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District Apollo: Artemis vs. Apollo Contest runner up!

Jesse’s story was a runner up in the Artemis vs. Apollo Short Story Contest. I loved the setup—a contest of superiority between brother and sister, with their personalities fairly jumping off the page. I laughed out loud in several places at Apollo’s attitude, and at Artemis’s interpretation of things as a kind of feral girl. Thank you for writing Jesse!

So sorry I couldn’t include the entire story here. “District Apollo” is short, but not quite short enough for Social In! There’s a link at the end where you can finish reading.

District Apollo

by Jesse Campodonico

*

The bleak morning sky roused Artemis, her yellow, catlike eyes blinking as she stared from her perch in her tree at the vast forest that surrounded her, stretching as far as the eye could see.

At least, as far as someone with the eyesight of a great eagle can see.

Artemis flexed her spine, stretching to loosen the kinks in her muscles. Slipping from the last dregs of sleep, she let loose a bestial howl that shook through the cool, damp air, echoing across the forest.

Within seconds, the returning howls of numerous beasts filled her ears with the music of the forest. Grinning in a fierce way, Artemis quickly set about nocking her bow, filling her quiver with arrows, and hefting her spear.

Then she leapt from the crook in the tree, soaring through the air. The cold wind rushed past her, filling her with adrenaline. A normal mortal would have died from fear, or else landing on the loose rocks near the brook below, but Artemis’ toes touched it lightly as a cat’s.

And then she was off, sprinting as if one of the great jungle cats through the ferns, the evergreens, the wilderness around her. The trickle of brooks, rustle of trees, howls of beasts—it was all familiar but at the same time new and different.

But Artemis forcefully tore herself from enjoying the scenery. Now, in the morning, was the least happy time of day. She needed to hunt. Artemis respected her siblings of the wild as they fell to her arrows, but she was of nature’s blood, and nature accepts that which might be cruel.

These thoughts ran around in her head, an uneven mantra that stilled as her heartbeats slowed down. Artemis slowed into a light jog as she neared the lake. Kneeling, she touched the ground lightly. Her senses lit up as the musky scent of deer, their heavy, shuffling steps, their soft snorts filled her mind.

There were five of them—a buck, a lesser male, two females and a doe. Artemis concentrated, pressing forward. The deer had gone around to the west side of the lake, maybe a half-mile away.

Pleased with her prey’s quantity, Artemis carefully stripped off her few clothes. Scooping from her bag a pouch of filmy, sticky mud, she smeared it all over her. The stench of dung filled her nostrils, but she ignored it. The smell would mask her scent to predators and prey alike.

After finally coating her shaved head with the muck, she started rolling in fallen leaves not yet brittle, but quiet and soft. They would be good camouflage for hunting.

Finally done, Artemis left her spear and retrieved her bow and her arrows. The worn, smooth feel of the yew was comforting in her hands, but as she sank into a panther’s gait, low and stealthy, her bow turned into a cold weapon, an extension of nature’s circle of life and death itself.

Stalking the deer for nearly two miles—she was angry with herself for miscalculating—Artemis finally approached the lip of a cliff. To her surprise, the family of deer stood near there, braying fearfully. Her gaze fell upon thick ropes tying them to stumps on the ground. Something was not right.

Artemis narrowed her eyes, letting her gaze play over the sparse trees and shrubs. These animals were frozen with fear. They had been forcefully brought up to the cliff—but by whom?

Flicking her tongue out to taste the air (her nose was clogged with the scent of dung), Artemis’s eyes widened with anger. The unmistakable scent of cold metal, hot oil, and that disgusting fragrance that men—human men—wore to attract females filled her nostrils.

The humans were here—poaching her forest, no doubt. They probably planned to capture wolves, and the deer were the bait. Artemis steeled her resolve. It would not be allowed.

Slinking forward, looping her bow over her shoulder, she quickly pranced forward, whipping out a thick bowie knife.

“Be calm, little one,” she rasped, her voice hoarse and husky from long weeks of no use. She quickly sliced away the ropes on the doe and set to work on the bigger ones. Just as she finally freed the female, she heard shouts and heavy footsteps.

