I was back in my temple to check on Kara. It had been two days since the incident and her body was showing signs of decay. I could use a spell or two on her, but it would only delay the inevitable by a slight margin. There was nothing I could do without her soul. The creature had disappeared from my grasp yet again. This was the second time it escaped. At least this time, it had no soul to claim. However, that did not make me feel any better. I knew now that it was a nightgoyle that was hunting for souls in my woods, but I had no clue if it was just the one or if it had company.

Why did the nightgoyle need mortal souls? The fact that it was leaving behind the mortal bodies and only collecting the souls perplexed me. Clearly, it was not hunting for sustenance. There was something larger at play here, it was happening right under my nose, and I was no closer to solving the mystery now than I was when I first laid eyes on the nightgoyle.

“It’s not your fault,” Orion said, handing me a bowl of medicinal herbs ground into a paste. 

I took the bowl from him. “You and I both know that this is not going to help her. What kind of a Goddess am I if I can’t help the ones I swore to protect?”

“Don’t do that. This is not the time for you to brood, it’s time for some soul searching,” he grinned, looking at me.

“Really? That joke was in poor taste, Orion!” I shook my head in disappointment.

“Come on, Arty. You cannot do this to yourself. That’s equivalent to giving up, and I know you’re much better than that.”

“I am. NOT. Giving. Up,” I said each word slowly through gritted teeth for emphasis. “I know I will capture the nightgoyle. I am worried about the time I have left; the clock is already running out on us.”

“I know, that’s exactly why we need to hunt the nightgoyle instead of waiting for it to show up at the rave.”

I took a deep breath and turned to walk towards Kara. She was restrained atop the altar with vines that were magically enhanced by my spells. Orion followed me, I handed the bowl to one of my nymphs and turned to face Orion. “How do you suppose we find the nightgoyle when I have nothing to track it with?”

“These are creatures of the underworld; there must be someone there you know who can help you.”

I saw Kara kicking and screaming the moment Hyale applied the linctus on her body. Her screams now sounded more like growling. Her eyes remained dark and lifeless, and it hurt me to see her in pain.

Perhaps it was Kara’s dark eyes or Orion’s mention of the underworld, but it triggered a name into my mind. “Thanatos! He can help. The nightgoyle is a creature of the underworld, and Thanatos can track them anywhere in the universe.”

“Why would he be willing to help? I mean, he’s the God of Death. He may want to claim her soul for the underworld,” Orion said.

“He may be the God of Death, but I know he’s one with principles. He would never want a mortal to suffer as such,” I answered and picked up my phone. I recorded a video of Kara and then typed a message to Thanatos, asking for his help to track the nightgoyle. Kara’s growling seemed to be getting worse. She pulled at the vines with such force that I was sure it would sever her arms from their sockets. She was turning more into a zombie by the minute. I could see the fear in the eyes of my nymphs. Despite her growling and the resulting chaos, I heard the pop behind me and fired my arrows in reflex. Thanatos ducked in time to swerve from my arrows. I put my hand up to stop Orion from shooting at him. 

“Than, it’s you! You came, and so soon!” I walked towards him, we hugged, and he smiled his sweet, awkward smile at me. “Of course, Arty! I saw the video and realized this was serious.”

He nodded to Orion and walked towards Kara. She was getting stronger despite her decaying body, as though some evil force was transmitting its energy onto her. I knew that the magical vines wouldn’t be able to restrain her much longer. The nymphs were starting to see that as well. I noticed the fear in their eyes and wondered if it was on account of Kara or Thanatos, who walked in with his cloak, gloves, and scythe. Thanatos held his hand out to Kara, and she took it after only a moment’s hesitation. He stood in front of the altar, holding her hands and murmuring something that I could not hear. A few moments passed while we waited for Thanatos. 

“This is pointless,” a frustrated Orion said. “We should be out there hunting the nightgoyle now!”

“Let him do his job, Orion,” I said. He sighed and walked away from the altar.

After about fifteen minutes, Thanatos turned towards me and said, “I am ready whenever you are, My Lady.”

I asked Than to lead the way, much to Orion’s chagrin. He smirked and made a gesture with his hands, motioning Than to move ahead. I took my beloved silver blade, leaving behind my bow and quiver, while Orion switched to a broadsword.

“Good choice,” I said looking at him.

We followed a shrouded Thanatos as he led us deeper and deeper into the woods. I squinted my eyes to adjust to the darkness that engulfed me. I could hear the snap of every twig and the rustling of leaves in the cool breeze. The fog descended upon us, and I felt it as the mist touched my skin ever so lightly. We followed the sound of the rustling of leaves on treetops, but also heard a growl coming from the opposite end. I looked at Than and Orion; they knew as I did that at this moment, it was a game of cat and mouse, the hunters were now being hunted. I heard the flapping of wings and made a sharp turn towards my left, swinging my sword through the air, only to realize that I was slicing into empty space.

Breathing hard, I tried to focus on the sounds of the forest, my forest that I knew so well. I realized I needed to tune out every noise of this forest that I knew and concentrate on the one that I didn’t know. That would be from the one I am hunting. The rustling from treetops continued. This time, Thanatos moved closer to me and said, “It’s here, be ready to strike.” I heard a blood-curdling screech from atop the trees and saw a nightgoyle descend directly upon Thanatos. He stood firm and gripped his scythe, ready for the creature. As I ran to Than, a low-pitched growl, along with the flapping of wings from my left, caught my attention. I saw the same bright red eyes lunge at me.

Artemis (Rashmi Menon)
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