“Your grace,” a young female glanced behind her toward the voice, “we are ready to proceed. We await only your presence.”
The youth did not move. She knew this was the law, but it went too far. As decreed by Zeus III, no female Xenoi were to reproduce and were to be sterilized before being allowed to propagate. Her father had shielded her from Delphi’s Archiereus Chryses for sixteen years. Why now did he falter in her defense against the high priest? Crimson eyes gazed at the bright yellow, full moon above, yet the sphere offered her heart little comfort.
Everything she had ever learned justified her argument, so how could such ignorance be allowed in this supposed perfect world? Her fingernails scraped across the marble sill of her window as fear swelled within her breast. No amount of logic could alleviate her anxiety of what was to come. If her pride would have allowed her to, she would have begged and bargained to be spared.
“Princess Artemis,” came the male voice once more from behind her, “the longer you wait the worse your soul will torment you. The sooner we begin, the sooner the end will come.”
A shiver ran through the princess at the sound of that voice. Why did males have to do this? It was violating enough to chemically castrate her body, but a male’s hand performing the act only added insult to the injury. The level of misogyny behind this was enough to make her want to vomit. However this night ended, the Temple of Delphi would not escape her wrath, and she would ensure history would remember it.
“Very well,” she replied in a regal tone, holding her dark-haired head high as she turned about stiffly, “I am ready.”
Outside of the princess’ chamber, Zeus V paced the width of the double doors, anxiously. Why was he allowing this? The law was wrong, but he could not change it without brewing new strife within the illusionary truce of the factions involved. With the rebellious Xenoi unwilling to accept any compromise and the Temple of Delphi unyielding to change, the ruler was at a loss for any means of peaceful resolution. Raking his large hands through his slick, black locks, Zeus tried to think of something to stave off this act of hate against his only child.
Upon the wall, opposite the doorway, a portrait of a Human woman hung, smiling warmly down at him. He paused his stride to gaze at it for a moment. Her pale complexion glowed in the fire of the torchlight. The king had wanted to raise their child together as an example to his people that there could be a union between Humans and themselves, but her untimely death at Artemis’ birth had ended that dream. After sixteen years of protecting his daughter from the horrid xenophobia of the Graeco, the Archiereus of Delphi had demanded he fulfill his duty as king, lest the Fates cut his reign short. Not that he feared for his own life, Zeus feared for Artemis’ safety in the wake of his demise. He had conformed, unwillingly...
“Archiereus,” the king turned to face the stoic priest, “is there truly no other way to suffice the law?” The desperation was clear in his voice, but he did not care about his image at this point. His daughter’s dignity was on the line, not to mention her self-worth. There had to be something he could do.
“Zeus, do you intend to question the Law of the Graeco?” The priest turned a cold glance toward the male before him. “Never since our return to Gaea’s surface, nearly a millennium ago, has a Zeus dared to defy the law. It is as sound as Athena’s word. Delphi allowed your marriage because the Advisor supported your union, but princess or no, your daughter is bond by the law by the blood you both gave her, whether she is of the Dodekatheon or not.”
“Chryses, please,” Zeus begged, “she could swear an oath of virginity, as the goddess herself! There must be a way to avoid damaging her body! Surely, you realize how inhumane this is to any woman of any race!”
“Silence!” Chryses bellowed. He did not take well to being called by his name in such a pathetic manner. “The law is sound. Enough protest. It is too late to argue, for it will not be much longer. We should hear her cries any moment.” Crossing his arms around his staff, the high priest signaled an end to the discussion.
Zeus gaped at the thought of hearing Artemis cry out, being helpless to stop her suffering. A primal urge to strike the priest surged through his muscles. Thrusting his fist against the door frame, the king’s black eyes glared at Chryses as splinters broke through the skin on his fingers. The other’s gaze faltered as the king established that he was still Zeus. No one would tell him what to do outside of the law, and no one would speak of his daughter that way.
“Watch your tongue when speaking of my family, iereas,” a dark tone escaped the king’s throat as he struggled to restrain his anger. “When the Advisor is found, Delphi will pay for this grand reach of authority.”
“If he is found, that is.” Chryses spoke softly, still shaken by the king’s dominant presence. “He is just as vulnerable before the Fate’s as you. Do not forget. Or,” the priest smirked as a thought came to him, “he could have abandoned you for faltering as the Supreme Ruler. The Human you chose weakened you, Zeus. Of this, Delphi does confirm. You made your chose though.”
Zeus ground his teeth is rage at the slander against his late wife. She had been no less a queen as Hera herself, and yet, her heritage prevented some of their people from acknowledging her. She had not told him how to rule, but the Human had given him sound counsel, equal to that of the Advisor. Her dying words haunted him in this very moment, and it took every bit of strength he possessed to not break his oath.
