The feel of the sea was cold against her toes, an odd sensation give the fact that the sand under the soles of her feet was almost unbearably hot. Apollo was driving the sun directly over her head, it seemed, and the golden-brown beach upon which she stood was getting progressively warmer and warmer. She stepped deeper into the water to take advantage of its coolness.
She had to admit she was surprised that the seas were remaining so calm for her. She would have thought that Poseidon would be deliberate and swift in his own personal revenge. Idly, she wondered how long the gods knew of her treachery- if they had known from the outset, or if they had only discovered the truth when their children had.
When the dust had settled and the demigods had won, she had been among the injured. It was then that her treachery was discovered- the incriminating scythe bracelet was still upon her arm, a sign that condemned her before all of them. She had explained herself, as well as she could, and they seemed to accept it as well as could be expected, in the end. At least, it seemed they had, due to their relatively light judgment. She now was condemned to wear a necklace that proclaimed her to all of their kind to be a traitor and a spy, and she was banned from Camp Half-Blood for the rest of her life. Still, though, they let her free without trying to enact revenge for any personal vendettas. In fact, rather than killing her, they had healed her before forcing her on her way.
She supposed she should be thankful for such small mercies.
A sudden breeze came in from across the sea, raising goosebumps on her bare arms. She shivered, rubbing her hands against her arms to warm herself. The feel of the cold of the sea and wind and the heat of the sun and sand, both at the same time, was eerie.
Hot and cold.
He had been the hot, dark skin significantly warmer, capturing the blaze of the sun and the kiss of the fire of the forge. He had always felt warm to her, comfortable. He offered her serenity with every look and touch. Warm heart, warm embraces, warm kisses. Warm, and loving, to one and all-- but especially to her.
She had been the cold. Cool, distant, like her mother would often act. A pale beauty. An ice queen. It helped little that her clothes of choice were a little more prone to exposing her to the elements than most. Perpetually shivering, perpetually cold, perpetually distant-- until he came along.
She had known that she loved him for quite some time beforehand. She was, after all, a daughter of Aphrodite. What mortal knew the feel of love better than she and her half-siblings?
She could blame her mother, she supposed as she turned away from the ocean. Could blame Aphrodite for allowing her to fall in love, perchance even making her--who could tell? Could blame her for the hollowness in her chest, the aching heartbreak. Could blame her, but what could be done by blaming the gods? The damage done in the Battle of New York was proof of the disastrous results of doing such as thing.
She could not blame the gods. No one could. They were servants of their function, and even worse, they felt they were above blame. There was no justice to be won in pointing fingers at them. After all, Justice itself was championed by the goddess Dike.
She sighed softly, carding wet fingers through her hair. She had had everything torn away so quickly. Her father had disowned her upon finding out about her relationship to her chosen one-- Who knew that racism would still be so prevalent even in the 21st century? She was disappointed that her mother had ever chosen a man such as her father to take to bed. Such a bigoted, egocentric man! She hadn't realized it until he expressed his hatred of her love.
Her love, her dearest one. She had lost him, too, and even worse was the fact that there was no denying that it was her fault. Her fault, for giving in to Luke's insistence. Her fault, for feeding the enemy the information needed to take down her friends. Her fault, for believing that they wouldn't hurt her beloved just because she asked them to. Stupid of her, to believe that. Stupid of her, to follow so blindly and impulsively and hope that all would turn out well in the end.
Poor, foolish daughter of Aphrodite, she thought to herself. How did you ever think that Kronos would keep his word?
The very things that Luke and Kronos had promised would never come to harm had been the very things that she had destroyed, in the end. She had asked him to spare her mortal father, and instead their relationship had been destroyed by a love that once saved her. She had asked him to spare her love, and instead he had been felled in a mission that she herself had given the information about. She had asked him to spare her friends, and instead they had been the ones who had abandoned her in the light of her treachery. All she had asked for, she had lost, and now she was left with nothing but her life and the clothes on her back.
She had more than she could say some of her friends had, and yet, she felt she had nothing at all.
“Poor child,” a voice said, startling her, “What did you think you stood to gain?”
She glanced up, alarmed, for even though she had been a daughter of Aphrodite, the less battle-ready goddess, she was still a demigod and it should not have been so easy to surprise her.
