People believed the old gods are dead.
They'd talk of them in stories passed down and down and down, until their tales could be taken as nothing more than fiction; superstitions of grandmothers past. They were used as a way to keep young girls from making mistakes they couldn't fix, and young men noble and true. Today, belief with mortals came with a price: they had to see it first- believing followed.
The other thing with mortals was that they are consistently wrong.
They weren't dead. Their names were still whispered in front of small altars, on the night of a solstice, before stepping out to war, when asking for love to be returned, whispered with hope and fear that they could still fill an empty womb.
Before, they were revered. Before, they were the sun and the stars on earth, the cause for the wind and the bringer of death or life. The prayers had been endless, the faith bountiful and beautiful. But as with time, those who believed in them faded as science and technology and narcissism took the places of the Gods.
Yet, they still lived. Though parades are not thrown in their honor or sacrifices made to their names, they still survived.
If anything, they were needed more now than in the past. Each one of them had found purchase in this new world, in tears and hope, in love and hate, in art and in blood.
They were warriors. Lovers. Artists. Activists.
They were here.
She is still surprised by just how warm and sticky blood can be.
When she threw that punch, she felt the power behind it, and though its waned over time, it was enough to break his nose.
It should have shattered every bone in his face.
Despite all she could do, being in two places at once was not one of them. The bar, The Phoenix, had come up in two other reports of sexual assault at the clinic she was associated with. The deluge of other cases kept her from coming here sooner; whenever one was brought to justice, it seemed another took his place.
Though the power of women is strong, stronger than she's felt in eons, there will always be men who think that they can take, that they deserve, that they own.
She's there to remind them that they are wrong.
For the better part of two hours, she's sat on the fire escape of the crumbling apartment building across from the bar, waiting. The evening has been filled with car horns and screeching tires, of baseball games on televisions and babies crying, of laughing friends and the moaning of lovers.
She can hear it all.
The brick wall against her back was warm from the days heat, bits of rock pressing into her tanned skin, though she paid them no mind. Light spilled from the bar, the music so loud she could feel the bass in her bones.
An August evening in New York City sat heavy with humidity, torn between the youthful promise of summer and the adolescence of autumn. She knew it was just the ticking of the clock until Persephone's time above was over. Mortals thought the cycles of the seasons came from the rotation of the earth and the distance from the sun, not the loss that sat so heavy on Demeter that it caused the earth to grow cold and still. She thought of her cousin and Aunt, her heart aching to see them.
Before she could devote anymore time to the thought of her family, she felt the hairs rise on the back of her neck, and an electric current run up her legs and back. She could taste the promise of a hunt on her tongue, heady and sweet. She sat up straighter, her green eyes wide and focused, ears attuned to the very breath each in the pair took.
The girl couldn't have been older than seventeen, a sign to the quality and morality of the establishment. Her onyx colored hair was springing free from the bun at the top of her head, natural curls coming free to kiss her cheeks; whisper that she should run.
Kohl liner was smudged under and at the corner of her brown eyes, and a quick glance saw that it stained her index finger, a remnant from wiping at the sweat that gathered along her cheek.
She could smell the alcohol seeping out of the girl's pores, a disgusting combination of tequila, vodka and rum, but the true culprit to the drunken stroll that was taking place was the tall, athletic looking man who was currently turning her head into the crook of his neck. His blue linen shirt and wrinkled khaki pants were the complete opposite of the bars normal clientele. His young companion was dressed in a black dress, straps as flimsy as cooked spaghetti against his roaming, determined fingers.
He peered down at the girl, a slight adjustment of his shoulders and hands had her closer against him, and he smelled her hair.
It was always the same. Men were weak, only seeking to find power and strength when they had someone to control. Someone to break.
The fragility of men.
Their cruelty and derision slithered out of them, leaving a stain of darkness behind. Underneath his need to control and brutalize, she could smell his anger against women. Anger was often hot and sharp, inhale too much and it'll cut your tongue, leaving behind the taste of burnt toast. She could smell it above the vomit and piss that coated the alleyway.
She let her eyes drag over the girl again, and she breathed in deep. Confusion always smelled the same, no matter the person. It was muddled and heavy, like a beer thats been left out in the heat- stale and unquenching.
The man walked deeper into the alley, past dumpsters and stacks of garbage bags, until he had her in a corner, a blind spot from the street. His hand was on her shoulder and there was brick at her back, those two things were the only way the girl was upright.
The man peered down at her again, and let his fingers reach forward, pressing against the swell of her breast. She tried to pull away but stumbled over a sewer grate. He chuckled, his hand coming to grab her shoulder to keep her upright and close.
Artemis balled her hands into fists, and felt the bones grind together, as she tracked them into the alleyway. She rose from her spot to walk along the buildings edge, stopping when she heard soft mewls coming from the girl, her back against the wall, his paw falling from the girl's hip to the hem of her dress; underneath and upwards. The girl's head lolled from side to side, her reaction time weakened, making it impossible to stop his traveling hand on her thigh, or the one that had come around her throat.
Artemis could practically see the dark thing unfold inside him, and lick its fingers at the delicious, weak, young thing in front of him. She's seen that look plenty of times on lions and wolves during her hunts, in the eyes of her brothers and sisters during war. It was the look one wore when they were at the top of the pyramid. But one often forgets how far that fall is, should they get knocked off.
The girl struggled and rasped out a terror filled, "No."
He sneered and went for the fly of his pants.
Artemis leapt from her perch.
His hands fell from their places on brown skin, and he turned momentarily startled. A car honked a few blocks away, and a new group of patrons met their Uber. When his gaze fell on Artemis dressed in a breathable black cotton t-shirt, the roundness of her breasts evident in the slow breaths she took, the spandex of athletic pants, he smirked. The corners of his mouth lifted and filled with the promise of cruelty and dominance.
