The first time she heard that phrase, she had been 6 years old.
It didn’t matter if twenty years had passed since then, she still remembered it, as if she had heard it yesterday. The man standing in front of the gate of the Sanctuary back then, was actually saying ‘welcome’ to her in Greek. But the choppy phonetics of the language accompanied by the coarse voice of the host, along with his haggard appearance had proven to be too scary for her as a little girl to even think that the gesture meant otherwise. It had been the first phrase she learnt in Greek, and she quickly understood that despite its amicable significance around the world, at the sanctuary those words in particular, carried an ominous meaning and weight that no inductee could ever be able to overlook.
Welcome to our world.
Shaina shivered and swallowed hard. It was the middle of the night and all the amazon’s grounds were supposed to be closed for the day and no outsiders were allowed to enter, unless there was official business to be carried out. Also she was not supposed to be awoken unless hell broke loose on the premises or Athena herself summoned her. So what was this about? The man -or what she supposed was a man because of the timber of his voice- didn’t carry any crests or parchments with sealed orders. Just a ‘welcoming’ message, that in itself was odd. Next to him and In front of her bed, two amazons stood still, each at either side of him. Both were wearing full armor, carrying shields and spears as protocol indicated, their faces covered with ceremonial masks, with their shoulder tattoos exposed. She instantly leaned forward reaching out in the dark looking for her mask. She knew tattoos were only exposed if the matter was official business. This was no ordinary errand.
Athena had summoned her.
After a few seconds she could feel the brassy surface with her fingertips on the nightstand, and quickly she put it on trying as best as she could to shake sleep away.
“May I ask what’s going on?” She asked, firmly.
The clothed figure didn’t answer. Instead it gestured her to go outside. Shaina wasn’t even dressed but she followed suit, clad only in a thin linen nightgown, feeling instantly the warm summer breeze fully hit her as soon as she step outside her hut.
Two more of her sisters were guarding each side of the door, wearing full armor as well. One of them, whom she recognized by her plain silver mask as Marine, offered her cape in silence and she took it feeling grateful for the gesture. Above, the moon shone so brightly that it was illuminating the grounds and her gown was so thin that she knew she would end up flashing everyone around her. All amazons knew there was no greater shame than to be seen naked in public, although it was worse being seen without a mask.
Not that she had ever understood how the two even compared, but as of right now she didn’t want to question ancient logic. As she strode towards the gate of the training grounds, she saw many of the trainees at either side of the road, looking at her with curiosity, and awe, and all of them were wearing night gowns. It seemed that not only she had been awoken, but all the Amazon Coven as well. But for what? Shaina still had no clue. The fours sisters surrounded her. Two in front of her and two behind her, marching in silence, urging her with their pace to keep going forward regardless, while all eyes were on her. She even recognized the printed patterns of most of her students’ masks who eagerly followed her every move. Even the amazons posted for night guard stopped to look at her, whispering something intelligible that sent Shaina over the edge.
However it was clear to her that for now she would have to keep her complaints to herself as the procession continued its way to the gate in silence, and as soon as they were out of the grounds, they turned to the left, talking the road that led to the Twelve Temples.
Shaina glanced at the gate behind her, catching with the corner of her eye the Medusa crest engraved in the stone high above the doorstep. She had lived in those grounds for over 15 years and she didn’t underdstand why, but she had the feeling that she would not return there again.
As she began to climb the steps that led to the Twelve Temples, Shaina couldn’t help but remember her first trip to Greece. She had been part of a big Sicilian family who had paid services on the island of Ortygia, the birthplace of the goddess Artemis, the patron of the Amazons. Although the city had been heavily christianized in later centuries, the citizens still paid tribute to the ancient goddess. Back then, Shaina hadn’t been so sure if this was because of superstition or because habits simply die hard.