When a figure began to materialize before her, she stiffened slightly, preparing herself. She had no weapon, and had never been thrilling at hand-to-hand combat, yet she would not stand idly by and allow herself to be killed or harmed without a fight, no matter how much others may believe the wish to hurt her was justified.
No matter how much she believed the wish to hurt her was justified.
“Peace, child,” the voice repeated, “No harm will come to you.”
The outline of the form cleared, suddenly, and she recognized the being for who it was. Dropping to her knees and averting her eyes, she murmured, “Lady Artemis.”
Perhaps she had been wrong in believing the gods could have possibly ever been so forgiving towards a traitor like herself. Why else would the Goddess of the Hunt be here before her, with her bow shining silver in the light, with her faithful arrows sleek and shaking in her quiver, ready for use? She prayed her execution would be painless.
She knew it would not be.
She tried not to flinch as the goddess' touch on her shoulder, willing herself to have in death some semblance of the courage she never possessed in life. The ghostly touch moved from her shoulder to her chin, and a godly hand forced her to meet the eyes of the Goddess.
She was surprised to find that they were gentle.
“Dear one,” the goddess' voice was soothing, “Do not fear me, I will not hurt you.”
She believed it. The kindness in her eyes told her so. She simply did not understand why that kindness even existed.
“My Lady...” her voice was raspy. She had not spoken in so long, it seemed. She had not said a single word since leaving Camp Half-Blood. She had not said much at all, lately. It almost pained her to speak. She swallowed, her mouth suddenly dry, and tried again, “My Lady... Why?”
Such forgiveness in the Lady's eyes. What had she done to deserve it?
The goddess studied her, seeming to take in her likely bedraggled appearance. She wondered if she could see the weariness in her eyes. She wondered if she could see the grief. The goddess smiled sadly and brushed back some of her hair from her face. Her hand lingered on her cheek, soothing. It reminded her of a time when another-- warm hands, warm heart, warm embraces-- had done the same, and a little bit of the seething mass of grief that had settled in the place where her heart once was broke its way off and lodged itself into her throat.
“I believe in second chances,” was the answer the silver lady gave her. Silena hoped the goddess understood the confusion in question in her eyes, for with the grief nestling in her throat she found she could not speak. The lady sighed, “Your mother told me you did it all because you loved him. You loved them as well, but for the most part you did it to protect him.” A pause. “I too loved with a love that was nearly my destruction. I believe that perhaps I, out of all the other gods and goddesses-- even your own mother-- am the one who understands you best.”
Silena knew the story of Orion-- many versions of the story, in fact. It changed with each being she spoke to. She had never been sure which of the versions was true until this moment.
So. Artemis had loved Orion, and just as he threatened to be her doom so she became his. She understood now, why the goddess felt this kinship to her. Both had, indirectly or directly, been the cause of the one they had loved. Both had been, at some point, a traitor-- and as she thought this, another thing became clear to her: The grief at the loss of her beloved was suffocating, and yet her anguish at the thought of him living and finding she had betrayed him was simply unacceptable. She realized then that she would have been lost no matter if he had lived or died, for either way she would have lost him. It was a sobering concept.
The grief in her chest suddenly swelled with an almost physical pain. She touched at the place where it had grown.
“I loved him,” she finally said, softly. She was not sure if it was an explanation, a confession, or some strange mixture of both, “I had to do what I thought I could.”
The goddess only nodded, seeming to take the statement for whatever it was. “Take my hand,” she commanded gently.
Silena thought they must have run, because one moment she was standing on a beach in the late afternoon heat, and the next they were in the middle of the forest, with the cool light of the moon peeping down at them through the trees. Beside them a small pool was nestled between two laurel trees, still and peaceful in the silver moonlight. She watched as the goddess bent down, dipping a chalice into the silver waters and filling it. When it was full, Artemis turned back towards her, holding the goblet in both hands as though it was a bird that was about to fly away.
“When the time came for us to abandon our temples and cease to become such an imposing presence upon the mortals, I no longer could rely on the maidens who flocked to my shrines to become my new Huntresses. I did not make them immortal before then, you see, for I did not have need of it. When one of my maidens expired, I would allow her soul to depart in peace, and already there would be another lost young soul clamoring at the doors of my sanctuaries to become one of mine. But when our temples began to fall to age and ruin, I knew the time came for a change. I offered immortality to those maidens who already walked their paths with me, and to the worthy who would come in later times.”
