Writer's Wednesday!

WW Elementals Finale Part 3– Soul and Saviors

Screams. Deep, throaty, bellowing groans in discord with the silence of the graves. That was what the goddess wished to hear as she approached the crypt. This spark in her deadened soul, this wisp of something…an emotion? An impulse? 

A fire in the eyes of the devil.

  A bitterness on the tongue of a critic.

A harsh word on the ears of the deaf.

What would someone call that? Not a feeling, the goddess decided. She was not wistful for the sound of screams, not hopeful. She was inconvenienced. Inconvenienced by an impulse–the hard metal heart rotting in her chest was incapable of the experience “hope.” So, perhaps, Artemis was experiencing distraction. Irritation. 

Niggling at her gut, the annoyance disguised as hope for her Huntsman collected her soul together again. As a goddess, it was simple to fracture herself into various forms and disperse them throughout the Earth and heavens at the drop of a hat. But it required the lack of emotion–no, distractions, she reminded herself–that she could not currently obtain. 

It was a cosmic lift from her mind: the weight of all the monitored realities condensing into one form, a merging rather like mixing the ingredients of a pastry; after all, it is easier to carry a single cake than all the flour, eggs, and milk that went into it.

Whole again, the goddess moved with renewed vigor, cautious to monitor her speed lest she overshoot the crypt by a mile at sonic pace. It felt awkward to run again; she hadn’t truly run at a human speed since she ruled the Hunters of Artemis, back when tracking down boar and overconfident cougars was the task of all tasks. 

Finally at the cusp of the leering concrete structure, she took a moment to examine it with cold, calculating eyes leering in the anxious light. It was a beautiful tomb: carved with the intricacies and care of craftsmen from a time before. A time of refined workmanship and gentle, deliberate chiselings and chips. 

Not like today. Cheap plastic. Mass produced goods. Hasty assembly lines–the festering mortal laxity disgusted her. She was born from the cosmos into a world of art. Beauty. Grace. And–consequently–meticulous hours of work behind each vase and script.

But craftsmanship passed with the years and without note, of little matter to an immortal and even less to a human. The true reason why she trudged through this graveyard was infinitely greater than the tomb.

What lay within. Who lay within: the cause of this annoying distraction of hope. Because despite herself, a shrapnel shred of her iron heart held fondness for him.

Orion. Orion, who once upon a millenia she had loved against her will and against her better judgement. Orion, who was destined to be a mortal, who’s scorpion sting should have seeped toxicity through his arteries and stolen his breath. Orion–for which the goddess had rewritten the stars themself.

She allowed this annoyance to broil in the silence, regarding the stone with daggers in her eyes and shoulders defiantly broadened, despising the silence. Her name did not reverberate from within. No prayers echoed dimly through the crack in the door. This wasn’t good…not at all. There should be screams; that fact, and that fact alone, decided it.

The goddess charged violently at the door, lashing a bolt of crisp white light crackling towards the cement. From the silence the burst of power rattled the air into a frenzied hum. Her gossamer hair lifted and spiked from its sheen, frazzled by the static and the door exploded at once. 

Shards of stone and rock thrashed violently against her skin, assaulting the paleness and careening off like a pebble on a bulletproof window. The atmosphere thrummed with the blast as a cloud of suffocating dust billowed from the decimated crypt.

Unmarked, clothes artfully disheveled and hair frizzed, Artemis stumbled forward through the clouds of soot and sucked in a breath. Panic overtook her glass eyes: the rubble was immense. Cradling her thin hands close to her chest, an unexpected regret fizzled through her fingertips in the place of the power she had come to know. Tightness seized her chest. Too much. Too much, I used too much, what if…? 

“No,” she breathed, eyes roving the debris, the annoyance of hope rearing strong in her gut. Shiny, platinum hair. Strong hands. Cloth. An arrowhead. Something, anything, to show her she hadn’t…but what if… 

What if I killed him? What if he was suffering? What if my flicker of effort crushed him, what if? What if Orion is dead? It shouldn’t matter to her. Another feeble-minded mercenary, blindly following orders on the chance that Artemis will show them love…wasn’t that all he was?

