A Gift Freely Griffin - Part 2
*To say that it was a surprise to see yet another goddess would have been an understatement. Even though Blue and Leon had already met Athena, neither one of them was expecting to encounter Artemis too, and so soon after their last encounter at that. As for Andrea, though she may have already met the goddess earlier that day, she too was surprised to see Artemis, though it was more about the circumstances of their reunion rather than the reunion itself. In any case, the fact that the Goddess of the Hunt was here of all places was cause for utter confusion for all three members of the group*
Blue: Um… Artemis, I presume?
Artemis: *smirks* The one and only. I know, you weren’t expecting the ears, right? *gestures to her deer ears* Yeah, I get that a lot.
Blue: Yeah, I’ll bet…
Leon: Um… I-I think this might be yours? *presents the arrow to Artemis*
Artemis: Oh, thank you… uh, Leon was it? *accepts the arrow and places it back in her quiver*
Leon: Yeah, yeah… That’s me. How did you…?
Artemis: Duh, Athena told me all about you. *looks towards Blue* And about you as well, Blue.
Blue: Figured she would’ve.
*At those words, Artemis then turned her head slightly towards Andrea, subtly giving her a small wink and a smile. Noticing this Andrea nervously smiles back and gives the goddess a small wave in return*
Artemis: Yep, have to say I’m quite impressed with you guys. Not a lot of mortals with the guts to do what you guys have been up to these past few days.
Leon: Oh believe me, the praise is appreciated, but if you don’t mind me asking… are you HUNTING the griffin?
Artemis: Well, I wasn’t exactly shooting apples when my arrow almost gave you the Achilles treatment-- *realizes, eyes the trio suspiciously* Wait a minute… how did you three know that I was hunting a GRIFFIN? And more to the point, what exactly ARE you guys doing out here in the first place? Last I recall, the griffin was somewhere right around here when I took my shot.
Andrea: *noticing Leon’s reaction* Oh boy…
Leon: Oh, it was. In fact, we were standing right here with it.
Artemis: What? You were actually WITH the griffin? And you just let it get away?!
Leon: No, that arrow of yours landed right by our feet and scared it away just before you sicced your dogs on us.
Artemis: If it were MY arrow, then it wouldn't have missed without outside intervention! Tell the truth, you chased it off before I could hit it, didn’t you!?
Leon: We did NO such thing! But if I have to be honest, I’m glad it got away, because if it hadn’t, then you would have killed a beautiful creature which could very well be innocent!
Artemis: Innocent?! That beast is responsible for killing off DOZENS of livestock in the surrounding area! It's only a matter of time until it decides to sample HUMAN flesh and blood.
Andrea: *to herself* Jeez, she's sounding just like Salmonius! Only a lot angrier and bloodthirsty… Something tells me I might have made a mistake making friends with her.
Blue: Oh yeah, well maybe you should take a look at this. *takes out the claw from his rucksack and tosses it to Artemis*
Artemis: *catches the claw, raises an eyebrow* What is this?
Blue: I found it in a horse carcass back at the village, doesn’t seem to match any of our griffin’s claws. Wouldn’t you agree, o great “Goddess of the Hunt?”
*Curious, Artemis took the claw in her hand and proceeded to take a closer look at it, twirling it in her fingers and scratching her chin with thought as she examined every edge of it*
Artemis: Hmm… Curved edge, extremely sharp. Good for clutching and carrying prey away… Part of it’s missing, likely broken off during the kill… But I’m certain this isn't from any breed of griffin I've ever seen. In fact, it looks more avian than it does feline.
Leon: You mean it's from some kind of bird?
Artemis: Perhaps… Frankly, Leon, I'm surprised you couldn't have figured that out for yourself, what with you being a brainiac and all.
Leon: *annoyed* Hey, there's a been a LOT of fangs and claws in my face lately. They're all starting to blur together.
Blue: Either way, this should prove our griffin is innocent…
Artemis: It could… but still… Goddess of the Hunt, NOT Goddess of Justice. *lobs the talon back at Blue* And I never quit a hunt until it's done.
Leon: But that's not fair!
Artemis: You want fairness, talk to Nemesis. I have my OWN work to do. You three wanna stick around and play monster hunters, fine! But stay out of my way. I don't care if you ARE Athena's chosen ones… There are SO many ways to disable a target without killing it. *fingers the hilt of her hunting knife, calls out* Hounds, COME!
*Immediately upon hearing his master’s command, the alpha dog got to it’s feet and howled before charging into the grass, the rest of the pack following suit, all of them baying and barking loudly as they all disappeared into the brush, leaving Artemis alone with the mortals*
Artemis: As for the animal that claw belongs to… pray none of you run into it alone… lest you end up like that horse. *strides into the tall grass, disappearing from sight*
*As they watched the Goddess leave, the the group could only just stand there, partly in awe…and partly in terror as the whole scenario they had been part of sank into their memory*
Blue: You know… I'm starting to miss Athena…
Leon: No kidding. I always thought I'd LIKE Artemis, but there's something kinda… not right about her.
