Loading...
Menu
Ebooks   ➡  Fiction  ➡  Young adult or teen  ➡  Sci-Fi & fantasy  ➡  Fantasy  ➡  Epic

The Phoinix: Age of Demigods

 

The Phoinix

Age of Demigods

By

S. L. Mancuso

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dedication

To my angel, you tethered me yet allowed me to soar.

When you smiled, the world stopped to bask in your warmth. You were my guide that taught me grace.

It may have been a brutal war, but we were the epic story in the eye of the storm.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Out of the night that covers me,

Black as the pit from pole to pole,

I thank whatever gods may be

       For my unconquerable soul.”

-William Ernest Henley, “Invictus,” 1-4.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Edited by

Zachary J. Hisert

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Contents

1 The Vessel

2 Love and War

3 Truth and Deceit

4 The Queen’s Prophecy

5 The Nightmare

6 End of an Era

7 Five Souls of One

8 Prolonging the Foretold

9 Fairies of the Alder

10 Memories of Old

11 The Dangers of Family

12 The Border

13 The Lost Brothers

14 End of the Sword

15 Twins of War

16 The Blood of Fate

17 Farewells

18 Alina’s Story

19 Lies and Prophesies

20 The Awakening

21 Face to Face

22 Her Father’s Daughter

23 A Family Connection

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

24 The Return Policy

25 The Betrothed

26 The Daughter of Death

27 Sacred Blood

28 Rebirth of the Queen

29 Annwyn

30 Preparations

31 A Divine Warning

32 A Brother’s Decision

33 Pride and Sacrifice

34 Acceptance

35 Binding of the Gods

36 Meeting of Two Halves

37 One Advantage

38 Fire in the Sky

39 The Heartaches of Love

40 New Beginnings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Guide to Pronunciation

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Acknowledgments

Marian & Tim McGowan for naming the fire in my story.

My old and new family who support my dreams and many delusions. My friends who showed up and carried me when I could no longer crawl.

Our journey has been captivating and treacherous. You all recognized a life worth living when I did not. The best part, it is not over yet…

Chapter 1

The Vessel

In the year 1184 B.C., the world was steeped in an era of war that promised to destroy humanity. The gods, concerned for the survival of their civilizations, sought to protect humans from their own destruction. In an attempt to restore order, the six pantheons ruling over Europe banded together to create a mighty force. They called it The Power.

The only limitation on The Power was its own imagination.

Five gods represented each pantheon, chosen to help govern The Power. Thirty gods in total assembled to create the War Council. The council convened on Mount Olympus guarding The Power until they unleashed it into the world.

The Power was a collection of godly attributes that each pantheon offered. Its raw form resembled a ball of bright white light. However, this new protector of humanity could not solely be a ball of light; it needed a definitive form, a form people can turn to in their time of need.

The War Council argued for days over the sex of the vessel.

“Men are the heroes of history. It is fact,” Ares, the Greek god of war, arrogantly addressed the group while playing with a dagger.

“They are often hot-headed and impulsive. Men can do more harm than good, or have you not looked upon your own wars, Ares?” the Norse goddess of the underworld, Hel, argued.

The gods sat in a giant throne room on Mount Olympus in Greece. White columns held up a swirling ceiling of blue skies scattered with white clouds. Violet silk draped in between the columns connected each giant pillar to form a ring around the room. In between each column, three marble steps led up to massive golden thrones belonging to the Twelve Olympians.

Ares slammed his dagger on the large rectangular marble table, which was long enough to seat the entire War Council. The Power floated above the table and shimmered at Ares’ aggression.

Leaning in, Ares spoke low and drawn-out as flames danced in his pupils. “War is cruel and deceptive, Hel. That is the harsh truth.”

Hel stroked a sleeping, emerald-green baby dragon in her lap without looking at Ares. Her long black hair hung in front of her face, shielding her purple eyes from the Greek war god. “War can be just; look at Freyja’s Valkyries.”

“Yes. Look at the women riding around on horses choosing men as heroes ordered by Odin. You have proven my point. Men are heroes and women cannot make sound decisions in battle without approval from a man,” Ares replied smugly as he grabbed a golden apple from the center of the table. Just as he brought the apple to his lips, a spear pierced the middle of the fruit.

“Ahhh!” Ares roared as he tumbled to the floor in shock.

In the background the Greek goddess of wisdom laughed.

“Athena!” Ares shouted, stumbling to his feet and adjusting his black and red armor.

“Yes, dear brother?” asked Athena with a hint of self-satisfaction. She snapped her fingers and the spear rose from the ground, gliding back to her hand with the apple still attached to its head.

“You call us men impulsive and irrational? Look at this, throwing your own brother on the floor for speaking the truth!” Ares clamored, picking up his chair.

“I did not throw you, dear brother. You fell. I merely tossed a spear in your direction. Some god of war you are, afraid of a little spear,” Athena jested, continuing her laughter.

Ares clenched his fists ready to explode. Before he could, thunder echoed through the giant hall and lightning singed the table in front of him. He looked up and found a red haired, red-bearded man lowering a hammer across from him.

“Thank you, Thor,” said Danu, the Celtic fertility goddess. She grasped her enormous, pregnant belly as she stood further down the table. “Ares, you and death go hand in hand. My apologies, Hades,” she added, quickly acknowledging Hades’ look of disdain, “but are we not trying to avoid war and death? Is that not why we created this?” Danu pointed to The Power hovering above their heads. “As much as you hate to admit, the protector of the human world must be gentle.”

At the end of the table, Minerva, the Roman goddess of wisdom, nodded her head in agreement as she recorded the meeting on her scroll. Without looking up she added, “Out of all the abilities and knowledge the creature will have, kindness is not a power that can be given.”

“Kindness is weakness. This is a time of war, which is why we formed this collection,” added the Celtic war god, Camulus. “I have seen many battles. I have seen ‘kindness’ play out first hand. It does not bode well for the deliverer of compassion.”

Hades, dressed in black Greek armor with his long brown hair tied back, stood on the marble steps to address the table.

His voice was calm, yet authoritative. “From what I have witnessed, men have the capacity for mercy, but often push it aside for personal agendas. History has portrayed women as merciful to end strife, which is exactly our goal.”

Arawn, the Celtic god of the underworld, stood with Hades on the steps. Draped in a black cloak that hid his features he said, “We see all who pass our gates. Right now death is sweeping the Earth, collecting more lives for the fields of the dead. Soon, there will be no one left to claim, male or female.”

“Hades and Arawn are right,” said Pluto, Roman god of the underworld, as he shimmered into appearance next to Hades, wearing black Roman armor. “My fields are full of men who have been slain. If men are ending life, then women should create it.”

Hel and Osiris, the Norse and Egyptian gods of the underworld, stood by their counterparts. The five Underworld Lords towered over the other gods. With their ability to summon the souls of lost soldiers, they pushed their shoulders back daring the other gods to argue.

Finally, Loki, the Norse god of trickery, tilted his chair on its back legs and placed his arms behind his head, lounging. “Sooo glad we can afford to lounge here gazing at your five wonderful faces, but can we hasten the council? Some of us have actual jobs. We do not wander around like you five and body count. Ha-ha! Body count? Its war! Body count! Ha!”

A low growl behind Loki stopped his laughter and he carefully put his chair back on all four legs. Loki looked over his shoulder to see a snow-white dog with red ears and red eyes baring its teeth at him.

“Good puppy. I meant no disrespect. Call your dog off, Arawn!” Loki slowly stood with his hands out in front of him as he backed away.

Arawn called out, “Cnaimh, asgall!

Cnaimh lunged at Loki, but the trickster god vanished before Cnaimh could catch him. Above Zeus’ throne, Loki turned the violet silk draping into a hammock. He laughed hysterically as the confused dog walked around the room looking for his prey.

“Enough, Loki!” shouted a god wrapped in a black and green toga. The god snapped his fingers and the hammock flipped over. Loki spilt to the ground, landing face first on the cold marble floor.

Arawn whistled and Cnaimh returned to his side. Arawn then asked, “What say you, Mot?”

The Phoenician god of the underworld stood and several female goddesses smirked as they admired his tall muscular physique. He clenched his chiseled jaw in annoyance with a cold stare commanding reverence. He stepped in front of his five counterparts, addressing the table.

“We are six gods out of many, but we have seen more than all of your years combined. I have listened to intelligent debates and held my tongue during petty sibling squabbles,” he said, glaring at Athena and Ares. “Nevertheless, I agree with my brethren. Women bare a natural instinct to protect and heal, which is what our world needs. With our collective vote as lords of the underworld, we outrank any of your demands. A woman shall be the vessel: The Queen of all that is and all that will be.”

Uproar ensued after Mot’s declaration.

“How dare you tell us what we will do!”

“Finally! A male god with a brain.”

“The underworlds of this world will witness a war they have never seen!”

Boom!

An explosion of a thousand thunderbolts erupted through the room. Pillars swayed as gods sought safety on the ground. The only gods left standing were the six underworld lords. There were scorch marks on the floor, the stone pillars were missing chunks, and smoldering holes decorated the silk curtains.

“The Power seems to agree with my decision,” said Mot, raising an eyebrow. “Now, let’s move on.”

Mot’s tone dared the council to question him. No one uttered a word against the Lords of the Underworld. Finally, Aphrodite wiggled restlessly in her chair. Mot sighed, waving a hand motioning her to speak.

“What should she look like?” asked a giddy Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of Love, her curly blonde hair bouncing with her enthusiasm.

“Always concerned with looks, aren’t you, Aphrodite?” Loki called out after he fixed his hammock.

“Silence, Loki,” warned Odin. “You have caused enough trouble here. Do not make Mot deal with you once more. Aphrodite is correct.” Odin bowed his head to the goddess then stood to address the table. “If the vessel is to be a woman, why not give her power over men? If she can subdue men with her looks then more lives may be spared.”

“The child should have mortal blood. Mortals have a love of life immortals will never understand,” suggested Athena.

Thoth, the slender but tall Egyptian god of balance wearing a headdress of a baboon head, jumped up and sprinted to a sacred well across the room. He withdrew a silver bucket of water and hurried back to the other gods. In one swift movement, he tossed the water across the table.

The water streamed down from Thoth’s end of the table to where Zeus sat at the head, forming a puddle that met all edges of the table but did not drip off the side. Thoth placed one finger in the water and an image emerged in the ripples. As he swiped his finger side to side, different images appeared. The images moved so quickly they were nothing but colorful blurs.

“Here!” exclaimed Thoth. The images in the water were of a man and a woman. “Meet, Tyreneas and Arelia.”

“That’s my son!” shouted Ares, violently tipping the chair backwards as he stood.

“And my daughter!” added Anath, gripping the table so tightly her knuckles were white.

“Yes, yes. Now that you have claimed your children, allow me to explain. A child of War and a child of Love mate to create the perfect balance in one mortal being. All we need to do is give the two demigods a push towards each other and then we have our vessel for The Power. When we deem the vessel old enough, we grant her The Power, making her immortal.” Thoth seemed pleased with his plan.

“I’ll handle Tyreneas,” Ares stated, folding his arms across his chest.

“Leave my daughter to me,” Anath said in an annoyed tone.

Breanna, a young Etruscan princess no older than five years old, convulsed on the bedroom floor. Cool hands firmly held her warm, sticky forehead as her body shook uncontrollably.

“What’s happening to her!” a woman cried out in the background.

“Brian, what’s going on? Use your magic to heal her,” a man’s panicked voice demanded.

A soft blue hue filled the room. The cool hands touching Breanna became hot, but returned to their cool state when the blue light disappeared. “I can’t see into her mind. Something is blocking me. She is beyond my power right now,” the man with cool hands replied, stroking her silk brown hair.

Breanna stopped convulsing and relaxed under the soothing strokes from the cool hands. Her eyes fluttered open and a calm, kind looking man with blue eyes smiled down at her. His calmness quickly disappeared when he saw her usual bright hazel eyes had changed to liquid gold.

The women in the background gasped at the sight of the ill child.

“Who are you?” Brian firmly asked, still holding Breanna’s head. His hands trembled with fear, not because he was afraid of the countless answers that it could be, but afraid to hear the confirmation of what he already knew.

Breanna answered in a raspy dangerous growl, “I am Elpis. Who in Tartarus are you?”

Chapter 2

Love and War

The War Council played their part in getting Tyreneas to Phoenicia where he would meet Arelia. Ares convinced his son to travel to the ancient city of Troy by promising wealth and glory. With his father’s promise, Tyreneas immediately set sail with a small army to the shores of Troy.

Poseidon crashed huge waves against the Greek war ship to push them far south of Troy to Byblos, the seaport of Phoenicia. Zeus sent the Greek harvest goddess, Demeter, to spoil their food. Before long, Tyreneas and his men were starving and desperate for port.

In Byblos, Anath met with her daughter Arelia. “You have to watch the horizon for a Greek warship. The men will need your help.”

Arelia picked seashells as she walked along the seashore, waiting patiently for her mysterious Greek ship. Finally, after several days, a Greek war ship sailed into port. Arelia ran to greet the men but found them weak and barely able to stand.

“Wait for me, I’ll bring food and water,” Arelia said before rushing off to the market.

“Thank you for your help,” Tyreneas smiled as Arelia handed him a leather bladder of water. His chapped lips cracked and bled.

Arelia tried to hide her blushing cheeks beneath her curly blonde hair as Tyreneas gazed adoringly at her. Even in his weakened state, Tyreneas was attractive. With his scruffy dirty-blonde beard and aqua blue eyes, she could not help but care for him as soon as they met.

“Are you able to stand?” Arelia asked the soldiers while absentmindedly running her fingers through Tyreneas’ hair.

The men nodded as they unsteadily stood up to follow their savior back to her home.

“Three months have passed, Tyreneas. We need to get back to our quest,” one of the soldiers pointed out. “We are strong enough now.”

“We’ve been strong enough,” added another soldier.

“The map-maker has not finished his drawings yet. We have at least two more days before the map is complete,” Tyreneas informed his men.

“All he may need is a little incentive to finish,” said another soldier as he picked up his dagger and stabbed the air with a murderous look.

“Men coming from Troy speak of the battle, Tyreneas. It is an epic war. We are missing our opportunity for glory. Glory your father, Ares, promised. We should be bringing pride and honor to our families, not sitting by like untrained novices. Our ship is packed, we should leave,” argued another.

“No harm will come to the old man and we will wait until he is done. Am I understood?” Tyreneas glared at his men, his tone final.

The men nodded, annoyed and restless.

“How is Arelia?” a solider asked, breaking the tension among the men.

Tyreneas lowered his head and shrugged. “It’s been two weeks since our wedding. I do not understand what is happening. The oracles refuse to give us knowledge and the midwives have no answer.”

“I am fine, dear husband,” Arelia waddled through the doorway to greet the men. She smiled, holding on to her massive belly. In two weeks, she had grown to the size of an eight-month pregnant woman.

“Look at you,” Tyreneas forced a laugh to hide his fear. “You look like you swallowed a horse.”

Tyreneas helped his wife to a chair and pushed a strand of curls out of her eyes.

“Please, I beg you, do not be so frightened. The Kathirat have blessed us with a child. Do you not hear their song every night? They visit us as swallows outside our window,” said Arelia, smiling and rubbing her belly.

“Your Phoenician fertility goddesses have a twisted way of giving blessings,” said a soldier, handing Arelia a wooden cup of water.

“It is done!” an elderly man shouted as he limped over to Tyreneas and handed him a rolled up scroll.

Tyreneas unrolled it to reveal a recently finished map with the ink slightly wet. Surprised at the early delivery, he handed the mapmaker his payment. The men cheered and snickered at Tyreneas for his earlier remarks about waiting.

“All right, all right. We leave at dawn,” announced Tyreneas. His men continued to cheer and pack food for their journey to Troy.

That night a full Blood-Moon hung in the sky, illuminating the seashore in crimson light. All was silent: even the crickets were still.

Tyreneas could not sleep and walked outside to clear his mind in the fresh sea air. The silence sent chills through his bones, putting his senses on alert. Something was wrong, and he did not want to find out what nature seemed to be waiting for.

Suddenly, Arelia’s screams woke the rest of the men. Tyreneas sprinted into their bedroom to find a woman kneeling between Arelia’s legs.

“Get away from her, Anath!” Tyreneas yelled, recognizing his mother-in-law as he reached for his sword. He stopped at the sound of a baby crying. The woman turned to him, revealing his beautiful baby girl.

Anath wrapped the baby in a blue silk blanket and handed her to Arelia.

“Listen to me carefully. I will give you a moment with your child but then I must take her. She belongs to the gods now. She will play a great part in the history of your world, as the savior of humanity,” Anath told the new parents.

Tyreneas stood in front of his wife and child, pointing his sword at Anath. “Get out of our house. Who in Hades do you think you are, claiming our baby?”

A flash of red light lit up the room as Ares appeared in front of Anath.

“Put your sword away, Son,” Ares warned Tyreneas.

“You will not take my daughter, Ares,” Tyreneas said through gritted teeth, his knuckles white from the tight grip on his sword.

“You do not have a choice here. Our appearance this night is merely out of respect for the fact you are our children,” Ares casually replied.

Standing his ground between the two gods and his family, Tyreneas growled, “I said you will not be taking my daughter.”

Anath sighed. “Enough of this.”

Anath placed one hand on Ares’ bicep to allow her to pass. Appearing apologetic, she made a crisp snap of her fingers. From behind Tyreneas, Arelia wailed in anguish. Before he could face his crying wife, he saw the bundle of blue silk in Anath’s arms.

“Do not cry, Arelia. Your daughter is the last hope for us all,” Anath looked down at Arelia sympathetically. “I understand you had thought of naming her Photine. However, her destiny has changed in my arms. She will be named Elpis.”

Anath gave a sad smile to her daughter and held Elpis close her chest. She vanished from the room leaving Ares behind to deal with his son. Ares laughed at Tyreneas, whose rage exceeded its capacity for containment. He placed one finger in the middle of Tyreneas’ forehead and effortlessly pushed the 5’10” Greek warrior to the floor.

“I can feel your rage,” Ares chuckled. “It is good for the son of War to have such anger.”

“I will claim my daughter back,” warned Tyreneas.

“You will do no such thing. Every day she will grow a year older until the gods deem her beautiful and wise enough to cease her aging. By the time you meet her again, you will not recognize her as your own, but will bow down to her power.”

“We will always recognize our child,” cried Arelia.

“You two are so stubborn. I love it,” Ares looked down at the pair laughing.

Tyreneas lunged at Ares with a bloodcurdling war cry. He knocked the god to the ground and pushed his blade against the god’s throat.

“Bre! Breanna! Stop! It’s me,” Ares’ panicked voice pleaded, using a name Tyreneas did not recognize.

“I’ll kill you for taking my daughter!” Tyreneas vowed, his voice feminine as the words escaped his lips.

“It’s ok, Breanna you’re safe. Come back to me.” Ares placed his large warm hands on either side of Tyreneas’ face, gently stroking his cheekbone with his bone.

Tyreneas’ senses were overwhelmed by an abrupt change in scenery. The sweet smell of sea salt accompanied by the humid sea air vanished, changing to an earthy scent of rotting foliage and dirt. The bedroom lit with a red hue from the Blood-Moon changed into thick, damp woods with the hum of crickets and owls.

A group of Celtic warriors and a royal Etruscan convoy were standing around a young Etrusci girl on top of a Celtic boy, both thirteen years old. The Etrusci girl held a Celtic Long sword with a polished ivory bone at the hilt to the boy’s throat. The sharp blade nicked the side of his neck.

The boy gently pushed the girl’s brown hair out of her eyes. He spoke sweet and soft, almost a whisper, “It’s ok, Breanna. It’s me, Eoghan. Where are you? Come back to me, now.”

“I swear I will kill you, Ares,” Breanna spit at the boy.

“I’m not Ares, Breanna. Please come back to me,” Eoghan begged, his voice wavering in panic. The butterflies in his stomach zoomed sending a shiver through his body.

Bre gritted her teeth, pushing harder against the blade in response.

“Tell me your name,” Eoghan demanded, moving his hands to the blade to resist the attack.

“You know full well who I am!” Breanna yelled, her sweaty hands shaking against the ivory hilt.

“Tell me your name,” Eoghan repeated softly and drawn-out.

“Tyreneas!” Breanna screamed, pushing harder. Eoghan’s hands bled from gripping the sharp edge: the only grip preventing the sword from slicing through his throat.

A group of Etrusci soldiers moved to help Eoghan, but he ordered them to stop. “Don’t touch her!”

Eoghan’s protectiveness at his own peril sparked something familiar in Breanna’s chest. Her stomach sank as her mind cleared, as if from a fog, and she saw whom she was straddling.

“Eoghan?” Breanna blinked, clearing her vision to make sure what she was seeing was correct. Her voice was void of any malice.

Breanna sweat as every muscle throbbed in her body. Glancing around, she found her parents and a group of soldiers staring at her, afraid to move.

“It happened again, didn’t it?” Breanna asked Eoghan, ashamed. Tears filled her eyes.

“No, listen to me. You have nothing to be ashamed of here. It’s the Blood-Moon, not you,” Eoghan said and wiped away tears from her reddening eyes. Her painful embarrassment was like a sharp knife to his chest.

Breanna looked at the wounds on Eoghan’s palms and cried harder, her whole body shaking.

“Oh, Breanna, I’m alright. You didn’t hurt me. I am safe.” Eoghan’s Gaelic accent relaxed Breanna and she fell into his body.

Eoghan loosened Bre’s grip on the sword and tossed it aside, wrapping his arms around the shaking girl.

“These Blood-Moon nightmares are getting worse, Brian,” one man in a general’s uniform and silver crown said to the Celtic warrior. “Nothing we try is working.”

“I fear the gods are at play with us, Remus,” Brian answered back, “and if that is true, this nightmare is only beginning.”

“What does she dream of?” King Remus asked Brian.

“If I am correct in the recognizing the names in her dreams, she is reliving the history of the goddess Elpis. Tyreneas was a Greek demigod, the son of Ares and the father of Elpis,” Brian replied, fear filling his blue eyes.

A tall woman with strawberry-blonde hair and a silver crown to match Remus’ stood next to him, wrapping her arm around his. Her body trembling, she said, “She is only a child, thirteen years of age; it is too soon.”

“She is no child, Queen Alina. She is an heiress in many ways. During these Blood-Moon terrors, Breanna is reenacting Elpis’ memories as well as those who played a part in her life. She is reliving the tale of her powers’ creation. That is the only explanation for Breanna to be possessed by Tyreneas’ spirit. I fear for the remaining characters,” Brian sighed heavily. “Her body is preparing itself. Breanna’s time as The Queen is near,” warned Brian.

Remus sighed and bit his lower lip. “Alina, take her to bed and see that she stays asleep.”

Alina, forgetting her queenly presence, rushed to Breanna. She pulled her off Eoghan, who was still tightly cradling her. Alina supported her daughter’s weight as she guided Bre into the royal tent.

“Let’s all get back to sleep,” King Remus ordered the group.

Remus placed a hand on Brian’s arm before he could return to his tent. “I want to know what the gods have in store for my daughter.”

“Mars came to you the night she was born, you know what she is to become,” said Brian.

“That is not what I mean, Brian. You can see the…”

“I know what you mean, Remus,” Brian said, cutting off his friend. “You do not want to know her future. It is light and happy yet dark and tragic. It constantly changes.”

“Alina can’t sleep until she knows,” Remus said imploringly.

“Alina won’t sleep if she knows,” warned Brian. He abruptly ended the conversation by returning to his tent.

Chapter 3

Truth and Deceit

Standing 5’7” with blonde, wavy hair that met the small of her back, Elpis entered the throne room on Mount Olympus. She wore a white silk dress with a scarlet cloak. She smiled as her grandmother met her at the doorway.

“Look at you,” Anath beamed at her beautiful granddaughter. “Twenty-five days since your arrival here and you are a master of the arts, history, war, and languages of the world.”

Elpis lowered her blue eyes, blushing from her grandmother’s praise.

“Don’t be coy,” Anath laughed at Elpis’ shyness. “Come, I want to show you something.” Anath wrapped an arm around Elpis’ shoulders and pulled her close.

Anath and Elpis walked out of the golden gates of Mount Olympus and plunged downward through the clouds to earth, landing in a battlefield. Anath made herself and Elpis invisible so they could walk among the mortals unnoticed.

“The goddesses of wisdom have taught you well in the history of the world and in the art of war,” Anath said, pointing to the battlefields of Troy.

The metallic smell of the blood soaked dirt made Elpis scrunch her nose. She hid her face in the folds of her cloak, inhaling the floral scent left over from its wash in rose water.

“What is this place?” asked Elpis.

“This will be known as the Trojan War: a war that soon must come to an end.”

“How?”

“That is yet to be decided,” Anath gave Elpis a pitying look.

The look frightened Elpis. She could not help but sense that Anath knew her future and it was not a bright one. She refocused her attention to the battle to distract from her fear.

They walked into the thick of the battle where two men stood out amongst the soldiers. Both soldiers had tossed aside their helmets as they fought their way through battle, slaying men as they approached. One soldier wore bronze armor covered in black leather with a sigil of crossing gold spears on his chest. The other soldier dressed in similar bronze armor plated with gold. Attached to the shoulders of his breastplate, a purple cape embroidered with a rearing white stallion whipped behind him.

“These two soldiers are the heroes Achilles and Hector. Neither will survive this war,” Anath informed Elpis, pointing to each man.

Squinting, Elpis could see that the man dressed in black leather had a silver shimmer to his skin. “I see Achilles bares the mark of the River Styx. How could he not survive? Can you not spare him?”

“The cost of saving a life marked for death is too great. To save a life you must take a life. It is better not to defy the wishes of Hades or any other Lord of Death. If they want a life, that life will be taken,” Anath warned. “Do you understand what I say?”

Elpis nodded, but it pained her to know that these men were marked for the funeral pyre. She winced as she vividly imagined the bright orange flames engulfing their bodies against the night sky.

Anath returned Elpis to Mount Olympus where the gods held a giant feast in Elpis’ honor. Elpis tried to put the horrible images of war out of her mind, but they slowly crept back as she searched for a way to save the men.

As the festivities dwindled, everyone grew quiet and eyed Elpis suspiciously. Uneasy with the attention, Elpis stood to return to her bedroom. Suddenly, a bright white light filled the room, followed by a stabbing, burning pain in the middle of her back. Elpis collapsed to the ground, groping at the pain. She turned to see the gods anxiously watching her.

Elpis climbed back to her feet, holding her head after the dizzying attack. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw that the skin of her hands and arms had a gold shimmer. She kept turning her hand over, astonished at her new skin tone. She flipped her hand too fast and a lightning bolt shot out from her palm, narrowly missing Hermes hovering by a pillar.

“What have you done to me?” Elpis shouted, her hands trembling with fear.

“Before you go on a rampage attacking us all, we told you before that you have a higher purpose,” explained Mars, the Roman god of war.

The Celtic goddess of magic and divination, Andraste, stepped forward to explain the purpose of Elpis’ creation. She revealed every detail from the beginning of the War Council to the path she must lead on earth.

“I am expected to end a ten-year war and bring peace to the entire world?” Rage flared in Elpis’ eyes.

“Yes,” the Egyptian god Thoth answered coldly.

“Tonight is the night you part ways with us, my dear.” Anath stroked the back of Elpis’ head. “It is your duty to be the savior of humanity, to save them from themselves.”

“I will bring you down within the walls of Troy.” Apollo stood, motioning for his horse and chariot. “I am the patron god of the city and I am counting on you to be its heroine.”

“Be your own savior! Why am I expected to do your work while you sit up high and watch?” Elpis jerked away from her grandmother’s touch.

“Because that is your job, young one,” Mot pushed his chair out and walked towards Elpis. He moved slowly with his hands held out in a ‘don’t shoot me with lightning’ manor.

Elpis was angry, but she knew better than to cross the oldest god in the room. She struggled against her own body urging her to attack Mot. The Power coursing through her veins begged for release. In the distance, a golden eagle flew towards her.

Mot watched carefully as Elpis balled her hands into fists and bit her lower lip in an attempt to control her anger.

“That anger is partly due to your grandfather,” Mot said as he threw his thumb in Ares’ direction. “It is an emotion you need to control. You will need it at times, but it is not your job to create destruction. You are the protector of peace; anger will only lead to more death. Humanity is not all who needs you. Their wars teeter on the edge of destroying entire civilizations. Once a god’s civilization is destroyed, we become mortal and will die not long after. Our survival depends on us being worshiped as divine beings. If we have no one to rule then we have no purpose to exist.”

As Elpis listened to Mot, the eagle drew closer until it landed on the table in front of her. She could almost feel its silky feathers on her fingertips. Its razor sharp talons glistened like the blade of a sword, and its jade beak sparkled against the light of the room.

Mot smiled at Elpis as she stared in awe of the eagle. “Every god has a patron animal, Elpis. This is to be yours. A beautiful fierce creature made of silk and power. It is your symbol…your sigil of hope.”

Apollo’s horse and chariot arrived outside the doorway. Mot placed an arm around Elpis to guide her towards the chariot. “You must go now. Listen to the powers within you and you will save us all.”

She climbed into the chariot with Apollo. With a slash of his whip, the chariot sped off through the clouds, down towards the earth. She glared back at the gods, who were now nothing but a blur of colors in the distance.

“Whoa! And where are you going, Your Highness?” a familiar Gaelic accent startled Breanna from her dream.

Breanna woke up cradled in Eoghan’s arms, the grey underside of her balcony greeting her as the Blood-Moon disappeared behind clouds.

“Did I…” Bre trailed off, unable to finish. She swallowed hard from the nausea creeping up her throat and pointed at the balcony.

“Jump off your balcony into my strong arms because you couldn’t wait until the morning to see me?” Eoghan flashed a giant white smile, the one that always made her blush. He squeezed her tight in his arms.

As the red rushed to her cheeks, Eoghan chuckled and put her down.

“You are always there to save me,” acknowledged Bre, hiding her eyes from him, behind a curtain of her hair.

“Save you? I am the one that needs savin’. You are always attacking, kicking, punching, tackling, and stabbing me. Do I need to continue?” Eoghan jested.

“No need at all, Sir,” Breanna said and playfully pushed him.

Eoghan’s face turned serious. He pushed Bre’s brown hair behind her ears, revealing her hazel eyes flecked with gold. “Who were you this time?” he asked softly, allowing his fingertips to linger against her jaw line.

“I don’t want to talk to about it.” Bre turned away; her thick hair fell back into her face. The dreams of war and her own skin shimmering in gold startled her.

“Oh! I nearly forgot!” Eoghan exclaimed cheerfully as he searched the ground. “In your daring jump for a hug, I dropped your birthday present. Ah, here we go.”

Eoghan handed her a green rag, which she quickly unwrapped to reveal a gold Celtic knot belt buckle. Bre ran her fingers over the cool metal and burst out laughing. She reluctantly gazed into his blue eyes and saw the same lines of laughter fill his face.

“I was hoping that would make you laugh,” Eoghan chuckled. They leaned into each other, and Bre relaxed as his gruff laughter vibrated against her arm. “Anyway, happy sixteenth birthday. It’s for the one I broke while you forced me to play ‘dress-up’ on our fourteenth birthdays.”

“You tore my favorite riding dress,” Breanna said, wiping tears of laughter from her cheek.

They continued to joke about the sweet memory until the clouds cleared and the light of the Blood-Moon beamed down once again, hitting her like a starlit ray of sorrow and tears. Instantly, Breanna collapsed into Eoghan’s arms. Her mind swept away into another time…

Apollo drove off once Elpis was on the ground, leaving her with nothing but a gold bow and a quiver of gold arrows. Hearing the screams and cheers of men off to the side, Elpis walked toward a circle of soldiers and easily pushed them out of her way. The soldiers stared at her in amazement, speechless as she walked by.

When she came to the center of the circle, she stopped abruptly. Dead in the dirt below her was the hero with the purple cape and white horse embroidery.

“Hector,” she whispered as tears swelled in her eyes.

Her heart skipped a beat as she stared at the dead prince, unable save him. She half expected her powers to react; however, nothing guided her.

Achilles rode up on his horse with a rope and tethered Hector’s feet to his saddle. Before Elpis could stop him, he took off towards his tent dragging Hector’s body behind him. Upon hearing a woman’s screams in the distance, Elpis discovered she had empathic powers that allowed her to feel the grief of Hector’s weeping widow as if it were her own.

Elpis was furious with Achilles, but heard Mot’s voice in her head explaining that anger would only bring more death. She turned away from the battle and headed towards Achilles’ hut. Greek soldiers followed her in silence. She exhibited a natural but undeniable presence of leadership.

As Elpis reached Achilles’ hut, the widow’s grief continued to build in her chest. She felt grief not only for Hector, but also at the thought of losing Achilles as Anath predicted. It was too late to protect Hector, but she refused to lose Achilles.

This war must end, she thought to herself as she entered the hut.

“Who are you?” Achilles demanded pointing a sword at Elpis’ throat.

Unafraid of Achilles, Elpis swatted the sword from her face.

“It does not matter who I am, but what I can do for you,” replied Elpis. “I have a plan to win the war for the Greeks. All you have to do is release Hector’s body to his father, King Priam. I will fetch for him now.”

Elpis turned to leave without waiting for his answer, and Achilles grabbed her arm.

“You will do no such thing,” grunted Achilles as he squeezed her arm tighter.

Electricity shot through Elpis’ body into Achilles the moment he touched her. The shock stole the air from his lungs and he crashed to his knees.

“Who are you?” Achilles asked breathlessly.

“I am everything you are not. I suggest you do as I say and prepare Hector’s body for proper transport,” Elpis advised him, remembering how disgusted she had been watching Achilles drag Hector’s body.

The Greeks allowed Priam to hold a twelve-day burial ceremony for Hector. During those twelve days, Elpis divulged her plan to Achilles and another Greek general, Odysseus. They began executing the devious plot to defeat Troy.

The Greeks steadily worked on building a wooden horse large enough for several soldiers to hide. Once completed, they left the wooden structure on the beach for the Trojans to find. Elpis then instructed them to move their ships down to a bend protected by cliffs, out of view of Trojan scouts.

After the burial ceremony, Elpis traveled to the Trojan palace to notify Priam’s advisor of the Greek’s present to the gods. She advised him to honor the gods by bringing the wooden monument into the city and throw a feast for their triumph over the Greeks. As payment, Priam offered a bedroom for Elpis to stay and celebrate their victory.

Elpis and Odysseus planned their attack down to the second. She needed to meet the Greeks in the courtyard to help Odysseus and Achilles take the city. She knew that with her powers she could lessen the Trojan lives wasted at the end of Greek swords. She could also protect Achilles until she could get him out safely.

Elpis had mere minutes before she needed to be in the courtyard when she saw Hector’s wife, Andromache, across the room of the feast. She decided to pay her respects for the fallen Trojan hero.

“Your Highness,” Elpis bowed as she addressed Andromache, “Hector was a great man. He deserved to outlive this war.”

“My Husband was a general. If it was not this war it would have been another that took him from my arms,” Andromache replied plainly. Tears filled her eyes, betraying her remorse-free tone.

Andromache held on to her infant son, no older than four. He looked exactly like his father Hector.

Anger snapped in Elpis. She was furious with Achilles for taking Hector from this world. It was Andromache’s anger, but it overwhelmed Elpis’ empathic powers. She would not allow the Trojan civilization or bloodline to die simply because it was a means to an end of the war. She had to get Hector’s family out of the city.

“Quick, for the love of your son, come with me.” Elpis grabbed Andromache’s hand and rushed to the exit.

Elpis ordered a young soldier named Aeneas to take Andromache and her son along with as many other Trojans he could handle to a Trojan fishing boat. He was to sail for the lands past the Greek Isles, safe from Grecian attack.

“The gods will grant you safe passage under penalty of my wrath,” Elpis told Aeneas. Lightning flashed in her eyes as she spoke to the sky.

Aeneas, a demigod, recognized divine power when he saw it. However, he had never seen such power in any being before. He did as Elpis ordered without argument.

After helping Hector’s family escape, Elpis rushed to the terrace overlooking the courtyard, arriving in time to see Achilles shot with an arrow through his heel. The arrow pierced the one spot on Achilles not protected, the spot where his mother held him as she dipped him in the River Styx. The silver shimmer of the protection spell shattered from the blow.

Elpis searched for the shooter of the arrow and found Hector’s brother, Paris, across the courtyard. He pulled his bow back three more times rapidly shooting arrows into Achilles’ chest, piercing his armor and heart.

Anath’s cruel words rang out in Elpis’ memory. If Hades wants a life, that life will be taken. Elpis gasped at the realization of her actions. Hector’s bloodline was meant to die here. Saving their lives sealed Achilles’ death.

Elpis quickly snapped her fingers and Paris vanished from the courtyard. He appeared on the boat next to Hector’s wife before the world lost another hero.

A lump formed in her throat. Elpis hyperventilated and pulled at the high neckline of her dress. “I need to get out of here. No more,” Elpis vowed. “No more war. It ends with me.” She closed her eyes and let her powers steal her away from the battle’s carnage.

Elpis traveled the world ending war after war always remembering the travesty that was Troy. She never forgot how she was the force behind Achilles’ death.

During Elpis’ quest for peace, she occasionally came into conflict with gods who favored wars and heroes, influencing battles as they saw fit. She learned how to cease their tyranny and discovered her accumulative powers surpassed those wielded by the gods.

In the year 1173 B.C., eleven years since Elpis was born, the epic wars that threatened to destroy humanity ended. Having nothing to contend with but small skirmishes between kingdoms, Elpis consumed herself with finding her parents. Whenever she thought she had a lead, the person mysteriously vanished.

After a year of unusual disappearances, she grew angry and traveled to Mount Olympus. Elpis called the War Council together to confront all six pantheons.

Most gods on the council kept silent as Elpis questioned them. Having seen Elpis use her powers in battle, they were too afraid to confess they stole her from her parents. However, the Lords of the Underworld were the only gods not afraid of her power. Elpis could not win against them…or so they thought.

Chapter 4

The Queen’s Prophecy

Alina sat on the bed next to Bre. “Rest for now, Sweetheart. Tomorrow you will wake and we can begin your eighteenth birthday celebration.”

Tears soaked into her pillow as Breanna’s whole body shook. “I don’t want to fall asleep. I am scared, Mother. Where are Brian and Eoghan? They promised a new spell this time,” she said, her voice barely a whisper.

“I know, sweetheart,” Alina said as she choked back tears. “I don’t know why they’ve been delayed, but you will be ok. You have gone through this without the spells before and you will make it through this time as well.”

Alina kissed her daughter’s head then tore herself from the bed. She walked as if every step she took from her crying child shot pain through her body.

Breanna curled into a ball, still shaking from fear of what would happen under the Blood-Moon.

Alina pulled a key from her pocket. A handmaiden gently withdrew the key from Alina’s trembling hand then guided the Queen out of the bedroom.

Bre’s stomach sank with the sharp click of the lock. Moments later, the clouds parted in the night sky and filled Breanna’s bedroom with an orangish-red light. With a sudden gasp, the orangish-red light carried Breanna’s mind away into another memory…

Elpis sat at the head of the marble table on Mount Olympus, her face red from yelling. “How dare you hide the truth from me? I demand to know everything you know about my parents!”

Osiris, Egyptian god of the Dead, stood up.

Elpis silently stared daggers at him. He gulped nervously. A satisfying signal to Elpis that he feared her. The idea that she might be able to defeat the almighty Lords of the Underworld crept into her mind.

Osiris walked over to the sacred well and gathered water to spill onto the table. He placed a finger in the water, revealing a blurry image of a couple working in their garden.

“These are your parents,” Osiris said, daring to lock eyes with Elpis.

“Osiris!” shouted Zeus from the other end of the table as lightning flickered between his fingertips. “How dare you reveal this information?”

“After all that I have done for you and all you have done to me, you still wish to hide my parents, Zeus? Elpis screamed as she pointed a finger at the king of the Greek pantheon.

Hades stood to confront Zeus, his younger brother. Before Hades spoke, a cloud of white smoke poured out of Elpis’ finger and wrapped around Zeus’ throat. Ares roared in laughter. Hera jumped up to defend her husband and threw a ball of green light at Elpis.

Hades caught the ball before it struck Elpis. “An energy ball, Hera? I would have thought Queen of Olympus could do better than that.”

Elpis, still choking Zeus, pointed her other finger at Hera, forcing her back into her chair, immobilized.

Elpis turned back to Osiris with eyes of fury. “What are their names? Where can I find them?”

“Their names are Týreneas and Arelia,” said Anath.

“They live on the island of Delos,” added Apollo, “the birthplace of Artemis and myself. Our mother, Leto, protects them.”

Elpis stood violently, knocking over her chair as she released Zeus and Hera. “Braight Nathair!” she shouted.

A giant snake of fire erupted in the middle of the table. The intensity of the flames evaporated the watery image of Elpis’ parents. Elpis’ eagle soared above her head and let out a screech as it embraced its patron’s anger.

The snake hissed and spit fire at the gods. Many gods vanished from the room while others drew their weapons to slay the fire serpent. The violet silk between the columns caught on fire, creating a ring of flames around the room.

Elpis watched the room go up in blaze with a triumphant smile as the eagle perched itself on her shoulder. She snapped her fingers and disappeared from Olympus.

Below on the island of Delos, Elpis cautiously approached a small two-story clay house nestled by the seashore. She held her stomach as her nerves made her nauseous. She shielded herself with an invisibility cloak that Hades gave her for defeating Ares in a sparring match when she was twelve. She came to a gate where her father worked in the garden and her mother played with an infant boy.

Elpis’ hand shook from her internal war of jealousy and grief as she watched her family move about happily without her. She walked through the open gate in the courtyard and up to her father. Still invisible, she gently placed a hand on the side of his face.

Tyreneas paused, unable to feel her hand. A knot twisted in his stomach: a familiar knot that tortured him every time he remembered the loss of his baby girl.

When Elpis touched her father’s face, images of the night Anath and Ares took her away played in her head. Her empathy powers felt every emotion her parents did as she replayed their mourning.

Elpis let go and backed away crying, hurt at her robbed childhood. As each tear fell on the ground, a black rose grew in its place.

Tyreneas called to Arelia as they watched in shock as rows of black roses sprung from the dirt. Elpis, overwhelmed by grief, fell on all fours.

Her cloak slid off revealing her shaking body to her parents. Tyreneas jumped back at the shock of tears turning into black roses. He placed his body in between his family and the intruder.

Being demigods, Arelia and Tyreneas could sense divine power from Elpis. However, they never felt such a vast amount of power in any god they met before.

Despite how much power Tyreneas sensed, he was not afraid to yell at her. “I will not have any more dealings with gods! Why must you torture us?”

Arelia placed a hand on Tyreneas’ shoulder, “Calm down, Tyreneas, look at the poor girl. Does she look like she means us harm?”

Elpis turned to her parents, blood-shot eyes stinging as she blinked away tears. Her stomach sank and her lips trembled from the fear in her father’s eyes. Arelia walked over and wiped Elpis’ wet cheek with the hem of her dress. She helped Elpis up and sweetly smiled.

Elpis looked at her mother and saw a peaceful kindness. A peace she was desperate for after the past eleven years of her life, dealing with nothing but death and destruction.

Elpis spun around, ashamed of who she was, and ran to the gate. Before she could escape, Arelia called out to her, “At least tell us your name.”

Elpis stopped and looked over her shoulder. “My name is Elpis, Queen of All.”

At the sound of her name, Arelia and Tyreneas recalled the night Anath took their daughter. They both ran after her, but it was too late…Elpis had vanished.

Before she left, a single tear splashed against the dry dirt and a rose bush full of black roses burst into bloom.

Meanwhile, on Mount Olympus, the gods finally extinguished the fire.

“We have made her too powerful!” shouted Arawn, wiping off soot from his robe.

“Our mistake was using the bloodline of a war god!” shouted Freyja as she picked up pieces of a broken bust.

“Enough. We all created The Power and we are all responsible for her actions. Not a single god here can say we did not deserve this. We tore the child from her parents’ arms and gave her powers of mass destruction,” Athena added in Elpis’ defense.

“How do we end this? Her task is complete and is no longer required. I say we remove her powers and let her suffer a mortal life,” called out Don, Celtic Goddess of the elements.

“We made her more powerful than all of us combined,” Hera reminded the assembly.

“Love created her, why not let love destroy her?” Aphrodite interjected with a contemplative look.

“What are you proposing, Sister?” asked Zeus.

“Create a man she cannot help but fall in love with,” Aphrodite responded as if the answer was obvious.

Immediately upon Zeus’ agreement, Hephaestus set to work on constructing a handsome man fit for a queen. He assembled the body out of limestone, a porous stone that could absorb anything and withstand fire, seemingly a necessity with Elpis. Freyja casted spells over the stone to give the man extraordinary magical powers. The Egyptian god, Thoth, armed him with an enchanted dagger. The black onyx handle of the dagger buzzed with power in his hand, the metal hilt tingling against the top of his fingers.

Pluto placed one hand on his shoulder and the body sprang to life.

“You have one duty until we tell you otherwise. You will win the heart of Elpis and stay by her side as long as she lives. From this day forward, you are known as Eversor,” Pluto instructed the newly formed man.

When Apollo located Elpis hiding on a Greek island, he carried Eversor down in his chariot to meet her. Cupid accompanied Apollo and Eversor as they carefully snuck up behind Elpis. Eversor exited the chariot and noticed Cupid and Apollo disguised themselves as servants, hoping Elpis would not see through their camouflage.

Eversor walked up to Elpis and fell in love instantly. Meanwhile, Elpis noticed he was attractive but thought nothing of him until Cupid shot her with several arrows, sending her into complete devotion.

Together, Elpis and Eversor were invincible. Their powers were unmatched as they marched over smaller kingdoms to form their own massive empire. Elpis was a fair and tolerant queen. Despite her capabilities in war, her kingdom experienced twenty years of peace under her rule.

One night, in 1153 B.C., Thoth came down from Mount Olympus to whisper in Eversor’s ear as he slept.

Eversor rose from the bed and reached for the dagger on the table. The smooth, jet handle of the dagger vibrated in his hand. His movements were slow and eyes glazed over; the dagger seemed to possess him. He had no control over his actions. Eversor gently caressed Elpis’ hair as he knelt over his beautiful wife, bending down to give her a kiss.

Elpis woke with a smile until she saw her husband’s hazy eyes. Worried, she sat up. Before she could speak, Eversor plunged the dagger into her heart.

From outside, a thousand golden eagles painfully screeched as their patron lay dying.

Eversor snapped out of his trance, horrified by his actions and blood soaked hands. He cradled his wife’s head against his chest and sobbed, “I’m so sorry. I’m sorry, my love.”

Elpis coughed, splattering blood against her lower lip and her husband’s chest. She cupped the side of his face and whispered, “I forgive you.” She gently kissed his cheek, leaving a bloody imprint of her lips on his cheek.

She gasped, and then clutched at Eversor’s arm until the pain faded and her hand fell limp to the bed.

As Eversor pulled the dagger from his wife’s still heart, the blade emerged with a string of white light wound around it. Eversor eased himself off the bed, ready to take his own life as Thoth had ordered.

Elpis’ body then burst into flames, quickly turning to gold ash. A warm wind rustled through the windows and scattered the gold ashes into the night.

Tears streamed down Eversor’s face as he held the dagger over his heart. “I’m so sorry,” he wept as he watched his wife’s ashes soar away.

Astonished by what happened, the gods panicked above.

“He withdrew The Power! Stop him before he absorbs it!” Zeus shouted.

Thoth jumped down from Olympus and crashed into the room to stop Eversor. After knocking the blade out of Eversor’s hand, Thoth slashed at him with his sword. However, Eversor was quick. He dodged the blade and reached for his own sword to defend himself. It was a dance of spins and jabs but no fatal blows.

While the men fought, Athena glided into the room holding a wooden box. She quickly grabbed the dagger and tried to force the blade inside.

The dagger burned her palm, forcing Athena to drop it. When the goddess grabbed the dagger a second time the light unwrapped itself from the blade and soared out the window in the same direction as the ashes. The Power was faster than Athena could follow.

Thump!

Thoth’s body crumbled to the ground, blood trickling from the side of his head. After Eversor incapacitated Thoth, he grabbed Elpis’ cloak of invisibility off the bedside table. Throwing the cloak over his shoulders, he snuck up on Athena as she stared out the window in shock. He slammed his shoulder into her side and snatched the dagger out of her hand.

With a scream of outrage, Athena flew back to Mount Olympus carrying Thoth’s unconscious body. Witnessing the events, Zeus ordered the sky gods to search for Eversor and The Power, but their attempts were fruitless. The Power was strong enough to hide itself with its own magic and Eversor dared not remove the invisibility cloak.

A year after Eversor and The Power disappeared, 1152 B.C., the Celtic goddess of dark magic, The Morrigan, found Eversor. Out of spite for being denied access to the War Council, The Morrigan taught Eversor her dark magic. She brought him to her island, Ériu, and hid him from the other gods so he could remove his cloak.

Soon enough, he mastered her lessons and began teaching others. His group of followers formed an order known as the Druids. One man stood out in particular to Eversor, a man named Brian o’Conaill. Brian quickly became his favorite student and Eversor taught him everything he knew, including powers of foreseeing the future.

The Morrigan never gave up the search for The Power. After centuries of searching, in the year 832 B.C., she located The Power hiding in the pre-Roman kingdom of Alba Longa, hovering over a ten-foot stone slab.

The Morrigan landed next to the rock, carefully observing the ball of white light. Several minutes passed before either The Morrigan or the ball moved, both at a standoff. Without warning, the light crashed into the rock emerging on the opposite side. Instead of one large ball of white light, there were two smaller balls of red light. Before The Morrigan could catch one, they flew off into the sky in separate directions.