“‘Harm none’ was her dying request, Chryses. Do not push me to break that promise this night.”
Dressed in a silken, black robe, Artemis sat centered on her large bed with her knees pressed together against her chest. The males readied themselves about the bed. There were two males on either side of the bed, and the remaining two stood by the door to ensure their privacy. She had never felt more exposed than she was at that moment. The last sat facing her on the side of her bed. His tanned visage fixated directly onto her eyes. A hawk eyeing his prey seemed the best description in her mind of his eyes. Why was he watching her so closely? Something in his black irises was strange, but was that just her unease over the procedure? Perhaps she was overthinking…
“I hope you are comfortable, your highness,” he said politely as he continued to smile at her.
“Must you prolong my ordeal, sir?” Her crimson eyes glared back at him. “I thought you said the sooner we began the better.”
A grin crept up his lips as if he found something amusing. The noble’s face twisted with rage. What was so damned humorous about any of this? He collected himself quickly, seeing her expression. A hunger grew in his body language as he leaned forward, pushing her legs apart. The royal felt helpless as she leaned backward away from him.
“As you wish, your grace…”
The last syllable came out like a hiss as he whispered down to her ear. The smooth voice was trying to express something to her. She knew little of interacting with the opposite sex, but instinct was telling her he was trying to convey something personal. His large hand grazed her smooth cheek. She shuddered at the touch. Glancing over his face, his gaze never once left her eyes. It was then she found her inconsistency when they were so close. A red line was just visible around his left, black iris.
“You…” She gasped, hoarsely, “You’re… Xenos…”
“You are as intelligent as you are beautiful, Eve.” Leaning close enough for their noses to touch, he continued speaking in a barely audible voice. “There is no need to delay our union. We will beget a new world together, free of the fear you felt this night. We were destined to be here, in this very moment. We will lead our people to the bright future promised to us in the New Eden. Let us fulfill our fate.” Embracing her lips, he pulled the princess close against him.
Twisting with all her might, Artemis tried to free herself from his grasp. Eve? New Eden? What was he talking about? This was supposed to seal her reproducing days forever, not start them! Pulling her lips away from his at last, she unleashed a cry that sent the other six into action.
Immediately, a figure materialized in the center of the bedroom. A tall woman clad in a gleaming, white toga levitated above the ground. Hair as the raven and eyes of the night sky, her pale skin glowed in the soft, candle light. Her face was surprised at first, but it quickly gaped in horror at the sight of the scene on the bed.
The four males around the bed rushed to bar her path. Retrieving a bow from her back, the shimmering woman drew an arrow from a quiver, hidden behind her flowing hair. Within the blink of an eye, she felled two of them. Turning her bow on the other two, she struck each with a swift sweep before they fell as well. She moved toward the last male, trying to regain Artemis’ attention.
“Adam,” cried one of the guards bracing the door, “behind you!”
The identified Adam glance backward in time to dodge the flying figure. Growling at his carelessness, he waved to his comrades. One of them threw something toward him, which he caught effortlessly. Unwinding it, he revealed a shimmering whip. Artemis glanced at it from where she had crawled toward the floating figure, gaping in terror. The shine came from metal plates cupped about the leather core. It was an elaborate weapon, a work of smithing art, but she dare not meet the other end of its wrath. His left eye was a deep crimson where his loose contact had fallen out in his haste. Looking up at them, he spoke calmly.
“I have no intention of harming you, princess. We must come together, or the prophecy with not come to pass. If my haste has frightened you, I apologize. We may postpone our union. You can trust me and the Resistance. Please call off this being you have summoned.”
Shuttering at his crouched form, Artemis turned her back to him, trying to gather her loosened robe around her. That was when Adam saw a mark on her right shoulder blade, a crescent moon shape. It was only slightly darker than her skin tone, so it was no tattoo. He gasped as he realized the origin of the mark.
“You are one of... the Dodekatheon…?” The floating figure dropped garments on the bed before he could continue.
“Dress, Lady Artemis,” she said in an unearthly, divine voice, as if it were coming through a filter of some kind. “We must flee the castle. If these rebels were allowed into your father’s castle, there is danger afoot. Please, make haste!”
Nodding the young woman dressed behind the armed Diana. Adam did not dare move. If he was correct, this was the Roman goddess, Diana, counterpart to the goddess Artemis of the Dodekatheon. Never had he heard of a Xenos that was blessed to be a host body for one of the Divine Twelve. His intelligence had been correct after all. She was their long awaited Eve. There could be no mistake. She was young, beautiful, and ripe into womanhood. They needed a woman of power and strength like her to harness their destiny, but how could he get around her celestial guardian?