Bel: Rawk!! Scary deer lady! Rawk!!
Leon: *looks to Andrea* You've been awfully silent.
Andrea: *snaps back to reality* Hmm? Oh, well it’s just that… well, it was Artemis, you know, she IS my patron goddess.
Blue: Oh yeah, right. Almost forgot about that. Anyway, we have to do something about that griffin, if Artemis doesn’t find her first then who knows when some other hunter will show up looking for her.
Leon: And let’s not forget that whatever killed that horse is still out there, worse still, the poor griffin’s getting blamed for it. Even if she’s caught, the killings won’t stop.
Blue: Agreed. I say we have a stakeout tonight, we camp out on the edge of Plinth and wait for that other creature to show up. When it does, we can bring it down.
Andrea: As much as I like that plan, need I remind you that any predator with wings can easily circle around an area before swooping, we could be camping all night and we might miss it entirely. Remember what happened in--
Blue: I KNOW what happened in Hydres! But a basic plan is better than no plan at all, if you have any better suggestions, I’d be glad to hear them.
*Andrea fell silent at that, unable to come up with an appropriate response*
Leon: But what about the Griffin? We can’t just leave her out there to get hunted, what if Artemis gets to her while we’re on the stakeout?
Andrea: Well… after that near-miss with the arrow, I highly doubt she’s going to take any chances by coming back. Like any other animal, she’ll instinctively try to get away from any danger in the area until she knows it’s safe again. Trust me, the griffin will be fine for now.
Blue: Then it’s settled. Tonight we get our gear and set up camp for the night.... Let’s just hope this all pays off.
*With that final word, Blue proceed to walk away from the scene, with Bel on his shoulder and Leon following suit. However just before Andrea could bring up the rear, she suddenly felt a small weight resting on her left shoulder, followed by the sharp pinch of talons. Quickly turning her head, the equitaur was surprised to see it was a large
… a very familiar sparrowhawk, letting out a small screech as it lowered its head towards her ear*
Artemis: *whispers* You know, you’re lucky you met me at the pond today. If my hounds hadn’t have sniffed my scent on your person, they would’ve ripped you, and your friends to shreds.
Andrea: *whispers aggressively* Believe me, I’m well aware.
Artemis: *whispers* Now come on, there’s no need for that attitude.
Andrea: *whispers* Well excuse me if I don’t like people, goddess or not, threatening my friends when they’re trying to save what could very well be an innocent life. Athena would be very ashamed of you if she ever found out.
Artemis: *whispers* Let’s leave Athena out of this, shall we? You and I both know that even if those two weren’t chosen by Athena for their task, the Goddess of the Hunt would still take precedence over this matter. Look, I like you, but you have to be more careful about what you do from here on.
Andrea: *whispers* And who says I’m not? Look, I appreciate your concern, but I have things to do, so if you’ll excuse me. *shakes her shoulder a bit, forcing Artemis off*
*After falling a small distance, with a flapping of her wings, Artemis regained altitude and hovered slightly next to Andrea’s head with an irritated look on her face*
Artemis: Keep up this attitude, girl, and it’s going to land you in trouble one of these days. *face softens* Just… remember what I said, okay?
*And just like that the sparrowhawk flew up even higher and glided across the tall grass in the opposite direction of where Andrea was headed. Taking a quick glance over her shoulder, Andrea stood there, watching as her patron goddess once again disappeared from sight, however moments later another voice caught her attention*
Blue: *offscreen* Hey, you coming?
*Hearing Blue’s voice, Andrea galloped off after him, Leon and Bel as they headed back to Plint to prepare for the stakeout*
*Later that night, back at Plinth, everyone was in their homes, sound asleep and resting for the new day. However, just on the outskirts of Plinth, with a small campfire burning in the centre of them, Blue and his friends remained wide awake and vigilant as ever, waiting for inevitable return of the beast that had been killing the larger livestock. As Andrea sat by the fire, looking over her bow for any faults as Bel slept soundly on her shoulder, Leon and Blue kept their eyes on the sky, looking for anything out of place*
Leon: Anything yet?
Blue: *shakes his head* Nothing but the moon and stars.
Andrea: Just how long do you suppose we’re going to have to wait here?
Blue: All night if we have to, I guess. I mean, whatever it is we’re waiting for, it’s been making very frequent visits to Plinth so it’s bound to show up sooner or later.
Leon: Yeah, the minute we hear an animal’s cry of terror, we can launch our assault on it. I mean, that’s the idea, right?
Blue: *nods* Exactly. Until then, perhaps we should take shifts staying awake, I mean it’s no use if we ALL end up being too tired to do anything.
