Estrella stood over me with the whip. She cracked it again.

“Listen, Estrella, you can whip me into next week, I’m not going to cry a teardrop for you.”
She smiled again and a bit of drool escaped her mouth. It didn’t go far, since it got hung up in the hairs on her chin. She didn’t bother to wipe it off.
“I so hoped you felt that way. I hope I get to work you until I’m too tired to lift my arm above my head.”

The first lash fell across my chest. After that, things quickly devolved into a painful, bloody haze. I did a lot of screaming and Estrella did a lot of laughing. It was some time before I noticed a darkness growing near the door. It was like a dark corner of the room kept growing more intense, manifesting itself into a form. Only then I realized there was a pentagram carefully drawn on the floor and the darkness was inside of it. Estrella didn’t let up and the darkness continued to intensify proportional with my suffering. In my scarlet haze, I began to visually see my lost energy as a physical manifestation. I saw waves leaving me that were sucked up by the entity in the pentagram. It fed off me, growing stronger at my expense. Leeching off my pain, my hate, and worst of all, my divinity. I could feel it. I was getting weaker, less deified. If it continued, then Estrella would win and Ankou would be freed. A black demon, who would summon an army of undead, to roam the Earth. A blight on Mother Gaia.

I continued to resist, but I continued to weaken. We were well into it when suddenly Estrella stopped.

“Are you too tired to lift your arm?” I groaned hopefully.

“Shut up,” she hissed. I heard it that time, there was a sound outside the bedroom. Estrella went to the door and looked out as Ankou hovered in his pentagram.

“Dammit,” she said, “Your she-wolves have escaped somehow. No matter, we will be done here shortly.”

I didn’t answer. She was right. I could feel myself ebbing away and there was nothing to stop it. I couldn’t continue to fight. She saw it, too.

“I have a treat for you,” she smiled. “You always loved my tattoo. Would you like to see it up close?”
“I feel like I probably don’t,” I panted.
“Too bad.”

With that, Estrella lifted her sagging, boil laden, leg up onto the bed. The tattoo no longer seemed particularly appealing. She pulled a small knife from somewhere and gently cut across the outside of her ankle. Instantly, the tattoo started twisting and undulating on her skin. It moved downward, pushing itself and slithering towards the wound on her ankle. I watched, horrified, as a large snake began exiting through the open wound. Its tongue flicked out at me as it continued to squeeze out from under Estrella’s skin. After several minutes, a five-foot long snake lay wet and coiled on the bed next to me. The tattoo was gone from her body. 

“My baby, it’s been so long,” crooned Estrella at the albino serpent.

The snake made its way to me. Slowly it slid under my neck. I twisted and turned to get away from it. It was no use. Several minutes later, the serpent wrapped tightly around my neck and began constricting. Estrella continued working the whip. Within a minute or two, it would all be over. 

Memories flashed through my mind in rapid succession…Hades and Cerberus… Persephone and Thanatos playing with me as a child…Lamark…Ares laughing at my pain…Aphrodite’s indifference…Nana Hera…Calligenia and Aode…Zeus telling me I had to come back here…Artemis and I, entwined in our lover’s embrace, on the floor of her temple…

I gasped and lunged upward against my ties. A scalding teardrop exited my eye. Even after an immortal lifetime of hate, anger, and self-loathing that thought was too much. The thought of never seeing Artemis again seared what was left of my psyche. Estrella squealed with delight as she touched the teardrop with her bony finger, then flicked it into the blackness surging inside the pentagram. 

The thought flashed through my mind, “What Estrella couldn’t do in hours with the whip, I did to myself in an instant. My love for Artemis has betrayed me one last time.
The teardrop fell, the deed was done. Whatever happened from here, I wouldn’t see it. I was moments away from an immortal god’s death.

In those final seconds, my first inkling that something unexpected was happening came from the look on Estrella’s face. It went from ecstatic and triumphant to shocked and horrified. I struggled to turn my head towards the door. I saw a brunette woman come through the opening. She had a revolver in her hand. I could see the muzzle flashes, but couldn’t hear the reports, as she unloaded it into Estrella across the room. Darkness clouded my vision, but behind her a ball of light lit up the room. Artemis. She was no longer the loving Goddess of Fertility. Now she was the avenging Goddess of the Hunt who had cornered her prey. Her bow on her back and silver dagger in hand. Ankou, fully charged by my teardrop and my pain, surged forward and the blackness engulfed her. Her light almost completely blotted out. She plunged the dagger repeatedly into the demon. She moved so fast her hand looked like a metallic blur. For what seemed forever, the two grappled. Then the black thing made a high-pitched screech that pierced even my clouded senses. Meanwhile, Hate and Jealousy arrived and tore at the snake. They were right next to my face and neck, biting, lunging, gnashing, but they never harmed me, only the serpent.

At the foot of the bed, Estrella lurched forward. Despite being shot six times, she was still on her feet. Instead of blood, a thick black ichor oozed from her wounds.The brunette tossed her now empty pistol aside and pulled a knife. She held it low in one hand and beckoned the wounded witch with the other. It was all for naught, however, as an arrow ripped through Estrella’s chest. Artemis shot her from point blank range. Estrella staggered a step or two more, then collapsed in a pile. The room was spinning and I gave out a long rasping breath. I’d heard such breaths many times on the battlefield.

The last noisy breath evacuating the lungs. 

The last exhale. 

The death rattle.

My thoughts flow out…Death. No god ever thinks of death, for after all, we are immortal. 

Immortal, we lived for thousands of years, and thought ourselves untouchable. Are we really untouchable? Or perhaps a method for our demise just hasn’t been discovered? Discovered magic; ancient, reclusive, and kept from the light of day for thousands of years was my demise.

Demise…truly hubris was my downfall. I lived for thousands of years with an overbearing swagger and bravado, all despite having been born in ignominy. Now, I will die in it.  

Die. Is anything really immortal? Everything has a beginning, everything has an end. To think otherwise is foolish…and arrogant.

Alpha and Omega, it has always been the way.

All my senses fade to black.

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