I sat by the waterfall in Sayeh’s cave, enjoying the moist breeze. I watched as she flapped her massive wings, flying back and forth over the valley. She took to the skies often nowadays. The sight of her in-flight made my heart soar. I pushed back the lump forming in my throat, as my thoughts went back to the time I first laid eyes on Sayeh. I remember that day like it was yesterday.

*** 

Apollo paced the length of the room, fuming over my insistence to join him on the hunt for Python. He had sworn to slay Python for what the creature did to our mother, Leto. I knew when I offered to help that my twin would turn into an overprotective brother. Often, I had to remind him that I was older, and that it was not his job to protect me.

“Arty, Python is a dangerous beast. If anything were to happen to me when I battle him, I want you around for our mother. Why is that so hard for you to accept?” he pleaded.

“I appreciate your concern, Brother, but you have to understand I am offering to accompany you for the same reasons you quote,” I replied.

Apollo stopped pacing and turned to face me. “What do you mean?”

I lifted his golden bow from the holder, examining it as I walked up to him. “Python is in hiding. He knows of your proclamation to hunt him down. You know you can find him sooner with the help of a tracker. And let’s face it, I am the best,” I said.

Apollo rolled his eyes, and I let the smirk play on my lips a little longer than necessary. “Besides, I am only planning to lead you to him. I am aware it is your destiny to fight him, Brother. I will not interfere unless you need me. I promise.”

Apollo’s brow crinkled as he considered my words. He knew I was right. He’d find Python faster if he utilized my tracking skills. “Well, there’s no convincing you, my stubborn sis.”

I grinned and threw his bow and quiver at him. He caught them with one hand and slung them over his shoulder. “Ready?”

“Always,” I said, stepping ahead of him.

We tracked Python to Delphi off the Gulf of Corinth. He had been holed up in a cave for over a year. We heard rumors of his cave being protected by various mystical creatures. I was not surprised. Python was a powerful drakon, and I was sure he’d be prepared. As we neared his lair, I looked over my shoulder at Apollo. He was a mighty and skilled warrior, no doubt, yet I worried about the outcome of this quest.

Overgrown creepers covered the mouth of the cave, almost hiding it from view. We pushed them aside, stepping inside the impenetrable blackness. I watched our shadows dissolve into the surrounding darkness. Apollo lit a torch and swung it back and forth, trying to get a sense of the cavern’s layout. I blinked a few times, my eyes adjusting to the glow of the torch. Thin streams of water ran down the fissures, wetting the walls, thousands of years of erosion smoothing their surface. The damp earth shifted beneath our feet. The light from Apollo’s torch led us to a crossroads where the cave opened to multiple smaller cavities.

“Where to now?” Apollo asked.

I bent down and grabbed a fist full of the wet dirt, feeling it between my fingers as I thought of Python. A low-pitched growl originating from the cave’s belly interrupted my thoughts.

“Go through there,” I said, pointing to the chambers on my right. “You find Python. I’ll take care of the other creature.” I pulled my silver blade from the scabbard and looked at my twin.  

He split the torch into two and handed me one. He turned to face me. “Arty, promise me that you will leave if I don’t return within the day. Promise me that you will not do anything reckless and that you will be there for our mother.”

This was not something I wanted to argue. I let my gaze fall to the floor and whispered, “I promise.”

“Be safe, Sister,” he said with a curt nod and walked away, clutching his bow.

I inhaled sharply, forcing my mind to focus, and stalked the cave’s depths following the growl. The walls in the bowels of the cavern arched a few hundred feet, forming giant stalactites. Bats perched on the spikes, their wings tucked in tight. I held my breath and moved in slow strides, avoiding sudden movements. The last thing I needed was a flurry of screeching black bats or other mystical creatures hunting me.  

Heavy breathing coming from a cavern to my left captured my attention. I stepped into the chamber and caught myself just in time, realizing the gulch’s almost vertical drop. Loose stones flitted into the gorge, settling on the dry bed beneath. A set of violet eyes blazed as the creature raised its head, investigating the source of the commotion. I put out the torch and hid behind a low hanging stalactite, looking at the majestic beast before me. It had scales that blazed bright as an ever-flickering flame from its nose to the end of its serpentine-like tail. In her chest, she held a hearth of burning fire that illuminated the cavern. Her teeth were sharp and cold as icicles; they could easily rip through my armor. Interestingly, the bed she stretched upon was crafted from jewels, gold, and Python’s treasures. She spread her leathery batlike wings over them almost protectively.