*Meanwhile, in Plinth itself, not everyone was soundly asleep. As is natural for any farmer, Salmonius was quite tense about about possibly losing anymore livestock, so like anyone else in his situation, he was currently awake a little later just to make sure that his home and surrounding area was as secure as possible. After checking that the stable had been locked up tight for what must have been the third time that evening, Salmonius finally let out a heavy sigh, now somewhat satisfied with what he sees. However just as he turned to leave and go into his house, the faint sound of wings flapping on the wind caught his attention, followed by a loud thud coming from the top of the stable behind him*
Salmonius: Oh no, not this time!
*At those words, Salmonius quickly snapped around to face the creature that had landed on his stable, brandishing the large sickle that he was carrying with him during his patrol. However before he could do anything further, the creature in question gave a loud screech and pounces off the roof of the stable, quickly landing on top of Salmonius before he could even take the first swing. As the farmer layed there, pinned to the ground by his arms, Salmonius instinctively tried to break free but alas was unable to do so as the creature forced his arms further into the dirt, the sheer pain of which forcing him to release his grip on the sickle he had. As Salmonius looked up at the beast that pinned him down, his eyes widened in shock as the flicker of his dropped torch finally revealed the creature to him, it’s amber eyes gazing at him with glee as he let out a terrified scream*
*Back with the group, Salmonius’ scream was heard from their camp, though somewhat faint, the scream was still loud enough for the trio to recognise just who it was*
Andrea: *tense* Was that…?
*However Andrea didn’t need to finish her question, everyone who heard the scream, instantly knew what it meant*
Blue: *grabs his sword* COME ON!!!
*At that moment everyone, weapon in hand, instantly ran towards the direction of the scream, all of them knowing exactly where they needed to go due to familiarity alone. By the time they had arrived, all members of the group were able to catch a glimpse of a large winged creature as it struggled to hold onto a flailing human as it tried to fly away*
Blue: What in Athena’s name is that!?!
Leon: I don’t know, it’s too dark to make out clearly! But it’s definitely NOT a griffin, that’s for sure!
Andrea: *readies her bow* Whatever it is, it’s got Salmonius!
Blue: You’re not going to take a shot, are you? What if you hit the guy?
Andrea: Would you rather he becomes dinner for that thing!? *takes aim* Just trust me, alright!?
*Though it would have been a terrible disadvantage for a human if they were to use their bow during the night, for Andrea, being an Equitaur has its perks. Having scotopic vision, like any other equine, Andrea’s vision wasn’t that impaired in the dark, in fact the only issue she really had at times was if her target was moving to fast for her to see, much like what was happening now. However now was not the time to think about her faults, if Andrea didn’t take this shot now, Salmonius would never come home again. So taking one cleansing breath, both her eyes fixated on her mark as she accounted for wind resistance, Andrea let loose her arrow and let it fly right towards the beast, clipping it’s flapping wing in the process. Screeching in pain the creature instantly reacted by releasing its grip on Salmonius, causing him to fall, thankfully the creature was hovering just above the stable roof so Salmonius didn’t fall far before he crashed into the building below him*
Leon: *cringes* Ooh! That looked painful.
Blue: At least he’s alive. Andrea, think you can hit it again?
Andrea: *aims another arrow* Piece of cake…
*However before she could let loose another arrow, the creature she was aiming suddenly began to plummet, a large assortment of feathers fluttering about as it rapidly tried to flap it’s uninjured wing rapidly to keep it’s altitude, but was alas in vain as it eventually collided with the mud below. With the creature downed, Blue and Leon took a tighter grip on their weapons and slowly eased their way forward, with Andrea remaining where she stood as she kept her bow up, ready to lose her next shot. As they both took uneasy steps towards the winged terror that had been plaguing Plinth for who knows how long, they each couldn’t help but notice something about it as the light of their torches revealed all of its features… something familiar*
Leon: Artemis was right, I SHOULD have known!
*Sure enough, there it was, in all it’s feathered glory, a creature that the trio had hoped to have never see again since their last encounter in Hydres. With fierce amber eyes, disgusting brown feathers that covered an immensely overweight body, and a set of curved talons on her feet, one of which was broken off and now rested in Blue’s satchel, was a harpy*
Blue: It’s that fat harpy from Hydres!
Andrea: Wait? One of Antagony’s flunkies?
Leon: *sternly* …Laimargia.
Laimargia: *grunts in pain as she looks up at her attackers* Wha…? YOU!?
Laimargia: UGH! Is there no where I can go without you pieces of filth ruining everything!?
Leon: Says the feathered freak slaughtering livestock! What’s the matter, did your flock not want you around?
Laimargia: You should know, you miserable welp! Ever since Priscilla defeated Antagony and disbanded our flock, everyone went their own way and scattered to the winds. Without our leader, it was every bird for herself.
Andrea: All this over the course of just a few days? Wow, you harpies truly are creatures of paranoid self-preservation, aren’t you? Thinking every other creature wants what you have.
Laimargia: I wouldn’t be surprised if some of the flock tried to take Antagony’s place as leader and tried to slaughter each other in the process. After breaking away from the others I came here, and suffice to say, the pickings were VERY good.
