"Stars. I can see the stars again, My Lady."
Artemis barely held back her sob. With the exception of Bianca Di Angelo, Zoe was the first Hunter she'd lost in millenia. She'd almost forgotten the pain; the wound had begun to heal. Now, as her most faithful lieutenant lay dying in her arms, it had rekindled the never-ending agony more than ever before. Without her permission, a single tear escaped down her cheek.
"Yes, my brave one." She whispered. "They are beautiful tonight."
For a brief moment, a ghost of a smile twitched at the corner of Zoe's mouth.
"Stars." She repeated.
Artemis waited for a moment, to see if she would ask for anything. She would do that much for her best hunter. She could ask for the moon and stars, and Artemis would've given it.
But Zoe's chest did not rise again.
Anguish welled up inside Artemis, and she could feel a scream trying to tear itself from her throat.
Zoe. Not Zoe, please. Father, let her just be sleeping..
More tears followed the first. They were a running cascade, unstoppable and grieving. Artemis did nothing to wipe them from her face as she stared, brokenhearted, at Zoe's limp body. It was all too late. It was too late to reward the selfless hunter who had died to protect her. Her most loyal hunter had perished, all to buy some time for her goddess as she fought her father.
Her next movements felt sluggish and slow. Letting her hands brush against the dead girl's soft cheek, she started murmuring a string of Ancient Greek. An ethereal mist calmly drifted from Zoe's lips towards her shaking palm, and she closed her hand around it. Then, very carefully, she pulled herself to her feet. The warm, smoke-like substance didn't feel delicate, but Artemis treated it with the same care a mother showed for a newborn child. It was Zoe's soul, her very essence. Nothing was more important than the safety of the cloud of dust she held.
Eyes were watching her from every direction, and Artemis knew that the moment to say her final goodbye had finally come.
She looked down at Zoe once more. Her chest burned, but Artemis carefully willed her soul to pass on. Gasps erupted, and Artemis closed her eyes. When she finally managed to bring herself to reopen them, Zoe's body had faded into nothing. There was only one thing left to do. One, last honour she could do.
Artemis gently breathed into her cupped hand, and the smoke rose above them. For a moment, it glittered like new stars, then vanished.
High above her, a few select stars grew brighter. As a final tear ran down her face, Artemis forced a brief smile onto her face.
"Let the world honour you, my huntress." She said, voice wavering. "Live forever in the stars."
After a moment, Artemis let her hands fall back to her sides limply, and pushed her way through the group. She couldn't be around them. Oh, it wasn't their fault, but Artemis knew she'd lose control if she even looked Percy Jackson or his friends in the eye. They were a painful reminder of her loss.
Her feet moved without her instruction, and she soon found herself alone. Then, finally, her knees gave out and she collapsed to the floor. The sobs that she'd held back earlier broke out. Heartbreak wasn't a powerful enough word to describe her distress. It was pure agony.
This emotion had only run through her three times before. The first was when Apollo had gone missing, and she'd received a prophetic dream telling of his demise. In hindsight, she should've known better, but at the time she was inconsolable.
The second was another man in her life.
Orion had been a perfect hunting partner, and a faithful companion. Knowing she'd caused his death was something she'd never fully recovered from, and she still missed him all these years later. Her gut wrenched painfully as she thought about her two companions, lost to her by her own foolishness.
Zoe and Orion, both faithful, both roaming across the stars for the rest of eternity. How poetic that the two would meet the same end.
Neither of you will ever be forgotten. Even if the moon itself fades, you shall live on.
Artemis raised her head to look at the new constellation, but the original Hunter was glowing just as brightly. She was about to get up when she realised a final thought was needed. Not much, but a token of gratitude.
Thankyou, my Hunters.
She may have imagined it, but she could've sworn the stars twinkled for a moment in response, and she knew that their souls were watching her still.
There will be a new version once she's looked at it, but this is going up so my fanfictioners can read it :)
Helpful opinions would be great!
(That's roughly translated as "Please review. You've read the fic, and telling me how to improve or just what you liked would make my day!")
Update: This was depressing, yes. I cried while writing it. Now, telling me that it was "just down right depressing" is not only telling me the blatantly obvious, but is also not constructive criticism like I asked kinda nicely for. Sorry for sounding grumpy, but yeah. I didn't need that. On both of my recent updates!
Me out again, ladies and gents.