Beauty Divine, Pain Be Thine FINAL
Final few chapters of Aphrodite's journey.
"Aph!" Shea cried as Aphrodite started swaying.
"Get it out," she croaked. "The arrow, get it out."
Athena ran over to her. "It's lodged under your shoulder blade. I cannot push it through. Come, we must get away from here, there's no time to dig it out."
Dom was still clinging to Tristan. "But he isn't waking up! Why isn't he waking up??"
"He is not out of the woods yet. My powers healed him physically, but the pain it caused was immense. We are lucky he even survived it. Imagine the feeling of a piece of the sun inside of you, burning your insides. It's dangerous enough that I will not use it on anymortal man unless there is no other option. He must survive the pain through sheer force of will. He may yet die. Give me his hand, and hold on to me. Now."
Aphrodite could no longer hold on to her consciousness. Her hearing started to sound more and more distant, her eyes seeing less and less, until there was nothing but darkness and silence.
Fire. All she felt was fire. It felt as though it were burning her soul from within her. A scream ripped out between her clenched teeth. It took her a moment as she awoke to realize this was the familiar sensation of her sister's healing power. It was sealing the wound in her shoulder. But she was no mere mortal. Her body could withstand this power much better than Tristan had, and the pain subsided to a dull heat a few moments later. When she caught her breath, she sat up and looked around.
Shea was holding her hand. White marble was everywhere, and a large canopy bed covered in fine silk sheets and gossamer curtains surrounded her. The air was pleasantly temperate. "Olympus?" Aphrodite asked in confusion. On the bed beside her was an unconscious Tristan, Dom on his other side, staring intently, willing him to wake up.
"Yes, sister," Athena responded. "I lifted the wards barring you from entry. I was foolish to create them in the first place.. I should have let you come back to challenge Hera right away. I set impossible standards and it nearly got you killed. I cost a young girl her life. I am doing my best to hide you, but it is only a matter of time."
This saddened Aphrodite. "Chloe was a wonderful young woman. She was loyal and fierce and brave. She died to protect me, and I will forever live in her debt. But you were not wrong. If you had let me challenge Hera then, I would have surely lost. I was vain, selfish, and weak. I did not know then what I know now. I could not keep going through life the way I have been living for thousands of years. I could not be strong without the love and support I have found and the relationships I have forged. I have a purpose. I have something to live for, fight for, even die for. I will challenge Hera not just for myself, but for all of the lives she has destroyed with her duplicitous ways. I will fight not just to benefit myself, but those I love as well. I was not strong enough before, but perhaps I can be now. I must go to Zeus at once." She began to stand, but Athena put a hand on her shoulder.
"You are not yet back at full strength, sister."
"I have strength enough. You said yourself that it was only a matter of time. I must do this," she responded, gently removing her sister's hand. A resigned sadness crossed Athena's face, and she nodded.
Aphrodite strode into the throne room with her head held high. Most of the gods were gathered in council, sitting on their thrones. The largest throne, centered upon steps at the head of the room, belonged to Zeus. As she entered, all gazes turned to her. Some sympathetic, othersfilled with annoyance, dislike, or outright hatred. Hera sat in her throne, which was somewhat smaller than that of Lord Zeus, on his right hand side. It seemed as though she were keeping up appearances. Athena walked in behind Aphrodite, but did not move to sit in her throne in an obvious show of support. Hera somehow looked both seething angry and fearful at the same time.
Walking up to the bottom of the steps, Aphrodite knelt on one knee, bowing her head low. "My Lord Zeus."
"I have heard some disturbing things about you, daughter. Tales that, if I had not known you for the last four thousand years, I would not be able to believe in an eon. Tell me why I should not banish you to the pits of Tartarus and ban the use of your name for all eternity."
"Father, please," Athena pleaded. "Those are lies."
"Athena.. Please. I must do this myself. Father, I know that I have been truly awful to you, and all of my fellow Olympians, for a very long time. I do not deserve forgiveness. At least not yet. I have not earned it. But I beg you, please believe me. I did not attack Hera, or conspire against her. It is just the opposite. And her grudge against me, and you, has cost the lives of innocents."
Zeus stood suddenly and boomed, "My wife, Queen of the Olympians? Do you realize the seriousness of these accusations, child?" Hera's mouth quirked up in a smug leer.
Aphrodite bowed her head once again. "I do, Father. And that is why I ask that you summon Aletheia, Goddess of Veritas. And once I am vindicated, I challenge Hera to single combat."
Hera's smirk faltered, replaced by shock.