*Blue glared as he kept his sword pointed toward the harpy as she slowly got to her feet*
Blue: But then you decided to get greedy and decided that the farmers themselves would make a good meal along with the livestock. *looks the harpy over* Can’t really say I’m that surprised.
Leon: *smirks* What’s the matter? Rabbits not good enough for you?
Blue: Probably wouldn’t even hit the bottom of that enormous gut even if they were. Heck, I’m surprised you can even lift yourself off the ground, fatso.
*With every word the two boys said, it felt Laimargia’s very blood was going to boil over. First they attack her during her hunt, and now they insult her to her face? They very idea was enough to make Laimargia bare her teeth with fury*
Laimargia: Don’t you mock me!!! I’ve devoured maggots bigger than you and I’ll be damned if I take any more humiliation at your hands!
Blue: *stern faced as he grips his sword tighter* That’s the least you deserve for the travesties you’ve committed, Laimargia. First you extort everything from the people of Hydres, and now you’ve started to ruin the lives of Plinth’s people and had the poor griffin take the fall. Well, I’m sorry to say that your fun is over.
Laimargia: *smirks* Oh you may think that… but it takes more than a damaged wing to keep me grounded, boy!
*At those words, the large harpy suddenly launched herself straight towards Blue, who instinctivly ducked in responce. Narrowly dodging a terrible mauling from the feathered demon, Blue quickly regained himself and brought his sword up into a defencive position, as the harpy slid across the ground. Quickly reacting to this, Andrea suddenly let loose her arrow, narrowly missing as the harpy ran across the dirt, circling the three of them. Arrow after arrow Andrea shot, but despite her size, Laimargia was quite fast and each time Andrea missed each shot, impaling each arrow into the mud or the stable wall. As for Leon and Blue, every time the harpy came close, they each tried to take a swing at the creature, with Blue actually managing to take a slice out of her other wing as she once again tried to maul him*
Laimargia: *clutching her bleeding wing* ARGH!!! YOU MISERABLE PIECE OF PIGSWILL!
*Screaming with fury, the harpy once again launched herself at Blue, but not before grabbing the sickle Salmonius dropped earlier and flinging it in Leon’s direction*
Andrea: LOOK OUT!!!
*Needless to say, Leon quickly reacted by swinging his sword in front of him, resulting in the sickle suddenly being cleaved in two with one slice from the celestial blade. Before he even realized it, Leon could only gasp in relief as one half of the sickle fell to the ground while the other impaled itself in the tree behind him. Using this distraction to her advantage, the Molting Harpy rushed towards Blue and grabbed him from behind while his back was turned. With Blue now being pinned to the ground by the harpy’s talons, all Leon and Andrea could do was stand there on the defensive as the harpy brought the whole fight to a standoff*
Laimargia: How does it feel, worm? To tremble at my feet?
*However Blue’s response was certainly not what the harpy had hoped for. Due to the mistake of pinning Blue by his shoulders instead of his arms, Blue, through a large amount of effort was able to rotate his arm and stab the harpy, right in the leg with his own sword. Once again screeching with terrible pain, the harpy instantly got off Blue and stumbled backward, allowing the young hero to rise from his feet with barely more than a few scratches on his shoulders*
Laimargia: *keeping weight off her leg* FILTHY VERMIN! I’m going to enjoy tearing out your thro--
*However those would be the last words the harpy would ever get to say, when all of a sudden something fell from the sky and snapped her neck with one swift crunch of its beak, letting her limp body collapse to the ground the second it was over. Needless to say, this unexpected event was something that Blue Leon and Andrea could never have foreseen, especially considering the creature who had come to their aid was one that they were quite familiar with*
Andrea: Well I’ll be…
*It was the griffin, standing with the harpy dangling by her broken neck in its beak. Dead. Needless to say the appearance of this mighty beast was both a shock and a relief to all three friends, especially after what it just did for them*
Blue: Yikes… That’s not a pretty sight…
*The Griffin, it’s catch still hanging limp from its beak, suddenly snaps its head toward Leon before taking a few steps towards him and casually dropping the dead harpy at his feet like a cat would do a mouse for it’s master, uttering a small chirp afterward*
Leon: *awkwardly* Um… Thanks… I think.
*With the immediate danger over, the entire group soon managed to absorbed what had just occurred into their minds and quickly began to act accordingly. Their first priority was of course to check on Salmonius to see if he was alright, thankfully, after pulling him down from the roof of his stable, they were glad to find that aside from a broken arm and a few gashes on his shoulders, he seemed to be okay. Of course, seeing the griffin just a few yards in front of him, he wasn’t entirely at ease*
Salmonius: Is… is it safe?
Leon: Don’t worry, Salmonius, I think we can safely say that she’s not the savage you thought she was.
Salmonius: Oh you don’t have to tell me that, boy-o. After that little flying session, I can safely assume that THING *points to the harpy’s corpse* was the one that attacked my plow horse and my neighbor’s cow.