The rock then erupted into a fire of green flames. The flames were so intense that The Morrigan shielded her eyes with her hands. The heat burned her palms. Once the fire subsided, what used to be a smooth stone was now a stone with writing etched into its face.

“What is it, Morrigan?” Arawn asked irritated when she called the War Council together.

“I thought the council would be interested in what I found in Alba Longa,” The Morrigan smiled smugly as she threw water from the sacred well onto the table. She dipped her finger into the water and an image of the stone slab came into focus.

Hermes floated above the table and read aloud the words engraved on the stone. “Two halves of the whole will reinstall as Regina to all. The death of one will burn into another.”

“What does this mean?” asked the Celtic war god Camulus.

“It means, brother, the collective power you created has written its own prophecy and solidified it in stone. Nothing can prevent this prophecy from transpiring,” explained The Morrigan.

“It hints at a phoinix. They have long been dead,” Athena said concerned.

A lightning bolt crashed into the stone. Any other rock would have exploded into a thousand pieces, but this rock remained standing. Worse yet, it remained unscathed.

“What did I say, Thor? It will come to pass. It is a future that none can change.” The Morrigan tried to hide a devious smile with a cough.

“What two halves?” asked the Roman goddess of wisdom, Minerva. “The Power is a single ball of energy.”

The Morrigan shrugged her shoulders and left the council to return to Eversor. She immediately divulged all she witnessed to him.

“Even if the gods find one half and you the other, you will have enough power to take revenge for your wife,” The Morrigan instructed Eversor.

She gave him supplies for his quest in search of The Power, and tattooed a spell on his chest to prevent the gods from finding him.

Back at Mount Olympus, despite the gods’ best efforts, no one could locate The Power. Zeus placed the stone slab behind an impenetrable glass made by Hephaestus and kept it in the corner of the throne room as a reminder of what is to come…

Chapter 5

The Nightmare

In the year 264 B.C., Breanna woke on the floor of her bedroom. She shivered at the state of her room. The furniture was turned over and shards of broken vases littered the floor, covering her body.

Every muscle throbbed as she tried to sit up, but her muscles were too taught and weak from her violent convulsions. Tears stung her eyes as her body would not yield to her will. She gave up and curled into a ball. “I can’t handle much more of this.”

Outside her bedroom door, the tapping of footsteps in the stairwell bounced off the walls. By the hurried click of the shoes, Bre knew it was her mother coming to wake her up.

“Please,” Breanna begged her body to move, teardrops splashing on the floor. As if her muscles knew who was coming, they gave way for movement. Limping and whimpering, Bre tried to sweep as many shards of glass under her bed as she could. She turned the furniture upright. She jumped into bed and burrowed under the covers with the scrapping of the key in the lock and the click of its release.

“Breanna?” Alina asked sweetly, sitting on the bed. “Wake up darling, your father is waiting for you in the throne room.”

Breanna pretended to yawn lazily. “Good morning, Mother.”

Alina noticed the popped blood vessels in her daughter’s eyes and knew Breanna was hiding how bad her nightmare was during the night.

“How bad was it,” Alina asked, rubbing Bre’s hand with her thumb. Bre’s skin was tacky from sweating through the night.

“I’m fine, wasn’t that bad at all,” Breanna lied.

“Do not lie to me,” Alina warmed, picking a vase shard out of Bre’s hair and showing it to her before tossing it to the ground.

Trying to hide her tears, Bre rolled over to dry her eyes on her pillow. Bre’s heart broke when she turned back to her mother. The sadness and fear in Alina’s eyes twisted Breanna’s stomach. Attempting to focus on anything but fear, Breanna noted Alina’s beauty. She was one of the most beautiful women in the kingdom, Bre thought. Breanna was lucky enough to get her looks from her mother, especially her hazel eyes with gold flecks.

Bre remembered stories her father and servants told her about Alina. She was the most sought after women in all of Cymru, Alina’s home country. She was the daughter of a former fairy goddess. Not surprisingly, Breanna’s father, King Remus of Etruria, wanted her to be his Queen.

“Don’t worry, I am fine. Nothing I can’t handle,” Bre assured her mother.

“How much do you remember?” Alina asked.

“As much as I usually do. It is not the images that bother me, but the lingering feelings. All that fear, anger, and pain; it is powerful. It is horrifying. They’re not mine, yet they feel as if they belong to me,” Bre explained, her eyes watering again.

Alina choked back her own tears and stood up proudly, pushing her shoulders back with perfect posture.

“Come now. As I said, your father is waiting,” said Alina walking to the doors, not wanting to hear more.

Breanna eased her aching body out of bed and walked to her wardrobe. She grabbed her favorite blue dress with white lace trim along the bottom. It had a train that flowed from her waist that lightly swept the floor as she walked.

She was about to slip into it when her mother warned, “Do not wear your best dress this time, Propheteia De’ Breanna Regina. You’ll get it filthy while riding and drive the maids mad with laundry.”

Breanna winced at the sound of her full name. She never understood why anyone would name a child Propheteia.

Despite her irritation and her nightmare, Breanna smiled. She was determined not to let anything spoil her birthday weekend.

“And happy eighteenth birthday,” Alina added. “It won’t be long until the Gàidheals arrive to celebrate your and Eoghan’s birthdays. I cannot imagine what has delayed them but I know Eoghan will show up with his usual bear hug greeting. He would be a great match for you, you know. He is Celtic royalty.” Alina raised an eyebrow followed by a smirk.

Breanna blushed and hid her face from her mother’s as a shiver ran through her body. Just the thought of her best friend being a love interest both shocked and nauseated her. Nonetheless, Bre could never hide her excitement at the thought of seeing him.

Alina laughed at Bre’s bashful behavior.

Bre stared absentmindedly at the wardrobe, thinking of Eoghan. She remembered his six-foot tall frame perfectly accompanied by striking blue eyes with short dark hair. Eoghan’s toned muscles yielding to nothing as he fought against soldiers in practice and on the battlefield.

“Your Majesty! My Queen!” The Queen’s maid sped into the princess’ chambers, snapping Breanna out of her thoughts of Eoghan. “Hurry, the Gàidheals have arrived!” The maid pointed to the window, terrified.

Alina walked to the window and inhaled sharply at the sight. She made eye contact with one man, Brian o’Conaill, who nodded at her through the window. Alina was easily spotted, as her emerald green dress and blonde hair stood out against the pale colored stone of the palace. Alina’s stomach churned at what could happen next.

“I’ve always been afraid of this day,” she whispered to herself. Before walking back to the door, Alina kissed Bre on the forehead with trembling lips. “Never forget how much we love you.”

Alina and the maid disappeared with a soft click of the door. Breanna ran to her window to see the arrival of the Gàidheals, the people she had been longing to see. What she saw startled her. Instead of the calm and peaceful group she knew so well, a war party greeted her gates. No wonder the maid and her mother looked scared.

Bre watched them march up to her palace. Their weapons and gold plated armor gleamed in the morning sun. If a war party was arriving, something terrible must have happened. Immediate concern for Eoghan plagued Bre’s mind.

Breanna’s heart beat faster as she frantically searched the party for Eoghan and found two men she knew instead. A slight twitch of their necks and grounding of their jaws hinted to Breana they were intentionally not looking at her. Fondness and relief washed over her at seeing the o’Conaill brothers were safe. However, she was suspicious of their evasion.

The men avoiding eye contact with Bre were the leaders of the o’Conaill clan. Brian o’Conaill, the same man her mother found, walked next to his brother and second in command, Cailean o’Conaill.

Memories flooded Bre’s mind of the times Brian and Cailean taught her and Eoghan to fight together. They also taught them the ways of the old Celtic religion. She and Eoghan had been the strongest of their pupils. Many people, including Breanna, thought she and Eoghan were invincible, so long as they had each other. Her father would laugh and call them the mischievous duo.

Panic returned with a sinking feeling in her gut when she could not find Eoghan. “Where are you?” she whispered to herself.

Bre anxiously ran to the wardrobe, the care for throbbing muscles forsaken, where the back panel loosened and a secret passage lead to the throne room. She often used it to eavesdrop on her parents and their counsel. She threw on a crimson and gold tunic with a brown leather pant-skirt, and fastened it with the gold Celtic buckle Eoghan gave her on their sixteenth birthday. Dark brown, knee-high riding boots and a forest green cloak completed the usually vain princess’ mismatched outfit. Bre did not bother brushing her long dark curly hair, but ran as fast as she could down the stone steps to the throne room without a care for her appearance.

As Bre approached the throne room door and reached for the handle, the door violently swung open. Standing in the doorway illuminated by the morning sun was Eoghan. He blocked her way before she crossed the threshold. Dark circles under his eyes and a hard, angry look on his face frightened Breanna. The harsh features made Eoghan a stranger to her.

Breanna, startled by the volatile foreigner, quickly tried to retreat up the stairs. Desperate to escape Eoghan, she tripped on the stone steps and lurched forward, letting out a squeal of panic.

Eoghan quickly grabbed Breanna, violently yanked her to her feet and covered her mouth. He wrapped his one arm tightly around her waist and hoisted her off her feet, causing Bre to wince as his arm dug into her rib cage. Eoghan shifted Bre so that she dangled from the side of his body as if he were carrying a large bag against his hip.

Eoghan ran back up the stone steps. The jostling made Bre short of breath as every bouncing step he took forced air from her diaphragm. Starting to slip from his grip, Eoghan swung Bre in front of his body so her head rested against his collarbone and her back against his solid abdomen.

Panic subsiding with her growing anger, Bre kicked and clawed at Eoghan forcing him to tighten his grip as she struggled against him. Finally, she wiggled her head to the perfect angle.

“Ow! Knock it off!” Eoghan growled as Bre bit his finger. Eoghan repositioned his hand like a muzzle to prevent anymore nasty bites. Bre flinched as Eoghan’s fingers dug deeper into her.

Fear crept into her mind from Eoghan’s aggressive actions. What if Eoghan and his clan are here to overthrow my family? What if they pretended to be allies to discover my kingdom’s weakness?

Tears stung her eyes at the betrayal of her friend, the only person she thought of as a brother. For the first time since they met, she was frightened of Eoghan and of what he could do to her. He carried his weapons and she had foolishly forgotten hers on the bedroom table.

Breanna was lost in her fearful thoughts and pictured her father scolding her as she forgot her weapons. When she finally came to her senses, she realized she had never been through this part of the palace. This secret passage was unfamiliar, dark, and daunting. She was lost in her own home.

Despite her fear, her anger came roaring back. She was enraged that Eoghan knew her home better than she did. Bobbing and weaving through different passages, doors opening without being touched: it felt as if they were flying. It was then she noticed that the jostling stopped.

How is he not touching a single step? Where is the pounding motion of his feet against the stone steps? she thought with a growing knot in her stomach. I don’t even know him.

Bre could feel Eoghan’s heart pounding in her back as he held her tight to his chest. His hand slowly loosened and moved away from her mouth. He gently embraced the side of her face, hoping she would not bite him again. It was a soft touch not at all mirroring his aggressiveness earlier.

As he freed her mouth she felt no need to scream or bite, but she was too angry to speak.

Eoghan whispered in her ear, “I won’t let anyone hurt you.”

Finally, they stopped moving and Eoghan released her from his restrictive embrace. Finding her footing on solid ground, Breanna whipped around and slapped his face, jerking his head to one side. The crack echoed off the walls. Eoghan slowly turned back to Breanna revealing a bright red welt on his cheek.

Eoghan sighed, acknowledging her frustration. He swiftly moved towards Breanna, quicker than she had ever seen. He grasped her tightly in a hug, cradled her head against his chest, and stroked the back of her hair.

Once Eoghan released Bre, he stepped back to look at her and drew a slow, deep breath. He knew how impatient Breanna could be, so he quickly tried to explain his actions to avoid another slap. “I am so sorry if I hurt you, Bre. It was for your own safety. I had to get you out. We came as quick as we could to protect your family.”

“What are you talking about, Eoghan? I demand you explain everything at once! If my family is in danger, we should be helping. You know we can’t be defeated when we fight together.” Breanna was furious with Eoghan.

Before Eoghan could answer, Bre looked around the room as she noticed the torches lit without either of them igniting the flames. There was a large round table with strange markings carved into the stone. In addition, words written in a language she had never seen circled the room. Carvings in the wall attempted to tell a story, no doubt depicting what was written in the mysterious language.

Eoghan quickly regained her attention by whipping her around to face him.

“Breanna, listen to me. This is one battle we cannot win. Romulus is about to wage war against your father. Clan MacCathail, an enemy of my clan, has joined his forces to ensure the destruction of your bloodline,” Eoghan quickly explained.

Breanna stood silently with her mouth open at the sudden news of war.

Impatient and annoyed, Eoghan sighed, but it sounded more like a growl. He left Bre and moved around the room pushing against the walls. “There is another secret passage here. Help me find it. We need to get you out.”

Breanna found her words again and yelled, “What in the gods’ names are you doing, Eoghan? Answer my question! Why are we not helping? And what is all this about Uncle Romulus?”

“There is no time, Breanna! I don’t think Romulus is aware of these passages, but I cannot take that chance. He and your father think too much alike.”

“Eoghan you are not making any sense! You need to…” Bre began before Eoghan cut her off.

“What I need is to get you out! Why can’t you ever focus on the task at hand? I see the God of Sanity never blessed you,” Eoghan yelled as he frantically searched the walls. “Oi! Crazy woman, help me.”

Breanna pointed a threatening finger in Eoghan’s direction as she said, “Don’t make me slap you twice, Eoghan MacBeatha.”

Eoghan smirked at her threat, but quickly hardened his expression. “Propheteia De’ Breanna Regina, you are an impossibly stubborn woman!” He tried to hide his anxiety but his voice trembled as he spoke. Breanna knew him too well not to pick it up. He hated, yet loved how well she knew him.

Breanna, shocked by the fact he knew her full name, tried to demand how he knew it.

Sensing the argument they were about to have Eoghan cut her off again, “Enough, Breanna! Help us get out! If not for us then do it for yourself. You have always loved doing things for yourself.”

Breanna gave a light gasp and stared at Eoghan, hurt by his sharp words.

Eoghan saw her trembling lip and knew how his words cut into her. No one had ever spoken to the princess that way, let alone someone she cared about deeply. He would have gutted anyone who did that to her.

Eoghan spoke in a comforting tone in attempt to regain his composure, “Bre, I’m sorry. You are not selfish. You are the most gracious, selfless person I know. I will explain everything later, but we must get out of the palace. Please, Breanna, the world can’t lose you…” Eoghan looked away and mumbled so only he could hear his desperate words, “I can’t lose you.”

Still upset, Breanna turned to walk back through the passageway they came out of but there was no door. She was trapped.

“Grrrrr, how do I get back?”

Eoghan rolled his eyes and continued his search for the secret door. He sighed and said under his breath, “Oh, this is going to be fun.”

Breanna pushed against the wall but hung her head in defeat. Her attempts of escape were fruitless. Anger and concern caused her to slam her fist against the stone, pleading for it open.

Suddenly, an overwhelming sensation of fear filled her chest. Breanna turned to Eoghan, her face drained of color and full of desperate tears.

All strength vanished from her body, as if her life was being drained. She collapsed as white smoke swirling with electric blue lights clouded her vision. Breanna closed her eyes as Eoghan whipped his hand through the air and shouted, “Mac tire.

Before she passed out, Breanna felt a warm cushion where her head should have collided with the cold stone floor.

Chapter 6

End of an Era

Bam!

The throne room doors of the Etruscan palace crashed open, causing a thunderous clamor due to the cathedral ceiling. Brian o’Conaill strutted through the door at 6’3” with dashing blue eyes, smooth brown hair that stopped short of touching his ears and swept away from his eyes. He was dressed in pristine silver Celtic battle armor. Brian, a handsome man appearing to be in his mid-thirties, did not bother glancing around the room he disrupted. Instead, he headed straight for the King with his hand gripping the handle of his sword.

King Remus stood in alarm from his throne and ran to meet the intruders.

“Brian, what is the meaning of this? Why are you and Cailean in such a panic?” Remus watched the Gaelic war party spread through his opulent throne room.

The Etruscan throne room was a glorious example of the prosperity of the kingdom and the elegance of their civilization. Greek pillars lined the room against white mosaic walls that gleamed in the morning sunlight from the stained glass windows. Two silver thrones encrusted with emeralds sat erect in the center of the room. Snow-white tapestries embroidered with silver wolves hung on all four walls. Crossing silver swords wrapped with an olive branch hung from each pillar, symbolizing Remus’ promise for protection and peace.

Brian held out his arm to grasps Remus’. “Remus, dear friend, your neighboring kingdoms have risen up against you. Our rival, Brathadair, leader of Clan MacCathail, joined in their efforts.”

Behind Brian stood Cailean, matching his height but even more handsome. Cailean had grey-blue eyes and short brown hair. He looked in his mid-twenties, but carried himself as a seasoned warrior, wearing the same Celtic battle armor as his brother.

“Brian, we have to leave. Brathadair would have arrived at the lower gates by now. They have not breached the walls yet because of the spells around the palace. The MacCathails will eventually break them and the walls will fall. Your Etrusci soldiers will have no chance against them, Remus,” warned Cailean.

“Impossible!” bellowed Remus. “My walls are impenetrable, protected by Druid magic. Furthermore, my Etrusci soldiers have never been beaten. We are in the gods favor. My kingdom of Etruria will always prevail.”

Brian shook his head. “The MacCathails are a charmed Gàidheal clan, as we are. Brathadair studied with me and he is a strong Druid. I am not sure how long we have until they break the shield charms. Cailean is right; eventually the Druid spells will fall.”

Brian cocked his head to the side as if someone called out to him. He closed his eyes and pressed his fingers to his temples, lowering his head so his chin almost rested on his chest.

Brian swayed unsteadily until Remus took hold of his friend. “What do you see?” he said, panicked.

“The palace will be broken. Someone has betrayed you from inside the walls. As I feared, the Druid shields are failing because of that treason,” answered Brian, wincing as he spoke.

“Who would create such a treacherous act? The people have favored me and my family for centuries.”

Brian looked at Remus, who stared back with pleading eyes. “I fear for what I saw. You will lose those closest to you, Remus.”

Remus, although taken aback by Brian’s prediction, stood tall with his shoulders pushed back. He must appear brash and steady for his soldiers. “You have said yourself in the past that visions of the future are not always fulfilled as they are presented.”

Even though Remus appeared calm, fear consumed his mind. He placed a hand on his silver throne and gripped the armrest as if the ground were slipping away from him. Despite the sinking fear in his stomach, Remus said definitively, “Fear not, friends. We are old and filled with the wisdom of history.” Remus slightly chuckled, “The only person who stands a chance at challenging me is my brother Romulus.”

From behind Brian, Cailean warned, “Tell him, Brian. It won’t be long until he finds out.”

Remus’ eyes flickered between Cailean and Brian curiously. “My dear friends, we have been close for years now, since before I jumped the castle wall at Palatine Hill. Two centuries ago, you helped me found this kingdom. Do not be afraid to bear bad news.”

“It’s not you I fear, Remus; it is losing you and the peace of our world. A destiny long forgotten is befalling us, and it does not bode well for some,” Brian avoided Remus’ eyes but washed over the soldiers in the room.

“We demigods are immortal. We will always survive,” Remus smiled cunningly, only to appear confident for his men.

“Cailean and I are a thousand years old, Remus. And you being eight-hundred should know better than to believe something can last forever,” Brian said with no hint of amusement.

Remus felt his confidence wavering with every flutter of his heartbeat. He had faced war hundreds of times, but this time felt wrong. He was nervous, an accustomed sensation. “What are you not telling me?”

Brian sighed and revealed the devastating truth to his friend, “With the help of Clan MacCathail, your brother Romulus has expanded his kingdom of Rome and is now attacking Etruria. They have already burned the lower lands on their march here. The time has come where your countries will be united under one ruler: the victor of this battle.”

Heartbroken, Remus collapsed into his throne with his elbows on his knees and head in his hands. “My own twin would destroy the peace between our lands?”

“It is Rome,” replied Cailean with disdain.

“Romulus is Rome,” corrected Brian. He raised an eyebrow at Cailean, silently warning him to watch his tone regarding Remus’ brother.

Cailean rolled his eyes and exhaled forcefully. However, he remained quiet at Brian’s subtle warning.

The throne room doors flew open once more, but this time Queen Alina walked steely to her husband’s side. Alina’s strawberry-blonde hair framed her snow-white face. She had changed out of her emerald dress and into a silver tunic that she tucked into black pants. A Kelly green skirt stemmed from her waist and covered the back of her pants. Knee-high, black leather boots with three silver buckles sheathing a dagger completed the outfit for the warrior queen.

Alina exemplified the pure and perfect shape of a woman as if she had been dipped into the River Styx. An ornate sword hung from her hips that she brought with her from Cymru. Emeralds and diamonds adorned its delicate filigree design.

Remus was the antithesis of this beautiful goddess. He appeared young and handsome, seemingly in his late thirties. However, his salt and pepper hair hinted at his true age. His eyes were brown with a golden hue that glowed at night. He had visible battle scars on his limbs with hidden scars on his back and chest.

Forgetting all formalities, Alina threw her arms around Remus’ neck and whispered in his ear, “Remus, please. We need to arm ourselves and prepare the army. I’ve seen Romulus enter the castle grounds.”

Brian overheard the queen’s plea. “She is right, Remus. The prophecies have been presented.”

Remus looked at his beautiful wife and nodded. “Take the queen!” Remus ordered, pained by his own words but desperate to protect her. Guards marched up to seize her. “I will see you again.” Remus said to Alina as he walked across the throne room with Brian.

Alina fought every guard that came near. She moved with such grace as if dancing a waltz with her opponents.

“Remus, please! Don’t do this! We are stronger together. Romulus will not stand a chance against us all, but we must stay together! You need my power,” she pleaded to her husband as she knocked out several guards with her elbows, fist, and sword hilt.

Alina froze in her attack when pain seared through her abdomen.

The queen fell to floor after a cool, smooth object slid out from her stomach. She heard her husband shout her name in a mixture of fury and panic as he sprinted towards her.

Alina looked down at her stomach as she pressed her palm against the inch long slit in her abdomen. Gazing up at her attacker, she breathed, “I guess we know who betrayed us.”

The treasonous guard smirked and bent down to whisper in the queen’s ear, “Your daughter’s fate is now locked in history. She will not survive her destiny.”

As the guard raised his sword to slay the wounded queen, a warrior Alina knew well stepped in front of her and deflected the attack.

“Lysandros,” Alina coughed with a slight smile.

Alina always admired Lysandros, and watching him protect her increased her admiration. Lysandros stretched to 5’10” with long black hair that he kept tied back with a leather strap. His deep brown eyes always made Alina feel safe. Even in a ferocious state of war, his eyes were kind for the queen, bringing her peace.

In one foul swoop of Lysandros’ broadsword, the treasonous guard’s sword soared across the room and Lysandros sliced through his abdomen. He then wheeled his sword above his head to take another swing. However, the guard vanished before Lysandros’ sword connected with his neck.

Lysandros turned to his injured queen and sat down to support her head on his lap. Seconds later, Remus slid on the ground to reach her, not caring as his knees cracked against the stone floor.

Rage and guilt filled Lysandros’ as his usual kind eyes widened in fear. He turned to Remus, ashamed of his late arrival. “Remus, I came as soon as I saw Romulus enter the gates. I’m so sorry.”

Remus did not acknowledge Lysandros’ statement. Instead, he caressed his wife’s hair and gently placed his other hand over her wound. Remus looked at Lysandros and said, “If you leave now and make it to the Forest of Slàinte, on the Northern border of our kingdom, she will live.” Remus’ eyes silently begged Lysandros to save his wife.

With the hand not covered in Alina’s blood, Remus gripped the back of Lysandros’ neck and pulled him in so their foreheads touched, hiding his distressed eyes. He struggled with his words, opening and closing his mouth without a sound. His grip tightened on Lysandros’ neck when he finally found his farewell, “You are the best soldier in my army, Lys. You, Brian, and Cailean have been by my side for centuries, since before we left Palatine Hill. I owe my life and my family’s lives to you three. You are like my brother, Lysandros, never forget that.”

A lump formed in the back of Lysandros’ throat and his breath caught in his chest. Unable to say a word to his long-time friend, Lysandros nodded once as water filled his eyes.

Remus smiled, pleased that Lysandros returned his sentiments. He then forced himself to let go of Alina, slowly sliding his hand from her skin as Lysandros stood. Lysandros carried Alina towards the secret passage that lead away from the palace.

Brian seeing the pain in his friend’s eyes placed his hand on Remus’ shoulder. “All will be well. Fate always has a plan that works out in the end.”

“And to what end will fate leave us?” Remus hung his head as he spoke the philosophical question of a dying man.

Brian sighed, “Remus, there is nothing more either of us can do now.”

“It is not only to Alina I am referring, and you know that. Do not speak to me as if I have a child’s mind.”

“I am well aware of what you speak of but my answer stands. There is nothing more we can do to prevent this. We must see it through…” Brian’s words trailed off, losing his conviction.

Remus studied Brian’s face and asked, “Why look so somber, o’Conaill?” Comprehension finally set on Remus’ face as he realized what troubled his friend. “Ahhh you have seen the end of this battle. Care to share?”

Brian took a deep breath to calm his nerves. He needed to be strong for his faltering friend. “Your past events sparked a prophecy coming to collect. Your…our actions secured our present predicament. This battle must be fought and one of the two must die.”

“However, those who survive this battle can change the forthcoming,” added Cailean.

Brian stopped, silently thinking how much to divulge to Remus before the battle began. “Remus, there is an older prophecy created centuries ago during a great era of war. It is written in stone to ensure it passes. The Power once lost will be discovered and our world we will be at peace again. So fear not; despite the fate of today there will be mercy tomorrow.”

Boom!

The sound of the Druid shields exploding rang throughout the palace. The violent vibration threw Remus and the soldiers to the ground. Brian and Cailean were the only ones left standing. They immediately faced each other and raised their hands so their palms nearly touched and began chanting. Blue light emanated from the brothers’ palms as they recited their spell. The light expanded to envelop the room, warming everything it touched.

The light flickered as their strength waned. They fell to their knees and in unison cried out one name before they passed out…“Breanna!

Chapter 7

Five Souls of One

T

hump thump… thump thump…thump thump.

A soothing heartbeat muffled through a warm pillow kept time with Breanna’s heart. The pillow not only cradled her head, but also wrapped around her body as a protective barrier from the world. She had never felt as safe as she did in that moment.

A lullaby resonated through her ears to lull her back to sleep. She smiled, remembering the lullaby as the one her mother used to hum when she was a little girl. There was an aroma of white roses, her favorite flower. She smiled again as the memory of her mother was replaced by a young man bringing her a bouquet of white roses on her birthday. Her Eoghan…

Bre gasped and shot up from her comfortable bed as all of her memories flooded back to her. Short of breath as her heart pounded in her chest, she recalled the Gaelic war party outside her window, Eoghan kidnapping her, and the large room without a door. She gazed around her new surroundings as pure fear churned her stomach.

“Eoghan?” yelled Breanna. She tried to stand up, but whatever she had been laying on grunted and pushed her back down.

“What in Tartarus?” asked Breanna. Confusion quickly turned to panic when she realized what attempted to cuddle with her.

Bre tilted her head and saw a large white and grey wolf beneath her. The wolf’s body curved in a U shape around her body. Its head rested in the nook of her neck and shoulder. Its body cradled Breanna with its front paws hugging her right arm and its back paws extended over her chest.

After taking in the enormity of the wolf, something crept onto her torso covering her stomach down to her legs. Purring reverberated through her body. A giant black panther stared into her eyes as it licked its chops. As much as she was petrified of the animals around her, they strangely comforted her.

Breanna once again tried to sit up. The large cat rolled off of her and the wolf released her arms. “Nice kitty. Good puppy. Please don’t eat me.”

The large cat rolled around on the moss-covered ground, then rubbed against Breanna’s knees. It pawed at her hands for her to pet its head. The wolf trotted around to face Breanna then licked her from the bottom of her chin to the top of her brow.

“They like you,” said Eoghan. He gave his trademark grin as he walked towards her with a handful of berries.

Bre’s heart fluttered at the sight of him and she smiled in relief.

Finally calm, Breanna examined her surroundings. She inhaled sharply at the stunning scenery. They were enclosed by tall Birch trees bloomed with bright gold flowers against green leaves. Brown and royal blue pheasants with gold feathers peeking out from their top layer rested beneath the trees.

To the East, Hawthorne trees with white leaves blew gently in the wind. Perched in between the leaves were midnight-blue crows eating berries off the branches: the same berries Eoghan popped into his mouth. Elder Trees mixed with the Hawthorns blossomed with white flowers, attracting humming birds that hovered above the petals.

Behind the trees, rolling hills laced with yellow Furze and purple Heather added contrast from the calming earthy colors of the trees. Larks flew above the Heather and Furze chirping the lullaby her mother used to sing.

Eoghan held out his hand to help Bre up. Before she could grab it, the wolf shoved its head into Breanna’s back and tossed her to her feet. The wolf grunted, which to Breanna sounded like a chuckle. Bre did a double take at the wolf as she could have sworn she saw the beast smirk.

“Eoghan MacBeatha, it’s time to explain,” Breanna said as she turned back to Eoghan with a stern face. “First off, where are we?”

Eoghan smiled as he scratched behind the ears of the panther. “We are on the Eastern border of Gaul.”

“What?” shouted Breanna, “The Germanic tribes of Gaul are no friends of the Etrusci!”

“There you go again, acting daft before you have all the facts.” Eoghan paused and took a deep breath to control his temper. His body tensed remembering the last time Bre was awake and angry. His cheek tingled as he recalled her slap.

“Bre, this territory is not solely claimed by Germanic tribes. The majority of it is under Druid control. We’ll be safe if we can find a Celtic tribe and request the aid of the Druids to get to Cymru.”

“Why are we going to Cymru? And why did you remove me from my palace? Where is my father? Where are my soldiers?” Breanna rattled off questions, growing more irate.

Seeing how distressed Breanna became, the wolf walked over and licked her from chin to forehead again. It then bounded off towards the trees.

Eoghan chuckled at the shock and disgust on Breanna’s face. “Will you calm down so I can answer your questions? Come over here under the Oak.”

Eoghan pulled her towards a large Oak tree. Breanna was not sure how she missed the enormous tree before. It was as if it just appeared when Eoghan wanted it. In addition, six Willow trees formed a giant circle around the Oak. Breanna thought it was impossible for those trees to have been there five minutes ago.

The leaves and low hanging branches of the Willows concealed them. She was slightly disappointed that she could no longer look at the breathtaking scenery. However, the sight of the Willow trees and scent from the blooming flowers calmed her temper.

Breanna shook her head to snap out of the soothing trance. She wanted to be angry. “I don’t want to rest under a tree. I was just resting on that colossal wolf.” Breanna pointed to the white and grey wolf trailing her.

Breanna’s forehead wrinkled as she calculated how long it would take to get from Etruria to Gaul. “Wait a moment, how long have I been unconscious?”

Eoghan avoided all eye contact with Breanna in an attempt to hide something from her. However, Eoghan knew hiding the truth would be a grave mistake. “Three days now.”

“Unfeasible. It takes nearly a month to get from Aventine Hill to Gaul.” Breanna grew frustrated as Eoghan avoided her eyes and evaded her questions. “Eoghan, you may not be one of my subjects, but sure as Hades I will give you the biggest beating of your life if you don’t tell me everything that is happening.”

Eoghan laughed at her threat and whistled in the wolf’s direction. “I wouldn’t be bringing the God of the Dead into this mess if I were you. He has enough problems with your family.”

Before Breanna could ask what he meant, the wolf came bounding towards them after playing with a rabbit.

“Her name is Clover. Think of her as your offensive soldier,” Eoghan explained.

Clover hunched down on her front paws in a playful stance then pounced. She knocked Bre over and pinned her to the ground.

As they stared at each other, Breanna realized that Clovers’ hazel eyes perfectly matched her own; however, she had white four-leaf clovers for pupils. She could feel a strong bond. A bond that signified Clover was not only hers, but she too belonged to Clover.

“Alright, down girl.” Clover jumped off Breanna and settled in the grass between Eoghan and Bre. “Now who is the cat looking down at us as if we are lunch?”

“Her name is Aurora; she is your protector on a more defensive scale,” said Eoghan, and then snapped his fingers. The black panther gracefully jumped down from her branch to sit in front of Breanna and pawed at her hand.

When Breanna made eye contact, she found the cat’s eyes to be royal purple with colorful lights floating in the middle of her pupils.

Aurora broke eye contact by jumping back up on her branch, looking outward as if she could see past the circle of trees to ensure danger did not approach.

While Breanna absorbed all of the information, Eoghan gave a long ear-piercing whistle. A white stallion with a black mane and tail cantered out from the trees. When the horse stopped in front Bre, it bowed then rubbed against Bre’s arm.

Bre smiled as she stared into the eyes of the gorgeous steed. What she saw was a storm of grey clouds and flashes of lightning that brewed in his eyes. He was wild and dangerous at heart, a formidable force of nature. Bre knew the horse would protect her and her family at any cost.

“What is his name? His eyes are like a storm, should I call him Stormy?” Breanna chuckled at the name, but the horse stomped his foot in disagreement. “Ha-ha, ok, not Stormy.”

“His name is Whisper. He can move quietly surprising your enemies. He is both aggressive and defensive; whichever you need him to be.”

“Do you have any more animals to add to my collection?” chuckled Breanna.

Eoghan smiled, displaying his show-stopping smirk again. It made Breanna blush.

“One more. Leora!” Eoghan yelled.

A white and black tiger proudly walked out from behind the Oak tree.

However unnerved the tiger made Breanna at first, she felt a peaceful sensation sweep over her. Breanna did not have to gaze into her eyes to understand who she was. This striking feline was empathic, but she was more than that. She could not only feel the emotions of those around her, but also create them.

Eoghan immediately explained knowing Leora was difficult to understand. “Leora, means peace in Greek. She is a fighter due to being a tiger. However, her abilities to you are to keep you calm in stressful situations. She can affect your enemies as well. Her downside is that her powers are limited to a certain amount of people. If she is attacking, she cannot use her powers to calm you. If she is channeling a vast amount of your allies, she cannot affect your enemies. Since she can feel your emotions, she knows exactly what you need and where she needs to be. This will give you a great advantage in battle.”

When Bre tried to ask a question, Eoghan cut her off again. “You need to understand that you can communicate with these animals, both verbally and telepathically.”

Breanna looked at Eoghan as if he was insane, “What exactly are you saying?”

“You belong to them and I know you feel that. They are a part of you. Your soul is connected to theirs. Your powers are their powers.”

Eoghan continued, “Now back to how quickly we got here. Whisper carried us here. Your animals run faster than any other animal known to man. We needed to get to a safe place for you to recuperate. We arrived here in the Forest of Tásúil yesterday. It translates as the Forest of Hope. It is a sanctuary for Celts. No harm can come to any Celt while in the forest. It provides a natural shield against enemies of the Gàidheals, Druid clans like my own.”

“You’re not making any sense. I am not a Druid, I’m Etruscan. Royal Etruscan,” Bre stubbornly folded her arms across her chest.

Annoyed and exasperated, Eoghan said, “You are not royalty of anything anymore.”

Breanna rolled her eyes and gave an irritated sigh. “You’re telling me that I have powers, powers only known to exist to the gods and that I lost my kingdom. You are daft if you expect to believe any of this.”

“Breanna think back to when we tried to leave the palace, when we tried to find the passage out of that horrible room. What do you remember?”

Breanna tried to think back but her memory was a little fuzzy. “I remember the walls and that large dusty round table. Why?”

“What else?” Eoghan pressed on.

“That’s it. That’s all I have for you,” Breanna said, irritated. She turned and began to walk away, not wanting to talk anymore, but Eoghan yanked her back to his side.

“Leora,” Eoghan called to the tiger while pushing Bre to the floor.

Leora rubbed against Bre’s shoulder. Bre relaxed against her soft fur and listened to the rhythm of her purr.

Images and emotions reemerged from the night Bre left the palace. She saw Eoghan carrying her through the passage and remembered feeling betrayed by her best friend and worrying for her family while she searched the cold wall for an exit back to them. Finally, Bre felt her weakness before she passed out. Fear overcame her, but Leora controlled the amount. She only needed to feel enough to remember what Eoghan wanted her to see.

“Blue and white smoke clouding my vision, so much fear…” said Bre in a weak and distant voice.

“Look through the smoke. Tell me what you see,” Eoghan said as he reached down and grabbed her hand. He gently rubbed it with his thumb.

Breanna shivered at his touch. “It’s too thick, I can’t.”

“What do you see in the smoke?” Eoghan repeated aggressively.

Eoghan’s frustration increased Bre’s anger and allowed her to see through the smoke. Once her vision cleared, she could see the throne room as if looking down from the ceiling. In the room, Bre’s father, King Remus, and his soldiers lay on the ground. Brian and Cailean stood apart with their palms facing each other. Breanna understood they were casting a protection spell, a strong and old spell. Blue light emanated from the two men to surround the room. Then, Brian and Cailean collapsed after shouting her name. She knew at that exact moment she too was passing out in the hidden room.

Bre flung open her eyes, ripped her hand out of Eoghan’s, and jerked away from Leora. “Enough!”

“You needed to remember. Brian and Cailean tapped into your powers. You do not realize how strong you are or how to use your powers. Your mother is a…”

“I said enough, Eoghan!”

Eoghan furiously stood up and yelled at Bre, “I am not one of your subjects, Breanna! You do not command me!”

Eoghan turned away and ran his fingers through his hair as he tried to regain composure. “Listen to me, Breanna,” his voice almost pleading, “right now you need to accept that I know more about you than you do. I am trying to help, but you’re acting like a brat, a brat that I am tempted to strangle.” He gritted his teeth on the last word and made a strangling motion with his hands. Eoghan’s Celtic accent came through thickly when he was angry, rolling his R’s in a profuse burr.

Breanna stood up outraged at Eoghan. Before she could yell back, a red light charged towards her. The light crashed into her chest slamming her into the Oak tree. She leaned against the tree holding her head. A dizzy, overwhelming sense of mourning filled her chest.

“Noooo!” Bre screamed as she fell to her knees. Her heart pounded in her ears, breaths shallow in her chest, and a searing pain surged in her head. White smoke reappeared with swirls of emerald and silver.

Leora rushed forward and tried to lessen Bre’s pain but Eoghan held the tiger back. A warm cushion caught Breanna as she fell backwards. Clover came to her rescue.

Before she completely passed out, she heard Eoghan whisper, “Happy birthday, Your Highness.”

Chapter 8

Prolonging the Foretold

Remus ran to his friends. He could not bear to lose his wife and his best friends in the same day. He would raid Hades to save them if he had to. “I swear upon the gods, o’Conaills. If you leave me in this mess I will hunt you in the Afterlife…whichever hell you fall into!”

“No need to make idle threats, Remus,” Brian groaned as he sat up. He nudged Cailean with his foot and scoffed lightly at his brother laying in the fetal position. “Oi, Cail, wake up. No time to rest.”

Remus helped the brothers to their feet. “Why did you call out my daughter’s name? Is she in danger?”

Brian and Cailean examined Remus carefully to find the right words until they realized he was not looking at them, but instead around the room.

Remus expected to see a young warrior whose skills surpassed any Etrusci or Gàidheal soldier, a man who rarely left the ó Conaills’ side. Eoghan MacBeatha was one of the most loyal men Remus had ever met. He was shocked Eoghan was not there when they needed him the most.

“Ah,” Brian said after he realized the target of Remus’ search. “If Eoghan is not standing at my side, where is he usually?”

Remus’ tension eased slightly when it dawned on him to whom Eoghan was attending. It was as if Eoghan read the king’s mind to protect Breanna before he even thought it.

Brian said calming, “I gave Eoghan strict instructions to protect her, not that I needed to. Breanna is safe as long as she is with him.”

Once Remus was confident Eoghan would protect Bre he asked, “What was that awful bang and blue light you two conjured?”

“Protection spell,” Cailean answered.

“A very old and very strong protection spell,” Brian added. “We need it since the MacCathail clan broke through the charms around the palace. The room is safe as long as the spell doesn’t fail.”

Brian walked over to the throne room door. He placed his hand on the large wooden door, closed his eyes, and said, “They have traveled through the courtyard and are searching for an entrance into the throne room.”

While Brian channeled the events outside the throne room, Cailean and another Gàidheal searched inside and barricaded secret passages like the one Lysandros took with Alina. Cailean knew the passages could cause a two front battle, if discovered. While scurrying to set up barricades, Cailean ordered his clansmen into two divisions: first were the Gàidheal archers, who would take the right flank closest to the outer wall and doorway; second were the broadswords, who would stand in the center of the room and form a tight half circle.

The Gaels removed their hoods and pushed back the dark silver and black cloaks over their shoulders to reveal green tunics with gold leaves embroidered along the sleeves. They wore grey leather pants with various sizes of bronze blades attached, fastened by gold hilts.

The archers held Oak bows that flawlessly wove out from the handle and concluded in spirals. Horsehair formed a strong flexible bowstring, and gold vines wrapped around the curvaceous handle to complete the bows beauty. Remus’ archers mirrored Cailean’s in their formation and his Etrusci soldiers formed the Phalanx position. Their long silver shields bearing Remus’ sigil of a wolf overlapped each other and formed an impenetrable wall. Bronze spears and swords glistened in the flickering light of the torches.

Each Etrusci soldier wore black leather boots with bronze coverings from their ankles to their knees. Their breastplates, constructed of layered sheets of bronze covered by black leather, extended from their chests to their backs, curving around their ribs just above their hips. Strips of black leather decorated with small, silver wolves hung down from the breastplate and protected their thighs. As they moved, emerald green capes flowed down from their shoulders to the back of their knees. They were warriors fit to the likeness of Ares.

The Gaels and Etrusci took their places side by side in the throne room. The throne room, once worthy of the gods, was now an opulent void filled with deafening silence. Despite the impending battle, the windows cast a rainbow of rich colors that danced on the marble floor and snow colored tapestries. It was hypnotic against the stormy nerves of the men.

“o’Conaill!” Remus’ bellowed, his voice echoing through the silence. “Where are they now?”

Brian still held his hand against the door and gravely looked at Remus over his shoulder. “We have minutes until they break our barricades.”

Remus, shocked at the news, asked, “How could they break through so easily? The only way they could do that is with a ram. I constructed my palace so it would be impossible to carry one.”

A familiar voice rang out from behind the door, “Remus! My dear brother, let me in. Let us talk this through as proper kings.”

Remus’ breath caught in his chest as pure shock made him stammer for words. Brian cleared his throat, reminding Remus to breathe. His breathing returned, shallow from disbelief at who stood behind the door. He gently rubbed his chest with the heel of his palm, feeling his heart shatter into thousands of pieces.

Remus tried to regain control over his demeanor. He took a deep breath, calmed his erratic breathing, and wiped the look of betrayal from his face.

“How big a fool do you take me for, Romulus?” Remus’ voice was stern, refusing to give Romulus satisfaction in hearing his pain.

“Do you truly want me to answer that, Remmy?” Romulus chuckled.

“You have attacked my house and family. You do not expect me to open the door so we can talk, do you?”

“Remus, I am giving you the courtesy of discussion because you are my twin. We loved each other once,” Romulus said nostalgically.

“You loved me once upon a time, but my love for you is still here. Do not belittle my intelligence or my memory of you. Do not forsake our brotherhood because we’ve been separated for two hundred years. It was your choice not to make things right between us. Romulus, I plead with you to forget the hostility of our past so we do not vainly destroy a peaceful era.”

Remus placed his hand on the cool wood that separated him from his twin. Unbeknownst to Remus, Romulus made the same gesture. The wood between their hands began to heat-up and an orange-red light spread through the door.

“Romulus, don’t you see? The gods have not given up on us. We still have the divine connection bestowed at our birth. I feel your pain as you feel mine. We are forever connected.” Remus’ voice cracked.

“Do not mistake vengeance for pain, Remus,” responded Romulus callously.

“You cannot hide what is in your heart, Brother, just as I cannot hide from you. If you follow through with your plans the only emotions you will feel are devastation and loss.” Remus sorrowfully bowed his head.

Romulus shifted uncomfortably. He hated that Remus knew him so well. They had been talking less than a minute and Remus already pierced through his anger. He remained defiantly silent. If they kept talking like this, Remus would talk him down from his attack.

Remus sighed at his brother’s silence and removed his hand. The orange light faded from the door. His palm instantly felt cold from the loss of his brother’s connection. “Your choices are destroying the world’s finest fellowship.”

Romulus removed his own hand from the door. He felt his detestation from the last two hundred years start to fade. Even after all the anger he held on to, he always missed his brother: the soul mate that left him behind.

Romulus spoke as sad memories flooded his mind, “You are the one who destroyed us, Remmy. The moment you decided to leave our home at Palatine Hill. You broke us. It was too easy for you to leave me.”

“Nothing was easy about leaving you.” A lump formed in the back of Remus’ throat, causing him to stutter. “I-I love you, Romulus. I am truly sorry for what happened. There has not been a day where I did not think of you and our glorious past. I regret how I left you, but I do not regret the life I have here.”

“Do not speak of regret!” Romulus’ anger surged to full strength. “Regret brings you back to your beginning. If you regretted leaving then you would have found your way back to me. You did not return to our home, but made your own with a woman who was not of our society. Not only did you forsake us, you abandoned the old ways.”

“I have always kept the traditions of our culture, but merely adapted to changes of the world. Change is good, Romulus. We need to change with the world or we will get lost in it. Have you learned nothing in our nine-hundred years? You have lost your way, Romulus. Let me bring you back…bring you back to me.” Remus’ heart raced. He could sense his brother’s anger lessen as he spoke.

Remus was eager to see his beloved brother again. His heart pounded in his ears at the thought of it. Without hesitation, Remus grabbed the door handle, his muscles tensing ready to swing the door open. Knots formed in his stomach from his excitement.

Wham!

The sound of a hard object colliding with the door startled Remus, stopping him from embracing his brother. The vibration from the impact stung his hand as he clung to the door handle. The pain in his hand mimicked that in his heart.

“Break it down!” Romulus ordered a battering ram to break down the throne room doors.

Remus took strained steps away from the door, biting his lip to hold back tears. Every ram of the door felt like a blow to his heart. He loathed that ram. It destroyed the reunion with his brother.

It took all of Remus’ strength not to fall to his knees from heartache. Filled with grief, Remus’ spoke to Romulus in a cracked, choked–up voice, “I see you have made your choice. Regardless of how it pains me, I respect it. Never forget the bond we shared.”

Silence fell among the warriors after Remus’ heartbreaking remark. Even Romulus’ soldiers were speechless and stared at their king, awaiting a reaction.

The silence broke with Romulus’ hushed words of contempt, “You are only prolonging the inevitable, Remus.”

Romulus’ voice filled the silent throne room as he ordered his troops to ram the door again. Another crash, followed by moans of pain from the men, echoed through the halls.

“Again!” shouted Romulus. Another crash and more moans. “Again!”

These steps repeated for what seemed like an eternity to Remus. With each ramming of the door, Remus and Brian’s soldiers stood silently, waiting for the doors to give way. However, the sounds of wood splintering and charging battle cries never came. The ramming became less forceful as Romulus’ soldiers weakened.

Romulus halted his attack on the doors. “I know who lies behind these doors, and I too brought a charmed tribe. The only question is who is stronger?”

Remus sighed at his statement. “If you know who is with me, why make a fool of yourself ramming against the shield of Gàidheals?”

“I can hold out as long as it takes to bring down your barriers, but how long can you last without food and water?” Romulus retorted smugly.

Remus looked around at his men knowing they could not out-last Romulus’ without supplies. He wheeled around to Brian, but Brian shook his head. “We are not on the ground. In order to conjure food and water, we must be near the earth. Our powers connect with nature. We do not have the ability to conjure anything we please whenever we please.”

Remus’ stomach sank. “Then we are doomed. We cannot fight for days without food and water.”

“We don’t have to outlast them, we just have to outsmart them. We may not be able to conjure food but we can still cast spells. If we can create a spell that will slow down time then days will pass out there without deteriorating our thirst and hunger,” said Cailean with a menacing look.

Brian slapped Cailean on the back so hard he stumbled forward. “Well, little brother, when did you become so clever?”

An elated Remus pulled the still shocked Cailean into a bear hug and said, “You conniving little fox! I wouldn’t want to be your enemy.”

Cailean steadied himself from their rough approvals and began scribing the spell he would need. “Give me five minutes to work out the wording.”

“Ha-ha! Take ten, Cail! If you do this right we have all the time in the world,” Remus laughed.

Cailean did not look up from writing his spell as he addressed his brother and Remus, “Ok, I am going to try and set the spell so that for every half hour that passes in here, a whole day will pass out there. That is the slowest we can go without completely disturbing nature and removing us from our plane of existence.”

“I see it’s safe to use,” Remus said with a smirk.

Cailean smiled back. “What’s the matter, Remus? Don’t trust me?”

“Don’t get smug, Cail. The deed is not done,” Brian said as he left the group to look out the window.

“Just you watch me, ol’ wise one,” Cailean answered his brother teasingly. “The student will now become the teacher.”

Eight minutes later…

“Perfect!” Cailean shouted and stood up with the spell, “Alright everybody, hope for the best and prepare for the worst.”

Brian raised an eyebrow and shook his head. “Great words of encouragement.”

“Oh, shush and watch me become your hero,” said Cailean with a crooked smile.

Cailean searched around the room for dirt or dust, but the room was spotless. Frustrated, Cailean yelled out to Remus, “Do you have to keep such a tidy palace? By the grace of the gods, Remus, no other royal is as clean as you.”

