Fire is the most beautiful and powerful weapon of them all. A power that ignites the core of my beloved Sayeh. Her source of life now rested in my hands. I beheld the nautilus shell, flames swirling and kissing the edges of the casing. The warmth of its heat against my skin was welcoming, almost soothing for my aching muscles. 

Selene rubbed my back, smiling. “You did it, Akti.”

“We,” I corrected her, “we did it, my dear.”

She nodded and leaned forward, placing a sweet kiss on my cheek. “Ready to go back?”

I took a deep breath, inhaling the salty air. “You bet!”

We were back on the main island. Athena, Medusa, and Urania rushed towards us with bright smiles. “That’s my girl!” Athena said, greeting me with a high-five. They each took turns examining the nautilus shell and the eternal flame.

The pungent smell of sulphur mixed with the salty breeze as thick gray smoke filled the skies. The volcano on Everheim continued to spew molten rock. Ash and minerals poured from the sky, raising the temperature of the air around us.

Turning my attention to Medusa, I said, “We have to leave immediately and get back to Sayeh.” 

“Of course, we’re ready whenever you are,” she replied, taking Athena’s hand.

I inquired after Morpheus and Persephone just as they emerged from the treeline towards the shore.

We decided to teleport from the island to the God Complex as a group. I clutched the nautilus shell to my chest with one hand and held Selene by the other. There was so much I wanted to say to my family, but words failed me. My heart was filled with joy, with admiration, with gratitude. I tried to speak, but a lump in my throat rendered me speechless. Lowering my head, I quietly wiped the stray tear from the corner of my eye. I looked up, smiling. “No words feel enough to express my gratitude, but I believe I must say this much. Thank you,” I said, looking at each of them, my eyes lingering on Selene. “Thank you for believing in my quest for Sayeh.”

“Well, if you’re done with all mushy stuff, let’s get our asses off this island,” Athena said, winking at me. We laughed and hugged one last time. I closed my eyes as the familiar pull of teleporting coursed through me, and we traveled back home.

We landed in front of the God Complex with a loud popping sound. Excited chatter filled the air as the group bid adieu, relieved to be back home alive and safe. Medusa tipped her head, looking my way before teleporting to Sayeh’s cave. Selene and I followed her with the nautilus shell.

We reached the entrance of the cave, and my feet felt heavy. Selene kept a hand on my shoulder, holding me close. Her brow crinkled, concern etched on her face. “You ok, my love?”

I blinked back tears that were forming fast and threatening to flow. It had been weeks since I had last seen Sayeh. I had no idea what to expect. I only hoped that we weren’t too late. Selene watched the fear and confusion cross my face. “She’ll be fine. Come on. Medusa’s here.”

The lump in my throat grew, and sighing deeply, I forced myself to the cave. Each step felt heavier than the last. Thoughts unraveled in my mind like a falling house of cards.

What if we were too late? What if Medusa fails to return her to her original form? What if she doesn’t accept the heartfire? What if the heartfire kills her, instead?

I shook my head to rid myself of the negativity seeping into my pores. I looked down at my hands, at the nautilus shell, and the fire inside it. There was only one way to find out if this fire would bring Sayeh back.

My nymphs rushed forward, hugging Selene and me. “My Lady, you’re back!” Bri said, tears lining her beautiful brown eyes. I smiled, looking at her, Iphigenia, and Hyale.

“Sayeh…,” Phi said, pointing to the inner chamber. Our greetings had to wait. I rushed into the vault and stood beside Medusa. Selene followed along with my nymphs, looking expectantly at her.

My heart raced as my eyes traveled to Sayeh’s still form. She appeared peaceful. Heat rose from the coal placed around her, evaporating in steam as it touched her stone-cold body. Her eyes remained closed.

“Hurry, please!” I whispered to Medusa, trying hard to hide the tremble in my voice. Medusa startled slightly at my words. She looked at  me once before extending her hands out to Sayeh. She concentrated her energy on her outstretched palms. A few minutes ticked by with only the sound of water trickling from the cave’s ceiling. Each second felt like hours for me as I waited for Sayeh’s green scaly skin to emerge.

It started slowly. A shade of green popped up on her back, and then more and more of her skin appeared as the stones disintegrated. My eyes grew wide as I spotted a light wisp of steam exit her nostrils. “She’s alive!” I cried.

“For now. But you must hurry. She doesn’t have long,” Medusa said, stumbling back. Exhausted, she bid us goodbye and teleported out of the cave.

I rushed towards Sayeh and dipped onto my knees near her head. Stroking her face, I bent down to kiss her. Sayeh’s eyes flicked open and shut multiple times. “I am here, Sayeh! I am back.” I lifted the nautilus shell and split it apart from the center. The glowing embers leaped and twirled in a fiery dance. A shrieking ray purged from the flame’s overwhelming heat, rolling outwards like the smoke of a mushroom cloud.

“It’s time,” Selene said, placing her hand on my shoulders. I gulped, fear gripping my throat, constricting it and leaving me breathless.

Was this how Sayeh had been feeling without her heartfire?

I squared my shoulders and straightened my back. Lifting Sayeh’s head, I tilted it gently. Selene and the nymphs helped me hold her in place as I brought the nautilus shell close to her mouth. Sayeh opened her eyes, and for a brief moment, we gazed at each other. She raised her wings slightly to acknowledge my presence.

Smiling at her theatrics, I gently tipped the nautilus shell, allowing the heartfire to pour into her mouth. The smoldering flames leaped into her. The swirling fire traveled to find her heart, shining through the dark cavities of her body. Shadows danced against her scaly skin as her spindly veins reached out, grasping at their life source. Her body began glowing, starting from her abdomen, growing as it reached her heart, finally exploding into fiery passion in her eyes.

Selene and my nymphs let go of Sayeh’s mouth and stepped away from her. I tore myself apart from her and waited for her to breathe. Her emerald green eyes flicked open and shut a few times before they fixed on me. A thick cloud of steam erupted from her nostrils, and she coughed, gasping for air. Sayeh raised her head, the effort putting a strain on her. Another wisp of steam exited her mouth.

“No, no, no…Sayeh,” I whispered. “Don’t give up. You can do it!”

Her pained eyes locked onto mine. She raised her head again and drew in a short breath. The flicker of light in her abdomen dwindled, almost extinguishing.

“What is happening?” Selene asked with a worried expression.

“I don’t know…I don’t know!” I said, my shoulders slumped.

The beacon of light inside her belly extinguished. Sayeh gasped, drawing in a massive gust of air. We held onto each other as the force of her breath tugged at us. Standing up on all fours, Sayeh growled. The ground beneath our feet shook, and we covered our ears as her roar pierced our eardrums.

The cave walls cracked when she breathed a dense torrent of flaming inferno towards the waterfall. The familiar rumbling of Sayeh’s belly was music to me. I watched her with love, admiration, and pride. Tears poured freely down my face as I laughed and cried at the same time.

“Akti, she’s back! She’s back!” Selene said, jumping up and down, clapping her hands. My nymphs cried, hugging each other and congratulating us.

I stood there, unable to take my eyes from Sayeh, watching each of her movements and sagging with relief. She brought her face close to me, sweltering heat emanated from her flared nostrils. I rubbed her forehead as she pulled me under her wings.

A few moments passed before we let go of each other. Sayeh hopped to the edge of the cave and peeked out into the valley below. Turning back to look at me once, before she flapped her massive wings and took off into the wind.

Selene walked up beside me, linking her hand with mine. Together, we watched Sayeh as she flew towards the setting sun.

Artemis (Rashmi Menon)
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