For whatever reasons the island kept their traditions intact, and among these was the cult of the daughters of Artemis: the Amazons. They were a small group of women, dedicated not only to the service of the goddess but also to the service of mankind, with bonds with a sacred order located in Athens called The Sanctuary. Shaina was still very young to even begin to understand these concepts, but the one thing that she was very aware of was, that being in that cult meant something more than just marriage and a bunch of kids. Being the youngest and the only woman in a large family was simply ominous to her.
Every time that the amazons arrived on the island, Shaina ran to the docks to greet them, holding flowers and running alongside her mother who was in charge of the maintenance of the scattered temples, that now laid below the Christian church, which was built, like all Christian temples above the pagan site. It didn’t take long for Shaina to be running all kinds of errands for them. Going places, delivering messages as well as helping them in their religious daily duties, always under the ever watchful eye of her mother Maria, who was if anything, the most pleased with the situation. After all this was something Shaina would carry on doing once her mother was dead. It was her destiny. Just like her mother’s, when she took over when her mother died and so forth.
Only women could enter the sacred temples and it was good that she was getting acquainted with all the processes: the lighting of the candles, the cleaning of the statues, the burning of incense and all the other tasks that a Temple Keeper should do on the eve of the amazons’ return. In exchange Shaina got to be close to them and to listen to their mythological stories including the birth of their mother on this very island and the powers that a woman could achieve through the mastering of mind and body.
She should have known what was coming, but neither Shaina nor her mother had expected that the amazons would see in her anything else other than just a diligent well-meaning girl to be their future Temple’s Keeper. And so one night, before the Amazon’s ship sailed off to Greece, one of them knocked at her door. Shaina opened it and was awed to see one of them standing at her doorstep. It was the commander of the lot and her name was Alcippe.
She had noticed her on every trip. She was tall and well built, always wearing leather, with tattoos all over her bare arms that depicted some kind of mythical animals chasing each other. Over her shoulders fell lustrous curly red hair that fell down to her middle back and was arranged neatly in braids. Her eyes were very blue and although her features were somewhat delicate, her squared jaw showed no mercy for whoever wanted to think that she was ‘just’ a woman. Shaina had caught her staring at her for quite a few days and sometimes Alcippe would approach her to ask questions about what she wanted to do when she grew up and if she wanted to attend to the temple. Shaina always answered as best as she could, not ever being able to keep her distance from her, showing evident excitement at the sight of this new world. And with every answer the amazon always seemed to smile and nod contently.
And now she was at her doorstep asking to talk to her mother immediately.
Shaina did as she was told and fetched her mother who instantly froze in the living room, giving her a glance of something that resembled sadness and somehow…pride. Behind her, her father looked at her, but unlike her mother, he had an empty expression set on his face, and immediately followed the amazon and her mother to the kitchen.
After an hour, both women and her father came out of the room. Shaina wanted to ask what was going on, but Alcippe stood beside her without uttering a word, stony faced, while her mother hurried to her room and coming out of it fifteen minutes later, with a bag that she handed over to the amazon. Shaina didn’t need an explanation. She knew she was going to Greece. Her mother leaned over and gave her a kiss on her face, lingering for a while before letting her go. Behind her, her father slid into his room without saying goodbye. Shaina had wanted to cry. She had a strong bond with him, on account of the fact that she was the only baby girl her mother could bear for him, but Alcippe had held her hand so tight as she carried out of the house, that she held the tears back.
As she was leaving the yard, she glanced back. Just one last look at her home. She glimpsed her father waving at her through the window. Shaina smiled at him and waved back.
Her father had died before she could be allowed to return to Ortygia and seven years passed before she could actually do so. Alcippe never said much to her on their trip, other than telling her that she was meant for greater things. She later found out that she was to be one of the first of the Amazons to take vows at the Sanctuary, later on becoming one of the first female warriors to wear an armor guarded by a constellation under Athena’s protection: The Ophiuchus.
It seemed that all important things in her life happened at night. Quickly and without a warning.