Remus chuckled at his friend’s frustration, “Well not all of us can be as flawed and filthy as you, Cail.”

Cailean unsheathed his dagger and chipped away at the stone walls. He moved to each corner of the room, removing small pieces of wall.

Aghast, Remus shouted out, “Cailean, what in Hades are you doing to my walls?”

“I need something from each corner of the room for the spell to work and since you have no dirt, this will do nicely.” Cailean put away his dagger after digging out a small portion of the fourth wall. “Should have kept a messier house, Rem” Cailean muttered with a grin as he passed Remus.

Cailean moved to the center of the room with the spell and the four tiny chunks of wall in hand. He shook the pieces nervously in the same motion one would shake a pair of dice.

“Alright, I can do this,” Cailean said, looking at his brother and psychically saying ‘I hope this bloody works.

Cailean stood with his feet shoulder width apart to steady himself. He was not positive how the spell would react, if it worked at all. He took a deep breath, held out his right hand with the stones and recited the spell. The paper fell from his hand as he closed his eyes. He worked so intently to get the words perfect that he knew it by heart.

“Am seasmhach anois, a ligean ar deighilt am…”As Cailean performed the spell the stone pieces trembled in his hands. Faint gold light circled the stones as they floated into the air. “… Camadh ár mbraighdeanas a bheachtú tríocha.”

As soon as he finished the incantation, the four stone pieces rose above his head and each soared to a different corner of the room. The stones whistled through the air and gold light trailed behind them, enveloping the room. Each stone piece traveled to the corner from which it had been carved and blasted a small hole in the wall.

When the gold light subsided, smoke poured out of the tiny holes created by the shards. One soldier walked over to get a closer look and touched the small crevice. He yelped in pain and wrenched his hand back, shaking it as the singed skin begged for cool air. The hole was smoldering hot. His fellow comrades roared in laughter and shouted different insults: “Are you blind, Cornelius? Did you not see the smoke?” “My own mother could handle pain better!” “Nice yelp, Corn! Didn’t know you were part dog.”

“Easy, men. Cornelius, are you alright?” Remus asked the young soldier. “Go see one of the Gaels and they’ll heal your hand. We don’t need a soldier wounded because he was too curious for his own good.” The soldiers laughed louder as even their king jested at Cornelius’ expense.

Cailean still stood with his hand held out. Breathing shallow with a look of shock on his face as Brian walked up to him.

Brian gripped his brother’s shoulder firmly. “Cail? You alright?”

“Ummm, I think so…”

“Well you don’t appear to be injured. Maybe its mental shock that you pulled off a complicated spell without it backfiring,” Brian laughed, tightening his grip in approval.

Remus rushed over to the two brothers. “Did it work? I promise, Cail, if it worked and we survive this battle I will make you and Brian here the richest men in any kingdom.”

“Let’s gander out the window shall we?” Brian pointed to the massive windows.

The three men rushed to the nearest window. It was so high up they had to push one of the long oak tables underneath it to stand on. Despite all three being over six feet, they were barely tall enough to peer through the stained glass.

Other soldiers around the room did the same, desperate to see if the spell worked. The men looked like little boys spying as they strained their necks to see out the window.

“What exactly are we looking for?” asked Remus.

Cailean nervously prayed for any evidence. “Well, time in here is moving thirty minutes to every day out there. Which means…” Cailean scrunched his forehead.

“Don’t try and do math little brother. It’s not your strong suit,” Brian poked fun at Cailean’s painful expression.

Cailean jabbed an elbow into Brian’s ribs. “I don’t see you answering his questions.”

“Look at the bird! And the trees!” Remus shouted, ignoring the brothers’ quarrel.

A bird flew so fast across the sky it was nearly impossible to follow. It zipped across the skyline as a colorful blur of royal blue and yellow. The tall pine trees that used to dance in the wind now rocked back and forth as if waving at the childlike men.

Remus and the o’Conaills jumped down from the tables, smiles stretched tightly across their faces. “Congratulations, Cail! Looks like your spell is a success,” Remus beamed as he patted Cailean’s back.

“Yes, indeed. Congratulations. You gave us a fighting chance,” Brian said proudly.

The soldiers followed their leaders in thanking Cailean. They took turns walking up to shake his hand, pat his back, and bow their heads in respect. Cailean humbly thanked them for their gesture, but inside his inner child performed summersaults.

Remus walked over to the throne room doors and placed his hand in the middle where the two doors met.

From behind him, Brian eyed him suspiciously and asked, “What are you thinking Remus?”

“I am thinking there is one more spell we can try.” Remus looked determined.

“Do tell,” the brothers curiously said in unison.

“The connection my brother and I share. Since we can feel what the other feels, I believe we might be able to share thoughts as well, or at least view the same thoughts together.”

“What do you mean?” Brian asked cautiously.

“I mean that with your help I might be able to reach Romulus one last time. Instead of just dredging up old emotions through talking, I can make him remember with me,” Remus explained and pointed to his head.

“You were able to feel what the other felt because your hands were in the same place at the same time. In order to accomplish what you are talking about, the two of you need to be in the exact same place. Neither of you could move for this to work. And with the time spell Cailean casted, you would be trapping Romulus for hours to your minutes,” explained Brian, unsure if the spell would work or be worth the pain it would cause his friend.

“We could immobilize them both, “Cailean added, “by holding Remus against the spot of the wall where Romulus stands with a simple binding spell.”

“Brian, we have to try everything we can. Our people are all in jeopardy here,” Remus pleaded. “If we spare any lives today, it is worth it.”

“I agree with Remus. It would be a shame to let anything happen to that pretty face of yours,” Cailean said and lightly tapped Brian’s cheek.

Brian shook his brother off. “If you want to go through that emotional toll, I will help.”

Smiling, Remus clapped his hands loudly and rubbed them together. “Let’s have a go, shall we?”

Chapter 9

Fairies of the Alder

Alina bit her lip to stop from crying as Lysandros jostled her while sprinting through the secret passage. She pressed hard with both hands on the wound in her abdomen to staunch the bleeding. This was no time to be vain, but she felt self-conscious of her disheveled appearance. Her silver shirt was torn and bloody from her fight. She was angry with her husband for ordering the guards to take her away. If he had not given the order, that guard would not have stabbed her.

A kind and tender woman, being angry with her husband sickened Alina. A knot had grown in her stomach since she left the throne room. She feared that she might never again see her husband and home.

“Hold on, Your Highness. I’m trying to get out of this mess, but there’s no light.” Lysandros tried to sound reassuring, but the dark and damp hallway that smelled like rotting sewage did little to encourage him.

Crack!

A noise like a whip echoed through the passage. Suddenly, the torches along the grey wall lit up their path. Lysandros looked down at Alina with the firelight flickering in her hazel eyes. He never noticed the flecks of gold shining brightly back at him. He expected to see her pale and cringing in pain, but instead she was smiling…no, she was laughing at him. Lysandros stood in awe of the queen. Even after being stabbed and torn from her home, she kept her humor.

“Was that you?” Lysandros asked with a crooked smile.

“Who else are you expecting?”

He breathed a small laugh at her smart remark. “I see you still have your powers, Majesty,” Lysandros said continuing his descent through the hallway.

Alina rolled her eyes. “How many times do I have to tell you to address me by my name?”

“I do not know to what you are referring,” Lysandros smirked.

Alina winced. “Don’t make me laugh, Lys. Although, if I’m going to die, it may as well be because I laughed my way to death.”

“Alright, no more jokes. I’ll be as serious as the Athenian Plague.”

“Promises, promises.” Alina pressed her head deeper in Lysandros’ chest to hide her smile.

“While we are being serious, my Quee…” Lysandros caught himself, “Alina, how much of your powers do you still have?”

“Enough to get us to where we need to go. My powers have been leaving me since I was stabbed. I can call for a ride to get us to the Forest of Slàinte. Just get me outside the confines of the palace.”

“Almost there.”

Lysandros quickened his pace and held Alina tighter so as not to put her in more pain. Anyone outside the royal family and the o’Conaills who attempted to escape in the tunnels would be lost for days. However, since Lysandros built the tunnels with Remus he knew them better than most, although he could not help but think Alina magically influenced his direction.

Finally, after what seemed like an hour since their escape, they reached the outer door of the palace. Lysandros kicked the door, busting it off its hinges, and then jogged to the protective cover of the trees.

As he carried Alina past the first tree, he heard rustling of leaves and the sound of branches breaking. He glanced over his shoulder just in time to see the trees move together and create a wall that shielded them from attackers.

“You shouldn’t fear nature, least not while you are with me,” Alina responded to Lysandros’ wide-eyed, frightened look. “Quickly, prop me up against the nearest tree.”

Lysandros placed her in between two large tree roots protruding from the moss-covered ground. He stepped away, surveying the damage done by the sword. The wound in the middle of her abdomen still profusely bled.

“Lysandros, fetch me those roots over there, the brown and green ones. Then next to them, under the Ivy there should be small purple flowers. Pick the petals,” Alina said pointing to all the ingredients.

Alina pulled her dagger from her boot and dug at the side of the tree. When Lysandros returned, she made a small mixing bowl from the tree’s bark. She pointed to a small brook on her right, a brook Lysandros could have sworn was not there when they arrived.

“Lys, fill the bowl a quarter of the way up and then place the petals and roots in the water.”

As he filled the bowl, the water sparkled. However, no light could shine through the trees’ thick canopies. By the time he returned, the ingredients were a mushy lump of browns and purples. He handed her the makeshift bowl and stood back, unsure of what Alina was about to do.

Laughing at Lysandros’ weariness of her magic, Alina took her knife and mashed the ingredients into a fine paste. She then cut a long thick strip of her shirt and handed it to Lysandros.

“Will you hand me that moss? Careful not to crush the ends,” Alina instructed.

Lysandros went to fetch the moss. When he returned, he watched Alina intently as she smeared the paste over her wound. He had never seen an herbal remedy of this nature. She then pressed a clump of moss deep into the paste-covered slit in her stomach. She winced at the pain, which made Lysandros wince sympathetically.

Alina sat up, beckoning Lysandros with the strip of cloth. “I need you to wrap this as tightly as you can around my waist. The paste and pressure should help control the bleeding.”

“Will it heal you?” Lysandros asked as he wrapped her stomach.

“No, not completely.” She lifted her arm for Lysandros to help her up.

Lysandros swung her arm around his neck and grasped her waist. With his free hand, he moved her strawberry-blonde hair away her eyes. She smiled back at him, making him blush. He always knew she was beautiful, but he had never been this close or alone with the Queen.

“Alright, what now?” Lysandros asked with a touch of airiness in his voice.

A cunning smile appeared on Alina’s face. Lysandros knew that look. It was an adventurous look most people did not want to see from her.

“I’m not going to enjoy this, am I?” Lysandros said.

Alina chuckled and snapped her fingers again. Mist billowed around the large tree trunks and engulfed them. Trotting towards the pair was a large white stallion with jet-black hair. She held out her arm towards the steed. He nestled against her hand then nudged Lysandros’ shoulder in approval.

“How do you have all these powers? I thought your powers were stripped once you married Remus?”

Alina laughed again. “You shouldn’t believe everything you hear, Lysandros. It is true that some of my powers have dissipated over time, but the Gàidheal council could not strip the powers of my bloodline. This is Whisper. He is a Pwca, an animal spirit that guards my bloodline.”

Whisper reared in impatience.

Alina sighed, “I know, I know. We must hurry. We have to get to the Forest of Slàinte.”

Whisper lay down so Lysandros could help Alina onto his back. Lysandros then climbed behind her so she would not fall during their journey. Alina traced a U shape around Whisper’s neck and silver reins appeared long enough for Lysandros to grasp. He created a circular wall of reins and arms around the injured queen.

Alina entwined her fingers in Whisper’s black hair and patted the horse, signaling Whisper to take off. The horse stood in a smooth, effortless motion and then pawed at the ground. Alina leaned back into Lysandros, allowing his body to support hers. His muscles tensed, trying to be strong for her.

Before Lysandros knew it, they were moving at a pace so fast that they could not make out the scenery around them. It was a beautiful blur of greens, blues, browns, and purples. He heard laughter in the distance but could not place its origin. He then felt Alina’s shoulders jostle against his chest and realized it was Alina’s laugh. The queen was enjoying herself as if all her pain had disappeared.

They came to a halt five minutes into their journey. It was a smooth transition from sprinting to walking through a forest of Apple and Alder trees. Large, golden apples hung from the branches. The canopy of the Alder trees sparkled with white and red lights. The colors of green foliage, gold apples, and twinkling red and white lights should have clashed, but somehow they created a peaceful atmosphere. Being a political man in charge of keeping peace during Remus’ reign, Lysandros usually had a way with words. However, admiring his surroundings, he was speechless.

Lysandros jumped down to help Alina dismount. She inhaled sharply, wincing at Lysandros’ touch. The rag around her waist was soaked in fresh blood. Her remedy was not taking effect. Seeing the Queen in so much pain twisted a knot in Lysandros’ stomach. He needed to protect her, to save her.

Once on the ground, Alina flicked her wrist and a carrot appeared in her hand for Whisper. She rubbed the soft area of his nose and the reins disintegrated as he gnawed on his treat. Whisper’s ears perked up and he turned his head back towards the Etruscan palace at Aventine Hill.

“Go, you have to protect her,” Alina rubbed Whisper’s soft nose.

Whisper whinnied and then took off. Alina tried to look up towards the tree’s canopies when a stabbing pain shot through her body. She collapsed, short of breath, but Lysandros was there to catch her.

“Well, aren’t you my hero today?” Alina smirked at the distraught soldier holding her up.

“I am whatever you need me to be, Alina.” Lysandros propped Alina up against the trunk of the Alder tree and surveyed its canopy, “What are those lights?”

“Those are the Fairies of the Alder.” Alina said before she whispered in her native tongue, “Ó na fréamhacha thíos go dtí na duilleoga ar barr, a ligean am mall a nochtadh ar barr Fearnóg.”

As soon as she finished, time slowed down around them. A deer in the background gracefully pawed at the dirt and leaves moved at a turtles pace. Their environment was a slow motion scene where every fleck of dirt could be seen flying in the wind. Even the air seemed to leisurely roll by them.

“Please do explain why you slowed time.” Lysandros was always apprehensive about magic.

“Why are you worried? A spell so easily cast is easily broken. And they are why I slowed time,” said Alina, pointing up at the Alder’s branches.

“What in the name of Zeus have you done?” Lysandros, born and bred to be a stoic Greek warrior, was not a man easily shocked. However, what he witnessed was enough to scare anyone. Instead of the white and red sparkling lights, there were white and red miniature people flying in and out of the tree limbs, lounging on the thick curved leaves, and eating the red berries off the branches.

The females wore white strapless dresses that fell just shy of their knees. White wings adorned with red flecks that sparkled like rubies in the sunlight fluttered behind them. They had crimson skin darkened by pale white hair of different lengths. The males dressed in red and had dark red wings. Their jet-black hair contrasted their light silver skin. Both sexes had charcoal grey irises that stood out against the whites of their eyes.

“I merely slowed down time so you are able to see the fairies that live in the Alders. They are the guardians of this forest…” Alina explained. “Do you see those golden apples? They are the apples from your Greek myths, the golden apples of the gods. They can grant…”

“Immortality or heal any ailment. Which means you can completely recover from your wound,” Lysandros finished her sentence, excited about the prospect.

Alina smiled at the interruption. “Yes, one of the apples can save me, but…”

“I’ll go pick one!”

Before Alina could finish her story, Lysandros ran to pick the fruit.

A loud whap, followed by a crunching noise, resulted from Lysandros’ brave attempt. He had run into a shield charm that protected the tree. The shield bent inward at Lysandros’ momentum, then tossed him back halfway across the clearing into a pile of dead leaves.

Alina tried hard not to laugh, but when Lysandros emerged from the pile with his hair and clothes covered in dead foliage, she couldn’t help herself. She clutched at her wound to control her laughter.

“Sometimes I wonder if you are a wise adult or a reckless child,” Alina shook her head at Lysandros’ appearance. “If you had let me finish, you would have understood. Since the labor of Herakles, Demeter placed a barrier around the tree so that no man can enter to pick its fruit.”

“Hold on. Demeter is a Greek goddess and the fairies are Celtic. You are telling me the religions of the world overlap?”

Alina paused briefly to gather her thoughts. She wanted to phrase her explanation so Lysandros could easily understand the religious connections.

Realizing it would be a long and complicated explanation, Lysandros shook his head and pursed his lips together. “Never mind. How do you propose we get the fruit?” Lysandros asked impatiently.

“The Fairies of the Alder of course.”

“Ah, yes. Of course.” Lysandros said sarcastically as he brushed off the foliage that clung to his clothes. “Why didn’t I think of that?”

“Ha-ha, no need for sarcasm. The fairies are the reason behind the forest’s name. Slàinte translates from my language to mean health; it is the Forest of Health. The fairies are the only ones who can penetrate the barrier and retrieve the apples. However, they must deem you worthy of their help. They will not heal the ordinary.” Alina looked worried as she watched the fairies flying through the Alder canopies.

“Oh, lovely. I have heard stories of Celtic fairies. They are no friends of humans.”

“Yes, that is partly true, but as I have told you before, don’t believe everything you hear. I am a member of an ancient bloodline, that makes me different from others. Not to mention that we are not exactly human, are we? They will take my bloodline into consideration as they judge me,” said Alina.

As if on cue, a crimson female and a silver male flew down to greet them.

The female spoke authoritatively first, “Queen of Half and Guardian of The Power, why have you entered our domain?”

“Guardian of the wha…” Lysandros started but Alina shushed him.

“Ah, the old one does not know his true destiny,” the male fairy flew closer to Lysandros to examine him while speaking to the female. “We are at the beginning, sister.”

“Well then, we shall not waste any more time,” the female responded, then flew off to the Apple tree. She penetrated the barrier, which sent a ripple through the invisible shield as she entered with ease.

The male hovered over Alina and came to rest on her stomach. He lifted the makeshift bandage wrapped around her waist and called out to his sister. “Boadicea, grab more than our usual portion, there is poison in her wound.” He turned back to Alina and introduced himself, “Hello, Queen Alina. My name is Coyle, King of the Fairies in the Forest of Slàinte. That is my stubborn sister, Boadicea, Queen of the Fairies.”

Boadicea returned with a pouch of several slices of apple. “Watch who you call stubborn, Coyle.” She gave her brother a dirty look as she emptied the pouch on Alina’s stomach.

Alina was eternally grateful and bowed her head. “I am in your debt.”

Coyle walked up the Queen’s chest and fed her the apple slices. “Not at all, Queen Alina, you are the Queen of Half. My people have sworn to protect The Power at any cost. Then there is also your lineage, of course.”

Boadicea cut away the bandage and scraped out Alina’s herbal paste. Alina winced as the fairy’s knife dug into her wound. Lysandros grabbed Alina’s hand to comfort her.

Boadicea bit her lip sympathetically as she worked. “I am sorry for your discomfort, Your Majesty. I am going as quickly as I can. Your remedy worked to stave off the poison, but it did not cure it. You arrived just in time before the Visa took hold of you.”

“The what?” Lysandros asked.

Boadicea stared up at Lysandros in disapproval of his ignorance, then turned her attention back to Alina. “The Visa,” she said, squeezing the apple slice so its juice flowed into Alina’s wound. “The gods of the East have named this type of poison Visa. It is written in scripture as this…” She then flew down to the ground where she took her dagger and drew a picture. The picture was Sanskrit, विष.

Alina chuckled at Lysandros’ befuddled look. “Here, allow me.”

Still smiling, she drew out how it should be pronounced. “W-i-su…pronounce the ‘I’ as you would in ‘bit’ and then pronounce the ‘U’ as you would in ‘but’.”

While Alina explained the poison to Lysandros, Coyle walked down to Alina’s wound and rubbed the final apple slice around the edges of her shirt. Boadicea flew around Lysandros’ body, pouring whatever was left of the apple into his cuts despite his protests to give all the juice to Alina.

When the fairy siblings were done, Alina and Lysandros were healed and their shirts mended.

Boadicea flew close to Lysandros’ face and put her dagger away. “Listen to me now, Guardian,” she used air quotes when saying his title, “the only reason we have helped you today is because of Alina’s bloodline and because you are needed for The Queen. We pledge ourselves to you as long as you hold your title and do not betray your birthright.”

Coyle hovered next to his sister. “By law, young one, we should not have healed you at all. You disrespected the laws of the forest when attempting to gain the fruit of the gods.” Coyle smirked and buzzed around his sister in a playful motion. “It is lucky for you, Guardian, that we make the laws here.”

Boadicea grabbed the back of Coyle’s collar, yanking him back beside her. He folded in half by her sudden grasp. She laughed quietly to herself as Coyle regained his composure. She smoothed her face once he rose to hover next her again.

“Enough, Brother. You are a king, not a commoner.”

“Never forget, we fairies are a vengeful race, Boadicea.”

“Anyways, you must be leaving. The deed is done and the forest can do no more,” ordered Boadicea.

Boadicea and Coyle waved their arms towards the far end of the forest. The trees separated revealing an exit.

Coyle bowed to Alina and said, “We must part now, but be so kind to remove the spell upon our people.”

Alina smiled gratefully at her mythical healers. “I fear we will never meet again. However, my blood will live on. Be kind to keep a weathered eye on its future.” Alina raised her hand and the spell was broken with a snap of her fingers. The fairies returned to a blur of white and red lights.

Lysandros cleared his throat and crossed his arms over his chest. “What did they mean by The Queen? Was Brian right all those years ago? And what is this Guardian business?”

“There will be plenty of time for answers, but now there is no time for questions. We must leave,” Alina said with a dismissive wave of her hand.

Lysandros sighed then rubbed his hands together anxiously. “Well, Alina, where are we going and how are we getting there?”

Alina twined her arm through Lysandros’ as they headed through the exit. “You leave that to me.”

Lysandros sighed and shook his head. “You’re smirking again. Traveling with you is going to be an adventure, isn’t it?”

“Oh you have no idea, my friend,” Alina laughed heartily, her curly strawberry-blonde hair bouncing off her shoulders.

Once through the forest’s exit, the trees closed behind them. Alina bent down, grabbed a handful of dirt, and blew it into the air. Once the wind took the dirt, she called out, “Dubh Draíochta! Tintreach Bán!” Two giant horses cantered out from where the dirt spun in the wind. One of them was midnight black and the other pure white; neither had a single flaw on their body.

Alina gently patted Lysandros’ back while pointing at the two horses. “Take your pick, Lys.”

The black horse trotted up to Lysandros and nibbled at his collar. “I think he chose for me. Black Magic and White Lightning, correct?”

“You remember Gaelic,” Alina beamed at Lysandros.

Lysandros raised an eyebrow in an ‘of course I do’ manner.

“Alright, we have the transportation. Now we need a destination,” Lysandros said while climbing on Black Magic’s back.

Alina climbed up on her horse, White Lightning, with another mischievous smile. “The horses know where to go.”

After they were mounted, long silver reins appeared in their hands, cool and smooth to the touch. The reins coiled around their wrists to keep them steady. Alina winked at Lysandros, kicked the side of White Lightning, and took off towards the horizon. Lysandros could not believe how fast they sped off, faster than any other horse, except Whisper.

He bent down to Black Magic’s ear and asked, “Can you keep up, boy?” With no signal, Black Magic took off. In less than a minute, they caught up with Alina.

Lysandros thought to himself, Black Magic is such a long name for a horse. Maybe I’ll shorten it to just Magic.

Yep, sounds great! a male voice spoke in elation.

Much simpler, Lysandros thought in reply to the voice. “Wait, who said that?”

Lysandros looked around him in alarm, but there was no one around except Alina, and it was surely a male voice.

“Alina are you putting voices in my head?”

“No, silly. The horse is,” said Alina gesturing to Magic.

“What?” Lysandros gave Alina an ‘I can’t believe you just said that’ expression.

It’s me, Magic! You know, the black thing you are riding. Hold on, Lightning and I are racing. Don’t fall off now, you’ll make me lose!

“What in Tartarus have I gotten myself intoooo…?” The last word trailed off into the distance as the horses bounded effortlessly through open terrain.

Chapter 10

Memories of Old

Every hour for three days, Romulus’s second in command, Aeneos, ordered his soldiers to ram against the throne room door. The soldiers grew tired and weak from the constant battering.

Romulus was quiet and patient. He could feel his brother’s presence opposite of him in the throne room. They had once been best friends, twins in every sense of the word. This anger and war between the brothers would have been incomprehensible when they were younger. They were inseparable, yet for the past two centuries, they had been just that…separated.

Romulus leaned against the wall, suddenly filled with longing and despair. His stomach churned, about to be sick with an awful choking sensation in his throat. He tried to move away from his troops before tears formed, but froze. It felt as though someone tied him around his ankles, waist, arms, and throat. He was bound by weakness.

On the exact opposite side of the wall, the o’Conaills pinned Remus to the wall. Remus was experienced the same sensations as Romulus. Brian had one hand on Remus’ forehead and one against the wall next to Remus’ ear.

Before Remus and Romulus were restrained against the wall, Remus made a decision that would seal the outcome of the battle:

“Before we begin, Remus, are you sure you want to go through with this? It may backfire on all of us,” Brian looked at Remus with pity.

“We could wait him out. After all, I did pass that spell, or did you forget already?” Cailean chimed in with his dry humor.

Whack!

Cailean’s head jerked forward. He looked up to see his brother with his hand still in the air from smacking him.

“What was that for?” Cailean said, rubbing the back of his head.

“Have you forgotten that while we may be immortal, these soldiers are not? And to let you know you’re being a prat…again.”

“You don’t have to say it so painfully, though,” Cailean added as he rubbed his head.

Brian turned back to Remus, “You need to understand that what you two felt earlier through the door will be magnified tenfold.”

“What other options do we have, Brian?” Remus was resolute.

“Alright, you win,” surrendered Brian. He looked around the room at the many weapons and trinkets Remus kept available. “You don’t happen to have something personal that belonged to Romulus, do you?”

“Objects and memories of my brother I keep close,” Remus replied while removing a necklace from under his tunic. “Before I met you at the wall at Palatine Hill, I went to the Twin Thrones to reexamine the life I was leaving. When I got to the thrones I noticed Romulus’ half of the necklace we’ve had since birth.”

Remus held onto the gold wolf pendant with a dull edge, once jagged like the teeth of the beast it represented. “The pendent was originally two wolves. It was broken to symbolize our eternal connection. We each wear half. Before I left with you that night,” Remus smiled at the memory, “I took his half and left mine where he carelessly laid his in a drunken stupor. I needed something to be connected to him.”

Remus’ grip tightened around the wolf and he pulled it close to his chest. Brian held out his hand with a stern look, “I promise no harm will come to this treasure.”

Remus nodded, “I know. The only problem is that this is the last time I will be able to hold it. The two of you must promise to get the necklace to Breanna. It belongs in my bloodline. Whether Romulus wants to admit it or not, she is his successor as well.”

“You’re talking as if we have already lost the battle, Remus. You have never given up hope before,” Brian tried to comfort the woeful king.

“Do not placate me, my friend. I have known my fate all along. The actions I took today were not to save my life but to save the rest of you. A dying wolf knows when it is his time to pass. Unlike other animals, the pack surrounds its fading member to say goodbye.” Remus gripped the wolf pendent tighter.

Remus traced the lines of the wolf with his thumb before handing it to Brian. “Romulus may not realize it, but that is why he is here. For a long time two alphas from one pack have lived in our world. That is a treasure that can never exist again.”

Remus threw his arms around both Cailean and Brian and walked them towards the interior wall where Romulus and his men rested on the other side. Remus jostled the brothers as he spoke, “But the only thing a dying man has is hope, right? So what do you say? Put away those melancholy faces and bring on the false hope.”

When they reached the wall, Remus let go of his friends and closed his eyes to feel around the wall for his brother. “Here, Romulus is here.”

Remus’ hand dropped from the smooth surface and turned to face Brian and Cailean. He stepped backwards with his palms facing the wall, anxious for its cool touch. The moment his hands reached the wall, a shiver crawled up his back. He inhaled and exhaled slowly as his stomach churned, imagining the horrid stress and pain he and Romulus were about to endure. Remus did his best to steel his nerves by clenching his fists and closing his eyes, “I’m ready.”

Brian placed his hand on Remus’ forehead and closed his own eyes. “Remus, these will not all be conscious memories. Some of the most important ones we must use will be memories that both your minds hid away. You will not only feel your own emotions but your brothers’ as well.”

Remus nodded, “No matter what you see and what I say, don’t hold back and don’t let me go. He will take advantage of that. You remember who our father is?”

Brian and Cailean nodded and glanced nervously at each other.

After taking a large breath to calm his own nerves, Brian began mumbling, his voice nothing more than a sweet whisper in Remus’ ear. A warm comforting sensation washed over Remus’ body. His mind became consumed with joyful memories of his past. He saw friends he had long forgotten and their mischievous deeds of flooding the stables of the aristocracy, stealing bags of grain and scattering them across the road for the birds to pick at, and pranks of leading wild animals into various houses of the rich. He laughed as he remembered the immature trouble of his childhood: unexpected trouble from a small village in the kingdom of Alba Longa where the king mistreated his subjects.

“He is succumbing, Brian. He will not destroy me without destroying part of himself,” said Remus, determined to make his brother feel something other than anger.

In order for this plan to work, Brian had to be aggressive and dig deep. Despite his focus on the incantation, he sent a psychic message to Cailean, Cailean, you need a better grip on Remus. He will try to escape from the mental hold I have on him, but for the sake of his sanity you cannot let him break the connection.

Cailean acknowledged with a nod. He grabbed Remus around the neck and laid one arm across his chest. Suddenly, the wall moved and created stone cuffs around Remus’ ankles and a stone strap around his waist.

The only way they could break out of this hold is if they tap into the divine strength of their father, Mars, Cailean said psychically to Brian.

Do not underestimate the bloodline of Mars. And do not forget, Romulus has a temper far worse than Remus, Brian responded.

Romulus struggled against Cailean’s strength and the pressure of the wall holding him. Physically there was nothing holding him, yet he was immobilized by Cailean’s binding spell.

Remus fought back against Cailean’s grip as Brian dug deeper into his mind.

The twins’ breathing became labored and they whimpered as Brian dug deeper, flipping through their collective memories.

It was their first memory, barely a few hours old. They saw Rhea Silvia, their mother, with their uncle, King Amulius of Alba Longa, on the riverbank. The memory took place just as they were nestled into a basket. Amulius stood off to the side, dressed in the royal colors of purple and blue, overseeing the death of his great-nephews unmoved and unashamed. He ordered the guards to restrain Rhea and force her to watch the death of her children.

Rhea’s hands were tied behind her back and her mouth was gagged to muffle her sobs. Her long brown hair clung to her damp cheeks next to her bright golden-brown eyes, bloodshot from crying. It took two guards to restrain her from running to her children. Rhea collapsed as the guard pushed the basket into the raging rapids of the Tiber, staring as her innocent babies drifted to their death. One guard came over to hold Rhea, not to restrain her but to console. The last image the babies saw before being swept away by the rapids was their mother’s sorrowful face.

The image faded into another memory hours after they were placed in the river. The twins by some miracle survived the violent twists and turns of the Tiber. They were floating gently down the calm section of the river. A large grey and white she-wolf named Lupa heard their cries and trotted to the waterside. The moment Lupa peered into the basket the twins stopped crying. She carried them into her den where she freed them from their blankets. She curled herself around them to keep them warm as they nursed from her.

Lupa provided protection from the harsh wilderness. She was the alpha female in the pack, and the pack guarded the children as if they were their own cubs. Lupa nursed the babies until they were too old for milk. The pack tried to help by sharing their food with the twins. However, raw meat was not suitable for human babies.

Lupa called upon the woodpecker to bring fruit to her adopted cubs. Each day, twice a day, the woodpecker brought bundles of berries and the deer brought branches with apples and pears. Soon enough, the babies could walk and it was difficult for Lupa to keep track of the curious children. She knew it was time for them to leave the pack.

While out hunting, Lupa discovered a farm of a childless shepherd and his wife. Lupa waited for a warm sunny day when she knew the shepherd would be out with his flock. The twins jumped all over Lupa as she led them through an unfamiliar field, filled with sheep. She let out a howl that curdled the blood of the sheep, causing a wooly stampede. The giant wolf stood guard over the babies, protecting them from harm.

Once the sheep fled, Lupa nuzzled the babies to say goodbye and bounded away with tears in her eyes. The babies once again felt the loss of a mother. It took every ounce of Lupa’s willpower not to carry twins back to her den. However, she knew she could no longer raise human children.

Under Brian’s spell, Remus and Romulus felt Lupa’s pain as she struggled with leaving the babies. They remembered the shepherd discovering them in the grass as they crawled over his heard dog who sniffed them out after hearing them cry. Stunned at two random children, the shepherd picked up the toddlers and carried them back home, where he and his wife would raise them as their own.

A few days after the shepherd discovered the twins, a traveling man requesting food and water stopped at the house. He was dressed in a red cloak and wore a bronze ring with a wolf etched into it. They accommodated his needs and let him rest at their table with water and a plate of fruit. The stranger cocked his head at the babies resting in the crib the shepherd made. The stranger smiled proudly and went over to get a better look at them.

“Strong boys you have here. They will grow up to be strong men,” the stranger said to his hosts as he allowed the babies to each grip one of his fingers.

“Thank you” replied the shepherd, keeping a watchful eye on his children.

The stranger turned to the shepherd without glancing at the babies as they cried when he took his fingers back. He lifted a necklace out from under his robe. It was a pair of gold wolves standing side by side. With ease, he snapped the wolves in half and handed them to the shepherd’s wife.

“Wolves are a sign of power and courage. They should wear these charms with pride. It will give them power from within,” the man said as he walked toward the door. He swung the door open then paused for a moment with the handle in his grip. Without turning around he said, “You should name them Remus and Romulus. Those are strong names for strong men.”

“How did you know we haven’t named them yet?” the wife asked frightened and moved closer to her husband who reached for his staff.

The man chuckled but said nothing as he closed the door behind him.

The shepherd and his wife never saw the stranger again. However, they named the children Remus and Romulus and got chains for the wolf charms. The twins wore the necklaces every day since they received them.

Chapter 11

The Dangers of Family

While reliving their memories, Remus and Romulus experienced a feeling of loss ten times greater than they ever felt. The combination of Remus’ and his brother’s grief was so intense that neither struggled against Cailean’s grip. Their bodies could no longer handle the pain and shut down, causing them to collapse against their restraints.

The twins’ heart rates increased to a dangerous level from the emotional overload. It was difficult for them to catch their breath. Unexpectedly, Remus pelted out a distressing scream causing everyone in the room to cringe. The scream seemed louder than it should have until Cailean realized that Romulus had let out the same scream.

Brian desperately searched for a memory to calm them. Finally, he found a memory that would ease their suffering.

The boys were seven and playing with their adoptive mother, Acca Larentia. She had just made the boys’ favorite pastry, wild berry baklava. While the pastry cooled in the window, the twins wrestled on the floor until Acca Larentia kneeled next to them and tickled them.

They heard a loud screech outside and turned just in time to see a hawk swoop down to steal the pastry off the dish. They ran to the window to watch as the bird flew away effortlessly in the sky, carrying their dessert into the woods. Acca Larentia and the twins were too stunned to be angry and laughed hysterically until their stomachs cramped.

A calming feeling washed over Remus and Romulus who moments ago were on the verge of heart failure. Romulus was becoming semi-aware of the spell. He could not understand why he was replaying memories he desperately pushed aside years ago.

Romulus tried to call out to his men gathered around him, but he was incapable of speech and could not tell them how to help. It was as if someone was closing his windpipe preventing any noise. Little did he know, that was exactly what was happening.

After both kings startled everyone with their screams, Cailean realized Romulus could do what Remus could do. Remus spoke to them earlier after the spell began. If he could do it, so could Romulus. He looked to his brother, but Brian was too deep in the spell. It would be dangerous for Cailean to interrupt.

Cailean tightened his grip around Remus’ throat so he was wheezing and unable to utter a word. Cailean felt Remus’ pulse accelerate, unsure if it was his grip causing that effect. Either way it did not matter. He was not letting go. He could not let Romulus communicate with his soldiers.

Romulus’ men watched in disbelief as the hours passed and they were helpless to aid their king. Upon the late arrival of Romulus’ second in command, Aeneos, he immediately recognized it as a magical attack.

“Carnelio! Fetch the Gaels!” he shouted to a soldier in the back hallway. “Gracius, Menaeas, Dimieter, you three get over there and add muscle to the ram. Get that damn door down!” Aeneos commanded.

Meanwhile, Romulus and Remus passed out, or at least it looked like that to Aeneos. In reality, Brian dug deeper into their memories. He moved on to the memories of when they were eighteen.

The twins were sparring with swords they found in an old battlefield. The swords had nicks in the blade from excessive use but despite their abused appearance, the metal was sturdy and sharp. The handles were made of plain bronze wrapped in black leather to cushion the palms.

The twins’ sparring would occur every day at dusk after their chores. Since the moment they discovered the swords they were excellent fighters. It was as if they were born to fight. They had instincts only a seasoned warrior would have, not children of a shepherd who had never seen a war.

An hour into their mock battle, the hair stood up on the back of their necks. They felt as if they were being watched. They turned towards the valley wall where rocky cliffs overlooked the pass. A few hundred yards away from them on a ledge lay a massive black wolf. He seemed to watch them as a teacher watches his pupils, studying them as they learned to fight. Romulus tightened his grip around his sword with a menacing smirk. He whirled the weapon around his arm and took a stance ready to sprint at the wolf.

Remus stepped in front of his brother, blocking his way to the wolf. “What is the point in hurting an innocent animal, Rom? He’s not attacking us. Leave him be.”

“What are you afraid of, Remmy? Don’t worry, I won’t let him eat you. Can’t we have fun for once?” Romulus playfully slapped the side of Remus’ arm.

“It is a wolf, Romulus, a sacred animal. Do you really want to anger the gods?”

Romulus smiled brightly at his brother, “If they didn’t want us to kill their beloved pet then they shouldn’t have given us these swords and presented us with a challenge. What greater glory than to return with the pelt of a rare black wolf?”

As Romulus took off jogging towards the low cliff, Remus spoke under his breath, “What greater blasphemy?” He followed his brother not knowing whether it was to stop him or help him.

Instinctively, the twins gracefully jumped on rocks and leapt over gaps so smoothly you would have thought they were flying. In a matter of seconds, they were beneath the cliff the wolf had been laying on. Just before they reached the wolf, the enormous animal stood up defensively with its hair sticking up on its back.

What an epic battle, Romulus thought. We’ll be immortalized forever.

Suddenly, a large grey and white she-wolf jumped directly in front of them. She was not as large as the black wolf but still larger than a normal sized wolf. The she-wolf almost matched the boys’ height at 5’10. The twins fell backward in surprise. She was defending the twins against the larger black wolf, growling and baring her teeth. The twins gathered their composure and took their attacking stance, as oddly as it sounded, to provide back up for the grey she-wolf.

The grey wolf snarled at the larger black one and slowly walked towards the cliff it stood on. The black wolf backed up, providing room for her to jump onto the ledge. Before the twins could climb up with her, the two dogs snarled and leapt in the air, colliding with one another.

The grey wolf fell to the ground on its side with a whimper, but quickly stood up and lunged at the black wolf’s neck. The black wolf fell on its side after the she-wolf rammed her shoulder into its abdomen. The grey wolf had a chunk of black neck fur clamped between its teeth. She swiped her paw against its face and stepped on its stomach, pinning the black beast to the jagged cliffside.

The black wolf let out a roar never before heard from a wolf. With a burst of energy, the black wolf rolled the grey one off its body. One swipe of its paw and the grey wolf slammed against the cliff wall. The boys watched their defender slump to the ground. They thought for sure she was dead. Miraculously, she stood up again and stalked her opponent with a slight limp.

What happened next was the most shocking moment in the boys’ life. What should have been a snarl from the grey wolf were words.

“Mars, stand back from my cubs! You have no business here,” the she-wolf ordered.

The black wolf, Mars, coolly answered back, “They are my children, Lupa. Do not forget that, She-wolf, and do not forget I am your master.”

“I have no master, you Lord of War. I am the mother and queen of all wolves. I show allegiance to whom I please,” Lupa arrogantly replied.

“You foolish dog, I created you! You are my child as much as they are!” growled Mars.

“We may be your children, but we are not your servants. We are born warriors, the strongest of the demigods. We are the children who can challenge the gods, including you, Mars. Now I warn you one final time, back away from my cubs!” yelled Lupa followed by a guttural growl.

“I will leave, Lupa, only because they are not ready to fulfill their destiny. You left them in the care of a shepherd, a man with no fighting skills. I had to influence them to exercise their birthright. You let them grow-up weak,” growled Mars.

Mars looked over his shoulder as he walked away. “Consider yourself warned, Lupa. Train them, or I will.”

Mars bounded away towards the forest and vanished into the shadows.

Lupa faced the twins and jumped down to their level. She stood so tall she was eye to eye with them. Remus and Romulus should have been scared of this massive wolf, but there was something memorable about her.

Remus spoke first, “Lupa, is it? Why are you so familiar?”

“Because I am your guardian, Remus,” Lupa said as she walked over and nuzzled their shoulders.

Romulus shook his head in defiance and jerked away from the wolf, “We have guardians, Acca Larentia and Faustulus. They are our parents and good people!”

“I lured you to the shepherd and his wife after nursing you when I found you in the Tiber,” Lupa licked the wounds on her paws. The twins looked at each other apprehensively. Lupa responded to their odd look, “Come here, place your hands on my head and I will show you.”

The twins placed a hand on either side of Lupa’s head behind her ears. Lupa shared her memories of finding the babies, nursing them, playing with them, and sleeping next to them. Finally, she showed them how she played with the infants while luring them to the field, causing the stampede of sheep.

The twins yanked back their hands in alarm and stepped away from the wolf. Before they could speak, Lupa interjected, “You must leave your home and come with me. You have a destiny to fulfill, one that cannot happen if you remain here. It will be a fatal decision if you stay. Unfortunately, you have heard Mars’ threat. As much of an arrogant culus as he is, he is right in that you have grown-up weak.”

Romulus shook his head, “I am not afraid of a God,” he said refusing to leave his adoptive family.

Remus steadied his hotheaded brother and asked, “Fatal to whom?”

Lupa sat down and pointed her nose toward the twin’s home, “Your parents will die a cruel death. Mars does not give second chances, nor will he offer pity to them in order to force you on your path. You must gather your belongings and meet back here. I will give you an hour for your goodbyes.”

The twins knew they needed to save their adoptive parents. They walked back to the house and silently gathered their belongings. Before they walked out the door, their father, Faustulus, blocked their path. He looked at his boys and nodded, “I do not know where you are heading, but I know that I cannot stop you. I have always known you are meant for a life far beyond being shepherds. You are the twin boys of Mars, aren’t you?” He chuckled sadly at the twin’s identical shocked expression, “Did you think I could not figure it out? Your fighting skills are skills that only can be owned by a heritage of war. I had a suspicion it was he who visited our house and gave you those necklaces when we first brought you home”

Faustulus grabbed his sons into a hug and held them tightly. He gently kissed the sides of their heads then stepped out of their path with a smile, “Thank you for the joy you have provided us. Never forget that we loved you and that we will always love you.”

The twins walked away not knowing what to say to their father. They were halfway between the house and the cliffs when they heard their mother’s pleas. She was running towards them with her arms stretched wide, until she heard the howl of Lupa and saw the giant wolf watching them. She knew she should not move closer and glared at the grey wolf. She blew her twins a kiss as her husband walked up behind her, wrapping his arms around her body. He supported her weight so she could weep at the loss of her children.

The twins forced themselves away from their family. Their mother’s sobs pulled at their hearts. All they wanted to do was run into her arms and tell her everything would be all right, that she was safe now.

Remus placed a steadying hand on Romulus’ shoulder. The tight grip was a comfort to Romulus. They were all each other had now.

The twins finally reached the top of the cliff wall and saw Lupa waiting for them by the outline of the forest. They gazed down the cliff one last time to where their parents stood. Without another word, they turned their backs on their childhood home forever.

Remus started to cry as the memory faded. On the opposite side of wall, Romulus completely succumbed to the spell, no longer able to think for himself. Through emotional manipulation, Brian gained full control over the twins.

After searching for a while, Brian found two memories he decided would be the last of their torture. When the memories began, Remus and Romulus took a deep breath as their bodies tensed, almost as if being submerged under water. Once the memory replayed, their bodies once again went limp.

This time the twins were twenty-four years old. Both stood at 6’1” tall with shoulder length, wavy black hair and clean cut faces. Their muscles were defined, like statues of Greek heroes. Lupa always said they had the strength of Herakles with the handsome features of Achilles.

Lupa and her pack gathered around a fire while Remus gathered more kindle and Romulus cooked meat the wolves killed. Suddenly, a loud bang sounded behind the pack and all of the wolves jumped up in defense as the twins ran for their swords. Through billowing red smoke, a large muscular soldier emerged.

The soldier was dressed in formal hoplite attire made of bronze, but colored black and red. His breastplate was decorated with a singular red wolf, and his black grieves were outlined in gold with red crossing spears in the center. The soldier’s hair was jet black and accompanied by glowing red eyes. He had a clean-cut goatee framing his mouth.

The pack bowed down to the man, but Lupa stood tall in defiance. Instantly, the twins knew it was their father, Mars, and moved to unsheathe their swords. Mars laughed at their attempt. He waved his hand at the twins and their swords became stuck in their sheaths. Lupa snarled and bent in a pouncing position with her claws exposed.

Mars held up a finger warningly and addressed Lupa, “Do not challenge me again, Daughter. I will not hold back this time.”

Lupa eased her tension but refused to take her eyes off Mars. “Dearest father, how gladly you seem to acknowledge me as your daughter, yet you threaten me in the same breath.”

“It was not a threat, Lupa, it was a kind warning. Moreover, why would I not acknowledge you as my daughter? You are the first of your kind, mother of all wolves, strongest and smartest animal created,” Mars patted the top of Lupa’s head and continued to compliment her. “I am proud of you, despite what you may think of me. You have done well by my boys.”

Lupa snapped at Mars hand as he scratched behind her ears.

Mars looked from Remus and Romulus then back to Lupa, “Why so worried? I will do no harm here.”

Lupa stepped to the side of the twins but stood close enough so she could jump to their defense. She kept a watchful eye on her father.

“Sit,” Mars commanded, and immediately the boys had no choice but to sit where they were standing.

Mars leaned over on one knee and smiled. “Now, when we first met I had stated you were not yet ready, but …”

Romulus interrupted Mars, “But you think we are ready now? You come here and interrupt our din…”

Mars waved his hand at Romulus and his voice disappeared. “I respect your fiery spirit, Romulus, but do not interrupt me again. Am I understood?” Mars moved his pointed finger up and down and Romulus’ head nodded like a marionette. “Good, I’m glad you understand. Remus, do you understand?”

Remus stared at his brother with his mouth open in amazement.

“I’ll take your silence as a yes,” Mars chuckled. “Now let’s begin with your story.”

Mars began their tale, “I know you do not remember the day you were born, but it was the day you were meant to die. I never wanted those memories to resurface, but you need to understand how you were formed.”

Mars paused for a second and the twins noticed a moment a weakness…a moment of grief in their father’s red eyes.

“Your grandfather, King Numitor of Alba Longa, was a great and just king. His brother Amulius was jealous of his power. He slowly gained control over the treasury of the kingdom. He then used the kingdom’s money to buy a new army that would rise-up against Numitor.”

Mars picked up a long stick and stoked the fire with it. The fire grew into a wall of flames and images appeared, “This is a window into your past. Absorb everything you see, Boys. This will be the turning point in your war.”

The twins gazed into the flames and were entranced by what they saw. The images picked up where Mars left off in the story…

Chapter 12

The Border

After a two-hour ride, Alina and Lysandros finally slowed to a normal trot. They emerged out of the woods onto a rocky beach and rode up to the edge of the wavy water. The tide was high, splashing against rocks along the beach, and frigid wind made them pull their cloaks tight to their bodies. Pinks and purples glistened off the water in the evening sun. They barely saw the outline of land through the thick fog in the distance.

“The Baltic Sea?” Lysandros asked, confused why Alina wanted to come to the home of the Danes. “Wait, I know this place,” he said, anger brewing in his stomach. “The locals call it Lietuva. It normally would have taken us weeks to get here. We could not have been riding more than two hours! Why are we here, Alina?”

“You know exactly why we are here,” Alina spoke coarsely without looking at Lysandros.

“Whoa, we are not going to get the Lost Brothers,” Lysandros threw his hands up in anger then pointed threateningly at her.

“That is exactly what we are going to do and you are going to apologize for them getting lost to begin with!” Alina’s tone grew furious.

“They will kill me the first chance they get! Especially since they’ve been living with the Danes for the last twenty years,” Lysandros said waving his hands around exasperatingly.

“First of all, you are part of the reason they have been living with the Danes. Secondly, no they will not because Breanna still needs you. The only thing we need to do is to convince them to help us,” Alina said, jumping down from Lightning and looking around the shore.

Lysandros dismounted and walked over to Alina. “Why wouldn’t they? They are her…”

“Because you and my husband left them here and forbade them from returning to Etruria!” Alina cut him off before he could finish his thought. “So not only do they not know their sister, but they may not even want to help her!”

“Why do you insist on defending them?” Lysandros shouted, throwing his hands in the air and almost smacking Magic, who huffed at the gesture, in the face.

Alina walked dangerously slow towards Lysandros pointing her index finger as she berated him. “Because you and Remus pushed them to their limits. You two fundamentally forced them to take their actions. You and my husband share the brothers’ blame.”

