For the hundredth time today, I heard Kara, one of my employees, explain to yet another mortal that the Olympus National Park was safe and open to visitors.
“Yes, ma’am! We are open, the park is absolutely safe. No, that’s a silly rumor the kids started, you know, it’s just the season,” Kara explained to the lady on the phone.
“Another Dark Shadow inquiry?” I asked an exhausted Kara. “Who makes up these rumors?”
“No idea! The mortals enjoy linking everything to Halloween, so they get their creative juices flowing to cook up the next best story,” Hyale said, walking towards the reception.
“I live across from the park and on multiple occasions, have taken the shortcut through the woods to go home, and I haven’t seen anything, Miss. I wouldn’t worry,” Kara said.
“I am sure it’s only a creative mortal’s imagination running wild, but let’s keep an eye out for any oddball events in the park, alright?”
Kara nodded and said, “I will amp up the security if required, Miss.”
“I doubt that’ll be necessary. You’ll probably only find some kids who are out pranking their neighbors,” I laughed, thinking about the mortal’s tradition of trick or treat during the season. These mortals, they’re tricked and scared easily.”
“If that is all, Miss, I’ll take your leave,” Kara said.
“Yes, of course, it’s late. You should’ve been out of here a couple of hours ago, Kara. Go home and spend time with your family.”
“Thank you, Miss.”
Normally, I wouldn’t have worried about Kara taking the shortcut and cutting across the woods alone, but for some reason, tonight, I felt it was better if she had company walking home. “Hyale, would you mind walking with Kara? It’s late, and I think she could use the company. Oh, and take Jamie with you.”
Kara protested, “No, Miss. I will be fine. It’s just a fifteen minutes’ walk from here, ten if I hurry.”
“Kara, I wasn’t asking. Hyale and Jamie will accompany you.” I waved her goodbye.
I summoned Sayeh and decided to fly towards the waterfall. I craved the peace and quiet of my temple.
I noticed someone standing at the entrance of the cave. The 6’ 5” muscular frame felt familiar, although he was turned away from me. His long dark hair was pulled back into a pony, he carried a bow, and his quiver was filled with arrows. My heart skipped multiple beats as realization dawned on me as to why he seemed familiar. I dismounted from Sayeh and walked to the entrance. Before I could say something, he turned to look at me, and with a big smile, he rushed forward for a hug, stopping just short of me. We looked at each other awkwardly, not knowing if we should go for the hug or the more formal handshake. I could not help but look into his light eyes: they radiated an intensity, an honesty, a gentleness. Suddenly, it felt like we were back in Olympus eons ago when we ran, hunted, and laughed together. As though no time had passed between then and now.
“Arty, I heard from Calisto that you were back here, and I…I just wanted to see you,” he ran his hand through his hair and smiled looking down.
Eyes wide, I stared at him for what felt like hours and finally said, “Uhm…you…I…Orion! It’s been long…a very long time since we last met.”
“Yea, a few millennia perhaps? But I could always see you from up there,” he pointed up towards the night sky. I nodded, not knowing what to say.
“Can we talk?” he asked, taking my hands in his.
“Yea, sure, come on in,” I had barely completed my sentence when I heard a shrill scream that pierced through the thick cloudy air, grabbing my attention off Orion. The voice belonged to Hyale.
“That’s Hyale. I’ve got to go,” I said and took off in the direction of the scream. Orion followed me.
The darkness engulfed me as I ran under the dusky tresses of the trees. My feet slapped the velvet flesh of the forest ground, yet I kept sprinting to reach Hyale as fast as I could. I found her unconscious on the floor, with a flustered Jamie trying to tend to her.
“Jamie!” I called out, “what happened? I heard Hyale scream.”
“The shadow…the dark shadow, it’s real! We saw it!” he stammered.
“Shadow? What shadow?” Orion asked when he caught up.
“Where’s Kara?” I asked when I noticed she was missing.
“She wouldn’t stop. I asked her to stop, but she just kept following the shadow. I told her to stop!” Jamie mumbled.
I asked Jamie and Orion to take Hyale to my temple and wait for me. “I am going after her.”
“I am coming with you,” Orion said. I tried to protest, but he raised his balled fist and kept it on his chest. “I won’t be in your way!” A hunter’s promise. I nodded and signaled for Sayeh. Both Orion and I climbed onto Sayeh, and she took off in the direction Kara walked. Sayeh did not seem too pleased to see Orion; I could sense it in her, but she knew this was not the time to protest. I saw Kara walking towards the edge of the cliff near the waterfall. She was following something, someone that looked nothing more than a dark shadow. The fog impeded my vision, so I could not clearly see what it was that captivated her. I called out to Kara to stop, but it fell on deaf ears. As we drew closer, I asked Orion to jump off Sayeh and restrain Kara while I followed the shadow. I noticed it had wings; it stopped and turned to look directly at me. That’s when I saw its eyes that shone bright like the molten lava in Gaia’s core.
I realized it was no shadow, but some kind of a creature. Yet, this was a creature that I, Goddess of the Wild, was finding hard to control. It looked me square in the eyes, and I felt a burning sensation course through my body as though from the scorching heat. The creature whispered something to Kara before it jumped across the cliff onto the opposite side of the waterfall. Calling out to Orion to take care of Kara, I decided to pursue the creature. I saw Kara make a run for the cliff towards the waterfall. I knew there was no way that Orion would get to her on time. The creature quickly disappeared into the woods on the opposite side.
I saw Kara jump off the cliff, as though she was a doll being controlled by the strings.
I yelled, “Sayeh, dive!” She dove head-on, full speed, towards the waterfall. I felt the wind scrape against my skin, the pressure of our descent pushing against me. I held onto Sayeh and swooped up Kara right before she would’ve hit the rocky bed of the waterfall. Sayeh pulled up with both of us on board towards the cliff. I teleported with Orion and an unconscious Kara into my temple.
I found Hyale awake and Jamie pacing up and down the length of my temple, awaiting news. They rushed to help me lay Kara down at the bottom of my shrine. I sprinkled some water on her and cast a spell to wake her up.
Kara jolted and sat upright in one quick motion. I noticed her demeanor was different. Her dark eyes seemed lifeless and devoid of any emotions; they looked like nothing but a bottomless pit. It seemed the creature had choked her soul out and left her living body to rot. If her soul was not returned to her body within the next five days, Kara would become nothing but an undead corpse. I realized with sadness that I had five days to fix her. As I stood there contemplating the thought, she looked around the room, smiled, and said to no one in particular, “You’re next!”