“Without a trace.” These were the words that rang in the ears of the people, that sliced on the wind with whispers and ruffled the wise willows (who seemed to droop lower and lower with each time her name was spoken.) Pictures plastered the windows. Amber alerts screeching their discordant call into the night air. One name spat like a curse, one woman sobbing it, the whole world buzzing about it. One name that swept through the school hallways like a tornado, leaving silence and tension in its wake. One name that rolled through the rural Ohio town like a ghostly fog creeping over the fields.“Mira. Casse.”
It was the last thing Melissa Casse would hear before it happened. It was a night like every other before it, deathly silent except the whisper of the wind and the chatter of crickets roaming the moonlit fields. Selene’s captor stood in the light of the open window, looking out across the glittering grasses.
“Mira. Casse.” A detached voice whispered into the night, a voice that had plagued her nightmares, haunting every waking moment. A second later, a silver blur screamed down from the clouds. The frail blonde woman felt a prick on her chest, a burst of pain like a bee sting amplified a hundred times. She shrieked, placing her pale fingers to her chest, feeling the wetness there.
Blood. The silver glinted in the light as she yanked it out of her chest, crimson spurting onto the wood floor in gushing drops. Rattling moans escaped her chest, the pain starting to jab at her. Eyes wide, her knees buckled.
“Melissa? Honey, are you okay? Let me in!” His voice was rough with worry, each muscle of his sun-weathered skin taut as a tightrope. She could imagine him outside the door- his head in his hands, dark hair ruffled wildly, dark shadows lurking under his eyes like a brand of the many sleepless nights.
“Melissa, please. Please, don’t do this. What’s wrong? Let me in!” Silence clung to the air for a second, shattered almost instantaneously by a screeching sob. Pure pain, the rawest heartbreak, the hottest fire, the iciest cold- bottled up into an ear splitting scream. James pounded the wood. Crack. Crack. Crack. CRACK. Not enough. Not enough. Melissa cried out again, thrashing as her heart pounded brokenly. Panic surged in white-hot waves, crashing through her veins.
She had to get to the window, had to lock the latch and get away from this place as soon as possible. Mira. Casse. Artemis’s chilly laugh echoed on the night as though mocking her futile attempts to move. Crimson blossomed over her white nightgown as she covered her ears, slicking her pale fingertips with blood like Sleeping Beauty with a lot of curiosity but no prince. Melissa dragged herself an inch closer, the little metal latch glinting in the moonlight.
Sharp, stabbing pain rocketed through her, vision blurring into a foggy haze with each little movement. Everything was blurry now. Swishing white curtains like vengeful phantoms. Stars in the sky shone painfully bright like torchlights bobbing in a dank black cave. Her cotton nightgown stained with red, creeping over the fabric like weeds in an untended garden. The silver arrow protruding from her chest was like an exclamation mark misplaced at the end of a grim sentence.
Crack. Crack. CRACK. CRACK. “Melissa, I’m coming, hold on!” Blackness began to creep in around the edges. The frail blonde woman slammed the window shut, stinging pins and needles pricking her skin. Just as she reached for the latch, so tantalizingly close, the window flew open with a gust of wind, knocking her back onto the floor. THUD. Pain crackled through her skull, a spark bursting in a blazing inferno.
Standing there, wreathed in moonlight, was Artemis in all her glory. Auburn hair loose around her shoulders, hazel eyes burning with fury like hot embers in her pale face. Her stark white toga fluttered in the breeze as she reached for her quiver. Melissa tensed, braced for another shot, but nothing came. Artemis plucked a broken chain from the leather bag, tossing it at the blood-stained woman. Mira’s star necklace.
“What have you done to her?” Melissa sobbed, blonde strands of hair whipping in the wind that picked up with each passing second. The goddess’s face was cold, emotionless, missing any humanity. The glint of mercy and love she had seen and nurtured in Selene wasn’t there in Artemis. Washed away with the countless centuries… or perhaps it had never been there at all.
“Nothing, Mrs. Casse. Nothing at all… yet. Perhaps you should ask her what she did to me.” Venom overflowed from the icy words, a fury so cold and deep it burned away the melodic, silvery sweetness of her voice. “You changed her, Melissa. Turned her weak-willed and sensitive. I could have fixed her, could have hardened her with the passing centuries. If that had been all the damage you’d done. But it wasn’t, was it?”
Mrs. Casse moaned, visions of Mira’s sparkling midnight blue eyes dancing across her mind’s eye, memories of family breakfasts, looking lovingly on as her “daughter” scampered onto the high school bus in jeans and flannel, completely oblivious that she had lived in golden gowns for most of her life until Melissa had taken her away. Crickets’ chirps cried in the golden fields, interrupting the still night air.
“It wasn’t was it?” Artemis asked vehemently, trembling from head to toe. Her silver heels jittered on the floor, an uneven, jittery tap like a soundtrack of insanity. The mellifluous, crooning voice of the huntress was gone, scorched away like green grass burning to a crisp under a desert sun. Melissa groaned, the arrow throbbing in her chest just a fraction of an inch from her heart.
“Was it? Was it?” Artemis shrieked, her heels tapping more violently with each passing second, her pale face flushing a furious pink. Crack. CRACK. CRACK. CRACK. The wood of the door splintered, beginning to give way. She could see a glimpse of her husband’s sweat-beaded face through the cracks, bronze cheeks flushed red with effort, eyes wide with desperation. Melissa whispered a silent prayer that he would have the strength. Hope rose in her chest like a phoenix unfurling its mighty wings.