Shaina stopped abruptly, returning to the present and almost bumping into one of the Amazons in front of her. One of her sisters behind her, gave her a little push as she was almost losing her balance on the last step, right at the entrance of the Athenian temple. The statue of Athena, stood high, towering over everything around her, casting her shadow over them as a little reminder of who gave the orders. At her feet were the Gold Saints in office, wearing full armor as well. There were some spaces between them. Some of them had retired to become teachers and since there were no wars at the Sanctuary’s doorstep, they spent their remaining active years training new Saints and were not allowed to attend official ceremonies.
And this sure looked like one.
The present Saints however, were staring intently at her. Especially Aphrodite and Shaina wondered why. She had never ever got along with the cocky bastard, but now he had an expression of pure outrage that he could not conceal. With the corner of her eye, she checked the rest of the men, but the others showed no expressions on their faces other than solemnity and peace.
Amidst the shadows, she could see a golden box lying still in the center. Squinting her eyes, she could make out a figure engraved on its surface that startled her completely. There was a man, holding a snake by the tail and by its neck. The symbol of Ophiuchus, her guardian constellation. Without even waiting for approval, Shaina walked towards the box, not wanting to believe what she was seeing. This was a golden box so much like those that she had seen many times in the Twelve Temples. A box crafted by the Lemurians with the sole purpose of holding a Gold Armor.
As she was reaching out to touch the box, the amazons flanked it, kneeling at either side of it. Shaina thought they wanted to stop her from touching the case, but they were actually kneeling and bowing to her. Behind her, the clothed figure revealed his face and she saw a male young Lemurian, who gestured for her to walk towards the case.
She did as she was told and laid both hands atop the box, immediately feeling a shock of electricity going through her body. The armor was calling to her, was syncing with her and in a second, the box opened violently sending a shimmering ray of golden light upwards to the sky. Around her, all the rest of the golden armors started to reverberate. She had only witnessed this phenomenon while being deep into the Twelve Temple War, right after the Sagittarius Cloth had returned to the premises and the rest of the armors had welcomed it to its home. Now it was happening again. Maybe as a needed proof that this armor was their long lost sister, and they were welcoming her to the Order.
In any case the sound was unbelievably loud and looking over her shoulder she could see thousands of little lights being turned on on the premises. Surely most of the people down there must have been woken up by the noise.
There was a flash of light then, and the armor flew towards her, burning her linen gown as it was accommodating itself to her body. Shaina felt she was going to have a heart attack any minute now. The emotions were so high, so violent that she began to cry. She didn’t know why she was doing that. Wearing a Gold Cloth signified that not only her expectations have been fulfilled, but also those of Alcippe’s. She had been destined for greater things indeed. Still the tears rolled down her cheeks, concealed by her mask, going all the way down to her neck.
Once the process was over Shaina fell to the ground but even when her sisters approached to help her, she refused the help and stood up by herself flashing her now, gold cosmos, trying as best as she could to recollect herself. When she lifted her face Athena was already in front of her, smiling delicately at her, waving her staff and silencing the armors in the blink of an eye.
“Kalos Eerthes” She said to her and all of the Gold Saints and her fellow Amazons repeated after her, the same welcoming message.
Shaina bowed to Athena, smiling briefly under her mask. Then she bowed to the rest of the party as protocol indicated.
“Please follow me Ophiuchus Gold Saint, there are some things we need to discuss.”
Shaina followed Athena, while the area of the statue started to empty. Only the Amazons remained, walking closely behind them and staying outside Athena’s chambers once the door that led to her private quarters was closed. Shaina had so many questions, but all of them seemed a blur whenever she gazed at herself wearing a Gold Cloth.
What had changed in the Sanctuary world for her to be allowed to wear a Gold Cloth? If anything all the Amazons were always considered inferior to their male counterparts. Most of all, unsuitable as warriors. They were females, and no matter how capable they have proven to be in the art of war, Athena still didn’t like women as warriors and even less their being on her premises. That’s why the Goddess forced them to wear a mask, to conceal all traces of femininity for her own selfish sake.
