Theta Beginnings Miniseries
By Lizzy Ford
Published by Captured Press
Theta Beginnings Miniseries copyright ©2016 by Lizzy Ford
Cover Design ©2016 by Lizzy Ford
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the author. The only exception is by a reviewer, who may quote short excerpts in a review.
This novel is a work of fiction. Any references to historical events; to real people, living or dead; or to real locales are intended only to give the fiction a sense of reality and authenticity. Names, characters, places and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously and their resemblance, if any, to real-life counterparts is entirely coincidental.
“… and this is the part where he won the gold in swimming and later that afternoon, in judo!” Alessandra boasted.
I paused to listen, concealed from view by the night and trees in the forest where I had lived with soon to be thirteen-year-old Lyssa, the female nymphs who kept her company, and the priests managing the orphanage where we all lived.
“Wow!” breathed one of the slender, elegant teens with her. “I heard he competed in seven separate events in one day and won gold in all of them.”
“He did. He’s called the People’s Champion, because everyone loves him,” Lyssa said proudly but in a whisper. “He’s stronger than all the gods combined.”
“That’s not possible!”
“But it’s true!”
I smiled despite my disapproval. Lyssa knew I didn’t want her talking about my gold-medal past. She was too young, and sheltered, to understand why, but I couldn’t think of my past without recalling everything I was ashamed of. Would she look at me with the same glow of admiration and love, if she knew what I did to her real parents?
The past was best left in the past.
Even knowing this, I hesitated to interrupt. No one had ever loved me the way she did, never believed in me. Since we hid in this forest seven years ago, I’d enjoyed a life I never thought possible, one of peace, family and happiness. Alessandra was my adopted daughter, and I her ugly protector.
One day, she’ll learn the truth. The soft whisper in my mind tormented me from time to time.
“But not today,” I replied quietly.
Today, I was her Herakles. The nymphs who had appeared from the forest to play with her when she was six had remained with her, sensing what the priests knew. Alessandra was important and one day, she was going to need all of us to protect her. They were part of my family, too, sisters to the special little girl the priests and I had to hide at all costs.
I purposely snapped a twig before moving forward into the light of the small campfire Lyssa had started. She quickly closed the browser on her cell phone, and the clips of my days as a champion disappeared from the screen. I pretended not to notice, and she hastily tucked the phone away.
Two of the other nymphs had accompanied us this night to camp in the woods. Usually, five or six of the thirty girls came. Recently, however, they’d discovered the campground next to our forest and worse, the boys who often visited it with their parents. All of my past heroics paled in comparison to the appeal of teenage boys.
The nymphs giggled, and I sat down across from them. Lyssa’s bright blue eyes found me. She was smiling.
“What did the priests teach you this week?” I asked gruffly, already aware of her slow progress in class. The priests blamed me for her lack of interest in school, and I humored them the best I could. I was no scholar. I didn’t see the use in most of what they taught. The potential threats to Alessandra wouldn’t be defeated by her ability to speak Greek, or how many deities she could accurately name in under sixty seconds, or how well she recited the credo of the priests who plotted to rid the world of gods.
None of that mattered. But I had to pretend it did, for the sake of what normalcy a secret orphanage run by rebel priests, and filled with magical creatures, could provide.
Lyssa sighed and rolled her eyes. “Nothing.”
I raised an eyebrow.
The nymphs giggled and glanced at one another.
“Shut. Up!” Lyssa snapped at them, features flaring red.
“What?” I asked.
“We started health class this semester, and Lyssa is the only girl in class who hasn’t … you know,” one of the nymphs said cheerfully.
My brow furrowed. “Hasn’t what?” I asked.
“You know,” the other nymph said impatiently. “Started.”
“Shut up, Hectate!” Lyssa snapped.
“Started what?” I asked, confused.
“Her … period.” Hectate whispered the last word almost too quietly to hear.
Oh, Gods. Lyssa and the nymphs were starting to transform from children into young women. I wasn’t ready for that change. Not yet. Maybe not ever. My first instinct was to back away and disappear. Discussing a woman’s monthly cycle was as far from my comfort zone as anything could be.
“Some people are slow,” the other nymph, Leandra, taunted.
“You can never have kids if you don’t have one,” Hectate said matter-of-factly. “You’re going to be a lonely, old maid, and no boy will ever kiss you!”
No, I was not at all ready for this stage of raising a daughter.
Too stunned to speak let alone react, I saw the look in Lyssa’s eyes before she launched up and tackled the blonde girl but was too surprised to stop her. Leandra screamed. Alessandra drove the nymph to the ground and punched her before I caught her around her waist and hauled her back.
Leandra scrambled to her feet, glaring at the angry Lyssa. “You hit like a priest!” she shouted at Alessandra.
“Then come back and let me hit you again!” Alessandra wriggled in my grip.
“Enough,” I said quietly. “Leandra, sit over there. Alessandra, there.”
Alessandra pushed my grip off her and obeyed grudgingly. Leandra went to the other side of the campfire. Prying Alessandra off a nymph had become second nature. My sweet Lyssa had a temper and the combat arms training to cause harm, if she wasn’t careful. The priests believed her aggression to be a stage. For the sake of others, I hoped so. For her sake, I hope she remembered how to punch better than she spoke Greek when she was out of this stage.
An awkward silence fell. Secretly relieved by the change of subject, I was trying hard to erase the image from my mind of my little girl kissing anyone ever, let alone growing up and wanting to leave the forest and me behind. The priests had tried to talk to me about what to expect, but I ignored them. In hindsight, I should have listened.
Leandra and Alessandra were glaring at one another. At times, I was concerned that Lyssa wasn’t quite … normal. At least, not compared to the nymphs, who were probably not remotely normal either. But I had no one else to compare her behavior to, and the differences between her and the nymphs were clear on most days. They excelled in school, rarely threw temper tantrums, and were generally less wild than my Alessandra. I didn’t care if she was wild, but every day, I witnessed her struggle to fit in with the other girls. She, too, was aware of how different she was, and this hurt me on a level I wasn’t able to escape or treat with medicine.
It was this concern that led me back to a topic I didn’t feel remotely qualified to discuss.
“Is there a reason you haven’t started … uh, your … female cycle?” I asked, uncertain what else to say. “Are you eating well? Sleeping enough?”
“Herakles!” Alessandra groaned.
“I don’t want your training to interfere with your development,” I reasoned.
She covered her face with her hands, embarrassed.
Leandra giggled and then laughed.
“Don’t you laugh at him!” Alessandra bolted to her feet.
I tugged her back down. She sat heavily, fuming.
“That’s not how it works, Herakles,” said Hectate. “When she’s mature enough, she’ll start.”
“That’s right. You’re just a silly little girl, and we’re women now,” Leandra added.
“Like I want to bleed to death every month!” Alessandra retorted. “At least I won’t end up pregnant if I kiss a boy!”
“Like any boy would kiss you!”
I was starting to sweat just listening to them. “No kissing, no boys,” I growled, unable to help it. “And no one is getting pregnant. Understand?”
The words came out much harsher than I intended. Even Lyssa gazed up at me in surprise.
“Yes, Herakles,” the three girls chorused.
I preferred breaking up fights to discussions of boys, kissing, pregnancy … Gods, I wasn’t going to survive Lyssa going through puberty or the knowledge she would one day want to be on her own, alone to face the world. I understood too well how dark and disgusting the world was, how twisted and deceitful people could be. I wanted to save her from those things.
Aware it wasn’t fair or possible, I likewise couldn’t help thinking I wanted her to stay a child forever. I glanced at her. Her cheeks remained red from embarrassment. I didn’t want to press the issue and decided to talk to the priests about her development. I was not a traditional father figure, and her life was not normal. If some part of how I was raising her was interfering with her growing into a woman, even if I didn’t really want her to, I needed to know.
Hectate gasped, drawing all of our attentions. She was gazing up at the night sky.
“Meteor shower!” she exclaimed and pointed.
I looked up, and my jaw went slack.
The streaks of light crossing the sky weren’t meteorites or anything else natural. They were too low – barely higher than the tendrils of fog drifting inland from the Maryland coast – and consisted of orange fire rather than the cold burn of a meteorite.
The girls stood, excited, and started to file through the forest to a clearing nearby, where they could see what was happening better. My eyes lingered on the sky as I tried to sort out what exactly I was witnessing.
As I watched, more streaks filled the sky, until the night was lit up as bright as twilight. I stood, alarmed by the unnatural display.
The cell phone in my pocket vibrated. I pulled it free as I followed the path the girls had taken to the meadow.
We need you to return now with the girls. Quickly. The message originated from Father Cristopolos, who was the head of the priestly order managing the orphanage.
“Lyssa, Leandra, Hectate!” I bellowed. “We’re going back to the orphanage.”
“But, Herakles, we have to see the –“ Alessandra objected.
She knew better than to argue when I used that tone. Assured they would obey, I returned to the camp and put out the fire then swiftly picked up our camping supplies and loaded them into my rucksack. I handed Lyssa her pack when she appeared and then stood aside for her to lead us all back towards the center of the forest refuge.
They were excited, oohing and aahing at the night sky, while I grew more perplexed. Such a display wasn’t manmade, and it was located too close to the little girl we were hiding from the world to be coincidence. Had the gods or politicians – both of which were feared by the priests – figured out where we were? Was this some kind of attack? If so, why were the fireballs crisscrossing the sky without striking our refuge?
Three hours later, we reached the manor house at the center of the forest unscathed. The other nymphs were gathered in the greens, most lying on their backs, as they watched the show overhead.
Lyssa went to join them, as did Leandra and Hectate, while I hurried inside to find Father Cristopolos.
“Herakles!” a voice called behind me. “Come quickly!”
I spun and struck off, following the smallest and youngest priest – Father Renoir – as he rushed through the corridors on the ground level of the manor house. He had hiked up his brown robes to help him move faster, and I kept pace with him, sensing his urgency in his pace and quick breathing.
