In the quiet moments of the evening, my heart once again ached for her. Memories from the cruise reeled through my mind. I had watched her as she strode towards me on the cruise deck. The hint of crimson that crept up on her sun-kissed face when she took my hand in hers. Her peals of laughter as we watched the dolphins swim along with the cruise. Pure joy shone through her bright eyes, and I knew. At that moment, I knew she was the one for me.

Yet, here I was by myself all over again.

We continued to walk the trail we had been on since we left the Valvuren camp. A few hours later, the tranquility of falling water in the distance beckoned us. As we hurried towards it, I heard a familiar sound from the clearing. A veil lifted from my eyes, making my world bright again.

“Selene!” I called out. She appeared from around the bend and ran into my arms. Before I could draw in air, she melted into my form. Her hands gripped my back, drawing me closer. I whirled her around as happy tears streamed down my face.  When we kissed, it tasted sweet, gentle, and spiced with our tears. I could kiss her all day and night, but pulled away to greet the rest of the family.

“Morpheus! Theena!” I called out, feeling grateful that everyone was safely ashore from the ship.

“Where’s Persephone?” I asked. Morpheus’ voice held a tremor as he answered. They were hoping she was with us. Selene handed me Persephone’s necklace that she had found on the beach.

“Good, this means she is somewhere here on the island. We need to find her,” I said, relieved. If the rest of us were able to find each other, I was hopeful of finding Persephone. 

Athena bounced her spear on the ground to bring the group to attention. “It will be dark soon. I recommend we camp here tonight and continue the search at first light. We also need some food,” she announced, looking at me. I nodded in response.

Morpheus walked towards the plunge pool at the bottom of the waterfall to wash himself, following Urania’s example. Medusa began gathering twigs, dried leaves, and wood for the fire pit we found in the clearing ahead. Athena and Selene joined me on the hunt as I walked back into the jungle. We were tired and hungry after all our ordeals. 

“Akti, Theena! Look at this,” Selene’s excited voice rang in a high-pitched tone.

“What’s that?” I asked, looking at the flower she was pointing.

“Snowdrops?” Athena asked.

“Yes!”

“Oh! By Zeus, we need to let Morpheus know! Persephone has left us breadcrumbs,” I said.

“Wait, there’s more! Let’s follow the trail. It may lead us to her. What a surprise it’d be for Morpheus if we returned with Persephone,” Athena said, winking at Selene.

“Why don’t you both follow the trail. I smell a deer herd not far from here. By the time you both return with Persephone, I will have found our dinner.” 

“We’ll see you back here soon, Akti,” Selene said, pulling me into a hug before following the snowdrop trail Persephone left.

I relaxed, knowing that Persephone was accounted for as well. The cracking of twigs from the right brought my attention to the task at hand. Lowering to one knee, I took an arrow out of my quiver and aimed at a deer that had pulled away from the rest of the herd. A light breeze played with the few strands of hair that had escaped my braid. I held the bow steady in my left hand and pulled the string back all the way. I corrected my angle as I factored in the strength and direction of the wind.

The deer suddenly came to a standstill and looked up, its survival instincts kicking in with warning signs. I heard the low snort as it stomped its feet uneasily for a few seconds. It relented and went back to chewing on the leaves as silence prevailed. The dense foliage of the jungle hid the rest of the herd from my view.

I kept my elbow parallel to the ground, my back straight, and drew the line a notch further before releasing the arrow. It whizzed past the trees slicing through the air and slammed into the deer’s neck. It collapsed immediately, unable to utter a bleat as blood rushed through the wound. In a few quick strides, I reached the fallen animal and pulled the silver blade from the horizontal scabbard tied to my back. Uttering a silent prayer, I plunged the knife deep between the deer’s ribs and into its heart. 

“Forgive me for killing you, noble beast,” I whispered the hunter’s apology as I closed the deer’s eyes. “May your soul find purpose again, while your body sustains ours.”

I pulled the arrow out of the deer, wiped it clean, and slipped it back into my quiver. In one swift motion, I lifted its weight onto my shoulder. Selene and Athena waited for me at the spot where we had first seen the snowdrop. Selene carried a bunch of the flowers in one hand, while the other wrapped around a dart.

“This is all we found,” Selene said, tears gathering at the corners of her eyes. I wiped the stray drop that streamed down the curve of her cheek.

“We’ll find her soon, Seli.”

“I see you’ve found our dinner. Let’s head back to the camp and explain what we saw to Morpheus,” Athena said.

Medusa and Urania had started the fire. I sat beside it to skin and gut the deer. Selene showed Morpheus the snowdrops and explained the trail they’d searched. He was disconcerted at the fact that the trail didn’t lead to her. His frustration grew as she handed him the dart they found. He wanted to go looking for her. He didn’t care about food or rest. Morpheus shook his head as he stood, handed the dart to Selene, and walked past us into the woods.

“Morpheus, wait!” Athena called, but he did not stop.