“Go!” Artemis hissed to the deer. They snorted softly and flitted away, the doe hopping quickly past them.

Artemis waited just long enough to make sure that they were fine before she turned to leap into the brush. But before she could, the voices explode into clarity as several large, angry human men burst forth.

They were five of them—one was in a strange, hideously orange cloth with yellow stripes and a yellow shell on his head. The second was balding, plump, and dressed in a strange white, limp cloth with a red tail dangling from his chin. A cockle, perhaps, like the ones on the wild turkeys?

But the last three men stood taller than the others. They were inside metal insect shells with two legs and two arms, whirring and shifting. Yellow and black stripes edged the joints, and a tinted piece of fake-solid-water covered their faces. But even through the material, Artemis knew who they were from.

They were from the great jungle of stone, metal, and solid-water-panels. They came from moving metal boxes on black circles, and flying metal birds.

They were the slaves of her brother, Apollo.

She bared her teeth. The plump one backed away fearfully.

“Get her! Apollo had a direct order fifteen-one on her!” he ordered, whipping out a heavy, black piece of metal and pointing it at her.

Artemis’ senses screamed danger, but she stared the man right in the eye. That useless piece of metal would do nothing against her. She snarled and flung her knife at him.

In an instant, the three metal warriors were upon her, forcing her back. The plump male ducked and did something to the black metal. With a dull THUMP, a pulse of soft white shot forward.

Artemis’ eyes widened as it slammed into her. Then, dizzy and dazed, she fell into darkness.

—2—

“Again.”

Apollo’s orders were short and cold. He stood inside his skyscraper, in the center of the city, watching through a one-way-mirror as a thin, bald girl—about twelve, perhaps?—was subjected to another round of electric jolts.

He smirked. Poor little Artemis. A savage, brutal, wild little girl. While Apollo’s father, the late Zeus, had raised him to be studious, industrious, and social, Artemis was uneducated and always going to the river to hunt frogs instead of doing her work.

“And here I am now, sister,” he murmured. “I have become the king of this empire in which I live and reign supreme, while you are but a dirty, haggard girl.”

He watched as Artemis—strapped to a chair, looking downright furious—spasmed briefly. Apollo sighed. The electric jolts were doing nothing. All he wanted to know was why his dear sister had been poaching near the fringes of his city again.

“Again, sir?” a technician inquired. Apollo shook his head.

“No, I think not. Open the door—let me try and persuade her,” he said wearily. He gestured for one of the guards to accompany him. Clad in a state-of-the-art A09 Man-o-War exoskeleton, the guard looked fittingly intimidating, especially given the nonlethal pulse cannon mounted on his forearm.

Apollo stepped into the empty room. Artemis visibly tensed. Her teeth gnashed, her fists clenched, her eyes widened angrily.

Smiling, Apollo stood in front of her.

“Hello, sister,” he said cheerfully. Artemis responded to him very bluntly. He sighed. “That isn’t quite how I imagined this. Where did you learn those words, anyway? On the fringes of my city, with the ruffians and scum?”

He let a little contempt seep into his voice, just enough to provoke her. Apollo had learned through long years that the best way to manipulate people was to get them emotional.

Artemis shot him a positively vile look. “Everyone in your city is scum, Apollo. Everyone,” she said hotly.

“Explain that, please?” He asked. “My kingdom has been created on all of my intellect and cunning. My people have used that intellect to better themselves. I am perfect, and so are they, then,” he said frankly. Modesty was just a lie. He had done away with it years ago, and where was he now? He was the king of the former District Columbia.

“You have marauded the wilds,” Artemis spat. “You have raided my lands time and again for meta, for oil, for wood. You and your humans in metal insects—“ she jabbed a head at the guard, “are nothing but thieves! You are all scum, for you have defied nature openly.”

“Well said,” Apollo yawned. “Now, this is the third infraction this week. Due to the DC laws set up around infractions and punishment ratios, and given your criminal history, you have easily gotten three times the death penalty. However, you have evaded me numerous times. I’d like to discontinue that course of action. I think that we’ll end it now, hmm?”

