There was exactly one person in the Elysian Rest Artemis was sure she could trust. Unfortunately, it was the person she least wanted to speak to.
She found Hera lounging by the Pool of Beauty, filled with the same waters that had held the entrancing reflection of Narcissus. Hera had one finger trailing in the still waters, distorting her reflection with every ripple they caused.
“Artemis,” Hera said, her voice soft and sad. “I’m glad Eros relieved you.”
Artemis straightened her back. “Hera. Eros is dead.”
The finger gliding through the water stopped as if Hera had just been turned to stone. “And his nanoverse?” she asked, her voice as warm as a glacier.
“Gone out the window, along with Ares’ body.”
Hera finally met Artemis’ eyes, and the younger goddess saw a fury in them that she hadn’t seen since Athena had been exiled. She rose in a single, languid motion, a lion stalking out of the brush. “Artemis. I hope there is a very good explanation for why you killed two of our numbers.”
“I – no,” Artemis had to swallow. Stars of Olympus, it was easy to forget how imposing the woman could be when you’d earned her displeasure! “Hera, I didn’t kill Eros. Ares did. Decapitated him in a single strike. I killed Ares both for that crime and to save myself from him.”
“That doesn’t make sense,” Hera said with that same deadly calm to her voice. “Why would Ares kill Eros? And why would you need to save yourself? He was your ally in wanting to attack Moloch.”
Artemis shook her head. “No, Hera. That had stopped. He’d talked to Moloch. They’d cut a deal. He meant to betray us all, let down the defenses, to spare those that joined him!” She took a deep breath, feeling her nerves rattle further under Hera’s emotionless gaze. “Hera, he talked to others before he spoke to me. There are traitor within these walls.”
Hera gave her a slow nod. “Impressive.”
“Excuse me?” Artemis said after a momentary stare, blinking and hoping Hera would continue that statement into a sentence.
“In two full responses, you managed only a single truth.” Hera reached behind her and drew her sword, pointing it at Artemis with an accusatory frown. “There is a traitor in the Elysian Rest. You. You killed Eros and Ares, then invented this tale to try and get us to sally forth to save Athena. You’re in league with her!”
Artemis nearly dropped her bow. “Hera…Athena isn’t our enemy! Moloch is. Have you gone mad?”
“There’s no madness here, Artemis. Only treachery. Where are their nanoverses? Do you intend to give them to Athena to create monsters of her own?”
Hera interrupted her with a wild scream of rage that caused Artemis to jump back. “Moloch. Is. Nothing. He will never breach these walls, he will never slay a single one of our number. You, however, want us to die to save a traitor! If I wouldn’t have to lower the defenses to do it, I’d exile you right now.”
Artemis licked her lips, finding them suddenly dry. Hera was serious. She honestly believed…”Hera, this would be a stupid lie!” Artemis had to convince the queen of the Olympians or all was lost. “The moment Eros and Ares resurrect, they could prove me a liar!”
A flicker of doubt flitted across Hera’s eyes, but they hardened again as soon as it did. “How convenient, then, that you want to sally forth before they could resurrect. Before you lie could become known!” Hera’s eyes were wild. “Confess, Archer. Admit to your guilt!”
She really means to kill me. Artemis took a deep breath, and stepped forward, reaching into her pouch as she did. What she was about to do was a gamble, but if she couldn’t convince Hera to go alone with her, all was lost.
Hera watched her approach with wary eyes. Artemis took the object out of her pouch and tossed it to Hera, who caught it on pure reflex.
Her nanoverse now rested in Hera’s hands. Artemis stopped her approach in front of Hera, and then gently pressed her neck against the point of Hera’s sword. “If you truly believe me a traitor, Hera, cut me down now. Slit my throat wide open and leave me to bleed out here. Because I’m dead either way, and I’d rather die by my Queen’s hand than a traitor.”
Artemis counted twenty-seven heartbeats as Hera regarded. Twenty-seven heartbeats as her life balanced on a razor’s edge, an edge that was exactly as sharp as whatever sanity remained to the Queen of Olympus. If Hera was truely as mad as Artemis feared she was, Artemis would die here, and Moloch would kill them all after he finished Athena and her new pantheon. Artemis could see the murder in her Queen’s eyes, could see the weight of trying to keep the Olympians from falling upon each other, and realized then it wasn’t madness. Hera hadn’t lost her mind, she’d fallen to terror. She’s every bit as lost as I am.
Hera lowered the sword. “‘I’d rather die by my Queen’s hand?’ You always were such a drama queen, Artemis.”
Artemis took a deep breath. “I always thought you liked that about me.”
“In times long gone, I did. Those times are over.” Hera frowned. “Still, the strength of your conviction lends your words credence. Ares recruited others to aid Moloch?”
“Yes. He didn’t tell me who, though. I just knew it couldn’t be you – he’d never be so stupid as to take it to you directly.”
Hera nodded. “My husband as well. Zeus may be getting surly without mortals to boff, but he wouldn’t help Moloch even if it meant remaining faithful for the remainder of his life.”
It was an effort not to laugh at the phrase, but Artemis managed. “Hera…we should consider going on the offensive. If we-”
Hera silenced her with a glance. “Do not press your luck, Artemis. We will root out this treachery within our resting place. I remain unconvinced anything more is needed.”
Artemis met the withering glare Hera was giving her…and found herself looking away first. Hera was too determined. I’m sorry, Athena. Unless I do something drastic, you’re on your own.
Considering what that something drastic might be, Artemis followed Hera to find Zeus and hopefully figure out who Ares had turned to Moloch’s side.