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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9. THE END

And we were returned to Delphi. It was not the streets of lies and danger which awaited us, but the underground labyrinth of tunnels and a great many evils, lying in wait and ready to destroy the world should we take one wrong step. The narrowed cobbled streets divide the monstrous from the mortal, the buildings stretching into the skies and looming over us, casting a shadow wherever we step.


But down in the underground, the lines between monstrous and mortal were blurred. 


We clattered down a narrow flight of stairs, clinging to the worn banisters that coiled around the walls. Otrera's dagger gleamed in the faint light, illuminating her face in a wash of bronze. 


At last we came to the bottom of the staircase, armed and ready to fight, though the space was empty. The walls were plastered with bits of parchment and paper, written in words I could barely understand, and they were smeared with golden ichor. A god's blood. 


My heart's thumping grew frantic as we passed through corridor upon silent corridor. Each corner we turned we expected an onslaught of guards and monsters, but at every turn there was nothing but a lot and narrow stretch. After what felt like hours and hours of searching, we finally came to a small, rickety door and tried to kick it down, but to no avail. Despite its frail appearance, the wood itself was strong and held well against its protesting hinges.
We shook the door handle, though it would not budge, and I grimaced as I turned my wrist the wrong way.

Kneeling down, Otrera examined the lock bound in steel, frowning. "It's a more complex lock than I am used to, my Lady," she told me. "But I reckon I could do it in about five minutes?"


Cyrene snorted. "I think that's fair, Otrera."


"Now get going. You never know when a guard might turn round that corner."


She nodded and set about picking the lock with a small pin she held in her hair, bending and twisting until it clicked. I pushed the door open with a tentative smile, and inside...


"Apollo!" I cried, rushing to him. His face was paler than the waning moon, his hair ratty and greying. And his eyes, so dead and cold that it made my skin crawl to look into them for too long. "Apollo, what did they do to you?"


There was no respond, and my heart plummeted. I held two fingers to his wrist - he had a pulse, but it was faint and fading fast. "We have to get him out of her!" I cried, taking him by the wrist and trying to hoist him to his feet. 
He didn't move a muscle.


"Otrera, Cyrene, Atalanta, help me! Please!"


When there was no respond, I whirled around. Only a snake lay on the floor there, with the three of them tight in its grasp. Python.


My vision filled with red and anger, as a darkness crawled in my blood. "Let them go," I snarled, taking out my borrowed knife. "Or I will kill you."


"Your brother couldn't," the snake rasped, voice choked with a venomous evil. "I doubt a little girl could do much damage."


"I'd like to prove you wrong." Python's eyes flashed yellow as I lunged for him, blood boiling. I stuck my knife into his side and wrenched it out, but he simply laughed at it.


"You really think that's enough to kill me?"


"There's plenty more where that came from, Python." 


And so I lunged for him time and time again, stabbing him, bleeding him dry, but every time, he was healed. And he laughed, a cold, harsh laugh that knew nothing of compassion, or love, or mercy. 


The door swung closed to my left, and I whirled around for just a moment, just long enough to let down my guard as Python took me as a prisoner too.

 

When my sight returned to me, it seemed we had moved to a different room. The walls were a blank white, stained with an aged kind of yellow. Apollo lay before us, head bowed. The four of us - Cyrene, Otrera, Atalanta, and I - were strangled in Python's cruel embrace, our ribs being crushed more and more with every passing minute. 


"Let us go!" Otrera shrieked, as if that would remedy the entire situation. "You don't need us."


Python cackled, as I noticed a shadow by the fringes of the room. It was the woman I had seen with Apollo in my visions, dressed in black and green as if she were mourning. She had no right to mourn.


Upon Apollo's head lay a wreath of laurels, bloodied now by golden ichor that stained the better part of his face and caked the Hyacinthus flower that was tucked behind his ear. On his back were golden wings that seemed to weigh him down awfully, as every tiny movement he made seemed drawn out, tired. He wore a lion's skin that was now in tatters, smeared with gold and tears. 


Python squeezed me tighter. My hands were empty of any weapons - the knife lay on the floor next to my brother - but I noticed with a slight sense of relief that there was a glint of bronze in Cyrene's hip. 


Her head was bowed, but I could see the faint rivets made by tears that danced down her cheeks. She was crying for a dying god, and I thought her tears should have been golden, too. I stared at her for a while, simply willing her to pick up her weapon, to scratch and slash at Python until we were let go. 


Every minute Python laughed, as he crushed us further. It seemed endless, the pain and the heartbreak of his special kind of torture, until Apollo, with his final straggling breath, hissed, "The bow."


Python turned to stare at him, venom dripping from his fangs. "You dare to speak, godling?"


Apollo's eyes said all that Python needed to know, and all that we needed to know, as he lifted his eyes to meet the mighty snake's. "Cyrene."


Python howled as Cyrene slashed at him with her sword, dropping out of his grasp and running to free me. "That sword tip was covered with Drakon venom. It won't kill him, but it might give us a chance."


"Cyrene, you're brilliant!" I exclaimed as I left Python's grasp, setting about helping my brother who was still struggling. "Apollo, we're going to get you out of here, okay?" I said, meeting his damp eyes. "I swear to every god who ever was, we will."


Cyrene joined me as Otrera and Atalanta clashed with Python behind us, shrieking and screeching and screaming though it didn't truly matter, not now. Not when Apollo was here, truly here, and I could talk to him and feel his blood running through his veins, hear his heart thumping in harmony with mine. "Apollo," Cyrene said, voice thick with tears that never came. "I never got to tell you..."


"What?" he croaked, eyes lighting up for just one fleeting second.


"I..." Cyrene's eyes glistened with tears. "I love you." Her voice cracked as she placed a hand on his cheek, tears spilling over the edge as she wept for him, for my brother, my wonderful, witty, amazing, dying brother.