The goddess' eyes seemed distant, staring through her to another time and place. She paused for a low moment, her voice still soft when she began to continue, “I soon realized just how much of a double-edged sword this blessing of immortality was to my maidens. Some had lived such trying lives before coming to me, and the memories of those lives drove them into eternal anguish.”
She raised the chalice in the air then, indicating first to it and then to the pool beside it. “Hearing of my plight, the Lady Mnemosyne created this pool out of water from the Lethe and her own tears. She created it so that those of my Huntresses who drank from it could remember or forget certain things of their lives as they so chose. Over the centuries, many came here to erase from mind the things that did not strengthen them, or to keep in mind the things that did.”
Artemis looked directly at her, capturing her eyes with a look that spoke of many years of witnessing suffering and sorrow, “I lost some of my maidens in the recent battle, and we feel the loss keenly. It is harder, now, to find those who are true Huntresses at heart. Those who are worthy are usually under the dominion of one of the other gods or goddesses, and don't wish to give up what they must to join me. But you...” She extended the chalice towards her, a small smile on her face, “You, my dear, have nothing left, and that is everything to me. I understand that you and my Huntresses did not get along well before the war, that their view on love differs greatly from that of a child of Aphrodite. And you must know that now they will hold against you the losses of their fellow Huntresses. But with time both of those will things will change, and if you take my offer-- if you become a Huntress-- time is one that you will have plenty of.”
Silena stared uncomprehendingly at the goddess for a long moment, before finally she found her voice to clarify, “You are... you wish me to become a Huntress?”
Artemis nodded, still holding out the chalice to her, “If you accept, you will be able to drink from the pool and do what you must with the memories of the war. If you do not, I can offer you nothing but a promise that none of my Huntresses will try to find you and do you harm. Either way, it is my offer and your choice. Will you become a Huntress, Silena Beauregard?”
Aphrodite's daughter stared into the silvery waters that rested peacefully in the chalice before her for a long time, before she made a decision. Wrapping her hand around the goblet, she answered the goddess, “I will, my Lady Artemis.”
The silver lady nodded with a slight, satisfied smile, “Then repeat these words after me, and henceforth you shall be one of mine: I pledge myself to the goddess Artemis. I turn my back on the company of men, accept eternal maidenhood, and join the Hunt.”
Silena repeated the words softly, her voice faltering in some places. When it was done, Artemis murmured her acceptance, and the new Huntress felt a new strength rush through her veins, and for the first time since her love's death, she felt truly alive.
Artemis released her hold on the chalice, pushing it closer towards Silena. Silver eyes met blue, and the goddess' voice was low when she spoke, “And now, my Huntress, do what you must.”
She did not say remember and she did not say forget, and that was when Silena suddenly knew that this was a test, a trial run for the traitor-turned-Huntress, before she could truly be a member of their ranks. She stared down into the silvery water, so like the goddess' eyes, and made her choice. As the water ran down her throat, she heard Artemis' words echo in her head: Many came here to erase from mind the things that did not strengthen them, or to keep in mind the things that did.
It was the last thing she heard before the world went dark.
When she awoke again, she was lying on a bed of moss, still in the clearing. Artemis was watching her with eyes that revealed nothing of what she was thinking.
Silena slowly sat up, eyes still locked with the goddess'. She cleared her throat, and murmured, “My name is Silena Beauregard, daughter of Aphrodite, and I am guilty of betraying and thus causing the deaths of many I loved in the war against Kronos. This is my burden, and I will remember it for the rest of my life.”
Even now, she could not name the one person in particular she had loved and betrayed. She wondered if she would ever speak his name again.
Artemis' eyes showed approval, “May the memory strengthen you, my Huntress.”
She nodded mutely.
Artemis approached her and Silena stood. The silver lady extended a hand towards her, “Come with me.”
Silena took both the goddess' hand and her second chance at once.
Time passed, and Silena watched the world change around her. From afar she watched those she had once known grow and bear children of their own and wither and fade and die, or else they died in one fight or another. She watched their children grow and the new children of the gods come into their own and she wondered at how young they seemed when their own problems began, even though she knew she had been that young, once. She watched as around her the Huntresses went from harboring anger and acting cold towards her to feeling forgiveness and even warmth. She watched as Thalia first raged and then mourned over the death of the boy she may have once loved, watched as the lieutenant encountered again and again blonde males with stunning blue eyes, and one day when one in particular, with those blue eyes and so much of Luke in him it was clear he had been him long ago, met the daughter of Zeus for the first or billionth time and both realized the love that once was in other lives existed still.