Shaina had always fantasized as soon as she had taken her mask to become a Gold Saint, obviously being mocked by everyone around her about her dreams. Being an amazon wearing an armour protected by a contellation was good enough for a girl at the Sanctuary. Few of the female amazon trainees could achieve such an honor anyway. Only the Gold Cloths were reserved for the true warriors of Athena. The male warriors, that is.
“You are a true daughter of Ortygia, Shaina.”
The voice of Alcippe made her return to reality. She was standing next to Athena’s desk, not wearing her mask, and showing the first signs of age on her face. Alcippe was getting old but she still looked strong and beautiful. She didn’t know her teacher was coming, but how could she miss such an event? Certainly it made up for all the first times that Shaina had let her down, like when Marine’s student won the Pegasus Cloth instead of her student and such.
“Thank you Alcippe,” She said addressing her without a title as it was amazon custom once the relationship teacher-pupil was over. “But I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for you.”
Alcippe smiled and shook her head. “It had nothing to do with me child, but with your destiny. I told you, you were meant for greater things.”
“Your teacher is right Shaina,” Athena interjected. “We’ve been preparing for quite a while for this change, following ancient prophecies, and reading closely the stars at Starlight mountain. Alcippe was not at liberty to disclose any of this before, but you’ve been groomed all your life to fulfill your destiny under the constellation of Ophiuchus . All of what you’ve done has led you here to this point. You’ve become again, the first to take yet another vow within the order.”
“I’m honored Athena. Thank you.” She answered truthfully, even though she couldn’t help feeling a bit surprised by all of this. As soon as she stepped outside the boat at the dock at Piraeus, she had been fully informed that her presence and success were going to be important for the amazons, as they were trying to bond themselves to the Order, but she never imagined that it would go this far.
Then again, it was expected. Some of the Gold Saints like Aquarius Camus, came from another order. In his case, from the Ice Warriors who also laid bonds with the Orders sending their best warrior to fill a position within the Gold Saints.
“I’ll do my best to fulfill my role diligently, my lady”
“I know you will.” The Goddess said and walked towards her, stopping only inches apart.
Shaina blinked, giving a little step backwards, feeling Athena’s proximity a little bit aggressive to her personal space. She had to admit she had never liked her. Not the goddess but the girl. Besides the Seiya issue, Saori was now two years younger than her, and at twenty four, Athena had almost taken over completely, over running Saori, and every time she looked in her eyes, there was this void and detachment. And although she was kind and generous most of the time, there was this ‘godly’ disposition that she didn’t quite like. It seemed that now only the Bronze Saints could approach her human side and all of this was simply creepy in Shaina’s eyes.
“Please don’t fidget” Athena scolded her and held her by the chin. “You won’t need this any longer.”
And she took away her mask.
Shaina felt her knees turn to water as the breeze from the nearest window hit her cheeks. Not that she ever followed the rules by the book, but being stripped off the mask in such an anticlimactic way, came as a shock to her. It was true that she hated wearing it, not only because it didn’t conceal any feminine quality and during summer she sweated like a cow, but also because the whole law was downright stupid and misogynistic to say the least. She still had breasts sticking out of her training leotard for crying out loud, and quite a big rack at that.
However, she had to admit that it had served its purpose concealing emotions and her fragility when she most needed it. Shaina lowered her head letting out a bitter smile not even wanting to get further into this dichotomy of her psyche. Athena lifted her face from the chin and with one hand took away the bangs that ran widely over her eyes.
“Like Alcippe said” Athena reckoned, turning her around and gesturing at one of the mirrors “You are a true daughter of Ortygia, both skillful and beautiful.”
Shaina raised her sight and encountered her reflection in the mirror. There, standing next to Athena was a female warrior, wearing a beautiful golden armor that had been exquisitely carved by expert hands just for her. Her features were delicate and voluptuous at the same time: heart shaped face, straight nose and green almond shaped like eyes, full natural red lips and a perfect olive skin.