Blue: Not to mention every other large animal in Plinth as of late. Hate to imagine what could have happened if we didn’t arrive.
Salmonius: But that doesn't mean that the griffin still isn’t behind the slaughter of many other groups of livestock around here. Just because the harpy is dead, it doesn’t mean that the beast is excused for such travesty.
Leon: Oh come on, it’s only natural for her, *pets the griffin on it’s neck while she pokes the dead harpy with its beak* It’s like I’ve said before, she’s only an animal and clearly hunting is what she does to survive. Still, the fact that she’s eating a great deal more meat than vegetation does intrigue me. If she’s an omnivore, then why lean more towards one over the other?
*Just then, the griffin sat back on her haunches and scanned around the field near the village. Rumbling in her throat, she began to let out a loud chuffing sound*
Blue: What are you up to, girl?
Andrea: *her ears swivel* What is that?
*Some patches of the tall grass began to shake and a half dozen tiny forms tumbled out. They were covered in bluish gray fur and their little wings were just beginning to shed the downy feathers of cubs and grow in the flight feathers, for these were a group of baby griffins*
Salmonius: Well, I’ll be…
Leon: Oh… *realizes, begins to smile* Ohhhhh… of course!
Blue: Whoa! She's a mom?
Leon: Which explains why she's been so active lately. She's been hunting for her babies AND for herself. Six babies need a LOT of food, I bet.
Andrea: And the young tend to need a lot of nutrients found in meat at such a young age, now it’s starting to make sense.
*Leon knelt down to get a closer look at the closest cub, which nervously etched closer towards him, taking a few sniffs of him curiously. Seeing that the mother griffin didn’t seem to mind him being near her young, Leon smiled as he reached out a hand, allowing the cub to rub against it like a cat showing affection*
Leon: *chuckles* And here I thought this day couldn’t get any better.
Salmonius: Heh, cute little critters, aren’t they? *strokes one cub that was rubbing itself against his leg* You’d never believe their momma could cause so much damage.
*As for Andrea and Blue, they two had their own little interactions with the cub, with Blue kneeling down, allowing one to nuzzle up on his lap, meanwhile Andrea was patting another while a third was trying to paw at her tail. As for Bel, after finally flying down from the tree he was hiding in during the fight, he wasn’t having that much fun at all*
Bel: *runs away from the playful cub chasing him* RAWK!!! Save me!!!
*Laughing out loud at the poor parrot's predicament with everyone else, Blue quickly snatched Bel up and placed him on his shoulder before the cub could get to him. Suddenly their happy moment was quickly spoiled by the familiar sounds of barks and howls that seemed to be drawing nearer to the group’s location*
Leon:*eyes widen in fear* Oh no…
*Knowing exactly what, or rather WHO was coming, no one, save for Salmonius, were surprised when the griffin quickly gathered her young, threw herself in front of them and flared her wings with a vicious snarl*
Leon: *redraws his sword* Blue, what do we do?
*However before Blue could even utter a word, several dark shapes suddenly came out from all directions and soon the griffin, her cub and the group were surrounded by a half dozen snarling, drooling hunting hounds. The griffin wheeled around, roaring and swiping with her claws, forcing the dogs to keep their distance*
Salmonius: Sweet Hera, where did all these dogs come from?
Andrea: I think I have a pretty good idea…
*Sure enough, Artemis appeared from out of the tall grass, her bow drawn and at the ready*
Artemis: Yes… a fine and merry hunt you've lead me on these past days, beast. But once again, the Goddess of the Hunt stands triumphant! sees Blue and the others, lowers her bow and groans* Oh, not again! What, are you STALKING me?
Salmonius: *in disbelief* Is… is that… who I think it is?
Leon: *holds his hands out* Artemis, wait! This griffin is innocent, and we have proof!
Andrea: It's TRUE! It was that harpy causing all the trouble!
Blue: And believe me, we know what it's like to deal with harpies. *points to the harpy’s corpse on the ground* See for yourself, it’s right over there.
Artemis: Oh, I know.
Blue: *pause* Huh?
Artemis: I'm not an idiot. I've been hunting since I was a child. I know the bites and claw marks of every creature under the heavens! I can tell the difference between a harpy's attack and a griffin's.
Leon: So you know she didn’t attack Salmonius’ horse?
Artemis: Yup, and frankly… I don't care. I’m still going to kill her. *raises her bow* So stand aside!
Leon: No, wait, you can't! She's a mother!
Blue: Yeah, if you kill her, you'll be dooming her children to certain death!
Artemis: Good! The whole family can die for all I care! Now for the last time, MOVE!
Leon: Jeez, what do you HAVE against this griffin? What's she ever done to you?!
Artemis: What do I have against… I'll TELL you have what I have against her… what I have against ALL griffins. They are sacred to my worthless twin brother, Apollo! The one who… who caused the death of the only man I ever LOVED!