“Alina,” Lysandros said in shock, “they stormed the gates of Umbria and nearly overthrew the king. They almost caused a war between three kingdoms, even after we told them to leave the Umbrians alone!” Lysandros defended his and Remus’ decision.

“You gave King Hugar and his brother, Ieogo, back the land my boys took, which stopped them from retaliating. However, you seem to be forgetting that you were plotting to invade them anyway! You and Remus were merely sore because they did it first and with only three men. I, on the other hand, was incredibly proud of them.” Alina folded her arms and held her head high, beaming with pride.

“Of course you would be. That is the Celtic side of you. You are Alina, the Celtic Warrior Princess, patron of rogue soldiers,” Lysandros said, still emphatically waving his hands.

“Watch your tone, Lysandros, or you will see my Celtic side,” Alina spoke low in her Gaelic accent, rolling her Rs in a way that only happened when she was mad. Her eyes narrowed menacingly and the ground shook as she threatened him.

“Don’t threaten me, Alina. I am still a favorite of Mars and for good reason,” warned Lysandros taking a step closer to the furious queen.

“Ha, Mars! He too is partly to blame for this whole mess!” Alina scoffed at Lysandros’ warning. “I do not fear the God of War. I married his beloved son.”

“Do not speak of the God of War in that way. You will get us killed!” Lysandros yelled, scanning the perimeter expecting Mars to show up and smite them both.

“We are in Norse territory now. He holds no authority here,” Alina said and rolled her eyes.

“Yes, Norse territory. Home of more war gods than any other pantheon!” Lysandros yelled.

Alina made it perfectly clear Lysandros did not need to remind her by waving her hand dismissively.

Before Lysandros could retort, thunder rang through the skies and lightning crashed to the ground. Alina and Lysandros held tightly to the silver reins as the horses reared in protest. A large man stood on the charred ground where the thunderbolt collided with the beach. He was almost seven feet tall with red hair that flowed from under a fur rimmed Viking helmet. His clothes were made of white leather and iron armor. His arm muscles bulged as he held up a giant double-sided hammer.

“Loki! Show yourself!” the man bellowed, slightly hunched over looking at his surroundings. “Jævel!” the god cried out. He spun around and slammed his hammer down in the air. From the blow of the hammer, a scrawny man appeared and dropped to the ground.

“How dare you play with these humans? They are protected by our laws and not of our land. You have no authority over them!” The god picked Loki up by the collar and shook him in the air as he spoke.

“Dearest Thor, please forgive me. I did not know who they were,” Loki looked over at Alina and Lysandros. “Do forgive me, Your Majesties. I was unaware of your importance.”

“You knew exactly who they are and you proceeded with your antics,” Thor responded.

“I say not, Nephew. They are on the land we protect. I thought they were invaders, coming to harm our innocent and vulnerable subjects,” Loki pleaded with his captor.

“Save your excuses, Loki. You are forbidden to cause any more quarrels and use your magic to harm these two or anyone associate with them. Am I understood?” Thor continued to shake Loki as if trying to engrain the unspoken threat on his life.

“Of… course, miiiighty Th..Th..Thor. You arrrre al..wayyys cor..rect.” Loki’s response was staggered by the violent shaking.

“Enough of your sniveling you sly, bottom feeder,” Thor threw him to the ground and Loki sunk into the sand.

Thor rubbed his hands together as if to get rid of dirt, “Now as for you two, I apologize for Loki’s behavior. Odin will deal with him for his crime against your emotions. You are here to collect three of our warriors, are you not?”

Alina stepped forward and looked Thor square in the eyes as she corrected the thunder god. “With all due respect, Thor, they are our warriors and my sons.”

Thor threw his head back and let out a thunderous laugh. “She has a backbone the size of Asgard. Ha-Ha!”

Alina cleared her throat and poised herself. “The three brothers must promptly return. I need them to help my daughter.”

“I should say so. There are a few of us who would see The Power inside her destroyed, which in turn will mean her death. However, your clan exiled them here twenty years ago. What makes you think they will go with you now?” asked Thor.

“Because they are her brothers,” Alina answered flatly.

“That may be so, but they were abandoned by their father and this one standing before me.” Thor pointed to Lysandros without looking in his direction.

Lysandros threw his arms in the air once more. “They wer..”

Snap!

Thor snapped his fingers and Lysandros’ voice disappeared before he could repeat what the boys had done. “Yes, yes. I am well aware of what they have done.”

Thor waved his hand towards the water and a giant rainbow bridge shimmered into existence, “The Bifrost will connect you to the shores of the Danes. There is a small village a few miles away where you will find the Lost Brothers.”

Thor walked over to Loki and picked him up from the back of the collar. “I’ve granted you safe passage across our land. No Dane shall harm nor try to stop you. Keep in mind that the men you seek are not Danes.” Thor looked at Loki with an exhausted look and sighed, “Odin’s palace for you, Loki… Again.”

Another thunderbolt crashed to the ground and the two gods vanished. Lysandros coughed and made random noises to check that Thor had not damaged to his throat. Meanwhile, Alina examined the bridge Thor constructed. The rainbow colors glistened over the ice-cold waters of the Baltic Sea.

The bridge stood fifty feet above the water and twenty feet wide, big enough for two horses to get across. Alina pressed one finger into the violet stripe. The gelatinous strip bent around her fingertip. Despite her pressure, she could not pierce through the sheer material. It was soft enough to mold but strong enough not to break.

Lysandros seized Alina’s arm when she tried to mount Lightning, “Where are you going? There is no way this bridge can hold us. Don’t be foolish, Alina.”

Alina was still feeling the discord effects of Loki’s presence and ripped her arm out of his hand. “If you don’t wish to follow, then stay here and wait in the cold. Or better yet, make yourself useful and find a way to my daughter.”

Alina quickly mounted Lightning then jerked the reins so Lightning lurched to the right. Lysandros stumbled backwards as Lightning bolted across the Bifrost.

“Damn it, Woman,” Lysandros grunted as he mounted Magic.

Halfway across, Lightning froze as her hooves sank into the multicolored bridge. The jittery horse and her shaking legs wobbled the bridge high above the freezing water. No matter how hard Alina kicked, Lightning refused to budge.

As Lightning stood in one spot, her legs sank further into the bridge, up to her knees. Lightning whinnied in fear. Her legs protruded from under the structure wrapped in the colorful sheer material.

Back on shore, Magic reared in angst. Hold tight, Light!

Before Lysandros could stop him, Magic sprinted up the bridge with Lysandros in tow. His hooves did not make a ripple against the bridge’s jelly-like texture. When within a few feet of Lightning, he leapt into the air then slammed down on the bridge’s surface. Lightning catapulted out of the bridge. While in the air, Alina kicked her horse so hard Lightning took off running when her hooves reached the surface.

When Magic slammed himself down, Lysandros and Magic submerged enough so that the yellow strip came up to Lysandros’ thighs. The bridge’s texture was like quicksand. The more they struggled to get out the more they sank.

“Hold on, let me get my sword. I’ll cut our way out.” Lysandros unsheathed his sword and hacked away at the substance, but every cut he made instantly sealed itself.

Well, that is a pleasant discovery, Magic sneered while lifting his legs.

“Oh shush. Save your sarcasm until we reach the other side,” snapped Lysandros through puffs of breath as he swung his sword deep into the Bifrost.

“You expect me to see you in Tartarus? HA, it’s the Elysian Fields for me.”

“We’re not going to die here, you over grown mule. I mean the other side of the bridge,” Lysandros said, taking another slash at the bridge.

From up above their heads a strong wind pulsated down on them. Air whistled loudly in their ears making them deaf to their surroundings. A flash of light caught Lysandros’ attention. When he looked up, Alina waved her sword in the air, catching the sunlight. Desperately pointing upwards above his head, she was yelling something inaudible against the wind.

Lightning reared and Alina slowly mouthed the words: Above you.

Lysandros whipped his head upwards. Several winged horses hovering over their heads confronted him and Magic. Each had a female rider in silver armor. The leader of the female warriors did a swan dive off her horse and landed gracefully on the bridge without sinking.

She addressed Lysandros, “My name is Brynhild, and I lead this battalion of warriors. Odin has sent us. Toss me your reins.”

“I should think not. How can you remain still without sinking? You know, I am tired of your gods always getting in our way. Can’t you all see…”

“Silence, petulant man! We are here to help you. Unless of course you don’t want out of the Bifrost.” Brynhild raised an eyebrow to Lysandros.

Magic struggled once more with his legs but sunk further down. Yes, yes we want your help. Don’t pay attention to the petulant man. He’s a simpleton whose mind isn’t all there. Magic arched his back so that Lysandros fell forward onto his neck. Give her the reins, simpleton.

Lysandros tossed the silver reins to the mysterious woman who then leapt back up to her horse. Brynhild tied the reins to her saddle and urged her horse forward while another horse landed softly behind Magic. The horse stomped its feet in a cadence, creating waves that loosened the Bifrost, slowly freeing Magic’s legs. With his freed legs, Magic took off running towards Lightning and Alina.

Once Magic and Lysandros were safely on the other side, Brynhild and the other women landed next to Alina. Alina greeted Brynhild and her warriors. “Thank you so much for rescuing my friends. We are here to…”

“We know why you have come. Völva has already seen you and your quest. We are a half hour’s walk from Odin’s palace and the Great King Odin is expecting you at court,” Brynhild instructed.

Alina bowed her head and tried to mount Lightning. The horse reared and backed away in fright. Alina kept a firm grip on the silver reins and hummed soothingly.

“Fear not, Wit Blixtnedslag, you have been safeguarded by Thor and Odin. Not even we can harm you without severe punishment,” Brynhild reached out to stroke Lightning’s neck, but the horse recoiled.

Lightning huffed at the sound of her name in Swedish. She nudged Alina’s arm with her eyes wide in fear. “Easy, Tintreach Bán,” Alina rubbed the soft spot on her nose and smiled as she said her horses name in Gaelic, “Odin and Thor will protect us. We are close to those we seek.”

Lightning calmed down after hearing the proper form of her name in Gaelic. Alina remounted her steed and followed the women. Neither Lysandros nor Magic said a word.

“We should be on our best behavior, boy. I don’t believe these women are overly fond of men.” Lysandros patted Magic’s neck and he snorted in agreement.

Chapter 13

The Lost Brothers

After a thirty-minute walk, they reached Odin’s palace. The building stood five stories tall. Statues of soldiers lined the path to the entrance, each depicting a soldier in motion. The first statues were of a Viking soldier with his sword stretched above his head angled downward. He was saddled in a horse rearing above a group of men armed with stone and metal working tools.

“They depict an epic battle waging for years between the Jotunn and Thor,” Brynhild explained after noticing Lysandros and Alina examining the statues. “The Jotunn are giant savages that roam throughout nature. Unfortunately, some Aesir blood has been tainted by such beasts.”

A woman walking behind Brynhild, second in command, issued a warning. “The gods will hear you, Brynhild. Odin will not respond well to your words. He has punished you once before, my friend.”

“That is why I do not fear him, Eir. The circle of fire meant to curse me merely kept me warm while I waited for my beloved Sigurd,” Brynhild arrogantly dismissed Eir’s warning.

“I know that story,” Lysandros shouted proudly. “Sigurd rescued you and you repaid him by killing him and one of his son’s for revenge.”

“He was betrothed to me but married another! Sigurd disguised himself as his disgusting brother-in-law to earn my hand in marriage for him. He deserved the death he won,” Brynhild’s eyes lit with rage.

“You mean the death you constructed, dear sister,” Eir corrected. “Yet you threw yourself on the funeral pyre to die in the flames with your accused deceiver.”

Brynhild walked up the steps to twelve-foot tall gold doors. “I command the Valkyries, Eir. I choose what hero lives or dies, even in the battles of my own life. It is unfortunate that Freyja chose…”

Whap!

A tall blonde haired woman in silver armor and a feather cloak appeared in front of Brynhild. “Chose to return you to your rightful place? Chose to restore your blessed gifts? Chose to acknowledge the slaying of your beloved Sigurd as the duties of a true Valkyrie?” All of the Valkyries bowed their heads to the woman, including Brynhild. “I believe I chose well, Brynhild. I can return you to Hel’s domain if you wish, but I promise that if you return there you will never see Sigurd again.”

Brynhild remained unmoved but the slightest widening and twitch in her eyes revealed the woman’s words cut her deeply. “I apologize, Freyja, I did not mean to offend you or sound ungrateful you brought me back to life. I gladly serve you faithfully,” said Brynhild as she gracefully bowed.

“I know you do, which is why I am willing to forgive your insolence,” Freyja said smiling. Freyja promptly turned her attention to Alina and Lysandros. “Queen Alina, I presume?” She looked Lysandros up and down. “And you are a guardian? Hmm.” Freyja lightly tapped her lips deep in thought as she stared at Lysandros.

Lysandros looked at Alina with a who does this lady think she is? look. “You presume correctly. Freyja, is it? And what do you mean a guardian? I thought I was the Guardian?” Lysandros retorted with a hint of annoyance.

“Did you honestly believe there is only one guardian for The Queen? Oh no, Sir, she has many. Three of whom you will pick up today. You see, guardians change because they frequently die.”

Two Valkyries took the silver reins of the horses from Lysandros and Alina and motioned for them to follow Freyja. The Valkyries led the horses down a path with the rest of the winged steeds. Magic walked close to Lightning so that his shoulder was touching hers to provide comfort.

Freyja sighed then opened the giant hall doors and walked inside. “Anyway, let us not keep his most honorable divineness waiting. Otherwise, he may throw a divine tantrum.”

Lysandros laughed, but Alina put a finger to her lips to hush him then pointed to the Valkyries. They did not find Freyja’s harshness towards Odin funny. Their stern faces grimaced at the goddess. Lysandros pursed his lips together trying to keep a straight face as he followed the women into The Great Hall.

The title “Great” did not accurately describe the hall. “Rustic” would better suit their view. When the doors opened, the pungent scent of stale mead and sweaty men assaulted their senses. The loud hall bustled with hundreds of long wooden tables packed with drunken men. The rough looking men roared with laughter as some recounted stories while others yelled and cheered for arm wrestling competitions. The soldiers Shields and spears were strewn about the room, and axes were strapped to the men’s backs.

Various weapons decorated the White Ash walls of the The Great Hall. The ceiling had rows of chandeliers made of Elk antlers. At the far end, a large throne overlooked the room. The throne was like everything else in the room…rustic. It was also constructed out of White Ash with white leather cushions and adorned by the largest set of antlers in the room. In the throne sat a burly man with a modest crown made of plain bronze. His light brown, wavy hair met his shoulders, which were covered by grey wolf pelts.

“Welcome, friends, welcome!” a voice boomed through the hall as they entered. The loud welcome silenced soldiers as they turned to stare at the new comers. “I am so glad you made it to my humble abode.”

Alina looked around the room once with a raised eyebrow, “Humble, Odin, would be an understatement.”

At Alina’s side, Freyja laughed, “I like her. She has fire in her that most men lack. You would make an excellent Valkyrie. She won’t be fooled by you and your precious Aesir silver tongue, Odin.”

Odin ignored Freyja’s comment. “I will not keep you long even though I wish you would stay and enjoy our feast. Völva tells me you are running on a strict schedule.”

Panic filled Alina’s chest and her eyes widened as she grabbed Lysandros’ arm.

“We’ll make it,” Lysandros reassured her, not sure what they were making it to.

“I sent my son, Týr, to retrieve the Lost Brothers. Consider this a gift of time.” Odin refilled his goblet and fell back into his throne with one leg over the arm of the chair.

As if on cue, a set of doors on the side of the hall burst open from a man flying through them. He slammed to the ground with a thud that even made Odin cringe.

The man was young with short dark brown hair and a clean-shaven face. The appearance of a twenty-year-old, his handsome features stood out among the rest of the gruff soldiers. He wore tattered, unkempt battle gear of an Etrusci soldier, the silver and emerald green of the uniform unmistakable amongst the earthy browns and evergreens the rest of the men wore.

Through the door came a large man with one hand missing carrying two men by the collar in the other hand. He tossed the men on the floor next to the first one.

The next two men were dressed like the first. Their thick black hair, bright hazel eyes, and the same chiseled jaw line confirmed their relation. One man landed directly on the first soldier. When he rolled over, he appeared to be in his mid-to-late twenties with medium length hair that feathered out just below his ears. The man next to him appeared to be the oldest of the three, about mid-thirties, with dark scruffy facial features. He held an air of authority with his wide shoulders pushed back and head held high. He was the first to stand with his sword ready to attack. His presence commanded fear and respect.

“Nikolaos! Stop!” Alina cried out, running towards the three men.

Nikolaos’ body froze, rigid in shock. His head swiveled towards Alina with his mouth open. He had not seen her in twenty years. Although Alina distracted Nikolaos, Týr did not take his attention off his opponent and swung his sword to tear a gash in Nikolaos’ chest. Before he connected with Nikolaos, Thor appeared in front of him and slammed Týr in the chest with his hammer. Týr crumbled on the floor against a pillar.

“I announced in all of our lands that these men are not to be harmed, Brother! And that order also applies to you!” Thor screamed, outraged by his brother’s careless disregard for his order. The other soldiers uneasily made sure their weapons were within reach, praying they would not have to defend themselves against the thunder god.

Týr’s throat closed up and he gasped for air clutching at his neck. Odin sighed impatiently and ordered Thor to release him.

“It is not I who is doing this, father,” Thor smiled, pleased with Týr’s punishment for disobeying him.

“I am,” Freyja walked up to Odin’s throne lightly squeezing a ball of water. “This is the second time your son has made a direct attack in a fight he does not belong in. He involves himself in matters that are not his concern.” She squeezed the ball tighter and water spewed from Týr mouth.

Odin furiously stood up and threw his cup of mead across the room. Instead of taking his anger out on Freyja, he lunged from his throne and grabbed Týr by the collar. He hoisted Týr high above his head, shaking him with anger. Odin berated Týr for allowing Freyja to defeat him as water gushed from Týr’s mouth. “Twice she used this spell and twice you have fallen for it. Twice!” Odin tossed Týr at Freyja and told her to do what she wanted with him. Freyja looked disgusted and released her spell.

Alina ran to Nikolaos and threw her arms around his neck. Nikolaos, still in shock, gently closed his arms around her delicate frame. “Mother?”

The two other men were already on their feet staring at Alina. “Mother!” They ran to her and she hugged each of them as they picked her up into a bear hug and spun her around.

Nikolaos focused his attention on Lysandros and motioned with his head to the side door where he and his brothers arrived. Outside the door, there was an endless beach of white sand and a cool blue ocean with chunks of ice.

Lysandros nodded, acknowledging Nikolaos’ escape plan.

Alina caught a glimpse of Nikolaos’ motion and gasped when she looked out the door. “Remus?” Alina, caught off guard by her husband’s sudden appearance, lost her footing. She stumbled into her two younger sons who caught her with ease.

Remus extended his hand, motioning for her to join him. The youngest of her sons stepped in front of her.

“Leonidas, out of my way. Your father is here,” Alina said as she tried to move around her son, but he slid back in front of her.

“It is not real. He would never come here for us. This land can play tricks on your mind. We know better than most,” answered Leonidas, glaring at Lysandros.

“It is not us he is here for, Leo. Get out of the way,” ordered Nikolaos.

Alina ran outside and disappeared from sight.

Nikolaos spoke to the third brother staring out after Alina and grabbed his attention by snapping his fingers in his face. “Cole, find horses. I would prefer to get back to the cabin tonight,” Nikolaos said, a forceful warning as he glanced at Lysandros with distaste.

In the background, Freyja laughed and said, “Ooo, this is going to be a good fight!”

Nikolaos ignored the comment and confronted Lysandros, “You don’t belong here, traitor.”

“Traitor? I am not the one that almost caused a war. You three are the traitors to Etruria.” Lysandros jabbed a finger into Nikolaos’ chest.

When Lysandros poked Nikolaos, Leo moved closer to his brother, ready to throw a punch. Nikolaos put a hand on his chest to stop him. Leo took a few steps back but did not take his eyes off Lysandros.

“You were the one who drafted a plan to storm the gates of Umbria and my father is the one who wanted the lands in the first place. You were upset that we were able to do it without an army. Instead of punishing us you should have been proud we saved countless Etrusci lives.” Nikolaos looked around the room uneasily at the Viking soldiers glaring at them. “I believe it is time for us to leave. We have outstayed our welcome.”

Lysandros followed Nikolaos’ cautious gaze and understood. These were the Soldiers of the Fallen. They are heroes chosen by the Valkyries to live in Valhalla with Odin. Many of these soldiers died in the battles fighting Nikolaos and his two brothers over the last twenty years. Now, because Alina tried to protect her sons from Týr, a divine hero to these men, Lysandros and Alina became their targets of revenge.

“Do you always have to involve yourself in wars?” Lysandros asked, annoyed. He and Nikolaos suspiciously surveyed the crowd.

“You discarded us here, remember?” Nikolaos gripped his sword and slowly backed away to the door.

“Because you involve yourselves in war! Alina, it’s time to go,” Lysandros shouted.

“She’s gone, Lys,” Cole popped his head in the doorway. “Come on, Nik, I got the horses. Yours and mom’s too, Lys.”

“Fair well my friends!” Odin called out from his throne, waving childishly.

“Lysandros! Dear guardian, Regina is half-complete. You must hurry westward, past Gaul and into Alina’s borders. It is there you will find who you need,” warned Freyja.

Nikolaos stared at Lysandros, dumbfounded at the word “guardian”.

“What do you mean? Who are we looking for?” Lysandros asked, but Freyja smiled politely and waved goodbye.

Oi, let’s go, Petulant Man, before you become a Viking meal! Magic yelled psychically.

“We have to work on your manors, Mule,” Lysandros retorted. He rushed through the doorway and found Magic next to Lightning with three other grey and black speckled horses.

Cole was already saddled and hanging on the reins of the other two steeds. Lysandros mounted Magic and expected to see Alina but she was gone. There were no footprints in the sand for them to track.

“Let’s go! What in Tartarus are you two doing?” Cole yelled to his brothers.

Leo and Nikolaos sprinted through the door and jumped on their horses. Leo laughed as he held a turkey leg in his hand and wore a two-horned Viking helmet rimmed with fur on his head. Nikolaos cursed at Leo. Behind them, Freyja and Odin hysterically laughed as men shouted and wooden benches crashed to the ground.

Cole turned to Leo, “What in Hades are you eating? And where did you get that awful hat?”

“Erky eg!” Leo muttered through a mouthful of meat. Cole hoped he meant turkey leg. Leo swallowed the giant piece he had bitten off. “And I got the hat from the same guy who gave me his turkey leg!”

Leo smiled at Cole and whipped his horse with the reins. Cole rolled his eyes and followed, speeding down the beach.

Magic was about to pursue the other two men but Nikolaos moved his horse in front of him. “Why did Thor defend us? We are no friends of the heroes of Valhalla. Bargains with the gods never end well for men.”

“Thor swore we were protected on his land and Odin assured us as well. Apparently, you have impressed the thunder god. We made no bargains or promises,” Lysandros reassured Nikolaos then added, “not that it would be any concern of yours what Queen Alina does.”

Magic reared and sped off down the beach with Lightning keeping pace.

Nikolaos sighed, annoyed with Lysandros, then grunted to himself, “Where is my mother?”

Chapter 14

End of a Sword

Remus and Romulus were still in Brian’s memory spell watching themselves, hypnotized by the images in Mars’s fire. The images in the flames revealed Amulius, the king’s brother, leading his army of mercenaries into the palace courtyard. Amulius’ campaign destroyed half of King Numitor’s army. It took a mere half hour for Amulius to reach the throne room. He busted into the room where his brother waited patiently with his sword drawn. Amulius walked in as his mercenaries circled the king, blocking any form of escape.

“How kind of you to greet me, Numitor,” Amulius said smugly.

“Well, Little Brother, I have always been the more hospitable of the two of us.”

His temper raging, Amulius drew his dagger from his belt and launched it at his brother. However, Numitor was fast and rolled out of the blade’s trajectory. The dagger lodged into the throne where Numitor’s head had been. The dagger’s hilt met the wood of the chair with the blade fully exposed on the opposite side.

“Do not speak to me as a child, Numitor!” Amulius screamed with his fists clenched as his face turned red.

“Then do not act as one. You march upon my palace as a child throws a tantrum,” Numitor responded with an unshaken parental tone.

“Succession at the point of a sword is a natural order. I will not be a weak king as you were. It sickens me to watch you rejoice with our subjects like a commoner. You are a disgrace to royalty.”

Numitor sadly shook his head and ran a hand through his sandy brown hair. “Only you, Amulius, would consider humility and kindness a flaw.”

Numitor looked past his brother at two soldiers who wore different colors than Amulius’ mercenaries. One man, dressed in red and black armor, had a red wolf on its breastplate. Next to him, the other soldier dressed all in black with a gold three-headed dog on his chest plate.

Although Numitor had never seen these soldiers before, he knew who they were and why they came. The God of War and the God of the Underworld arrived to witness his death. He acknowledged their purpose and sheathed his sword. Amulius, unaware of his divine audience, took Numitor’s action as a sign of personal victory.

Numitor fell to his knees and looked up at his brother, “I forgive you, Amulius. Even if you feel nothing for me, I still have a brother’s love for you.”

Conflicted, Amulius raised his sword. One side of him wanted the throne, while a small part wanted to spare his brother. Amulius loved his brother, but loved power more.

Numitor bowed his head. “I am an old man now, Amulius. I will not fight your conquest. Not at the risk of harming others.”

Amulius closed his teary eyes. He refused to look into his brother’s eyes as he ran his sword through him. With a thrust of his sword, Numitor’s body crumbled, soaking the floor with blood. Amulius fell to his knees next to Numitor, his brother’s blood warm on his legs. Suddenly, a slight touch on his hand startled him. Numitor, barely alive, smiled up at him.

Tears streamed down his face as Amulius wept over his brother’s body, “I’m so sorry it had to be this way, but I had to.”

Numitor removed a ring from his right hand and pressed it into Amulius’ palm. “Do not forget where you come from, Little Brother. I know your heart. Don’t let your mind corrupt it.”

Numitor smiled as he looked behind his brother. His daughter, Rhea Silvia, stormed through the door pushing her way through the mercenaries. She tried to run to her dying father but the soldier in black and red grabbed her from behind and restrained her against his body. She hunched over in his arms as she struggled to escape.

“Amulius, my daughter is innocent. Spare her life,” Numitor begged his brother.

Numitor admired his daughter one last time. He knew Mars would protect Rhea from Amulius by the way he looked at her. With a soft touch on his shoulder, Numitor stood up. When he saw the man who had patted his shoulder, he stared into the face of Death, the god Pluto. He was standing over his own lifeless body with his brother holding his cold hand.

Pluto placed a hand on Numitor’s back and gestured to Rhea. “Do not mourn for their loss, King of Alba Longa. Your bloodline is sacred. History has been and will continue to be written in your blood,” Pluto said blandly.

He walked towards the back wall and stopped, patiently waiting for Numitor to join him. Without turning around, Pluto raised his hand to beckon the dead king to his side. Numitor walked backwards towards the god, he wanted to take one last look at his family. When Numitor reached Pluto’s side, the god placed a hand on his shoulder and said, “The Elysian Fields for you, Your Majesty.”

Numitor and Pluto disappeared in a puff of silver smoke.

Amulius, not moving from his brother’s body, ordered two of his guards to seize Rhea. Mars shifted so his body served as protective wall in front of Rhea. He grabbed the handle of the dagger in his belt and called out to Amulius, “I will take her to her room. No one will touch her.”

Still kneeling in his brother’s cooled blood, Amulius waved his hand in agreement. Mars picked Rhea up into his arms and headed towards the door.

Before Mars and Rhea exited, Amulius stood up and spoke with kingly authority, “Listen to me, Rhea is now and will remain a Vestal Virgin. Anyone who touches her will not be shown the merciful death I have shown my brother.”

Mars’ blood boiled beneath his skin, heat surging from his body into Rhea’s. He took a deep, calming breath to stop himself from shredding Amulius apart with his bare hands. He bent down to whisper in Rhea’s ear. “You will have children,” he said, as if commanding her to do so.

Once safely in her chambers, Mars laid her on the bed. Rhea, with red eyes and wet cheeks, asked his name. He answered her question truthfully. Mars explained he was there to ensure her lineage continued.

Rhea sobbed again. As abrasive and cruel as Mars is, he felt sorry for her. He awkwardly sat next to her, unsure of how to console the crying human. He patted her back, but was unaware of his own strength against her fragile frame. He patted her so hard she slid to the other side of the bed, almost falling off.

Slightly embarrassed, he pulled her back to his side. He gently stroked her long dark brown hair to calm her. He told her he had to leave for tonight but would return for her. He then asked her to meet him in the woods the following night at midnight. Rhea nodded in agreement.

The next night, Rhea did as Mars requested. She wrapped her arms around her waist as butterflies zoomed in her stomach. Torn between grief for her father and excitement of the unknown, she met Mars by the outer line of the forest where he took her hand and led her deep into the forest. They walked in-between the trees, listening to the night owls and enjoying each other’s company.

Four months passed where Rhea snuck out of the palace to meet Mars. On the night of the autumnal equinox, Rhea dressed in traditional black ceremonial robes in mourning for the god Ceres, who lost her daughter Proserpina to Pluto every fall. The black robes clung to her body, emphasizing her often hidden curves. To Mars, she looked like a goddess fit to marry War. They headed into the woods, as usual, but this night Mars led her to a small pond surrounded by Willow trees.

On the banks of the pond, he pulled her close to him, despite her being a Vestal Virgin sworn to chastity. Mars waved his hand and a bed of soft moss emerged from the ground. He walked her over to the bed and the two lied together…

Unbeknownst to Rhea and Mars, Amulius had followed them into the woods. He noticed her leaving the ceremony early and headed down the stone path after her. Amulius stalked the couple to the pond, where he found them conjoined under the moonlight. Outraged, Amulius stormed back to the palace where he waited for her return.

Upon Rhea’s return, royal guards arrested and confined her to the palace temple. Amulius ordered that food and water be withheld from his niece as punishment for her lewd behavior. However, the gods favored Rhea and provided her with sustenance every night and every morning.

When Amulius returned eight nights later, he expected to see her weak and begging for forgiveness. Instead, he witnessed the impossible. She appeared four months pregnant, lounging on her bed with a plate full of meats and fruits resting on her belly.

In a fit of rage, Amulius drew his sword. He would get rid of this abomination at once. When he charged Rhea, a purple light burst from her belly, knocking him to the floor.

He knew that such a quick pregnancy could only result in a demigod, but he had not considered the power it may hold. “This child could only be an offspring of one of the twelve original gods. Who fathered this child?” Amulius shouted at Rhea.

Unafraid of her uncle, Rhea casually responded, “Children. I carry twins. They are the children of Mars and you will never defeat them. They are protected by the entire pantheon.”

Amulius gathered his composure. “They will not see their first birthday.”

A week later on the last day of the autumnal equinox ceremony, a ball of red light fell from the sky and hovered over Rhea’s engorged belly. She believed it to be a gift for her children from Mars. The light fell into her belly and she immediately went into labor. An hour passed until a baby boy had been born. Rhea held the newborn in her arms, relieved from the pain when another burst of contractions coiled in her abdomen.

Minutes later, she gave birth to a second baby boy. The twins differed from other mortals right from the start. They did not cry and silently peacefully sucked their thumbs. One of the twins briefly radiated a red light, like the ball that sunk into her belly. Rhea had given birth to twin royalty, the true Kings of Alba Longa.

Rhea had only held her children a few minutes before Amulius stormed into the room and ripped them from her arms. A guard accompanied Amulius into the temple carrying a basket. Amulius then bundled the twins in the basket and ordered two guards to drag Rhea to the river so she could watch her children die. She had not even named them. Rhea fought back in any way she could, kicking and screaming, until Amulius backhanded her, sending her crashing to the floor.

“That is enough! You will not escape your punishment.” He turned to the guards in charge of restraining her and told them to bind her arms and gag her.

The guards dragged her to the riverbanks while Amulius stood off to the side and watched as the basket was placed in the violent waters of the Tiber. His worries of being overthrown by demigods would drown with the twins…

Remus and Romulus, spellbound against the wall, tried to scream, but Cailean’s grip on their throat prevented any noise. The sorrow from their mother overwhelmed them.

Cailean felt awful doing this to his friend, but the buildup of emotion was exactly what they needed. Brian’s spell was strong, but the twins fought back against their restraints and against Cailean. That can only mean Brian was losing his grasp on them.

Cailean looked to his brother and the sight made his stomach sink. Brian’s face was blotchy and sweat poured from his forehead and down his back. The spell was taking its toll on him. Every muscle in his body tensed and trembled as he fought to keep control of the twins. He was barely winning.

“Hang on, Bri. Almost there,” Cailean whispered to his brother.

Cailean leaned his shoulder, comfortingly, into Brian. He wanted to grab his arm but did not want to take the chance in letting Remus go.

Brian heard Cailean’s words of encouragement. His brother’s shoulder was the confident nudge he needed. Cailean gave him enough strength to push forward and force the memory to continue…

Chapter 15

The Twins of War

The memory picked back up with the fire image Mars created extinguishing. Mars stood up, looking at his children and spoke without a hint of his usual smugness, “Now you know how you were born. Created from love and secrecy, but hatred and fear secured your destiny.”

“Love? You used our mother and let her suffer at the hands of the Amulius. You see how he rules the kingdom. He starves, over taxes, and murders his subjects for unjust laws, yet you let him live,” Romulus shouted.

“You only wanted children that would be war bound,” Remus stood next to his brother.

“Yes, I used your mother so the world can witness true soldiers. You come from a long line of my blood. Your ancestor, Aeneas, married a daughter of mine. However, with your mother, I added extra power to the already divine blood in her veins. Despite her usefulness to get what I wanted, I did care for her. She was one of my greatest conquests. As for Amulius, his fate depends on your decision now.”

In unison the twins asked, “What decision?”

“You are demigods in the House of War, full of rage. You and your blood will be behind some of the greatest wars in history. Fulfill your destiny and claim what is yours, just as your Great-uncle Amulius did, by the end of a sword,” Mars said, his words trailing off as he faded into the silver moonlight.

Mars left the twins fuming, but this was his intention. He wanted to awaken the raw rage that belonged to his bloodline. That rage coursed through their bodies. It itched for a fight and made them stronger.

Romulus clenched his shaking fists as he said, “My hatred for him is only outweighed by my hatred for Amulius.”

Remus sighed and nodded his head as he ran his hand through his hair, a usual sign he was piecing together a plan. “Then what are we waiting for, brother? It’s a four hour march to Alba Longa.”

With that mentality, Lupa’s pack and the twins marched day and night to reach the kingdom. They would not rest until they reclaimed what rightfully belonged to them. They vowed to find their mother, even if that meant traveling to the realm of Pluto and battling the God himself to retrieve her.

By the next day, the three children of Mars had their plan to take the city. They waited until the cover of darkness to attack. Lupa’s pack followed her lead, no questions asked. She ordered them to surround the palace and not let anyone escape, by any means necessary.

Lupa and the twins weaved in and out of the shadows of the moonlight, evading the guards. They would take city without fighting their way through it. Despite their anger, they did not want to kill recklessly. When they reached the throne room, they saw the wooden throne their grandfather once sat in and the hole where Amulius threw his dagger.

The creak of a door opening sounded in the back of the room. The twins hid behind a pillar while Lupa slumped into the shadows. A guard, an older man, walked through. When he walked past the pillar the twins hid behind, Romulus jumped in front of him while Remus crept up behind him. Remus drew his dagger and pressed it to the guard’s throat to prevent him from fighting.

Romulus placed a finger over his own mouth, a signal for the guard not to make a sound. He smiled wickedly at the restrained guard and winked at his brother.

“I guess we are children of Mars,” Romulus chuckled.

“Easy boys, this isn’t over yet,” Lupa reminded them.

“Children of Mars?” the guard asked impatiently. “Is your mother Rhea?”

Remus dug his dagger deeper into the guard’s throat, drawing blood and causing the guard to wince. “How do you know this?”

“Because I am the guard who took care of her after your death. She grieves still.”

The twins looked at each other fervently; to their relief, their mother was alive.

“Where is she?” Lupa demanded.

“She is in the small building next to the temple. Amulius thought it fitting for her to live next to the temple she was supposed to devote chastity to.”

The guard pointed to a structure with no walls. Pillars with torches held up the roof. In the middle stood a giant statue of Juno, the patron goddess of stately affairs. Ironically, Juno was the mother of Mars.

Lupa snarled, “Grandmother is not going to like me in there. Go find Amulius. I will get your mother.”

Remus contemplated ignoring Lupa and running to his mother.

“You heard Lupa, Remmy. There’s no time to waste. We have a king to overthrow.” Romulus smiled as he dragged his brother behind him.

“I know where he is,” the guard stopped them before they left. “If you spare my family, I will take you to him.”

“We have no quarrel with you or your family. We have no fight with anyone here but Amulius,” Remus said honorably.

Romulus interjected impatiently, “Now that we’ve established we’re not going to kill everyone, can we leave now?”

The guard ran ahead of the twins guiding them through different rooms of the palace. When they reached the bedchambers of Amulius, the guard bowed to his future kings and left them to deal with their great-uncle.

Their anger towards Amulius sent a wave of pure rage that warmed and charged every muscle in their bodies. The twins kicked open the door, busting it off its hinges. The wood split in two before it hit the floor.

Amulius jumped out of bed, reaching for his sword faster than the twins expected an old man to move. Then again, they had never been in an actual fight before today. Remus went right and Romulus left, circling Amulius.

Amulius watched the twins carefully then recognized who they were. “Only the children of Mars can move like that. Sons of Rhea, I see you have come to claim your throne. However, there can be only one king. Which one of you wants it more?” taunted Amulius.

Romulus had always been impulsive with a terrible temper. He lunged with his sword and swung at Amulius’ head. Somehow, Amulius evaded his attack and thrust his own dagger into Romulus’ side. Romulus howled in pain, stumbling backwards. Remus ran to help his brother, but Amulius stepped in his path, slashing his sword at Remus’ stomach. Remus jumped out of the way, but tripped over an end table. Falling face first, he turned over just in time to see Amulius jab his sword down towards his stomach. He rolled out of the way then sprung back to his feet as Amulius’ sword shattered the tile floor he had previously lain on.

Amulius charged Remus again, but Remus deflected the sword with his own, sending Amulius stumbling behind him. Remus countered the attack by swinging his sword upward and sliced Amulius’ back, staining his bedclothes with blood. The king cried out and fell into the wall, smashing his head against the stone. He flipped around and raised his sword to attack Remus, but instead met Romulus sword, swinging downward, diagonally across his chest.

Together, the twins thrust their swords into the abdomen of their great-uncle. Romulus smiled as Amulius slid down the wall and slumped over. Amulius sat with his sword resting in the palm of his open hand, no longer able to maintain a firm grip. His breaths were staggered as he looked up at the twins in defeat.

He spoke through shallow breaths, “I dare say that you are the children of Mars,” Amulius breathed a laugh, “but even the blood of Mars can perish. We have only one life to live and one to die. The offspring of Mars will always bleed and suffer violence.”

Romulus laughed at the dying king and looked down at his side. What was once a bloody wound, was a ripped tunic with a small red mark on his rippled abdomen. “We are demigods, the immortal warriors of the divine. Combine that with Mars’ favor and it will take an army to bleed us to death.”

Remus was worried about Amulius’ prophetic words. He knew demigods are only immortal if they are not mortally wounded. They are warriors now. Warriors never die in peace.

There was a gasp behind them and the twins twisted around to see a woman standing about five feet tall with brown hair tightly pinned up and golden-brown eyes. She was dressed in a white robe fastened with gold buckles. She could not have been older than forty. The twins sheathed their bloody swords as the woman ran towards them with her arms open.

My babies!” she cried as she grasped the twins in a tight hug. She barely came up to their chests.

The twins were startled but each wrapped one arm around her, circling her in a giant hug. “Mother?” They asked the woman clinging to their waist.

“Of course I am! I prayed to the gods to let me see you once more and finally they have answered my plea,” she pulled them down by the collar of their tunics and kissed both their cheeks.

Rhea’s tears of joy ran down her face as she turned back towards Lupa to embrace the wolf who brought back her children. Behind Lupa appeared a soldier dressed in all black with a gold three-headed dog on his breastplate. Rhea stopped walking when she saw the soldier. She turned on the spot to face her children and smiled.

“At least I got to see you one last time,” she said as she touched the side of their faces and looked behind them at Amulius.

Somehow, Amulius got to his feet while the twins were distracted and now teetered behind them with his dagger. With the rest of his strength, he pushed the startled twins out of his way and grabbed Rhea by the shoulder. He drove the dagger deep into her stomach, smiling victoriously.

Romulus whipped his sword out while Remus caught their mother as she fell backwards. A loud crash knocked Romulus off his feet and a booming voice yelled out, “He’s mine!”

Mars stood seven feet tall swinging his sword through the air. The black metal of the sword glistened in the torch light with Bellipotens etched in red down the middle of the blade. The hilt was gold with the handle wrapped in red leather.

“You have done enough damage to my family, Amulius! Twice you have tried to kill my children and now you slay my woman!” In sudden alarm, Mars turned to Rhea. He pointed a finger at the soldier now standing over Rhea. “Touch her, Pluto, and so help me I will storm the gates of the underworld to fetch her myself.”

The twins hadn’t noticed the soldier standing behind Remus bending over to touch Rhea’s hand. Remus flinched and covered his mother’s body with his own, protecting her from the soldier. He attempted to inch his mother away from Pluto while Romulus scrambled to his feet to help. Pluto clenched his fist and the boys writhed in pain.

“Enough! They are not to be touched!” roared Mars.

“No one is beyond my touch, Mars,” Pluto said in an eerily calm voice. “Do not challenge me, nephew. I am the eldest of the three Godly Kings in our pantheon. Your father, Jupiter, is the youngest of us three. I will put you both down if I must.”

Amulius fell to his knees, no longer able bear his weight. Mars was outraged by his uncle’s scolding. He reached down to pick Amulius up with such ferocity his neck snapped back, making him look like a ragdoll.

“You don’t get to die that easily, Amulius,” Mars growled.

Mars held him in the air with one hand and slowly pushed his other fist deep into Amulius’ chest. The dying king howled in pain as his ribs cracked one by one from Mars’ grisly attack. Despite how angry the twins had been with their uncle, they felt sorry for what their father was doing.

Pluto heaved a sigh, “Mars, you really must learn to control your temper. It does not matter to me who I take first, but I will take them both. You, of all gods, should know how a battle ends.”

Pluto glided over to Amulius and touched his shoulder. Amulius stopped screaming and fell limp. Mars flung Amulius’ lifeless body off his fist, revealing a gold ball of light in his clenched hand.

Just as Pluto bent down to touch Rhea’s hand, Mars threw the ball of light into her chest, making her entire body shimmer gold. The light grew brighter until the twins could no longer bear to look at their mother.

When the light faded, Rhea stood with her hair flowing down past her shoulders, dressed in a crimson toga with black braids wrapped around her body, emphasizing her curves. No longer five feet tall, she now matched Mars’ height. She walked over to Mars and looped her arm around his, gently rubbing his bicep with her thumb. She smiled down at her children as they looked at her in amazement. She was a goddess.

“Try to take her now, Uncle,” Mars confronted Pluto arrogantly.

Pluto sighed heavily and looked upon Rhea pitifully. “She does not deserve an immortal life full of misery. She has suffered enough in her lifetime at the hands of Amulius.” Pluto said in a cool tone, “You have condemned her to an eternity of war and death. I would have placed her in the Elysian Fields with her father. Now you have made her a Patron of Soldiers.”

Pluto shook his head disappointedly at his nephew and turned towards the door. He stopped just before the threshold. “Forgive my rudeness,” he said turning back to Rhea, “I believe congratulations are in order. It is your wedding day. Allow me to give you a present.”

He opened his arms and slammed them shut creating a gust of wind that pushed the twins backwards. The twins checked their bodies for anything unusual; tails, wings, another set of arms, or horns. There was nothing visible but they felt different. Silver light expanded out from their chests and engulfed them. After a few seconds, the light faded and the twins gawked at Mars and Pluto, frightened about what happened.

Mars howled with laughter at Pluto’s ‘present’.

Pluto addressed Rhea. He spoke with a hint of warning combined with pity, “Your children have been blessed with the essence of the River Styx. They remain immortal, but they are each other’s weakness and can only be killed by the other. This is meant as a comfort for you, but a regretful punishment for my nephew.”

Pluto shook his head disapprovingly once more then vanished in a puff of silver smoke.

Mars clapped his hands and two golden crowns appeared on top of the twins’ heads, “You are the Twin Kings of Alba Longa.” He laughed loudly as he and Rhea shrank down to their children’s height.

Mars was still laughing as Rhea hugged her children. She held them both and rested her head on their shoulders as she squeezed them. She whispered in their ears, “Rule justly like your grandfather. He was a good man. You were destined to be here.”

Rhea blew them a kiss then vanished with Mars.

Back in Remus’ throne room, the Twin Kings were calm, no longer fighting Cailean and Brian. Cailean knew they were running out of time as the rams picked up speed and force. The banging rang through the room as a constant knocking due to Cailean’s time spell. If Romulus’ men broke down the door, it would shatter both the protection and time spells and they would all be dead.

Cailean sent out a psychic message to his brother, Brian, they are almost through the door. If you can hear me, you need to make this last memory count

Chapter 16

The Blood of Fate

Cailean had no idea if his brother could hear him anymore. He ordered his men to get ready in case Romulus’ soldiers broke down the door. Remus’ army moved in formation alongside Cailean’s without orders.

Brian heard Cailean’s warning and found the final memory they needed the most, the memory of Remus leaving the palace on Palatine Hill. It had to be short but painful. Brian decided he would not show them both the same memory but would switch each other’s memories of Remus leaving.

Brian forced their subconscious minds to remember the throne room at Palatine Hill. They had ruled there as Twin Kings for three hundred years. Their power was unchallengeable and epic. They had never lost a battle, but even through their war campaigns they were fair and just, as their mother instructed.

The memory of this night immediately brought tears to both Remus and Romulus. This was the night they lost each other…

“Remus! I have been looking for you all night. Come celebrate with me. After all, this is the night we became kings,” Romulus drunkenly sauntered over to Remus and threw his arm around his shoulders.

“Whoa! Easy there, Rom,” Remus steadied his brother, “How many times are we going to celebrate the murder it took to retrieve the thrones?”

“We didn’t kill old Amulius, Remmy. Father did. We merely reaped the benefits,” laughed Romulus.

The twins walked outside into their courtyard, Romulus released Remus’ shoulder and raised his arms towards the night sky. “Mother! Can you hear me, Mother? Goddess of Soldiers, are we not your greatest warriors?”

“Rom, leave mother alone. I’m sure there is some battle going on somewhere that she needs to attend.”

Romulus faced his brother and said with excitement, “Then we should be in it, Remus! For no battle is great until we ride into the thick of it.”

“Let’s go, Rom. Your royal ass needs to rest in order to continue the eight day celebration in honor of ourselves,” Remus said, grabbing his brother’s arm and slinging it around his neck. He helped him up the stairs where a guard met them and took Romulus to his room.

Remus broke off into Romulus’ memory and joy immediately filled his soul. It began with Romulus sprinting into Remus’ bedchambers to wake him up. It was the fourth day of the celebration where the Twin Kings would fight each other. He could not wait. He loved sparring against his brother.

Romulus flung open the doors to Remus’ bedroom with a giant smile that pulled at his cheeks. “Wake up, Remmy!” To his surprise, the bed was empty and not slept in.

Something was wrong; he felt it in the pit of his stomach. He searched every room to make sure his intuition was not wrong. The doors flew off their hinges as he stormed into the throne room, rage surging through his veins and heightening his strength. Romulus whipped around and screamed for his soldiers. He would find whoever kidnapped his brother and destroy them mercilessly.

Romulus ran to his throne to grab his necklace and noticed a slight difference. When he picked up the wolf charm, he held Remus’ half and painfully realized his brother chose to leave him. He slumped into his throne and stared at Remus’ golden wolf. When the soldiers came into the room, he waved them off and told them to cancel the celebrations.

“There will never be a celebration of the Twin Kings again,” Romulus said with detestation, slamming a closed fist on the arm of his throne.

Lupa skulked out from behind the thrones. “He loves you, Romulus, but he was never a war raging man. Peace belongs in his heart, where it has never belonged in yours.”

“We are the Twins of Mars. War is everything that we are. We are the world’s greatest generals. Do not tell me peace belongs in his heart. It has never existed in our life, let alone in his heart,” Romulus snidely retorted.

“Have you never noticed that you are each other’s opposites? He is peace to your war, calm to your rage, and logic to your impulse. Just like the halves of that wolf charm, you complete each other but you were never the same.”

Romulus said nothing as he sat in his throne, running his fingers over his brother’s charm.

“Grieve your brother, Romulus. You need to understand that your lives will never be the same.”

Romulus leaned forward and buried his face in hands. His shoulders shook as he silently cried into his palms. Lupa laid her head on Romulus’ knee and licked his hand in an attempt to comfort him.

Grief filled Remus’ heart. He had never known how much him leaving hurt Romulus until he felt it for himself.

On the other end, Romulus sunk into Remus’ memory of the night they parted.

He saw Remus looking over the courtyard. Remus chuckled as he heard Romulus laughing at his own jokes as the guard helped him to his room. “Oh Rom, what are you going to do without me?”

Remus walked somberly towards the throne room. He went over to the twin thrones, where he saw Romulus’ half of the wolf charm. He picked up Romulus’ charm and replaced it with his own.

We are here, Remus, Brian’s familiar voice echoed in Remus’ head.

