What do you do when an angry Primordial is bull-rushing you?
You laugh, of course, and stand the fuck up.
Much as she had shed her human form, I shed mine, and the clearing glowed like the noonday sun was held inside it. I stood still until the very last minute, then spun on the balls of my feet to let her thunder past me.
“Olé!” I yelled, and spun to face her as she went past. The heat coming off her was palpable, and I smirked. “Come on now, I’ve been living with satyrs for years – you think I don’t know how to handle a charge?” My leg twinged, though, and I thought again of those poisoned bullets. Maybe tone down the sass just a touch.
Ankhiale slid to a stop, digging her hands into the earth and bringing them up clenched around fistfuls of molten rock. I reached for my spear and yanked it free, beginning to spin it between my hands. It made a whistling sound as the Hephaestus-forged bronze spun faster and faster, becoming a golden blur between me and the small meteors heading in my direction.
She threw them, and I only just managed to keep hold of the spear – the molten rock sticking to it made it off-balance and harder to control. While I was bobbling with it, she charged straight into me, knocking me backwards and leaving a deep groove in the dirt full of smoldering plant life. My spear went flying off into the rocks as we slid, and I clenched my hands together, bringing them down on the back of her neck. One of those rock-covered fists slammed into my cheekbone, and I saw stars for a split second before her hands closed around my throat.
We were about equal in height, but she had weight on her side, and she squeezed like she was trying to separate my head from my body. I squirmed and punched, feeling my own fists slam into her ribs, and the lovely sound of bones cracking. Three punches, four…and a lucky shot right to the guts, followed by her gasping for air as I knocked the wind out of her.
When you’re fightin’ for your life, lassie, that’s the last time to fight fair, I heard Hector telling me.
I flailed one hand free, scrabbling, and got a handful of dirt and pebbles. She saw what I was doing and released one hand from my neck to try to pin that wrist down, turning to focus on my hand. That left her holding all her weight and mine on one wrist. I yanked myself free, feeling vertebrae crack, and sank my teeth deeply into her wrist, tasting ichor and dirt and burnt rock. I took advantage of her momentary distraction and grabbed for her hair with my free hand and curled my fingers into it, the same way I handled misbehaving sheep. I had her by the back of the head, and she had me by one wrist. Her free hand reached for my throat again and caught a handful of my dress. Linen ripped, and her nails gouged angry golden furrows in my flesh.
“You know, somewhere, there’s someone that would pay a lot of money to watch this,” I said, and yanked her head backwards.
“Do you ever stop talking?” she growled, looking down her nose at me while I kept her head as far back as I could. She was bending backwards, but that wasn’t stopping her clawing and scratching at anything she could reach. My hands began to get hot as I struggled, and her hair started to smoke.
“I’m usually the quiet one, until someone makes me angry,” I said. “Hold on a second, let’s do this in a way you’re more comfortable with.”
I hadn’t spent all my time with Connor watching bad movies, after all. I was very used to having a heavier person on top of me while in somewhat awkward positions. I kicked and dug my heels into the ground, raising my hips up, and pushing her up until her own feet were barely touching the ground. Then I dropped her hard, flinging my legs wide and up, and slamming both of my knees firmly into the side of her head, locking my ankles behind her neck and pulling my arm free at the same time. She swore, and ichor began to ooze from her eye sockets and nose as I squeezed. I felt rather than heard her cheekbones crack, and ichor dripped down between us.
I pushed my elbows into the ground and kept the pressure on her head with my thighs – but just as I was about to flip her onto her back, the bitch broke her own neck to turn to bite a chunk out of my thigh.
You see, boys and girls, broken necks don’t stop us. They just hurt for a minute.
I screamed, instinctively loosening my grip, and she yanked her head away, a piece of me between her teeth, her eyes full of flames. And damn me to Tartarus myself if she didn’t chew and swallow.
The sheer shock of what had just happened gave me the strength to throw her off me, and she landed a couple of feet away, and I heard the urgh and the crack of bone as she landed on those broken ribs across a boulder. I staggered to my feet, bloody, bruised, and bitten, and slung my hair out of my eyes.
“The fuck did they DO to you down there?” I panted, hobbling towards where I could see the butt of my spear, willing my leg to heal quickly. The wound wasn’t closing as quickly as it should, and my heart sank as I realized she had bitten right next to one of those poisoned bullet scars.