He led me past the halls and conference rooms that had been turned into classrooms for the girls and into the instructors’ break and administrative area at the end of the hallway.
I entered the break room, and Father Cristopolos closed the door behind me. The other priests were gathered in front of a television.
“It’s everywhere,” Father Cristopolos said in a tight voice. With a sturdy build and baldhead, he was the only one of the priests who ever took me up on the offer to teach them to fight.
“What’s everywhere?” I asked.
“This firestorm. The Gods are setting fire to the world.”
Although critical of the intentions of supernatural beings of any kind, even I had a hard time processing this statement. He joined the others in front of the television and I trailed more slowly.
Newscasters were panicked as they reported on the fireballs raining from the heavens, and the tickers at the bottom of the screen raced too quickly for me to catch much at all. My reading was rusty, but I managed to make out some words before returning my attention to the panicked woman on the screen.
… New York, LA, London, Paris … fireballs in every major city … the ticker had read.
My body became tense, and my pulse raced. I glanced upward, as if I could see the fireballs through the stone roof.
“Is Lyssa safe here?” I heard myself ask without being fully aware of anything beyond my shock.
No one answered.
I grabbed Father Cristopolos by the arm. “Is Alessandra safe here?” I demanded, ready to snatch her and run as far as I had to in order to protect her.
His eyes remained glued to the television, but he nodded. “These will protect us.” He lifted the red cord he and the other priests wore at their waists. I didn’t understand magic or the powers of the gods, but the perimeter of our forest refuge was lined by the ropes, which were said to turn our home into a blind spot. We were hidden from men and gods – everyone except for our Titan benefactor, Lelantos, and our Olympian benefactress, Artemis.
“Turn the channel!” Father Renoir urged.
Static was on the television. One of the priests flipped channels with a shaky hand, until he found another news station. This one lasted five minutes, the next two, and the third a full ten minutes before it, too, followed in the footsteps of the rest of them and disappeared.
Silence filled the break room. No one was willing to say what I was thinking, that we could end up the only people left on the planet. My hands trembled from emotions, and I stared at the blank television screen, willing someone else to pop up and tell us what was going on.
Of everyone, Father Cristopolos was the first to react.
“Renny, bring the girls in. Francois, cut the cable, internet and phone feeds to the girls’ rooms. Until we know what to tell them, we’re going to hide this,” he said.
My first instinct had been the opposite, to warn the girls about what was going on. Father Cristopolos was shrewd and smart and had been elevated to the rank of leader long before I met the priests. He was also more aware of the dangers facing Alessandra. I trusted his instincts in his area.
The two priests hurried out of the break room, and Father Cristopolos returned his gaze to the blank television screen.
“Herakles, would you be willing to check our boundaries? Ensure none of them are hit by fire?”
“Of course,” I said instantly.
“I plan on seeking out Artemis. I don’t know if she’ll be willing to talk to me after all this, but …” He drifted off, and bewilderment expressing the same shock we were all experiencing crossed his features. “This can’t be the end!”
“It is not what was foretold,” one of the remaining priests agreed. “But I can’t explain it either.”
Their belief in a prophecy involving Alessandra was yet another of the differences we shared. I believed no one, not even a god, could overrule my free will, and I didn’t give much credence to the existence of gods anyway. For the most part, the priests believed in the gods and free will, with the exception of Alessandra. They believed her fate to be something that had been determined ten thousand years ago.
Which had always run counter to my own beliefs. It was pure madness to believe everyone had free will – except for one person. Everything around me, and everyone in my life, had one purpose: to protect Lyssa. I shared this priority, even if I didn’t always understand or agree with the reasoning behind why the priests did what they did.
“I’ll go now,” I said when no one else spoke. “I need to grab some supplies from my shed.”
“Cell reception will be coming down soon, if it hasn’t been knocked out by the fireballs,” Father Cristopolos said. “I know you plan for everything. Do you have backup communications? Something analog or line of sight?”
I had never asked, but I often suspected Father Cristopolos had been in the military at one point. His easy command and pragmatism elevated him above the other priests, who were often too scholarly for me to relate to at all. “I do,” I said. “I’ll bring you a radio.”
Without waiting for his response, I hurried out of the break room. The girls lived in rooms on the second through fourth stories of the manor house, while the priests and I shared the two guest cottages tucked behind the house. I had taken over one of the maintenance sheds as well to store gear and emergency supplies.
Exiting the orphanage, I heard the girls complaining to Father Renny how much they didn’t want to go to bed yet. Unlike usual, I didn’t stop to help. The idea we could be on fire soon if I didn’t check the ropes around the boundaries possessed me with the kind of fear a father felt knowing his family was in danger. With jerky movements, I snatched everything I thought I’d need from the storage shed and slung a pack with weapons, water and more of the red ropes onto my back.
I ran a radio into the break room quickly before racing into the forest.
In all my feats at the Olympics, I had never felt the need to move as fast as I did now. I tore through underbrush, vaulted over logs close to my height, scaled the dirt walls of ravines, and sloshed through streams as I headed to the nearest point of the perimeter. By the time I was a few meters out, I was panting and dripping with sweat – and I’d broken my own record of the fastest time I’d run through the forest by nearly half.
The scene before me held me mesmerized. I didn’t need a flashlight to find the rope perimeter. On my side, all was quiet and dark. On the other side, brilliant white light had created a wall that prevented me from seeing anything beyond it.
I stood, awed and fearful of the display, and finally believing the priests that their red ropes actually did something I could explain only as magic.
Rather than feel relieved to know the fireballs couldn’t reach us, new urgency sent adrenaline spiking through me, as I realized what would happen if any of the ropes along the perimeter were damaged or missing. The girls knew better than to mess with them, and I checked them routinely every week. Sometimes, during a rainy spring like this one, heavy downpours would push them out of place or animals drawn by the color would try to take the bright cords to their dens or nests.
I moved along the edges of the woods making up our home. The wall of light remained just outside the boundaries. I drew as close to it as I dared. Expecting the brilliant white light to be hot, I was surprised not to feel heat radiating off it. When I was close enough, I could almost see what lay on the other side of the light, as if I were peering through an opaque curtain. Morbid curiosity about what was happening outside our protected home made me want to step through the wall, but my primary priority was ensuring we all survived.
Setting aside my intrigue, I spent the next twelve hours racing along the perimeter. The western, northern and eastern boundaries were all secure, all hedged by brilliant white light.
But at the southern boundary … no wall of light, and no fireballs, as far as I could see. I ventured past the rope perimeter, past a small lake and into the campground adjacent to our land, and paused, listening. Fireballs didn’t streak across the night sky here either. The orphanage’s grounds were protected by the priests’ magic, though I couldn’t explain why no fire fell south of our home. The newscasters claimed the fireballs were everywhere in the world, so how did none touch the quiet forest before me?
Unable to explain it, I shivered and stepped back inside the boundaries.
I radioed in my latest observations, lingered, and then turned away.
I returned to my starting point, at the western boundary. Only then did I wriggle out of the rucksack and drop to my knees, thoroughly exhausted from the pace I’d forced myself to endure.
The wall of light remained despite the light of dawn overtaking the skies above. The sun rose, and the fire continued to fall. Fatigued, I pulled out my canteens and downed the contents one of them before I ate half a dozen energy bars.
“Herakles?” Father Cristopolos called over the radio I’d slid into my cargo pocket. “Are you well?”
I pulled the radio free and sat with my back to a tree truck, eyes on the wall of white surrounding the forest. “Here,” I said into the receiver. “Perimeter is intact.”
I expected him to make a remark about the magic of the ropes that I’d openly criticized for years. The priests had steadily refused my insistence we emplace a legitimate security system. I understood why now.
“We may have another problem,” Father Cristopolos said instead.
I tensed, alert and ready to run back to protect the girls.
“Artemis contacted us and said we’re in a safe zone that extends down through southern Maryland. She also said she won’t be able to contact us again for some time,” the priest said.
“Is that such a bad thing, since her kind did this?” I responded.
There was a long pause before Father Cristopolos spoke again. “I can’t see her doing this,” he said quietly. “There must be another explanation.”
I rolled my eyes. “Is that the problem or is there another one?”
“Our boundaries stop supernatural discovery and creatures from entering. They don’t stop animals. We’ve had five cougars and a bear cross through the greens this morning.”
I hadn’t paid any attention to the wildlife during my mad run around the perimeter. Suddenly, I wished I’d taken notice of any unusual activity among the wild animals inhabiting our forest. It made perfect sense for animals to flee the fiery territory towards us. They had the instincts to guide them to safety.
“Four-legged refugees,” I said. “Are the girls okay?”
“We’re keeping them inside today,” Father Cristopolos replied. “Our generators are down. Our weapons of choice are faith in the Old Ways and civil unrest. No one is volunteering to face bears to reset the generators manually.”
I snorted, amused at how he chose to describe their intent of overthrowing the gods one day. Men as devoted as they were to their cause would do whatever it took to see their purpose through. No part of me doubted the priests would use the weapons they scorned, if their cause were threatened. “I’ll go now,” I said. “Keep everyone inside until I clear the area. Lock the doors.”
Tucking the radio away, I stood. For the first time since arriving to the forest refuge, I didn’t feel safe, despite the magic boundaries repelling the gods’ wrath. I pulled out two hunting knives from my pack and placed one at my waist and the other at my thigh.
After downing another canteen of water, I adjusted my pack on my back and set off at another hard run. I reached the manor and stopped inside the greens – the vast lawns surrounding the mansion – to look for animal paw prints. Sure enough, I spotted the evidence of the visitors Father Cristopolos had spotted and quite a few more. An entire herd of deer had moved through the greens, along with a dozen predatory animals as well as squirrels and rabbits.