The pain in his chest was unbearable as he headed out of the throne room. He almost could not bring himself to leave, but three hundred years of war got tiring. As much as he loved his brother, he needed peace, and Romulus would never be happy with that. He reached the outer wall of the palace and saw three of his closest friends waiting for him with a horse: Brian, Cailean, and his second in command, Lysandros.

Remus’ heartache made it difficult to breathe and made his pulse race. If he was not immortal, the pain would surely kill him. Remus climbed on top of the wall and took one more look at the palace. He could see the firelight in Romulus’ room. By now, he would be passed out and sprawled across his bed. Remus needed to leave now or else he never would.

Remus spread his arms and leapt off the edge into a swan dive. Being the son of the God of War had its advantages. He curled out of his dive and flipped in the air. He landed with one knee and one fist hitting the ground. Without looking back, he mounted his horse and whipped its haunches. The four men took off in a dead sprint into the forest.

The memory left a pounding pain in Romulus’s chest. Resentment seeped out of his heart, filling his mind and extremities with fury. Suddenly, Romulus broke out of the spell in an explosion of a rage. He released a wave of power that broke the invisible bonds that held him captive. Breaking the spell broke the stone chains wrapped around Remus. The wave also sent Brian and Cailean flying across the room, knocking them unconscious.

Remus fell to the floor, panicking and trying to catch his breath. He could feel his brother’s rage outside the door. Remus scurried to his feet and wiped the remaining tears from his cheek. He stood tall and wide in front of the soldiers, as if protecting them from the harm that was about to burst through the door.

Remus teemed with the type of authority and confidence associated with Mars that had been dormant since he left Palatine Hill. His confidence, which bordered arrogance, gave the soldiers a fighting spirit for the oncoming battle.

“You two!” Remus pointed to the two soldiers closest to Brian and Cailean. “Wake them up. The rest of you, may the gods be with you.”

Facing the door, Remus bounced from side to side, every muscle tensed in anticipation. He could feel Romulus ready to explode. His War senses on high alert, he smiled at the familiar feeling of adrenalin pumping through his veins. Remus truly was a warrior at heart and he loved it, no matter how much or long he tried to hide it.

“Come on, Rom. Come get me,” Remus whispered to himself, but he was sure his brother could hear him.

“Remus!” Romulus let out a guttural bellow. “How dare you!

“Get on with it, Brother. I can feel the animosity boiling within you. Let it out, I promise you’ll feel much better,” Remus taunted, smiling with the anticipation of the fight he was about to have.

He dreaded it earlier, but now the anticipation made him feel more alive than he felt in ages. He lived for this moment. He was born for this moment.

Romulus pushed the soldiers holding the ram out of his way, stood in front of the double doors, and channeled his rage. His eyes glowed red as power flooded to his arms. He slammed his fists into the doors, shattering the wood and Cailean’s time spell. A combination of dust and debris clouded the hallway and throne room.

The only two left standing were Remus and Romulus. Through the cloud of dust, the soldiers could hear the sound of metal scraping together. They hurried to their feet to defend their corresponding king, but they could barely see the person next to them. They had no idea where to charge.

Once the dust settled, Romulus’ soldiers charged into the room where they met Remus’ hoplite army. The center of the army glided backwards, luring the bulk of Romulus’ soldiers inward while the soldiers on the outside rushed in to circle them. The sound of swords clashing against shields and the screeching of metal armor filled the throne room. Wails of pain echoed as archers ambushed soldiers as they rushed through the door.

The tight squeeze of the doorway made Romulus’ army vulnerable to this type of attack; soldiers and archers easily picked them off. Romulus’ army dwindled, until his Gàidheal allies arrived. Their magic sent Remus’ soldiers flying in all directions, while Gàidheal archers marched through the doorway firing arrows at an unbelievable pace, matching Brian’s archers’ power and speed.

Aeneos and Brathadair, the chief of the MacCathail clan, attacked the still unconscious ó Conaill brothers. Two members of the Clan ó Conaill, Eadan and Drostan, caught the edges of Aeneos’ and Brathadair’s swords with their shields and knocked them back from the brothers. Drostan attacked while Aeneos and Brathadair were off balance, while Eadan tried to shake Brian and Cailean awake.

“Master Cailean! Wake up, we’re falling apart,” Eadan shook Cailean’s shoulder “Clan MacCathail arrived and Brathadair knows you are here.”

Cailean groaned and sat up, holding the back of his head. Eadan turned back to his outnumbered friend and ran to help Drostan. Eadan fought Brathadair while Drostan focused on Aeneos. Before Cailean raised his sword, Aeneos ripped Drostan’s shield off his arm and slashed through his abdomen. At the same time, Brathadair lunged with his sword, but Eadan jumped out of the way. Brathadair then waved his arm and magically sent Eadan soaring into a pillar.

Brathadair walked over to the injured Eadan and lifted his sword to make a fatal blow. Suddenly, a searing pain coursed through his head. Cailean, finally on his feet, held an arm in the air with his fist clenched, magically causing Brathadair’s pain. Cailean conjured a siren to blare in Brathadair’s mind, causing his vision to blur and blood to drip from his ears.

While Cailean concentrated on neutralizing Brathadair, Aeneos crept up behind him ready to drive his sword into Cailean’s back. Before Aeneos thrust his sword, he rose off the ground with his airway closing as if someone lifted him by the throat.

Brian stood behind Aeneos with an arm extended in the same manner as Cailean. Aeneos tried to speak, but could only make wheezing noises as Brian clenched his fist tighter, restricting his airflow. “Did you honestly expect that I would let you live, let alone speak after you tried to kill my brother?”

As Brian’s rage flared, his eyes changed from blue to shining silver and his grip around Aeneos’ throat tightened. The mild tempered chief of the ó Conaill Clan could no longer control his fury. The thought of losing his baby brother kept replaying in his mind. Anger brewed in his stomach, burning through his chest and arms. In a quick turn of his wrist, Aeneos’ necked snapped and his body crumbled to the ground. Brian ran to Cailean’s side.

“Go help the others, I will deal with Brathadair,” Brian ordered Cailean.

Cailean nodded, but before leaving, he gripped Brian’s shoulder. He heard what Brian said to Aeneos before killing him. “I’m alright, Bri,” Cailean said. The corner of his mouth rose slightly in appreciation for his brother’s concern.

“You won’t be, if you don’t get over there and help those men,” grunted Brian, never taking his eyes off Brathadair.

Cailean squeezed Brian’s shoulder tighter, signaling his concern for the pending fight between Brian and Brathadair. He then ran towards the bulk of the battle. Cailean did not slow down as he jumped into the thick of the fight, swinging his sword left and right, deflecting and jabbing. The sight of him weaving in and out of harm’s way uplifted the soldiers’ spirits and a burst of ferocity took Brathadair’s clan by surprise.

Cailean’s presence was a turning point in the battle.

When Brathadair turned around, Brian already had his sword above his head, ready to cut into Brathadair with one downward blow.

Brathadair shouted, “Le Gaoth!” and a gust of wind sent Brian soaring backwards before he completed his attack.

“It looks as if your younger brother is the one with the brains in the family. At least he knew better than to attack me without magic,” Brathadair teased as Brian climbed back to his feet. He smiled excitedly, motioning around the room. “This battle will be the end of an era, Brian. Who would have thought that you and I would be the bringers of it? Then again, you and I have been there since the begin…”

“Teine!” Brian shouted as he sent a ball of fire hurling at Brathadair’s head.

Brathadair barely had time to deflect the attack with his sword.

“You are not the only one who can manipulate the elements, Brathadair.”

“Fire is how this all began, Bri, or don’t you remember the day of prophecy? After all, you and I were Eversor’s best students.”

“Do not concern yourself with my memories. Prophecies never end in the way you suspect,” Brian said as he circled his foe.

“Look around you, Brian. Love and War will always result in devastating loss. This day is the product of an ancient love and a battle destined for death.”

Brian swung his sword at Brathadair’s head, but Brathadair lurched backwards as the tip of the blade narrowly missed his nose. In his avoidance of Brian’s sword, Brathadair tripped over his own feet and fell backwards. His sword slid across the room where Cailean stopped it with his foot. With a flick of his ankle, Brathadair’s sword flung up into Cailean’s hand.

Brathadair looked beyond Cailean to find the o’Conaill clan herding up his own. On the opposite side of the room, Remus’ army gathered Romulus’ soldiers’ weapons and tied ropes around their wrists. Brathadair knew this battle was over and that he lost. He turned back to Brian with a wicked grin.

Brian, anticipating what Brathadair would do, jabbed his sword as quickly as he could. However, Brathadair vanished with a snap of his fingers.

“Arghhhhh!” Brian slashed his sword through the air.

Brian’s face turned scarlet at his lost attempt of killing Brathadair. He clenched his fists so tight his knuckles were white. Cailean was surprised Brian lost his composure in front of his clan and stood back to let him vent.

Behind Cailean, a loud crash and the sound of metal scraping against stone disrupted Brian’s venting. Cailean and Brian whipped around to see Remus lying on the ground against a stone pillar.

“It won’t be that easy to kill me, brother,” Remus coughed, wiping his mouth and streaking blood on the backside of his hand.

Romulus smiled crookedly. “What fun would that be?”

Romulus raised his sword again, but this time Remus was too quick for him. Remus swung his sword upward with such force Romulus’ breastplate split in two, exposing a ripped purple tunic.

“Quit now, Rom. I was always better at strategy than you,” Remus said, now standing over his brother.

“That may be so, but I was always the better swordsman.”

From his belt, Romulus drew a dagger and hurled it at Remus. The dagger flew through the air at a speed no mortal man could dodge. However, Remus rolled out of the way then jumped back to his feet. The dagger lodged deep into the pillar where Remus had been standing. No ordinary feat of strength could pull that dagger out of the stone.

Brian looked at the hilt of the dagger and noticed something familiar about the design.

Remus and Romulus circled each other, baiting the other to strike first. Remus removed his breastplate to match his brother.

“Now we are even,” Remus added, “Twins at all times.”

“Not at all times, Remmy,” Romulus lunged at his brother, but Remus once again deflected with his sword. He grabbed Romulus’ wrist with his free hand and smashed him into the wall behind him.

When Romulus turned around, his nose bled and he spat out blood.

Remus raised his sword so the tip of the blade rested against Romulus’ collarbone. “Please, Brother, don’t make me kill you. You know what the prophecy is. Pluto’s words are fate. Don’t make it like this,” Remus begged.

“Why do you think I am here, Remmy? How could a prophecy be complete if we are never together?” Romulus eyebrows furrowed and sighed in pity. He spoke with sorrow, void of malicious intent.

“Look around, Romulus. You’ve lost,” Remus said with his arms spread wide, gesturing to the room. “Your men are bound and your Gaels have let you down. Just let it go. We can return to who we were.”

Romulus’ anger loosened when Remus said they could regain their former glory as twins. A sense of peace washed over him and the grip on his sword relaxed. He missed his brother so much that he let grief turn to hatred.

Out of the corner of his eye, Romulus saw the dagger glisten in the sunlight peeking through the windows. The feeling of peace vanished and his facial expression turned blank as if in a trance. He hurdled over Remus like an acrobat, somersaulting over his head and landing gracefully behind him. Romulus swept the dagger out from the pillar with ease.

When Remus twisted around to face his brother, Romulus drove the dagger into his brother’s unprotected chest. Stunned, Remus stumbled backwards to the wall and slid to the ground. He watched his brother slowly walk towards him. Instead of seeing Romulus happy at his deathblow, shock covered his face. He stared at his hands in disbelief, not realizing what he had done.

Romulus fell beside Remus and grabbed the dagger with both hands. It then dawned on Brian how he recognized the dagger. He knew it from when he studied at Ériu. That was Eversor’s dagger. He remembered the story Eversor told him about his wife, the gods, and the dagger.

“Noooo!” Brian shouted as he sprinted towards the Twin Kings. “Do not removed the dagger, Romulus!”

Romulus did not heed Brian’s warning and pulled the dagger from Remus’ chest. Wrapped around the blade was a string of red light. Shocked at what he was seeing, Romulus instantly dropped the dagger and dragged his brother away from the mysterious object.

Cailean immediately ran to help move Remus. Together, they dragged Remus by the wrists to a pillar and propped him up. Cailean tried to use a healing spell on Remus, but nothing worked. Blood continued to ooze from the wound in his chest. Cailean tore long strips of his shirt to wrap around the king’s chest while Romulus, on his knees, rocked back and forth apologizing, holding Remus’ hand.

“Romulus!” Cailean shouted to get his attention, “Where did you get that dagger?”

“I don’t know, I have never seen it before.”

“There must be some type of poison that I can’t heal,” Cailean shook his head, unsure of what to do next.

Meanwhile, Brian grabbed the dagger and ran back to the pillar where the dagger was once stuck. Just as he was about to stab the dagger back in the hole, he was yanked backwards. The dagger slid out of his hands with the light still wrapped around the blade. It slid to the foot of a man Brian knew well.

The man also looked familiar to Remus. This man stabbed his wife.

“Hello, Brian.” The man smiled smugly.

In utter shock and fear, Brian could barely breathe the name. “Eversor.”

Chapter 17

Farewells

Eversor, after all the centuries, was still as handsome as the day the gods made him. The wound in his abdomen, the one Lysandros gave him while protecting Alina, had completely healed.

Remus coughed up blood as he tried to speak his brother, “Rom, that is the man who tried to kill Alina. You may not have liked her, but she is my wife. Avenge her.”

Romulus was hesitant to leave his brother’s side but did as he asked. He picked up his sword and advanced on Eversor. Eversor casually swiped his hand in a dismissive manor and the son of Mars froze where he stood.

Remus tried to stand to help his brother, but Cailean pushed him back down. In protest, Remus pushed Cailean’s arm aside and called out to his soldiers to attack.

Reaching inside his pocket, Eversor turned towards the army. He carefully pulled out a pile of black dust and blew it in the army’s direction.

The Gaels recognized the powder and tried to stop Remus’ men from advancing, but they were too late. The Gaels, who could reach their enchanted shields, formed a wall of armor to protect themselves from the powder.

When Eversor blew the powder towards the soldiers, they disintegrated where they stood. Brian swiped his arm causing a gust of wind to blow the powder to the windows. The glass disintegrated when the black particles collided with it.

“Get out of here!” Brian shouted to his men.

A ball of blue light flew past the soldiers’ heads and slammed into a barricade that blocked a secret passageway. Cailean peered around the pillar with one arm extended towards the wall while his other hand grasped Remus’. Cailean’s heart dropped into his stomach when he felt Remus’ grip loosen. He turned around just in time to see his friend smile up at him and then smile at Brian and Romulus.

“Hang on, Remus. This is no time to give up. We’re getting you out of here next,” Cailean tried to sound upbeat.

Another ball of blue light flew out of from Cailean’s hand to the back of Eversor’s head. When the ball hit, it freed Romulus from Eversor’s spell. He rushed back to Remus and clutched his hand.

Remus tried to laugh as he patted the back of his brother’s head. “I told you, you were always the hotheaded one.”

Romulus half cried and half laughed, “And you were always too cautious.”

Remus winced as he coughed up more blood and turned to Cailean. “Thank you for your help. Tell Brian you both have been like family to me. I entrust my daughter’s life to you now.”

Remus looked from Cailean to Romulus, and then to Brian, who distracted Eversor from attacking anyone else. He smiled and whispered, “My family.”

His head slumped to the side of his shoulder and his hand slid out of Romulus’ and Cailean’s.

Wiping tears from his eyes, Cailean turned towards Eversor with a vengeful mind. It may have been Romulus who stabbed Remus, but it was Eversor who provided the enchanted dagger that possessed Romulus to kill him. Cailean refused to wait to seek his revenge.

Brian slid in front of Cailean and pushed him out of the way. He ordered his grieving brother to help the others. Cailean tried to argue but could not get a word out as his throat constricted.

Eversor laughed as he bent down to pick up his dagger with the red light still attached. “I don’t even need to raise a finger to choke the life out of you, Cailean.” Eversor laughed loudly, “Tell me, how does that make you feel?”

Romulus dove at Eversor. Without much effort, Eversor clenched his fist and twisted it in Romulus’ direction. Romulus hunched over, clutching his stomach and gagging on deep red blood.

“Release them! You have me to contend with and you have already killed one child of Mars today. I would not make that mistake twice,” Brian growled.

“Two halves of a whole, do you remember that? If the gods wanted to save them, they would have intervened. That is what they do best,” Eversor cast an evil grin as he continued to torture Romulus.

Brian knew he was no match magically for Eversor, so he hurled his body at Eversor’s abdomen, tackling him to the ground. Eversor did not expect a physical attack and in his surprise, the dagger slipped from his hand, inches from his fingertips. However, Eversor did not need to reach it. He used his powers to call it back to him.

The torturous grips Eversor had on Romulus and Cailean ceased once Brian tackled him. Cailean and Romulus were ready to attack. Before they took a step, Brian shouted, “Invenire Regina!”

“Nooooooo!” Eversor screamed, pushing Brian off of him. He scrambled to the grab the dagger, but the red light unwound itself from the blade and vanished, leaving a wisp of red smoke in its absence.

“Qui est Regina?” Eversor yelled, demanding the location of The Power. His eyes turned black as his anger grew.

”It’s your own history and you don’t even know it,” Brian said, backing up to Remus’ body. “It was on the stone, Eversor. ‘Two halves of the whole will reinstall as Regina to all.’ The owner of The Power is a queen to become The Queen. ”

Brian reached into his pocket and pulled out a tiny grey ball.

“This will not be the last time we meet, Brian,” Eversor threatened, “I promise you that!”

Brian threw the ball on the ground and a puff of grey smoke spiraled upward, providing cover for the three men to escape with Remus’ body. Eversor dove for the dagger and from the ground hurled the knife into the smoke.

When the smoke cleared, the four men were gone and so was the dagger. Eversor let out a thunderous howl that shook and crumbled the walls around him. The windows shattered outward, the pillars gave way, and the ceiling collapsed, leaving the palace in ruins.

A massive white cloud and marble ruins occupied the site where the opulent palace once stood. A single gold eagle emerged from the smoke, screeching as it flew away.

In a cave overlooking the destroyed palace, the three men stood over Remus’ body. Romulus crumbled to the ground with the dagger lodged in his side. Cailean ripped it out, half expecting there to be another string of red light around the blade. He sighed, relieved at the sight of the clean blade.

Brian moved Remus’ body to the side and returned to help Cailean heal Romulus. Their hands hovered above the wound. A blue light appeared in their palms as they chanted a healing spell. After about two minutes of chanting, Romulus’ wound healed without a trace of trauma.

“How could you heal me but could not save my damn brother!” Romulus shouted at them.

“Because it was not the poisonous dagger that killed Remus. By all rights, that wound should have healed. Have you forgotten what Pluto did to you the day you conquered Alba Longa? The only object or person with the ability to kill Remus was you. The fact that it was you who stabbed him with the enchanted dagger is what prevented us from healing him. You are now a true immortal, impervious to death except by the hand of your brother,” Brian raged.

The brothers left Romulus to grieve with Remus’ body. It took all of Brian’s self-control not to attack Romulus for killing his best friend and chasing Breanna out of the kingdom. Brian was surprised at Cailean’s self-control as well. The brothers knew they had a long journey ahead of them and took advantage of the only time they would have to mourn their beloved friend.

After their tears dried, the men agreed to bury the king in the cave that overlooked his former kingdom. It took Cailean and Brian an hour to conjure a marble sarcophagus worthy of a great king. The engraved coffin told the story of his life, from when Lupa raised him to when he died in his brother’s arms.

Once finished, the three men decided they should hide the dagger with Remus. “We cannot afford to have this weapon unleashed into the world. If Eversor uses it again, the world will be in great danger,” Brian said, placing the dagger into Remus’ belt.

When the men closed Remus in the sarcophagus, they each cried silently. Romulus slumped over the cover, weeping on the stone chest of his brother.

Afterwards, Brian explained to Romulus the origins of the dagger. He provided the history of Eversor and the collection of power the gods formed during the Trojan War. Brian secretly knew who The Queen was but did not divulge that information to Romulus in case he tried to take The Power for himself.

Unfortunately, they had left the city without transportation. The o’Conaill brothers summoned three wild horses that resided over the ridge to take them to their destinations. Romulus headed south to his kingdom, while the brothers headed west to find either Alina and Lysandros or Breanna and Eoghan.

In the distance, they could hear two wolves howl in lament for the fallen king.

Chapter 18

Alina’s Story

When Alina left The Great Hall, she found Remus dressed in his finest clothing. Butterflies zoomed in her stomach as her heart raced at the sight of her handsome husband. She reached up to stroke his cheek, but his cold skin stung her fingers. She gasped and cupped her mouth as she began to cry and then threw her arms around his neck.

“There, there, sweetheart. I am all right,” Remus said, rubbing Alina’s back as she sobbed into his shoulder. “Pluto made a special appointment for me at his court. He claims it is because I ‘have done honorable things in my life that do not warrant an eternity of suffering.’” Remus mocked Pluto’s deep voice and chuckled at his own joke. “I think it is so he can keep an eye on me in case I try to start a rebellion, being the son of War and all.” Remus puffed his chest out proudly and gave her an award-winning smile.

Alina smiled at his ill-timed joke. He was dead, yet trying to make her feel better. “I need you, Remus. Our little girl is in danger. She can’t do this on her own.”

“She is not on her own.” Remus wiped away a tear. “She has the o’Conaills, her brothers, Eoghan, Lysandros, and you. Romulus will also play a part in this quest.”

Alina tensed. Her lip curled as she said, “He has already played his part and will suffer at my hands for it.” Her voice was low and venomous.

“Such fire! That is why I fell madly in love with you. Despite your anger towards him, his part must be played or else everything will be lost.” He took her hand to walk along the moonlit coastline. The waves danced in the white and blue hues. “Come, we don’t have much time.”

“Because I have to go or because Pluto will make you go?” Alina asked, squeezing his hand.

“Does it matter?” Remus smirked and made Alina blush. She turned away to hide a small smile.

“What do you think of our sons, Dear?” Alina asked, changing the heartbreaking subject.

“Our three fools?” Remus corrected. “They are fine warriors, always have been, but hot tempered trouble.”

“It is not I they resemble most, dear husband. Besides, Nikolaos has grown into a fine man, poised and strong, like his father,” Alina said and hugged Remus’ arm, pulling him tight to her body.

“He is eighty-years old, after all. I hope he has matured at his age with two brothers to babysit. Conversely, Leonidas is slightly childish, is he not?”

Alina furrowed her eyebrows at his comment and defended her child, “He’s my baby.”

“Alina,” Remus said exasperated, “he is forty. He is no baby.”

Alina laughed, “He is my baby.”

“Now Cole, he has a strong head on his shoulders. He may not be as physically strong as Nikolaos, but he learns quick and is not at impulsive as Leo. His magic is impressive. Sixty years have done him well.” Remus nodded as he praised his middle son.

“His father taught him well. That is until he banished him and his brothers to live with the Vikings,” Alina snidely commented.

“Alina for the last time, they nearly destroyed the peace between three different kingdoms! It was as if they were on a mission from Mars.”

“Then you should have been proud.” Alina raised her eyebrow and Remus knew that was her ‘you better not continue to argue with me’ look.

Remus sighed, “Yes, dear.”

Remus stopped walking and faced Alina. “You cannot hold my brother responsible for my death. I helped set this event in motion. Plus, he was possessed by an enchanted knife when he stabbed me.” Remus smirked and shrugged. “We’re twins, and nothing is ever one’s sole fault.”

“You are the shepherd of my soul. Who will hold my hand and lead me through this fight?”

“Hold your hand? Ha-ha! Woman, when has anyone ever guided you by the hand? My sweet, sweet Alina, you have been my Northern Star.”

Remus pressed her hand against his cheek. Alina closed her eyes as the tension released in her shoulders and back.

“You are the daughter of two gods; the goddess who gave up her divine throne for the lonely king of Alba Longa. I fear you have lived too long among the Greeks and have forgotten your strength as a Celt.” Remus brushed a strand of strawberry-blonde hair away from her eyes. “It is time to remember your heritage.”

Remus smiled and spun her around so her back leaned against his chest. He cradled her from behind, wrapping his arms around her as they swayed on the beach, gazing out at the ocean. “Do you remember the first time we met?” His scruff tickled her cheek and gave her goose bumps.

“Yes, you and your brother arrived at my family’s castle. Then you shot me,” She chuckled at the memory.

They both remembered the day as if it happened hours ago:

Remus and Romulus arrived at the Palace of Dyfed while they explored the country of Cymru. After rumors of the lush, prosperous kingdom reached them, they wished to hunt in the king’s forest.

“Stay as long as you wish,” Pwyll Conant, King of Dyfed, welcomed them to his home. “Come, come! Meet my wife and children.”

The Twin Kings were surprised at the gracious welcome from King Pwyll and followed him into his castle. “This is my wife, Queen Rhiannon and this is my son, Prince Pryderi. He is a skilled warrior.” Pwyll slapped his son on the back. Pryderi remained silent but nodded in respect. “Where is my beautiful daughter? Alina Conant, get down here!”

A young beautiful woman, in her early twenties, entered the hall. She dressed in a tight emerald green gown with strawberry-blonde hair that met the middle of her back. A silver and emerald encrusted sword clung to her hip. Even though the men were twins, Remus caught her eye and she blushed as she approached them.

Romulus whispered to his brother, “She’s mine, Remmy.”

Remus nudged him and whispered back, “How many drachmas to wager?”

Alina put her hand out for the men to kiss as they bowed to her. Her smile was quaint yet beautiful. Remus’ heart fluttered, mesmerized by her hazel eyes.

Romulus studied the intense eye contact between Alina and his brother. “Oh, Tartarus,” he mumbled beneath his breath, loud enough for his brother to hear. Remus smiled at his brother’s defeat. When Alina glided over to her father’s side, Romulus slipped a coin into Remus’ hand. “You win.”

Pwyll held a weeklong feast in their honor and promised they could hunt in his forest as long as they wished. During the celebration, Alina and Remus spent all their days together. She flaunted her magic and explained that her mother, Queen Rhiannon, was once a goddess of the fairy world. She gave up her right to the fairy throne when she married Pwyll. Remus and Alina exchanged childhood tales for hours.

One day, the twins set out on a hunting excursion. Remus could not find Alina. Pwyll explained a close friend had taken her on a day trip and that she would be back by dusk.

Romulus shook his brother’s shoulders to snap him out of his depressive demeanor. “Come now, Remmy. You can live without her for one day.” He tossed Remus a bow and arrow. “Let’s show these Celts how Greeks hunt.” Excitement filled Romulus’ eyes, making Remus laugh at his ridiculous expression.

“Alina, watch out!” shouted a tall handsome man in a black cloak.

Alina had her bow and arrow notched, stalking a white stag through the forest. She quietly crept onto a log bridging over a creek as she inched closer to her prey. Just as she was in the middle of the log, two arrows knocked her into the creek below. Red streaks flowed through the water as blood soaked the back of her green tunic.

The man who tried to warn Alina raced towards her, followed by a large white dog with red ears. He scooped her up into his arms with ease and carried her to the nearest Alder tree. The man fiercely shouted, “Ó na fréamhacha thíos go dtí na duilleoga ar barr, a ligean am mall a nochtadh ar barr Fearnóg.”

High above in the canopy were small white and red fairies that lounged on branches and weaved through the leaves.

A silver male flew down from a high branch and examined Alina’s wound. “Arawn, you have no right to call upon us,” the fairy grunted.

“Do not pretend you have any say over what I do. I am still one of your gods. Alina is hurt and she is the daughter of Rhiannon, your goddess and princess. You will heal her. Now,” Arawn growled.

“I do not take orders from you, Arawn.” The fairy folded his arms across his chest. “I have no allegiance to Rhiannon anymore. She has been closed off to the fairy world and stripped of her fairy titles.” The fairy curled his lip as if disgusted with the memory.

“That may be so, but you are bound to her bloodline regardless. Alina’s grandfather is ruler of the fairy world, after all.” Arawn raised an eyebrow, knowing he won the argument.

The fairy was reluctant to help but could not contest the statement. The fairies were bound to Alina’s blood and forced to assist her. He whistled and two crimson females and another silver male flew down from the trees. The females gathered berries and moss while the men pulled on the arrows in her back.

Arawn whipped around to deal with the men who shot Alina. “Cnaimh, fetch.” Arawn’s eyes blazed with rage as the white dog raced towards two men.

Arawn followed the low growls of Cnaimh and found the dog had cornered the men between two boulders. Their clothing differed from Celtic apparel. They were Greeks.

“You are a long way from home, boys.” Arawn’s sword rang as he withdrew it from its sheath.

“Call off your mutt!” yelled one of the men as he swung his sword at Cnaimh.

The other man elbowed him in the ribs. “Quiet, Romulus. He is obviously a god. We just shot his wife. Don’t make things worse.”

“Ha! Some god he is. He can’t even face us without his pet dog,” scoffed Romulus.

Cnaimh lunged and tore Romulus’ sword from his hand. The confident smile washed off Romulus’ face.

“I apologize for my brother, your Lordship. He often speaks without thinking. I am King Remus and this is my brother King Romulus,” introduced Remus. “We are The Twin Kings of Alba Longa, invited by King Pwyll.”

Arawn stared Remus in the eyes, “I am Arawn, Lord of the Underworld. A place you will soon meet.” Arawn raised his sword above his head to slash Remus.

Arawn!” a voice echoed through the forest.

Arawn lowered his sword as the ground shook beneath their feet. The brothers rolled their eyes as they recognized their father’s voice.

Mars appeared in a puff of red smoke, dressed in a black toga. “These are my sons, Arawn. You will not harm them. Otherwise, you will have a discussion with Pluto after he storms the gates of Annwyn.”

Arawn laughed at Mars’ remark. “I do not fear your uncle. Nor do I fear you.”

Mars’ sword materialized in his hand as he slowly walked towards Arawn, flames flickering in his eyes.

Remus stepped in between the two gods.

Romulus’ heart sank into his stomach as Remus willingly put himself in harm’s way. “No!” Romulus scrambled to grab his brother and pull him back to safety, as if he were the only person who could protect him.

Remus ripped his arm from Romulus’ grasp. “Shush, Rom, you’ve caused enough trouble. Mars, this was our mistake, made worse by Romulus’ mouth, but our mistake nonetheless.” Remus turned to Arawn. “We are sorry for shooting at what was obviously your kill and deeply sorry our foolish actions injured your wife.”

Arawn was taken aback by Remus’ apology and sheathed his sword. “You are the son of Mars?” Arawn asked with a raised eyebrow. “You obviously take after your mother.”

“Do not speak of Rhea!” Mars shouted.

Romulus chuckled at his father’s tantrum. Remus shot Mars a look of warning, “He meant no disrespect, Father. I take that as a compliment. She is a great and kind woman.” He then bowed to Arawn.

The fire in Mars’s eyes blazed brighter as Remus tried to diffuse the situation.

“We will humbly accept whatever punishment you see fit for us,” continued Remus.

“Like Tartarus you will!” shouted Mars as his biceps tensed, ready to attack.

“You tell him, Mars!” Romulus cheered on his angry father.

Frustrated, Arawn clenched his fists. “I do not have time for this. I need to return Alina to her father.”

Nauseated and breathless, Remus clutched his stomach at the sound of the woman’s name.

“Ha! She is with her father,” Mars baited to invoke a fight.

Chapter 19

Lies and Prophecies

“What is he talking about, Arawn?” Alina asked from behind Arawn, completely healed.

“Alina!” Remus shouted, stumbling towards her. “That was you we shot?”

Alina smiled, flattered by his angst. “I am alright, Remus. The fairies are excellent healers.” She nodded towards the Alder tree with the fairies. She waved her hand to reverse Arawn’s spell.

Arawn fumed at Mars’ words, “I will explain later, Alina. We must be leaving.” He grabbed Alina’s arm and looked over his shoulder to address Remus and Romulus. “Since you have confessed your mistake and no harm was permanent, I will forgive your trespasses.”

“Why don’t you answer the woman’s question?” Mars snapped before Arawn and Alina could leave.

A cool stale wind blew through the forest as Arawn whipped around and spoke in a low growl, “Stay out of this, Mars.”

“I would like to know what he means.” Alina slipped her arm out from Arawn’s grasp and retreated towards Remus.

Arawn cracked his neck and sighed, “You are a member of my bloodline. Have you ever wondered why your powers surpass your mother’s and your brother’s? It is not just fairy blood that runs through your veins.”

Alina’s mouth dropped at the news. “But, how? When? Why?” She stammered. Unsure if she was angrier with Arawn or her mother.

Arawn’s shoulders slumped forward, “Twenty-two years ago when Pwyll and I switched places.”

Alina heard this story many times before. She recalled the details easily. When Arawn and Pwyll first met, it was similar to this situation. Pwyll hunted the same stag as Arawn. Pwyll confessed to his crime and accepted whatever punishment Arawn deemed fit. Arawn plotted to switch appearances. Pwyll would rule over the underworld for a year disguised as Arawn and Arawn would appear as Pwyll to govern Dyfed. At the end of the year, Pwyll must face Arawn’s rival and kill him to gain his lands. In return, Arawn would make Dyfed prosperous. Both tasks were accomplished.

“You and my father are good friends. While he was disguised as you, he treated your wife with respect and did not share her bed. Are you saying you did not return his courtesy?” Alina confronted Arawn.

“Your mother is a beautiful and powerful woman, Alina. She grew suspicious when I would not fulfill husbandly duties for a year. On the morning I was to meet Pwyll to switch back, she cast a spell to enjoy her husband’s company not knowing it was me in disguise. Later that night, Pwyll returned and performed as a husband should.” Arawn avoided Alina’s eyes.

“Does she know?” Alina asked.

Arawn refused to answer.

“Does she know?” Alina demanded, her voice booming through the trees.

“She does. Rhiannon knew after she gave birth to you and your brother. Your father was so ecstatic at your births that he invited me to celebrate. The moment Rhiannon saw me, she knew you were my child and your brother was Pwyll’s. We shared too many features for it to be mistaken. Your mother was furious, but she knew it was her own fault.”

Arawn moved closer to Alina, “I was so happy you were born, dearest Alina. Unbelievably happy you were my beautiful girl.”

Alina recoiled behind Remus, disgusted. “He trusted you,” she whispered. “My father trusted you for all these years, yet you have done nothing but lie to him.” Tears poured from her hazel eyes and she buried her face into Remus’ back.

“Please, don’t cry,” Arawn begged as he moved closer, arms extended desperate to comfort her.

Alina shot a ray of silver light from her palm, shielding her and Remus from Arawn. “Do not come near me. Remus, take me away from here,” Alina pleaded.

Remus did not know what to do. He looked between his brother, Mars, and Arawn. Mars surprisingly held back his laughter at the situation.

Arawn winced in pain and defeat filled his voice. “Go. She wants to leave and trusts you. Take her home. I am sorry I caused you heartache.”

Alina closed her eyes to control her breathing. Even though she despised his deceit, it broke her heart seeing Arawn wounded.

Arawn whistled Cnaimh to his side and twisted around to leave.

“Wait!” Alina called out, stepping out from behind Remus. Alina slipped her hand into Remus’. “I am truly angry with you and my mother, but,” Alina paused, debating whether she should continue, “but you are family. I fear you may be the only family who will want anything to do with me when I return home.” She glanced at Remus with apprehension.

Remus squeezed her hand to comfort her, giving her the strength of his conviction.

“And why is that?” Arawn’s said with his curiosity tainted by suspicion.

“Because we are engaged to be married, and…” Alina answered until Arawn cut her off.

“And Pwyll will not approve of your marriage to an outsider. Neither will the fairies.”

“Ha! He takes after his old man! You take her, son!” Mars applauded. Cnaimh growled at the war god. “I’m your grandfather, mutt. Don’t take that attitude with me.”

Arawn rolled his eyes, “Lupa gave me her puppy. The only one allowed to scold him is her.”

“Pft, I can handle my daughter,” Mars said with a smile. “Well, looks like I’m no longer needed. You’re welcome, boys, for saving your behinds…again.” Mars saluted his sons before vanishing.

Arawn ground his jaw at the missed opportunity to fight Mars, but turned his attention back to Alina. “I can’t say I approve of your taste in men. However, he has shown respect and intelligence. I’d say you picked the better of the two.” He glanced at Romulus, who feigned being offended. “You will always have my protection and assistance.”

Arawn and his hellhound, Cnaimh, disappeared without another word.

Alina and the Twin Kings returned to Dyfed and announced Alina’s engagement. Pwyll kicked the twins out of his castle and threatened to kill them if they returned. Rhiannon knew it was not his place as a father to forbid their marriage. She enchanted a horse to bring Alina to Remus under the cover of night

“Tintreach Ban, or White Lightning if you prefer, will bring you to your future husband. I gave him her mate, Dubh Draíochta…”

“Black Magic,” Alina finished her mother’s sentence and smiled. She instantly forgave her for hiding the truth about her real father. She flung her arms around her mother and squeezed tightly as she whispered in her mother’s ear, “Goodbye, mother.”

Rhiannon kissed her daughter on the forehead then watched her ride off.

“Protect our daughter, Arawn,” she called out into the night. “Do you hear me?” Her words were more of a venomous warning than a question.

The forest floor shook in response.

“And you rode right to me that night, just like Rhiannon promised,” Remus said ending their nostalgia. His arms tightly wrapped around her like a protective wall against harm. No matter how strong he was physically, he could not protect her from the pain inside her heart. It was an inescapable suffering.

“Three weeks later, we were married and you were forced to jump the walls at Palatine Hill.” Alina frowned at the memory.

Remus spun her around and lifted her chin. “I do not regret anything after the day we met. Don’t you dare feel sorry for me and don’t you dare regret what we have done. It will diminish our legacy.”

Alina smiled weakly. “I miss you, Remus.”

“And I you, Alina.” Remus bent down and respectfully kissed her hand.

“Alina,” a woman called out behind Remus.

Remus closed his eyes and shook his head. “Don’t frighten her, Völva.”

“You should have told her, Remus. Do not blame me for your faults,” warned Völva.

“Völva? The Norse shaman goddess?” Alina sidestepped Remus to face the goddess.

The goddess dressed in a purple cloak covering most of her body. She wore a hood that came to the crown of her head with a long silver chain connected at the sides and draped over her forehead. Her eyes glowed an eerie purple.

Völva nodded, “I must be quick because your party is not far behind. I leave you with this warning: The Queen will rise again and half will be stolen. A cultures pantheon will fall and death will solidify a still fluid future. I regret to say what you love is not long lived, but true love will reunite. Your daughter alone, despite her power, cannot stop the fire. Upon royal death, they will fail.”

With her final warning, Völva’s eyes glowed brighter until she disappeared. Alina stood there with her mouth open, staring at Remus.

“Did you know of this prophecy?” Alina demanded.

“You will know more when it is time. Völva took fate into her own hands because she is afraid. You will discover why. That is all I can say for now.”

Alina wanted to interrupt him but he passionately kissed her lips before she could. His kiss left Alina breathless, unable to speak. He then bent down and whispered, “I love you.”

“Alina!” voices in the background called. “Alina, where are you?”

“You have Lysandros and our sons to help. They need your guidance, just like you will need theirs.”

“Please take me with you,” Alina begged.

“Shhhh, shh, shh, shh, it is not your time. I will meet you at the end. I will be the one to take your hand. That, I can promise. No matter which lord of the underworld protests it.” He gave her a defiant smile that made her breathe a small laugh.

The thumping of horse hooves drew closer and the voices of her sons grew louder.

Remus kissed her intensely again and slid his fingers through her silky hair. He pressed her closer to him to feel as much of her as he could. When they released each other, tears of goodbye ran down their faces, neither sure whose tears belonged to who.

Remus faded in the moonlight before their sons reached them.

“Mother!” Cole arrived first and jumped off his horse before it came to a stop. “Where’s Remus? Are you ok? What happened?”

“Et er alk, tummy.” Leo arrived next with a mouthful of turkey, trying to say ‘let her talk, dummy.’ Alina laughed at the sight of him with his crooked Viking hat. He was such a child at heart.

“Oh my boys.” She said as she wiped her eyes and embraced them both. “Your father had to go. He is with your great, great uncle now.”

Cole and Leo’s mouths dropped at the news of their father’s death.

“Alina, are you ok?” Lysandros arrived with Nikolaos trailing him.

“I will be. But I do know where we need to go from here.” She realized Remus brought up the memory for a reason. He revealed their destination was Cymru, where Arawn would help them.

Alina explained they needed to get Bre to Cymru in order to develop her powers. She continued to explain that she was born with a great power in her soul and that she needed to pass on to Breanna. “She will die without the power I safeguard.”

“What are you talking about? What type of power can be transferred to another person? And how did Father die? He is a demigod, son of War. None of this makes any sense,” Nik said frantically.

“It was your uncle Romulus who killed him; you have heard tale of how Pluto made them invincible except by the hand of the other a hundred times from your father. As for the rest of our problems, you will understand in time. All you need to know now is Breanna is more powerful than a demigod after Remus’ power transferred into her. And at my end, so will mine,” Alina said sweetly. She smiled and stood up on her toes to kiss Nik’s cheek.

Nik wanted to ask more questions but Cole grabbed his arm to silence him. Alina mounted White Lightning. She reached into her boot and withdrew her dagger, slicing her palm open. She dripped three drops of blood on the ground and said, “Lorg Prophetia De’ Breanna Regina.” Suddenly the blood formed a ball that floated in the air ahead of Alina and soared off down the coastline. Alina whipped her horse and sped after her tracking spell.

Chapter 20

The Awakening

When Breanna woke up, she lay in a tent on a makeshift bed of cloaks and animals. Leora purred loudly, nuzzling against Bre’s head. Aurora sat next to her, guarding the entrance.

Bre smiled gratefully; a sense of peace overwhelmed her. Inside the tent, she was safe and warm with two of her four new animal companions. Outside the tent, men screamed and objects crashed together. Leora growled in disapproval as Bre stood up to peek outside. It was dark, but through the dim firelight, tall cliffs loomed in the background with high wheat grass spread across the terrain. The sweet scent of fruit from a nearby pear tree made Bre hungry.

Bam!

The crash startled Breanna, distracting her from the view. To the side, Eoghan sat around the fire irately confronting three soldiers. Breanna recognized the wolf sigil in the center breastplate and the faded colors of their tunics as Etrusci uniforms.

“She needs to be protected, or can you not see her unconscious state? She’s been like this for a week now!” Eoghan yelled as he furiously motioned to her tent.

“Her state doesn’t mean anything. Yes, she needs to be protected, but is that not what you and your clan is charged with? Not the first time your lot failed, is it?” the annoyed soldier in the middle retorted.

“I got her out of the palace. What have you done for her, Cole?” Eoghan pointed his finger at the tall man standing in the middle of the three soldiers.

Cole tightened his grip on the hilt of his belted dagger and glared at Eoghan.

“Easy, Cole. what fun would this fight be? It’ll be over too quickly for our tastes,” said one of the other men, placing an arm around Cole’s shoulders and jostling him loose.

“Enough, you two,” said the third man, tall and scruffy by the fire. Bre sensed he was the leader of the three. “Eoghan, I understand you are frustrated, but how do you think we feel in all of this? We constantly watch from a distance, have to bide our time, have to stand by and let history take its course without us. Twenty years have passed since we have been a family. We want to help, but it is not our battle.”

“Are you kidding, Nikolaos? When have any of you sat back and let ‘history take its course’ without you?’ You are the eldest, you need to help her,” Eoghan implored.

Nikolaos sighed, “We need to leave, Eoghan. We cannot be involved in this, regardless of what Alina says.”

Nikolaos and his brothers stood to pick up their camp when Nikolaos spotted an eagle flying in from the horizon. Its feathers glowed gold in contrast to the silver moonlight. A shiver ran down his spine, and goose bumps caused his hair to stand on end. He had heard rumors of golden eagles and their taste for demigod blood.

The eagle instantly entranced Breanna. Even though it was still a large distance away, she could see every detail as if it hovered in front of her face. The eagle’s wings glided through the silver night sky, the stars glistening off its silk wings. Its eyes were storm cloud grey, contrasted by its jade beak.

Breanna slunk out of her tent towards the magnificent bird. She ignored the muffled arguments from the men in the background. Nothing could distract her from this gorgeous creation.

She snuck past the men and into the high grass, where the dew washed against her skin and the sweet smell of honey wheat filled her nose. As she and the bird drew closer, Breanna could almost feel the silky texture of its feathers rubbing against her fingers. She closed her eyes as the bird slipped into a nosedive, then…

Whap!

Are you touched in the head, woman?” Eoghan incredulously shouted at a dazed Breanna.

Eoghan’s body pressed Breanna into the ground. The only part of his body not touching Breanna was his head, and that was inches from her face yelling at her. Eoghan cushioned her head against his forearm when he knocked her to the ground.

“What are you doing?” she exclaimed, heart pounding in her chest. She pushed against his body but Eoghan was all muscle and was not moving.

Breanna tried to kick him off her but Eoghan dug his hips harder into hers, preventing her from swinging her legs up and pushing him off.

“You almost got your head taken off!” Eoghan continued to shout.

Breanna saw a flash of gold in the sky and watched as the bird flew away from her. She stretched one longing arm towards the bird and let out an agonizing scream. “Nooooo!”

Bre tried to scramble to her feet, but Eoghan grabbed her arms and held them down in the dew-covered wheatgrass. She winced as he squeezed harder, wrapping his fingers around her wrists.

Shaking with fury and desperation, Bre watched the bird perch on a nearby cliff. Her anger pulsated through her veins and her eyes welled with tears. Before she or Eoghan knew it, Eoghan flung off her in a burst of unnatural strength and she was on her feet, sprinting after the bird.

Four men cut her off with their swords drawn. With one swipe of her hand, the men were tossed sideways, clearing her path to the eagle.

Out of the corner of her eye, she saw four large animals keeping pace with her. She knew them well. They were her family and were consumed by the same longing she felt. Their yearning for the bird turned to anxiety, quickening their pulse and blood flow to the muscles.

“I need you,” Bre growled through staggered breaths. Being away from the bird was physically unbearable.

Bre reached the bottom of the cliff the eagle waited on, and the giant bird gazed down at her with an enticing, hitherward look. Just as Bre started to climb the cliff wall, a violet light engulfed her body, gently restraining her movement. The warm and comforting light eased her anxiety, and her thoughts became clear. She thought of her mother, Eoghan, and the three men around the fire.

Suddenly, a piercing screech from above signaled a war cry as the bird dove behind Breanna. A black cloud trailed the eagle as it twisted the violet light away from Bre. All thoughts of her mother and Eoghan vanished, replaced only by her longing to touch the eagle.

Breanna spun around to see where her precious eagle had gone and found it hovering above a woman in a silver tunic. The woman jabbed at the bird with her sword. The four men Bre effortlessly tossed aside joined the attack against the eagle. Breanna’s rage was too intense for her to contain.

Macabre growls emanated around her while hooves and claws dug into the dirt. “You can have the men, but the woman is mine,” Breanna said to her animals.

The four animals sped off towards the fight, each heading to one of the men. Breanna snapped her fingers, sending a sharp crack echoing through the night. Her clothes changed to a black sleeveless dress with a tightly wrapped white rope showing off her curves. Her hair turned blacker than the night, and the iris of her eyes turned snow white. Bre stared at the woman attacking her eagle, and an evil smirk rolled across her face.

Lightning struck consecutively as thunder boomed through the skies. The first lightning strike cindered the ground where Breanna previously stood, and the second struck in front of the mysterious woman where Bre reappeared.

Without giving her time to defend herself, Bre slammed her fist into the woman’s jaw, knocking her unconscious. Bre picked her limp body up by the collar and threw her a few hundred yards away. A puff of brown dust was the only sign of where the body landed.

Bre climbed a nearby rock and sat cross-legged as she watched her animals fight. The eagle perched itself on her lap and dug its talons into her leg. Bre stroked the silky feathers; it was every bit of bliss she imagined. Power emanated from the eagle into Breanna through the talons in her leg. Breanna’s power heightened her senses; she could feel the moonlight cooling her skin, relieving the heat of her powers that burned her from the inside out. She could hear the pounding heart of a mouse scurrying from the battle, smell the metallic scent of blood from the woman she tossed across the field. She could see ripples of the wind rolling across the high grass, dancing under the stars.

The eagle tightened its grip on her leg as a soothing female voice whispered in Breanna’s mind, Do you feel the energy of war, Your Majesty? Embrace the passion. Let it fill your heart.

Bre closed her eyes as she listened to the voice. She could feel her animals wage war against the four men. She envisioned the men and could feel their pounding hearts in her chest. Her legs tensed as if she were running then bracing herself against a tiger attack. Her arms were tight as if swinging a sword, and she knew the defensive strategy in their minds as if it were her own.

Bre was drawn to a man using two swords to fend off her wolf and decided to influence his battle strategy. She pictured the battle two steps ahead of time, like a chess game. she imagined the wolf lunging for his throat and the man dodging the attack by somersaulting under the wolf. A moment later, it happened in the fight. Her smile was cruel as she played with each man and animal, controlling moves through her imagination.

While Bre exercised her newly acquired powers of manipulation, the night sky turned an ominous mixture of black and emerald green. The eagle screeched in protest and dug its claws deeper into Bre’s leg. Bre winced and drew her mind away from the battle as her blood trickled down onto the rock, burning holes where the blood splattered.

“Let go of my daughter!” a jet of white light streaked through the air and struck the eagle, but the bird refused to let go of Breanna.

Use your power. Feel it bundle from the depth of your soul and charge up towards your fingers, the voice whispered again.

Without hesitating, Bre urged her power to the center of her chest and kept it bundled as it accumulated pressure, until finally it surged out from her palm. She sent a stream of red light to her immediate right.

