The Exchange


The black horse and its rider charged through the forest like a streak of lightning. The accompanying thunder was well behind, and losing ground. Callisto was smart, Artemis thought, watching the two in the font in her sanctuary; the sound of the Warrior Queen’s supernatural beast was only that of the rushing wind to the animals Artemis held dear. The flaming hooves singed not a single leaf underfoot.

Perhaps she wouldn’t make as dangerous a force in Olympus as Artemis had feared, and it was certainly safer braving her antics than Velasca’s. And unlike the exiled Amazon, Callisto’s earliest devotion had been to her own honor, in the young girl’s many solitary hunting trips and moon-filled dreams. When Velasca had ever thought of her, it was in a hypocrisy of worship, more self-involved prayers than well intentioned sacrifices. No, if it weren’t for the tragedies that had befallen her, Callisto might have been one of her favorites.

Almost in longing, Artemis reached her fingers to the surface of the still water, but dared not touch.

“Checking in on my protégées?” came a strong voice from behind her.

She didn’t need to look. “Neither one of them is yours anymore, Ares.”

Her half-brother stepped up close and peered over her shoulder at the wood-carved basin. “Yes, and it’s a pity.” He shook his head, then began to walk around the chamber, built with the appearance of a copse in the forest, its roof the entwined branches of trees many lifetimes old. “But you and Callisto have gotten sort of chummy, haven’t you?”

With a last look at the stoup, Artemis turned towards her workbench. She resumed the detailing she’d been tasking with earlier on some arrow shafts. She would not meet his eyes. “I don’t know what you mean.”

“Oh come off it, little sister. Callisto escapes from her prison, destroys your enemy...”

“Really, Ares,” she dismissed. “They had been fighting!”

The leather-clad god stepped up to the table, lifted an arrow from its surface. “It’s a crime to kill a god, you know.” He ran his fingers along the shaft, across the scene she had carved there, the bare-toothed roar of a great bear warning off its enemies. “Nice workmanship!”

“I did nothing of the sort,” Artemis told him. “Velasca was barely a god anyway.” She could feel the redness to her cheeks.

“Yes, and I’m sure Zeus will look at it like that.” He set down the arrow and, palms to the table, leaned towards her. “Of course, he doesn’t have to learn of your involvement...”

She set her tools down. “And what are you suggesting, Ares?”

“Well, you see, if Callisto gets the Fates to change the past, it seems that I’ll be out one warlord.” He gestured towards the font. “And don’t tell me you haven’t been watching.”

She said nothing, merely pursed her lips.

“It’s only fair that since you’re losing me one, you should give me one back.”

Artemis felt trapped in the sparkle of his eyes. “Velasca.”

He got the slyest of grins. “I always knew you were quick, Sis.”

IV: The Catch