Twisting to squint in the direction they’d gone, I realized all of them were headed south.
They sense the safe zone, I thought to myself. If that were the case, then we weren’t likely to see any of the dangerous animals hanging out around the manor, a threat to the girls. But, the migration might also take a while. I respected wildlife more than I did the gods, and I understood animals better than humans. They operated out of instinct. Rarely did that instinct tell them to attack humans if they weren’t being threatened.
I stood, pensive, and gazed towards the south for a moment. The wildlife right now was feeling threatened, which made them dangerous. A curfew would be in order for the girls until the forest creatures settled, which could take a week or more, depending on how long the fireballs fell. Fortunately, the animals appeared to be taking a direct route and following a set path past the manor house. As long as everyone in the orphanage knew to avoid this path, they would hopefully be safe.
I finished circling the greens to ensure my initial theory was correct and found a second, well-trodden path along the eastern side, opposite the first. The animals were making an effort to avoid people, which was a good sign.
When satisfied with what I’d learned, I radioed the information to Father Cristopolos and then continued on my mission of returning power to the orphanage. The hidden generators and underground power station were located on the southeast corner and the lake where we drew our drinking water on the southwest.
I kept my distance from the path the wildlife followed while walking in the same general direction towards the southeast corner of our property. Originally, when we arrived, the orphanage had been connected to the public grid. In an effort to remain hidden from everyone, the priests created an off-grid electrical system relying on a combination of sunlight, water, and backup generators for those rough days in winter when neither light nor water was enough. We pumped our own water and brought in a private waste management company to tend the septic system as needed. We bought our food from a local farmer and maintained a two-year supply of food and fresh water for emergencies. We were completely self-sufficient.
A mama bear and two cubs loped down the path towards the south, their fur singed by fire. I relaxed after they’d passed me. Birds seemed content to remain in their trees and sing, but the chatter of chipmunks and other small animals was missing.
I spotted the southeastern corner of the property long before I reached it. The wall of light remained on the eastern boundary. As I watched, five deer darted through the curtain of light and raced towards the south. Aware I wouldn’t see the animals until they ran me over, I quickened my jog to a run and did my best to stay alert for the sounds of anything approaching the other side of the wall of light.
I stopped at the tree marked by one of the red ropes. It stood over the entrance to the underground facility, and I bent to grab the metal doors and fling them open.
Except … the doors were already open to reveal the dark space beneath them. It was unlikely that animals had done this. In the seven years I’d been in the forest, no animal had yet to disturb the entrance or the generator room. The hum and sounds the underground facility usually made was enough to drive off most wildlife.
Frowning, I paused and then drew one of my knives. Had one of the priests made it down there despite my instructions to remain inside?
“Thiebald?” I called out to the priest most likely to rebel as I started down the stairs. “Are you here?”
No answer. The generator room was utterly quiet, an indication none of the systems were working at all. The manor house probably didn’t have water either, if the pump wasn’t thumping.
My feet settled on the concrete flooring, and I stretched for the flashlight kept on the wall beside the light switch for emergency situations like this one. Light in one hand and knife in the other, I started forward into the cool cellar. My senses picked up on nothing out of the ordinary, and I shifted to the main control station. Several lights glowed on the panel’s face.
The priests had taped picture instructions on the wall above the panel when they realized how poor my reading skills were. I lifted the flashlight to the wall and quickly reviewed the illustrations for resetting the power. Logging into the computer, I clicked the buttons to start a reset of the system then left to manually adjust the individual generators and water pump. Working down the line of bulky equipment, I was soon immersed in quick inspections of the equipment before deliberately initiating the reset sequence for each one.
I took a side step towards the final generator – and froze. My foot didn’t land on the solid ground but on something that felt distinctly like I was stepping on a person.
Snatching my knife, I yanked my leg back and shone the flashlight down on the ground.
The crumpled form of a man was on the cement, partially tucked behind the final generator, as if he sought to hide. With clothing that was burnt in several places, he lay with his back to me. I’d stepped on his arm.
“Hey,” I said in a low voice. “Get up!” I nudged him with my foot.
He didn’t move.
Wary, I knelt and leaned forward far enough to snatch his other arm and pull him onto his back. Recoiling, I gazed from his open, empty eyes, to the severe burns down the side of his face, deep enough to expose the milky white of his skeleton beneath. Only when I was this close could I pick up the scent of charred flesh and hair, otherwise hidden by the smells of oil and machinery around me.
I released my breath and tucked my knife away. Until this moment, I hadn’t considered the idea that the gods’ wrath might drive more than animals into our domain. I stood and searched the rest of the generator room before returning to the dead man. Hefting him onto my shoulder, I exited the cellar and took him above ground, walking twenty meters before setting him down. I pulled my radio out.
“Father Cristopolos,” I said and glanced around, looking for more refugees of the human category.
“Yes?” he answered.
“You’re keeping everyone inside, aren’t you?”
“Of course. How are things looking?”
“Did you check on Alessandra to make sure she’s in her room?” I asked, suspecting if anyone decided to break out, it was her.
“The doors are locked from the inside. No one has left.”
“Do me the favor of sending Renny or someone up to her room,” I said.
“Very well. What’s this about, Herakles?”
My eyes settled on the dead man. “There might be people in our forest as well as wildlife trying to escape the fires.”
Father Cristopolos murmured a curse. I heard him order someone to check on Lyssa before he spoke to me again. “How many people have you seen?” he asked.
“Just one. He’s dead,” I said.
“Good. You did what you had to.”
“He was dead when I found him,” I clarified, not expecting the peace-loving priest who doted over the girls as if they were his own to react so nonchalantly to the death of anyone.
“If we have any favor with the gods remaining, they will prevent more people from trespassing. Our secrets must remain secret.”
I frowned. “And if I run across more people?” I asked. “What do you want me to do?”
“I trust your judgment. You above all know how important it is that we protect Alessandra.”
Surprised he assumed I’d murdered someone, I didn’t know how to respond to this vague statement. It almost sounded as if he expected me to kill anyone whose path I crossed! He knew of my background. Perhaps he assumed I was still that man. I didn’t doubt my ability to kill, if Alessandra were in danger, but the idea Father Cristopolos assumed I’d do it no matter what the circumstances left me feeling … uncomfortable.
“All right,” I said finally. “I’ve got to get back to the generators. Should be up in twenty minutes.”
“Lyssa’s in her room,” he reported.
Thank the gods. “You might want to have someone stay with her. If she gets curious, she’ll find a way out.”
Tucking the radio in my cargo pocket, I returned to the underground room.
I searched it again, not wanting any more unpleasant surprises, before I finished bringing all the generators and pump online.
Half an hour later, I left the generator room. We had no need for locks; no one had crossed into our isolated territory uninvited in all the time I’d been here. I covered the metal doors with leaves and brush to prevent anyone else from breaking in then returned to the body.
I stood over the corpse, uncertain how to handle it. I didn’t have time to dig a proper grave, and burying him too shallow would only invite the predators crossing through our forest to remain. And eventually, the girls would probably find the body, if the predators didn’t drag it out of the ground first.
My gaze flickered to the wall of light then to the fireballs overhead. I picked up the man and walked to the wall. When I was this close, I could see shapes through it. Heart pounding, I stepped closer and closer, until my toes hit the brilliant wall. Leaning forward enough for my face to pass through it, I gasped at what I saw on the other side.
How anyone or anything survived this, I couldn’t imagine. The world outside of our boundaries was fiery, barren, with all the trees for miles on fire or completely disintegrated. As I watched, another fireball landed several meters from the boundary in an explosion of dirt and fire. I stepped back instinctively, horrified by what was happening to the world.
Did the priests understand why this was happening? Did it have anything to do with Alessandra? The fact we were protected by the mass destruction by at least one god left me feeling embarrassed to have questioned the motives, and power, of our benefactors on multiple occasions.
I was not a man of deep thought. I couldn’t explain what I saw or why it happened, but I saw an opportunity to rid the forest of the corpse slung over my shoulder.
With a deep breath, I stepped through the protective curtain of light and into the scorching, barren zone outside the boundaries. Smaller fireballs rained down around me. I darted to the nearest fire and carefully threw the body into its center. Not about to be struck down, I raced back to the protection of the forest beyond the wall of light, visible from both sides of the boundary.
When I was safe again, I wiped the blood of the dead man on my pants and retrieved my backpack. Tired yet wired, I began to wonder how many more people would find seek refuge on our land. Rather than return to the orphanage, I struck off once more to check the perimeter.
Not long after depositing the corpse outside the boundaries, I ran across two more people hunkered just inside the wall of light, at the base of a tree. The young couple in their late teens both displayed the burnt clothing, skin and hair I expected. Dark circles shadowed wide eyes, and they were staring at the light barrier they’d just crossed through.
I lingered in the brush, studying them. They were a few years older than Alessandra with similar eyes and noses, indicating they could be brother and sister. Scared refugees posed no threat to my Lyssa, even if I didn’t like the idea of strangers passing through our forest. These kids were harmless.
“Thanatos has claimed us, Natalie,” the teen boy said.
I chuckled. “Unfortunately, that is not the case,” I said and stepped out from the brush. “Can you both walk?”
They leapt to their feet at the sound of my voice. The boy clutched one arm to his chest while the back of the girl’s body appeared as if a fireball had scraped her from head to foot.
“There’s a campground directly south,” I said and pointed. “You’ll be safe there.”
After a surprised pause, the girl spoke. “Which way is south?”
I twisted to visually locate the trail created by fleeing wildlife. “Follow that path. Beware of bears and wild cats. They’re all headed in the same direction.”
The two were studying me uncertainly, as if not yet convinced they were still alive. After a moment, I took pity on them and tugged protein bars and a canteen of water from my rucksack. I tossed them to the girl, whose limbs all appeared to be in working order.
“You need to go now,” I said. “There’s nothing for you here. Understand?”