Andrea: Are you… are you talking about Orion?
Blue: *confused* Orion?
Leon: The hunter. You know, the constellation with the three stars forming his belt.
Blue: Oh, yeah…
Andrea: According to the stories, Orion was a giant, one of the children of Poseidon, and he was an avid hunter. He and Artemis met one night hunting the same stag… and their rivalry turned into love. Artemis was going to forsake her vow of remaining a virgin goddess and marry him, but… uh… something happened. Oh, what was it?
Artemis: Oh, I'll tell you. My good-for-nothing brother went and got Orion drunk! In his addled state, Apollo dared Orion to swim across the ocean to the opposite shore! When that was done, Apollo came to me and said he'd seen a most unusual fish swimming across the sea and DARED me to prove my mastery of archery and SHOOT it from the slope where we stood!
Blue: Wait, you don't mean you…?
Artemis: *hangs her head, sheds a tear*
Blue: *shocked* Oh… Oh, wow…
Artemis: When I realized the DEPTH of Apollo's betrayal, I swore he would suffer as I must! He loves his precious griffins so much… I will make the rivers run RED with their blood! And this one has escaped me long enough. *draws her arrow again, her finger running along the silver moon-shaped fletch* As you can see… I already got her mate.
*The female griffin roared in fury, flaring out her wings in a threat display, causing her cubs that were hiding behind her to cower, not used to seeing their mother so angry*
Artemis: And once I finish her off, her little babies will make a fine meal for my hounds!
*At those words, every one of Artemis’s hounds bared their teeth with delight at the thought of tearing into the terrified cubs hiding behind their mother, though being so well trained they dared not make a move until Artemis gave the word*
Artemis: *raises her bow again* Now I’m only going to say this one last time. Step. Away.
*However, in response to this, Leon instead took a few steps forwards and got between Artemis and the griffin with her cubs, pulling out his sword and pointing it at the goddess with a fierce look in his eyes*
Artemis: What do you think you’re doing?
Leon: Something that'll probably get me killed… But I can't let you kill this griffin.
Artemis: You would DARE to defy my command? The command of a GODDESS?!
Leon: Yes… I would.
Blue: *stands next to Leon, pulls out his sword* Yeah… me too. What you’re doing… it’s just wrong.
Artemis: What I’m doing is delivering divine justice for what Apollo has done! I’m justified!
Blue: You would condemn innocent cubs for the sins of your brother? Even by the Gods’ standards, that’s nothing short of petty revenge!
Leon: You really think that murdering these griffins is justified!? And here I thought the Goddess of the Hunt had a better respect for wildlife.
*Hearing this, even Andrea couldn’t help but glare at the goddess, something which Artemis was quick to notice, especially when she also joined the two boys without saying a word*
Artemis: If you don’t get out of the way right now, I promise you won’t live to regret it!
Leon: Then what are you waiting for? If you want that griffin, you’ll have to kill us first.
Artemis: Don’t think I won’t.
Blue: Then go ahead. Shoot.
*Artemis gritted her teeth at that. Clearly no one in this standoff was willing to back down so easily. However, what she didn’t realise was that the boys noticed something about her as well, namely the hand that held her arrow in place was slightly trembling, as if she was nervous about something. The female griffin roared in fury, flaring out her wings and flushing her frill, causing Artemis' hounds to back off, unnerved by the sight*
Blue: You’re bluffing.
Blue: You can’t kill us, even if you wanted to. Because we’re Athena’s chosen ones, and that makes us special. If you do ANYTHING to us, you will be responsible for the destruction of the world!
Artemis: Shut up… Shut up!!
Leon: Oh… YEAH! And wouldn't Apollo have a LAUGH about it. How, in your blind rage to destroy his beloved griffins, you killed the only people who stand a chance of making sure Typhon stays buried. Come on, you seriously can't be THAT desperate, can you?
*Suddenly, Artemis, in a fit of rage, loosed her arrow right at the group. Fortunately though, Leon brought his sword up and used the flat of the blade to deflect the arrow and send it tumbling to the ground. To say Leon was not startled would be untrue, however, being this close to one of the creatures he had always hoped to see had ignited a fire in his gut unlike anything before, lending him the courage and strength to block a god's attack*
Leon: *startled, in disbelief* Okay… Maybe you can.
Artemis: Lucky move. *draws back a second shot* Think you can do it again? Because I can do this all night if I have to.
Leon: Sorry about that, force of habit. Here, let me make it easier for you. *tosses away his sword*
Artemis: What? Pick that up!
Leon: No. I told you before. You'll have to kill me if you want to get to those griffins.
Blue: That goes for me, too. *tosses his own sword away*
Artemis: No, NO! This isn't how it works! I can't shoot something that can't fight back!
Blue: It’s your choice, Artemis. Either you put down your bow or let loose that arrow. Because no matter what decision you make, we’re not moving from this spot.
Leon: Good luck explaining to Athena that you’re going against her, all for the sake of a petty grudge.
