© 2018 Lissette E. Manning

All Rights Reserved.

~*~

The sound of a pair of scissors echos on the outskirts of the wheatfield. The closer Artemis draws to it, the louder the snipping becomes. She pushes the hut’s door open and steps inside. Three beautiful women are clustered around a large table. A giant loom sits in the center. Energy fluxes through its threads. “What brings you here, Artemis?” Clothos asks, pushing several strands of her reddish-brown hair off her brow. She swallows past the lump in her throat. “I require a favor of the Fates.” “We do not favor the gods,” Atropos replies, snipping a random thread with her scissors. Shifting position, Artemis sighs. “Please, just one favor.” “We answer only to Zeus,” Lachesis states, her cherub cheeks red with exertion. Artemis ignores the sound of the snipping scissors. She approacheds the table and places a golden coin upon it. Clothos’ eyes widen. “Where did you find that?” She shrugs. “A favor for the required answers. That’s all I ask from the Fates.” Atropos sets the scissors upon the table. She snaps her fingers and freezes time in place. “If we grant you this favor, you must not come back for another,” she says. “I don’t plan to.” Clothos snorts. “Oh, you do, but not now.” Her black eyes glaze over. “Beware of the bronze dragons, Artemis.” “What?” “The dragons. They will come with the rising tide, seeking vengeance for a life denied. Beware, beware. You will lose more than you hold dear.” Clothos’ head snaps back with an audible pop. She frowns and rubs her temples. “Another vision, Sister?” Lachesis asks. “Aye. I fear we will suffer because of another’s selfish actions.” Artemis ignores her words. She refuses to think about the dragons Clothos has spoken of. “Will you grant me a favor or not?” Atropos snarls and grabs her scissors. She slices through a glowing thread and holds the tattered tip aloft. “Just one, and nothing more. Know this. Your fate is set. It cannot be changed.” Artemis nods, swallowing past the lump in her throat. She shifts from foot to foot, waiting for the Fates to begin. Lachesis sighs and grabs a ball of fuzzed thread. She approaches Clothos and hands her the ball. Clothos releases a pent-up breath. With deft fingers, she unrolls the ball. “The dragons will come, Artemis.” “I know how this works when you have a vision.” Clothos glances in her direction. Her eyes narrow. “Do you? This is nothing like what you’ve been led to believe. We don’t have a magic mirror you can use at your disposal.” Artemis flinches and shifts her position. She takes a deep breath and waits. “We should show her how it all ends.” “What would be the fun in that?” Lachesis quips. She approaches a cauldron in the corner of the room, pulling a small cup out of her pocket. Lachesis dips the vessel into its depths and removes it seconds later. She moves toward the mirror Clothos keeps nearby. “As Atropos has said, your fate has been set. What you have begun must be completed at all costs. Do you understand this?” Lachesis asks, tilting the cup and spilling several drops across the mirror’s surface. Artemis nods. Lachesis tilts her head in acknowledgment. “The demons will come for you, but they will not succeed.” “Succeed with what?” Clothos shrugs and approaches the table. She dips a finger in the liquid on the mirror and scrawls a random rune. “I do not know, for I have not seen what the demons do. I know only that they’ll come. You must not allow them to find the virgin vessel.” “Virgin vessel?” Clothos ignores her. “What you seek lies beside a river. A demon knows of the location. Seek it before the next fortnight, or you will fail.” “But—” “Your uprising will not be forgotten. Remember that when you begin anew.” A bright light envelopes Artemis. Seconds later, she stands in the middle of her derelict room. Artemis growls with frustration, her eyes glued to the crumbling wallpaper. She detests the fact they’ve sent her back to the forsaken island. Although the Fates hadn’t allowed her to ask them for a favor, they’d given her an unintended quest. The demons they spoke of were the Reapers. She was sure of it. The Reapers could never reach her here. She wracks her brains, thinking of a way to permanently leave the island. While she can leave for certain extended periods of time, staying away for too long taxes her. Howling with rage, Artemis draws upon the dregs of her power. Waves of energy emanate from her core. She concentrates on the last place she’s visited—Madison Square Garden in New York. Artemis closes her eyes and bids her kingdom goodbye once more. Seconds later, she stands in front of the arena. Her contentment with being able to project herself there is short-lived. A Reaper appears out of thin air and lunges at her. Startled, the band tying her to the island snaps. She finds herself in the middle of her room once more. This time, however, she isn’t alone. The Reaper stands nearby, its glowing eyes focused on her. Its body swells to twice its size. Apollo appears, snapping his fingers and reducing it to ashes in seconds. “What are you doing here, Apollo?” Artemis asks. “You didn’t think I’d let the Reaper have you, did you?” he quips, watching the ash dissipate into a barely noticeable gas that floats in the air in front of him. He conjures a small vial. Holding a hand aloft, he collects what remains of the gas. “You tried your best in escaping this wretched kingdom. Be thankful I killed the Reaper before it ever touched you.” She swallows and says, “I suppose you want me to thank you?” “No. I want you to stop what you intend on doing. You won’t win, dearest Artemis,” he says, and orbs away, seconds later. A sudden popping sound draws Artemis’ attention. She turns, surprised to find Atropos standing beside her. The black-haired woman clasps her hand. She deposits a small crystal panther in the palm of her hand. “This vessel is your saving grace against the Reapers. A gift from me and my two sisters,” she says before she disappears. She gazes at the panther lying in the middle of her palm. “How can this be my saving grace?” she wonders, rubbing the pad of her thumb across the smooth crystal. A myriad of colors flashes across the glass’s surface. In the blink of an eye, it disappears. Artemis swallows saliva and licks her lips. The crystal shimmers. A light expands from its depths, swallowing her completely. In her mind’s eye, she sees the demons that follow her every step. One by one, they are cut down. When one dies, another appears. Not once do they reach her. A panther soon emerges from the mound of corpses, roaring with indignation. The images dissipate. Artemis shakes her head to clear it. She curls her fingers around the tiny panther. “Your demons will never kill me, Brother. I will find the crumbs to guide me along the way. Father shall not keep me from my destiny. I will have my due,” she vows. “This, I promise you!”