The two exchanged a look and then nodded. I stepped out of their way, and they began walking, dazed and fatigued.
“Stay on the path,” I called after them.
The boy glanced over his shoulder at me.
I remained where I was, confirming they found the path south, before I began walking again. Debating whether or not to tell Father Cristopolos about the trespassers, I decided not to after our strange exchange earlier. I wasn’t an indiscriminate killer. Well, not any more. When I was under Cleon’s control, I had been brainwashed to follow his commands alone. Most of those memories were dream-like blurs that didn’t seem real, even though I knew they had to be.
Shaking off my past, I continued my inspection of the perimeter.
I walked for an hour before running into anyone else.
Three men and two women, as dazed as the siblings, surrounded a sixth person lying unconscious on the ground. His burnt body appeared beyond salvaging to my untrained eyes, and the other members of his party were in rough shape with burns and bruising.
I glanced around. They were splitting the distance between the eastern and western paths created by animals moving south. I didn’t trust anyone to wander these woods alone, not with the secret orphanage at the center.
A soft gasp from behind me startled me, and I whirled.
Alessandra stood in the forest, wearing her backpack and an expression of concern.
“Lyssa!” I hissed, cursing the priests under my breath for not being able to keep up with the wild girl before me.
“What happened to them?” she asked and pointed.
“Go home. Now!” I replied.
“Hello?” one of the wounded women called. She wandered through the brush separating us from them. “Is someone else there?”
I released a sigh. “Don’t move,” I told Alessandra. I strode forward to intercept the trespasser.
“There’s a safe zone to the south,” I said, emerging from the forest. “I can show you the path to take.”
She looked up at me, dazed. Two of the others turned to face me.
None of them spoke. They had the lifeless gazes of living mannequins.
“Follow me, okay?” I prodded, pitying them, and started towards the western trail, away from where I’d left Alessandra.
“Can’t leave him,” one of the women whispered and motioned to the unconscious man. Two others bent to heft the downed man and made it four steps when I realized how long it would take us to walk a kilometer, if they moved this slowly. Anxious to continue checking the rest of the perimeter, and guiding survivors away from Alessandra, I moved forward and picked up the man effortlessly then began walking.
“Do you want me to help?” Lyssa asked, melting from the forest with stealth I’d taught her.
It was a very rare day when I was angry with her. One look at her compassionate expression, though, and I recalled she had no idea why she was being raised in secrecy or why refugees were streaming through our forest. Reacting the way I wanted to would only draw attention to the wrong things, to Alessandra, and invite questions from her I wasn’t ready to answer. If I sent her home alone, she was likely to run into more refugees or animals. The wildlife, I trusted her to handle. But people …
She was safer with me. These strangers couldn’t possibly know who or what she was.
One of the trespassers dropped to her knees.
In the split second that followed, I made up my mind. “Do you have your emergency medical kit?” I asked Alessandra.
She nodded and darted forward, tugging off her backpack. I placed the man in my arms on the ground. Kneeling beside Alessandra, I ran her through our medical emergency checklist, this time with a living patient, and watched as she bandaged the wounded woman’s arm and neck before offering her water and painkillers. While Lyssa may not have done well in school, she followed the procedures I taught her without hesitation, even stitching a gaping wound in the woman’s shoulder on her own.
Proud, yet concerned about her interaction with the strangers, I didn’t praise her as I normally would. Instead, when she had finished, I stood.
“We need to leave,” I said as much to her as the others. “There’s a campground to the south and a few towns nearby. You will find better medical care there.”
Alessandra obediently replaced her emergency medical kit and stood, pulling her backpack on. I picked up the unconscious man, certain he would be dead before they reached a hospital, and started to the west again.
“Stay by my side, Alessandra,” I said with a glance over my shoulder. She was looking with unabashed curiosity at the people, and I knew questions were soon to follow. “There was a fire to the north.”
She appeared to accept the explanation and moved to my side, navigating the forest with ease.
The refugees limped and supported one another as they followed. I kept my senses alert for wildlife and other survivors while trying to calculate how many people I was going to find this day. It didn’t seem possible that anyone had survived and yet, I’d met eight people already. I would need to return Alessandra to the orphanage, and give the priests stricter instructions on how to safeguard my wily Lyssa, before I tracked down any more survivors.
We reached the western path, and I helped the two ablest bodied among the refugees to support the unconscious man. Stepping aside, I couldn’t help the flicker of anxiousness that floated through me when I realized how close this path would take them to the manor house. Not one of them seemed too aware of anything at the moment. With any luck, they’d pass through the forest quietly and miss the orphanage. If what Father Cristopolos said was true about a safe zone, then there were several towns and cities between here and Washington DC where refugees could find food and shelter.
“Is that why the animals are all running through our forest?” Alessandra asked me.
“Yes,” I replied. “It’s engulfed the entire forest outside our home.”
“Wow,” she breathed. “It’s a good thing we helped those people.”
“Yeah.” I switched directions towards the orphanage. My muscles were aching and my mind tired. I wanted to take a break and quick nap, but if I weren’t here to reroute the refugees, who else could do it?
“I should’ve sent the other ones to the campground, too,” she added.
I stopped. “What other ones?”
“I found three others and told them where the orphanage was,” she replied cheerfully.
“When was this?” I faced her, struggling not to display my dismay.
“Ten minutes before I found you.” Alessandra gazed up at me with a smile. “Aren’t you glad you taught me to navigate the forest? They would’ve been lost otherwise.”
At the moment, I was wishing I’d taken the priests’ warning about her being too wild more seriously.
“Some of these people could be looters or worse,” I told her firmly. “You’re going back to the orphanage and staying there.”
She made a face. “Can’t I help you round them up?”
Disappointed, Alessandra sighed and began walking towards the orphanage.
I dreaded what I’d find when we arrived. After the conversation with Father Cristopolos earlier, I was unsettled. I didn’t know what he would do when strangers showed up on his doorstep. We were on new territory.
As we walked, my slow mind began to unravel what exactly left me uncomfortable.
I never wanted to be under someone else’s control as I had been under Cleon’s. But it was more than this bothering me.
Just as I didn’t want Alessandra to grow up, I wasn’t ready to give up the peace I’d experienced for the first time in my life over the past seven years. Part of me knew it was inevitable, or a man like me wouldn’t have been chosen to protect her. But I had hoped to wait until she was old enough to understand her importance and place in the world before our lives changed.
“You have blood on your hands.” Lyssa’s voice broke into my unpleasant thoughts. She had stopped a short distance away and was reaching into her pack for a rag.
At one point, my hands had been accustomed to being bloody. They were rarely clean. I didn’t object as she wiped my hands free of the stranger’s blood before carefully folding the rag so it wouldn’t make a mess out of the contents of her backpack. She tucked it away, turned, and began walking again, this time humming.
No, I wasn’t ready for any of this to change. The world, my peace, her bloom into womanhood.
We reached the greens around the orphanage. My sharp eyes scoured the lawns and house for any sign of the strangers Alessandra had sent this way without spotting anyone.
When we neared the door, it was flung open by Father Renoir, the youngest and the girls’ favorite, who resembled a bug with his thick glasses. He was frowning and planted his hands on his hips.
“Alessandra,” he chided gently.
She rolled her eyes and breezed by him. “I know.”
“Kitchens! You’ve earned another week cleaning up after the cook!”
Alessandra groaned. She tugged off her backpack and tossed it on a chair in the hallway before heading towards the kitchens.
“I told you. You need to keep a better eye on her,” I said to him, folding my arms across my chest.
“I’ll admit she’s smarter than she leads us to believe,” Father Renoir said. “But I plan on watching her personally and keeping her too busy to leave the house again.”
I nodded in approval, not fully convinced any of them could keep track of her unless they were tied to her. I had trained her how to move with discipline and agility. If they turned their backs, she was gone.
I started to say as much, when Father Cristopolos spoke behind me. “I know you’re tired, Herakles, but there is something else I must ask of you.”
Hearing the hushed note in his tone, I turned to face him. The priest’s robes were muddied around their hem, and he slid a hand flecked with blood deeper into the sleeves of the robe as I looked at him.
“You’re well?” I asked.
“I am. Renny, tend to your flock. Herakles, accompany me, please.”
Father Renoir nodded and closed the door. Father Cristopolos walked around the manor house, towards the cottages where we all lived, and then beyond to the maintenance sheds. The lock on my supply depot was broken, and the door open.
Unease stirred within me again. Father Cristopolos was thus far not acting the way I had grown used to him acting. I lingered in the doorway of the shed while he dug around in one of the many boxes.
When he turned, he held a gun.
“Careful,” I said and grasped it.
“Before I came here, I was in the militant priesthood of Ares, Herakles. I know how to handle weapons,” he replied calmly.
Uncertain what to say, I watched him load guns expertly. He handed me two. “Bears?” I asked.
The moment he met my gaze, I knew the truth.
“Three strangers at least saw Lyssa,” he said. “And everyone who passes through our forest sees the boundary of light. Did you not stop to think that those in SISA and the government looking for her wouldn’t be able to identify the work of gods when they saw evidence of it in reports from refugees? And when they did, wouldn’t they wonder what’s here?”
“I didn’t think of that,” I replied quietly. My concern had been the orphanage and the hidden knowledge of what Alessandra was, not about what the refugees would tell others about the magical wall of light.
“She is safe and protected only as long as no one knows she’s here. We could cover up what she is, if someone knocked on our front door, be we can’t pretend the boundaries didn’t somehow spare us the gods’ wrath. Anyone who witnesses our magic will speculate why this patch of forest is protected by magic.” He held up the red rope tied around his waist in emphasis.
“And this is your solution?” I asked, hefting one of the weapons. “I murder every refugee who walks through the barrier?”
“Your history leads me to believe you have the ability.”
“But not the desire! Why not send them south?”