Whomever Bre shot her power at deflected the light and sent it hurdling off into the distance, casting a crimson glow against the emerald sky. Bre was outraged that her power was easily deflected. As she stood up, the eagle let go of her leg and resettled itself on her shoulder, once again digging its talons into her muscle.

How dare she challenge such a powerful queen as you? Lay her bones into the depths of the earth. Show the world no power is a match for ours! the voice urged Breanna.

Breanna called all her power to her chest. Her heart pounded in her ears as power rushed together. However, this time she could not control the pressure. She wanted to stop, to let go of the power, but she did not know how.

In the distance, her animals whimpered in pain and limped away from the men. Breanna screamed as her ribcage expanded from the growing bundle of power. She heard a crack and doubled over, falling onto the rock. Blood spilt from her mouth and burned a smooth path through the rock’s surface, smoldering the high grass below. The eagle took flight, hovering above Bre’s head.

The high grass rustled and a man rushed forward with his sword.

There was no way she could defend herself against her enemies now. She tried to lift her arm to shoot another red stream of light. She rolled over, arching her back in pain. Breanna clutched her chest as her body cracked in several places from the growing bundle of power. Her screams were muffled by the blood streaming from her mouth.

Release your power. Take your vengeance on these weak humans. Punish them! the voice screamed in Bre’s mind.

Breanna tried to control her power with what was left of her fleeting strength. She needed to release her wrath on her foes, but she was too broken. She felt her body rise from the rock and hover over the ground.

Her clothes, hair, and eyes returned to normal and she looked down at who she thought were her enemies, only to find those she dearly loved. Her mother, Eoghan and Lysandros, accompanied by the three men she saw arguing with Eoghan earlier. They froze in panic, staring up at Bre forebodingly hovering above the ground. Bre weakly smiled but more blood streamed from her mouth, singeing the ground below her.

Finally, Bre’s strength failed her and power erupted from her chest in an explosion of red light. It coursed out with such velocity that every bone in her ribcage broke and her spine snapped in multiple places. The burst of power sent the eagle crashing to the ground, where it lay limp against a rock.

Bre crumbled to the ground like a ragdoll. She could barely move her head as she tried to look for her animals. She heard a huff to her left and saw them all lying down, unable to move.

Alina and Eoghan reached Bre first and each grasped a hand. “Eoghan, do you know how to heal yet?”

Before he could respond, two other men ran up from behind Alina.

“No, but they do,” Eoghan said, motioning towards two men racing towards them.

“Brian! Cailean! Where did you? How? Never mind, help me save her. She doesn’t have her healing powers yet. Oi! You three! I did not bring you here to stand around. Get over here,” Alina commanded.

Nik, Cole, and Leo did as they were told. Cole and Nik settled themselves on Bre’s left side, while Leo picked Eoghan up by the back of the collar and said, “Out of the way, kid. Let the grown-ups handle this one.”

Brian sat at Bre’s head while Cailean took his place next to Alina. Eoghan struggled to free himself from Leo’s grip, but it was no good. Leo walked him over to Lysandros and said, “I hear you’re quite the swordsman. You can stand guard with me and Lysandros in case another eagle shows up.”

Breanna coughed and lifted her hand as best as she could towards her animals. “I’m sorry,” she mouthed to them. She pulled at the grass trying to inch closer but whimpered from the pain.

Brian detangled her fingers from the grass. “Where do you think you’re going?”

“I need them,” she said in a hushed, painful voice as if her throat burned to talk.

Brian looked over to the animals and saw Clover, Leora, Aurora and Whisper each trying to move closer to Bre.

Alina shook Brian’s arm and pleaded, “We don’t have time. She is fading. We need to heal her now.”

Alina placed both of Bre’s hands across her chest, and then held her hands over Bre’s as a blue light glowed out from her palm. The rest of the men then placed their hands over Bre and the same blue light emerged.

A warming sensation soothed Breanna, and she closed her eyes. Her favorite lullaby her mother used to sing hummed in her ears. Then, coldness took over her body and a gush of warm liquid pulsed from her mouth. She retched at the metallic taste of her own, pushing more blood up from her abdomen.

“This isn’t working,” said Brian, his voice and hands shaking.

Bre felt the warm glow disappear from her head as Brian stopped his healing spell.

“It has to. She can’t die. She’s not meant to die,” whimpered Alina.

Nik eyed his mother, troubled by her choice of words. He caught Cole’s attention with a nod of his head and mouthed the words, “meant to die?”

Cole shrugged and laid a comforting hand on his distraught mother.

Bre felt sprinkles of water on her hand. She forced her tired eyes open to witness her mother crying. She reached up to touch Alina’s face, but before she could reach it, her hand dropped to the ground and her breathing stopped.

Alina cradled Breanna’s head against her chest and sobbed into her daughter’s hair, “Not my baby. Not this way.”

The group whipped around at the terrifying sound of a wolf baying. When Brian turned around, he was face to face with a giant grey and white she-wolf.

“Lupa?” Brian asked, startled by her presence.

“Give me the princess,” she growled.

Lupa nudged Brian out of her way without waiting for a reply and walked to Alina, still cradling her limp and broken daughter.

Alina stared the wolf in the eyes, “Can you save her?”

“No,” Lupa said bluntly, looking over to the motionless animals in the grass, “But I know who can.”

Alina held out her arms and placed Bre over Lupa’s back. Lupa bounded over to the four animals that painfully crawled together in a circle. She shook Bre off her back in the middle of the circle then quickly returned to Alina’s side.

The animals were weak, but they sat up, each of their chests glowing in a soft yellow hue that expanded outward, encircling the five of them. No one could watch as the intensity of the light grew.

The night fell silent. There was no wind, no crickets, and no sound of animals rustling through the grass. Nature seemed to wait in anticipation.

“How did you find us?” Eoghan whispered to the o’Conaill brothers.

“Cast a tracking spell on The Power. All we had to do was follow the trail, which got strong once we entered Gaul,” Cailean explained.

“Yea. She got powerful quickly when The Power hit her,” Eoghan said as he tried to peek at Bre and the animals. His eyes burned, forcing him to turn away from the blinding light.

“Remus is dead. It was his half of The Power you saw. We were the ones who sent it,” Brian added.

Eoghan’s mouth dropped, surprised. “Did you know he had it?”

“I suspected but I didn’t know until I glimpsed Remus’ memories,” Brian said, running a hand through his hair. He turned to look at Alina but shinning feathers of the eagle caught his attention. He nervously started to pace, whispering to himself in Gaelic.

Cailean watched his brother suspiciously. “What are you thinking, Bri?”

“The Birds of Elpis,” Brian whispered to Cailean and Eoghan.

Cailean’s heart fluttered at the name. “Are you kidding? The Birds of Elpis?” he accidently shouted.

Cailean’s exclamation caught everyone’s attention. They looked between Cailean and Brian expecting one of them to explain their meaning.

Brian looked puzzled searching for the right words. “The Birds of Elpis are a long story.”

“Well give us the short version, o’Conaill,” Leo said impatiently, holding up a hand to shield his eyes.

Brian squinted to see what was happening behind the light but had to look away. “You have all heard stories of Elpis, the first Queen. Elpis is no bedtime story…she is a fact. She would use gold eagles for an aerial view of battles. she could see through their eyes. They were sacred animals under her reign. It was crime punishable by death to kill one, even by accident. When Eversor murdered Elpis, a rumor surfaced that the gold eagles absorbed her spirit. Even to this day, people in her old kingdom believe she exists in these birds.”

“Are you telling me a dead goddess lived in this hunk of fowl?” Lysandros asked, disgusted as he poked the bird with a stick.

“Well, an eagle normally keeps attacking people who are waving swords at it, and they often land on eighteen year-old girls just to get petted, don’t they?” Leo’s sarcastic tone surprised no one, but Cole looked impressed with his quick reaction time.

“She is not just an eighteen year old girl,” Alina said, running her hand through her hair, tears welling in her eyes.

“What are you saying?” Nik asked, eyeing his mother suspiciously.

“I was afraid this might happen,” Alina stood to continue the conversation.

“Your majesty?” Cailean asked confused.

“When Remus’ Power transferred to Breanna, I believe Elpis’ spirit awoke in the eagles. Eversor is not our only concern anymore.” Alina shivered with fear.

“What power?” Nik asked aggressively. Alina ignored him.

“Does Eversor know about Elpis’ spirit?” Lysandros asked.

“I’m not even sure what we know about Elpis’ spirit. I was not around her during her reign. I only know what Eversor shared with me. Nevertheless, if he does not know about it, it will not be long until he does. With those two reunited, it won’t just be Breanna’s new powers they’ll want,” Brian worried.

Out of the corner of his eye, Brian saw his sack sway back and forth. Suddenly, something shot out of its side and jetted to the center of the light that surrounded Breanna and her animals.

“The pendant!” Cailean shouted.

The light faded, revealing Breanna and the animals back to full health. She wore a silver dress, pinned together by two crimson wolves at the straps of her shoulders. Remus’ gold wolf pendant hung around her neck. Three thinly woven silver vines rested on top her head with small rubies embedded in every other leaf. It formed a crown, held in place by two strips of hair braided around the base. Her eyes were bright silver with flecks of green.

Everyone knew it was Breanna, yet somehow not quite her. They instinctively bowed as peasants standing before a queen.

Breanna gestured that Eoghan rise from the ground. She greeted him with an affectionate smile and flung her arms around his neck. He grasped her waist and held her as close as their bodies would allow.

In his arms, Breanna’s appearance returned to the outfit she wore when Eoghan rescued her from the palace. Her dark brown hair tied into a ponytail and her eyes returned to Eoghan’s favorite color of hazel with flecks of gold, as if nothing had ever happened.

A nerve-rattling screech echoed through the night, startling the group. The eagle came back to life and dove at Eoghan.

Lupa hurdled over Eoghan’s head and caught the eagle in her mouth before it could sink its talons into him. There was no fight; the wolf was too big and too quick for the eagle. One jerk of Lupa’s head and the eagle fell limp in the wolf’s muzzle.

Lupa tossed the dead bird aside and spit silk feathers out of her mouth. She lay down, licking her chops and the fur on her legs in an attempt to remove the foul taste of eagle blood.

Lupa coughed and another gold feather floated out of her mouth. “Ugh, I hate bird, let alone The Birds of Elpis. Incredibly bitter.”

A puff of black smoke appeared and a man bent down to examine the dead eagle. Cailean and Brian instinctively jumped in front of everyone. The man folded the wings over the bird’s chest and snapped his fingers. Flames rapidly spread across the eagle’s body. The scene had the feeling of an ancient burial rite.

He turned to Lupa and said, “You killed my wife, mutt…”

Chapter 21

Face to Face

The sky lit up a dull pink just above the horizon. Eversor stood in front of the light, arms folded across his chest, hiding his face in shadows against the rising run. Behind the comfort of the shadows, his eyes wandered over Breanna. “So you are the future Queen, huh? Well I have to say, I expected better.”

Alina stepped forward, putting herself in front of Bre. “I know you. You are the guard I fought at the palace.”

Eversor gracefully bowed to Alina. “And you are that queen I thought I killed. What a shame. That would have been a good death for you. Now that I know who you really are, I am afraid that you will suffer more than you ever thought possible.”

Observing his surroundings, Eversor closed his eyes and deeply inhaled the rich scent of wheat. “I know this place. Elpis was always here because of warring tribes.”

He bent down to grab a handful of dirt and rubbed it nostalgically between his fingers. “Ah, yes, La Tene. That was a good war. Your father received many good soldiers in this war, Alina.”

Alina shifted uncomfortably at the mention of Arawn. She was now on Celtic territory, but did not feel the strength of her father’s presence yet.

“Welcome to the lands of your dear mother, Princess Breanna,” Eversor addressed Breanna with open arms and a smile.

Before Eversor made another remark, a dagger shot at his chest. He caught it with unnatural speed and twirled it through his long fingers. “Nice aim. If I were seconds slower I’d be dead.”

“What a shame,” Leo called out from the back of the group.

Leo’s tone made it obvious that the dagger was his. He seemed angry and disappointed that his plan did not work.

Eversor chuckled, “It’s Leonidas, if I remember correctly. Now Leo…may I call you Leo?” Eversor did not pause for an answer. “You know I am immortal, so why would your pathetic excuse of a mind think an ordinary dagger would kill me?”

Before anyone could stop him, Eversor hurled the dagger back at Leo’s chest. Nikolaos, quicker than the blade, caught it by the handle at the last second. There was a tiny hole in Leo’s shirt where the tip of the dagger pierced, scratching his chest.

Eversor laughed at Leo’s startled expression. “I was only returning what is rightfully yours.”

Nikolaos grabbed Leo’s wrist and smacked the handle of the dagger into his hand. “Do not make a foolhardy move like that again.”

Leo nodded, frightened, and returned the dagger to its holder in his belt. Leo had seen Nikolaos tense before, but never this tense. After he returned the dagger, sheer panic lingered in Nik’s eyes as they met Leo’s.

The three brothers were unaccustomed to mortal danger. Rarely having to fight against someone stronger and more skilled than them, they had forgotten demigods are only immortal so long as they are not mortally wounded. A dagger through the heart may prove too much for their immortal souls.

Everyone watched as Nikolaos moved to the head of the group and stood protectively in front of Breanna. His movements were slow and smooth, emanating strength. A slight, pulsating tension in his arms revealed his uneasiness, betraying his fearless façade. The closer he moved to Eversor, the faster his heart raced, and the more visible the artery pounding in his neck became.

Eversor yawned and surveyed the area. He caught glimpse of a large rock off to the side and smirked mischievously. He formed fists and placed one in front of the other. He then heaved his arms backwards as if pulling an invisible rope. The boulder slid towards him, rattling the earth with each tow. When it was close enough, Eversor vanished and reappeared on top of the boulder, popping grapes into his mouth. He looked as if he were about to watch a show. “Ahh, the eldest son has come to sacrifice for the family. How noble.”

Nikolaos stood silently guarding the group. More so, guarding Breanna.

Bre was unsure of who Nikolaos was, but she relaxed with him there. The same sensation of safety she shared with her animals.

Despite her unusual feelings towards him, Nikolaos’ silence irritated her.

“Who is this man?” Bre whispered to Eoghan, nodding towards Nikolaos. Eoghan remained silent, further annoying Bre. “Ugh! Useless,” she grumbled.

Breanna walked in front of Nikolaos and gave him a “watch this” smirk.

Eoghan clenched a fist, shaking his head as Breanna moved away from his protective presence. “Damn it, woman,” he grunted through clenched teeth. He knew Breanna’s defiant mind all too well.

Eversor’s smile disappeared, turning into smug curiosity mixed with alert apprehension as Breanna approached the rock. He put the grapes down and watched her carefully, paying specific attention to her hands.

“Eversor, correct?” Breanna called out, placing one hand on her hip. “I have heard a few stories about you. you know, the ones where you kill your wife and all,” Breanna smirked as Eversor’s smug face contorted in rage. Breanna continued to taunt Eversor, “No one has come to sacrifice anything, Sir. We shall be leaving now. I have to wash the taste of dead eagle out of my wolf’s mouth. She gets awfully cranky when she’s not clean.” A low growl rolled out from behind Cailean where Lupa stood, digging her claws into the ground ready to pounce.

“Silence, mutt. I am more powerful than a daughter of Mars,” snapped Eversor.

Lupa snarled at Eversor’s insult.

Eversor jumped down from the boulder and landed in front of Breanna. The morning was silent: even the birds seemed too scared to chirp in Eversor’s presence. The dim, dawn light reflected off his silky dark hair, but cast his face in shadows.

Eversor, still watching Breanna’s hands, placed his own in his pockets and casually sauntered to Bre. “You are a conundrum, my dear Breanna. You are too young to be so brave, yet not old enough to be scared. This must be an awkward age for you.” Eversor squinted and stared harder into her eyes, and then smiled. “You don’t know who you are.” His eyes then rolled over the three brothers and he cackled, astonished at his findings. “And neither do they! I am impressed with your ability for secrecy, Brian!”

“I am fully aware of who I am, as are they. I am the daughter of King Remus, future queen of Etruria. However, I must say, I am impressed that at your age you can jump down from such a height without breaking a hip. The Morrigan has kept you well,” Bre quickly retorted.

Eversor closed the distance between him and Breanna with one-step. “No one keeps me, child!” he screamed, an inch from her face.

Eversor dropped back a few paces, slung back his arm, and shot a lightning bolt at Breanna. Nikolaos moved quicker than humanly possible and pushed her out of the way. He caught the bolt with one hand and twisted it around, hurling it back at Eversor in one fluid motion. Eversor barely deflected the bolt with his sword and sent it crashing into the stone behind him.

Breanna looked up at Nikolaos in amazement.

“Who are you? Are you a god? That was amazing!” Breanna exclaimed.

Leo and Cole rushed to their brother’s side with their swords drawn, each with a menacing grin. Clover bound in front of Breanna to shield her from the oncoming battle, while Eoghan grabbed Bre.

Breanna felt stronger than she had ever felt in her life, but Eoghan was still stronger and pushed her back a couple of feet behind the group.

“Eoghan, I advise that you let go of me,” Breanna warned in the calmest tone she could muster. Her arms shook in her struggle against releasing her rage.

Eoghan chuckled at her warning, “Or you’ll do what?”

Despite his laugh, which usually made her smile and erased the stresses of her day, it annoyed Bre that he so casually made her seem weaker than him. Bre tried to grip his arm to sling him over her shoulder. However, Eoghan had his leg behind hers and pushed her down. Bre fell backwards, shocked at his actions.

Eoghan stood over her smiling, “You always fall for that.”

“Yes, but you have never used your magic against me before,” Breanna said, slightly annoyed at being overcome.

“You never had powers that would require me to use magic, Your Majesty,” Eoghan said as he bowed sarcastically. “Now will you sit down and behave while we handle this mess?”

A flash of red light filled the dawn sky and the wolf pendent around Bre’s neck vibrated against her chest. The vibration sent a wave of panic through Bre’s chest, as if to warn her. Suddenly, Bre looked behind Eoghan and saw Eversor flying towards her, His arms outstretched as if attempting to strangle someone. Bre stood up with such speed she was a blur to Eoghan.

In Bre’s hand, her father’s sword appeared. The sword had amazing power that coursed through her arm up to her head, clarifying her thoughts and sharpening her senses.

Swinging the double-edged blade through the air, Bre slashed through Eversor’s chest. Spinning around, Bre slashed once more to produce another wound in his back. Eversor stumbled backwards, shocked by Bre’s speed and his burning wounds.

Rustling grass and distant screams caused Breanna to peer over her shoulder. The three brothers sprinted towards Bre and Eoghan with swords drawn. It was then she noticed the o’Conaill brothers, her mother, and Lysandros unconscious on the ground. Clover and Aurora stalked Eversor while Leora stood by Bre, growling. Someone chuckled beside her, a laugh Bre knew well. The small pang of fear that knotted in her stomach disappeared with Eoghan’s reassuring laughter.

“Did you honestly think I was going to let you have all the fun?” Eoghan said, swinging his sword in circles around his arm.

Bre noticed something was different about it. It was the same sword she had seen him use a million times, only this time it glowed green with a silver word written down the middle of the blade, Dilse, meaning Loyal in Gaelic. She then realized her own sword glowing red with black writing in the middle, Στρατηγική, meaning Strategy in Greek.

A flash of yellow light around Eversor’s hands distracted Bre from examining her sword further. Eversor conjured a large, double-headed axe. He lunged at Breanna, but she caught the handle of the axe with the edge of her sword and pushed him backwards, while Eoghan hacked at his legs.

Eversor was quick, and countered their every move with extreme speed and accuracy. Besides the o’Conaills, Bre and Eoghan had never encountered such an accomplished foe.

The three brothers finally caught up with them and joined the fight. However, Eversor had a surprise counter for their presence. He slammed the axe into the ground and caused a shock wave that knocked them all to the ground. When they stood up, they came face to face with ten Eversor clones, each clone armed for a specific opponent.

The first two clones attacked Bre and Eoghan. Each had two swords to deflect and slash at Bre and Eoghan. The next three clones had a sword in one hand and a dagger in the other to face the three brothers.

The next four sped off to fight Alina, Cailean, Brian, and Lysandros, who were now back on their feet. These four were armed with a sword in their right hands, but their left hands glowed orange, shooting balls of light at their enemies. The last of the clones stood in the middle of a circle formed by Bre’s animals. This clone was armed only with a bow. Every time he drew his arm back, an arrow would appear nocked in the string.

“What in the gods’ names is happening, o’Conaill?” Lysandros shouted as he avoided a gash from Eversor’s sword.

“I thought it would be obvious by now,” Cailean said through gritted teeth, pushing back his Eversor.

Brian shot a blue disk from his palm into the stomach of his Eversor, causing him to stumble backwards, and sent another disk at his hand, forcing him to release his sword. Brian jumped on Eversor, knelt on his arms, and shouted, “Try to find the real Eversor. Kill the source, kill the clones.”

In unison, all ten clones echoed, “You have to find me first.”

Still kneeling on Eversor’s clone, Brian cut off his orange hand then thrust his blade into Eversor’s heart. When Eversor’s heart stopped pumping, his body turned to black smoke and was absorbed into the ground.

One Eversor clone pinned Cailean on the ground. His sword hovered above Cailean’s left eye, slightly shaking as Cailean wrestled with Eversor, gripping his wrist to roll Eversor off him.

Brian ran to help his brother, but before he got there, a giant fireball erupted out of Eversor’s back and the o’Conaills watched as the clone burned and then burst into black smoke. Cailean had a cut down his left cheek from Eversor’s blade.

Brian grabbed his brother’s wrist and yanked him to his feet. “Nice fireball, Cail.”

Cailean shrugged as if it were nothing and gave a cocky of “of course it was” grin.

Brian held a hand up and healed the gash on Cailean’s cheek.

The o’Conaill brothers looked around to see who needed their help. They found Alina with a glowing green whip extended from one hand and her sword in the other. After the whip cracked a part of Eversor’s body, she would jab or slash with her sword. Blow after blow rained down on Eversor.

“I’d say Alina doesn’t need our help,” Cailean said, impressed.

A few yards away, Whisper, Clover, Aurora, and Leora took turns jumping and biting chunks out of their clone. Eversor shot off arrows, but they were aimless. Every time he went to shoot one, Leora toyed with his emotions, making his arms weak and his legs tired, rendering them useless.

Suddenly, Aurora attacked with a sound wave, piercing his eardrums. It was accompanied a bone-chilling growl that erupted from her mouth. He dropped his bow and covered his ears as they bled. In his weakened state, Clover and Leora pounced on him. Leora lunged for the abdomen and Clover for the head. Brian and Cailean turned away once they heard the crunching of bones as the animals killed their prey.

Lysandros still sparred with his Eversor. He rolled and dodged as Eversor lunged for his legs, abdomen, and head. Eversor caught Lysandros by the throat on one of his tumbles. The clone gripped Lysandros’ sword arm, and with a flick of his wrist and a loud snap. Pain surged down Lysandros’ arm, forcing him to release his sword.

Eversor raised Lysandros above his head and tightened the grip around his throat. Green smoke streamed from his hand. Lysandros gritted his teeth, refusing to scream as he reached into his belt for his dagger, but found it missing. The panic in his eyes revealed his knowledge that Eversor would burn him alive if he did not get away soon.

Brian drew his own dagger and threw it to Lysandros. Lysandros caught the blade and thrust downward into Eversor’s neck. He sliced through the Carotid Artery and blood spurted onto the grass. The glowing orange hand dimmed, and finally the Eversor clone turned to black smoke.

Lysandros gingerly dabbed at his neck as he walked over to Brian, who healed his burns and fractured wrist. “Thanks, Bri. Where is Breanna?”

The three men located Breanna easily, but before they could assess her fight, a giant cloud of black smoke rolled into their vision: remnants of Leo’s clone. They tried to fan it out of their eyes but choked on its dense consistency.

“Hang on guys, we’re coming!” a gust of wind blew the remnants of their eyes. When it cleared, Brian, Cailean, and Lysandros saw Cole with his arms extended and wind coming out of his palms.

“There’s nothing like the fresh smell of a centuries old ass-man trying to destroy our sister and the world!” Leo joked.

“Thanks, Cole,” Cailean said and shook his hand.

“There are other battles going on, so why are we standing here exchanging pleasantries?” Leo said, watching the fight between Alina and Eversor, wincing every time her whip cracked him and split his skin bloody.

Cole inhaled sharply and rubbed the side of his arm as he watched Breanna and Eoghan fight. “That is going to hurt tomorrow,” he said as Eversor pushed Eoghan aside, causing Eoghan to ram the side of a boulder with his sword arm, knocking his sword out of reach.

Breanna dove in front of Eoghan as Eversor tried to throw a ball of pink light at him. She swung her sword and batted it back in his face. Boils spread over Eversor’s body, from his head to his feet, making it excruciatingly painful to move. Breanna kicked Eversor backwards to the ground and grabbed Eoghan’s sword. She jumped on top of the clone and thrust her own sword into his heart and Eoghan’s sword into his belly.

Before Eversor turned to smoke, he tried to speak, but his tongue was covered in popping boils that prevented him from making any noise besides the soft pop of bursting skin. Breanna snapped her fingers and a small tornado appeared that sucked up the black smoke.

Breanna whipped around to reach Eoghan, but a boot slammed the side of her face and she crashed to the ground, smashing her head against a rock. Standing over her was her Eversor clone with a crooked smile.

Eoghan tackled him to the ground, throwing punch after punch. He beat Eversor into a bloody mess. The clone’s face swelled to twice its size. Bruised and bloody, he was unrecognizable. When Eoghan stopped pounding on Eversor’s face, he created a ball of fire and pushed it into the clone’s chest.

Eoghan launched himself off the clone and onto Breanna to cover her from the flames.

From under Eoghan’s arm, Breanna watched as Eversor convulsed and then burst into flames from the inside out. She smiled as the flames flickered in his open mouth, silencing his screams. Finally, the clone turned to black smoke.

The three brothers, Cailean, and Lysandros, stood together watching Eoghan and Bre with open mouths, astonished at their expert fighting.

Brian turned towards Alina. “Well, I guess that means the true Eversor is with Alina.”

Breanna bled from where her head hit the rock and from her lip where Eversor kicked her face. She sheathed her sword and ran past the group of men watching Alina.

“Why aren’t you helping her?” Bre yelled as she sprinted towards her mother.

Nikolaos caught her around the waist to stop her.

Eoghan sent a fireball at Nikolaos’ back, causing him to release Breanna in order to put out the flames. Bre dashed towards Alina, who was still using the whip on the real Eversor. Nikolaos clenched his shaking hands to control his anger and not beat Eoghan senseless.

“What has come over you?” Nikolaos growled through gritted teeth.

Eoghan clenched his own fists, matching Nikolaos’ anger. “Don’t ever touch her like that again!”

Nik punched Eoghan so hard in the jaw that Eoghan spun slightly and then fell to his knees. He then grabbed Eoghan by the collar, forcing his dazed victim to look him in the eyes as he said, “I was trying to spare her the guilt of our mother’s death.”

Chapter 22

Her Father’s Daughter

Breanna was an excellent fighter, and if you did not know her father, then you would have easily thought she got her fighting skills from Alina. The two women moved in unison around their enemy, stalking their prey and biding their time before striking.

Eversor’s orange hand sent off different spells at the women. Their smooth moves counteracted Eversor’s perfectly. If an orchestra were set up around the battle, it would have seemed like they were dancing.

At one point, it appeared that Eversor got the upper hand on the women. Eoghan tried to rush to Bre’s assistance, but Cole cast a sleeping spell over him to prevent him from interfering.

The o’Conaill brothers stayed out of Bre’s and Alina’s way, but noticed a member of their group was missing. They heard a dog whimpering in the background and realized Lupa had not been in any of the fights, which is unlike the daughter of Mars.

She moaned and writhed painfully in the high grass, scratching at the dirt as if begging for help. Brian and Cailean ran to her after ordering Nikolaos and his brothers to keep an eye on Eversor. Cailean reached her first. He knelt down and placed a hand over her abdomen. Lupa winced as he lightly stroked her fur.

“What’s happening?” Cailean’s voice shook as he asked Brian, who knelt on Lupa’s other side.

Brian shook his head, unable to provide an explanation.

Lupa coughed and a golden feather ejected from her mouth. She tensed up and then fell limp. Brian and Cailean tried to heal her, but her breathing stopped completely. Cailean and Brian held their own breaths in anticipation for her chest to rise. They narrowed their eyes to see through the dim morning light for the slightest rise of breath.

Suddenly, a rumble echoed through Lupa’s chest. She let out a low growl, warning the brothers of her aggression. Every muscle tensed as she stood up baring her teeth. Her eyes no longer a bright blue now were a liquid gold. Brian and Cailean quickly backed away from her.

“Lupa, it’s us. What’s wrong?” Brian fearfully asked.

Lupa dug her claws into the dirt then bounded over Brian’s head, sprinting towards Alina and Breanna.

Lysandros, Cole, Leo and Nikolaos thought nothing of Lupa’s actions. They assumed she had her own clone to contend with and was now going to help the girls. They quickly lost that assumption when Lupa tackled Alina and ripped the whip out of her hand. She then lunged at Bre, but Clover slammed into her mid-air, knocking her to the ground. The two dogs continued to wrestle and snap at each other in a blur of white and grey fur.

An evil smile appeared on Eversor’s face and he let out a screeching whistle. Lupa halted her attack and trotted over to Eversor. Her fur was ruffled with patches of blood around her neck. Clover, not taking her eyes off Lupa, slowly limped next to Breanna.

Eversor patted Lupa’s head as he chuckled, “Good girl. Sit. Stay.”

“What have you done to her?” Nikolaos shouted. His mouth hung open as he stared in horror at Lupa.

“I haven’t done a thing. It was her own action of killing the eagle,” he said, brandishing his wicked grin. “She is my servant now. Ha-ha! I have to say, I never thought I would have a daughter of Mars as a servant! This is a victory, despite not killing any of you. With her at my side, the chances of you dying have greatly increased, Princess,” Eversor said to Breanna but stared at Alina. “The next time we meet, many will die and one will be reborn.”

Aurora hissed and readied herself to pounce, but when she lunged at Eversor, he and Lupa vanished.

Everyone looked to Brian for answers.

“Well?” Leo asked impatiently.

“Well what? We just lost a powerful ally and Eversor gained a powerful weapon,” Brian snapped, losing his temper.

“Yes, but how?” Nik paced in front of the group, trying to wrap his head around the situation. “And what did he mean by one will be reborn?”

Cole woke Eoghan up from the sleeping spell. Cailean had to hold him back from attacking the brothers.

“The blood of the Birds of Elpis is tainted with whatever power remains from Elpis’ spirit. I remember a rumor that if the blood enters your body you could become touched in the mind, clearly a possession and not a mental affliction. I see it is one of the more accurate rumors,” Brian rubbed his temples trying to remember more. “As for who will be reborn, I am afraid to speculate before we have more facts, although I greatly fear the answer.”

“So when Lupa killed the bird, she ingested the bird’s blood,” said Lysandros. “Isn’t that ideal? We handed him a beastly demigod capable of tearing apart an army. On top of that, we have to worry about what is being reborn. Where are we supposed to find those answers?”

“We’ll worry about this later. Is everyone alright?” Cole looked around, particularly at Breanna.

Clover lay on the ground with her head on Bre’s lap as Bre nervously stroked her back.

Cole and Nik moved to help her, but Eoghan held out a hand to stop them and walked over to Breanna. Brian knew Eoghan could handle the situation and turned to continue the conversation.

“Heal her. Please, please heal her,” Breanna begged with tears welling in her eyes. Her hands, covered in Clover’s blood, had patches of grey fur stuck to them.

Eoghan knelt in front of Bre and swiped her hair from in front of her eyes. “You can heal her, Bre. Remember what I said back in The Forest of Tásúil. You are all connected. If you are healthy then she will be healthy. You need to learn to share your powers.”

Bre closed her eyes for a moment but impatiently opened them. Tears streamed down her face. “It’s not working, Eoghan! Fix her!”

The pain in her daughter’s voice pulled at Alina’s heart. She left her discussion with Brian to join Eoghan and Bre. She sat next to Clover and held her hands over Clover’s body. Within seconds, the patches of fur grew back and the gashes in her neck and legs healed.

The wolf rolled over to look at Alina. Breanna could feel the wolf’s gratitude swelling in her own chest. Clover licked Alina’s face and the queen laughed from her unusual thank you. Breanna flung her arms around Clover’s neck, knocking them both over.

Brian caught Alina’s eye and motioned for her to rejoin them.

BY the time Alina returned, Cole furiously waved his arms around as he spoke. “There is no way in Tartarus you are making us go there now! That is where Eversor will expect us to go. You are out of your mind, o’Conaill.”

“Not to mention there are too many enemies there, besides Eversor, for us to live through. There has to be another way,” Nikolaos looked to Alina for reassurance.

“You have Gaelic blood in you; our people will protect us. I told you all earlier, we have to go to Cymru. This meeting with Eversor changes nothing,” Alina tried to comfort her sons. “Cole and Leo, go ready the horses. Brian and Cailean, gather as much food and water as you can. Nik and Lysandros, you both need to smother the grudge between you. There is no room for contempt on this quest. Now bundle as much kindling as the horses will carry. From here on out, boys, the weather will be cold and harsh.”

Each of Alina’s designated pairs set out on their duties. Lysandros and Nikolaos were reluctant, but neither said a word when Alina raised an eyebrow at their protesting expressions. Breanna’s cheerful laughter caught her attention. She smiled contently, watching Breanna frolic with her animals.

Eoghan walked up to Alina. She threw her arms around him and began to sob. Eoghan stood rigidly still, stunned at the queen’s emotional breakdown. All he could do was awkwardly pat her back and hope he had done nothing to invoke the sudden behavior.

“Thank you,” Alina cried into Eoghan’s shoulder. “You saved my sweet Propheteia. Thank you, Eoghan MacBeatha.”

Alina released Eoghan and left to sit down with Breanna. She playfully fell into her daughter, knocking Breanna and Leora over.

Still taken aback by Alina’s reaction, Eoghan smiled at the sweet sound of Bre’s laughter. He stood quietly in the background, arms folded behind his back and chest slightly puffed as he stood guard over Alina and Breanna relaxing. The tension in his shoulders eased as he watched the two behave as if nothing had changed in the past two weeks.

Brian and Cailean were the first to return with sacks of berries, seeds, and water. Cailean lightly bumped Eoghan’s shoulder, snapping him out of his guard-like stance. “Well done. You saved The Queen. Two out of the three royals is not bad for the situation we face,” Cailean sighed.

Eoghan stared at Breanna and shook his head. His brows furrowed as if in pain. “She will be devastated. She was so close to her father.”

Brian nodded and gripped Eoghan’s shoulder comfortingly. “She has her father’s powers now. She needs to train and you need to be the one to train her.”

Eoghan tried to protest but Brian cut him off, “Your destinies are intertwined. By helping Bre with her powers, you are training yourself as well. You could learn a few things from the granddaughter of Mars. You two need to survive together. The Druids can only give either of you so much protection.”

“Bre’s skills today may prove to be more useful than Druid protection,” Cailean added. They were far beyond what we have taught her in lessons. She is truly her father’s daughter. Speaking of which, how did she get Remus’ sword?”

“She is the rightful Queen, protector of the world and the bloodline of War himself. The sword can only be wielded by the royal lineage of Mars. She summoned it in her time of need. She may not be aware that she summoned it, but her powers called out for the aid of War, and War answered,” Brian responded.

The three brothers, along with Lysandros, rejoined the group. Leo loosened the reins to let the horses graze. “I’m going to ask this one last time: are you sure we need to go to Cymru?” Leo asked, annoyed.

“The Celts are a war ridden culture. There are many rogue tribes with no alliances. They don’t care who they fight as long as they get the loot after the battle. They are a savage people,” Cole addressed the group, folding his arms stubbornly across his chest with his affronting remarks.

Cailean, who stood next to Cole, quickly withdrew his dagger from his belt and lightly pressed it to Cole’s throat. “We go back a long time, friend, but do not forget these are my people you call savage.”

“As well as mine,” Alina said, rejoining the group after overhearing the conversation. “There has been enough argument on the matter. I will not listen to anymore. You will obey my wishes. We leave now,” Alina said with undeniable authority.

Cole rolled his eyes and sighed, irritated, but remained silent. The rest of the group nodded at her decree. They each saddled their horses; Eoghan and Breanna rode together on Whisper.

The group set off towards the Gaulish coastline, dreading contact with any rogue Celtic tribes on their journey. Little did they know the Celts were the least of their worries…

Chapter 23

A Family’s Connection

Two days of riding with minimal rest and they were still a week away from the Gaulish coastline, where they would set sail to Cymru.

Breanna trained with at least two members of their group whenever they stopped to rest. Cailean worked on her sword fighting, Alina and Brian worked with her to control her magic, and Eoghan worked with her on flawlessly fighting in pairs.

The strong bond between Bre and Eoghan amplified their skills. In addition, with her new powers, Bre sensed and influenced his movement.

Bre also convinced Nikolaos to teach her a few tricks of his own, magic that he developed over the years.

Leo and Cole laid their riding blankets on the grass while the horses grazed and watched Nikolaos and Breanna practice with lightning bolts on a tree. At first, Nikolaos conjured the bolts for Bre, but she quickly learned to summon and mold the electricity herself.

“I still don’t understand why we are traveling with them. We leave the comforts of the Danes to come here and fight a war for a girl none of us know,” Leo said as he picked a blade of grass, holding it between the heels of his palms to make it whistle.

“Comforts? We lived in a makeshift house, barely big enough for the three of us, and it was freezing. Not to mention the hundreds of enemies we had hunting us. Are those the comforts you are referring to?” Cole was astonished at Leo’s loose definition of comfort.

Leo finally made an ear-piercing whistle that caused Cole to wince and press a hand to his ear. Cole punched Leo’s arm and snatched the grass from his hands.

Rubbing his arm and pouting, Leo responded, “It’s more than we have now, stuck in a tent using sweaty, smelly horse blankets to cover up. At least back with the Danes the gods favored us. Here, we rely on Mother for protection from the Celtic pantheon when we ourselves are Etruscan. Come on, Cole. If I say it’s risky and foolish, what in Tartarus is running through your overly logical mind?”

The sound of wood splintering and the cheers of an eighteen-year-old girl startled the men, who anxiously turned to their brother and Bre. Cole’s racing heart calmed when he saw Bre, safe, throw her arms around Nikolaos’ neck in excitement. Leo and Cole laughed when Nikolaos turned to them, shocked at Bre’s celebratory embrace as she hung from his neck with one of his arms wrapped around her waist.

“What’s running through my head is that our father is dead, our mother is condemned to death, and that my little sister will be alone when the battle is over. We were exiled from our former life, little brother. This is our chance to rejoin our family. To get back what we lost,” said Cole.

“You mean ripped from us,” Leo corrected, raising an eyebrow at Cole.

Heartbroken and overwhelmed with a brief moment of solemnity, Cole watched Bre blissfully prance around, excited about her new powers, unaware of their hidden burden. The same protective spirit he held for his brothers now included Breanna. He needed to shield her from as much tragedy as he could.

“So long as I am near her, Leo, she will be safe. She will live,” Cole said, not taking his eyes off Breanna.

Leo shook his head in frustration. “We are all going to a miserable, fiery death.”

Cole lightly shoved his brother on his side and smiled. “It is cold and rainy in Cymru. We’ll die a miserable, cold death.”

“I still don’t like the outcome,” Leo said and shoved his brother back.

Cole chuckled, “Unless the fact that you look like you’re twenty when you’re really forty-two somehow passed you by unnoticed, maybe I should remind you that we are immortal.”

“Yes, but for how long!” Leo threw his hands in the air.

Cole placed his forehead into his palm and shook his head. “You make my head hurt.”

Suddenly, Breanna let out a squeal of panic that caught everyone’s attention. Nikolaos had moved on from creating lightning bolts to grabbing them midair.

Nikolaos tossed Bre a bolt, hoping she would catch it before it hit her. As it drew close, she panicked and tried to roll out of the way. The lightning bolt was faster than she was and slammed into her shoulder, leaving a nasty burn mark.

Eoghan quickly stood to dash to Bre, but Brian grabbed his arm and yanked him back down. Alina and Lysandros did not move from preparing dinner.

Lysandros clenched his fists with bated breath, worried as he watched Nikolaos and Bre.

Alina patted his arm and smiled comfortingly at him. “Don’t worry,” Alina assured Lysandros, “They need this time together. She needs to get to know her brothers.”

Alina’s soft touch and sweet smile eased Lysandros’ nerves, but still gave an unnerved, sideward glance at Nik.

Cole stood, concerned for Bre. “Everything alright, Princess?”

“Bootlicker,” Leo grumbled under his breath as Cole stood up.

Cole grabbed his blanket and flung it in the air to get the grass off. With a subtle twist of his wrist, the corner of the blanket whipped the side of Leo’s head with a loud crack. Cole smirked at Leo’s vulgar exclamations as he headed towards Nikolaos and Bre.

“Everyone alright over here?” Cole asked and flashed a kind smile at Breanna.

“We’re ok, Cole.” Nikolaos leaned in to look at Bre’s shoulder. “Nothing that cannot be mended. Here, I can heal this and Queen Alina is good with clothing.”

Nik held a hand over Breanna’s wound and a blue light radiated from his palm, warming Bre’s shoulder.

Cole understood Nikolaos’ subtle hint. Breanna did not know they were her brothers. All she knew was that they were three soldiers her mother brought to help her family.

A pang of guilt in Cole’s gut for not being around as Breanna grew up caught him off guard. They could have taught her so much. He was a master of magic, better than Nik, and Leo refused to develop his. Nikolaos was a great at diplomacy, which he learned from Lysandros and their father. Then there was cheeky Leo, who was good for his yammering vulgarity, complaints, and pranks. This coincidently worked well on their enemies for quick escapes.

Breanna nudged Nikolaos with her elbow as he stood still and somber next to her. She jested, “Don’t you ever smile or laugh?”

“Ha! Nikolaos laugh? The day he has a good time and relaxes is the day I have to figure out what spell he is under,” Cole said, bent over laughing.

Breanna and Cole laughed at Nikolaos’ expense. He stood there with his arms folded behind his back. He acknowledged the humor with a small smirk and said, “Are you two finished? Can we continue with your lesson, Your Majesty? Cole, go hunt something.”

“Wait, Cole can help us.” Breanna placed a hand on Cole’s arm before he walked away.

“As target practice?” Nikolaos sniped.

“Ouch! Clever, Nik,” Cole laughed, and then turned back to Bre after giving Nikolaos a feigned look of pain. “How can I be of help?”

“You said you were the master of magic out of you three brothers. Why not help me learn what the o’Conaills cannot, or I should say will not, teach me?”

Shivers ran through their bodies as Nikolaos and Cole exchanged apprehensive glances. “Breanna, I never said that,” Cole said, defensively shifting his body closer to Leo and Nik

“Yes, you did. You just said that Nikolaos was great at diplomacy, you were a master of magic, and that Leo is good with yammering vulgarity, complaints, and pranks. If you are the master, then let me be your pupil,” Breanna said, bending her hands back and cracking her knuckles, waiting impatiently for Cole’s response.

“Complaints and pranks, huh? You were thankful for my pranks and yammering in our fight with that ugly elf in Álfheimr!” Leo shouted as he gathered his blanket and tripped over his feet, rushing to confront his brother.

“Hush, Leonidas,” Cole barked, waving a dismissive hand at his little brother.

Leo shut his mouth and his expression changed from annoyed to vigilant at his brother’s tense command. Cole only used Leo’s full name in serious situations.

“Breanna, I never said those things. I thought them, yes, but I never said them,” Cole slowly said, staring at Bre pensively.

Leo arrived with his blanket slung over his shoulder. “Great. now she can read minds?”

“Enough, Leo!” both Nikolaos and Cole said in frustration.

Leo gave them a nasty look, but listened.

“Can you hear anyone else?” Cole asked.

“I can hear you three just fine,” Bre said impatiently. “Let’s get on with the lessons. I want to learn new spells so the next time I meet Eversor I can…”

Nikolaos cut Bre off, “You just heard Cole’s thoughts, and if you can combine this power with all of your other ones you can offset your attackers. It is important that we figure out what is happening.”

Breanna stopped talking, rolled her eyes and scrunched her face up, concentrating on listening. Two seconds later, Breanna huffed and flung her eyes open. “Nobody is thinking!”

“How about now?” Cole strained his face as he tried to think “loud enough” for Breanna.

Breanna! Bre heard Cole screaming her name without moving his lips.

The situation startled her and she stumbled backwards. “What is going on? How are you doing that?”

“You are doing that,” Cole reached for her shoulder but she dipped it out of his grasp.

Cole instinctively grasped his dagger handle when sparks flickered between Breanna’s fingertips. A long forgotten memory of sparks flickering from his fingers replayed in his mind. The incongruous event occurs when an individual first develops their powers. The memory ended with a boat exploding because he got scared and lost control. He sympathized with her anxiety, but he had to calm her down before somebody got hurt.

Breanna glanced at Eoghan by the fire, laughing nostalgically with Brian as they recounted old stories. She longed to call out to him, but he had done so much for her in the past few weeks that he deserved to relax. She turned back to the brothers, uncomfortable as they silently stared at her with uneasy eyes.

“You don’t need Eoghan and we are staring at you because you could blow us up or set us on fire if you lose control of your emotions,” Leo snapped.

Leo’s brothers and Breanna stared at him in shock.

“What?” Leo asked, irritated.

“Where did that come from?” Cole faced Leo with his arms folded across his chest.

Leo grew even more frustrated. “She said she wished Eoghan was here and didn’t want us staring at her.”

Leo started talking with his hands. His brothers always made fun of him for being so animated, but they found no humor in this situation.

“I never said any of that,” Breanna paused, worried. “I may have thought it, but I never…” She stopped abruptly because they were all thinking the same thing.

“Great! Now I can read minds too?” Leo shouted, “It’s contagious! How did you? Why did you? Aww come on.” Leo started pacing back and forth, muttering to himself.

“I didn’t do a thing,” Breanna said as she held back a laugh at Leo’s ridiculous, panicked state.

Nikolaos shook his head and rolled his eyes at Leo’s overreaction.

“There is nothing wrong with him, Nik, this is his normal state,” Cole chuckled.

“He didn’t say that out loud, Cole,” Breanna noted.

Nikolaos and Cole’s jaws dropped and they gawked at each other with wide eyes. Leo continued to wave his arms around emphatically. “I told you it was contagious!”

The group around the fire overheard Leo’s voice, and then Cole heard Lysandros reply, The only thing contagious is the annoyance you create.

Cole burst out laughing while Leo stared daggers at Lysandros.

“Perfectly stated,” Cole said, trying to catch his breath.

“His lips didn’t move and I heard him as well,” Breanna once again noted.

Leo pleaded with Cole, “Will you fix this? The last thing I need is for the three of you to hear my most personal thoughts.”

“Why? So we don’t know when your pranks are coming?” Nikolaos asked with a raised eyebrow.

“Exactly! It’ll ruin all the fun,” Leo said and started to pace again.

“Let me try something.” Cole’s face scrunched up while looking at the group by the fire.

Leo burst out laughing while Nikolaos disapprovingly shook his head and said, “Not funny, Cole.”

Breanna gasped and smacked Cole’s arm, which snapped him out of his thoughts. “Do not talk about Eoghan that way. Besides, that is not proper language to use in front of a lady.” Breanna blushed from Cole’s comment about Eoghan. “Not proper at all.”

Bre looked at Eoghan and noticed he had not heard any of Cole’s remarks. Otherwise, he surely would have sought a fight.

Cole smiled devilishly at Breanna but apologized for his crude remark. “I just wanted to see if they could read our thoughts as well. Just to make sure Leo was not completely paranoid.”

From a distance, all four of them heard Alina’s thoughts, I don’t know how I will tell her they are her brothers.

Cole, Leo, and Nikolaos gawked at each other and then cautiously turned to Breanna.

Bre looked between her mother and her newly acquired brothers with the same open-mouthed expression. “What did she say?”

“Uh, Mother? You might want to handle this one,” Nik called out, pushing his brothers back, away from Bre. He put his body in between them and her.

Alina turned to them and saw her sons backing away from Bre.

What is wrong? Breanna heard Alina’s thoughts.

“They are my brothers?” Breanna shouted with more anger than she intended.

“Do not raise your voice to me, young lady. Be mindful that I am still Queen,” Alina was surprised at her daughter’s rage.

“You said ‘I don’t know how I am going to tell her they are her brothers.’ Well, you just did,” Breanna’s anger steadily grew.

“Did you read my mind, young lady?” Alina walked down the hill with her finger pointed at Bre, scolding her daughter.

“Yes, this is my fault! Because I have full control over these damned powers.” Bre threw her arms in the air, mimicking Leo’s animation.

Breanna’s sarcasm shocked Alina, “You listen to me, right now,” Alina’s singsong Gaelic accent came through thicker than Bre had ever heard. Whenever her mother was angry, her accent came out; but her burr had never been this thick. It was as if she had never left Cymru. “You do not speak to me in that manner. Yes, they are your brothers. Yes, you are all immortal demigods because I am a goddess. And yes, you have a magical connection between you. How extensive it is, I cannot be sure.”

“Don’t blame her. She has been through a lot; We all have. Bre is just coming into her powers and apparently we have new ones as well,” Cole said, attempting to calm his mother.

“But you need to tell us everything, because it is obvious you have been hiding facts,” Nikolaos added.

Alina looked at her four children, debating whether she should tell them what she knew.

From behind her, Brian called out a warning, “Tell them Alina, or we will.”

She glared at Brian over her shoulder and he clearly got her message of ‘do not tell me what to do.’

Alina paused for a moment. “She is The Queen,” she finally said.