The goddess, clutching her arms against her heart, scrambled to comb the rubble. She flung aside rocks with the frenzy of a starving hyena stumbling upon a fresh kill. Minutes screamed by and thousands of shards spiked the earth where she had thrust them from the debris. No sign of him. Drawing back in fright, the goddess examined her work in terror. 

“What am I doing?!” she sobbed to the hazy clouds of ash, to the sky, to the unhearing wind. Dread pooled in her gut.The sky was darkening.  Pressure squeezed her brain. Shivers trembled down her spine: what is happening to me?

Artemis had no time to ponder the question when her vision scattered in a crack of light. Lightning burst from the sky, forking a fiery tongue down directly into her aching chest and bursting her conscious thought into shrapnel. Thunder rumbled in the sky, a crescendo like a bowling ball hurtling down the lane. They stepped forward, emerging from the haze like phantoms floating on the fog.

Four girls wrapped in glittering light, angels gliding through the dim cemetery with elegant strides like a young queen at her coronation. Another burst of lighting struck the goddess. She fell back, back arching with the electricity, fighting to condense her being back into this moment. A girl rose her hand and flame emerged, climbing the silk strands of Artemis’ hair and licking down her simple, threadbare clothes. Rain came pounding in then, icy cold and blistering heat ravaging her skin in a torrent, the charge still buzzing along her body.

The Elements overpowered her one by one, pummeling her figure with bolts of energy and wind and gasps of fire so sweltering her skin burned red. Moon dust choking her lungs, stuffing the delicate trachea full of toxicity and smoke. Lightning sizzling her arms. Fire drowning her eyes. Sea spray whipping down on her head like gravel lashed from a truck tire. 

Artemis clawed at the earth, reaching for a stone to throw, something to cease this pain, a pain like she’d never felt in all her existence.

Instead, her groping hand found skin. Skin. 

The world came back into focus. All the fragmented particles of her essence raced back together in a surge, solidifying in a burst of raw emotion so intense she rocked on her side and screamed. The barrage stopped at once. The four girls were thrown back like rag dolls in the path of a tormenting toddler, thrust on stone mausoleums, bones cracking against graves. 

All the millennia of her life suddenly focused, each minuscule moment notable or worthless jamming themselves into her mind, and suddenly Artemis felt like a human. Frazzled, lying in a pile of rubble and soot, desperately clinging to the hand of her long lost love.

Orion. 

Orion. A romantic love, perhaps, or a friendly one, or maybe not love at all so much as a mutual liking…but whatever they had, she suddenly could think of no happier moment in all her life as when she felt her fingers on his.

Paying no attention to the moaning Elementals behind her, she sat up and drew the warm skin of his hand against her face, gently cradling it against her cheek. A pulse fluttered weakly through the veins there, throbbing in time with her flooded head. All the memories, all the years flurried through her brain, a great burst of humanity ravaging her soul. And there was a soul. She felt it now, festering inside her, thrumming and glowing as bright as Selene’s moon.

Dusting the debris from his body, Artemis pulled him close, golden hair splayed across her lap like a sunburst. Willing a morsel of her mind to focus, the power burst eagerly to her fingers and streamed into his broken body, knitting tissues and mending bones. The years of hunting experience coalesced into a healing energy, one she wasn’t sure she had ever used–not on the dying leper during the plagues or the wounded huntress she had taught since youth. Never would she have thought to try. Never, except for him.

When she was certain Orion had healed, she delicately lowered his head onto the stone, brushing the ash from his lids. Turning her head to face the four powerful girls, she was met with a pair of beseeching midnight eyes.

“Selene,” she whispered. The teen girl stood not far from the goddess, legs twisted at disturbing angles and fingers trembling. 

“Artemis.” The words were cold, doubtlessly intended to ring with strength but quaking with weakness instead. Kenna the fire girl, Daria of water, and Talia of storm gathered themselves and stood, each bloody with the impact of the cosmic blast. 

Stumbling forward, each flashed each other meaningful looks, striding to Selene’s sides and linking arms with her. A row of four girls, meant to be five, full of enough power to rock the universe from its foundation.

There they stood, eyes trained on one lone goddess, the huntress, the eternal maiden. A sense of cumulation permeated the scene, a sense that every instant in their lives, as unique and different as they may be, had been building to this moment. This hour. This minute. This very instant in time.

 The final fight was about to begin.


Writer's Wednesday!

