Heyy, y’all. This is *actual* Day 11. Enjoy!
Jason pushed his way ahead through the dense foliage as he followed the tiny rabbit-track. Nephthys had not woken and now Dee carried her as he trailed behind Jason. Arion was right behind Dee, and the party ended with Amarantha at the back, keeping a lookout.
Jason slashed his knife at the branches again. “They’re so annoying,” he grumbled, shoving them away when it became too thick to hack away.
There was a sudden rustle in the bushes ahead, and Jason froze. Instantly, Dee crouched with Nephthys, pulling Arion down, while Amarantha spun around to face the back, drawing her silver staff.
Jason angled his head at the bushes silently. They were still quivering a little, and Arion thought he could see something poking out the side – something a silvery blue color, almost ghostlike. It twitched a little, then fell still, and something pulled it back in.
Amarantha brought up the rear as Dee handed Nephthys to Arion. The younger boy held her up as Dee crept forward alongside Jason.
There was a sudden yelp of surprise and a shrill squeal as the flat of Jason’s broadsword smacked the bushes. Something that looked suspiciously like a black cat streaked up the nearest tree, while a fox growled from the other side. A young girl’s head, with pale blue hair and snow-white skin, poked out of the bush and stared at the fox.
“Who are you?” Jason demanded. “Are there more of you?”
The girl was terrified. “My name is Winter. My friend who just climbed the tree is Artemis. I don’t know the fox.” Her voice trembled.
The fox seemed a little offended, but said nothing, only growled again in another warning.
Winter shied away from them, trying to shrink into the bushes, but her dress appeared to be caught on the branches. Jason leaned over to help her and the seven-year-old flinched as he picked her up, pulling her out of the bushes. Gossamer ghostlike wings sprung from her back – that was what had been poking out of the brush.
Amarantha swung around her staff to face Winter, then lowered it. “Why, it’s a Spectre girl,” she whispered, astonished.
She looked up at the tree, where the black cat huddled, and Arion followed her gaze as the cat scurried down the trunk to land gracefully before them. She was small, about Winter’s size, but she wasn’t a cat at all, for she had dark black hair with purple streaks running through.
“I am Artemis,” she meowed, her clear, human-like tone soft and lilting. “Are you not Jason and company?”
Jason exchanged glances with the other three before nodding. “Yes, I am Jason, and these are my friends.” He gestured to each of them. “Dee, Amarantha, and Arion.”
Artemis stared at Arion for a moment. “The unmortal.”
Her gaze shifted to Nephthys, and she gasped. “Is that-”
Arion set her down, and Artemis crouched next to her. “She is in the spirit world. I can feel the cold spiritual energy radiating off of her. She walks in semi-death.” She drew in a sharp breath.
Winter joined her, kneeling. “Nephthys,” she whispered, shaking the older girl’s hand. “Wake up.”
“So what exactly are you?” Jason asked Artemis. “Not to be rude, or anything, but you’re clearly not human.”
“I’m a cat hybrid,” Artemis replied tonelessly, eyes still riveted on Nephthys.
“Hybrids still exist?” Amarantha’s eyes were round. “I thought you were just myths.”
“And we thought you were myths,” Artemis snapped back, “until the humans drove us from our homes to build and destroy almost every last inch of the world. The Secret Sanctuary is all we have left.”
“Sassy cat,” Jason whispered to Dee with a smirk.
“I heard that.”
“The Secret Sanctuary? Where is that? I thought that was a myth too,” Amarantha wondered.
“It wouldn’t be secret if I told you,” Artemis replied drily.
“So why’d you come?” Arion interrupted the discussion before it could turn into a heated argument.
“We need your help.” Artemis looked him square in the eye. “You, as the unmortal, can help us grow again. The Secret Sanctuary cannot hold all of us, and each day more of us fall prey to the hands of humans. We must fight back.”
“Whoa, whoa, wait.” Jason held up his hands. “You’re asking us to go up against our own kind to help you.”
“You don’t have to harm them,” Artemis explained hastily. “Just help us out. We need a place on this planet aside from the Secret Sanctuary to station our troops and plan. We don’t have enough power to wage war, oh no, but we must rescue those who are dying.”
“Can I do that?” Arion asked skeptically. “I don’t even know my own power yet.”
“It is great, believe me,” Artemis reassured him. “Almost equal to Nephthys herself.”
The fox stalked out of the undergrowth, its bushy red tail trailing behind it. She settled on the other side of Nephthys.
“Who are you?” Jason swung around his broadsword to point at the fox.
It blinked in reply, and when it spoke, its voice was low and rough. “I am someone you do not wish to meet in battle, Jason. Put the sword down.”
“Not until you tell me who you are and why you are here.”
“Very well.” It blinked again, slowly. “I am Cara-delle, and I am here for the same reason we all are here for.”
Dee frowned. “I don’t get it. The hybrids and the animals may be friends, but why call upon mortals for help?”
“Because he is not mortal.” Cara-delle’s head swung around to look at Arion, its amber eyes glowing. “He can restore balance to the world however he sees fit. We are here simply to advise him, and to alert him to the current imbalanced order.”
Arion had nothing to say.
Dee picked up Nephthys again. “The best thing we can do is keep going,” he told Jason. “Let them come with us; we will make it to the Garden by nightfall without any more delays, and it’ll be good to have three extra pairs of eyes on our side.”
Jason nodded tightly and sheathed his broadsword, drawing his knife, and began to hack away at the branches blocking the path. Cara-delle skulked to the side, just out of their view, but they could all tell it was watching. Artemis and Winter walked together with Amarantha, talking in hushed voices.
Arion thought back to the descriptions of his power. I hope I do the right thing.