Artemis: You… *her hands shake even more as she hesitates to lower her bow, only to bring it back up* You can’t just… AGH!!!
Leon: *to himself* I IMMEDIATELY regret this decision… I mean, fighting a harpy is one thing, but a GODDESS?! What in the name of Zeus have I gotten myself into? Andrea’s right, I AM an idiot! I should’ve just listened to her and… No. No, can’t think that way now. Gotta stick with my gut here. I have to protect this griffin and her young… No matter what!
Blue: *to himself* Gotta say, I can’t help but admire Leon’s determination for sticking with his gumptions. He’s actually standing up to a GODDESS and willing to risk his own life just to save a griffin, a MONSTER, of all things… No, not a monster. An animal. An animal and its family. Still, this can’t go on forever.
*Just then, Andrea was seen walking towards Blue and Leon and stood right between them and Artemis, almost as if shielded them both, as well as the the griffin’s family from the goddess’s arrow*
Blue: Andrea? What are you…?
Andrea: Blue, Leon… Move.
*Needless to say, Blue and Leon were instantly shocked by Andea’s words of what Leon could only describe was utter betrayal. However, with one look from her calm face, Blue could tell that Andrea appeared to have something in mind. Nodding with understanding and trust, Blue eventually took a few steps away, practically having to drag Leon with him with a small amount of force. Though satisfied at first, Artemis was suddenly surprised by the fact that while the two boys were moving away, Andrea still remained were she stood, between the huntress and her prey*
Artemis: *shocked* What are you DOING?!
Andrea: I wasn’t chosen by Athena for anything, which means I’m not under her protection. So I guess you’ll just have to kill me instead. After all, you don't seem to care who you hurt, just so long as it makes you feel better!
*Hearing this, Artemis felt herself freeze up in disbelief, how could one of her followers, someone she even considered to be her friend, defy her like this? At that moment, when the goddess saw the fierce resolve in Andrea’s eyes, she knew that there was no changing her mind. Reluctantly, she then lowered her bow*
Artemis: *sighs* Well played, Andrea… Well played.
*Artemis then put her thumb and forefinger to her mouth and let out a loud whistle. Instantly reacting, each and every one of her hounds bolted towards her and ran around her, barking and howling as they circled her faster and faster, eventually the hounds began to run so fast that they faded into mist, which was then followed by Artemis herself disappearing into it. Soon enough the mist dispersed and both the goddess and her hounds vanished completely, leaving the others frozen in shock where they stood*
Leon: *collapses to his knees* I… I can’t believe we just did that.
Bel: *trills and falls off Blue's shoulder*
Leon: Andrea, *looks in her direction* are you okay?
Andrea: *a tear falls down her face, wipes it away, turns to Leon* Y… yeah, I’m fine. I think so, anyway.
Blue: Are you sure?
Andrea: Yeah, don’t worry about me, guys, it’s over now, right?
*However Blue wasn’t all that convinced about Andrea’s answer, with the way she looked at Artemis earlier, the goddess’s reaction to Andrea’s defiance? There was certainly more going on than the equitaur was letting on. But there was a time and a place for questions, and clearly this was neither, whatever Andrea could say can wait for now*
Leon: So… what do we do now?
*Suddenly all three of them heard a small thud from behind, turning their heads, they each saw Salmonius laying on the ground with a dazed look upon his face. Evidently the fact that he had both experienced a harpy attack AND witnessed a bunch of strangers defy Artemis herself, was enough to make the poor man faint from the shock*
Blue: *deadpan* Now… we deal with THAT.
*After eventually waking Salmonius from his sudden fainting spell AND calming him down long enough for him to absorb what had just happened, the three friends spent the rest of the night making sure he was seen to for his injuries and making sure that the griffin and her cubs were sent on their way, after all they couldn’t very well stay in the area after all that has happened. Fortunately, Salmonius was kind enough to agree to spread the word about the events of the night to the other landowners in Plinth, so even if the griffin and her cubs were to stick around, everyone else in the area would know better than to mess with her. Besides, if Leon’s hunch was correct then it wouldn’t be long before the whole family flew off somewhere else like a bird during migration, so either way the griffin’s safety was somewhat assured. When morning came, and all their rations were restocked, the group soon found themselves once again on the road, just on the outskirts of Plinth, after all, with everything that has happened, neither one of them wanted to overstay their welcome. As they walked, Leon couldn’t help but take another look at the Harpy talon Blue found as he twirled it in his hand*
Leon: Guess we can say that we’ve started building up quite the collection of keepsakes, eh? *puts the talon back in his satchel* First the foot, then the feather, now this? I may have to get another bag at the next town just to carry everything if we keep collecting stuff like this.
Bel: Rawk! Hoarder!
Leon: Well… *pulls out the map from his satchel* If we keep to this path for the next few days, and keep up a decent pace we should arrive in Corinth sooner rather than later.