Leo threw his hands up in the air. “You said she had a great power, not that she was The Queen! Perfect! That is all we need to add to this mess.”

“Silence, Leo.” Cole shot him a dirty look.

“There is no greater power than The Queen,” Alina responded.

“That makes us the council,” Nikolaos placed his hands behind his head and sighed.

“What do you mean The Queen? What is the council?” Bre asked anxiously.

“Let me help,” Brian strolled passed Alina and stopped in front of Bre.

Before Breanna could protest, Brian held his hands on either side of her temples. Electricity shot through her body, and she slumped forward onto her knees. Someone’s arms grabbed her waist, pulling her into a cocoon of warmth as she feebly knelt in the grass.

Chapter 24

The Return Policy

Breanna gritted her teeth in pain as images and information attached themselves as if they were her memories from childhood. Brian’s power filled in the holes about Elpis, The Power, and Eversor. Brian dug deep into his own memories to show Bre his training under Eversor and the stories Eversor told him about his personal vendetta with the gods.

Brian swayed unsteadily, almost losing his balance from the weakness in his legs. His power drained as he forced Bre to remember all of her dreams from the Blood-Moon terrors that plagued her birthdays.

Tears formed in Bre’s eyes: not from the pain, but from the strong emotions in the memories. The story, now complete, rolled through her mind like a film sequence.

Bre gasped when Brian let go of her head.

Brian stumbled backwards, his legs buckled unable to support him. Cailean caught his brother and slung Brian’s arm around his neck to support him.

“The dreams…they were real. They are not just nightmares. They’re her memories, aren’t they?” Bre tried to hold back her tears. “Poor Elpis. The gods destroyed her life and then solely blamed her for her actions.”

“Elpis was a furious and powerful woman. She hunted, attacked, and killed many gods. She was good at it. The six pantheons feared her and feared what she could do to the world they sought to protect. She needed to be stopped, Breanna. Do not pity a woman who earned her death,” Cailean coldy responded.

“Do you blame her for being angry?” Eoghan softly interjected.

Bre jerked sideways at the sound of Eoghan’s voice next to her. She had not felt his firm embrace around her waist during the ordeal. She did not realize it was his warmth that supported her. Eoghan’s worried expression and tight grasp made her blush. She quickly wiggled out of his clutch, but fell forward onto all fours. Across from her, kneeling on the ground and rubbing their temples to rid themselves of nasty headaches, were her brothers.

Brian followed Bre’s quizzical stare and answered her unasked question. “You and your brothers are connected psychically. Once you learn to control it, it will become an advantage over your enemies. Until then, you will be invading each other’s privacy.” Brian’s voice was weak as he tried to catch his breath. “Also, I am not sure what limitations it has, as it has already expanded into reading others’ minds.”

Brian motioned Cailean to bring him back to the fire. Cailean helped his weak brother walk back to their campsite, where Lysandros still sat anxiously watching the events unfold.

All of a sudden, Bre started uncontrollably sobbing. She pulled her legs to her chest, wrapping her arms around them and buried her face into her knees.

Eoghan inhaled sharply at the sight of her. He stared at her, too afraid to touch her and unsure of what was happening until two words, barely above a whisper, escaped her lips. “He’s gone.”

Bre raised her head. Her tear-reddened eyes locked with her brothers’, imploring them for help. Nikolaos was closest. He immediately slid over to her side. Bre fell into his protective embrace as he wrapped his arms around her and pulled her onto his lap. The images of the dagger in Remus’ chest and The Power drawn out from his heart kept replaying in the four siblings minds.

Leo turned away from the group, his eyes stinging from rising tears. Cole rolled onto his back and ran his fingers through his hair, slightly pulling at the roots. He pursed his lips together to control his jagged breaths.

Bre cried harder as her brothers’ remembered the last time they saw their father: The image of how mad he was when he banished them to live with the Danes. But Breanna saw something in her father’s face that the brothers did not at the time, the concern for his children. The rage in his eyes and voice was fear of losing them. No parent wants to burry a child. She had received that same concerned wrath when as a young girl she rode an unbroken horse and fell, hitting her head on a rock.

Alina reached down and swept Bre’s hair from her damp cheeks. Her mother’s touch jerked Bre out of her brothers’ memories.

Alina sighed, but her breath was jagged as it escaped from her trembling lips. Her voice was weak and sad as she said, “Now do you understand? The Power is beyond anything on earth. It is the soul of life itself, but it is also the soul of your predecessor. The six pantheons of our world created it to end suffering: to give the world new hope. With its rebirth in our timeline, a life had to be taken. Unfortunately, that life was your father’s. Life for a life, Breanna, don’t you ever forget that lesson.”

“But if…if I’m The Queen and you still have half The Power in you, doesn’t that make you part of The Queen as well?” Breanna’s voice was low and soft.

“No. I am nothing more than a vessel. The powers I have are due to my godly parents. The fairies, my mother’s people, were entrusted to hide half of The Power. They decreed it could only be passed down from one god to another through birth. Arawn and Rhiannon, being two Celtic gods, passed it on to me at my birth. It is why your father and I had such a strong connection. The two halves of The Power were drawn each other. I am only keeping it safe until you are ready to receive it,” Alina responded.

“I thought you were a demigod? Your mother was a goddess who gave up her throne to marry a mortal. Pwyll is not a god,” Bre stammered.

“No, Sweetheart. My father, your grandfather, is Arawn, Celtic god of the dead and Lord of Annwyn. I am a Death Goddess in his court. Think of me as the general of a ghost army. As I said before, this makes you and your brother’s demigods, immortal so long as you are not wounded beyond magical repair. Everyone here, with the exception of Eoghan, is a demigod. You being The Queen makes them your council and one of them your guardian,” Alina sighed heavily. “I should have told you this years ago.”

“But…” Bre had other questions, but stopped when Nikolaos’ voice invaded her mind.

Stop, Breanna. You must understand that she must die in order to give you The Power. Just like Father. Bre heard Nikolaos’ voice crack as he said it.

A ball formed in Breanna’s throat as she fought back more tears in her already stinging eyes. I have already lost father, now I have to lose her too? She is a goddess, how could she die?

The brothers remained silent, struggling with their own emotions.

“I don’t want this. Let me give it away. I’ll give it to Eversor, or whoever wants it.” Breanna beseeched her brothers for comfort, but they had none to give.

“This is your destiny, sweetheart. You and your power will transcend history,” Alina said and swept Bre’s her hair behind her ear.

“No,” Bre said quietly, staring at the ground and shaking her head.

“What do you mean no?” Alina asked cautiously, knowing her daughter’s defiant mind all too well.

“No. I will not become The Queen.” Breanna looked Alina directly in the eyes and spoke with authoritative precision.

Alina pushed her shoulders back and held her head high. Her eyes narrowed as she slowly exhaled in an attempt to control her temper. “You are The Noble Queen. Like it or not, Breanna, it is your duty, and you will accept it. That is how I raised you. You have come of age now, the sole heir to the world in which we exist. Now if you would excuse me, I have a dinner to prepare.” Alina spun on her heels and stormed back to the fire. “Lysandros, those rabbits better be skinned by the time I get back there.”

The group heard Lysandros’ distant chuckle and a knife sharpening against a rock.

Breanna started after her mother, wanting to continue the conversation. However, Nikolaos grabbed her arm and gave her a stern look: a look her father wore when cross with her. “There is no need to begin an argument. You now know how her story will end. Do not make it harder for her. Enjoy the time you have left.”

Eoghan cleared his throat behind Bre. Bre furrowed her eyebrows; she had forgotten he was there. Knowing he was there sent her into a blind rage, her powers boiling in her chest. She wheeled around and backhanded him so hard he spun clockwise, facing the other direction.

“You knew! You knew my mother would die and you kept it from me! You kept everything from me!” Heat radiated from her body as she screamed at Eoghan.

Bre whipped her hand in Eoghan’s direction, sending a gust of wind that flipped him through the air then slammed him into the ground, knocking the wind out of him.

Bre heard Leo’s thoughts, Ha, serves him right. Get him!

“I did not know she would have to die, Breanna,” Eoghan said through coughs and gasps. “That is something only soothsayers and your mother’s family knew.” Eoghan desperately tried to think of something to calm her down. “However, think of this. Her father is Arawn, Celtic Lord of the Underworld. When she does die, she will be comfortable as Princess of the Dead and will be reunited with your father.”

It was the wrong thing to say. Breanna lost all self-control and her powers took over her body. She sent another gust of wind at Eoghan that slammed him backwards into a tree.

The force of Bre’s attack left an Eoghan-sized dent in the tree trunk. Eoghan lay unconscious, bleeding profusely from the back of his head.

Breanna’s brothers sensed no remorse from her as The Power surged through her body, feeding her anger. Cole conjured a ball of water and tossed it at her head, snapping her out of her power-induced trance.

Bre gasped at the sight of Eoghan’s crumpled body at the base of the tree and rushed to Eoghan’s side. “Oh, Gods!”

“Do you understand why you must learn to control your emotions?” Cole asked coolly as he pushed Bre out of the way.

Before Cole fully examined Eoghan’s injuries, a woman appeared out of the tree’s branches. She picked Eoghan up and cradled him, humming softly. She wore a brown and green dress, and her shoes were made of gold leaves. She had long, red curly hair that flowed over her pale white shoulders. a crown of twigs rested on her head, with a few leaves that stuck out, curling elegantly.

“Druantia, what are you doing here?” Brian asked the Queen of the Druids after he and Cailean rushed towards the one-sided fight.

Druantia stood up, and branches formed steps for her to walk down. “This abomination not only damaged my tree, but she damaged a future Druid.” Druantia peered down, disgusted at Bre.

Breanna was more concerned about getting Eoghan back than she was offended. “Abomination? Who in the…”

“Silence!” Druantia cut Breanna off. “You do not get to address me. He belongs to my lands and my religion. You so carelessly fling him about as if he belongs to you!”

Druantia’s anger exploded and a branch from the Elm tree slammed into Bre’s abdomen, tossing her aside.

“I was in favor of creating The Queen. Peace to the lands would protect my nature. But you, you do more harm than good,” Druantia said, glaring at Bre, Her words full of venom.

Another branch swung down and slapped Breanna, leaving a giant welt across her face.

“Druantia!” Alina yelled, “I command you to stop!”

“You command nothing, Fairy Princess. You left our world behind to marry a savage,” Druantia said, appalled with the Etruscan Queen.

The same branch swung around to slam into Alina as it did Breanna. Nikolaos caught the branch with his hands and snapped it in half. The wood fell lifeless in his Herculean grip.

Druantia raised an eyebrow at Nikolaos. Suddenly, roots and vines emerged from the ground and wrapped themselves around the brothers.

Druantia’s lip curled in disgust. “Savages,” she muttered.

Druantia, still cradling Eoghan in her arms, moved a hand towards the back of his blood soaked hair.

Eoghan’s breathing was labored and he winced when the goddess touched his wound.

“Eoghan!” Breanna cried out, but another branch flew towards her head. This time she rolled out of its path.

“I do not deem you worthy to speak to one of my Druids,” Druantia said as she caressed Eoghan’s head.

“She is The Queen, Druantia. She meant no harm to Eoghan or to the Druids. She has only just come into her powers, but she is learning quickly. She will be able to control them soon,” Brian interjected, trying to diffuse the goddess’s anger.

“She has come into half her powers,” Druantia corrected. “Imagine what she could have done if she contained the rest of it!”

Eoghan’s eyes fluttered open to see who cradled him. To his astonishment, he woke up to Druantia, Queen of the Druids. He sat up and took a knee, bowing to the goddess. “Druantia! My queen, forgive me.”

Druantia raised his head so he could look into her golden eyes. “You have nothing to be forgiven for, my sweet.” Druantia lightly kissed the top of his forehead and Eoghan slumped over again, unconscious.

Brian and Cailean moved to grab him, but before they reached him, Druantia scooped Eoghan back up in her arms.

“Where are you taking him?” Cailean asked in an attempt to stop Druantia. He needed to stall the goddess so Brian had time to figure out how to get Eoghan back. To his surprise, Brian remained silent.

“I have been watching you all carefully, especially Eoghan here. You have taught him well, dear Brian, as have you, my sweet Cailean. However, this girl you call the future Queen has abused the blessing that is my loving Eoghan. I provided the Druids as a gift to her cause and she has abused it. Therefore, I am taking my gift back.”

“He is my best friend. I never meant harm to him, I swear,” pleaded Breanna.

“You may not have meant harm, but harm has been done. How many opportunities to prove yourself worthy do you deserve, Princess? How many times will you hurt my precious Eoghan?” She stroked his head lovingly. “He is noble and kind, strong and brave. He is a king in training, and a king he will be!”

In a gust of wind and leaves Druantia disappeared with Eoghan. When she left, the roots and vines released their hold on the brothers.

“Where did they go?” Breanna frantically asked Brian.

“I am afraid to believe that she is taking him to the closest nemeton, which is at Arras,” answered Brian, pinching the bridge of his nose.

“Perfect, it’s on the way,” Lysandros replied and then stormed off to gather the horses.

“That may be so, but if Druantia was powerful here, she will be even more powerful on sacred ground. We have to be careful. We were lucky to survive this encounter,” Cailean warned, staring at Nik and his brothers.

“If she hurts him, so help me I will bring the full force of Tartarus down on her,” Breanna said enraged, clenching her fists.

“First of all, you are not the daughter of Death; secondly, Mother may be able to do that; and thirdly, Druantia will not harm him. If she is indeed taking him to a nemeton, she plans on marrying him and making him King of the Druids. She would wait until the next new moon to perform the ceremony. This means we have a week to get there,” said Cole, sounding pessimistic.

“That may be a problem,” Brian worried, trying to calculate how quickly they could get to Arras.

“Do you think Grandfather will help?” Nikolaos asked Alina.

“No. Druantia and Arawn have an intimate past that did not end well,” Alina replied.

“Hold on! What do you mean she plans to marry him? She is a goddess and he is a mortal. I thought it was taboo for goddesses to marry mortals. Mother married a demigod and she was expelled from the fairy world.” A knot formed in Bre’s stomach at the thought of never seeing Eoghan again.

“Druantia is not just a goddess. On top of being the Queen of the Druids and a goddess of nature, she is also a fertility goddess. Fertility goddesses can marry and mate with whomever they please because they make the rules regarding love,” Alina explained.

“We have another problem,” Cailean added. “If Druantia feels he is not solely hers, she will…” Cailean paused and looked at Breanna. “Eoghan may be smart, but she is a love goddess and will see right through his lies.”

“Yes, that does pose a problem,” Brian folded his arms.

“Will someone please explain?” Breanna pleaded, restless and sick to her stomach.

“If Druantia becomes aware that he has affections for another, she will kill him,” Cole answered bluntly.

“Affections for whom? He has never had time for affections.” Breanna snapped her fingers and their camp was packed and loaded on to the horses.

“You are young, aren’t you?” Leo situated himself on his horse after Lysandros returned. He smiled and patted Bre patronizingly on the top of her head.

Alina trotted up on Lightning and laughed lightly, “Oh Sweetheart, affections for you.”

The group sped off with Brian and Cailean in the lead, leaving Breanna behind, speechless, trying to process Eoghan having feelings for her.

Whisper huffed and snapped her out of her thoughts. “Alright, let’s go boy. We have a wedding to break up.”

Chapter 25

The Betrothed

Druantia and Eoghan arrived at the entrance of the Nemeton of Arras. The outside of the nemeton was a wall of trees and vines that protected the sacred grove inside. The entranceway was an arched tunnel made of ivy leaves and white flowers. Druantia could see people on the opposite end, but the passageway into the nemeton was long, and the figures looked like green blotches.

Druantia laid the still unconscious Eoghan on the ground and walked to the threshold of the grove.

Two muscular Celtic warriors, daring enough to look Druantia in the eyes, met her at the entrance and refused her refuge. They wore full Gaelic war armor. They each carried a sword and several daggers, with a bow and quiver strapped to their backs. The warriors looked similar, brothers no more than two years apart.

Druantia smiled and seductively swayed towards them, attempting to lure them into a euphoric trance. She bit her lower, strawberry colored lip and blew them each a kiss.

“Now, now, Cadman, you know who I am,” Druantia said and ran a finger down one of the warriors’ breastplates. She lightly dragged her finger across his collarbone as she walked around him.

Her touch sent a shiver through Cadman’s body, but he remained silent. She turned to the other guard when Cadman did not pay the slightest attention to her efforts. “Caedmon,” Druantia sighed and dragged her finger up and down the warriors bicep, “Come now, my dear, you do remember me, don’t you?”

She whispered in his ear and a crooked smile appeared on the warriors face. Druantia turned back to Cadman and whispered in his ear, causing him to reveal the same wicked smile.

The guards quickly came back to their senses and shook off the mischievous look. “We do remember you, Druantia, which is why we cannot let you pass into Arras,” Caedmon responded.

Druantia knew she would get into the sacred grove one way or another. Her face hardened and she petulantly pushed her shoulders back. “Listen to me. I am your queen and you will let me pass.”

Both guards drew their swords and stabbed the blades into the ground. A line of fire spread across the entranceway, blocking the goddess.

“You will not enter the grove. The Druidess has seen what you want and will not grant your marriage,” Cadman said, trying to avoid eye contact.

Roots sprung from the ground and tree limbs leaned towards the goddess as she shouted, “I am your queen!

In her temper tantrum, Druantia’s foot accidentally slid into the fire and flames engulfed her dress. However, the flames quickly extinguished when a female in a simple white tunic and girdle made of bronze covering her breasts and torso exited the nemeton. She carried a pale yellow staff made of yew and a gold sword that hung from her hip. Her dirty-blonde hair was pulled back into a bun, held together by a silver dagger. Her delicate, feminine features slightly resembled the two brothers guarding the nemeton, with the same cheekbones and blue eyes.

Druantia’s anger grew when the Druidess laughed at the goddess’ burnt appearance.

“What exactly are you laughing at, Haley?” Druantia said through gritted teeth, barely able to control her temper.

Haley calmed her laughter and clutched at her stomach, slowly catching her breath. “It’s just…you look ridiculous, Dru.” Haley burst out laughing again.

Druantia snapped her fingers and her appearance returned to its natural beauty. “Are you going to let me in our not?”

Eoghan moaned behind Druantia and Haley’s laughter abruptly ceased. She ignored Druantia’s question and walked over to the unconscious, wounded man. “How long has he been like this?” Haley asked while feeling Eoghan’s forehead.

“He is none of your concern, High Priestess. Now let me into my grove.” Druantia crossed her arms and pouted unattractively.

“It is my grove, Druantia. The Celtic pantheon established the rule that fertility goddesses need permission to enter nemetons for a reason. They do not want you marrying every man you get your hands on.” Haley didn’t take her eyes off Eoghan as she spoke. “Brothers, come help me.”

“Who is he, Hale?” the brothers asked in unison.

“He is a MacBeatha and a member of the o’Conaill clan,” Haley answered. “We must get him inside.”

Before Cadman and Caedmon reached Eoghan, the closest oak tree swung a branch down and scooped Eoghan off the ground.

“He is my husband-to-be and future King of the Druids. With your powers of divination, Druidess, you should have seen that.” Druantia confronted Haley with a victorious smirk as she held Eoghan hostage. “If you wish to care for the young Gàidheal, let us cross the threshold.”

“Very well,” Haley growled. She stomped her staff on the ground and the line of fire protecting the nemeton vanished. Haley watched helplessly as the oak trees passed Eoghan’s limp body into the Nemeton of Arras.

Once inside, a large, lush green circular clearing surrounded by woods, greeted Druantia. A giant white oak tree in the center of the nemeton appeared to be centuries old with Celtic knots carved into its trunk. Dense forest of colossal oak trees protected the circle. Illuminating mushrooms wound up from the moss-covered roots to the trees’ canopy. The fading sunset peeking through the trees cast a faint rainbow across a creek that circled the clearing. The soft, slow trickling of water, combined with the translucent hues of rainbow, added to the serenity of the nemeton.

At least twenty Druids circled the great white oak. They wore forest green cloaks with the hoods pulled over their heads, shielding their faces in shadows. The Druids swayed in unison as they eerily mumbled their prayers.

“Ahh, it is nice to see the Prayer of Sunset. It’s not often performed,” Druantia said as she passed the Druids, who paid her no attention.

“You, of course, would not see it, because the various warriors you choose to sleep with every night do not pray to nature,” a voice rung out through the nemeton.

The Druids stopped mid-prayer, surprised by the disembodied voice.

Druantia rolled her eyes, waved her hand dismissively, and continued walking. “If you slept with one or two of the warriors yourself, Nemetona, you would see how much they pray.” Another wicked smile crossed her face as she glanced over to Caedmon and Cadman. Both men blushed at her comment.

A woman emerged out of the trunk of the closest oak tree to Druantia. Instantly, everyone in the nemeton dropped to their knees, bowing to the goddess.

Nemetona was a petite goddess, slender and pale. She had short hair that swept across her forehead but did not come down past her ears. She had deep brown eyes with flecks of green, and was only covered by several thin, long branches with a few oak leaves stemming off the limbs. The branches wrapped around her legs then flowed around her lower waist. Two limbs moved up to wrap themselves twice around her breasts. She was barefoot, but soft green and blue moss appeared under her feet as she walked.

Druantia laughed at Nemetona’s appearance. “Dressed like that I am surprised you have not slept with throngs of our warriors, Nemetona.”

“The groves I protect are natural and untouched; therefore, I should be natural and untouched. I merely cover myself as much as I do out of respect for our Druids,” Nemetona said and bowed politely at the Druids still kneeling. “Why are you in my grove, Druantia?”

“I am Queen of the Druids. I have a right to be wherever they may be,” Druantia stuck her chest out proudly.

Just above Nemetona, the tree she had emerged from slowly brought Eoghan down and laid him at her feet. Nemetona raised an eyebrow accusingly as she said, “Do you care to answer truthfully, Cousin?”

Druantia pouted and folded her arms across her chest childishly.

“He does not belong to you, Druantia. You are disturbing a destiny that should be left alone. If it is rocked too much it will only delay the outcome of our world,” Nemetona kept a strict face while scolding Druantia.

“Oh hush, Nemetona. You have always been an extremely depressing goddess: A waste of beauty and power.” Druantia snapped her fingers and Eoghan woke from his slumber.

Eoghan was startled at first. The last thing he remembered was Breanna throwing him into a tree. Now he gazed up at a half-naked woman wrapped in tree branches and a group of Druids.

“Who are you?” he looked up at Nemetona.

“I am Nemetona, and Druantia here has brought you to the…”

“The Sacred Grove of Arras,” Eoghan stood up and finished Nemetona’s sentence. He stared at the white oak. “I never in my life thought I would see The Great White Oak of Arras.”

In his excitement, he held his hand out behind him for his best friend to take. When his hand remained empty, he turned quickly to find that Bre, the one person who should always be at his side, was nowhere to be found. Her absence caused panic to surge through his chest, followed by a pang of guilt in thinking she may still be cross with him.

“What is wrong, my sweet?” Druantia asked.

Druantia’s words caught him off guard and he did a double take at Druantia. “My sweet?” he shook his head wildly to move on from his shock. “Where is my group? My Bre? She should…”

Druantia cut him off, irate with his choice of words. “Your Bre? Your Bre?

The trees creaked and the wind whistled through the branches as Druantia’s anger grew.

“Let me tell you something, Eoghan MacBeatha,” Druantia emphasized every syllable. “Your precious Breanna nearly killed you. If it were not for me healing you and bringing you to my grove…”

“My grove,” Nemetona corrected her, but Druantia ignored it.

“You would have died because of that ungodly girl,” Druantia continued, furious.

Be quiet, Eoghan. She will kill you if she thinks you are not solely hers, said a familiar voice in Eoghan’s head, a voice he could not put a face to. Bow your head and apologize, then compliment her vanity.

Eoghan followed the desperate warning and said, “I apologize for misspeaking, My Queen. A frivolous child such as Breanna does not compare to the beauty of a goddess.”

Druantia looked pleased. Eoghan took it as a sign of her forgiving his emotional indiscretion.

“Much better. Now, let me create a place for us to sleep tonight.” Druantia bit her lower lip with anticipation.

Druantia whistled, and suddenly the trees wove their limbs together to create a beautiful open floor dwelling with only the treetops as a roof. It was raised above the ground, and the trees formed stairs up to the floor created by their limbs. Druantia waved her hand and furniture appeared on the floor: chairs, a stone fire pit, tables, and a large bed.

“Druantia, you have come to the grove for a proper wedding. The proper way is to have separate sleeping quarters,” Nemetona sighed disapprovingly and then turned to address Haley. “Druidess, take Eoghan to your tent and look after him. I believe he still needs to be filled in on a few aspects.”

Nemetona appeared worried as she gave Eoghan another sidelong, pitiful glance. She spoke psychically to Haley, this is not Eoghan’s destiny, but there is nothing I can do without sending Druantia into an uproar and killing Eoghan, or worse, Breanna.

Haley nodded in response. She kept behind Eoghan, keeping herself out of his view and slouched halfway into the shadows of the trees.

Druantia huffed, displeased with not spending the night with Eoghan and even more upset that Haley was the one taking care of him. However, she did not protest because they agreed to perform the wedding ceremony. She winked at Cadman and Caedmon and then beckoned them to her newly formed shelter.

Haley shook her head in disappointment as her brothers followed Druantia. “Some bride to be,” Haley sniped.

Keeping to the shadows, Haley continued to hide her face. She grabbed Eoghan by the arm and dragged him over to her sleeping arrangements. It was a large hut made of perfectly cut tree limbs, bright colorful leaves, and white silk ribbon. When they entered, Haley waved her hand and another heather bed appeared in the corner of the room, opposite of her own.

“I know you, but how?” Eoghan shifted around the room, trying to get a better look at his host.

“We met in passing a long time ago,” Haley said and turned her back to him. She moved about the room, tidying things uncomfortably.

“Where? When?” Eoghan repositioned himself in front of her, but Haley was quick and turned before Eoghan gazed upon her face. Strategically, she moved to a dark spot in the room, just out of reach of a candle burning on an end table. Eoghan followed her, still trying to sneak a glance.

Haley cowered backwards from Eoghan. She licked her finger and thumb and snuffed out the candle on the end table. She sought sanctuary in the coolness of the darkened area. Standing in the dimmed light, her anxiety eased and she confessed, “There is no need for concern. I assure you that our meeting was a small happening in a grand scheme.”

“You saved me from Druantia’s wrath, for which I thank you; but the way you said it, it felt familiar,” Eoghan said, moving closer and squinting to makes out the lines of her face in the dark. Haley accidently put herself in a corner and Eoghan was quick to close the gap between them.

Butterflies filled her stomach as Eoghan drew closer. Her breathing sped up, and her heart raced. A panic attack rumbled in her chest, which made her panic even more. She placed her hands defensively out in front of her, and when Eoghan reached to grab her wrist, she shot out purple light that created a protective barrier around her. Even though Eoghan could not move closer, the light betrayed Haley as it illuminated her face.

Eoghan stumbled backwards, shocked by the sight of his host. He never would have thought it to be her.

“Haley!” Eoghan gasped, trying to get back to his feet. “How? Where?” He stammered.

The light disappeared and Haley undid her breastplate as she walked to a nearby chair. The breastplate made a loud clang as she tossed it on the table and unbuckled her sword from her hip. The echo of the clattering breastplate served as the physical sound of her panic transformed into anger.

“How you ask?” anger forced tears to well in her eyes as she berated him. “Your precious o’Conaills convinced my parents when I was thirteen to give me to Nemetona. While you were off on various adventures with the o’Conaill brothers, I was sold to a goddess for more powers. Oh? Where you ask? I have been here for the last five years. My only saving grace was that Nemetona allowed my brothers to come with me.”

Eoghan, finally stable on his feet, slowly walked towards Haley. The angry tears dripping down her cheeks pulled at his heart as each droplet splashed against the floor.

“You left me, Eoghan. You were my betrothed. Our parents, the leaders of two tribes, promised us to each other. We were meant to form the largest Celtic tribe known in history, but you let them sell me.” Haley sobbed into her hands, her words muffled as she cried. “You were supposed to protect me; but your only cares were for war and your precious Etruscan Princess.”

Eoghan rushed forward and wrapped his arms around her. “I am so sorry, Haley. I never meant for any of this to happen to you. I did love you, I swear. I was ready to wed.” He kissed the top of her head.

Haley pushed Eoghan back and wiped her eyes. “Love me? If you loved me, you would not have left when I begged you to stay. You had a choice, Eoghan…and you didn’t choose me.”

Haley walked to her bed where a bedside table held a gold bowl filled with water. She grabbed the bowl and walked back to Eoghan.

“I assume you want to see where Breanna and your clan members are now. I also assume you know how to use this.” She slammed the bowl down on the square, wooden table next to him, spilling water onto the floor.

“No, not right now,” he said, pushing the bowl away as he remembered how angry Bre was the last time he saw her. Resentment brought a bitter taste to his mouth, but he was angry with Bre for not controlling her temper.

Haley turned around, surprised by his answer.

“Your sweet Breanna must be worried sick about you,” she answered coldly, hoping to hurt him.

“Stop it, Haley. I did not mean for you to have this life. I did not persuade your parents to give you to Nemetona,” Eoghan said, staring sternly at Haley.

“I believe you mean to say sell me! They sold me, Eoghan. They sold me to gain more power,” Haley shouted and threw her arms up in the air. She began rambling in Gaelic and fiddling with various objects on the bedside table.

Nauseating turmoil replaced Eoghan’s bitter resentment. Since they met as children, Eoghan had always been protective of Haley. He let her down when he chose to leave and he could never make it up to her. In one fluid motion, he crossed the room and grabbed Haley quicker than she thought possible. Quicker than what she prepared for. One hand wrapped around her lower back and the other released her hair from the silver dagger. She tried to protest, but was silenced by his warm lips on her own.

When Eoghan released Haley, he smiled, pleased that he stopped her pain-filled rambling. From outside, they heard Druantia’s giggles accompanied by grunts from Haley’s brothers.

A shiver ran through Eoghan’s body. “Disgusting! And she expects me to be with her?”

“How do you think I feel? Those are my brothers in there with her.” Haley said with a curled lip, revolted. She clapped her hands and the room fell silent.

“Well done, Hale! A silencing spell. I have not performed one of those in years annnd you did it without uttering a word. You are an accomplished Druidess. I am proud to know you and call you my friend.” Eoghan warmly smiled. He meant every praise he gave Haley.

Haley blushed and hid her face behind her hair, but her stomach sank.

“Friend,” Haley breathed heavily and walked to her bed.

Eoghan bit his tongue, flung his head back and stared absently at the ceiling. He shook his head reprehensively at his actions and poor choice of words. Haley was a strong, beautiful warrior Druidess that feared nothing, but somehow he always managed to hurt her. All he wanted to do was help her and protect her from harm, but tonight, and for the last five years, he was that harm. Haley was right. He abandoned her, and that infuriated him more.

As she lay down on her heather bed, she rolled over and faced the wooden wall. She pulled a wool blanket over her shoulder and curled into its protective warmth.

“Goodnight, Eoghan. We have a lot to figure out in the morning. Get some rest.” She snapped her fingers and the lights extinguished, leaving nothing but moonlight to illuminate the room.

Eoghan looked from his bed to Haley’s. He headed towards his own, but stopped. His mind urged him towards the safety and respectfulness of his bed, but every nerve in his body screamed to turn around. Whether it was the presence of the fertility goddess or his own desire, he sat down on Haley’s bed, leaning his back against Haley.

She held her breath, too scared to talk. All she ever wanted was Eoghan, but their life together was stripped from her years ago. Eoghan’s warmth flowed into her as he lay down next to her, squeezing his legs behind hers. He fit her like a key.

Nerves made butterflies zoom in her stomach and her mouth dry, but she cleared her throat and said with a cracking voice, “You realize that when we both turned eighteen we were to be wed, right?”

“You turned eighteen last month,” Eoghan whispered in her ear. “Happy birthday, Hale.” He kissed her neck lightly.

Haley’s breath was bated as her heart pounded. She found his hand and intertwined their fingers. Eoghan moved his arm to wrap around her waist. He flexed his muscle and slid Haley closer to him. His breath fell on Haley’s ear, sending an electric shiver through her body. He smiled, watching her body betray her as she tried to hide her desire.

Haley did not have to see it to know the smile on his face. She never forgot how he looked, acted, smelled; it was seared into her memory.

“It is only Druantia’s presence in the camp making you feel so…” She cleared her throat uncomfortably, “friendly.”

“I don’t think it’s only me feeling this,” Eoghan whispered, inching closer.

“No, it’s the whole camp. The last time Druantia was here, ten babies were born nine months later, and the time before that there was…”

Eoghan abruptly rolled her over and cut her off with a passionate kiss. This time, she relaxed and enjoyed his aggressiveness.

As the night passed, few people in the nemeton slept.

Chapter 26

The Daughter of Death

Breanna and her group rode through the night. Every horse exhausted, except Whisper, who now the lead group.

“Brian, we need to rest the animals,” Alina shouted as she patted Lightning’s sweaty neck as the sun rose over the hills.

“I know, but this territory isn’t safe. Germanic tribes have invaded here. They will not think twice about slitting our throats while we rest,” Brian called back.

“That’s a comforting image,” Leo shouted, to no one in particular, rubbing his throat with his rein-free hand.

“Exactly, now keep riding,” Brian said, urging his horse forward. The horse decided otherwise and slowed down, no matter how hard Brian kicked and whipped its haunches.

“I guess we’re resting then,” Cole commented as his own horse slowed to a walk.

Whisper whinnied in aggravation and pranced restlessly around the tired steeds.

“Easy, boy. I know you want to keep going. We will get there in time. Let’s rest for now,” Breanna said, steadying her horse.

We are running out of time, Your Majesty. By the week’s end, the ceremony will take place and Eoghan will be lost to us forever, Whisper said psychically.

“I know, but we don’t have a choice. The other horses don’t compare to your strength.” Bre hopped down and pulled out some high grass to feed him.

Speak for yourself, Queeny! Magic’s voice appeared in her head.

“Sorry, Magic.” Bre smirked as Lysandros walked Magic past her and he playfully waved his tail in her face.

“Breanna! Come here,” Alina called out in tone only a frightened mother could produce. Her eyes widened in panic as she extended a hand to clutch her daughter.

Before Breanna could react, a hand wrapped around her throat and cut off her air supply. Another arm wrapped around her waist, lifting her off the ground. The man who held her spoke with a thick accent in a language she had never heard. The terrified faces of her group did not invoke any confidence in her situation.

The man barked orders, but no one understood him. In his frustration, he squeezed Bre’s throat tighter. Bre tried to use her powers. She summoned them to her chest, but they slipped away like sand through her fingers from the lack of oxygen.

Clover and Aurora growled and paced back and forth, watching the mysterious, angry man. They dared not do anything while he had such a tight grasp on Bre.

Bre, you need to channel into his mind and allow us to understand him, Cole hurriedly said in Bre’s mind.

Bre faintly replied, I…Don’t…Think… I can.

You have to try. We need to know what he wants in order to release you, Cole urged, panic making his voice quiver. Search his mind for words and focus on them. The more your mind mulls over the words the more it will crave a translation and your powers will translate it for you. Once you understand him, the three of us will.

Bre’s body weakened as her captor continued yelling in his strange language, but Cole was right. They needed her. Eoghan needed her. She mustered all the strength she had and searched his mind for the words he was saying. Black spots clouded her vision and suddenly the world seemed to spin around her. Despite slowly dying of suffocation, the man’s words reverberated into her chest until finally, her fleeting strength yearned to understand the reason behind him strangling her. Her powers washed over her mind as the strange terms reformed into words she recognized. They were fragments, but comprehensible: brothers, murder, and money.

I don’t think I have the strength to send the translation to everyone, replied Bre, the tone of her voice barely a whisper.

Don’t worry about that. We will take care of you. I know you don’t know us well, but you need to trust us, pleaded Cole. His fierce protectiveness gave Breanna a little more strength not to succumb to the darkness her dwindling airflow produced.

Concentrating was difficult. Bre squinted her eyes to see as the light around her dimmed further. Blurry, black masses moved towards her family and friends. The clanging of metal on the ground signified to Bre that her group had relinquished their weapons.

I vant Broters Tree. they kelled my fater and broter. Bounty on zere heads, Bre’s powers translated.

Got it! Cole fiercely cheered; but it was too much for Bre. Her vision went black and her body fell limp, numb in her extremities.

That was all Bre could handle, but it was enough for the brothers to pick up the translation key.

“Ah, you must be Blythe,” Leo shouted in Blythe’s native tongue as he handed his sword over to a portly soldier, who then threw it into a pile of swords on the ground.

“Alard’s son?” Cole asked, also in the same language as Blythe, “Of the Germanic tribes?”

Startled by the men’s ability to speak in his native tongue and their realization of who he was, Blythe loosened his grip around Breanna’s throat. Bre only managed a faint, jagged gasp, but it was more than she received a second ago. The light around her seemed brighter, and the black spots were smaller in her vision.

“You kelled my broter, Boyden, and my fater, Alard.” Blythe shouted.

“That we did, but not easily. They attacked our lands in the north. It was a good death for great warriors.” Nikolaos tried to calm the situation since Blythe still held Bre hostage. “Just release the girl and we will go with you.”

Nikolaos was glad that only his siblings understood what he said. If Alina had heard, she would surely kill him.

Leo looked stunned at Nikolaos while Cole shook his head. “We hear there is a bounty on our heads.” Cole added trying to change the subject.

“Aye, zat is vhy two of you vill live,” Blythe responded as he shifted his stance.

The brothers looked cautiously at each other and answered in unison, “Two?”

“Aye. One vill fight me and die and zuh oter two vill serve for zuh bounty.” Blythe tossed Breanna to the ground where another soldier restrained her arms.

Blythe reached behind his back and unclipped a double-headed axe. “Zince, your fater iz not here, I vill fight and kell the eldest. Now pick your veapon.”

“We are just passing by. All we wish to do is reach Arras and from there we move on to Cymru. We don’t want any trouble here,” Brian added, unsure of the conversation between the brothers and the man who held Bre hostage.

Blythe spit on the ground at Brian’s feet. He did not understand Brian either.

Brian was stunned. He turned towards the brothers and noticed Cole’s slight movement of his pointer finger tapping the side of his head. Brian responded with a barely detectable head nod, realizing it was the psychic bond between Breanna and her brothers. He bit his tongue, daring not to speak again in case it worsened the situation.

One of Blythe’s men pushed Nikolaos forward towards the pile of weapons. Nikolaos picked up his own broad sword. Not a second later, Blythe lunged at Nikolaos. The fighting and clanging of metal echoed through the silent meadow. Blythe was the smaller of the two, standing 6’ tall while Nikolaos was 6’3”. Nikolaos should have had the upper hand, but Blythe’s muscle more than made up for the height advantage.

Breanna, now restrained by her arms instead of her throat, coughed and gasped as she watched Nik fight the battle that got her released. Alina and the group looked on in horror as they watched the men battle. Each warrior gave the other cuts on their limbs, but neither struck a fatal wound.

Breanna barely knew Nikolaos, but it did not matter to her; he was family, and she would die for family. Now that she could breathe again, anger boiled in her chest. Before she could try to summon her powers, the ground shook and the wind went still.

The men stopped fighting, scared of the earthquake, and the soldier restraining Bre became startled and loosened his grip. Bre slammed her elbow into the side of her captor and ran in between Leo and Cole, who watched her cautiously.

“It’s not me, I swear,” Bre answered their questioning looks.

“No, it’s Alina,” Lysandros replied fearfully, staring at the Etruscan Queen.

“Mother?” All four of Alina’s children asked, stunned at the power she exuberated.

A loud crack sounded and the earth split in front of Alina, creating a division between the Germanic soldiers and her group, but more importantly, her children.

Blythe ranted in his Germanic language. No one except Bre and the brothers understood him until a wave of yellow light coursed out from her head and crashed into everyone else. She had passed on the language key to everyone else.

Blythe jumped over the crack in the ground to continue his fight with Nik. As he brought his axe above his head, he called out to Alina, “I vill not let cheap tricks of a minor goddess keep me from my revenge.”

“Uh-oh,” Lysandros’ jaw dropped as he stared at Alina. Rage filled her eyes as they changed from hazel to black.

Alina cracked her neck and narrowed her eyes as she bellowed, “Cheap tricks of a minor goddess? I’ll show you what cheap tricks I am capable of!”

Just as Blythe lunged at Nikolaos, another hole appeared with white smoke gushing through the opening, hurdling Blythe backwards. The rattle of armor filled the air, accompanied by moans of pain and war cries. When Blythe stood up, he found himself surrounded by Celtic ghost soldiers. The ground rumbled once more and a howl echoed through the earth. A large white dog with red ears bounded upward from a newly formed crack.

“Cnaimh! Tàmadh!” a voice erupted from Alina’s mouth, but it was not her usual sweet tone. It was low and raspy, almost evil.

The Celtic hellhound lunged at the Germanic tribe, tearing limbs from bodies while ghost soldiers sliced them apart. The ghost army and Cnaimh destroyed Blythe’s soldiers. The bloody takeover ended with a satisfied howl by Cnaimh. He trotted proudly back to Alina with a bloodstained muzzle. In the middle of the soft, wheat grass meadow was a blood soaked circle of dead German warriors. Kneeling in the center, stunned at his loss, was their leader, Blythe.

“My…my men? Who are you?” Blythe asked, fear shaking his voice.

Alina whistled and the ghost soldiers vanished into white smoke. She clenched her fists and the gaps in the ground closed.

Alina moved closer to the kneeling soldier. “I am the Daughter of Death, the Wielder of the Dead, and Commander of the earth’s depths. Arawn is my father.” In the background, Cnaimh howled in respect for his master. “I let you live so you will spread the word of my coming. I have spared the lives of many in my absence, but now I have returned to my homeland. I want you to tell of the horrors that I have summoned here. Your story will be their warning. Tell them to stay away from my family. If I have summoned the soldiers of the underworld once, I will do it again. I will spread my carnage upon those who dare cross me.”

Alina placed her index finger in the middle of Blythe’s forehead. The color drained from his face, turning from pink to ash. He gasped for air and clutched at his chest.

Alina could feel his heart slow as his lungs struggled to breathe. A sickly sight to watch. Even the brothers, veterans of death and destruction, winced as their mother slowly drained Blythe’s life.

“Your Majesty, stop. He has been warned and defeated,” Brian called out, but Alina was too fixated on Blythe to hear him.

Alina enjoyed the power she had over his life. She enjoyed being in control, the feeling of torturing those who would cause her family pain. She stared down at the dying soldier with a cruel smile as she reveled in his fear. She had never before used her powers for such a cruel deed: never to control death. It shocked her how much she loved it.

Breanna was startled by the amount of fear she had towards her mother. She feared her as if Alina had attacked her. Her powers overwhelmed every sense in her body. Bre experienced Blythe’s terror as he slowly died from Alina’s cruelty. It nauseated her as she watched and felt every second of his death. Even though her heart pumped steadily, it felt as if it would soon stop.

Bre took a deep breath to find the courage to approach her mother. Lysandros reached out and grabbed her arm, but Bre placed her hand over his as if to say ‘It’s ok, I can do this.’

“Mother? You’re killing him. He cannot warn anyone if he is dead,” Bre said softly and touched her mother’s arm. Bre remembered her mother’s touch as warm and comforting, but as she stood torturing Blythe, her skin was freezing. It stung Bre’s skin.

“I can bring him back, if I so choose.” Alina’s eyes widened as she realized she had the power to resurrect him and kill him all over again.

“Please, Mother, this isn’t you. This isn’t how a queen acts,” Breanna pleaded, trying to appeal to her rational thinking.

The group watched in terror, unsure if Alina would respond to Bre or take her anger out on her in her blind state.

“This is how the Queen of the Damned acts, child,” Alina said coarsely, choking the life out of Blythe. Breanna saw his eyes start to glaze over.

Leora, I need your help, Breanna said psychically to her tiger.

Leora purred next to Alina and sent a warm, calming sensation to her.

Alina’s knees buckled as she was overwhelmed with loving emotions. She gasped as she looked down at the almost dead soldier and recoiled her finger from his forehead. She fell backwards in fear of her own powers.

Lysandros ran to help her up, and Brian reluctantly healed Blythe.

Alina hid herself in Lysandros’ arms and buried her face in his shoulder. She was too ashamed; she could not bear to face anyone. She sobbed at the thought of frightening her children and friends.

Lysandros cradled her in his arms and gently rocked back and forth, attempting to soothe himself as much as Alina. He had always known Alina as a formidable foe to their enemies but never a merciless bearer of horrid torture. Oh, but how wrong he was about her gentle exterior.

Breanna grabbed Blythe’s sword and tossed it in front of him, with Nikolaos behind her for back up. “Go, before I finish you myself. Spread Alina’s warning, because neither she nor I will give another one.”

Blythe stared at Bre from his knees, unsure of what to do, too afraid to turn his back on any of them.

Go!” growled Breanna. Clover’s snarl echoed hers.

Blythe gathered whatever strength he had left to stand and ran towards his horse hiding in the trees.

Breanna’s heart fluttered as she felt his fear while watching him ride away. She could also feel her mother’s shame and pain. It was awkward containing the emotions of the people around her. Her brothers knew how she felt; the psychic connection between the four siblings was strong now, and none of them knew how to stop its growth. They heard every thought and felt every emotion between them.

Panicking, Bre ran her hand through her hair and pulled at the strands to silence the noise in her head. She wanted to stop all of the pain that did not belong to her.

“Try to imagine a wall around each person that blocks all noise and all emotion from escaping their bodies,” Nikolaos whispered as he detangled one of her hands and squeezed it.

Nikolaos’ firm grasp on her hand calmed her. His calm, strong emotions overcame her panicked state. It also helped that Blythe was too far gone to sense his fear.

“I can make a potion to help with that, but the only problem is if she needed to know what we were feeling, we would be blocked from her,” Cole replied.

“What is going on?” Brian looked cautiously at the four siblings huddled together.

“She’s empathic now. Of all the luck we have, she’s an Empath. We have zero privacy with her.” Leo folded his arms in irritation.

Cole rolled his eyes at his younger brother and sighed, “Leo, you are in your forties and I swear sometimes you act like you’re a teenager.”

“Our emotions may be blocked, but she can still read our minds,” Nikolaos added.

“I have Leora to help with the emotional problem if the time calls for it. Just whatever you can do to help, do it. If you could take The Power, that is all the better. I don’t want it,” Breanna added looking regretfully at her mother. Alina’s pain broke Breanna’s heart. “I don’t want this life,” she whispered.

“You have The Power because you were meant to have it, Breanna. It will help you in some way. Do not forsake your gifts because you do not know how to control them yet,” Brian said, holding her face between his warm hands. He cleared his throat and turned around, “We must get going. Try to focus on anything other than your emotions.” Brian whistled, and the horses trotted back over to them.

“Well won’t that be fun? Teenage girl thoughts pouring into our minds because of some stupid psychic connection, I can’t wait!” Leo’s said.

Leo’s sarcastic remark struck a nerve with Cailean. He bent down from his horse and cuffed the back of Leo’s head, making Leo’s teeth clang together. “Shut your mouth when addressing the Princess.” Without another look, Cailean rode off next to his brother.

Lysandros helped Alina climb onto Lightning and then quickly mounted Magic to ride next to her. The brothers followed their mother, Leo rubbing the back of his head, irritated.

Whisper impatiently nudged Breanna. Clover, Leora, and Aurora waited for Bre to follow the others, but Breanna felt peculiar about riding with the group, as if it were wrong.

She realized then that she sensed Eoghan; she knew he desperately needed help…her help. However, she also sensed that he felt at home where he was. That frightened her the most.

“What if he doesn’t want to come back?” Bre’s voice shook as she asked her animals the questions plaguing her mind. “What if he no longer cares? I can’t lose him.”

Whisper, do you know the way to the Nemeton at Arras? Bre asked her horse.

Yes, Whisper replied, I can get us there faster than the rest of the group. I must warn you, though, that it will be safer with the o’Conaill brothers. The Druids of the nemeton follow the ways of the old religion. You were raised Etruscan, not Celtic. You will be in danger if you break their rules.

I do not care about rules. I will handle whatever comes our way. I just need to get to Eoghan. I need get him back before he no longer wants to come back, Breanna said and mounted Whisper, determined to find Eoghan on her own.

I can get us there within the day, Whisper responded.

Whisper took off at an unimaginable rate. Within seconds, they passed their group and were miles away from them. Breanna brothers yelled psychically at her: What are you doing? Don’t be foolish. You will get yourself killed! Lastly, Leo’s concern, which made Bre smile: I’m still getting those damn girl thoughts!

With her group miles behind her, for the first time in her life, Bre felt alone. It terrified her, until she heard Clover’s growl and saw the giant wolf, Leora, and Aurora keeping pace with her. She realized she was not alone after all.

You will always be alone, Princess, said the same feminine voice in Bre’s mind that spoke to her while possessed by the eagle. This power you wield is too great for others to be near. Your mother will die and The Power within her will be lost to you. Your brothers will perish from this time and your teachers will burn. And that man you desperately ride towards will not live to see another year. You are alone, dearest Breanna, alone with the curse of survival.

Chapter 27

Sacred Blood

Eoghan and Haley woke to loud snarls, followed by explosions. They rushed outside with their weapons drawn, but the scene paralyzed them. Their sacred, peaceful nemeton had transformed into a gory vision of devastation and death.

Balls of fire flew over their heads and crashed into tents made of leaves and wood. The whole nemeton blazed. Druids desperately tried to smother the flames before they spread through the forest.

A giant grey and white wolf jumped into the middle of the clearing, followed by a man shooting balls of electricity into attacking soldiers. Eoghan recognized him instantly. It was Eversor, accompanied by his pet-weapon, Lupa.