“They kept me alone,” she hissed, and I turned to look at her. She looked deranged, my golden ichor and her own darker ichor smeared across her face, her hair half singed off from my grip, and I could hear bones grinding against each other as she stood upright. “They kept my babies away from me. You kept them away from me, you and your brothers. You killed my husband and kept my babies away from me and gave them to the humans.”
I limped faster towards the spear. I needed to end this – and while I had originally thought better of killing her, now I saw that it would be a kindness. She was, as Connor would say, mad as a box of spoons.
As I reached for the spear, an arrow came out of nowhere, spearing my right arm like a trout in a stream, and it burned. I tried to grip it to yank it out, and gritted my teeth against the pain as the dark red hind’s blood seared itself into my skin. I pulled it out with another shriek, and I saw flesh go with it. A second arrow pinned my foot to the ground, and I fell forward, gravity and momentum ripping this one free, with a similar effect. I crawled towards my spear, reaching desperately for the shaft.
A third arrow, this time to my bicep, and I saw that the ichor was no longer golden, but now golden tinged with red. I had been hit with enough hind’s blood that my immortality was beginning to lessen.
“See, barren one? Children never forget their mothers, even after thousands of years being locked away.” Her voice was sing-songy, and my vision began to be a little blurry. “My babies will always come when their mother calls.” The spear butt was right in front of me, but I couldn’t quite close my hand around it. It wouldn’t hold still.
She staggered up behind me, and kicked me onto my back. Those mad glowing eyes were like twin suns against the beauty of the night sky.
“Who will come when you call?” she said, sickly sweet.
“No one,” I said. My voice was weak, and I hated it. “I have…no one.”
She leaned in closer. I could smell my flesh on her breath as she blotted out the stars. “That’s right. No one comes for you, they’ll just replace you the same way they did before.”
Breath…that was it. Stars, and breath. Think, Hestia…
Stars…the heart of a star was fire. And fire was mine to control, no matter what kind it was. She was the warmth, but I was the fire. I half closed my eyes and looked at the stars through filthy lashes, conserving my strength. I would only have one shot, and it might be fatal, but I had to take it.
I began to laugh. It was weak, but it was a laugh. She looked confused for a moment, but barked at her one of her brats to give her his sword, to finish me off. The ichor was almost half blood now, and all she had to do was wait for the poison to work.
I breathed in, deeply, and again, and again. The heart of the fire was within me. I had to succeed. I couldn’t let her win. I took another breath. My lungs were creaking, but I thought of the inferno, and held my breath, willing the heat to grow, the tiny bits to break loose. I am the Goddess of the Hearth Fire, and the hearth of the world is the sun. I would not let her take this from me.
“Look, Matera, her skin is turning blue,” one of the Dactyloi said, nudging me with his foot. I rolled onto my side, then onto my knees. I was weak as a newborn kid, but the divine fire was burning the poison away, and my vision was clearing. I kept my mouth clenched tight, but I grinned. I was swaying, covered in dirt and blood, and beckoned at her to bring it on again.
She stood in front of me, and I felt her grip my hair as I had gripped hers. She tilted my head backwards, ready to decapitate me.
“Poor little hearth goddess,” she said, and raised the blade. “It’s such a shame your brothers aren’t here to witness the death of the eldest Olympian.”
She brought the blade across my neck swiftly, and I felt the fire explode from me, freed from its prison. Ankhiale was bathed in white-hot plasma, outlined against the meadow, so bright it seared an afterimage of her body into my eyes before she collapsed in a pile of greasy ashes at my feet. A few spattering drops of molten steel from the sword dripped out of the air, making little puffs of ash when they landed. The dactyloi that had been too close to their mother had evaporated as well, dark streaks over fried rock, only visible by the outlines of their burnt armor.
I clapped my hand over my slashed throat and pressed the edges of the wound together, feeling the skin knit instantly. The golden scars were gone as I was suffused with the glow of a dying star, burning away all the impurities and wounds in a moment of searing heat that felt so good that I moaned in pleasure.
Several deep breaths later, my senses began to return. I ripped off what remained of the top of my dress and brushed the heap of ashes into the makeshift bag, tying it off tightly and sticking it in my belt pouch. I bent down and retrieved my spear, and began the long walk back to Olympus. I would have to send someone to clean up after this mess, but for now…
Tartarus Correctional just gained one permanent vacancy.