It had been long since she had stared at her reflection, but even she, had to admit that she was quite easy on the eyes. Not that she was into looks or that this should make her any better as a warrior, but she hoped at least to be able able to cause the impression as Alcippe her teacher, did on her and on everyone around her when she entered a room. After all, all the amazons she knew were not only known for their skills as warriors, but also because of their beauty.
“Very well then,” Athena said, pulling out a little box of one chest placed atop her desk. “ I don’t think there’s anything left to be said. I just need to give you one more thing.”
Shaina looked down to Athena’s hand, and there in between her palms lied a small crest with a Medusa head finely carved. The snakes going outwards the sides of the circle, which the Goddess wielded on the chest of her golden armor.
“And finally, this crest will be a reminder of where you are coming from, daughter of Ortygia, Amazon of the Sanctuary. Never forget the great honor that has been bestowed upon you.”
“I won’t.” Shaina answered looking past Athena’s shoulder to Alcippe who nodded pleased. “Is that all, my lady?”
“Yes, “Athena answered, turning around and immediately turning back to face her. “There is still the matter of the Bonding Ritual, but Alcippe told me earlier she would tell you all about it. So, as soon as everything is ready and all the parties informed, I need you to come back here so that we can arrange everything at the new Ophiuchus Temple. ”
Shaina blinked twice, not even listening to anything else but the ‘Bonding Ritual’ part.
“Remember,” Athena continued, this time looking at Alcippe. “That the ritual must be carried out two days from today.”
“The what?” She asked again, raising her voice a little not even letting her former teacher answer Athena’s question, very afraid to jump into conclusions by herself.
“Yes,” The Goddess answered calmly as she walked towards her desk. “The bonding ritual, during which you will be spending one night with one of the Gold Saints. It’s an ancient tradition to strengthen bonds between orders. Although I have to admit that this ritual in particular hasn’t taken place within the premises for over 250 hundred years.”
Shaina gasped, going pale instantly. She had heard of this ritual carried out in the ancient world, and certainly they did serve in the past to strengthen bonds, but only when children were the result. That, or the parties involved had a significant piece of land to share. As far as she was concerned, amazons allied with the Sanctuary because they believed in a common goal: world peace; and they had lived at the Sanctuary for over twenty years now, following orders of a rival Goddess no less, all for the sake of mankind. That was the glue that held them together. But now that one of them rose to a higher position, they felt they had to secure their truce yet again through sex? It was preposterous. It was yet again the submission of the Amazons to the Sanctuary and Shaina didn’t know why her sisters even bothered.
And what if a child was involved? What benefit could they get if she did have a child as a result? A pure genetic advantage? A stronger warrior? She turned around looking in outrage at the face of Alcippe, but she was otherwise calm, and she seemed to have read her mind, because she immediately walked to her, patting her on the shoulder.
“And should you have a child from that union,” Alcippe added rather coldly. “It will remain at the Sanctuary. If it’s a boy it’ll be trained as a Gold Saint and if it is a girl she will remain at the amazon’s training grounds.”
Maybe this had been part of the bargain all along. Come and live with me, and in return you’d give me your firstborn.Take it or leave it, bitch.
She didn’t want to know what possessed the Amazons to accept such a deal, even less in modern times. Not that she would have backed out, had she known about the deal. She knew there were sacrifices to make. She had been doing them her whole life in pursuit of the amazonian ideal: leaving her parents, coming to a strange land, postponing her own desires and putting on hold her life as much as she could, all on behalf of this. But even so it was just very awful and twisted to even think that she could be reduced by the very same Order to such a primal concept, especially when Athena herself wanted them all along to conceal their womanhood.
She sighed then, nodding defeated, raising her head emotionless and looked at Athena “And who will that be, my lady… If I may ask?”
Without saying anything, Alcippe handed out a piece of folded paper. When she opened it, she found the official order written on it and in the bottom, two crests drawn: on the right side was the Medusa Crest and on the left was the head of a Lion.