Blue: That’s good to hear. Hopefully, we can make decent headway on our quest somewhere in the area. I don’t know about you, but wandering further and further west without a clear destination is really starting to get annoying.
Leon: *sighs* Yeah, I’ll give you that. Still, we must remember that Athena is counting on us, and if she thinks we can do this task, then by the gods, we need to keep going no matter how long it takes.
Blue: *smirks* I think this quest has had quite the influence on you, you seem a lot more… lively since we…
*However while the two boys continued their conversation, neither of them realised that Andrea had slowed her pace and was now trailing further back, eventually coming to a complete stop on the road. Ever since she and the others left Plinth, she felt like someone was watching them and the moment she turned her head to once again see a familiar looking sparrowhawk perched on the branch of a nearby tree*
Andrea: *eyes narrowed* I thought you were on your way.
*In response, Artemis, in her sparrowhawk form solemnly shook her head, glided down from her perch and landed on Andrea’s hindquarters*
Artemis: I didn’t want to leave without saying goodbye. And… to say I’m sorry.
*At those words, it was Andrea’s turn to let out a sigh. Artemis may have acted terribly to her and her friends, but in all honesty, she didn’t really expect anything less from an angry goddess*
Andrea: Well… there's a surprise.
Artemis: I know how I acted was probably something of a disappointment…
Andrea: *annoyed* Disappointment? Disappointment is an understatement! Last night, I saw your TRUE colors. You may be a deity, but behind all that divine grace is a scorned, aggressive woman who is willing to murder innocent creatures, even infants, for something that they aren’t even in the wrong for.
Artemis: *hangs her head in shame*
Andrea: All my life, I was inducted in your ways, taught that you were a merciful and kind goddess. How do you DARE to show yourself as this... this petty, cowardly, vindictive CREATURE?
Artemis: I have no excuses for what I have done. I have wronged you, and I cannot change that. I just hope that one day you will find yourself willing to forgive me for my actions. Still… those two boys your with… even if you still hate me, I’m actually glad you still have friends like them.
*Taking Artemis’s words to heart, Andrea gazed further down the road to look at Leon and Blue still talking amongst themselves, causing her to form a small smile across her face*
Andrea: You know what? …That’s actually the one thing we can agree on.
*Seeing Andrea’s smile, Artemis let out yet another small sigh, content with how things appear to be, she then turned around and opened up her wings*
Artemis: Just remember, those friends of yours shouldn’t be kept in the dark forever. Someday, you WILL have to face your past… and you will need those two with you when that day comes.
*And with that final word, Artemis flapped her wings and took off into the air, finally flying so high she disappeared into the clouds above. With the Goddess gone, Andrea couldn’t help but contemplate her last sentence, as much as she was angry with Artemis, she did speak the truth, someday Blue and Leon will need to know everything about her… but perhaps that can still wait just a little bit longer. For now, all Andrea felt like doing was to put on a smile and rejoin her friends, her eyes taking a quick glance at the sky as she could have sworn she saw a large shape soar through the clouds, with several smaller ones next to it. Seeing that, Andrea’s smile grew*
*Meanwhile, far away from Plinth, a lone, dark figure stood amongst the searing flames of a building on fire, a large man struggling to breathe as the figure lifted him off the ground by his throat, as the light of the flames reached his face, the man in the figures grip revealed to be none other than Hydres’s blacksmith*
???: How many times must I ask you the same question, before you realise that there is nothing I won’t do to get what I came for? It’s simple, just tell me where they went and I’ll let you all be. I know he was here, I tasted Celestial metal before and the stink of it is all over this town.
*Despite being strangled and choking on the smoke from his shop burning around them both, the blacksmith merely scoffed in response to the figure’s question and spat in his face, to which the figure didn’t even flinch. Wiping his face with his sleeve, the figure is revealed to be none other than Damon*
Damon: Why must everyone make things so difficult?
*Those were the last words Damon said before gripping the Blacksmith’s neck tighter and literally throwing him through the wall of his shop, making him roll into the streets of Hydres, showing that everything was ablaze with dark red flames, the terrified screams of the townspeople all echoing into the smoke-filled air*
Blacksmith: *coughs as he looks in horror at the burning town* W… west, they… they went west.
Damon: For what purpose?
Blacksmith: I don’t know! They only mentioned some quest or something, I swear to Zeus, that’s it! I swear, I don’t know anything else!
*Hearing this, Damon sighed and kneeled down so that he was face to face with the Blacksmith, a dark glare in his eye*
Damon: … you’re very fortunate that I believe you. Otherwise, your death would have been much more painful… and a lot slower.
*It didn’t take long for the Blacksmith to realize exactly what Damon had meant, taking one last look at the man, his forge burning to the ground behind him, the Blacksmith shed a tear and said his final words*
Blacksmith: Blue, Leon… forgive me.
*That would be the very last thing he would say before his entire body was engulfed in flames, Damon smirking as the last of the smoke leaked from his mouth*