Silver and Gold

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  • Published: 3 Apr 2017
  • Updated: 11 Apr 2017
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[Entry for Strange the Dreamer competition - Option One] Artemis and Apollo are brother and sister - two halves of a whole. Artemis has always been the wild one, the dreamer, the adventurer. But her brother has been torn away from her by a vengeful mortal angry with the gods. The sun has gone down on earth and the world is plunged into darkness as Artemis rallies together the greatest hunters the world has ever seen to save her brother, the only person who ever truly understands her. But time is running out, and in a month's time Apollo will die, taking he rest of the world down with him.

(Cover by NamesFromGraves)

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8. DELOS

We set off for Delos as soon as the others awoke, without so much as a thought for what lay beyond the gates. The burning white chariot was enough to pull along our heavy burdens, but only barely, as we hovered in the clouds and the rain, waiting for the island to burst into view through the dark and the damp, waiting for that tiny glimmer of hope that my mother saw, oh, so long ago now. After many days and many nights, at last the island came into the light, a glimmering beacon of dying hopes and broken promises and secrets whispered in the dead of night.


We skimmed over the sea and tumbled onto the sand. Otrera's eyes were colder than Boreas' palace, fiercer than the fires of Ares' soul. Atalanta's face was pale and ghostly, whiter than ice and snow, like she had had the life leeched from her by Thanatos and handed back to the living as a warning - do not bother the god of the dead. As for Cyrene - oh, Cyrene - her eyes were dry after so many hours of crying, her lips pursed and bitten as though she was holding on to only herself to keep from falling.


And me? I simply stared straight ahead, unfeeling, numb, too afraid to anticipate what was to come.


The beaches of Delos were pearly white and gleaming, a mix halfway between gold and silver, glittering in the dying light of the sun and the palest glow of the moon. The trees were sickly and pale, dying like the grounds they stood on, detached from the rest of the world. Our own hidden paradise, Apollo and I used to always say. A place only we could find, when it danced just out of reach of everyone else and basked in its own mystery, its own majesty, its own glory. But it let us come home, and it lets us pass its borders, and the sun used to always shine brighter here. Even now, this is the only place left in the world where we can still see the light my brother used to bring.


"Is this really Delos?" Otrera asked, voice reduced to a whisper. "I mean, really, really Delos?"


"Of course it bloody is!" I hopped off the chariot, landing on the ground with a crash. "Do you think I would have brought you here if it weren't? I know my homeland when I see it, Queen Otrera!"


Her eyes widen then; her face paled, her lip quivered. But she stood up taller, chin tilted in defiance. "I just want to make sure you actually know what you're doing, after how you reacted at the gates. I think we can all agree that we have to be careful."

"Of course I know what I'm doing, Otrera. I am a goddess, and this is the place of birth, and you would do well to remember your status here. You may be queen of the amazons, but you are still mortal, and I still outrank you."

To the north there were trees, carrying the biting winds on their barren branches, whistling down through the skies. Rocks tore into the landscape to the east, massive slabs of grey and black looming over the beaches, being pounded over and over again by the waves. And to the West, where the sun was only just clinging to the sky, there were beaches and a forest and a small lake, which Apollo and I had always loved to play in when we were youngsters.

"We go West," I said. "Atalanta, to my right. Cyrene, left. Otrera, keep watch at the back. Most of the wildlife here won't harm us while I'm here, but I'm wary of traps."

"Of course, my lady," Atalanta said with a bowed head. "But - and forgive my intrusion - where are your weapons."

My bow, she means. My bow and my arrows, taken by Thanatos and lost to the underworld. Everyone knows you can't take anything back from the underworld. "They are not with me right now. But do not fear, I will get them back soon."

Over rocks and through trees we clambered, until we reached the pond, and an expanse of blue - the bluest blue - stretched out before us, consuming the landscape. It shone under the dying sun, burning and boiling in the heat.


"Why are we here again?" Otrera asked in a bored tone, walking to the water's edge.


"I told you," I said through gritted teeth. "It's important. This is where Apollo and I were born, and it's where he told me to come. So I'm here."


She barked out a laugh, eyes turning up to the sky. "You're mad. Your - probably dead - brother tells you to come here in a dream, so you bring us all along to this old abandoned dump, and then - "


"Otrera!" Atalanta whirled around and put a knife to her throat. Otrera's face paled and I could hear her heart thump, thump, thumping in her chest. "Shut up and listen to Artemis."


Otrera rolled her eyes, pushing Atalanta away. "Just bear in mind all of you, I am not here for some stupid god."


