The moon rose over the horizon, casting a silvery glow across the valley. The luminescence reminded me of Selene’s silky platinum hair. I hadn’t seen her all day or even texted her. Things have been a little strained between us since the quest. I attributed it to the wear out from our adventure, but I was unable to shake off the nagging at the back of my mind.
By no means was it small hurdles we surpassed for the heartfire, and Selene bore the worst of the challenges to see me through.
Britomartis tapped me on my shoulder to let me know it was time to return to the OA complex. I have been spending every waking minute in Sayeh’s cave with her since she awoke. I should also text Selene. We hadn’t made plans for tonight, but I hoped she’d come over.
At the entrance of the OA complex, I made a spontaneous choice to drop by my office. I hadn’t spent much time there lately. My nymphs were doing a fantastic job of running the Women’s shelter and the wildlife preservation units. With the multiple wildfires this year, they had been quite busy themselves.
Bri raised a brow when she saw me turn towards the office instead of my residence on the 50th floor. “Something you need to do, my lady?” she asked.
“Yes, I have a few thank-you notes to send,” I said. “For everyone who helped with the quest. I would’ve never been able to accomplish that on my own.”
She smiled with an understanding nod and opened the door for me. I stepped into the reception, and familiarity coursed through me, although I didn’t remember the last time I was here. It was late by mortal time zones, and my receptionist Zoe was not there to greet me with her usual cheerful smile behind the large u-shaped desk. As though reading my thoughts, Bri said, “Zoe usually leaves around five.”
I nodded in response and continued to the inner chambers. Hyale was hunched over her desk, checking off something from a list, and Iphigenia had just arrived from the temple. She was lying on the couch, waiting for Hyale to finish her work.
“Ah, you’re both still here,” I said, clasping my hands together in front of me. They each shot a nervous glance toward the entrance.
“My lady, it’s good to have you back in the office,” Hyale said, walking up to me. I pulled her into a bear hug. Iphigenia joined in, turning it into a group hug. The smell of the temple incense wafted off her.
“It does feel good to be back,” I said.
“Are you here for something specific, my lady? Anything we can do?” Hyale asked.
“Yes, I am here for a specific task that I must do myself. Thank you for the offer to help, though,” I replied.
“Very well, then. Your office is ready for you.”
“Aren’t you the best?” I asked, winking at her.
“Excuse me?” Bri and Phi said in a chorus.
I laughed and raised my hands in mock defeat as I walked to my chamber. Hyale was not exaggerating. It was ready for me. Ready as if I had never left. Everything was in order and waiting, including the packages I had specially ordered.
I sat down on my chair and pulled myself closer to the desk. Picking up the first package, I unwrapped it. I smiled as the vase came into view. It was handcrafted with Medusa’s portrait engraved into it. I picked up the thank-you card next to the packages and wrote a personal note. I thanked Medusa for joining me on the quest and for everything she had done for Sayeh and me. Without her protection, Sayeh wouldn’t have survived, especially considering the fact that the pursuit of the heartfire took much longer than we had initially anticipated.
I attached the card to the vase and wrapped it before setting it aside. I intended to hand-deliver it.
The next package was for Athena, a jewel-encrusted shield shaped like an owl. I had it specifically crafted for her by a blacksmith in Athens. As an ardent devotee of Athena, he was much too pleased to create the shield. I attached a personal note for Athena to the artifact and wrapped it.
I wrote similar notes for Urania, Persephone, and Morpheus, adding them to their gifts. A unique bracelet created with stardust for Urania, a diadem shaped like spring flowers for Persephone, and granite mortar and pestle acquired from an emperor of the ancient Han Dynasty for Morpheus. How the mortar and pestle came into my hands is a story for another day.
Hades and Hekate were crucial to my quest. If they hadn’t built the bridge for me at Everheim, I would never have come close to the eternal flame. I added personal notes to each of their gifts-a quill made of phoenix feather with a nib crafted from Sayeh’s scales for Hekate and the first edition of Homer’s Odyssey for Hades’ library.
After I finished wrapping all the gifts, I called for my nymphs. They walked into my office one after the other and stood in front of my mahogany desk.
“Ladies, I’ve never thanked you for the incredible job you do keeping SBF running. Although I am seldom around, the three of you have managed this organization well. I hope you realize how grateful I am,” I said, gazing at them with eyes full of gratitude.
“My lady, we each owe you our lives, and the freedom we enjoy today. It’s the least we could do for you,” Bri said, following my gaze to Hyale and Iphigenia. “Besides, we had help from the best. Jaime and Iain have been resourceful. Kara manages the administration with a passion that puts us immortals to shame,” she said, the corners of her mouth curling into a grin.
I laughed out loud, agreeing with Bri. Kara, my mortal secretary, is the best I’d had the pleasure to work with in forever.
“Even Orion stops by from time to time. He was concerned for you and Sayeh during your quest. Came by every other day to check on her,” she said.
I nodded slowly, exhaling a gust of air. I hadn’t seen Orion since winter last and made a mental note to meet him when he visited the mortal realm again. The effects of the past few weeks were catching up to me. My shoulders slumped as I rested my head on the chair. Bri placed her hand on my neck, kneading it gently in a circular motion.
“It’s late, my lady. Maybe you should head home,” Phi suggested. I rubbed my face hard and looked at the time. It was quarter past ten. My thoughts returned to Selene, and with that came the realization that I was stalling. I didn’t want to go home if Seli wasn’t there.
“Gifts for all except Lady Selene?” Phi asked. Her keen sense of observation caught the fact that I had a package for everyone in my quest party except for the one who mattered the most.
“Well…I do have something for her. I need to figure out what to do with it or how to give it to her,” I said with an almost defensive tone.
“And is that why you are stalling, too?” Hyale asked with hands on her hips.
“I am not stalling!”
“Ladies let’s give her a break. Can’t you see she’s exhausted,” Bri said, giving Hyale and Phi a scowl. “But, my lady, I do agree with them. You’ve barely seen or spoken to Lady Selene since your return. Is everything alright between you? Did something happen during the quest?”
Bri’s question brought back memories from the island, and with it, the guilt and shame I was pushing away. I had forced Seli to use the dagger on me. My love for Sayeh overriding everything else. It was unfair. I had asked too much of her, forced her to go through unbearable pain. And now, I did not have the courage to face her. I explained everything to my nymphs; the horror of our quest was evident in their wide eyes.
Bri was the first one to speak, “I can only imagine how painful that must’ve been for Lady Selene and you. But I do wish and hope that you speak to her. Tell her how you feel. If not, you might push her too far away from where there’s no return.”
I considered Bri’s words, and she was right. I had been acting up, giving Selene mixed signals. I wondered what she must think of me now. My best option was to own up and apologize, and just like that, a plan formed in my mind, specifically pertaining to her gift.
“Did I tell you three how much I love you?” I asked my nymphs. They laughed and urged me to go home. I planted a kiss on each of their foreheads before rushing out.
I was disappointed to find my apartment empty. Selene was not waiting for me as she had been before we left on the quest. Pushing the thought away, I picked my cell phone and texted her.
I have a surprise for you. But I’ll tell you only if you come over!