I sat at my desk when my iPad dings. Oh, a notification, oh goody. Is it from Mother? Another tongue lashing for my long absence and ignoring her? I had seen her recently since my return. She chided me, hugged me, kissed me, and chided me some more. I reach for the pad and pull it towards me. It’s a video message from Artemis. I push play.
I see a young mortal, her name flashes in my mind, Kara, wrapped in vines, being tended to by nymphs. She screams in anguish, thrashes and kicks. The image turns to the Huntress’ beautiful face. It’s full of worry and anger; those wonderful eyes say I am ready for the hunt.
“Than, a Nightgoyle attack come help!” Atremis says.
Kara begins to snarl is the background. She struggles against the vines that holds her. Everyone goes rushing to her and the video stops. Snarls?! The mortal’s soul. I get up from my desk and walk to the closet, opening the door and removing my vestments. I put them on – my cloak, my sack, my gloves – and I hold the handle of my scythe as it sings to me.
I think of the Huntress and the blade lights. A slice, the rift, and I stand in the center of the temple. The lights flicker and fire flames sputter in my presence. The nymphs stand at the ready, as if to attack. My wings unfurl, their resolve breaks, and they scatter like sheep. Weapons clattering to the floor as they flee from me. The huntress and Orion stand at the altar with the mortal.
Her reflexes are sharp, as the nymphs take flight from me, and she quickly turns and fires three silver arrows from her bow. Orion’ bow is pushed down by Artemis before he can get a shot off. With a gesture of my hand, I send the arrows off in opposite directions. Artemis runs down the stairs and embraces me. Orion raises his bow at me, again. No surprise there. I return her warm embrace.
“Come,” she tells me, taking my hand and leading me up the stairs to the altar.
“This is pointless,” Orion growled. “We should be out hunting for the beast.”
“We will hunt for it but I need a sense of it,” I said.
I approached the altar, stretching my hands over Kara. I find the fragment of soul the creature has left inside her, and I bring it to the surface. Her eyes are clear, but they are wide, afraid, and vacant. She still growls. Her empty eyes roll and fall on me.
“Oh, pretty man, take me with you. I am ready,” she said in ecstasy.
“In due time, dear one, just focus on my eyes,” I instructed.
“Oh yes, my lord,” she says.
I watch the attack from her soul’s point of view. I see the beast and I know it well now. I would be able to find it. Her eyes went black as I lost my connection to the soul fragment. She begins to howl, snarl, and bite. I pull back, dropping my arms, and face Artemis and Orion.
“ I am ready whenever you are, my Lady,” I say.
We leave the temple, and Artemis leaves the nymph Iphigenia in charge as we stepped into the woods: the two hunters and Death. With my scythe in hand, I take the lead, and begin to follow the echoes of Kara’s soul, intermingled with the dark aura the Nightgoyle gives off. Artemis on my left shoulder with her silver blade and Orion at my right, he has switched to a broadsword. Classy choice.
The forest is dark, but darkness never worries me. I even feel my mother’s watchful gaze as the three of use traverse the terrain when we hear rustling from the tree tops. We stop, and I know when the air grows tense and thick with anticipation.
“It’s here, be ready to strike,” I whisper.
That’s when it let loose an ear shattering screech. That’s when it descends upon us.