"Cyrene, I -"


She screamed. The woman from the edge of the room had crept forward without a word, smile lethal as she brought a sword to Cyrene's chest and slashed it open. A gaping wound opened, blood pouring out in the gallons, as she cried. The light inside her died instantly.


"Oh, gods," I said, voice shaking. She couldn't, she couldn't, she couldn't be dead. Gone, just like that. Cyrene. The first, the brightest, the one Apollo though he could truly have a happy ending with. So many had died for his love already. If he had enough strength, he would have wept.


Instead he just sat there, face stricken with grief as the shadow woman smirked. "Sorry about that. But all is fair in love and war, as the great ones say."


"You will pay for this," I snarled, leaping up to grasp her by the throat, anger boiling in my veins. "You vile, sick woman. How dare you kill her, how dare you! As if you haven't caused enough destruction!"


"Child, you - "


"I am not a child. I am Lady Artemis, goddess of the moon, of maidenhood, and of the hunt! I am an Olympian, perhaps one of the fiercest warriors to ever walk this world! And you will not cross me, mortal!"


Anger possessed me, burning white hot as I slashed at her, destroyed her until there was barely anything left of her. Python still fought Otrera and Atalanta, but I could only look at Apollo. My brother, so broken and pained. Burdened with pain I could scarcely imagine.


"Apollo, I'm sorry," I told him, tears in my eyes. "I'm so so sorry. But we need to get you out of her."


Just when I thought he was going to protest, he said instead, "Your bow ... fell five days ago. It... It's behind... Python."


The snake grinned at us, cruel and menacing. "It's not much use now. Where's yours?"


"Beside."


Of course. Of course they were together, behind the mighty Python. Just our luck.


"Do you want me to get them?"


He nodded, and so I ran, paying no heed to Python's snarls and hisses, or to Otrera's shrieks and whimpers. I grabbed the bows and our arrows, slipping in Python's blood for a moment before I raced around to ace him, tossing my brother his weapons and hoping upon hope that he had enough strength to use them.


"Python!" I yelled. "Leave these mortals out of the battle. You say I cannot kill you, but I would like to try my luck."


"Do you really?" Python leaned closer, ceasing his battle as Otrera and Atalanta stared at me.


"Yes. I challenge you to fight me. Whoever lives gets to do whatever they want with these three. Do we have a deal?"


Python smirked. "Yes."


"Artemis, what are you doing?" Atalanta hissed, eyes wide.


"The only thing I can. Get as far away as possible, both of you. I don't want you hurt anymore than you already have been."


They obliged, surprisingly, retreating to just by the door, knifes pressed to the wall. I turned to my brother, who was looking just the tiniest bit healthier for his bow by him. Of course, Python didn't notice.


"Name your challenge, godling," he hissed, venom spraying onto the floor. 


"Target practice. You aim your venom, I shoot my bow. Whoever gets closest to the target wins."


"And where might this target be, godling?"


"On your life."


Apollo sprung up beside me as I fletched my arrow, aiming it for Python's eye. I smiled as we let our arrows fly, silver and gold striking the mighty Python's side. He howled, whimpered, as he fell to the floor, Drakon venom and perfect aim eating away at his form. "That's... Not... Fair," he hissed, yellow eyes furious.


"Too bad. You should've made me swear upon the river. Now, I believe I get to take these three, correct?" He sputtered out what may have been words, but ended up only as mild acid.


"Good. I hope you don't mind us leaving now," Apollo said, a darkness behind his boyish laugh. "It's been a lovely visit. You're really hospitable."


"Godling..." Python hissed. "I will... One day."


"Yeah, whatever. See you around, snake." He mocked a hiss and took my arm, leading me to the door where Otrera and Atalanta stood, shocked. 


"What on - "


"Let's just go, you two. We can't afford to wait any longer." 


We led them out onto the streets of Delphi, my senses tingling as the city danced, oblivious to what had just gone on below their cobbled roads. Though Otrera and Atalanta protested, I whistling for my deer to take them home. They cursed as they were flown across the skies, Apollo and I standing together on the streets, bows slung over our backs. 


He turned to me then, flecks of gold appearing on his brown eyes. "I didn't think you'd save me," he whispered in a hoarse voice, eyes shining with tears.


"You're my brother, Apollo," I laughed. "I'll always be around to save you."


He laughed then, a beautiful laugh that I'd come to recognise as a part of myself reflected in him, and I was surprised to realise how much I'd missed it. Without warning, I embraced him tightly, eyes watering. "Don't you ever leave me again," I whispered, tears streaming down my face.


"I wasn't planning on it," he laughed, embrace warm and welcoming. 

 

We stood there for a while, just hugging, just slotting ourselves back into our normal lives, returning our souls back to one another as we held back biting tears. "Let's go," I said at last, pulling back into the cold. "You've got a sunrise to conduct."


"Do you want to come with?"


"That's not even a question," I laughed, as he called his sun chariot and hopped in, pulling me in beside him.
"Let's go. Apparently Athens is unseasonably cold."


He laughed, but I could see the heartbreak in his eyes. That fatal vulnerability that his pride never allowed him to reveal to anyone, not knowingly. But I could always see it, always see his pain, feel his pain.


"It's okay," I whispered. He turned to me with a furrowed brow. "I get it. But you're safe now, Apollo. And I'm not going to let anyone hurt you again."


Apollo laughed, tearing that awful laurel wreath of his head and tossing it to the ground. "I know, Artemis." His eyes were downcast as the sun began to rise over the skyline. "Thank you."


And so we flew into the skies, dragging the sun along behind us, together once again. Artemis and Apollo. The moon and the sun. 


Silver and gold.

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