My eyes drank in the sight of the creature taking in its size and girth until it landed on the chains. Thick iron bound her legs. The shackles snaked their way from her legs to the cave walls where they were bolted tight. I took a deep breath, feeling assured that the drakon couldn’t reach me. All I had to do was slip out of the cavern without alerting the beast. I was in no mood to be incinerated either. Until the drakon sensed my presence, I was safe to leave the way I came without fighting the creature. I took a few steps back, keeping my eyes on the chains. The drakon shifted, letting out a growl as the metal chafed over the torn skin on her legs, drawing fresh blood. My heart thumped against my chest, more at the sight of her mutilated body than the gut-wrenching snarl. I felt her pain through telepathy. She was, after all, a creature of the wild.

I stepped away from the stalactite and brought my hand forward, relaying my thoughts to her. I wanted to help ease her suffering. Her eyes blazed with pain and fear. A rumbling grew from her torso as the hearth in her chest brightened.

“I do not want to kill you. Allow me to help you, dear one. I will set you free.” I relayed my thoughts to the drakon telepathically before she breathed fire. The rumbling died as confusion filled her and then realization of my identity reached her mind.

“Oh, mighty Huntress! I have been waiting for you for an eternity. At your hands, I can finally escape my bonded existence.”

“Are you a prisoner of Python?” I asked.

“A prisoner, a guard, a breeder for his drakon army. I am all that. I guard his treasures and breed at his whim. Always trapped in slumber, I am only here to quench Python’s hunger for power that was not satisfied despite owning the Oracle. I have abhorred this existence for centuries,” she replied, her words quivering with the intensity of her agony.

“I can release you. Grant you the freedom you desire,” I said, walking toward the shackles with my blade drawn.

“Thank you, dear Huntress. This cursed existence shall finally end, as shall my life when you release my bonds. I’ve been waiting for your arrival ever since I heard of Leto’s twins.”

I stopped short of the shackles, unsure of what I heard. “Your life will end? Do you mean to say that if I release your chains, it will bring your death?”

The drakon’s eyes lit with happiness. “Yes, my lady. I will be free of the curse. Free at last to leave this plane.”

I stared at the drakon, my gaze darting between the chains and her violet eyes. I tightened the hold over my blade, unsure of my next steps. My thoughts must’ve relayed to her as she answered without my prodding.

“It is my destiny, one that I have anxiously awaited, Huntress. You will be helping me. I will, however, ask one more favor of you,” she said.

I laughed at the irony of the situation. I had come to the cavern to slay the beasts guarding Python but found a drakon I wanted to save instead. The only problem was that everything I could do to protect her was going to kill her. “And what is that?” I asked, my voice laced with a hint of derision.

She lifted her right wing to reveal the most beautiful drakon egg. It was oval-shaped and blue-green in color with a flame at the center. “I do wish you’d save her. She’s the last of my children. I have created her with all my might and powers. She is special. I couldn’t hand her over to anyone better than the Goddess of the Wild. She will be forever safe with you, my lady.” The drakon slightly nudged the egg, and it rolled down the treasures, landing by my feet. I picked it up and nestled it in my hands, instantly feeling a kinship to the egg.

This is ridiculous. How can I feel attached to the egg already?

“I am ready now!” The drakon relayed the thought to me. I looked into her eyes and nodded. I cut the shackles free from the cave walls with the silver blade on my right hand and the egg in my left. The drakon drew in a sharp breath, her last. When her death came, she felt nothing but gratitude for the sweet release from bondage. I stood observing the creature’s majesty as her essence left her earthly body behind and moved on to the afterlife.

I brought the egg with me when Apollo and I traveled home. We had both found our own treasures. A few days passed before the egg hatched, and a tiny drakon with the brightest emerald green eyes emerged. I felt her little heart beat and swell with love as she looked at me. She jumped onto my shoulder and rubbed her face against my neck.

“Sayeh…” I said. “Do you know what it means?” She tilted her head, questioningly. “It means shadow. You and I will be each other’s shadow for as long as we live, Sayeh,” I said, gently rubbing her back.  

****

I smiled at the memory as I watched Sayeh fly.

Your mother would be proud of you, Sayeh! 

I tore my eyes from her at the sound of feet shuffling behind me. I smiled at Britomartis, my nymph, as she joined me by the edge of the cave. I held my hand out to her. “Want to go for a ride?”

“Only if you tell me what you were reminiscing about,” she replied, gazing at Sayeh as she hovered by the cave’s edge.

“Well then, I guess it’s story time,” I said, jumping onto Sayeh’s back with Bri. 

Artemis (Rashmi Menon)
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