Turning to the guards, ignoring Artemis’ cry of shock, he said calmly, “Please set the electricity levels to four hundred point twenty-three. And make sure to do the job in one shot, thank you. The homeless want food tonight, and multiple shocks chars their dinner.”

—3—

Fear gripped Artemis’ gut. Her anger that had sparked since she awoke in one of the moving metal boxes on circles was now an inferno, fueled by fear.

“No!” she raged. “No! You cannot! I will not let you destroy my forest!”

“Mm-hmm,” Apollo said drily. “Very dramatic. Now, do sit still. Technician? Initiate first sequence—and preferably the last sequence, though I do understand if it’s not. Killing immortals takes a few tries, yes.”

Artemis’ mind raced. She had to do something. She would not stand for this!

“Wait!” she cried out. Apollo looked up, bored. Artemis struggled for something—anything—that would appease the egotistical, boorish ball of dung that was her brother.

“I—I challenge you!” she declared. Apollo stiffened, raised a hand. The technician saw it and hastily halted the electrocution process.

“Excuse me?” Apollo said.

“I challenge you to a duel of skill,” she said. Apollo narrowed his eyes.

“You dare? You think you can win back your survival?” he said.

“Not just my survival—but this city!” she said. “If I win, you must give me this city and leave this place forever!”

“And if you lose?” Apollo asked through gritted teeth. Artemis hid a smile. Despite himself, Apollo was already won over. He never could back down from a challenge.

“If I lose you may destroy every piece of land you wish to, and kill me,” Artemis said defiantly.

There was a moment of silence as the technicians and the guards looked to Apollo, wondering what he would do. Artemis grinned. How reliant this city was on Apollo. Once she defeated him, they would flounder like fish out of water.

This city was as good as hers.

“Very well,” Apollo said ruefully. “I will decide our tests. We will have three tests, one each of poetry, music, and archery,” he said confidently. Artemis knew what he was doing—he was making sure that he had the upper hand.

“Very well,” she said desperately. “When do they begin?”

“No time like the present, hmm?” Apollo said coldly. He snapped his fingers, and with a rush of colors and sound Artemis found herself sitting in a large, circular wooden hall, ornate and elegant. Fluffy poufs and couches decorated the room, and large bookshelves boasted hundreds of thick volumes.

“My personal writing office,” Apollo said lightly, sitting down behind a large desk. Artemis stood up as he gestured to an identical desk facing his.

“Now,” he said, as she sat down, grimacing at the lacquered, twisted imitation of natural wood. “The rules of our poetry contest will be simple, I think—I want this over right now, and I have nineteen meetings lined up after this.”

“What are the rules?” Artemis demanded. Nerves made her jumpy and irritated. Apollo smiled knowingly.

“We shall each compose an ode to each other,” Apollo said, “describing the best qualities of the other person. Is this acceptable?”

“Fine,” Artemis said through gritted teeth. She hated everything about this—being in this fake room, made from tortured, poor trees, being forced to gamble her freedom and her woods—it was all vile.

“Good. Then let us begin,” Apollo said. He slipped from a shelf a slim, shiny black wafer that lit up with symbols as he touched it. “My personal poetry touchscreen,” he said at her stare.

He began murmuring under his breath softly as he moved his fingers around the fake-solid-water panel. Artemis glared at him, but started to try and think up some lyrics. The minutes passed in silence, and Artemis grew restless, itching to leap from her seat and soar out the solid-water-panel in the room, out into the woods once more.

His…his face is…is as pale as snow, trying to forge an ode that would at least pass as acceptable. But while Apollo had been raised under Zeus’ strict educational regime, Artemis had always been in the forest with the plants and animals. Poetry was far beyond her. Perhaps she would do better in music, or at least archery?

“Are you ready?” Apollo asked.

“Yes,” Artemis snapped. “I am ready.”

*

Click here to finish reading this story at Mythraeum.com

*

© Copyright 2016. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed or transmitted in any form or by any means without prior written permission of Jesse Campodonico.

 


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