A horrible scream rent the air, stilling Hera in the middle of the dirt pathway. Before she could move forward, another piercing scream followed on the heels of the first. This time, she knew the voice as it begged their father to stop.
Ignoring her instincts to run in the opposite direction, to find her mother, she ran to the great tree that grew next to her home. She clambered up the tree, her skin scraping on the bark as her limbs climbed from memory.
When she reached the branch that overlooked the window near the hearth, she looked into the house, squinting in the dim light of morning. As she leaned forward, she lost her grip on the branch and barely caught herself. Steadying her hold, Hera held her breath and watched for movement.
She could see a hand, blood streaming from it, grapple with the edge of the window. Black hair and a tear-streaked face entered her view as her sister pulled herself up.
Catching a glimpse of her in the tree, Persephone found her gaze and mouthed, “Run.”
Hera’s heart raced. Run? Run where? To whom? How could she run when something was so, so wrong?
Her sister, her serious and beautiful sister, slumped forward, unconscious. The slight movement of her hair against her mouth from her shallow breaths was the only indication that she was still alive at all.
The fear that crowded her mind was intense, and Hera began to tremble, nearly losing her grip again. All she could see was Persephone not moving and covered in blood. Suddenly, a thump and several screams rang in her ears. Screams she knew would haunt all her days. High screams. Young screams. And deep, wordless shouts of a man’s rage.
It was the silence that followed that punched her into action.
Turning, she scrambled down the tree and ran to the wheat fields where she had left her mother chatting. Her feet pounded the earth as she ran the fastest she’d ever moved, tripping over vines in her haste. She ignored the pain of the rocks digging into her flesh, desperate to get to her mother.
Before she could reach Mother at the end of the path, a large figure emerged from the line of trees ahead of her. A chill ran up Hera’s spine, and she dug her heels into the dirt, pivoting to hide behind a fallen log as she watched her father step out into the road. Her thoughts raced— how had he gotten to the road before her?
Father raised his hand, revealing in his grip a knife dripping with blood. She knew at that moment her sisters were dead.
He rotated slowly, his eyes scanning the tree line.
“Hera, Hera, Hera,” he called out in a sing-song voice. “I saw you running, dearest. I know you are here. Come on out and talk to me.”
Her stomach dropped through to the earth below at his bold lie. She knew her father did not want to talk.
Crouching, she quietly moved to the end of the log, keeping herself as covered as possible by the bracken around her, and the road in sight. Father was on one end and her mother, farther down in the opposite direction. Could Mother see him yet? Would she look over and see Father in this mad state?
Hera knew she was taking a risk getting her mother’s attention, but she had to do something before Father found her.
She backed deeper into the woods, careful not to step on fallen leaves and twigs. Father paced the road, knife still in hand. If she could get closer to her mother…
Dread struck her chest as her father whirled toward the sound with stunning speed, and Hera’s heart raced. She’d been able to get closer to her mother by creeping through the undergrowth, but had she gotten close enough?
It would have to do. As her father started in her direction, Hera burst out into the road.
“Mother!” she cried out, straightening and preparing to run to her. Her mother turned abruptly, her smile faltering as she caught sight of the murderous presence behind Hera.
In a split second, her mother disappeared, only to reappear beside her. Stunned, Hera faltered and blinked at the empty space where her mother had been as she pushed Hera behind her. She fell to her hands and knees as her mother widened her stance, standing like a wall between Hera and her father.
Her mind spun. Her mother’s speed. Her father’s rampage. The sight of her sister’s bloody hand and the sound of their screams. Hera was confused by all of it.
“You swore they were human,” he growled.
Human? Of course, they were human. What else could they be? Was there something about her parents that she and her sisters had not known?