“They are going to look for you.”
The prediction came from Sol who looked rather comfortable on the passenger seat. Artemis nodded in affirmation. “I know. I made up some bullshit that will keep me covered for two days.”
Her lips curved. “I told them that I’ve been meditating to help my memory. I should be up on a mountain right now and returning home in two days.”
Sol shook his head all while smiling knowingly. “If they ever find out that I put you up to this they’ll make the Goddess look like a bunny.”
“You do have a way of bringing out the worst in people.”
“You know, I didn’t get to try out this gun before we headed out. That smart mouth of yours is starting to look like good target practice,” Sol riposted, checking the magazine of his glock for effect.
“Are we sure I’m the one with the smart mouth here, Casanova?” Artemis challenged good-naturedly while switching to the left lane. They were only a couple of miles from their steely destination. Ezekiel was stationed in a factory in Maine. Artemis and Sol had been on the road for a solid day, wanting to pay the factory a visit with the sole intention of analyzing its defenses.
The strike would happen on their second visit. Sol would request taking a look of the factory and turn the invitation into Ezekiel’s downfall. He would walk into the place like a Trojan Horse and end the unsuspecting lycan’s life. But the plan was easier said than done. They had many steps they had to carry out before mounting Ezekiel’s head on a wall. Such as collecting information and convincing a feisty deity to make Ezekiel mortal again.
“For the record, I only hit on you to rise Wrath’s blood pressure. I’m completely innocuous,” Sol shrugged.
“Keep that up and he’ll soon be raising your tombstone.”
“Alright. This is as far as the car takes us.” Artemis unbuckled her seatbelt and introduced her sore legs to the gravel. She then stretched her arms, offering her knotted muscles a delicious break.
She parked the car between two oak trees that were surrounded by foliage. The vehicle camouflaged satisfyingly but the sun was still up and they couldn’t risk the glare of a reflection catching anyone’s eye. They would sit around until the night rolled in and then start poking around the factory.
“You’re still messing with that gun?” Artemis asked when she found him rattling a box of ammo. “Don’t shoot your hand off now,” she crackled.
Sol chuckled. “I haven’t touched one of these in years. I’m glad it doesn’t trigger PTSD. That’s one ugly devil.” He shuddered at the mere thought of the disorder. He had seen great men succumb to its haunting effects and could only be grateful that the Goddess didn’t decide to add it to his punishment.
“You served?” Artemis inquired, plopping down next to him.
He kept his eyes on the tool in his hands as he answered. “Yeah, in both world wars. I met Raiden in my second tour. It was an interesting turn of events... we were more wary of each other than we were of the Germans.” He smiled at the bittersweet memories.
“So you fought for the country and now you’re fighting for girls you don’t even know. Makes me wonder what you could’ve possibly done to get assigned such a terrible fate by the Goddess,” she pondered absentmindedly. She recoiled back a second later when she realized her verbal intrusion.
“Oh no, Sol. I didn’t mean to—”
“It’s fine.” He gruffed. And with that, the mood became damp with an undertone of awkward. Only the clattering of bullets could be heard as Sol fussed with the box.
Artemis gave her undivided attention to the sky, holding back a crippling cringe.
“I killed my pack,” a voice slumped with grief jittered.
Unless trees can talk, Sol just admitted to a sin short of genocide.
Artemis refused to open her mouth, fearing that her throat would amplify a scream. Her lips quivered from the inner tension but she shunned the mortified knee-jerk reaction.
“...you don’t have to...” she gingerly trailed off.
“I was a narcissistic young boy. I got into a minor confrontation with another alpha,” he gulped reluctantly. “He didn’t want any trouble. He tried to warn me off. I should’ve listened, Artemis. He tried to reason, but I couldn’t see eye-to-eye with him because I was too busy looking in the mirror appraising my self-appointed greatness,” his lungs began claiming oxygen and pulling it into his hyperventilating body. He remained on the floor with his hands on his knees and eyes on the bullets that were as deadly as him.
“I thought I was the peak of the mountain and my pack members were pebbles below. I sent them, wave by wave, refusing to stop until someone brought me the head of that alpha. I forced their hand by promising death if they didn’t fight in my name. In the end... I not only did I lose the war, but three hundred and forty-three pack members!” his hand swatted at the box of bullets on the floor, sending them scattering.
“Me odio!” He bellowed angrily and Artemis jolted from the boom.
A high pitched wheeze pierced his chest and he began to rock back and forth hoping that the motion would provide a degree of ease to his unadulterated agony. He took large snippets of breath to fuel the rest of his story. “I remember— all of their names. All of the families I tore,” he throatily wailed.
Artemis’ hand went to her heart which thumped painfully as more details of the sad history became unveiled. She had never seen so much anguish crumbling a person’s face before.
“The-re were so many orphans,” he rocketed violently with an eruption of soulful sobs.
“Oh,” he whimpered, finally facing her with a set of eyes that were as drowned in tears as hers. “—many... died from neglect. Adults were opting out. Committing suicide because their mates had died in the war.”
“I killed... my pack,” he whispers, coming to terms with the fact for the umpteenth time in his existence.
The lycan turned back to his hands and continued to weep, lamenting his mistakes.
“Thanks, Art.” Sol slurred weakly as they approached the factory in the dead of night
She offered a simple smile that probably got lost in the darkness. “You don’t owe me thanks. All I did was sit and listen.”
“You didn’t run in the opposite direction,” Sol corrected.
“It was a long time ago, Sol. And you clearly regret it so what can I do? It’s why you’re here in the first place, anyway. Right?” she asked, voice dropping as they neared the building.
Sol sighed. “Raiden called me names that didn’t settle too well with me. So I guess I’m here to appease my conscience.”
Artemis ducked by a tree and he followed her. “Well, let’s make Raiden swallow his words. You ready?” she whispered.
Sol nodded firmly. “Let’s do this.”
Three minutes later, they had snaked around the place and evaded the two patrol guards. The factory had windows that were propelled high so they opted to climb whatever pannels were accessible to reach the roof. Sol carried the camera and Artemis had the lead, looking for openings.
They made it to the center of the roof and peeked in through a patched hole. Male voices intertwined together. They shared a look before widening the gap on the floor and peeking in.
“Do you hear Ezekiel?” she mouthed to which Sol shook his head.
She sighed and slowly rose from her knees to move to another area with better sights or audio. Sol snapped a picture of whatever was accessible below and trailed after her.
There was a subtle creak, an apprehensive stare shared between the two, and a feminine gut-twisting gasp that Sol will remember for the rest of his days before the ground beneath Artemis gave out and sent her plunging thirty feet below.
Sol nearly screamed in disbelief. His hand had extended out to her but she was in no position to reach him. And so to his uttermost horror, Artemis landed inside the factory with an incapacitating thud.
Footsteps followed as men barged into the room. Sol counted eight heads before he crouched himself down. There were too many of them! If he barged in there, he’d do her no good. Without looking back, he scrambled off that roof and to the car, desperate to reach backup. More specifically, Wrath.