I’ve faced enough on this forsaken island for one mortal lifetime, and now I had to deal with a crazy spirit. We were in the cave, the eternal flame almost in our reach, yet unable to proceed. The spirit wouldn’t let us pass. What powers he had over this place or how he gained those powers were not my concern, my worries related to time. Time I did not have. With every passing minute, I was closer to losing Sayeh forever.
This was supposed to be a quick trip. Travel to the island, find the mountain, collect the heartfire, and return to Sayeh. I was no fool, though. Years of experience had taught me to expect a few pitfalls along the way. Yet, none of that prepared me for a treasure hunt.
A huntress who didn’t expect a hunt! I smirked at my vulnerabilities.
Neither did I plan to make demands of my family, have them go through trial after trial for the next clue that would lead me to the heartfire.
I was always the wild one, an outcast in my family of Kings and Queens, preferring the quiet serene of the wilderness. It brought on a kind of emotional stability. A form of a cool logical way of thinking, and a fierce independence that allowed me to detach myself from others. I reached out only if I was needed, or to help them track something or someone. I was never in a situation where I would be the one asking for help. The guilt weighed heavily on me, and was more than I could bear. And here I was, yet again, relying on my family.
For Sayeh! I repeated to myself as I pushed my pride aside and used the talisman to summon Hekate. It hurt my soul to call on her when I knew she was away recuperating from her tryst with a Titan. But without her, I may never find the shell or the flame.
Hekate stood before me moments after I used the talisman. How she traced me to this cave is a mystery, one that I attributed to her magick.
“She’s here!” I told Selene as we both rushed towards her. Hekate walked in, following the only light in the dark cave. Our disheveled forms drew a gasp from her, concern etched on her beautiful face.
“You came!” I pulled Hekate into a tight embrace. Looking over her shoulder, I saw Hades. I did not question how or why he was here. Knowing Hekate, there was a reason.
Releasing her from the hug, we talked about the cruise ship and the rest of the group. Hades, visibly concerned for Persephone, asked after her. His concern replaced by relief upon Selene’s reassurance of her well-being.
Something was different between Hades and Hekate. There was an adoring twinkle in his eyes as he gazed at her. A tenderness in the manner he gently slipped his hand into hers. The shade of crimson that developed on Hekate’s cheeks and her posture as she stood beside him told me everything I needed to know. Smiling to myself, I took Selene’s hand, quietly wishing them the best.
My smile disappeared as we discussed the situation with the spirit. This quest had pushed me to the edge of my strength, and I do not speak of physical strength. At every turn, it asked for more, more than I could handle. Nothing could be worse than what I put my beloved Selene through, forcing her to use the dagger on me. But, coming this close to the flame, yet being blocked from passing, was gnawing at both my pride and patience.
Hekate understood my anguish. I did not have to speak the words. A mere glance at our faces, and she saw evidence of the horrors the island had rendered. She didn’t waste time asking questions before tracing patterns and sigils on the cavern floor.
I took a few steps back, pulling Selene with me as Hekate began the summoning ritual by chanting the Nékromelos. The air around us swirled with an eerie chill, sending a shiver down my back. Selene rubbed her arm in response to the electrifying atmosphere. Slipping my hand around her waist, I pulled her closer, her warmth radiating into my body.
Hekate was chanting in triplicate in her pure immortal form. I stifled a gasp, seeing her in the throes of the ritual. As the mistress of spirits, they knew her enough to fear and worship her. By the end of the summoning act, the phantom was on his knees, begging us for mercy.
Boosting my mood, the sailor’s spirit approached me, holding a giant nautilus shell almost the size of a human head. It was a token of his appreciation for his mistress’ leniency. I turned to look at Hekate, my eyes filled with gratitude. I did not know what to say. She may have performed the summoning act multiple times for various reasons, but she had no idea what she’d done for me today. I was indebted to her for eternity.
“Go, Artemis. This place is not far from collapse. Hekate and I need to finish business with the spirit.” Hades’ words brought me back from my brief reverie. Mouthing a thank you to both of them, I ran towards the center of the mountain, followed by Selene.
As we ran towards the spindle, we felt the ground shifting followed by the rumbling, the noise like an extended thunder, sending vibrations through us. The sky that was blue just moments before was now filled with black smoke, billowing upward in growing plumes.
“Akti, careful! The volcano is awake,” Selene cried.
“We’ll be on our way soon, Seli. I just need to collect the -” I didn’t get to finish my sentence as I came to a sudden halt. The Eternal Flame was on a mini island surrounded by a dense river of red-hot molten lava.
Selene caught up to me, panting as the smoke from the volcano began to fill the air. She pulled me back from the edge of the lava bank. “How…how are you going to cross that?” she asked, pointing to the bubbling lava. The rumbling grew to deafening sounds as the molten rock simmered, kissing the bank’s edges, and bursting with energy.
“I think I will have to teleport. I do not see any other way to get there.” I focussed my mind radiating energy through my body, concentrating on the island. And Nothing. Confused, I turned to look at Selene. She stood bending forward with her hands on her knees, the exhaustion of the last few days catching up to her. I associated the lack of teleportation to the same exhaustion I saw on Selene. After everything that happened in the last two days, my body and mind needed time. I tried again and again, still nothing.
“The mysticism of this island trumps my teleportation energies,” I said, lowering my eyes.
Wiping beads of sweat from my forehead with the back of my hand, I paced along the bank, trying to find floating debris that I could use to jump across. I saw nothing but thick molten magma all around. Selene followed me, knowing me as well as she does, she realized I was at the end of my fortitude.
I turned and handed her the nautilus shell. “I am going across. It will destroy my mortal body, but I can return with the flame. Take it back to Sayeh for me, Seli.”
Selene gasped at my outrageous suggestion. Stepping toward me, she refused to take the nautilus shell off my hands. “Akti, be reasonable. There must be a way to get across, or we can call for help.”
“There is no one left to call for help. Don’t you see? Hades and Hekate have left,” the tremor in my voice was hard to hide.
“Then, there must be another way! You just need to calm down and think,” Selene pleaded, afraid of my impulsive nature.
“I cannot have come this far to lose the heartfire, now!” I said through gritted teeth. It took every ounce of energy I had left in my body to keep me calm. I could feel my eyes raging with a fire that matched the magma surrounding us. Placing her hands on my shoulders, Selene shook me to bring me back to my senses.
“Artemis?” I heard Hades’ voice despite the roaring of the volcano.
“Hades. You could do it. You could help me,” I pleaded with him.
Hades surveyed the location and snapped his fingers, trying to create a portal for us to cross, but nothing. He tried a few more times, again nothing.
Stepping forward, Hekate tried to explain the magic of the island and why it was interfering with our teleportation energies. But I had stopped listening. Realization hit me, and it hit hard.
If Hades couldn’t help me, there was no other way.
I heard the sound of my heart shattering, taking with it the last glint of hope. I fell to my knees, letting out a howl from the depth of my soul. Selene cradled me in her arms as we rocked back and forth together. Sayeh was lost to me forever.
There in that moment, they saw me, saw my pain. Hekate lowered her eyes, her face contorted with empathy for me, for Sayeh. Hades stood clenching his hands, his eyes concentrating on the lava river.
He approached Hekate, whispering something to her. They moved away from us working together on something. I didn’t see when or how they did it, but when Selene lifted my face, I saw an obsidian bridge forming to the island. That was all I needed.
Picking up the nautilus shell from the floor, I sprinted across the still cooling bridge, waiting for no one.