“And what? Pray for protection from loose lips?” he countered. “The gods may have forsaken us. Even Artemis has abandoned us for the time being. Either we handle this, or we risk someone reporting what they saw. Do you want that?”
“I’m not what I was,” I growled. “I do not kill indiscriminately.”
“Then I will.” Father Cristopolos met my gaze. “I will always err on the side of caution when it comes to the girl whose life will determine the fate of humanity.” He snatched a bag of ammo and draped it over his shoulder. “No one will find her, or destroy her, because we failed in our duty to protect her. I made this promise the day we found you. If a river of blood must flow to keep her safe, I am prepared.”
“There has to be another way!”
“You are her protector for a reason, Herakles. You were chosen by the gods. Have you forgotten your duty?” he countered. “Have you forgotten the world that exists beyond our forest? And what it will do to her, if you fail to protect her? You did unspeakable things in your past, but you are what you are for a reason, and that reason is her.”
I remained in the shed. The weight of the weapons in my hands was nowhere near as heavy as the dread settling at the base of my stomach. Father Cristopolos had never confronted me about my past. At times, I convinced myself no one else knew what I’d really done. Did I also convince myself to forget or deny the hazy memories of violence and blood? Or the world where a man like me was able to do such things without penalty?
And when Lyssa found out what I did to her parents? Or that they were two among the hundreds I murdered? There was no denying my actions. Would I look back at this moment and point out how I had stopped being that person after I killed her mother and father in cold blood? Was that really going to make a difference to her?
Did I not one day have to atone for everything, even if I hadn’t been in the right mind at the time? The people I had wounded could not be un-hurt, and the lives I’d taken could not be returned.
I had carved up my face, so that every day, when I confronted myself in the mirror, I was reminded of what I really was. And yet, every time Alessandra looked at me, I forgot that ugly part of me and dared to hope we could stay here forever, my little girl and me.
The happy vision in my mind faded, as additional truth began to penetrate the fantasy I’d created after seven years of peace.
A monster like me was never meant to have a real family or to live a happy life. Did I really believe I could be the father of the girl whose parents I murdered? This delusion was destined to end, if not when she discovered what I had done, then in a situation like this one.
What I felt, what I wanted in this life, would never matter. I was damned when Cleon found me and transformed me from a boy into a monster. The only good to come of my existence: Alessandra, not because she was an Earth-bound goddess I was sworn to protect, but because she loved me, and I owed her everything for the only moments of peace I would ever experience in my life.
Somehow, I had gotten lost in the tranquil life here and forgotten my purpose. Alessandra was special, and I was sworn to protect her. She was not my daughter, and I would never be her father, no matter how much I wanted that to be true. I was her guardian, which meant, if Father Cristopolos believed her to be in danger, I was responsible for eliminating each and every threat.
The sense of urgency I experienced earlier returned. Alessandra was in danger from a nontraditional threat, and I had gotten too contented and lazy to realize it.
I drew a deep breath and left the shed. Jogging after the shorter man, I caught up to him just as he reached the tree line.
“Go back,” I told him. “Keep everyone inside until I radio in. If you have to tie Alessandra to a chair, do it.”
Father Cristopolos studied me. “You will take care of this?”
“I will. All of it. I am only sorry I caused you to doubt me,” I replied stiffly.
“I never doubted you, Herakles. I know this is not easy for you.”
I took his weapons and the ammo bag. “It doesn’t matter what I feel. This is what I’m here to do.”
“We all make sacrifices. The priests, for the sake of humanity. You, for Alessandra,” he observed.
I was quiet, positioning the weapons and ammo around my body.
“She’ll still love you, Herakles. No matter what you do,” the priest’s voice was warm. “She’ll understand why, when she’s old enough.”
No part of me believed him, but I nodded once before striding away, into the forest. Spotting footprints, I knelt to gauge the direction the group of four was traveling. Today, instead of hunting for game, I was hunting humans.
No one could ever understand, I thought as I walked.
Less than a kilometer from the orphanage, I spotted fresh blood. Soon after, the refugees came into view. The four were headed south and moving slowly. One was being supported by two others, which made them easy targets. With any luck, the other refugees who passed through our forest were gathering in the campground, where I could pick them off, one by one, or in small groups, if I used the shrapnel grenades Father Cristopolos had placed in the satchel.
I lifted the rifle to my shoulder, mentally calculating distance and potential wind resistance.
“For Alessandra,” I whispered.
I dropped all four refugees with single shots to their heads and then lowered my weapon. With any luck, she would never find out everything I’d ever done. My actions were my burden alone to bear, my guilt the price of keeping her alive and hidden.
Alessandra was born to save lives, and I was created to destroy them. At least there was a purpose behind what I did. Redemption was lost on me, but perhaps, it took someone like me to protect the goddess destined to save the world.
I had always hoped to stand beside her as she became the woman and savior our world needed. But maybe, I was right where I needed to be: standing between my Alessandra and the rest of the monsters.
Leaving the bodies, I loped through the forest, south, towards the campground, until I picked up the footprints of another group and began tracking them. I’d eliminate the threats then come back for the bodies later, once I was certain our refuge was safe.
I didn’t care if the gods ever forgave me, but I hoped one day, Alessandra would.
Theta Beginnings Miniseries
Continue reading for the first chapter of “Theta”
Chapter One: Alessandra
Two months later
If I were still enough, and concentrated hard, I could feel the cool forest breeze tickle the back of my neck and breathe in the scent of trees and wet earth after a summer storm. Patches of sunlight warmed my skin, while the vibrant green canopy of leaves overhead prevented the full heat of the sun from reaching me. Nature possessed a rhythm, a gentle pulse of energy, I first experienced when I left the boundaries of my forest home. The gentle ebb and flow of the world rocked through me, teasing my own internal rhythm, until we were synced and swaying together in a peaceful, timeless dance.
The magic of the natural world reached me here, in the heart of Washington DC. It surpassed the towering walls and thick barricades established by the military, penetrated kilometers of cement and manmade structures, and traveled unnoticed by and through millions of people to join me underground in a dance only the two of us could share.
This peace, this dance … it was wrong. I didn’t deserve its attempt to comfort me, not after I’d twisted the gentle thrum inside me into a weapon of incredible power that had claimed the innocent lives of thousands.
You’re becoming so much stronger. A female voice said into my mind.
My eyes opened. Seated cross-legged in the dark cavern belonging to the Oracle of Delphi, I was swaying from side to side with the rhythm of the world. The scent of sulfur and other exotic spices transformed my mind into an open state less burdened by the life I lived outside this cavern.
“That’s not a good thing,” I whispered in response, studying Cecelia, the current Oracle of Delphi.
My passing is inevitable. You will need your strength to harness absolute power, but you must subdue the full emergence of your power a little longer, until you can handle it. The mark on your arm is a warning to you and me.
I touched the birthmark self-consciously. It resembled a double omega, and those around me believed it represented my ability to annihilate the world. “Nothing like absolute power when I can’t control my own mind,” I said sarcastically. “I’m trying not to become stronger until Cleon is out of my head.”
You are so much stronger than I was when I experienced my first vision. If you haven’t glimpsed the future yet, then we are on the right path to keep your power in check. We cannot unleash the waters behind the dam all at once, or you will finish off what the gods started five years ago. Be patient and cautious.
“You sound like Herakles,” I replied. “If I don’t find a way to get rid of the parasite in my head, my destiny won’t matter. Cleon is standing between where I am and where I should be.”
You assume he’s not supposed to be there.
“Why would he … ah. Because life sucks and is hard.”
Something like that. He is in your life for a reason. Sometimes we don’t know why some events occur until long after they happen. Perhaps his presence forces you to restrain power that might otherwise be too much to control. Cecelia’s amusement was transmitted telepathically and through the brightening of the lights around her enclosure.
“Maybe,” I said, not liking the idea. “Have you figured out how I get him out of my life, or what happens if I don’t detach him before my power fully manifests?” For now, we were protected from the inevitable, because I didn’t complete the third trial required for an Oracle to assume her full power. The Silent Queen had challenged me to murder the Oracle. I wasn’t about to murder the person who had the key to helping me not accidentally end the world!
If only I had my full power again. I might be able to pinpoint the correct sequence. The Oracle grew serious again. If I die soon, you will have the power you need, without the control to use it. If the parasite dies first, part of you may be lost as well, and you will not have the power you need to survive.
“Then you can’t die until we know the right sequence,” I told her firmly. If a woman who saw the future didn’t know what to do, how was I supposed to figure it out?
I swallowed hard and touched the scar at the back of my head. Whatever the Supreme Magistrate did to my brain connected us on a level that could destroy us both if severed carelessly. Without me, humanity would never be safe. No one else could send the gods back to their domain – permanently.
Over the past few weeks, the Oracle had warned me repeatedly against outright killing Cleon and helped me learn to control my power so it didn’t grow until we had a feasible option for expelling him from my mind.
This was not the first time I had heard the truth, but it was never easier to acknowledge how bad my situation really was. Did Cleon understand what he was doing, when he connected our minds? How did I fight someone in my head?
“The good news is he can’t kill me either,” I said with some vindication.
There is no good news for those born into our position.
It didn’t take a dismembered woman trapped in a bubble to remind me of the curse it was to be born with the power of a goddess.
“There has to be a way,” I said, unwilling to admit defeat. “I’m not giving up yet. We will find the best sequence of events, or maybe, I’ll wake up with my full power before he knows it’s there and snap this connection. I’m not going down without doing what I was born to! I will crush the gods for what they did to us.”
I applaud your eagerness, but tread carefully. You have three thousand, two hundred and ninety four reasons not to use your power. The more you use it, the greater it grows, and the more danger you pose to humanity.
Her harsh reminder snuffed the fire behind my anger immediately. I slumped. I didn’t intend to add to my body count. I had been diligently following her lessons on how to restrain my power, in case Cleon tried to force me to use it again. If I played dumb, and acted as if my power wasn’t cooperating, I would hopefully continue to prevent him from hurting others. I didn’t want anyone else’s death on my conscious.