Midnight Rogue 3–Dawn

When the bell had struck hours ago, she should have run. A messy murder was better than a risk like this: to be so far from home and take her time going back. He had taken too long to die. 

When the bell had struck hours ago, when her knife had plunged into his beating heart, she shouldn’t have waited for his last breath to be drawn. It was too late. Even before she left the alley, she knew this. She had gone too far, waited too long, been too careless.

The girl slunk from the hallowed place; she was alone again. Bloody morning sun rays painted her face in gold, glistening off a pallid, milky mask: the face of a killer. Beginning to perspire, little beads of pearly sweat adorning the pale canvas, her boots struck hard on the concrete as she started to run. 

Her feet were slick with the sweat, boots stuffed with paper upon paper to disguise her actual shoe size…a smart tactic. A smart tactic, but a disgusting one; her feet were swimming in greasy newspaper, toe sweat, and blood that had seeped through the fabric. 

Uncomfortable. Not an uncomfortable like wet socks after a water ride. No. Uncomfortable like the fact that her mind no longer lingered on the fresh blood on her hands. Uncomfortable that the swampy sweat bog of her boots was of a bigger concern to her than the man she just slaughtered. Oh, well. Discomfort could pass. Guilt, which she decidedly shut out, would have passed too. The girl had greater things to worry about.

She had been sloppy today. She was never sloppy–never. Gloves cleanly disposed of. Knives properly cleaned, soaked in chemicals, restored to their place. Boot prints left, yes, but in a size that was almost laughably big. Those grimy shoes had been passed around among relatives so many times the purchase was virtually untraceable. None of those were the problem. Not at all. 

Her problem was the sun. The sun, and the thousands of dirty, drug-shooting, poor saps rising with it as the outer boroughs spurred to life. Panther-like steps were abandoned. It was a race against the clock, a race against any early risers. This time, she had taken it too far, too lightly, too late. Sprinting now, her boots thudded so loud that she was more likely to wake up the people with the sound of her footsteps than the sun through the windows.

Idiot, idiot, idiot…how could you be so careless? It was at least a mile left to go; she had traveled so far through the night, hopped up on sadistic adrenaline and practically unfazed by the trip to the victim’s apartment. 

But her energy was waning fast. The Midnight Rogue persona was slipping through her sweat-slicked grasp, the addictive, psychotic energy dissolving. 

She had killed at midnight. 

Recounted their sins. She was the devil. The cruel Fates of hell. Anubis burning a sinner alive with the flames of their own wicked crimes. 

An easy dagger thrust. She was an assassin. 

Pierce the heart. She was Death. 

Watch the life bleed from their eyes, draining like thick soup through a strainer…make sure the victim is dead. She was vengeance.

The girl shifted through her roles easily now, easier than the first times. Each kill was smoother than the last; this broken shell no longer felt guilt. 

Why not? Simple: does the grim reaper feel guilt? No. Then neither would the Rogue.

She had killed at midnight. 

It was four A.M. 

The time in between had slipped through her grasp, springing through alleys and dodging the sleeping masses of homeless people, stewing in their own filth.

A dingy street flew by, she passed onto a silent avenue. Movement in her peripherals, just a flitting shadow. The girl faltered. There was a shape in the window, a heavyset figure: a silhouette wreathed in the brilliance of an old-fashioned light bulb, a set of eyes staring out into the void, a man. Did he see me? Is my cover blown? 

The girl hoped she was unrecognizable as the Rogue. As dangerous as it may be to face down the Midnight Rogue as a criminal, it was twice as dangerous to be the Rogue at the mercy of a citizen. In this lawless, disgusting place, who would falter to kill her?

 The vacant-eyed Reject on the street–some ex-politician from City Central, a broken man swaddled in urine-soaked blankets–who would turn her in for a scrap of cloth on his back? 

A criminal wandering the avenues, haunting bars and clubs, waiting for a young girl he could prey on to stagger from a bar?

Not even a mother, wreathed in cigarette smoke, puffing her lungs with toxicity to shut out her grief? Desperate to make ends meet? Living paycheck to paycheck?

Even her only friend would condemn her to hell if he knew. So why not every other sinner in the boroughs? She had no right to play reaper. No right to play God. No right to deal justice where none existed. Yet she still kept running. Somehow, inexplicably, she would not let herself die.

