…I charged the creature
Its first blow splintered my shield and sent me reeling. It reached out with its off-hand to knock me down. I spun away from the gnarled grip and stepped inside its guard. The thing re-positioned and maneuvered the mammoth blade.
Hand to hand combat is an art. A deadly dance of many steps. Parry, thrust, sidestep, shield-block. To survive the dance, one must envision the movements several steps ahead. One must be confident in their abilities and their training. Finally one must have courage, and heart.
In the end, it was surprisingly easy. A slash to the leg brought it down on one knee and a powerful thrust through the skeletal rib cage sent it reeling. The creature teetered, then fell backward onto the ground. I looked down. It was dying…in its last throes. I looked closer and there, protruding from the chest, was one of the giant thorns from the rose. The creature had fallen into the tangle of thorns. It was pierced from beneath. Death by sword and flower.
War and Love. Both only a breath away from Hate.
I, no, We, defeated Death.
I felt the exodus of my spirit from my body. The creature was gone, my purpose here complete. As my essence was whisked away, I saw my weapons and armor fall to the ground, devoid of shape or form. I rushed once again through the cosmos faster than ever. Everything was a sickening blur. My family’s faces swirled around me and I passed once again through time, space, and the bends of gravity as they all fought for possession of my being.
Then there was nothing.
Nothing but blackness and silence.
I raise slightly with a groan. I lie in my bed and my entire body burns like it is on fire. I lay my head back down on the pillow and lift the sheet to see why I hurt so badly. I’m completely naked. From my neck to the tops of my feet, my body is wrapped and covered in gauze. Blood stains press through the wrappings in various spots all over me. I focus on my hands and wrists. They’re covered in gauze as well. Where the wrapping came undone in one spot, I see a severe rope burn.
I look about the room and am startled to realize I’m not alone. There, leaning against the wall in a hard backed chair, sits a woman. She wears denim jeans and a t-shirt with some sort of writing on it. Her arms held folded across her chest and her head down as if asleep. Her brown hair is pulled back under a baseball cap. Low, on the outside of her left thigh, is strapped a customized Ruger GP100 revolver. On her feet a pair of leather cowboy boots.
“Wh…who…who are you?” I struggle to croak out. My throat burns, sore and dry, and I can barely talk.
The woman doesn’t move right away. I watch. Finally, she leans forward. All four chair legs clomp down. Even in my current state, I can’t help but cringe at what that does to the hardwood floor. Still, she doesn’t look up or answer. I struggle to move. I’m unable to focus on what has happened, or what is currently happening.
“Settle down, Slick,” she says without looking up. The voice sounds so familiar. She stretches, stifles a yawn, and looks up at me.
“Tif..Tiff…Tiffani?” I whisper, my throat still burning sore. It all comes back to me at once. Estrella, the snake, my girls, the black thing.
“You,” I say as I try to swallow and wet my throat, “you were the brunette. You and Artemis killed that thing.”
She smiles. “Artemis killed it. She also killed the witch. Your girls tore the serpent apart. I was just along for the ride.”
“My girls? Are my girls okay?”
Tiffani smiles. “They’re both fine. Athena threw a fit because they refused to get off the bed. It was quite a to-do. In fact, they wouldn’t leave your side until Artemis took them back to Olympus Park with her.”
“Oh…Artemis? How is, uh, Artemis?”
Tiffani’s grin widens. “She’s fine. She’s spent the last two weeks visiting every day and beating herself up over your bad behavior.”
“Oh.” I ignore the jab, then ask, “Two weeks?”
She nods. “Two weeks.”
I lay my head back on the pillow. I have a lot of apologizing to do to a lot of people. Might as well start now.
“I’m sorry. I’ve never made a habit of saying it, but I am sorry. I will make this up to you somehow.”
“Would you like to start right now?”
“Well, yeah, if I can,” I shift and grimace as I look over at her.
She smiles. “Stop calling me Tiffani. I hate that name.”
I crane to look at her, curious. “Then what should I call you?”
“Call me by my real name. My name is Eleni. I’m a priestess of Ares. He sent me here months ago to keep an eye on you.”
I feel my jaw drop onto my chest. My head drops back onto the pillow.
Tiffani, well, Eleni, laughs. “Don’t look so surprised. Did you really think Ares wasn’t going to keep an eye on you somehow?”
I lay there stunned for a minute, then feel a chuckle as it escapes my throat. “No, I suppose not. I always knew there was something about you. I thought you were working with Markos and Cyndi.”
Eleni grimaces. “Cyndi was my partner. We found out after her death that she was actually working for Markos and getting information on yours and Ares’ movements.”
I stared at the ceiling. This was all too much.
“So was Estrella working with Markos?”
Eleni shakes her head. “Not that we can tell. Apparently, she was with some way-out Wiccan off-shoot that wasn’t thrilled about Greek gods either. As near as we can tell though, they both targeted you for the same reason. You were the loose cannon.”
I lift off the bed and look at her.
“Excuse me, mortal?”
She looks me right in the eye.
“You heard me; your father will tell you the same. You were the malcontent. Erratic, reckless, full of arrogance and pride. In short, you were easy to manipulate.”
I stare at the ceiling. Her words stung, but she was right. I need someone like her. She isn’t afraid to speak a painful truth.
“Eleni, would you like a job?”
Eleni laughs. “I already have a job.”
She stands and steps over to the bed. “Ares has hired me to not let you out of my sight until you are perfectly well. Congratulations, I’m your nurse for the next few weeks. I’m in charge of shaping you up, physically and mentally.”
“Oh Zeus,” I think, alarmed, as she laughs at me.
I try to play it off. “Well, I need a new receptionist.”
Eleni laughs at me again. “Sorry, I’m done answering phones for a living. You wouldn’t believe what some of those people expect us to say in order to give up their information.”
Eleni nods. “Yeah mostly, but some of the women, too. No, I’m done answering phones. You’re forgetting something though. You need a new armorer as well.”
“You know someone?”
“Of course, me. Are you dense? I just told you I worship the God of War. My grandfather was a blacksmith and my father started his own business as a gunsmith. I’ve been around weapons and tools since I was an infant.”
We look at each other for a minute in silence. Ares obviously trusted her and she helped save my life.
“Congratulations, when can you start?”