Although, at this point, I often thought it was too late to save my soul. Was there a limit to how many people someone could kill, before redemption was no longer an option? Had I crossed that line already?
What exactly was redemption? Forgiveness from those I had hurt or from the outside world? Or was it my own acceptance of my actions and self-forgiveness? Or was it dedication to committing more good than bad in the world? And if so, how was that remotely possible, given what I’d already done?
These were the kinds of questions I used to discuss with Herakles, my longtime guardian and protector, the man who murdered my family, kidnapped me, and hid me from men like Cleon for twelve years. He was the very incarnation of a man who strove for redemption.
I forgave him, because he didn’t know what he was doing when he hurt my parents. His mind had been controlled and erased by the very man who was using my power to destroy. If I were capable of loving Herakles despite what he did, would everyone else one day decide the good I’d committed in the world weighed heavier on the scales of justice than the bad?
How much good would it take to make up for ending so many lives? Did the possibility of redemption even matter, when I would never forgive myself or the man who forced my hand?
As much as I wanted to find a happy ending in Herakles’ life story, I was also reminded of his scars whenever I thought of him. He had purposely burned and slashed his face until it was unrecognizable. He did it out of shame for becoming a monster and a tool of the Supreme Magistrate. I loved him despite his involvement in the deaths of my parents, and he had raised me with gentleness and fairness.
But he was a tortured soul and would probably be one until his death. Was that the fate of everyone who craved redemption?
This topic, and the subject of what good could possibly come from my purpose and my life, left me thoroughly confused. Herakles was gone from my world, and so was his earthy logic. I was left alone to grapple with the knowledge of what I had become and to stumble through the maze the Fates had created for me.
On days such as this, revenge seemed a more fitting use of my power and frustrated anger. I could destroy Cleon, even if that meant I died with him, and left the fate of the world in the hands of Cecelia. Except … she wasn’t strong enough to stop the gods from finishing off humanity.
Alessandra, I don’t know if I can outlast Cleon’s influence on you, or if I could survive long enough to make a difference, if you did take down Cleon now, Cecelia said, reading my thoughts. Her desperation crossed our telepathic link.
Fear trickled through me. “You have to. You’ve been protecting DC from the gods and helping me learn about my powers. Without you, no one will survive the gods’ wrath.”
DC will need a new protector when I’m gone. You can’t become this protector with Cleon working against you.
“That settles it. You can’t die.”
There might be a way to help me. Would you consider it, if so?
“Anything,” I breathed.
It’s a transfer of power, similar to a blood transfusion, but performed telepathically. You’ll need to touch me, though, so we can connect. I would siphon off enough of your power to help me survive long enough for us to understand what needs to happen.
I was on my feet before she finished and went to the control panel at the side of her bubble. “Okay. How do I lower your glass bubble shield thing?”
It’s simple. You –
“You’ve been ignoring me,” interjected a soft, male voice.
I tensed. Even the effects of the Oracle catnip – the scents of the chamber – were unable to soften my anger towards the individual intruding upon my quiet time with Cecelia. “Then why don’t you take the hint and leave me alone?” I snapped. My eyes went to the Oracle. “Why do you let him in here?”
“I move through shadows. She has no dominion over me there,” Lantos, the Supreme Priest and member of the Sacred Triumvirate, replied with amusement. He was a man of great persistence and power, the gods’ representative to humanity, and universally distrusted after he betrayed the two people closest to him. “It’s one of the very few benefits of being the son of a Titan.”
I hated Cleon – the Supreme Magistrate – for what he forced me to do. But with Lantos, my anger burned brighter, not because of his actions towards me, but because he callously betrayed someone I cared about to the depths of my soul. It hurt worse that I noticed the absence of Mismatch-Adonis every time I saw Lantos.
“I’m in the middle of something,” I told him and returned to the screen before me. This wasn’t the first time Lantos had interrupted an important discussion with Cecelia, and I suspected it wouldn’t be the last, unless I did whatever it was he wanted me to.
“You need an ally like me, Alessandra,” said Lantos. “I have powerful friends who have been trying to talk to you.”
“By friends, you mean enemies you tricked into trusting you. The gods are my enemies, too, Lantos, except I don’t try to pretend to be something I’m not!”
“Does it matter where I stand, when you have no one else offering to help you? You can’t survive this world alone, Alessandra. You know this.”
It sounded too trite, too much like a lecture from someone who thought he was doing me a favor, for me to ignore. Twisting in place, I glared at him. He was smart enough to keep his distance. As the head of SISA, the religious police, Lantos controlled a security force the size of an army. But right now, not one of his men stood between us to protect him, if I decided I was through with him.
“I don’t want you as an ally,” I replied with calmness I didn’t feel. “You’ve already proven you suck at it.”
He was too much of a politician to read. His smile appeared genuine, but how could it be? He drew nearer, green eyes bright in his handsome face. He appeared refreshed and upbeat, as if he never spent one second of his day questioning his decisions, no matter whom he hurt.
I resented him – and was also envious. I could think of nothing else but whether or not I could ever balance my own scales, and here he stood – cheerfully oblivious to the pain he inflicted upon those around him.
My anger was powerful enough for tears to prick my eyes. He wasn’t worth crying over. I turned away, preferring the vision of Cecelia in pieces to Lantos.
“I might have a way to convince you to reconsider,” Lantos said.
“There’s nothing you can say that would make me give you the time of day!” I retorted.
“I received a letter from Adonis. It’s for you.”
Just like that, my inner world shifted from bubbling rage to soaring hope.
“Do you want to read it?” Lantos asked, as if he didn’t know Adonis was tethered to me in a way no human or god could break.
Your name is seared into my soul. I will always return to you. I replayed Adonis’ parting words in my mind at least ten times a day, and a dozen more times every night when I awoke from the nightmares of the monster I was becoming. My reaction to Adonis was as wildly uncontrollable as my reaction to Lantos – except on the exact opposite end of the scale.
My task at the screen of the control panel was trumped by the possibility of learning something about my Mismatch after two months of nothing. I approached Lantos, searching his face for some sign he was toying with me.
He held out a letter with another of his smiles.
I reached for it.
He snatched it back.
The hair on the back of my neck rose as my power coalesced in the space around me, reacting to my emotions.
So much stronger, Cecelia said.
“Yeah, she is,” Lantos agreed. “But not advancing. I wonder why.”
I shrugged off the magic and held out my hand. “Give it to me, Lantos.”
I snapped my mouth closed and ground my teeth.
“You hear me out and remain open to what I say.”
If I were learning anything in DC, it was how to lie. “Fine.”
“Tonight, seven o’clock. Drinks at my place. I’ll arrange it with your escort.”
Nodding instead of hitting him was as politically correct of an act as I was capable of.
He handed me the letter.
I snatched it and started to turn away when I noticed something about the envelope. “You opened it,” I said, glaring at him.
“Of course I did.”
“It’s dated six weeks ago.”
“You wouldn’t see me,” Lantos said with a shrug. “I wasn’t going to lose my leverage by sliding it under your door. I may have something else of interest for you, if you meet me tonight.”
“What is it?” I replied suspiciously.
“The file on your parents you’ve been trying to find since you got to the compound.”
“You have it?”
“I do. It’s yours, if you meet with me.”
“Why now?” I challenged. “You’ve been bugging me for weeks. Why offer up something you know I want now?”
He was looking at Cecelia. “Let’s just say I had a moment of clarity recently.”
What an asshole. He would never reveal his true agenda. Taking the letter farther from Lantos, so I had some semblance of privacy, I opened it with eager hands.
If ever there were something about Adonis that irritated me – aside from his penchant for mass murder – it was his brevity. Even when he admitted to having my named carved into his soul, he had not felt the need to expand on what exactly that meant, and I was too afraid of being wrong, or revealing too much of what I felt, to assume or ask.
I hope this letter finds you well.
I have arrived to the land I once ruled. The beaches are as I remember them, four thousand years ago, and the waters are just as clear. I intend to leave here as quickly as possible, but I must first complete the mission Artemis gave me.
I was momentarily stuck between frustration he chose to write at all, when he said nothing of value, and awe he’d signed it yours. As in, he was really mine, and he experienced the same feelings towards me as I did him?
Or was it simply the closing he had chosen out of the dozen customary closings available?
At eighteen, lacking all experience with the opposite sex, I had no idea how to interpret the short note, except it made my stomach twist and heart flutter knowing I was holding something Adonis had touched.
“That’s it?” I growled at the letter.
“With men, it’s more about the action than the words. He values you enough to send you a letter. His lack of poetry or substance is somewhat appalling, but it’s also a sign he chose to write despite not knowing what to say,” Lantos explained. “He cares for you. But you know that.”
Wrong person, right message. It disgusted me that Lantos used my connection with Adonis to manipulate us both. No part of me believed the timing of Adonis’ departure was coincidence. Did he just happen to leave on the same day Lantos betrayed him?
No, Lantos would never risk Adonis being around when he yanked the rug out from under my feet and served me up to Cleon on a silver platter.
Re-reading the short note, my anger fizzled. I had never been as confused or as wildly euphoric about anyone or anything as I was about Adonis. I didn’t know how deep this connection ran, or what to say or think around him, but I never felt like my world was spinning out of control when the grotesque prince was close. How was it possible to yearn for someone I barely knew, who had probably murdered more people than Cleon and Lantos combined?
What right did I have to judge him, when I had over three thousand lives on my soul? My thoughts about him were as complicated as his personality.
Come home, Adonis, I willed him without any hope he could hear me, thanks also to Lantos, who had blocked the bond I shared with the grotesque prince.
I tucked the letter into my pocket and gazed at Cecelia for a moment, deep in thought.
