Pale women with hair of green flame, swimming with black leathery wings better suited for the air, poured out of the portal to the Underworld. They were the Arae, Hades’ favored foot soldiers. As they entered the water, their wings shifted to resemble something closer to fins. Each wielded a spear of black steel. Charon came out after them, his boat maintaining a shell of air over itself. They met the Nereids, clashing with the aquatic children of Poseidon in a violent clash. Behind them were Persephone’s servants, the Erinyes, with coal black skin and hair the color of molten rock. Their wings also shifted to turn to fins in the waves.
The water distorted the sound of steel upon steel. Artemis kicked herself ahead, trying to spot where her arrows would have the greatest effect on the battle.
“You!” Bellowed a voice beneath her, and Artemis turned just in time to catch Poseidon’s trident between its prongs. She held against it as he swam like a torpedo, a funnel of water whipping them ahead and propelling them through the water. “You have ruined everything!”
“It was your idea,” Artemis grunted. She glanced over her shoulder to see where he was leading her.
The caste, Poseidon’s fortress in the Aegean – the Coral Citadel. It was an immense structure, built of green stone. Spires off the top of it reached high into the air, far larger than could have been supported without divine intervention – they stretched from the seabed to where the very tips of it poked out of the water and into the open air above the sea. Artemis had no idea how mortals had never found it, but that hardly mattered right now.
He meant to skewer her against the wall. Artemis couldn’t even begin to push back against him as they travelled – not beneath the ocean like this. “You were supposed to fail!” Poseidon roared as the wall of the Coral Citadel loomed ever closer. “You are socially inept huntress. You never should have been able to out maneuver me!”
“Watch me,” Artemis said. The wall was only feet away. With all her strength, Artemis pushed up on the trident. It didn’t budge Poseidon in the slightest, but it did force her downwards. They came so close to the Citadel that her back scraped against the stone. It looked smooth, but like a shark’s skin, it was coarse and inflamed the injury from the harpoon earlier.
Poseidon struck the side of his own citadel, his trident burying itself in the soft stone. Before he could fully register where she had gone, Artemis had drawn two arrows from her quiver and shoved them upwards towards Poseidon’s stomach, weaving bands of fire and earth.
The arrows hit an impossibly compressed barrier of water and stuck there, inches from Poseidon’s chest. Artemis kicked away, trying to get distance between herself and the enraged sea god. She held out her hand, calling bands of Water to bring her bow to her grasp.
She should have known better to try that in the ocean. With a flick of his wrist, Poseidon snapped her bow in half. Artemis whirled to find him flying at her. The arrows still stuck to the barrier of water.
Artemis let go the weaving she had put into the arrowheads when she’d tried to stab Poseidon. They exploded violently, and the shockwave sent her and Poseidon both tumbling. I’d been hoping to set those off inside of him, Artemis thought with dissatisfaction. She’d been further from the sea god and braced for the explosion. She frantically started kicking, trying to get distance between them.
In front of her, the Kraken’s tentacles emerged from the water. Artemis was second to none when it came from avoiding attacks on the land, but beneath the waves these tentacles could move far quicker than she could hope to. They wrapped around her wrists and legs.
Poseidon approached, keeping pace with her as the Kraken dragged her towards its waiting maw. “You should have just let me win, archer.” Poseidon growled. “You’re not a leader. You were never a leader. I would have let you keep up the pretense though. You would have been second to me as we ruled the seas.”
“Is that what this was about? Ruling the seas?” Artemis couldn’t believe her ears.
“Aye. When the Eschaton ends the world, why would he bother eradicating any life beneath the waves? We will be perfectly poised to shape the next wave of life for this world.”
“And you couldn’t just say that?” Artemis practically shrieked. “If you believe the end of the world is inevitable, then…oh, Stars of Olympus. Zeus shot you down. That’s why you manipulated Hera into killing him finally. And Moloch…”
“Moloch was a complication I had to adapt to,” Poseidon explained, almost apologetically. “I was still figuring out where he fit into my plans.”
Artemis had to laugh. “You’re an idiot, Poseidon.”
He glared at her and then looked ahead. “And you, Artemis, are a snack.” The Kraken’s beak clacked behind her.
She took a moment to look bat on the battlefield. The numbers were more equal, but it was clear the hastily modified underworld spirits were still outmatched by the aquatic servants of Poseidon. She saw an Ara torn apart by a pair of ichthyocentaurs, and a pair of Erinyes skewered on a single harpoon shot from a Nereid. There has to be something. There has to be a way out of this!
Then she saw them. On the sea floor, right next to the Kraken’s head.
Three open doors.
“You made a mistake, Poseidon,” Artemis said. “You made a mistake, and it’s too late for you to fix it.”
The taunt worked. Poseidon held up a hand and stopped the Kraken just as it was about to devour Artemis. “And what mistake would that be?” he asked, his voice dangerously soft.
“You managed to alienate anyone who you could have made common cause with. Stars of Olympus, if you had gone to the Eschaton and offered to preserve some of humanity beneath the waves, he probably would have helped you. But no. You couldn’t do that. You had to be an ass.”
Poseidon’s eyes narrowed. “Chew her slowly” he commanded the Kraken.
In response, it wailed in sudden pain and let grow its grip on Artemis. Great clouds of blood billowed up from its eyes, which had been carefully detonated.
“What now!?” Poseidon bellowed, turning towards the new attack.
Athena was swimming out of the cloud of blood, and Artemis wanted to cheer to see her. She was followed by Anansi, which was a relief. And then, behind those two, came a third. A woman Artemis had never expected to see again. Arachne, she thought.
At that instant, for entirely different reasons, both her and Poseidon’s blood ran cold.