She knew before they did what that would mean, and when Artemis let Thalia free with her blessing, Silena smiled through her tears and hugged her sister-friend goodbye. On the day Thalia left, the blonde-who-was-Luke-but-was-not had taken Silena aside and looked at her with those stunning blue eyes that (still) took her breath away.
“He's waiting for you, you know.”
The words were so matter-of-fact, so calm, that Silena knew at once that it was true. She shook her head slowly in reply, “I won't be in Elysium when-- if-- I die.”
“The only way you can die now is in battle. That's an instant entry into Elysium.”
She just shook her head and kept telling him it wasn't true until the moment he and Thalia left. He didn't try to convince her anymore, but the look he gave her as they departed spoke volumes.
She tried not to think of him, but she could not deny that more and more often she was reflecting on that which she had chosen to remember. For decades she had watched the other Huntresses and she came to realize that most of them did not truly think of love as worthless. Like her, like Thalia, and even like Artemis, they had simply had too many painful memories associated with the emotion that it was easier to despise instead of acknowledge the power it still held over them. Silena knew she was particularly susceptible to its sway, being Aphrodite's child, but so long as Thalia had been there and able to deal with the betrayal and the death of the one she had cared for she had had the strength to believe that one day the memory of her beloved and what she had done to him would be a less painful one.
It did not, and when Thalia left and Luke-not-Luke told her her love was waiting for her she grew distracted, more separate from the Huntresses and the world around her. She began to dream again every night of warm hands, warm eyes, warm embraces that were only illuminated by light from the forge. She wondered if she ever died whether he would forgive her everything else she had done before his death, and for keeping him waiting so long after it.
She did not have to wonder long.
In the end, it was a drakon that was her downfall.
She, Artemis, and Artemis' lieutenant Phoebe had been separated from the other Huntresses in their latest Hunt, and when the drakon had come upon them it had taken them all by surprise. Silena had seen it first, descending from its hiding place to attack Phoebe, and without thinking Silena had pushed her out of the way.
The initial blow was swift, and the poison spat into her face a harsh echo. She could not feel either, but she knew that it would be over soon. She did not see Artemis and Phoebe working in tandem to finally kill the beast. Her world had narrowed to a distant mountain range, and she was thinking of the one she loved and wondering if his death had been as slow as this.
Artemis and Phoebe's faces swam into view, both grief-stricken. Artemis seemed about to try to heal her, but Silena did not wish it, “My Lady... Please, do not...”
The silver lady touched her brow gently, “You have done well, dear one. Now you will be with the ones you lost in Elysium.”
Silena could feel herself drifting, heard the words slip out of her mouth without willing it, “Luke said... He is... waiting... My love...”
Even at the end, she could not bring herself to say his name, could not bear the guilt and pain associated with it.
The goddess squeezed one hand. “Say his name, Silena. One last time, with all the love that you have in you, and then let it be done.”
Silena took a breath, what little she could get, gazing into the goddess' silver eyes even as she imagined the fire of the forge outlining the form of the one who she had loved so deeply and lost so quickly.
She thought of warm hands, warm embraces, warm eyes and a warm heart. She thought of a love that burned like the fire of the forge and stung like ice on skin. She thought of peace, what little she had known of it. She thought of him, of them, and then, for the first time in many, many years, she spoke his name aloud.
The word fell from her lips like a prayer. The tears began to flow, and to comfort her Artemis held one hand gently, and Phoebe the other. Silena allowed herself to weep, knowing the end was to come soon but grieving not for that but for all the years she had lost, all the time she had kept Charles Beckendorf, son of Hephaestus, waiting post-mortem.
When the cries finally softened into silence, when her breaths became little more than the soft gasps of the nearly dead, Artemis placed a gentle kiss upon her brow.
“Be at peace, Silena,” the goddesses told her softly.
She saw a green field, and a familiar face-- warm eyes, warm hands, warm embraces-- greeting hers with arms wide open.
“Charlie... See Charlie...”
She didn't speak again.
In a land of eternal spring, two reunited lovers embraced for the first time in too many years, and in the ever-warm embrace of a son of Hephaestus, a perpetually-cold daughter of Aphrodite felt herself thaw.