“I know how to find her. Wait here! I will be back,” he stated as he strode into the woods.

I got up to follow him, but Athena stopped me.  “Let him go. He needs to do this.”

I watched his retreating form until he was out of sight before returning to our dinner. Urania handed me some herbs she had collected from around the stream as Medusa and Selene helped me put the deer on the spit. The group sat around the campfire, eating and talking about our ordeals since the ship went down. We had nothing to do but wait, wait for Morpheus to return with Persephone.

Laying down, I watched the moon slowly ascend into the night sky through the parted curtains of the woods. Soft shimmery light bounced off the dark waters of the deep pool. Selene laid down next to me, and I was grateful for her presence. Yet, the lack of Morpheus and Persephone kept gnawing at my heart.  

“He’s not back yet,” Selene said. She knew what was bothering me.

I nodded in response and wondered if it had been wise to let him go by himself. If it were Selene, I’d still be out there looking for her. Reading my thoughts, Selene held me close and whispered, “It’s not your fault.” I smiled softly at her.

Urania piled a bed of leaves and laid down on it. She stretched her feet, yawned once, and within minutes we heard her light rhythmic snores.  Athena and Medusa continued talking. Athena was laughing at something Medusa said when my hunter instincts had me up on my feet. Athena noticed and followed me. I pointed towards the woods and made hand signals asking her to come from the opposite side as I investigated the noise.

We didn’t have to go far before seeing Morpheus walking towards the campfire, carrying an unconscious Persephone in his arms. A collective gasp came from the group as Morpheus laid her down by the fire. She was unconscious, her face and lips were swollen from what can only be beatings. Bluish-purple bruises, cuts, and scrapes replaced her porcelain skin. My nails dug into my palm as white-hot rage coursed through my body as I noticed the dried blood on her arms and legs.

“Oh, my Gods, is she alright?” Selene cried, running towards Persephone. Urania had woken from the commotion and joined Selene. The snakes on Medusa’s head hissed, emanating the rage she felt.

“Who did this?” Athena demanded.

“The primitives drugged her and took her to their village as a sacrificial offering for their God,” Morpheus said through gritted teeth.

“What is with this island and sacrifices?” I asked, exasperated by Persephone’s disheveled form.

“She needs rest now, sleep mainly. We can talk more in the morning,” Morpheus said, sitting beside Persephone.

*****************

The sun rose over the horizon, bathing us in its rosy glow, and bringing a gentle passion to my soul. I hugged Selene, who was awake and waiting for me. Sitting up, I looked around the camp and saw Medusa and Urania were talking. Athena was crouched by the pool washing herself. Persephone stirred slowly, waking from deep slumber. She opened her eyes and smiled at Morpheus. He stroked her face with his thumb, his relief at being able to touch her apparent.

“It’s not a dream. You’re really here,” Persephone said softly. Her voice was barely a whisper.

“Of course, I am here.” He helped her sit up and rest against his chest. Selene rushed to Persephone and hugged her. She winced from the pain of the hug but smiled at her friend.

“I am so glad you’re here, Percy,” Selene said through tears. Medusa brought her some water in a coconut shell. Persephone coughed as she took a sip.

“Seph, I am happy you’re here with us. But you need rest to recover. I think Morpheus should take you back to Olympus as soon as you feel well enough to teleport,” I said, crouching beside her.

“That seems like a good idea. Maybe we should all teleport out of here with Persephone,” Urania said.

Selene and I looked at each other. I held Persephone’s hand. “I would join you, but it’s not time for my return. My reason for coming here is Sayeh. I must find the Eternal Flame. It’s somewhere on this island, and it is the only source for Sayeh’s heartfire within this realm. I can’t leave without it.”

Selene held my hand, “WE…we can’t leave without it, my dear.” I smiled, nodding at her.

Persephone stared at me, her brow crinkled as though she was trying to remember something. “Did you…you said Eternal Flame?” she asked, wincing with each word that she uttered.

“It’s alright, don’t try to speak. Selene and I will figure it out. You need to rest, Seph.”

“No…no…the man.” Persephone coughed again. Drawing in a deep breath, she continued through her pain, “The man…I heard him. He said…he spoke about the Ever-Living Fire. Is that…is that your Eternal Flame, Arty?”

Confusion, shock, and surprise played on all of our faces as we looked at one another. Did this mean that we had a source to the location of the Eternal Flame, or the Ever-Living Fire as the primitives called it?

“Well, it seems we must pay a visit to this village,” Athena said with a bounce of her spear.

“No! I cannot put you all in danger. Look at what they have done to poor Seph. This is my Quest. Selene and I will find a way to get the information from the villagers,” I said, standing up to protest Athena’s proclamation.

“I think you should listen to Athena,” Medusa said. 

Urania agreed with her, “We work well together, Arty.”

“We are all here as a family. Let us help you,” Persephone chimed. 

I looked at the group. “Very well, then. Let’s do this together.”

Artemis (Rashmi Menon)
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