Cut because it's massively long (1276 words), and also: huge, ginormous, glaring warning for gore, gore, gore, and more gore. Only in the last four paragraphs, but it's there, and it's the conclusion of the story, so it's hard to get around it. XD So do NOT read if you have a weak stomach or an easily outraged sense of propriety.
I might add that this is also set in mythological Greece, just as a setting pinpointer.
“Alskander, I don’t feel so well…” Phoebe attempted to control a wave of nausea even as she said this, faltering on an outcropping of sandy stone that dipped and juddered in her wavering vision.
Ahead of her, her older brother stopped, impatiently shoving his reddish curls out of his eyes as he turned to look at her. “It’s probably the height gone to your head. Come on, you asked to come here in the first place.”
Phoebe frowned. “You know I’ve up this high before—“ With a gasp, she stumbled and landed hard on her knees in the rubble, staring blankly at the small smear of blood she’d left on the rocks that had tripped her.
Alskander breathed out hard, beyond exasperated by his sister’s strange behavior. Reluctantly he navigated his way back over the shattered trail to grab her wrists and heave her onto her feet, only to have her collapse back to the ground, limp as a rag doll. “What, then? Did you eat something funny? Come on, get up, girl. Mother’ll be expecting us back soon.” Futilely he kicked at her shins with a sandaled foot, toed her splayed fingers.
“Nnn…” Phoebe stared at the ground with her mouth slack and vision flickering, struggling to think back. This morning they’d left the milch-goats grazing peacefully in a secluded pasture and clambered up the mountain trails instead, searching for the ruined temple that Alskander had boasted to her of finding when he was nine and she still clinging to their mother’s skirts at home. Goaded by his brags and blusters, she’d dared him to lead her back to the spot, despite his claims of the danger he’d braved to reach the temple. In fact, though the trail had worsened as they forged on upwards, the climb was relatively easy for a pair of children born and bred among the jagged Grecian peaks, nimble as mountain goats. The actual climb had taken barely more than half the morning; locating the vaunted ruins among the exposed caverns and stunted olive-trees had been the real challenge.
In the end Phoebe’s quick eyes had done the trick, noting a fracture in a cliff face that widened almost imperceptibly, but just enough for the two wiry children to slide through. Beyond the fracture was a hollow cupped between the mountain peaks, surprisingly verdant with olive groves and close-grown herbage. All around them, pillars and lumps of grey, weathered stone jutted like strange trees. From somewhere, there came the sound of trickling water; otherwise, the hollow was completely silent, a waiting silence that clogged the ears and deadened the heart.
Phoebe had opened her mouth to say that this was enough, they could go home now, but the silence had reached a hand down her throat to clutch at her heart, and she stumbled on behind her brother through the strange void, helpless and afraid. Around them, the strange stone formations waited, defying recognition, though every now and then a familiar-seeming curve would catch at the eye, tauntingly reminiscent of the curve of a human hip, the arch of a lizard’s tail, the sweep of a bird’s wing. Between their feet more bits of stone lay haphazardly, some rounded and whole, others dashed to pieces, but all still holding that strange sense of almost-recognition.
They walked for what seemed like a long time before the temple ruins showed themselves, though the mountain-hollow itself was quite small. Disappointingly, there was no temple proper remaining, no portico or altar-place, only a few shattered flagstones and three grand columns, two standing and one toppled, the standing ones topped with a motif of curling volutes. From the bare crown of the fallen column issued a small trickle of water tinted rusty with minerals, though from what source and by what mechanism it was impossible to tell; the dull, red drops simply pearled and beaded on the white stone, coalescing into a single stream that spattered onto a worn flagstone. Phoebe knelt by the water, almost hypnotized by the slow, uneven fall.
Beside her, Alskander let out a wordless murmur of surprise; in reply to his sister’s inquiring look, he pointed a toe at one of the broad stones. She craned to look, and beheld a crude but surprisingly intricate rendering of one of the stories they knew well: the hero Perseus slaying snake-locked, stone-gazed Medusa as her two Gorgon sisters looked on, wailing; from Medusa’s severed neck rose airy, wingèd Pegasus, foam on the fall of her gouting blood.
As one the siblings looked at each other, chilled, and turned to leave the valley. Phoebe, though, in rising from her crouch, impulsively reached out two fingers to touch the falling water. Instinctively she popped her fingers into her mouth to drive off the bitter chill that seeped into her fingers with just that touch, only to make a face at the metallically bitter taste, a sharp tang that crawled coldly down her throat.
The same sick cold writhed in her belly now, probing and raking at her insides, blinding her eyes to anything but the nauseating pain. Dimly she heard Alskander querying her from above again, and managed a vague “Hmm…” that she had meant to be something else, but couldn’t remember what, now that she thought about it.
Alskander huffed with irritation, seeing nothing wrong with his sister other than a fit of the vapors, and leant down once more to seize her by the wrists, only—
He reeled back, stunned, feeling as if someone had struck him a hard blow in the face.
Which, in fact, someone— or something —had.
Alskander stumbled back, covering his bleeding nose with both hands, staring in horror at what protruded from his sister’s slack mouth. It was, undoubtedly, a hoof. A hoof that was wickedly black and sharp and slicked with his own blood, and being rapidly followed by a skeletal, green-fleshed fetlock and the tip of another hoof, neatly slicing through the tissue of Phoebe’s cheek, her pale, wide eyes disappearing beneath a sheet of blood. Frozen with terror, unable to wrench his eyes away, Alskander watched as Phoebe’s belly, her entire form now, rippled and jerked with the thing attempting to escape. The wraithlike creature had emerged up to the shoulders now, its flailing hooves striking sparks off the stone as it writhed and snorted, screaming in a voice that echoed in a thousand dissonances off the mountain peaks. Phoebe’s head had long since disappeared into the mess of trampled gore sloughing off of the creature’s oily, bile-green limbs; with a sound like a sword being flung through a sack of meat two huge, electrum-gold wings exploded out of the remnants of her body, shucking off the pale, stained remainder to completely free the monster.
With an obscene, mincing grace the spider-thin creature collected itself, shook away the remainders of gore except where it clung to the dead-blood mane and straggling, bare tail. Above its jutting shoulders the pale wings clashed and rattled, jarring the air like distant thunder and the clash of spears. Drops flicked off the keen wingtips to spatter Alskander’s face.
Apparently satisfied, the thing nudged Phoebe’s tattered corpse with its muzzle, almost fondly, then turned to favor the still-frozen Alskander with a gory, spectral grin. Then it shook itself once more, and sprang off into the mountain air, the perverse glory of its wings splintering the light as it disappeared far into the clouds.
A day and an hour later, when the searchers found the wandering, witless Alskander, the only things he could speak of were the taste of blood, and the sound of clashing spears in the sky.