Lantos was right. I needed allies, and the two men I trusted most in the world were lost to me at the moment. I had wandered onto a reality board game and was competing against people who had not only mastered the rules, but also spent years positioning their pieces. And I was supposed to … what? Win, when I didn’t understand what game I was playing? The kind of person who could help me was the kind of person I innately knew better than to trust, because he had been in this game for far too long.
I did need help. During moments like this, someone like Lantos made sense, and that spooked me even more. Life would be easier if people with unsavory intentions wore black masks instead of parading around disguised as normal people.
Cleon’s grip on me was growing tighter, and I was no closer to harnessing my magic. As much as I adored Cecelia, she preached restraint rather than understanding. I didn’t think I needed to fear my power to control it. Maybe I did need to meet with Lantos in private and discuss a few things, as much as I didn’t want to.
And … if he had another letter from Adonis … was I justifying sitting down with one of my enemies, because I hoped Adonis said more in his second letter than his first?
Pain shot through my temple, and I gasped.
Come. Now. Cleon’s voice in my head was louder than Cecelia’s. He prefaced anything he had to say with a flash of pain, applied through the mind control device he’d had fused to my brain. It linked us mentally, a combination of technology and the magic of the god, Dolos, who blessed the chip in my brain.
“I have to go,” I said reluctantly. “I’m keeping the letter.”
Lantos didn’t protest.
I went to the elevator on the other side of the chamber and rode it to the surface. Dread filled me as it did each time I dealt with Cleon. I couldn’t predict what he wanted until I showed up and heard the latest installment of his crazy plan to use my magic to keep the political elite of the world in line. The soothing scents of the chamber beneath ground dissipated by the time the elevator door opened to reveal the armed escort Cleon had assigned me at all times.
Joining them, I was led out of the tiny building guarding the underground chamber and into a warm, balmy day. It had rained last night, and the puddles in the mall and sidewalk reflected the blue sky.
Whenever Cleon summoned me, I was only ever taken to one place. Familiar with the path, I allowed my focus to shift to the ribbons hovering above everything and everyone around me. My power as an Oracle – once I was able to access it fully – was the ability to manipulate … well, everything. Matter, time, the fabric of the universe. It was too much for me to understand, too beyond my imagination and everything I’d ever learned about myself and my life.
Until the current Oracle was dead, I could only access a fraction of the magic belonging to the gods. But I, too, felt the swell of power growing. It had started as a trickle I could only feel when I was absolutely still and quiet. Now, it flowed through me and around me, connecting me with the natural magic of my world.
To add to my impossible situation, whatever I did with my power, Cleon felt. I was in a lose-lose situation. I needed my power to get rid of the man whose consciousness was tethered to mine, but he felt when I tried to manipulate our connection and either sent his lackey to tranquilize me or pushed the pain button until I passed out.
Aside from Cecelia, who was too weak to help, I had no real allies. At least, none who were powerful enough to help me leave this place, though I had begun to believe it was going to take a god or goddess to fix what had been done to me.
Or maybe Adonis. The grotesque prince had a mind for strategy and manipulation I never would, and he was bound to me, too. Combined, we would either become the world’s most effective mass murdering team, or we would barely survive Cleon. I didn’t know which would emerge from our partnership, but I wanted the chance to witness it.
I was led into the House, the building reserved for the Supreme Magistrate. My escort didn’t turn down the hall I expected them to, and I pulled myself from my thoughts warily. We went to the second floor lined with private offices rather than the public spaces on the first floor.
Two guards stood outside one closed door. My escorts stopped and stood aside for me to approach. I didn’t bother knocking. I’d been summoned, and I did my best to ignore any sense of social protocol I thought might please Cleon. It was one of my limited methods of rebelling against his absolute control over my life.
The politician sat at a large desk of dark woods in front of a window. The drapes and carpets were heavy and darkly hued while the walls of the office glowed a pale yellow.
“You rang?” I asked, striding into the room.
“I would appreciate it if you knocked,” he replied without looking up from the papers on his desk.
He glanced up at me then back. Lowering the papers, he leaned into the plush leather back of his chair. “There’s no need to be unpleasant, Alessandra,” Cleon lectured me. “Why not make the best of your situation?”
“My situation. You mean being enslaved by someone who melded my mind to his against my will?”
Cleon released a controlled sigh. “And behaving like a child makes it better somehow?”
I had been warned by many people not to push him too far, but none of them were dropped to their knees in pain a few times a day by the man before me. If I were reckless, it was because I was afraid of someone who knew no limitations on how far he would go, and because I didn’t know how else to react when my life and my mind were no longer exclusively mine.
“We’re getting stronger,” he said at my silence. “We’ll soon be at full strength, I believe.”
“Nowhere close, according to Cecilia,” I replied. I hated how he used we when he was a leech piggybacking off my power. “She says I have a long ways to go.”
“Maybe you should try harder.”
Did he know I purposely didn’t push myself? It was hard to guess what knowledge Cleon possessed and what he hid. “What’s the rush?” I replied. “You already have control of the protected zone and the armies.”
“Neither of those things seem capable of quelling the insurgency growing beneath our noses,” he replied. “The sooner I can stop fighting them, the sooner I can execute my plan.”
I had never asked what exactly his plan entailed after learning he was interested in world domination. Cleon was driven by power and control, to a point he didn’t seem to care if he murdered everyone in the process of ascending to the unchallenged position of emperor of the worlds.
Fortunately, for the time being, the insurgency was safe. As long as the Silent Queen and Theodocia stayed a step ahead of Cleon – and consequently safe from my ability to destroy – I wouldn’t worry about Theodocia being dragged into one of the chambers downstairs and subjected to whatever torture Cleon ordered.
“The insurgency is my problem,” Cleon continued. “I summoned you here for another reason. Tonight, we’re meeting with the Ambassador to Greece.”
“I’ll wear my best dress,” I snapped.
“I’ve already instructed your servants what you’ll wear.”
“Great. Is that it?”
“I intend for there to be a demonstration tonight. Something different.”
I waited, uncertain what exactly that meant. Normally, he had me destroy something or bring inanimate objects to life and then destroy them as a means of showing his important guests that he controlled me, and I had the powers of a goddess.
He was gazing at something on his desk. Assuming he was done with me, I started to turn, then froze. A sensation like a subtle nudge shifted the pulsing magic inside me enough for me to notice.
The stapler on his desk hopped. My eyes went to it, and I frowned. The one ribbon that was distinctly mine – a green one – had joined the other two ribbons possessed by inanimate objects. My magic brought it to life, but I hadn’t ordered it alive.
“I’m growing stronger alongside you,” Cleon said, pleased.
“You did that?” I asked, startled.
“I did. And I can do this, too.” He held out his hand and made a fist. Another tug of my power, and the stapler crumpled in on itself, crushed.
How is this possible? My heart began to beat faster. Power in my hands was relatively safe, since I feared using it and hurting someone. Unlimited power in Cleon’s hands?
“I’ll be able to wield enough of your power soon to repair the protected zone and extend its reach. You’d be surprised what world leaders and the wealthy will pay for the privilege of owning a private protected zone,” Cleon said and lowered his hand.
“Don’t you have enough money?”
“Money is a side benefit. I want to make the world a safer place, and plan to use your power to do so.”
Cleon’s vision was never what he claimed it was. He wanted to rule, and he wanted absolute power. He hid these motivations behind pretty words I no longer believed.
“Now you may go.”
I stayed where I was, staring at the stapler, seeking some visible sign he had manipulated it before I arrived. The green ribbon remained, and I automatically reached out for it, not wanting the stapler to be in pain, since it was technically alive the moment my magic touched it.
Absorbing the green ribbon, I turned away.
My concern deepened at the newfound question circling my thoughts. How could he access my magic? To my knowledge, not even Adonis had been able to do this.
Cecelia might know how this was possible and the extent of Cleon’s ability. Closing the door to Cleon’s office behind me, I began walking, when one of my escorts spoke.
“Time for your two o’clock.”
“Not today,” I replied.
“The Supreme Magistrate’s orders.”
I stiffened and bit back my retort, instead deciding I’d rather attend my afternoon session with Niko than be tranquilized and locked in my bedroom until it was time for the event this evening.
Armed escorts led me from the House and into the bright sunlight. I released a breath, my mind racing with wild speculations about what Cleon intended to do this evening during his demonstration. Crushing office supplies in front of the elite seemed beneath him, but I didn’t understand the depths of his capabilities anymore than I did mine.
Maybe that’s the problem, I thought. Maybe by denying my power, I was setting myself back in the hope I could prevent what was coming, while Cleon was spending hours a day devoted to trying to use my power. But didn’t growing my abilities mean he, too, potentially had access to more weapons to use against innocent people?
Pensive, I barely noticed the long walk across the compound at the heart of DC until we reached the gym where Niko and I trained daily.
My escorts left me at the door to the gym, and I walked in alone. The sight of the muscular, tattooed mercenary-turned-army commander left me in a less pleasant mood. He stood in the center of a boxing ring where we sparred daily. Since Cleon dictated my daily exercise, I naturally resisted. But the truth was more complicated. I liked physical activity. I needed the release after my angst-filled days, even if I were forced to deal with Niko, who selectively didn’t pull his punches, instead of my sweet Herakles.
Not that I would ever give Cleon the credit for forcing me to do something I enjoyed.
“Drop the attitude,” Niko snapped. “You know I make it worse for you when you walk in here with one.”
He did. Always. If there was one thing about Niko I could always depend upon, it was his uncanny ability to read people – especially me. I hadn’t even looked at him yet, and he knew I was pissy.
“I’m not having a good day,” I told him.
“I don’t care.”
I rolled my eyes and sighed. After my brief interactions with Lantos and Cleon, I didn’t feel up to having my ass kicked, but maybe that was what I needed to help calm my mind. I stripped down to my sports bra then tugged off my shoes and socks and pulled my hair up into a bun.
