The waves rolled in, churning the golden sand, each one stronger than the last. They grazed one side of my face as the sun beat down on the other. I stirred, my throat parched, lips dry and cracked, and craving a sip of water, despite being soaking wet. A sharp, needle-like prick jolted me into consciousness. As I opened my eyes, I saw a little crab with tiny pincers scuttle away. Spitting the sand out of my mouth, I pushed to all fours and collected some water from the next wave that strolled along to wash my face.
The last thing I remembered before I was knocked out was a dark wall of seawater carrying me deep into the ocean. Sitting down, I rested back on my elbows and looked around. I was on the shores of an island, which one, I wasn’t sure yet. I had no recollection of how and when I got there. The little hairs on the back of my neck raised, sending a slight shiver down my spine as a light breeze grazed over me. My heartbeat was faster than usual as I looked around at the emptiness.
Selene! Oh, my Gods, Selene! I must find her.
I knew she would’ve washed up on some shore, but there was no telling if we were on the same shore or even the same island. I took a deep breath and stood up, brushing the sand off my clothes, adjusting my headgear. My bow and quiver laid a few feet from me. I checked my sheath for my silver blade, confirming it was intact. I had two goals. First to find Selene and the next to figure out where the hell I was. I picked up my bow, slung my quiver over my shoulder, and started walking along the shore, calling out for Selene. I had been walking for a few minutes when I heard a groan followed by the unmistakable hissing sound that I had to come to recognize as belonging to only one immortal.
“Medusa…,” I called out. I heard more hissing in response and followed the sound.
“Art…Artemis! Is that you?”
I ran towards Medusa and helped her up. She coughed before hunching over and throwing up the saltwater. I helped her by rubbing her back as she gasped for air. The snakes on her head hissed at me, protecting her as she steadied herself. I hugged her, relieved to see a familiar face.
“Where are we?” she asked, looking around.
“Some island, but no idea which one or if we are even near our destination.”
“Our destination? You were headed to Dolbriand Haven?”
“Yes, but unlike the others, I have a specific reason for going there,” I replied.
“Let me guess, Sayeh?”
I nodded in response.
“Wait! Where are the others? Did you find anyone else? Athena? Selene?” she asked, realizing we couldn’t see anyone as far as the eyes could see.
I looked down and shook my head. Selene’s absence was tugging at my heartstrings. While I was grateful for Medusa’s company, I secretly wished it was Selene. The sun rose above the horizon and stood proudly in the noon sky. The heat reminded us of our parched dry throats. We decided to look for the others, but first, we had to find some water to appease our dehydrated bodies. Medusa motioned for me to lead the way, I pointed inwards into the island. She followed me into the woods, leaving the beach behind.
We walked for a few hours before finding a spring. Both Medusa and I rushed towards it as though our lives depended on it. We had only had a few sips of the freshwater when the cracking of twigs on my left caught my attention. I straightened, drawing my bow and aimed an arrow at the source of the noise. Medusa got up and stood beside me, ready to fight. Before I could shoot, I saw Urania and ran towards her, but she gestured me away. I stopped short of her when I noticed the almost invisible chains that bound her legs and hands.
“Urania, what happened? Who bound you? And what kind of chains are these?” I asked, tugging at them, but try as I might, I couldn’t get a hold of them. Urania didn’t answer me, she stood motionless. Her eyes grew large with fear and a hint of unshed tears. I wiped a tear from the corner of her eye, but before I could do more to help her, we were surrounded.
The pack grunted and clicked their tongues as they circled Medusa and me. At first glance, they seemed like a wolf pack, but on closer inspection, their form was significantly larger than the wolves seen in the wild. They had large heads covered in fur, whereas their body had scaly minotaur-like skin, sharp claws, and teeth that protruded like fangs. It was interesting that some of them had silver-grey skin while others had deep blue skin.
“Great! Just what we needed. Werewolves!” I muttered.
“You’re mistaken, darling. We’re not mere werewolves, but a species much higher up the chain,” the pack’s alpha replied. I smirked in response. “You’ll see soon enough,” she warned.
And just as the alpha said, I observed a shimmer in the air, and an invisible chain locked me in place. I tried everything to break free but couldn’t as the pack carried the three of us into their camp. I was able to catch their telepathic chatter. These creatures or the Valvurens, as they called themselves, assumed we were part of the pirate crew, their mortal enemies. They captured us, intending to sacrifice us in their ritualistic celebration that was to take place during the full moon.
The Valvurens, as a race, relied on the power of magic, the source of their magic being the Moon. They performed a ritualistic ceremony once every decade by sacrificing prey to appease the Moon and the Goddess of the Moon. I almost laughed out loud at the irony of the situation.
I could telepathically tell them I am the Goddess of the Moon they were trying to appease, but there was very little chance they’d believe me. At most, they might think I had enough magic in me to telepathically communicate with them.
When we reached the camp, the Valvurens tied Urania, Medusa, and me to a stake where we were to wait until the sacrifice. The Valvurens were divided into clans, hence the difference in skin color. Each clan had a pack leader, the eldest matriarch of the clan. I counted five leaders, which meant there were five clans, each with different magical abilities.
I telepathically communicated with the pack leaders. “We are not part of the pirate crew. Let us go now, we wish you no harm.”
All five pack leaders heard my message, and most of them laughed, “And what if we don’t let you go? What would you do?”
“Let us go or prepare to be annihilated.”
They continued to laugh until one of them raised her hands and asked, “How are you able to communicate with us?” The others stopped laughing and looked at me.
“Because I am not a mere pirate!” I answered, frustrated by the situation.
“Is that so? Tell us, what brings you to our island? What is it you need from Dolbriand Haven?”
“Dolbriand Haven? This is Dolbriand Haven?” I asked, surprised and delighted to discover that I was closer to my goal.
The tone of surprise in my voice conveyed the truth of my words to the elder matriarch. She believed that we weren’t part of the pirate crew. A pirate would know the name of the island. Yet, she couldn’t let us walk free. They needed a sacrifice, and they needed food. In an effort to be fair, the eldest matriarch offered a truce. If one of us were to fight and defeat one of them, we were free to walk. If not, we were theirs to do as they pleased. With our agreement, they unchained Urania, Medusa, and me asking us to pick a champion while they discussed their choice.
I stepped forward, offering to fight on behalf of Urania and Medusa. It would be a fight to the death, one party had to die for the other to be labeled victorious. Knowing that my mortal self wouldn’t withstand their magic, I transformed into my immortal form. No sooner had I turned when all five of the pack leaders came forward, kneeling before me.
“Our apologies, Goddess! We had no way of knowing it was you.” They bowed, dipping on one knee.
“Rise,” I said, gesturing for them to stand while I transformed back into my mortal form. “I know, and that’s why I had to show you my true form. There was no other way you’d let us go.” I smiled.
Urania and Medusa came forward to join me with confused expressions. I looked at them. “I will explain later. We need to leave now and find the others. It seems we are in Dolbriand Haven. The others are probably somewhere on this island or on a nearby one.”
“I didn’t see anyone when I washed up on shore, and before I could look for anyone, I was taken by them,” Urania replied. The elders bowed their heads and retreated, leaving us to ourselves. They informed the pack to steer clear of us for as long as we were on the island.
“Let’s get the hell out of here,” Medusa chimed, realizing that we were free to leave.
“Yes, we need to find the others, who knows what kind of trouble they are in!” I said as we made our way out of the Valvuren camp.