She knew what had to be done. There was no time to get to the bunker. No more shadows to hide in. Now was the time to be the girl she’d grown up as, the girl she was before the triggers, before the ugly monster inside her reared its head. It was time to shed the disguise.

Shrugging off her cloak, the Rogue ducked into the first alcove she saw off the street. It was dark, humid, with a dumpster that smelled disturbingly close to human feces. The boot slid easily off her foot. Sweat-soaked newspaper shook loose from its pungent prison. Remorseful, the girl stuffed the royal purple silk into the lining, cringing as the hand woven cloth was smashed into a moist boot. When she stuffed the boot back on, she was equally delighted and regret-filled by the coolness of the cloak on her foot. 

Pony tail holder: it had carved a pinkish track in her wrist. Her hair felt coarse under her greasy fingers; she quickly tied it up in an unflatteringly high ponytail. Shrugged off her jacket, loosely knotting it around her waist. 

Then, the worst problem. My dagger…the bronze etched handle was laughably visible. The sheath at her belt, so easily concealed by her cloak, was now glaringly obvious. Choking on laughter, she surveyed the sharp edge of the dagger, the designs on the sheath. Very uncharacteristic of a teenage party girl. 

Such a beautiful sheath. Shining black leather. Perfectly crafted to caress her dagger. Easy draw. And without a doubt, the most expensive thing the girl owned. 

Every nerve in her hand rebelled at the motion. A tangible ache gripped her gut, but she knew she had to do this, no matter how much it hurt. The dagger slid easily into the soggy newspaper of her left boot. 

And the perfect dagger sheath fell to the concrete. Abandoned. Ripe for the pick of any drug-hungry Reject scouring the dumpsters. The thought made her sick.

“Hey, missy. You lost?” She jumped. A voice. So close it couldn’t be more than six feet away. She pressed down the scream that clawed at her throat. A wave of terror crashed over her: what could she do? 

Panic. Hot in her veins, on her cheeks, in her throat. Hide the dagger hilt? No time. Flirt with him? No experience. Pretend to be a party girl? Drunk? Lost? Maybe…but only because killing him would be too much of a fuss this late in the morning. 

The Rogue turned. Attempting a casual pose, she gave a dopey smile, heart pounding her ribs. A man stood at the mouth of the alcove. Beefy. Heavyset. No more than a few feet away. Threateningly close. 

“Um…who are you?” She managed, slurring her words. She tried to think of what a blackout-drunk party girl would say, how she would act. The exact way her eyelids would flutter. The drool dribbling down her lip. No time. No time! Any truly drunk City Central girl would never stop talking, never, especially if she was with a man who was even slightly interested. She was panicking. Desperate to conjure something flirty, stupid, bewildered. Yet what spilled from her lips was the most idiotic thing she could imagine.

“Rebecca? Is that you?” 

Idiot. 

Idiot! 

But wasn’t that something a drunk girl would say? She didn’t know. The Rogue had never had a drink. She was only a teen…too young. Too impulsive. Enough sense to know that alcohol would send her spiraling further than blind rage ever could.

The man screwed up his brow. It was obvious he was male–masculinity practically radiated from him, dashed with the usual arrogance and self-righteousness. He frowned, uncertain,

“Uh, no, I’m–” 

“Thank god! I left my bag at the club, do you have it? My mom would killlllll me if she knew! Kill me, Becky! Becca…Rebeccs…Rebie, some rando Reject could, like,” she hiccuped, “steal it and then I would be all like, ‘mom my bag got stolen’ and she would be like ‘your nice one?’ and I would be like ‘yes, mom, the one with all my I.D and monies in it!’” 

Fanning herself, the girl started to tear up, wavering on her feet, clutching the bricks for support. Her eyes were wild. She looked down, rifling through the crumpled papers at her feet. Dazed. As if her bag was somehow in the newspaper. 

“I’m not Rebecca. But if you want–”

“Oh! My. God.” Her lip quivered like a plucked bowstring. The jacket around her waist sagged, falling down to her knees as she trembled, clouds growing in her gaze. Perfect. Even in a fake stupor, she could appreciate her acting skills. 

“Are you alright? I can take you hom–”

A piercing shriek cut the air. She wailed like an air horn. He could have sworn her eyes crossed for a second.

