The torch lights flared and flickered in the distance, bouncing through the trees as my family and the villagers made their way towards me. Undoubtedly, they heard Spiros’ scream. I just needed to keep the creatures at bay until they arrived.
I sensed Ares in the group and sent him a thought. “Ares. Over here! It’s Moxie. Nightgoyles. Hurry!”
Behind me, I heard the beast growl with gluttonous satisfaction as it tore another piece of flesh from Spiros and devoured it. The sound made my skin crawl and my stomach churn in revulsion.
“That will be you next, goddess,” the creature in front of me cackled and chittered in its obscure, guttural dialect, that sounded more like someone drowning in their own vomit than any type of actual language.
The last thing I wanted to do was talk to this thing, but every moment of conversation bought precious time. Time for help to arrive. “Ah. So, you can see me in her. Then you know that you can not kill me, demon spawn. My family draws near and you will die, slowly and painfully. Run now and you might escape.”
“I know no such thing,” it replied. “I am bored of human flesh. I always wondered what a goddess would taste like.” It ran its long, thick tongue across its muzzle and smiled widely, exposing its gnarled, yellowed fangs.
“Keep it talking. Keep it distracted.”
I opened my mouth to reply but without any warning, the beast lunged at me, snarling and spraying me with spittle. Startled, I stumbled backwards and out of its reach, just as my vines ensnared the creature, yanking it to the ground. At last, I saw the opening I needed. As the beast struggled with the writhing vines, it spat curses at me, vowing to eat me slowly. I wasted no time and took off running towards the torch lights to safety.
I’d only gotten a few steps away before I was slammed to the ground by another nightgoyle. Its razor-sharp claws sliced deeply down my back as I tumbled forward and landed face-first onto the dirt path. Searing, exquisite pain burned in each open gash that had been torn into her flesh from shoulder to hip. I scrambled to my knees and dug my nails into the ground to pull myself forward and was hit again, this time in the back of the head. I could feel the warm blood oozing from the wounds left by its talons.
The blow knocked me down again and I rolled to my side to get away from the beast. My heart started racing in a double beat and I realized that Calantha had awakened to this nightmare. The pain snapped her from her sleep and she became aware of the danger she was in. Seeing Spiros’ slaughtered body only feet away, she screamed out in blood-curdling anguish and fear and tried to rush to his side.
“No, no, no! Not now,” my mind cried as I wrangled her consciousness back to sleep while trying to get back up. Failing, I fell back, landing hard on my ass. I saw that the one I’d ensnared was now rushing towards me, broken vines trailing behind.
I scrambled backwards to get away from it and backed into another one that growled viciously, and I heard a third one creep closer. They chittered in their own tongue, speaking of making a meal of me…of her. They argued over which pieces each would eat.
I could hear Hephaestus, “Over there! Over there!” he yelled.
And Ares called to me, “Moxie! Moxie! We are coming!”
“Almost. They are almost here.”
I hissed for the beasts to get away and used all of my power to bring forth the vines. As the vibrating tentacles lashed out and wrapped themselves around two of the beasts, I found myself suddenly on my back, shoulders pinned to the ground by the one I’d ensnared earlier. Its face was inches away and its foul, hot breath filled my nostrils. I struggled beneath it, trying to free myself, but it was so heavy and so strong.
Time seemed to speed up. Everything around me became a blur of movement, punctuated with snarls and howls and excruciating agony.
I yelled out as a horrific pain ripped into my calf. One of them had bitten me, taking a chunk of flesh with it. I felt teeth sink into my foot while the other loomed over me laughing. And for the second time that night, I felt Calantha awaken.
If only I could leave her body, I could create a diversion, a distraction, and my powers would be so much stronger. But, I knew that if I did, she would stay awake and feel everything. Pinned beneath the beast, the most I could do was force her back to sleep, fight, and hope that my brothers could reach me in time.
I sent a thought into the beast’s mind, distracting it for a second, and smashed my forehead into its snout, startling it enough to free my hands. I beat at it and kicked at the other. It was a futile effort. They became frenzied with bloodlust, tearing at her flesh.
There were too many to fend off and still keep her asleep while trying to control the vines and enter their minds. I felt every bite, every rip of tendon and muscle, as they tore her beautiful form to pieces.
I heard the sickening, wet crack of skulls being smashed as Hephaestus swung his hammer.
“Die, you bastard,” Ares yelled as they battled the winged vermin.
My brothers had finally come, but it was too late to save her.
I stayed there with her until the end. The metallic taste of blood filled my mouth and I stared into the night as her life force flowed from her shredded veins onto the ground. Trickles of blood slid from a gash on her forehead, blurring my vision. Everything turned red, especially the moon that hung large against the pitch-black sky.
“So, this is what it is like to die,” I thought, as numbness and cold seeped into her body, overtaking the excruciating pain that throbbed there only moments before. My vision began to fade and her heartbeat stuttered and slowed.
I ached at my core, knowing that her last memory would be of Spiros lying lifeless, his body wrecked and mangled. Ever so gently, now that the pain was gone, I woke her with the image of them lying together in an open field, fingers entwined as they stared at the stars and the peculiar red moon.
Her lips curved at the edges and we whispered to him, “S ‘agapó, Spýros.”
At that final moment, when she inhaled her last breath, there was a sweet delirium; we heard Spiros reply, “An éprepe na zíso ti zoí mu xaná, tha se évriska norítera.” If I were to live my life again, I’d find you sooner.
Torchlights surrounded us as the last of the beasts were killed or ran off into the shadows. I drew myself out of her and looked at the carnage. Her body was ripped to pieces and strewn across the path.
Hera’s warning echoed in my mind, “You are not ready. You have not fully grown into your powers and do not understand the consequences of wielding them.”
“I caused this,” I whispered. “This. All of this is my fault.”
Thanatos arrived swiftly. He reached into her chest and pulled her soul from her body. It was whole, unlike her corporeal form lying scattered on the ground. He glanced at Spiros’ body and furrowed his brows questioningly. “Hmmm. Where’d the other one go?”
Thanatos looked back and regarded me a moment. Shaking his head and sighing, his brow knitted ever so slightly. “It was not her time,” he said flatly, before he turned and walked away, cradling her in his arms.
His words were a dagger in my chest. I could not breathe. I couldn’t stand the way he looked at me. Not him.
Thanatos was right, though. It wasn’t her time, nor his. Calantha and Spiros should have been off stealing kisses from one another tonight, not butchered and turned into feed for monsters. All of her hopes and dreams were gone. No marriage. No children. No wonderful and simple life spent with the one she loved. Why? Because. Because I wanted what I could not have and I was willing to use her to get it. I stole their lives…and for what?
Ares stood close and surveyed the scene. He spoke softly, “Moxie, you shouldn’t be here. Now, go home. Do not come back here.”
I nodded numbly as I took one last look at them. The lovers. The innocents. The victims of my willful folly. Two beautiful humans were dead and there was nothing that I could do to bring them back, to give them back what I’d taken from them. They were dead, but I would have an eternity to remember what I did.
It’s strange. I can remember every detail of that night, but can’t recall how I got back home. All that I do remember is that when I returned home, I fell into Hera’s arms, broken.
She held me close that night while I sobbed, spilling out my pain and grief over what I had wrought. In the morning, she caressed my cheek and sighed, “Now you are ready.”
And now you know.