My blood boiled red hot underneath my skin, and the corners of my eyes pricked with burning tears. "You would do well to remember your company, queen of the amazons. Don't underestimate my strength."


Her eyes turned down, cloudy. "I'm sorry, Lady Artemis. I didn't mean to offend."


"Yes you did."


Otrera's jaw tightened, and she spat through gritted teeth. "Let's just get this done quickly. I - I don't like not knowing how my people are. It makes me anxious."


"Believe you me, I am being as quick as I can."


Turning to Cyrene and Atalanta, I told them to look for a message, any kind of message that could have something to do with Apollo's whereabouts, and their eyes were as frantic as my voice. We had but five days to find Apollo, and we all knew it.

As they tore off up hills and down valleys, I turned to Otrera. She lay on the grass, staring up at the clouds rolling across the sky. I lay beside her, beside this girl who was despite her titles and battles, still only just a girl. And I tried to form a coherent sentence for her sake, tried to understand her turmoil and her mind and why her eyes looked so devastatingly dark. "Otrera, I know you care about your people very much, and I cannot blame you for that. The love you have for your subjects is the same love I have for my brother, and my family, and this entire world which we oversee. I am sorry for taking you away from your city. I see now, it may not have been the wisest choice." She said nothing, but the glimmer in her eyes spurred me on. "Though you may doubt yourself, you are entirely necessary for the salvation of this world, and I truly believe that we need you, Otrera."

"I don't doubt myself," she laughed, voice harsh and cold. "I doubt you." I must have looked surprised, for she laughed again - kinder this time - and continued, "You are without doubt, a great hunter, my lady. I just worry... What if when the time comes, you let your love for your brother cloud your judgement, let that overtake your love for our world? And what would that make us, then? Would you have the world die for your brother?"

"It would never come to that."

"And how would you know?"

"Apollo would never, ever allow it, and neither would I."

She smiled, though it was not a true smile, but close enough. "I just hope that you're right. You know, all I ever wanted was to escape, my lady. Get away from my awful husband and the society which condemned my words, start my own life with my own family. I never thought I'd love my daughters. Sometimes I think that I might never let them leave me, but then what would that make me, eh?"

"It would make you human," I laughed, and truth broke free in her smile. "You know, I'd always been scared to love anyone. Not just romantically, but in any sense. But my brother has always been there, and I love him more than anything, in the same way you love your daughters. So I ask you this, if you had a choice between your daughters and your world, what would you choose?"

She went silent for a moment, lost in whirling thoughts. "I think I'd let the fates decide." Otrera stood up from where she lay, hands on her hips. "But answer me this, Artemis, just so I know where you stand. What are my daughters' names?"

"Hippolyte and Penthesileia, both with Ares."

Her eyes were confused. "You know?"

"Of course I know. I could tell you the name of every woman there ever was, every person she ever loved and every child she has ever had. Every maiden in the land has spoken to me at one point in their life, whether it be to praise or to seek assistance, or to be grateful and kind. Of course I know your daughters' names, Otrera. In what world could I not?"

And she offered me her hand and I took it with a smile as she whispered in my ear, "I know where the message is."

So I called for Cyrene and Atalanta as Otrera told us her story from the amazon lands, of the end of times when only a maiden may rule, of the lost books from Alexandria which fell into the scattered islands across the seas, and the one book, the book of the sun and the moon, which fell in a blaze to the free island. We turned together to look into the lake, and saw a scroll lying in the silt at the bottom, words woven in gold gleaming through the water.

Otrera dove in, splashing about for a few minutes until she rose to the top with a scroll held in her pale hands. She passed it to me and though the gold stung my eyes, I read it aloud.

"The children of the stars are born to the free,

"To the lands unchained and floating in the seas,

"When gold and silver lie apart,

"All must follow one heart.

"Until they come to the land of snakes,

"Of vipers and venom and whispers abounding,

"Where a beast lies in wait and seeks his revenge,

"And a python is laid to rest."

 

"No." My hands were shaking, my heart pounding as tears stung at my eyes, burning like fire and poison. "Python. Python." the girls stared at me with frowns identical on the brows, eyes both cold and warm at the same time.

"It's python," I said though it made no ends to them. But now I realised why the woman had hissed, why she had made my blood run cold with her reptilian snarl. Python. And how could it ever have been the work of any other?

No one hated Apollo more than python.

"I know where to find him," I said, voice thick with tears and anger. "But we must hurry, back to Delphi. Cyrene, do you have a spare knife?"

"I always do, my lady."

"Good. I'm going to need it."

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