“Where. Is. Gerard?! I promised him that I was going to give him my number! Oh, where is he?” The girl stamped her boot. 

“I totally forgot after I lost my bag! Oh…he’s never going to…Rebecca!” The girl whined, practically whimpering now, oblivious to the fact that the man was backing away.

“Becca…Gerard was like…” her eyes glassed over. Silence hung for a second, a strange interaction coming to a halt in a little divot, on a disgusting avenue, in a trashy borough, far away from the glittering lights of City Central. Silence.

Then she wretched. Doubled over. Gagged. Saliva splattered the ground, gruesome chunks of god-knows-what painting the concrete. Vomit. Vomit! Hot, thick, clumpy, moist vomit. The man cringed back, sprinting from the alcove and down the street. 

As soon as he was out of sight, the Rogue stood up, eyes clearing. With a decisive motion, she let her hair down, pushing the hair tie onto her wrist and shrugging the jacket back on. Always the actor, the girl, name unsaid, ungiven, strutted confidently from the steaming stew of vomit and saliva. 

Just as she shifted through her roles of justice, she transitioned from drunk-party-girl-with-a-lost-handbag-and-a-crush-on-Gerard to confident young woman returning home at dawn.

The mistakes wouldn’t go unnoticed. Unremarked. The Midnight Rogue was sure of that. Only that. She flowed through her forms fluidly as the devil changed faces. The only role switch she had to control was the shift from Midnight Rogue to guilty teenage girl. All the rest came naturally.

The girl stepped into the street, thoughts of the approaching day already clouding her mind. She was no longer the Rogue; her rage had dissipated with the night. The only signal of her crimes was the dagger in her left boot and the cloak in her right, a vague recollection of bloodthirsty rage, a memory of a scream. 

She had been invited to meet up with a friend at 8:00 A.M., which meant she would have to jog home, further matting down the beautiful cloak–

A hand encircled her throat. Cloth against her lips. She flailed her limbs. Feet lifted from the ground.  Immediately, a wall of rubbing alcohol scent smashed her nostrils, deep, pounding. Her vision blurred. She drew in a breath as her feet scrambled for purchase. The regret was instant. Nausea roared at her like a gut-punch. Chloroform. 

Breathless, dripping with sweat, the man from the alcove lifted her into a car trunk. She lost consciousness before he could even close the lid. 

Karma, she thought. The world was paying her back for her sloppiness. Karma, and arrogance, for believing she could so easily outsmart every passerby. Her mistakes were not unremarked. Justice comes at a hefty price in the outer boroughs. The Midnight Rogue would soon pay it.


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Writer's Wednesday!

Writer’s Wednesday! Into the Crypt

*This is a continuation of a series. Find the rest in the archives under the Elemental series.

Crisp daylight fell in choked slivers through the cracks in the crypt door. Dust danced in the bright white light, falling and settling restlessly down onto the hard concrete slab of the tomb.  The cloying stench of death and decay stifled the air as he hastily sucked in a breath, prying the door open with a resounding creak. The thick layer of dust stirred on the concrete coffin as a cold wind howled into the damp chamber for the first time in years.

His calloused fingers hesitated on the lid of the tomb. A deep chill permeated the air as though a faint whisper of the tortured soul imprisoned within the crypt still lingered, seething at the injustice of her death long ago. 

The huntsman had slaughtered innocents in the name of his mistress Artemis, tracked prey around the world, stared into the wide eyes of a poor man and slit his throat because of a simple accident when he had stumbled upon Artemis in the bath.

 All of it in her name; just to see satisfaction light the goddess’s cold yellow-hazel eyes that he loved so much, just so he could hear the barely perceptible hint of admiration in her voice, sinning endlessly to earn a love he knew she would never give. 

But at least those innocents had been sacrificed at the request of his lady, for some greater heavenly purpose. This task was his least sinful on paper, but as he stood still in the light-flooded secret crypt, he felt chilled to his bones. Every fiber of his being tingled and shivered with a cold as deep as the ninth circle of hell. Please forgive me.

