The Key to Victory

We drove it hard, taking control of the hunt. We finally hurt it badly enough to prevent it from escaping and healing at the last ambush. It came around an outcropping and ran into a wall of maidens. Arrows flew, and I got under it, slicing a chunk of its leg off before it leaped from the rock wall, but it seemed to disappear again.

“Thank you, dear friend. This will be the key to victory,” I said to the woman who had taught me all I knew about poisons. Generally, I stuck to arrows and knives. Sometimes swords, mace, rope, a tree branch, or really anything I could wield, was preferable to a small vial of liquid. Though not my preference, my family certainly taught me the art and importance of subterfuge. If that could help me win the hunt, I would happily use it in any way I needed to. Mortals would consider that ruthless, yet they used those same methods all the time. I would rather win than die saying I had never deceived someone. 

“You are welcome, Artemis,” my friend said as she touched my chin. “Next time, don’t let the challenge keep you from asking for help. You are not one of the silly gods who are too proud to be reasonable,” she said with a smirk. We both laughed, knowing how untrue that was. 

I took a moment to check in with the elephants I typically left in charge of the park when I was away. Pegasus thought he was in charge, and the elephants let him believe so. They were happy to rule through an appearance of nonchalance and fear of their size. The sweet darlings made excellent spies. I thought about checking in on the family before taking off again but sighed at the thought. They were just so much work, and I didn’t have the time to navigate the viper’s nest. I walked out of the museum with a quiet dignity that hid the anxiety that thoughts of my family always invoked and ported to the lush forest of northern Michigan.

“Report,” I said to my commander as I walked into a group of sad, angry maidens covered in soot.

Commander Siva stood looking grim. “Good to see you back, Artemis.” She looked around and locked eyes with one of the maidens examining a map. “Talia,” she said, gesturing her over with a wave of her hand.

Talia gathered the maps and approached as Commander Siva ordered, “Report what you saw.”

Talia nodded and explained, “We managed to follow the blood trail the monster left after the fires while staying off the trail and caught a glimpse of something. The memories are fuzzy but better than any of us have had yet. It was taller than a man, with fur on its head, and what might have been horns, or a pointed hat. Its legs were thick, and its stance showed power even as it ran with a dozen or more arrows in its hide. As I said, the memory is fuzzy, and concentrating on it is painful.”

“Minotaur,” I said. 

Her eyes widened with confusion. She was shocked, but I saw as the puzzle pieces came together in her mind. “Yes, a minotaur. That is it! But they can’t produce a mind fog that controls people and hides their trail.”

With a raised eyebrow, I said, “No, they surely cannot.”

I gestured for the others to gather around. My maidens fell into place so they could all hear me. I raised my voice and said, “I believe we are dealing with a minotaur. I could find no reference to a creature that could do all the things this creature has been doing. It occurred to me that not all of this had to stem from a natural attribute. Several concoctions could be used to create the mind fog and the stilted mind control placed on the boy. If this is a minotaur, it cannot be acting alone. This is far too planned and controlled for one of their attacks. Someone is behind this, but we will concentrate on taking the minotaur out of play first.”

I held up a small bottle. “I have ointment for you all. This should keep our minds clear from the confusion it causes. It’s untested, but I created it with a master.” I handed the bottles to Siva, who passed them around. “Cover the area under your eyes, nose, and around your ears,” I instructed. I pulled out a vile and held it up. “You will drink half of this and save the rest to drop on areas of the forest you think are obscured. Be sparing with it but don’t hold off too long. This thing moves quickly when it sees a vulnerability.” I placed a drop from the vile on a dried drop of its blood on the ground. It sizzled. “Yes, this will work for our purposes,” I informed them. “Prepare to hunt.”

The hunt led us to an underground path where the minotaur had disappeared. I consulted our reports and found several places it might return. The old minotaur scent was now easier to identify in the complicated perfume smell on the trail. It had been hiding in this forest for some time and had set up camp in several locations. I was still unsure how it was hiding from us but knew it would have to put in more effort now.

We set up an ambush a few times. It kept evading us. The last time a maiden caught a glimpse of it, but it ran off when it smelled us. From there, we were able to track it more quickly even though it had increased the amount of potion it was using. It left a vile in one of the caves, and Siva was able to modify our potion to increase our resistance. The monster grew angrier each time its plans were foiled and began making mistakes. Now that I knew what it was, some disparate facts started to fit together. The minotaur was changing its feet into hooves when it wanted to show itself and switching back to feet when it wanted us to lose its trail. Now that some of its tactics weren’t working, it lost its sense of humor and stopped playing with us.

We drove it hard, taking control of the hunt. We finally hurt it badly enough to prevent it from escaping and healing at the last ambush. It came around an outcropping and ran into a wall of maidens. Arrows flew, and I got under it, slicing a chunk of its leg off before it leaped from the rock wall, but it seemed to disappear again. 

The minotaur was not the only one getting very frustrated, but I would not let that wear us down. With every altercation we were one step closer. We gathered in a circle to discuss the next move after it evaded us yet again. In the middle of listening to Commander Siva’s perspective, I was hit from behind and knocked to the ground with no warning. I jumped up and screamed in rage. It had been a while since I had been attacked hard enough to feel the impact.

All I could hear was my voice screaming in my mind. What? Where did it come from? How did that happen? The ointment should have prevented it from sneaking up on us. How dare it! I am a GOD! I saw red. The fury threatened to drown me. Focus! Focus on this granule of dirt. Focus in, Artemis! Focus in. Breathe. 

I brought my eyes level with the horizon and took one more deep breath. Then I ran. I ran for the thing that dared attack me. It was going to die. I focused on the signs. It went this way. Where is it going? I scanned the ground and trees. There. If it wants to get away from the wall, it must be going there. I continued running toward the stream. Once close, I found a deer and told it to run in my place. I then silently veered off to the left and dropped into a tunnel. From there, I sped up, knowing it would have rougher terrain to cover above ground. At the end of the tunnel, I waited until it was almost over me. Then I jumped into the air in front of it and brought down my blades, slicing its head off. I ducked into a roll as I fell to the ground because I needed to keep moving. If I had not, I knew I would go into a rage and destroy what was left of it. The extra effort required me to bounce out of the roll, but that allowed me to breathe again and calm enough to be still. 

Okay, I thought. Now what? How DARE it! No. Calm down. Calm. Okay. Why dare it? Yes. Why would it attack me? It had to feel what I am and know it could not win. I walked back to it, scanning the body. There was a bottle of the potion it had used to obscure itself and its trail. I saw a glimmer near its blade. What is this? I picked up a small object for a closer look and recognized it immediately. I could not believe what I saw. The minotaur WAS sent here! Someone will pay for this.

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