“Diana,” Artemis said as she pulled on her riding boots, “what of Father? Should we not speak with the Advisor as well?”
“Until we are certain of the circumstances, I will not allow you to remain in this place,” the goddess replied firmly. “There are forces at work that I cannot protect you from, ignorant. Yes, even from your father we must hide. You will understand my decision in time, Lady Artemis, as will your father. The Advisor would agree.”
Looking up at her guardian, the princess gawked in protest, but she knew she could not argue with the deity’s concern. It pained her to leave the one she loved most, but Diana was absolutely right. There was no way to tell who was at work here, and her father might trust the very ones responsible. Glaring at the two guards remaining, she rushed for her window once again, but a pounding at the door stopped her in her tracks.
“Artemis! Artemis! Can you hear me? What is going on in there? Open this door at once!”
She paused at the sound of her father’s voice, knowing she might not hear it for some time. Tears filled her eyes as she raised her leg on the chair beside the window. This wasn’t fair. It just wasn’t!
“Halt! Don’t move!” The last two guards turned their spears toward the two females. They could not let Eve slip through their fingers. It had taken years to find her. They could not lose her now.
“No!” Adam called after them, anxiously. “We cannot best a god!”
Diana reached for an arrow, but Artemis stopped her with a touch to the shoulder. Looking back at them, she felt the rage of being forced from her home boiling in her core. It was their fault. She deserved to vent off some steam. In a lyrical voice, she invoked the power of the goddess asleep within her. Raising her right arm, she began to gather energy in her open palm.
“Oh, stars that watch me from above, hear my cry, return my love. Rain down your light upon my foe as arrows leashed from my precious bow.”
Within her hand, sparkles of white light flickered. The lights spiraled as she gathered the energy for the spell. Stretching her hand as wide as she could, a silvery mist shot forth, swirling and swooping toward the two males. There was not time for them to dodge as close as they were. Within the blink of an eye, they were both engulfed, collapsing shortly afterward.
Zeus forced the door open at last, grunting as he stumbled into the room. He gaped at the window sill. Fear gripped his heart. There stood his beloved daughter, staring back at him sadly. Sound escaped them both as they gazed upon one another, not knowing when they would see each other again. They were all the other had, yet they would be parting ways so abruptly. The princess mouthed an ’I’m sorry’ as Zeus cried out her name. She lept from the window into the night. He rushed to see if she had fallen to her death. Instead, he found no trace of her or Diana.
In the hysteria, Adam dashed past the stunned priest in the doorway. He had escaped the mist’s touch just barely behind the bed, but he did not wish to chance being caught by Graeco forces either. He would find Eve again. It was their destiny to be together, so he took comfort in that promise. He could not lose.
As the shock left him, Zeus clenched the marble sill, stifling a growl. This was no accident. Someone was after his child, and he would not wait to learn who. Shooting his rage-filled eyes around to the open doorway, his deep voice bellowed through the halls.
Soldiers rushed in from both sides of the hall. The castle guard had not been far in case the king decided to make an enemy of Delphi. They were all willing to defend their princess from any harm. The scene they found however was not what they expected, but they managed to keep their wits enough to kneel before Zeus.
“What is thy bidding, my liege?” asked the closest officer.
“Detain these males!” Angry and sorrowful, the king barked sharply, “I want them to talk! Find out why they were after the princess! Go now and get these temple pests out of my castle!”
“Aye, Zeus!” The soldiers all cried in unison. Standing, they proceeded to follow their orders.
“Zeus,” Chryses spoke up, but not timidly, as a guard approached him, “what of the princess? Will you be sending soldiers to retrieve her? She still must fulfill her obligation to the law.”
“I have had enough of you, iereas!” Zeus almost lunged after the priest in his furry. How could he talk about that insufferable law at a time like this? “My child’s safety is more important than your wretched laws! I will find Artemis, but I will not subject her to this again! If I have learned anything tonight it is that Delphi is not King of the Graeco! I am! Is that understood?! Let the Fates judge me as they will!”
“You will regret making an enemy of Delphi, Zeus V,” Chryses glared back at the king as he shrugged off the guard trying to escort him out. “We will find Princess Artemis and see that she upholds the law! May the Fates smite you for your defiance and disgrace of the name of Zeus!”
“So mote it be!” Zeus barked after the priest exited. He waited for a moment. When he was certain he was alone, he fell to his knees. Weeping heavily, he cried out in a mournful voice.
“Forgive me, Artemis! Forgive me, Morrigan! I cannot keep my promise...!”