Orion lifted the cover of the stone tomb and immediately recoiled. Pungent aromas of blood and decay exploded into the crypt. A body lay crumpled in the confined stone case, barely recognizable with the rotting skin and glassy eyes: Inara Nightlock. Dried brown blood stained her forehead in a nasty wound, her fingernails caked with grime from fighting back against her kidnappers, ebony hair matted and tangled. 

Orion thought of the Earth girl, of the brief moments he’d seen her jetting across the waves with his captives, hope still tangled in her heartstrings that her long-lost sister was out there somewhere when all the while she’d been here. An innocent murdered and dumped in a dusty crypt, her name engraved into the cement lid by the sick, twisted killer that had left her here. A man Artemis killed years ago! She has already been avenged, and my lady Artemis using her to weaken the rebel goddesses is nothing more than a way to honor Inara. I have already failed my lady, and now she has sent me here to do a simple job. I can’t fail her again.

Even as he thought it, he knew what he was about to do was vile in his culture. In any culture. The very marrow in his bones shuddered with cold now, the harsh daylight doing nothing to warm his shivering frame. With Artemis’s cruel, ethereal face hovering in his mind, he resealed the lid. Dragging the chisel out of his pocket with a quaking hand, he brought down a mighty slash straight across her name. In a spray of grit the meticulously etched letters were scarred beyond recognition. 

Orion was still for a second, his uneven breath rasping in the death-like silence. It felt as though his heart suffocated in his stomach as the realization of what he’d done set in: he’d just desecrated the tomb of an innocent, even if that tomb had been sealed by a murderer. 

Out of the blue everything went dark along with the screech of the crypt door being shut. He heard a muffled heartbeat faster and faster, reminiscent of the Tell Tale Heart. Artemis’s tinkling laugh bounced off the walls, becoming more and more demonic each second and all the while the tick of the heart raged on. A young woman’s scream sounded from the dark, echoing around the huntsman from every side. 

“Please! Let me out!” Orion groped blindly for the door. Sobs tore his throat, darkness swallowing the room whole like he was in the damp maw of a beast. He found no knob, no handle. Each limb of his fine-tuned body shook uncontrollably from a bone-rattling fear that sent him spiraling into hysteria. 

“Your sins have caught up to you, huntsman. Did you think I would not judge you because you have some convoluted love for a maiden goddess? You will perish as you have made others perish: slowly and without a shred of dignity.”

A sharp sting pricked his throat, fire spreading through his muscled neck. His eyes bulged as the memory came back to him in flashes as though it was trickling slowly through a leaky faucet. Beady black eyes of the scorpion. Artemis, an avenging angel above him. The crunch of the scorpion under her boot. Sic itur ad astra. But before that, something that the world was sure Orion had long forgotten under a haze of ambrosia and ebbing pain. 

“I love you too.” Artemis. His one true love. On some level, he knew that memory was Death’s last gift to him before the pain of all his sins caught up to him all at once. Yet he still extended one final reach for life.

“Artemis! Please, have mercy!” The deep cold dragged him into the darkness with the force of the undertow pulling a sailor into the depths. With his back plastered to the cold crypt wall, Orion screamed, his head splitting, and prayed for the sliver of light to reappear. It was time. After years and years, he knew it was time. But he couldn’t let go. Could she?

🌍Zara

Inara ducked down another side street, her shadow flitting out of view. The pound of her boots pummeled her legs with each thumping step. Time was an amorphous deity, dragging on at seconds where each bounding stride was a shot of pain and then racing ahead like a bullet train; one moment she was on the street, Inara just a spot on the skyline, and in the blink of an eye Zara found herself in an alley with her long-lost sister directly ahead of her.


It’s not her… her brain hissed. Instinct was riding high– her whole body itched with the wrongness of the figure she chased. It’s not her… They always said you can’t trust your eyes. You have to trust your gut. And her gut? It felt like a hurricane was ripping through it, flurries of fears and false hope funneling into a roiling vat of searing frustration. Frustration… frustration that Inara was just beyond her reach around every turn, that her whole village, destitute and droughted, wanted to burn her at the stake for bringing prosperity to the land, at the reality that she had been traveling with a mysterious stranger for the past day and would probably never see her family again.

The girl paused for a fraction of a second in the middle of the intersection, looking back. Zara’s breath hitched at her sister’s pale jade eyes staring back at her. Inara. Ebony skin dashed with off-white flour, long hair loose and flowing as though it had been hastily tied back and then had fallen out again. 