Climbing into the ring, I studied him. The solid man was bare-chested and already sweating, a sign he’d been lifting weights up until my appointed arrival at two. Normally, I looked forward to sparring with him, even if he was much rougher than Adonis and Herakles. Niko was easier to understand than Cleon, Lantos, and everyone else currently parked in my life. The former mercenary possessed absolutely no sense of honor. He cheated when we sparred. If he had to choose between saving my life and his, he’d probably put a bullet in me to save himself the trouble of deciding.
Knowing what he was, and where I stood with him, somehow made him easier to tolerate. He was at least predictable with no hidden agenda.
“You know I’m the most powerful person in the world, right?” I asked.
“I know you’re supposed to be,” he replied with a snort.
“And you still won’t help me escape from Cleon.”
“Kid, when you’re the most powerful person in the world, I’ll do whatever you want me to. Until then, I’ll side with the man who’s in charge.”
“You think I’d keep you around at that point, if you refuse to help me get there?”
I lifted them and lowered my stance. We began circling one another.
“You know what I can and will do for you, and you know my price,” he replied.
The reminder we were both here for reasons beyond ourselves put me on even footing with the one person I should probably never, ever, ever, trust, because he would sell me out for a penny more than I offered him in a heartbeat. Except I knew his secret. He wasn’t operating out of an interest in money and hadn’t been in quite a while. Tommy, Niko’s son with Theodocia, was the reason he obeyed Cleon without question. I couldn’t offer to protect Tommy, which was how the person who was supposed to be the most powerful woman in the world became completely worthless to Niko.
He lashed out at me first. I blocked. His second strike went through my defenses and sent me sprawling on my back. I lay still, the breath knocked out of me. Several seconds later, I sucked in air then coughed and sat.
“You should’ve caught that one,” Niko said, unconcerned. “You’re distracted.”
I was. Around anyone else, I didn’t have to worry. But the farther away my mind was, the harder I could expect Niko to hit. He’d broken ribs once and left me bruised and in tears of pain on more than one occasion.
He was grinning, which pissed me off more.
Rolling my shoulders back, I settled my gaze on him. “I’m ready.”
“Fighting isn’t supposed to be pretty or easy,” he reminded me. “You don’t have Herakles’ size or Adonis’ speed.”
“They’re both more disciplined than you are.”
“True, but I fight dirty, and that’s what you need to learn if you’re going to take on men like us.” This time, when he attacked, he pierced my defenses and smacked me across the cheek hard enough to jar me out of my senses.
Catching myself against the ropes, I spun, anger flaring to life inside me. My cheek burned from the strike.
“There we go. That’s what we need,” Niko said. “Now you’re ready.” He waved me forward, inviting me to attack.
I didn’t know why he pushed me the way he did, but I didn’t care.
I attacked him with everything I had.
We sparred for over an hour, until I was panting too hard to move, and Niko was satisfied with what he called progress, which was the name he gave to undoing the training I’d already been taught. Herakles had done everything with honor, even fighting, whereas Niko did nothing with honor, especially not fighting. His philosophy was to win at any cost.
“You’re probably not going to survive Cleon, but at least you’ll be a little harder to take down,” Niko said.
Asshole. Doubled over, I struggled to catch my breath.
“And the answer is no about meeting Lantos,” he added. “I’m not even going to tell Cleon the request came in.”
Niko threw me a towel then draped one over his neck.
I straightened. On the surface, Cleon was in control of my life. But Niko was the one managing me day-to-day and reporting my activities to Cleon. I didn’t want to meet with Lantos, but I didn’t want anyone else telling me what to do with every minute of my life either.
“Lantos already knows I don’t want to see him,” I said when I’d caught my breath.
“He’ll be out of your hair soon enough.”
“What do you mean?”
“The Queen is gone. There’s only one man capable of competing with Cleon for power left in DC.”
“You think Cleon will expel him?” I asked, genuinely curious at the insight.
“If he’s smart, he’ll take a more permanent approach and not let Lantos escape like he did the Queen,” Niko answered. “We’ve almost completed consolidating SISA into my army, and the gods aren’t doing shit for us now. There won’t be a need for a Supreme Priest, once Cleon is satisfied.”
Niko was not normally this talkative. If he had a purpose in revealing this information to me, what was it?
The army commander said nothing more and left the gym floor for the locker rooms. I wiped sweat from my brow and hopped down from the boxing ring, my legs wobbly. I snatched my clothes off the floor as I crossed to the door. My escorts were waiting.
We all trekked back to the villa that was mine, and I entered alone, passing the other guards stationed just inside my doorway. As I reached my bedroom, I caught sight of Leandra, my servant and longtime classmate from the forest where we’d both been raised.
Was Niko warning me about Lantos’ fate because he thought I’d tell Lantos? Was it a warning for me to behave?
Or … did Niko give me false information because he suspected what Leandra was – the head of a spy network created by the priests who knew my fate? Leandra was my connection to Theodocia, the leader of the insurgency. If Niko or Cleon ever found that out, I’d be on the wall where Cecelia was now, and Leandra would probably be dead.
The beautiful blonde girl my age was nibbling on the afternoon snacks she had placed on the table near the bay window in my room. If anyone would know what Niko was up to, it was Leandra, who was trained in human intelligence.
My eyes went from her to the tall, wide wall opposite the door. Despair unfurled within me, along with a sense of being completely overwhelmed. On the wall, I’d handwritten the names of everyone I murdered the night Cleon ordered me to destroy a five block radius in DC. The area was completely filled with writing, and I’d started adding the names to the adjacent wall as well.
It was a reminder of what I could be, of my power, of those who suffered the moment I stopped trying to fight the fate Cleon wanted for me. The names were the first things I saw in the morning and the last before I fell asleep. They watched me slumber each night, and I imagined the spirits of those I’d killed hovering around me.
I had nightmares every night, and it was rare when I didn’t fall asleep crying.
My power had so much potential to do good – and evil. The memorial had become my motivation to resist Cleon’s directives and subdue the depths of my magic, so I never unleashed the flood that could finish off what the gods started when the Holy Wars began five years ago.
Dropping my gaze to the floor, I swallowed hard and refocused on what I needed to talk to my only remaining friend about. “Hey, Leandra. Something weird …”
Dizziness washed over me. My feet grew hot, and the air around me sizzled with the scents of charred metal and burning flesh. The brilliant white daylight pouring into my room melted away, replaced by the dark night sky. I was somewhere else completely. The ground beneath my feet was stone and resembled the area atop the walls I’d seen once before.
Heat rolled over me and stung the inside of my nose. I covered my nose and mouth and blinked ash out of my eyelashes, unable to understand what was happening. Turning to face the source of heat and light, I shielded my eyes and stepped forward.
DC was on fire. Every last bit of it burned, and gaping holes punctuated the cityscape where there was no fire. The walls on which I stood were black, with much of them crumbled. I took in the destruction, awed by its scope, and began searching the ribbons for signs of life.
There were none. The fire gave off three ribbons and everything else two, as if the entirety of the population had been destroyed, along with the buildings.
This can’t be real. I turned away, towards the darkness stretching outside the walls of DC as far as I could see. Smoke gagged me, and I moved towards the outer edge of the wall. My attention followed the twisting smoke towards the sky.
The skies were filled with nothingness I’d seen once before in my life, in a vision of my past.
“What’s happening?” I asked aloud, praying someone would answer.
No one was left alive to respond. I turned all the way around again, and then I froze when I saw someone else before me.
Adonis. His form was ghostly, faint and varying shades of black, white and gray. He stood a meter from me, not moving, watching with sadness in his gaze.
Brilliant light spread across the distant horizon, bright enough to draw my gaze. Orange flames arced into the sky from the earth and began to spread, devouring everything in their paths as they raced towards the city. Behind it, nothingness swallowed the ashes, chasing the flames and consuming everything.
“Mismatch!” I cried, facing him again.
His ghostly form was gone. I was completely alone.
DC burned behind me, and ahead of me, the rest of the world was exploding into fire.
“Theta” is available from wherever you purchase ebooks!
History Interrupted – time travel romance
Omega Beginnings Series
Theta Beginnings Miniseries (novelettes)
Non-Series – 2014 & 2015
Black Moon Draw
Water Spell (TBD)
Dragon Tear (TBD)
Lost Vegas Novellas – young adult post apocalyptic
Sons of War – contemporary military romance
SEAL Mine (2017)
It’s Not Easy Being Evil
It’s Not Easy Being Good
Starwalkers Serials (with Julia Crane) – new adult science fiction serial
Starwalkers – complete set
Heart of Fire – sexy dragon shifter
Incubatti – Buffy meets 50 Shades
Rhyn Trilogy – new adult paranormal with demons
Rhyn Eternal – Death finds love
Twisted Karma (2016)
War of Gods – paranormal with gods, guardians and exceptional humans
The Grey God
The Black God
Hidden Evil – paranormal with angels and four horsemen
See No (TBD)
Speak No (TBD)
Anshan Saga – new adult science fiction romance
Santa’s Ninja Elves (short stories)
Natasha & Hunter
Non-series titles – 2011 – 2013
A Demon’s Desire
The Warlord’s Secret
Witchlings – young adult paranormal
Broken Beauty Novellas – new adult dramatic fiction
Voodoo Nights – young adult paranormal
As SE Reign, erotica writer
101 Nights Box Set (Serials 1-7)
Episode four, Theta Beginnings Miniseries. Herakles is living a happy life in a tranquil forest in Northern Maryland, a life far removed from the violent existence of his past. As a doting father figure to Alessandra and the other girls at the orphanage, he has almost forgotten who he used to be. Until the world outside their forest refuge ends, and he is forced to remember the truth about why he is involved in Alessandra’s life in the first place: to protect her, no matter what kind of monster he must become to keep his Lyssa safe.