right into the alley. At the end of the musty little corridor, silhouetted against the bricks was a figure that made my heart skip a beat. Cascading black hair, ebony skin, lean, muscled arms. Inara. It’s her. Every ounce of logic disproved this: the police had launched a full-scale search combing every inch of the area. But hope bloomed with the deadly strength of a poisonous flower… sweet and with dangerous potential. Hastily handing off Daria’s body to Kenna, I sprinted down the alley, watching as the figure slunk around the corner.
This was painfully easy. Changing forms usually wasn’t my forte, per se, but today the facade was utterly flawless. The Earth girl’s voice yelled her sister’s name after me as I ducked around the corner, loping down the street and drawing her further and further away from the pack.
“Inara! Come back! It’s me!” My lips quirked up. Poor girl. She has no idea… her sister has been dead for a long time. I almost felt bad… well, no, I didn’t. The chase was on. Zara Nightlock had no idea that the trophy she was chasing was not solid gold. Just a cheap plastic fake laced with deadly intentions.