“No. It wasn’t the only thing I did. But I’m glad for the things I did. You made her cold, heartless, almost beyond saving. I loved her, I helped her, I tried to give her humanity and mercy-”
“Ha!” Artemis’s lips curled into a twisted grin. “Mercy is for the weak. You did the damage that I couldn’t repair. Not only did you steal her from me, wipe her memory, pit her against me, you did the worst thing of all. You made her human.” Before you could blink, Artemis drew her silver bow and flicked her finger. Melissa felt a sharp prick of pain and saw her husband’s tortured face looming above her. Artemis was gone, disappeared without a trace. The last thing she felt was the sticky blood on her fingertips where the second silver arrow had directly pierced her heart. Mira. Casse.
I jolted awake, gasping for air. My heart throbbed, pulsating with a sharp pain that felt like something lodged directly in my chest. Clutching my throat, I ran a hand over the star shaped scar where my necklace had sat for so many years.
“Where are we?” I asked, glancing around the deck. Daria’s puddles of sticky crimson blood had dried by now, leaving ominous brown stains clinging the the wood like an omen of disaster; the cloying metallic scent still clung to the air, intermingling with the tangy sea salt breeze.
“From what I’ve heard, we’re nearing the Cape of Good Hope. There’s buzz that they came to Africa to hunt down Earth, but are concerned by a new article that was released about us.” Daria paused, widening her eyes in a shockingly good imitation of innocence as one of the mercenaries stalked by. Grumbling along, he barely gave a second glance to us. Obviously the crew didn’t seem to think we were much of a threat (with the enchanted bonds and lack of substantial food). They’re probably right, I thought with frustration, staring helplessly at Artemis’s burly mercenaries conversing on the bow.
“Crescent Cunningham, a news reporter from Manchester-” Kenna’s head shot up like a bullet, tendrils of dark brown hair swirling around her shoulders like Medusa’s snakes.
“Manchester?” The word flew out of her mouth like a dart, so fast it was almost hard to tell if it was a question. Something about the feral look in her eyes made me cringe back, as though shrinking myself down could save me from Kenna’s glare. I had never seen her coal black eyes burn so bright. The ropes around her wrists hissed, sizzling violently like an egg slammed to the sidewalk on a hot day.
“Yes,” Daria cleared her throat anxiously. “She’s from the Manchester Post. It’s something about our disappearance. She thinks we’re witches.” Her voice fell to a whisper on the last word, face crumpling as she put a hand to her anklet. It was adorned with a little golden cross. This power she was given must seem very unholy to her… The thought that our gift was unnatural sent shivers down my spine. It would take years for her to come to terms with it, let alone the fact that the Olympians existed, just barely out of sight her whole life. I pushed the thought aside. This was no place to console her.
Kenna drew her knees to her chest, lip trembling with fury or grief- I couldn’t tell. Her bonds hissed angrily, charring black with each second. Out of the blue, it hit me. My heart pounded as I took in her knitted brows and tense shoulders. This just might work.
“Your school probably thinks you’re an arsonist. Don’t you think? They hear the accounts of you murdering a man, exploding in a ball of fire. An article about you on the run with other delinquents? They must think that you finally snapped,” I said lightly, sprinkling in some snark on a few words like an exclamation mark punctuating an angry sentence. Murdering. Delinquents. Snapped. Daria looked at me in alarm, mouthing a silent warning. I ignored her, smiling as Kenna clenched her fists, dark eyes scrunching at the corners.
“Manchester, your hometown. Imagine how shocked they were, how disgusted they were to hear about you. A witch. I bet your brother can’t even walk through the hall without whispers and laughs trailing in his wake. Will, was it?” Guilt twinged in my heart as the words hung in the air, my heart strings plucking a discordant twang. It was working. Her coal eyes smoldered with intensity, furious tears dripping down her tan cheeks. Frayed black strands of rope were falling away slowly, hissing like an angry cat. Daria glanced at the charred threads then back at me, understanding lighting her eyes.
“Stop. Now.” Kenna hissed through clenched teeth. I conjured up my most venomous smirk, suppressing the disgust and guilt that roiled in my gut. You have to do this. We have a chance. My lips were stretched so wide my cheeks stung; I felt like the Cheshire Cat lurking smugly in the dark woods.
“Oh, wait. I forgot something, didn’t I? Don’t you think Charles would be upset too?” Her eyes glowed hot. The rope curled away, threads blackening quicker and quicker with each word. The smile that curled my lips felt wrong, twisted, demonic. It was necessary. I tried to think of happy things as I braced myself for the next sentence, but all I could think about was how merciless I sounded. How… inhuman. Like Artemis. I steeled myself with an achy breath.
“Ah, but he can’t be, can he.” My smile was pained, teeth gritted as I forced out the words. “Because you killed him.” A single, silent second passed, a second that felt like an eternity. Then she exploded. Fire burst from her fingertips, ravaging her bonds in a foul swoop of flame! Kenna lurched for me, a blur of flying hair and clenched fists. Charred ropes fell from her wrists.
“It was an accident and you know it! You sick, twisted, lying-” She screamed, too consumed in fury to finish.Within seconds I was pinned to the ground, Daria frantically holding Kenna back as she threw herself forward. Fire licked my skin, searing pain rocketing across my arms. Then it all stopped. Kenna froze in place, her furious face smoothing as she looked out across the horizon. I sat up and followed her gaze. There it was. The Cape of Good Hope in all its glory. But more than that? Storm and Earth racing towards our ship in a boat. Today was the day we would escape.