The teaser today is from Muse. Artemis feels the need to remind Heracles just who is in control:
“Perhaps you simply need a reminder of who I am and why you serve me, my ardent warrior.” Her gaze found the guard at the door, his still-human eyes turned away from the brewing conflict. “Perhaps you need to recall just what I am capable of.”
It was a simple power, possessed by many of her kin and used to greater effect by some than others. The power to transform those around her into the shape of her whim could be extremely useful. It could also be terrifying.
The guard, already a hound in the making, jerked stiffly to his feet, eyes going wide in horror as he felt what was happening. His mouth opened to scream, but the changes being wrought in his throat eliminated any human voice. Instead, a strangled bleat emerged, the man choking and gagging on his own tongue now grown too large for his mouth.
He hit the ground on all fours, seizing as the muscles crawled and knotted beneath his skin. The sounds of bone cracking were loud against the bare ceiling, and every hound in the place had emerged from its den to watch the spectacle.
Heracles made the mistake of trying to look away, and Artemis grabbed his chin, forcing it forward. “You will watch, my warrior. And you will remember.” She could feel his jaw clench at her touch. She sank her fingernails in for good measure.
Fine brown hair had emerged over the tortured man’s body, his clothing fallen away or absorbed somehow during the transformation. He shrieked as his pelvis fractured with a gunshot report, reforming itself, and his knees folded backwards to create the hocks of some four-legged creature. His ears lengthened, his skull flattened on the top even as his cheekbones and jaw crackled in their transformations, creating a muzzle with a broad flat nose. His eyes, pleading mutely with the goddess who commanded him, became large and round, deep brown pools of agony.
You do this at my will. You have given yourself to me and you are mine to do with as I see fit. Artemis smiled gently at those begging eyes. There was no greater act of love than giving himself to his goddess’s purpose.
His fingers, braced on the floor, fused into two thick toes, the skin blackening and melting together as it shrank into a tiny hoof. The coat of fine hair now covered his entire body, down to the tip of the thin tail that had sprung from the base of his spine.
In a matter of excruciatingly painful moments, a tottering newborn calf stood where a man had once been. The pitiful creature shuddered, trying to find a balance on its new and unfamiliar hooves, knobby knees trembling with the effort of supporting its own weight.
The enormous hound in the kennel next to her butted her hand insistently, golden eyes turned up in entreaty. She caressed the black-furred head, and nodded with a smile. “Have your way, my hunt.”
“No!” Heracles’ protest was lost in the baying of the hounds as the animals descended on their one-time keeper.
The calf managed one terrified bleat before it was buried under the mass of muscular bodies, and soon the only sound was the cracking of bone and snarls as the hounds squabbled over choice tidbits amongst themselves.
Satisfied, Artemis turned to look at her bodyguard. “You are immortal. Can you imagine being torn apart like that every morning of your life, only to heal anew by Darkfall and face the same fate for eternity?”
He swallowed hard, no doubt trying to contain his gorge. He’d never had the stomach for the truly necessary things, in her experience. “Would it be so different from my life now, my lady?”
Ah, so we play the martyr now, my turncoat? “Perhaps not for you, no. But Persephone?” She shook her head. “It would be a pity for her to suffer for your obstinance.”
“Leave her out of this.”
“Of course I will. Of course.” She patted his arm, the muscles in it corded with his clenched fists. “But fetch me that muse. Before she has a chance to contaminate anyone else with impure thoughts.”
He was defeated, and she knew it. She could sense it deep within her hunter’s soul. Heracles turned to go, and Artemis happily watched her hounds feast. Piles of steaming offal disappeared down the lean throats, and the irritated snarls had dissolved into growls of contentment. One of the males mounted a female there amid the carnage, the beasts coupling with no thought at all to the humans they’d once been. For the first time in days, the voices in her head were silent.
“Heracles?” She heard his boots stop. “Come to my bed tonight.” He didn’t answer, but she knew he would obey.