Artemis chuckled, something deep and predatory, and it caught him off guard, giving her the chance to drive her fist into his pale face.
Her full force was not in the punch, if it had been, he would never have gotten up, his face would have resembled that of a rotten watermelon- dented and mush. She brushed strands of her mahogany colored hair out of her face, the hair falling loose out of her ponytail. The coppery scent of his blood drowned out all the other smells, and she felt her pulse quicken.
While he had been writhing on the ground, trying to staunch the blood and not aggravate the broken bone, she was at the girl's side, hands soft and safe against her shoulder and back. The words were spoken against the shell of her ear, "Go. There's a clinic at the corner of Lafayette and East Houston street. They'll take care of you."
Muddied eyes blinked at Artemis and then shifted back to the moaning man on in the dirt, then back up to the woman in front of her.
Artemis nudged her into the light of the moon, and the girl finally fled. Artemis listened to the girls footsteps and waited until she heard her make a phone call, her breathing quick and eyes dry.
The goddess turned back to her prey and the moon shone brighter.
Artemis moved forward. His coffee stain colored eyes widened, the movement causing him to wince right after, blood still trickled out of his nose, the bridge swollen and at an unnatural angle. The skin around his eyes was clammy and already turning purple, making his skin look sallow.
For every step she took toward him, he scrambled back, until he was on his feet, though unevenly. She could see there was a slight limp to his right ankle, he must have fallen wrong after she knocked him to the ground. He continued moving away, stumbling over a beer bottle, crushing a newspaper, until his back was against a wall.
"What the fuck is wrong with you, you bitch?"
He spat blood, his voice no longer smooth and mesmerizing as it was when he whispered to the helpless girl, but jagged and tweaked by fear. His watch caught the light and she smirked at the taught lines of tension in his face.
There was a wheeze to his breathing, and she chuckled deep and dark when she realized he had to breathe through his mouth. Listening closer, she could hear the thrum of his pulse and could practically taste the sweat gathering under his arms.
His eyes took her in as she stepped into the light. She was a vision in black from head to toe, athletic wear that one would put on when heading to the gym; its flexibility and comfort an added bonus for work like this.
Bright green eyes the color of a meadow stared back at him unwavering, a small arrow necklace sat at the hollow of her throat. She was tall and strong, you could see it in the definition of muscles on display as her arms crossed over her chest. Her thighs were large from use, and one leg was bent as her hip jutted out. She was physically impressive. And frightening as hell.
His fear was palpable, but like all men, he hid it behind ego and expectation; women were to be afraid of them, raise a fist and they should cower to a corner. Men were always confused when a woman stayed standing.
She kept moving forward until there was no space between them, until she could feel the rapid rise and fall of his chest as the cheap impostor linen of his shirt grated against hers.
A group of twenty somethings spilled out of the entryway of the bar, their laughter bright and slow. She didn't need to look at them to know they were drunk, she could smell the alcohol on them, the pheromones that would lead at least three of them to have sex tonight. She rolled her shoulders and let her gaze fall over the man whose head had turned at the laughter, his pupils dilating even as blood still dripped from his nose and sailed over his lips.
"It's incredibly rude to not pay attention to the person in front of you," a quick tick of her head and a bone cracked in her neck.
He winced. "What are you?" It was a strangled, garbled question, the words tripping over pain and the blood coating his mouth.
She remembered this. It was what she did- goddess of the hunt and of the moon; it only made sense she did this work when the world went dark.
Artemis just hunted a different kind of animal, now.
Her hands stayed at her sides, relaxed and open. She sighed and in that breath, you could feel the weight and wisdom of thousands of years. Artemis clucked her tongue, her voice the song of a spring breeze, one that whispered and entranced, "I'm every woman," she ran her hands over her hair and down her ponytail, and hair that was once the color of espresso, was the color of the sun, her skin was as black as the night around them, and her eyes became a startling blue, like an august sky.
Her hands ran over her sides and her hips became heavier, her breasts fuller, "and each time you look at one of us again," her voice danced between dialects and inflections, showcasing accents she didn't have before, "the next time you try to smile that oil slick grin in our direction..." she brought her hand up in a fist and instead of connecting with the softness of this man's face, she drove it into the bricks by his head; chunks of brick and dust falling into his hair, his shirt and finally, onto the floor.
When she pulled her fist back, there was not a scrape nor tear on her knuckles.
Her appearance continued to change from African American, to Asian, to Indian; her body morphed from petite to tall, from slender and overweight, to curvy and not; her hair changed just as rapidly, a never ending cascade of black, brown and blonde, with every shade in between. Finally, she was once again herself.
He was silently crying; the shaking of his body set her blood on fire.
"The next time you think to violate, stain, take what isn't yours, what is not voluntarily given," she licked her lips and gave a feral grin, "remember me." She paused and watched as his eyes widened as she brought her hands to either side of his face, pulling him close to her. "The next time you think to bruise, tear, smear, or wreck," she leaned close, her nose millimeters from his cheek, and he shrank back, the base of his skull thudded against the brick, "remember me,"
Artemis stepped back, the space between them allowing him the first moment to take a full breath.
There was an acidic smell that filled the alleyway, and when her eyes were cast downward, they fell on the dark patch spreading across the front of his pants. A soft pat against his shoulder jolted him, the move the most she'd seen from him since she had him trapped against the wall.
The sound of sirens was loud as the police cruiser came to a stop, and it was only then that he finally took his eyes off of her.
"This is mercy." Artemis walked towards the darkest part of the alley, where even the moon couldn't reach, and she was gone.