“Zara? Is that… is that you?” Her musical voice carried on the rustling breeze. Zara’s knees were weak, legs shaking like the jello her family never could afford from the “big-city” markets of Kommetjie. The words that left her lips next were a blubbering string of emotion-choked sounds.

“Yes–I–can’t believe you’re alive! Where have you–do you own a bakery now, like you dreamed? Why haven’t you contacted us? Inara, it’s been…” 

“Years?” She offered with a strained laugh. A funny look crossed her face, an unbecoming blankness, emotionless as shards of ice: lips set in a hard line, glazed eyes, perfectly smooth brow. It melted away as quickly as it arrived. Zara took a careful step closer, just feet from her sister. The traffic light above them flickered uselessly… the street was eerily quiet for a few long seconds. 

“Are you okay, Inara? The police searched years for you! You ran away, I could have sworn you were dead–” 

“Where are your friends?” Inara blurted. 

“What? How could you–” Her sister’s shoulders tensed, the delicate gold flecks in her jade eyes brightening wildly. They had always been a light tone but with each passing second, it seemed to Zara that the gold was taking over Inara’s soft eyes. 

“Answer the question,” Inara hissed, ripping away her flour-dusted jacket to reveal a tank-top. Crimson bloodstains darkened the white fabric. Scars marred her arms in poorly-healed-over pink gashes. A cloud passed over the sun abruptly, throwing shadows over the intersection. 

“Talia is with the others, helping Daria. She’d been shot with an arrow… please, Inara. Stop. You need to see a doctor right away. This,” she gestured vaguely to the sky, the air, the world itself, “can’t be real. I’m mixed up in something bad, Inara. And it looks like you are too.” 

Inara’s eyes were solid gold marbles in their sockets, not a trace of the pale jade. The perfect skin of her forehead was peeling away in grotesque layers to reveal a bloody gash, the smooth ebony facade on her wrists falling away to reveal rope burns. She didn’t look like Inara, the aspiring baker that loved the city. She was a blunt-force trauma and kidnapping victim reanimated. She was a demon.

“Little sister, you’re wrong about one thing. This is real. Even if I’m not.”

Zara stepped back, tripping in a pothole and plummeting, black hair flying. Panic mounted in her heart. Nausea barraged her stomach in hot waves like her gut saying a huge “I told you so!”, bile searing her throat.

“Who are you?” She gasped. “Where is my sister? Why are you doing this?” The bleeding girl cocked her head, an uncanny portrait of Inara painted with blazing gold eyes. 

“Lots of questions, little goddess girl, all with easy answers. My name is Artemis, huntress and eternal maiden. Your sister is dead.” Before Zara had time to gasp, Artemis laughed, flakes of the facade falling and taking to the breeze. “And why am I doing this? Well, two reasons. One: I wanted to crush your heart. Like mine has been for thousands of years. You’ll find eventually that you prefer it that way… it hurts more at first but you will never feel another pain. For who can break what is already shattered?” 

Those last words hung on her lips as though they were meant to be a rhetorical question, but she had discovered an answer. Eyes flitting to the sky, Artemis tensed, suddenly on high-alert. It reminded Zara exactly of the feral look on a wolf’s face when they catch a whiff of a rival pack. Artemis had undoubtedly heard some kind of signal, one that answered her own question. Whatever it was, it was from something or someone that could break her heart for good. With a decisive motion, she slammed her shoe down onto Zara’s shin. A sickening crack sounded.

“Second reason? To lead you away from your friends. The plan is simple, really. Break all of you pathetic goddesses down one-by-one, luring each one away until all that is left is my target. Selene, my best friend.” A cat-like grin spread over her face, one that didn’t linger. 

“There’s nothing you can do to find them. I led you miles away, and you followed as willingly as a gullible puppy dog. Goodbye, Zara. It’s a shame I won’t get to see you die.” 

Artemis disappeared, taking with her the only trace of Zara’s long-lost sister. Crumpled on the ground, her shin wasn’t the only thing shattered. For her sister was dead… and Zara would never visit her grave. Just as she summoned the strength to cry out, a bus hurtled through the intersection. The wheels screeched like a banshee, in perfect harmony with her screams. The world. Went. Dark.