Lupa jumped from soldier to soldier, effortlessly tearing limbs from their bodies. Lupa, a trained, merciless killer, was too quick for them to use their swords or magic.

When a group of warriors without magic tried to attack Eversor, a giant gold eagle swooped down and slit their throats with its razor talons.

A group of archers positioned themselves in a tree house, raining arrows dipped in hemlock down on Eversor. He tried to block them with a shield charm, but one slipped through and lodged itself in his shoulder. Eversor roared in pain and pitched a ball of black liquid at the tree.

The black liquid sprayed itself to cover the tree and men. Agonizing screams filled the air as the bubbling liquid spread, disintegrating the soldiers’ flesh. In a matter of seconds, everything the liquid touched was gone: the tree, the structure, the weapons, and the men. The ground absorbed most of the black substance, leaving nothing but scorched grass and soggy ground of black liquid mixed the blood of the fallen.

Haley tried to lunge into the fight but Eoghan grabbed her arm. “You can’t, Hale. Did you see what he did to that treehouse? Not to mention what Lupa is doing to the ground soldiers. I can’t watch you die like that.”

Haley ignored Eoghan as her mind surged into attack mode. “Where are Nemetona and Druantia? They should be here protecting the grove! And where are my brothers?”

“Damn it, Woman, listen to me! We need a strategy. Obviously random attacks are not working. We must regroup!” Eoghan screamed at Haley.

“Caedmon!” Haley called out, finally locating one of her brothers.

Caedmon dodged a man’s leg that Lupa had torn off and whipped over the crowd. He finally made it to Haley and Eoghan, luckily without a scratch.

Haley rubbed his back as he hunched over, trying to catch his breath. “Where are Cadman and Druantia?” Haley asked frantically.

“Druantia woke in a panic and told us to get out of here if we wanted to live. Then she snapped her fingers and disappeared. Soon after she left we heard explosions and screams. Cadman left to join the archers,” Caedmon replied.

“Oh the gods.” Eoghan’s stomach did flips as he recalled the awful scene they witnessed and briefly looked at the scorched grass.

They had unknowingly watched Haley’s brother, Cadman, die a gruesome, agonizing death. One scream among the many that echoed through the nemeton was Cadman, and there was nothing any of them could have done to stop it.

Tears swam through Haley’s rage filled eyes. She stared at Eversor and a thousand attack scenarios ran through her mind. Wind whistled as Haley glided her long yew staff through the air. Soon, the air was charged and everyone’s hair stood on end. Trees all throughout the grove creaked as they swayed and the ivy vines unwound themselves from the trunks.

“Haley, what are you doing?” Eoghan asked as the wind picked up speed, blowing over tents.

“Don’t get in her way, MacBeatha,” Caedmon warned as he grabbed Eoghan’s shoulder and pulled him away from her.

Suddenly, the wind and the creaking of the trees stopped. Everyone in the nemeton stopped moving, including Lupa and Eversor. The gold eagle settled itself on a branch of the Great White Oak. Dead silence filled the grove until, without warning, the Great White Oak snapped a branch into the eagle.

The bird fell to the ground with a thud where the black liquid had been absorbed. The bird let out a pitiful gurgling noise before it was disintegrated by the soggy ground infused with Eversor’s deadly, black liquid.

Haley whispered as if speaking to a lover, “Scriosann ár naimhde.” The forest burst into action with vines and trees lunging at Lupa and Eversor.

Eversor tried to slash at the tree limbs but the vines ensnared him. Lupa jumped, bit, and rolled away as the vines surged through the forest, hoping to strangle her.

The Great White Oak swung a branch, knocking Eversor to the ground. Eversor tried to shoot a ball of black liquid at the giant tree but an arrow with hemlock poison shot through his hand. The ball of liquid fell out of his grasp and almost landed on his head. He rolled out of the way as much as the vines would allow. However, as the black liquid spread towards his body, it burned away the vines that restrained him.

The vines grabbed hold of Lupa and pinned her against a tree. Haley let go of her staff, but instead of falling to the ground, it stood upright at Haley’s side and followed her. She raised a hand in Lupa’s direction and slowly formed a fist. As she closed her hand, the vines around the wolf tightened, causing Lupa to whine and whimper.

“Haley, no! You cannot hurt the wolf. She is a victim here, an innocent demigod. It is not her fault. Elpis and Eversor have enchanted her. I saw it myself. This happened to her because she saved my life. Please, let her go,” Eoghan pleaded with Haley, but she was too focused on the enemies who destroyed her family and nemeton.

“Victim?” Haley said, eerily soft. “You call this murderer a victim?” She clenched her fist tighter and Lupa howled in pain.

“Haley, stop!” Eoghan grabbed her shoulder, but Haley whipped around and twisted his arm. Eoghan fell to his knees, gritting his teeth from the awkward angle at which she held his wrist.

“Look around you, MacBeatha. Look at the carnage your beloved wolf has done. Look at the dead bodies strewn about my grove, the people I swore to protect. Look at how many limbs have been detached, how many chunks of skin and muscle are missing, how many necks snapped in her lethal muzzle. There is nothing left of my nemeton. The people are gone; the Nemeton of Arras is no more, and you want me to spare the cause of its destruction?”

Eoghan pleaded with Haley through gritted teeth, in pain as Haley applied more pressure to his wrist, tempted to snap it. “Please, it is my fault she is like this. Let me fix it.”

Haley let go of Eoghan and he clutched his wrist to his chest.

“Hale, don’t do this. Bre needs Lupa,” Eoghan begged.

Hearing Bre’s name sent a fire through her soul. “Arrgh!” Haley screamed, tears in her eyes. “I hate her,” Haley said, her lower lip trembling as she tried not to cry. “I hate her for always having you.”

Haley wiped away a tear that fell loose from her eye and clenched her fist, deciding to kill Lupa and end the discussion. Before the vines crushed Lupa, Eversor grabbed her around the neck. He held her straight up the air, where she saw the trees and vines she had sent after him burning to the ground.

“Yes, yes. You will do well indeed, Druidess,” Eversor said and rubbed Haley’s belly.

Eoghan and Caedmon pointed their swords at Eversor. “Let her go.” Eoghan growled.

Breanna was a few minutes away from Arras, thanks to Whisper. She heard the agonizing shrieks in her head. Her stomach felt like it was being ripped apart from the inside.

“Hurry, Whisper,” Breanna urged as she almost fell off her horse. “Leora, I need you. I cannot help whoever is in there if I feel like this.”

Leora did as she was asked and the pain vanished.

Suddenly, Whisper came to a dead stop outside of the nemeton. The shrieks echoed through the woods and in Bre’s mind. Clover sniffed the air and found a scent she recognized.

Eoghan was here. He’s not hurt, but he and Druantia were definitely here, Clover told Bre psychically as she sniffed the ground.

Aurora walked around the entrance of the nemeton.

There is blood in there: so much blood, Aurora said.

Whisper became jittery and anxiously pranced around, Something is wrong. Two Celtic guards should have met us and brought us to the residing Druidess. Something happened to the Druids here.

The screams intensified and gave Bre a twinge of discomfort in her stomach. Leora quickly erased the sensation. The sound of torture coming from a peaceful place of worship made her nauseous without her empathic powers. Frightened as she was, the need to find Eoghan and to help the tortured souls overcame her fear and turned into determination.

What Bre saw in the Nemeton made her vomit. Bodies of Celtic warriors layered the ground of the beautiful grove. Sticky, crimson blood coated the earth and trees. Bodies hung from tree canopies, impaled by the limbs. The screams from the women made the scene all the more horrific.

“Whatever did this is not human,” Bre said in disbelief. “Can you smell Eoghan?” Bre asked.

No. He could be anywhere, Clover broke the bad news.

Bre stepped lightly and respectfully over the dead as she walked through the nemeton. She covered her face with her sleeve, trying not to gag on the thick, metallic stench of blood and decaying flesh. Every few steps she called out Eoghan’s name, praying she would not find him among the dead. The longer she walked without hearing Eoghan, the more her eyes watered and her heart sank into her stomach.

“Eoghan!” Bre cried. “Eoghan, please answer me!”

“Breanna! Bre, over here!” Eoghan screamed, half desperate and half elated at seeing her again.

Eoghan’s voice filled her ears like music. All noise around them silenced in her head…He was alive.

Bre spotted him facing the forest.

“Eoghan! What happened? Are you ok?” Bre ran to him and placed her hands on either side of his face, caressing his skin with her thumb. She checked him over to make sure he was uninjured. She rambled on, throwing apologies in between questions and hugs.

“Bre, it’s ok. I’m unharmed, but…” Eoghan tried to cut her off but she kept apologizing.

After a moment, Bre stopped talking, realizing something was wrong. He did not hold her like he usually did when greeting her. “Why aren’t you moving?”

“Finally, she notices!” Caedmon snapped angrily.

“It’s Eversor. He did this. Hurry and break the spell he cast on us so we can help Haley,” Eoghan demanded.

“Who is Haley?” Bre answered, slightly jealous.

Suddenly, it was too silent in the nemeton. The screaming had stopped. Clover lifted her nose, sniffing the air.

“Oh, gods no. Haley!” Caedmon called out.

Chapter 28

Rebirth of the Queen

“Hurry, Bre. Get us free,” Eoghan demanded.

“I don’t know how!” Bre said frantically.

Tap into The Power you experienced with the Birds of Elpis. Feel your power’s energy course outward from your heart. Let its warmth fill you. Then say the first thing that comes to your mind, Cole’s voice came to her rescue.

Apparently, our psychic connection can travel far distances, Bre said, shocked by Cole’s sudden advice.

Bre followed Cole’s instructions. Her power spread from her chest to her limbs, then to her head. It was peaceful, unlike before with the intense pressure that broke her body. It felt perfect: perfectly hers. Unexpectedly, she snapped her fingers and shouted, “Saoirse.

Free from their magical binds, Eoghan and Caedmon sprinted into the woods.

As Bre was about to follow, a nasty snarl caused her to jump and whip around.

“Lupa!” shouted Bre, surprised by the she-wolf. She ran towards her and without thinking twice, withdrew her dagger and cut away the vines.

Once freed, Lupa lunged at Bre, pinning her to the ground. With Lupa’s Teeth inches from Bre’s face, Clover slammed into her, knocking her off Bre. Whisper reared and tried to knock Lupa out with his hoof before she could get up.

Instead, Bre called them off with a whistle and faced Lupa as she snarled. Bre walked towards the wolf with her hands out until finally close enough to touch her. Lupa cornered herself in between two trees while trying to escape Bre.

Every time Bre moved to touch her, Lupa snapped at her hands. “Easy. I’m here to help you. I know how to help now,” Bre said in a soothing voice.

Bre stepped closer and Lupa lunged again, but Bre froze the wolf midair. She immediately pet the top of her head soothingly. Bre pet the large wolf and mumbled “síochána” under her breath. The wolf’s eyes rolled into the back of her head and she started convulsing.

“It’s alright, Lupa. I’m here. You’ll be ok now,” Bre continued to sooth her.

After a few more minutes, Lupa’s eyes returned to a bright blue instead of liquid gold.

“Please let me down,” requested Lupa.

Bre unfroze Lupa. Once on the ground, Lupa showed her affection and appreciation by licking Bre’s face and rubbing against her hands.

In all of her excitement to save Lupa, the return of the screams went unnoticed, until the pain in her stomach reappeared and forced her attention back to the woods. Bre sprinted towards the dense woods but slid to a stop when two bodies flew out from the trees. Eoghan and Caedmon slammed face first into the ground.

“Eoghan!” Bre ran and helped Eoghan to his feet. Her hand tightly lingered on his until he squeezed back, signaling he was all right.

“It’s Haley, he’s torturing Haley in there. We can’t get close enough to stop him,” Eoghan explained, slipping his hand away from Bre’s comforting grasp.

“He has a shield charm around a cave where he’s holding my sister,” Caedmon added.

“You keep mentioning this girl. Who is she?” Bre asked, more concerned than jealous now.

“It will be easier to show you. Do you remember what Brian did? How he shared his memories with you?” Eoghan asked frantically.

“Yes, but I’m not sure how to do it,” Bre felt awful that she might let Eoghan down.

“You don’t have to. I can,” Eoghan said, placing his hand on either side of her head and closing his eyes.

Bre closed her eyes as electricity shot through her body at Eoghan’s touch. All of Eoghan’s memories from the past few hours flooded into her mind: Eversor’s cabin in the woods where he hid Haley, the fight in the nemeton, and how Haley single handedly trapped Eversor and Lupa using her powers. That was all she needed to know, but Eoghan could not stop. He struggled against the pull of his powers that surged into Bre’s mind, trying to withdraw his fingers; but they refused to release. The memories continued onto Eoghan’s arrival to the nemeton and unfortunately, onto the intimate night he shared with Haley.

Bre exhaled a jagged breath of disbelief and pain at the image of Eoghan with another woman.

Her powers raced to her head, pushing Eoghan’s hands away and snapping her out of his memories. When they opened their eyes, they realized they had been lip-locked the entire time. She immediately retreated and prayed her tears went unnoticed. Eoghan stared in shock and guilt.

“Bre, I’m so sorry. I never meant for you to find out like that.” Eoghan extended a hand to soothe her but Bre flinched, recoiling from his touch. Clover growled behind Bre. Eoghan immediately retracted. “Bre…” he said her name breathlessly.

“No worries,” Bre faked a smile. “It’s your life. Besides, Druantia was here, a fertility goddess. The whole camp succumbs to her powers, right?” Bre tried to convince herself that it was nothing but Druantia’s spell over the nemeton. She then remembered what his first concern was when she found him…Haley.

Caedmon cleared his throat. “You can make up your mind whether you want my sister or this Etrusci brat after we save Haley from certain death.”

“Death? I was not going to kill this precious flower,” Eversor said, dragging Haley by the arm next to him. She struggled to keep pace with him, stumbling over her feet as she cradled her enormously pregnant stomach with her free hand.

Speechless, Caedmon and Eoghan watched Eversor force Haley to sit the ground.

“What have you done to my sister?” Caedmon shouted. He lunged at Eversor with his sword.

“No!” Haley, Eoghan, and Bre shouted in unison, but nothing could deter Caedmon from attacking.

Eversor laughed at his feeble assault and snapped his fingers. The snap was loud in the clearing, but it was not the snap of Eversor’s fingers that rang out. Caedmon’s head jerked to the side, his neck sickeningly misshapen. His limp body landed inches from Haley’s feet.

Bre covered her mouth to muffle her scream. Eoghan fought his rage to prevent himself from attacking. The need to protect Bre and Haley held him back. If he died, they were vulnerable.

Haley shrieked and sobbed. All she wanted to do was crawl to her brother, but Eversor stood in front of her, barring her from reaching him. All she could do was hold her extremely large belly as she cried.

Eversor looked pleased, even amused, as he said, “Anybody else wish to try?”

Lupa growled as she stood next to Bre and snarled, “You will pay for everything you did on these sacred lands.”

“Hey! Look who woke up!” Eversor seemed excited to see Lupa out of her possession. “I love when I have an audience.” He menacingly grinned at Haley.

“Why did you leave the safety of your protection spell?” Bre asked, attempting to distract Eversor from doing any more harm to Haley. She hoped it was not Eversor’s baby.

“Because, my sweet Breanna, I felt your beautiful essence and I just missed you so much,” Eversor said as he placed a hand over his heart and faked a look of admiration. His expression then turned contemplative. “Although, we are missing somebody. Ah! I know!”

Eversor snapped his fingers and a puff of green smoke appeared next to Breanna. Standing, waving away the smoke was Alina.

“Mother?” Breanna said stunned. She jumped in front of Alina to shield her from Eversor. “No, you can’t have her!”

“Oh, darling, I can have anything I please.” Eversor flashed a wicked smile. “Like, for instance, I want you all to bow.” Eversor held two fingers in the air then pointed downward. Everyone, including the animals, fell against their will and bowed to Eversor.

“See how easy that is for me?” Eversor laughed.

Eversor bent down and dragged Haley in front of the bowing group as if presenting her on a platter. She tried to shield her stomach, but he waved his finger in a ‘tisk-tisk’ motion. He then held two fingers in the air and separated them quickly. Haley’s arms fell to her sides and felt as if they were glued to the ground.

Eversor hovered his hands over Haley’s stomach and mumbled under his breath. Haley belted out the same nauseating scream heard from the woods.

Once again, Bre’s stomach felt as if it were being ripped apart.

As Eversor continued to mumble, Haley’s stomach grew bigger and bigger. With each scream, tear, and plea from Haley, Eversor smiled excitedly.

“Stop hurting her, she is a High Priestess. You are being sacrilegious to your own religion,” Alina pleaded.

Eversor removed his hands from over Haley’s belly. Her stomach grew to twice the size it was when they emerged from the woods. Instead of looking eight months pregnant, she looked as if she were sixteen.

“Why are you growing a child, Eversor? What could you possibly get from a baby?” Alina asked, trying to distract him.

“Not what, Your Majesty. Who…” Eversor answered, staring at Alina with a ravenous look on his face.

Eversor moved so quickly that neither Alina nor Eoghan could see him, but Bre saw him perfectly clear. He stood up and raced towards Alina, grabbing her by the arm and dragging her to Haley.

When he returned to normal speed, he had a firm grip on Alina’s arm and a dagger in his hand. He slit her palm open and rubbed the open cut over Haley’s stomach, smearing Alina’s blood. When he was done, he tossed Alina aside like a ragdoll. She fell back on the grass next Eoghan, who was still kneeling and unable to move.

“Thank you kindly,” Eversor said sadistically.

The blood smeared on Haley’s stomach absorbed into her belly, and her screams filled the nemeton again. Whatever Eversor incubated through Haley was about to emerge.

In his delight at watching Haley, Eversor forgot about the spell holding everyone to the ground. They stood up, recognizing their chance to escape.

“Go,” Alina, whispered to Eoghan and Bre.

They sprinted towards the entrance of the nemeton until something yanked Alina backwards.

“You are mine, Your Majesty,” Eversor’s eyes widened with frenzy as he grabbed Alina by her hair. He conjured chains around her wrists and flung her next to Haley, who now had an infant sized head pushing through the skin of her stomach.

Alina gasped. She touched the bulge in Haley’s stomach and whispered to herself, “The prophecy. ‘Many will die and one will be reborn. The Queen will rise again and half will be stolen.’” Alina turned to Bre, who was being restrained by Eoghan. “I am so sorry, Breanna.”

A loud crack broke Alina’s apologetic gaze. Haley’s stomach, too heavy for her body, slumped to the left side towards Alina. The top of her stomach almost touched the forest floor, while her upper body remained straight and unmoved. The twisted position of her body made it obvious her spine had broken under the weight of her pregnancy. Her legs went limp as she grabbed Alina’s hand, screaming from the burning pressure inside her belly. Water gushed from between her legs and a golden light erupted from her stomach.

The group heard gurgling and another loud crack as the light streamed out from Haley’s abdomen. Screams of a baby replaced her agonizing screeches. Eversor reached into the light and emerged with a newborn girl. He gaped at the child with such love and devotion, sickeningly gazing at the child as if she were a lover.

“Hello, Darling,” Eversor said, swaddling the baby in his black cloak and rocking it in his arms.

Eoghan loosened his grip around Bre in shock of the baby and Breanna dashed to Alina.

Eversor did not want to physically hurt Bre; he still had plans for her. Instead, he chose to hurt her emotionally. He sent an energy ball large enough to electrocute her animals and Eoghan while she rushed to her mother’s side.

However, Breanna’s powers instinctively took over and she shouted, “Integere.” A purple light shielded the animals and Eoghan from Eversor’s attack.

Bre unsheathed her sword and slashed through the chains around Alina. Breanna knew that she needed help and without thinking, her power pulsated from her chest. Shortly after, swarms of birds dove down at Eversor. The trees once again came alive and swung their limbs at the baby.

Bre and Alina tried to pick Haley up while nature distracted Eversor with its attack, but her arms were slack and her skin cold. Bre slowly turned to Eoghan to find him staring at Haley lying dead at their feet. Blood trickled down from Haley’s eyes and mouth. The gurgling noise had been her choking on her own blood.

“Eoghan, I’m so sorry, but we have to go.” Breanna grabbed his hand and dashed towards the exit, dragging him behind her.

Breanna whistled and Whisper raced to her side. Before they climbed on his back, Breanna looked over her shoulder to check for her mother and froze. Alina stood still a few feet away from Bre with her back slightly arched, a small puddle of red liquid forming on her chest.

“I told you, you would suffer more than you ever thought possible. You should have died in the palace before I realized who you were,” Eversor whispered into Alina’s ear as he held the enchanted dagger in her back.

Eversor had managed to destroy the birds and the trees attacking him. Smoldering trees and dead birds littered the field behind him. With a baby in one hand and the dagger in the other, he twisted the blade deeper into Alina’s back. Once satisfied with the wound, he kicked Alina in the middle of her back to slide the dagger out. The dagger emerged with a small red ribbon wrapped around the bloody blade.

Alina fell forward, helpless after her attack. Eoghan caught the injured queen and dragged her over to Clover, who stood over the queen protectively. Eoghan turned to snap Bre back to her senses, shaking her, but shock froze her body. All Bre could manage to do was watch Eversor dangle the dagger with the ribbon over the baby. To Bre’s horror, Eversor plunged the dagger into the baby’s chest.

“Bre!” Alina shouted and held out a hand to summon Bre to her side.

Bre tore her eyes away from Eversor and ran to her mother and Clover. She whistled once more for the rest of her animals, including Lupa. Alina slammed her fist into the ground and the earth split in two.

“Follow me,” Alina whispered, hyperventilating as she rolled into the pit. All the animals followed.

“Where in Tartarus does that lead?” Breanna asked in alarm.

“That is exactly where it leads.” Eoghan grabbed Breanna’s hand and jumped after Alina.

Breanna strained her neck upward to make sure Eversor did not follow. She witnessed Eversor’s baby glowing red as the mouth of the pit closed above them, cloaking them in silent darkness. A cool wind carrying the scent of moldy earth and fresh fruit filled their noses.

A booming laugh and a coarse voice broke the silence in the pit. “Welcome to Annwyn.”

Chapter 29

Annwyn

Breanna and Eoghan fell fast through the darkness. Eoghan clung to Bre’s hand, almost crushing it under his desperate grasp.

A dim light filled the pit around them. The ground rapidly approached and their bodies tensed to embrace for the impact when suddenly, they stopped midair and hovered inches above the ground. As abruptly as they stopped, whatever halted their decent released them and they fell face first onto soft grass.

Bre coughed, sputtering dirt out of her mouth.

Eoghan laughed at her disheveled appearance with grass sticking out of her hair. “It could have been worse, Bre. We could have not stopped at all.”

“Yes,” Breanna replied, pulling the green blades from her hair, “but I would have preferred not landing on my face.”

Still holding hands, their knuckles white from their unyielding clutch, they took in the breathtaking surroundings. They landed in a beautiful garden filled with every kind of flower imaginable, whose fragrances mixed flawlessly and intoxicated the air. The scent of the flowers pushed every bad memory and worried thought from their minds. Blissful existence was all that remained in their world.

Birds sung in harmony, adding to the calming effect of the garden. Clear blue skies stretched across the horizon. The sweet, scented air had the perfect temperature: not cold enough to require winter cloaks, but not hot enough to force them to strip their clothes. The Trees were filled with bright green leaves and ripe fruit. It was a seductive environment to remove all troubles. It felt like home.

Overwhelmingly hungry, Eoghan’s stomach growled at the sight of the fruit. Still holding hands, Eoghan dragged Bre over to a tree and pulled down two peaches for them. The sweetest juice filled their mouths as they gorged on the fruit.

“Well that did not take long,” a familiar female voice made Eoghan spin around. The half-eaten peach fell from his mouth and he wiggled his hand away from Bre.

Standing before them, healed and beautiful was Haley. There was No sign of her brutal murder by giving birth to a demon baby.

“How?” Eoghan stuttered, unable to spit out another word.

Bre looked hurt as she watched Eoghan frantically search for words. Her hand felt weak and cold, almost naked, without his touch. She decided to help Eoghan and address Haley properly. Her words came out harsher than she intended, “How are you alive?”

“I am not, Your Majesty. You are in the lands of Arawn, his Kingdom of Annwyn. You know, The Celtic god of the Dead, also known as your grandfather,” Haley addressed Bre with the same cold tone Bre accidently used.

“And how do you know this?” Bre took an aggressive step forward, annoyed Haley knew about her life.

“Everyone has known about this,” Haley rolled her eyes. “And she is the one to bring this world peace?” Haley scoffed to Eoghan.

“Are you truly dead?” Eoghan asked, still in shock, trying to absorb the news.

“Yes,” Haley laughed, “Dead and happy. I am finally at peace.” Haley smiled at Eoghan comfortingly.

“But you are all alone here. I can’t leave you here by yourself.” Eoghan’s eyes watered.

Eoghan’s emotions overwhelmed Bre and Leora was not near to help her control her empathic power. It was getting increasingly difficult to tell whose emotions belonged to whom.

“I won’t be alone for long,” Haley said calmly. “My brothers are also here.”

Bre shook her head trying to rid herself of Eoghan’s grief. She did not want to mourn for Haley. There was nothing more that could be done; Haley was dead and in the underworld. Bre needed to find the rest of her party and leave.

“Alina!” Bre shouted, finally remembering her injured mother. “Eoghan, I might be able to heal her with my new powers. We have to find her!”

The image of Eversor stabbing Alina replayed in her mind. Breanna’s breathing became erratic, until Eoghan’s warm but firm grasp held her both her arms. “Where do we start, Bre? We do not even know where we are exactly. We may have fallen through the same hole, but clearly, we did not land in the same place. First, we have to find someone who can guide us.”

Haley smiled again. “That is why Arawn sent me. He caught your mother when she fell and summoned the rest of your group to his palace. He was so distracted in gathering your mother that he missed taking you.”

Eoghan spoke calmly, but firmly, “Where is the palace?”

Haley held open her palm and her yew staff appeared in her hand. She stomped the staff on the ground and the scene changed from the field filled with flowers and trees to a throne room made of marble, engraved with red Celtic knots. In the center of the room, a giant throne made of shiny onyx stood against the marble wall. A giant white dog with red ears lay in the throne sleeping: the same dog Alina conjured to kill the Germanic tribe.

“You’ll find your mother and the rest of your group in the next room, Your Highness. Hurry now,” Haley warned.

With a single nod conveying her thanks, Breanna took off, desperately sprinting around the corner to get to her mother.

Eoghan lingered behind, staring at Haley. This was the last time he would ever see her, and it felt like a knife twisting in his gut.

“I am so sorry, Hale.” Eoghan took her hand but avoided her eyes.

“There is nothing to be sorry about. It was my destiny, just as this is yours. I played an important role in the upcoming battle and for that, I am sorry. I am Sorry that I could not do more to help your clan in the war.” Haley cocked her head, listening to an inaudible voice. “I have to go now, Eoghan. You must go to Bre. She will need you now, more than ever.”

Haley kissed his cheek and stepped backwards. She smiled and winked at Eoghan as she slammed her staff on the floor. The Druidess was gone in a flash of white light.

Eoghan winced at Haley’s absence, rubbing the heel of his palm over the left side of his chest. “I am sorry I could not save you. It was my choice in joining the o’Conaills that left you to this fate. Forgive me,” Eoghan whispered to the empty room, hoping Haley, wherever she was, could hear him.

Eoghan took a steadying, deep breath and jogged after Breanna. When he turned the corner, he found the closest room and opened the door. Inside, Alina was sprawled on a tall four-poster bed, unconscious and barely breathing.

Brian and Cailean mumbled healing prayers. Lysandros, Cole, and Leo conversed off to the side. None of them took their eyes off Alina. Nikolaos sat on the floor with Bre, rocking her back and forth, as she sobbed in his arms. Lupa and all four of Bre’s animals huddled around Alina’s bed.

Eoghan moved towards Bre, when suddenly a blur of brown and green flew past his head, making him stumble sideways. The blur crashed hard into the back wall then crumbled to the ground.

Eoghan gasped at the realization of who flew past him. Nemetona lay on the ground, bloody and beaten. She tried to recover from her beating when another blur, black and grey, stopped in front of her. A man with short brown hair and raging grey eyes picked Nemetona up by the throat with ease. He slammed her hard against the wall, leaving a human-sized dent.

“How dare you!” the man screamed at the goddess, his handsome features wrinkling in his wrath. “Do you know what you have done?

Bam! Another slam. Cracks webbed out from where Nemetona collided with the stone wall.

The goddess had burn marks where her skin peaked through the vines and leaves that covered little of her body. Nemetona grabbed hold of the man’s shoulders as he started to strangle her, but her eyes rolled to the back of her head and her arms slid off his shoulders, dangling limp in the air.

“Oh no you don’t!” the man said as he released his grip around her throat.

The man threw Nemetona across the room where she hit the ground and slid backwards into a wooden chair. In an instant, the man stood over her with the chair above his head. Nemetona, gasping for air, tried to stand but he shattered the chair over her back, forcing her back down on her stomach. The goddess lay still as welts appeared, some with splinters from the shattered chair sticking out. The man then kicked her repeatedly in the stomach until she gagged on her own blood.

Everyone, except Brian and Cailean still mumbling over Alina, stared silently at the one-sided fight. Breanna could feel the hatred and rage from the man, as well as the agony from Nemetona. The pain made her so sick she began to cough and gag like Nemetona.

The man stopped beating the grove goddess and walked over to Bre. He gently touched the side of her face and Bre stopped coughing. All pain vanished, and for the first time in days, she could only feel herself.

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Nemetona make a dash for the door. He held out his arm and spread his fingers as if they were claws. “Dochartas,” the man snarled.

Nemetona screamed and crawled into the fetal position, her broken body shaking in fear and agony.

“You have betrayed the pantheon, Nemetona,” the man’s voice boomed with authority. “You will suffer your punishment at my hands. Dochartas!”

Nemetona screamed again, her nails digging at the marble floor.

“I only wanted to stop the marriage,” Nemetona breathlessly whispered.

“An entire nemeton was slaughtered because of you!” bellowed the man. His grey eyes turned red as he landed another kick to her stomach.

“Enough, Arawn!” a man’s voice filled the room. “Alina wouldn’t want this.”

Eoghan’s mouth dropped, astonished at who dared to give an order to the Celtic Death God. Remus sat on the bed next to Alina, holding her hand.

“She is the reason Alina is like this. She is responsible for the rebirth of The Queen.” Arawn gave Nemetona another kick, this time to the face. “I may not be able to kill her, but I will certainly make her suffer. Cnaimh, come!” Arawn called his dog.

The large white dog from the throne trotted into the room. He growled to announce his presence.

“Deal with her.” Arawn pointed at Nemetona.

The dog howled and then took Nemetona’s ankle in his mouth. Nemetona’s screams faded down the hall as Cnaimh dragged her out of earshot to a fate far worse than death.

“I know she is responsible, but there is nothing we can do about that now. The only thing you should be doing is holding your daughter’s hand,” Remus said as he stroked Alina’s hair.

“I want to know what you meant, Arawn, by her causing this,” Bre said as she stood up, red eyed and puffy faced, to address Arawn.

Arawn gave Bre a sorrowful look and sighed. “Nemetona met Eoghan and Druantia at Arras last night. She then proceeded to search out The Morrigan and informed the witch of Eoghan’s whereabouts. So of course The Morrigan told Eversor, who then took advantage of attacking Arras while a fertility goddess visited.” Arawn gently grabbed Bre’s hand and rubbed his thumb soothingly over the top of it. “He assumed you would be the first to get to Eoghan and knew he could con you into a fight. All he needed was a pregnant girl and you or your mother’s blood. I am thankful that Druidess was there instead of you, otherwise you might have been the one to conceive the demon spawn.” Arawn glared at Eoghan as if threatening him never to touch his granddaughter.

“Why did he need our blood?” Bre asked, trying to get his attention away from Eoghan.

“Because you and Alina both have half The Power. It courses through your blood. Blood magic is the most powerful magic there is. I can only assume he decided to use your mother because it would hurt you and get rid of a powerful enemy.” He glanced at Alina, who was still unconscious but still breathing. “The only way to resurrect The Queen was to use The Power that created the monstrosity.”

“What do you mean resurrect?” Nikolaos stood next to Bre, folding his arms across his chest. He leaned closer to Bre, making sure a part of his arm touched her. Their physical contact gave them both a sense of security.

Elpis has been reborn,” Brian answered his question.

“Do not stop chanting, o’Conaill!” Arawn bellowed at Brian.

“There is nothing more we can do. Her life force is being drained. Eversor ripped her soul in two by removing The Power. All we can do now is ease her pain. Not even the fairies can heal this.” A tear fell from Brian’s face as he stared at his powerful hands, useless to save his friend.

“I thought she was a goddess, how can she die?” Bre’s voice cracked as she asked Arawn.

“The Power has the ability to kill gods, which is what makes The Queen so deadly. It is difficult to do so and the Queen risks killing herself in attempting it, but it can be done. When The Power is removed from a vessel, just as Brian explained, its splits the soul and drains their life’s essence. That is why the gods killed Elpis. They feared for their lives, and rightfully so. Unfortunately, that fear has been rekindled,” Arawn explained.

“She is a baby. How big of a threat can she be?” Breanna asked what they were all thinking.

“She has half The Power, Breanna, and unlike you, she knows how to use those powers to the extreme. She is the greatest threat to the entire world now. This is all thanks to Eoghan not resisting a simple fertility spell. Next time, take a swim in a cold lake.” Arawn stared daggers at Eoghan.

The idea that he fathered baby Elpis nauseated Eoghan. “Oh, gods,” Eoghan ran to the door and vomited around the corner.

“So our task has gotten much harder,” Leo added, frustrated, looking at his brothers. “In order to fulfill our ‘destiny’, we need to destroy Elpis, who is now Breanna’s equal in power. How delightful.”

“She is a baby. Not even gods can wield their powers as infants,” Cole said, not understanding why everyone was so afraid of Elpis.

“She will not be a baby for long,” Brian answered.

Eoghan returned, wiping his mouth, still nauseous. He glanced at Bre but immediately averted eye contact. He cannot face her without facing his own failures.

A Gasp from the bed silenced everyone, drawing their attention to Alina. She opened her eyes wide in panic and scanned the room for Bre. They softened when they landed on Breanna’s face, seeing she was all right. Alina reached out a hand for her daughter and spoke in a hushed voice, “I failed you. Forgive me, Sweetheart.”

Bre reached for her hand, but Alina arched her back and painfully gasped for air.

As Alina exhaled, her hand fell from her chest and hung limp over side of the bed. Everyone held their breaths, waiting for her to inhale again, but her chest never rose.

“No, Mama!” Bre cried and ran to Alina.

Cailean jumped out of Bre’s way and wiped tears from his eyes.

Bre cradled her mother’s head and swayed with her body on the bed. Alina was cold and gave Bre shivers, but she refused to let her go. Remus patted his daughter’s back and kissed the top of her head, but then he smiled at his grieving daughter.

“I never got to say goodbye to either of you.” Breanna’s tears fell onto Alina’s strawberry blonde hair. She gripped her father’s hand as she sobbed.

Remus’ hands were strong and steady. His grasp forced Bre’s hand to stop shaking uncontrollably.

To everyone’s surprise, Breanna stopped weeping and her eyes turned black as she lifted her head, facing Arawn.

“Bring her back,” Bre growled. “You are the god of the underworld, her father! You can bring her back!”

Arawn slowly shook his head. “I cannot do that, Breanna. She is gone. What is dead must stay dead. This was her destiny. Once The Power is removed, that life is forsaken.”

“Bring her back before I destroy the underworld to do it myself!” Bre screamed. Power swelled in her chest and increased the turmoil of her rage.

“Calm yourself, Sweetheart,” Alina’s sweet voice called out from behind Arawn.

Everyone standing behind Arawn scurried next to the bed where Bre held her mother’s dead body. Arawn stepped aside to allow Bre to see Alina’s smiling face. She wore a gold dress with her hair pinned into a bun, surrounded by a golden crown.

Arawn waved his hand and Alina’s body disappeared from Breanna’s arms. Bre fell forward from the lack of weight in her lap.

Bre climbed off the bed and rushed to her mother. “I can’t lose you. There is still so much you have not taught me. Tell me how to fix this.”

Alina squeezed her daughter, cradling her head against her breasts. “You have everything you’ll ever need. You have your powers, your brothers, Lysandros, and the Clan o’Conaill.” Alina smiled at each as she named them. “When you need me the most, I will be there. Your father and I will always aid you in your most dire times, but you must go now, Breanna. The world needs its heroes back.”

“How can I save the world when I cannot even save my own parents?” Breanna sobbed.

“Because you must,” Alina replied as if the answer were simple. “Listen to me carefully; all that I can offer you now is knowledge about the prophecy. Elpis has been reborn and she will have two goals in her new life: revenge and power. She will want to destroy the pantheons that created her, and it is your job to save them. In saving the gods, you save the world. Elpis must not get your half of The Power. The world must be protected at all costs, even if that means sacrificing everything you love.” Alina’s face was stern, but her eyes were sad. She knew the unfair choices that awaited her daughter.

However, Alina quickly changed her demeanor with a satisfied smile as she looked over her loving friends and family.

Remus came up behind Breanna and squished her in a bear hug. “I love you, Princess. You must call upon your uncle and Rome for help. Do not be afraid to use its force. After all, you are the granddaughter of Mars, especially since our kingdom is now part of Rome.” Remus flashed Bre a giant, playful smile. “Oh, and look, you have my half of the pendant. Keep it safe and it will keep you safe,” he said, pleased as he gently raised the gold pendant with his finger to watch the torch light shimmer in the metal.

He picked Bre up off her feet and spun her around in the air.

“He took over Etruria?” Cailean asked, shocked. “Breanna is the heir to the kingdom. How can Romulus claim that land for himself?”

“Because he now knows Breanna is The Queen. She is not only the heir to Etruria, but also the heir to the throne of the world. Mark my words: He will bow to you, Breanna, or father will see to him.” Remus winked and smiled again.

Remus lifted Bre’s chin and kissed her forehead before walking to the doorway, where he waited patiently for Alina.

“You must go now,” Alina advised. “Time passes differently here. When you return, you will all age to your proper earth year. I also fear that Brian and Arawn are right. With the help of The Morrigan and Eversor’s powers, Elpis will also have aged tremendously and will be able to fight.”

Alina kissed Bre then hugged the o’Conaill brothers, Lysandros, and Eoghan. Tears welled in her eyes as she said her goodbyes. When Alina came to her three sons, they each silently cried as they hugged their mother for the last time.

“You cannot leave her. If you three are not there for the final battle, she will not succeed,” she whispered so only the brothers could hear; however, due to their connection, Breanna heard what her mother murmured to them.

Alina kissed her sons one last time then walked over to the door where Remus held out his hand. She turned to face the group, who were now all in tears, and blew them a kiss.

Remus snapped his fingers and they both disappeared.

“Don’t worry about your mother. I have made comfortable arrangements for her and your father.” Arawn smiled. “However, Alina is right. I must get you back to your world. You have spent far too much time here and the lives of the gods are in your hands.” Arawn turned to Breanna. “As for you, my precious granddaughter, allow me to give you a gift.” Arawn cupped his hand and ball of grey smoke emerged.

Arawn tossed the ball and hit Bre in the chest. She stumbled backwards as a black light burned in her chest.

“What was that?” Bre examined her body, expecting a burn mark.

“You have your mother’s powers over the dead now. Be careful with them, they can be intoxicating and will consume you if you allow it.” Arawn rubbed his hands together and licked his lower lip. He bent down to whisper in Bre’s ear, “Remember the earthquake on Delos.”

Arawn’s whisper confused Breanna. She learned of the earthquake on Delos and its mass destruction when she was younger. She remembered her father and Lysandros spent a year there helping to rebuild houses and bury the dead.

“Why would you remind me of such a tragedy?” Bre asked confused.

Arawn cleared his throat, ignoring Bre’s question. “Now stand together. I don’t want to miss any of you.” Arawn herded everyone around Bre. “Goodbye, Breanna. I will be watching.”

Arawn swung his arms out wide and black smoke poured in around the group.

Through the smoke, Arawn called out, “Tilleadh!”

Chapter 30

Preparations

The group found themselves back in their world, standing in the middle of a green field with woods on one side and a deep valley pass on the other. Ahead of them, a wild boar roasting over a fire welcomed them to a cozy, protected area for camp. Tents were already set up around the fire with bedding neatly made. Their horses were tied to a tree with a trough of oat and grass to eat. Lupa, Clover, Leora, and Aurora immediately devoured a pile of dead rabbits left off to the side.

“Where are we?” Cole asked, surveying the area.

“Cymru,” Brian sighed nostalgically. He smiled as he headed to the fire. “It’s nice to be home.”

“Ooo, boar!” Leo gleefully yelled and ran over to rip off a piece of meat.

Cole started to make a comment to Leo, but before he could a cloud of red smoke swirled around the group. They gagged and coughed on the thick smoke, trying to wave it away, until it dissipated like a morning fog. A piece of pork fell from Leo’s mouth as he stood staring at his brothers in shock.

“Everyone alright?” Lysandros called out, examining his body and still coughing from the dense smoke.

“Holy Tartarus, we’ve aged!” Cailean yelled out as he scanned the group.

The men had long hair with unkempt beards, as if they had lived in the wilderness for years.

“Alina did say that would happen,” Brian added while checking himself, making sure nothing changed too much.

“Anyone feel different?” Cole asked.

“Umm, well…yes,” Eoghan replied, awkwardly presenting himself to the group.

His pants rose a few inches above his ankles and his belt seemed to have shrunk around his waist. His normal scruff had turned into a full beard like the rest of the men. His blue tunic ripped from his large, bulging chest muscles. He stood three inches taller than before and his hair fell six inches longer.

“I’m a little different as well,” Breanna added.

Bre’s pants were slightly shorter than before but nowhere near as bad as Eoghan’s. She now filled out her shirt, making it apparent that her bust-line grew. Everyone averted their eyes as she tried to loosen her tunic to make it less obvious. Her hair was longer and her lips fuller. She transformed from a pretty teenager to a beautiful woman armed with killer curves and luscious looks.

“No, no, this won’t do,” Bre said shaking her head at her disheveled and out grown clothing.

Bre snapped her fingers and her clothes changed into a more form-fitting outfit that covered, yet emphasized her features. She was dressed in a green tunic with a black leather girdle around her ribs. Black leather pants hugged her long, slender legs, complete with grey, knee-high riding boots. Her sword hung on her left hip and was sheathed in a silver scabbard, decorated with diamonds and sapphires, and her wavy brown hair was half pinned back with a silver Celtic knot clip.

Eoghan stood behind her, studying every inch of her body until Lysandros cleared his throat, raising an eyebrow accusingly. Eoghan blushed and moved next to Bre so he was not caught staring again.

Breanna laughed at Eoghan’s awkward appearance then snapped her fingers again, changing his clothing as well. His normal scruff replaced his beard. She also trimmed his hair to the length she preferred; short, but long enough to run her fingers through it. He wore a royal blue with brown leather pants and dark brown boots. His sword was sheathed in gold with sapphires.

“Well, aren’t I fancy?” Eoghan chuckled as he scrutinized his new look.

“Delightfully fancy,” Leo jested in a feminine voice then turned around to devour more pork.

Bre pointed her finger at Leo and shot a bolt of silver light at him, zapping him on the hip.

Leo jumped and shouted, “Ow!” He rubbed his side in pain. “That’s just not nice! Now that you guys are all pretty, can we eat now? I’m starving.”

Everyone chuckled and headed to the fire: everyone except Lysandros. He headed to a tent to lie down, noticeably upset about Alina and Remus. Bre felt his sorrow and it broke her heart that she could not ease his pain; he had to grieve on his own terms.

Breanna’s grief was manageable and she knew she had Leora to thank for that. However, losing both her parents in the same month made her nauseous and her breathing shallow. She forced her mind away from the topic to function for the group.

Brian slung an arm around Bre as if he read her mind. “And how are you doing?”

“I’m alright. It helps knowing she and father are together and safe in Annwyn. Besides, with her power I can summon her whenever I want, right?” Bre forced a smile.

“You need to be careful with that power. You remember how hard it was to pull Alina back from that trance when fighting Blythe?” Brian rhetorically asked with a raised eyebrow.

I won’t ever need a reminder of that, Breanna said in her mind, talking to herself.

Clearly you do, Cole said, watching her from the fire where he sharpened a dagger to shave his face.

Mother rarely used that power for a reason, Bre. She could not control it, Nik added, already with a bowl of water and a half-shaven face.

I am not Mother, Bre glared at them and then playfully stuck her tongue out.

“So Bri, how old do you think we are?” Breanna asked, changing the subject before her brothers could retort.

Brian’s forehead wrinkled and eyes narrowed contemplatively. “Let me see.”

Brian placed two fingers on the sides of Bre’s and Eoghan’s temples and closed his eyes, “You are both twenty-one. You’ve aged three years. Congratulations, you can officially start your own tribe, Eoghan.” Bre and Eoghan shook their heads while Brian laughed at his own joke. “Let’s go eat. Tomorrow we will figure out our next step. Tonight, we dine for the dead.”

Cole waved for Bre to join them. She sat in between Cole and Nikolaos around the fire. She picked meat off Cole’s plate as the brothers’ laughed, recounting funny stories about their parents. Cailean stoked the fire, making the flames change colors with his powers. Before he realized, he accidently made the fire grow too big and purple sparks flew in his face, causing everyone to erupt with well-deserved and well needed laughter.

Eoghan stood off the side, watching the gathering until Brian joined him, silently standing next to him and sharing his plate full of pork.

“Come on, out with it. I know you want to say something,” Eoghan said after a few moments of silence.

Brian smirked and slung an arm around Eoghan’s shoulders. “You know me too well, young one. I want you to know that Elpis is not your daughter. You may have helped in conceiving her mortal body but she is born of pure magic from Alina’s blood. I know it is hard to understand. Even I don’t fully understand it, but do not for one second think she is your daughter. She will try to use that emotion against you and Bre. A rift between the two of you is not something we can afford.”

“Trust me, the day I feel anything but pure hatred for that…thing, is the day I fall on my own sword,” Eoghan said, disgusted at the thought of having any warm feelings towards Elpis.

“Good, glad to hear that,” Brian said and patted Eoghan on the back. “Now, what is going on between you and the future Queen?”

Brian half choked on a piece of pork and half laughed at the shocked expression on Eoghan’s face.

“Nothing. She is The Queen. It is my duty to protect her and that is all,” Eoghan said firmly. Brian smirked at the slight, almost unnoticeable waiver in Eoghan’s voice that usually appeared when he lied.

“Mm hmm,” Brian smiled, raising his eyebrow and staring at Eoghan, waiting for the verbal vomit that generally followed one of his lies.

Eoghan shifted uncomfortably and rolled his eyes. “Ugh! Fine. I don’t know what is happening with her, or me, or us, if there even is an us. But the fact of the situation remains that we can never be together. I could never be a king and she could never be ordinary. So tell me, where does that leave us? Her my master and me her soldier?”

Eoghan’s eyes pleaded for Brian to tell him he was wrong: that a relationship was possible somehow. Brian simply shrugged and headed back to the group. Halfway there, he looked over his shoulder and with a mouth full of pork said, “Everyone has a master. At least she is a pretty one.”

Eoghan rolled his eyes and glared at Brian, who continued to chuckle as he sat next to Cailean. Eoghan sat across from Bre, purposely using the flames as divider. He gazed at Bre through the sparks, caught off guard by how beautiful she became with their instant aging. The flames lit up her face, and the gold flecks in her hazel eyes sparkled in the firelight. She smiled back at him and coyly hid her face.

Eoghan slowly exhaled as he forced his eyes away from hers and studied his boots. “There was no way I am going to survive this fight,” he whispered to himself.

In the morning, Cole and Leo disappeared on a hunt for breakfast while Cailean picked fruit and berries. Nikolaos watered and fed the horses, Brian rekindled the fire that extinguished during the night and Lysandros sat next to him, sharpening his sword and daggers.

Startled by a nightmare, Bre bolted up with sweat dripping down her face. She dreamt of her mother’s murder again, panic and fear tightening her chest. Unable to control her breathing, a knot tugged in her stomach as an overwhelming feeling of loss consumed her. Different than a grieving loss, it felt like the loss of something personal. Her hand flung to her neck, searching for her father’s pendant. When her fingers were satisfied running over the cool metal, she ran out of her tent and immediately searched for Eoghan. Bre went to his tent, but he was not sleeping. She checked by the trees, because she knew Eoghan always loved climbing trees, but he was not there either. She climbed a walnut tree to see if she could spot him from above, but still there was no sign of Eoghan.

“Bre, get down from there and come eat,” Cailean called to her while dividing the fruit for breakfast.

Bre jumped down, still nervous that she could not find Eoghan, and jogged back to the group. She had to slow her breathing to at least appear calm for Cailean.

“If no one else in the group is worrying, then why should I, right?” Bre said to herself, accidently aloud.

“What was that?” Cailean asked

“Nothing,” Bre said quickly, hiding her face and stuffing berries in her mouth.

He is fine, Bre. I’m sure he will turn up any second now, Cole mentally tried to comfort Bre.

“Ha! She doesn’t know if she’s thinking or speaking anymore,” Leo jested as he returned with rabbits for breakfast.

Bre shot him a nasty look.

“That’s not nice. Take it back!” Leo looked genuinely hurt by Bre’s psychic insult.

Bre pouted her lip sarcastically and then stuck out her tongue. Leo snorted and returned to skinning the rabbits.

Bre sat down next to Cailean, who threw a raspberry in the air and caught in his mouth. He nudged her in the ribs and said while chewing, “Bet you can’t do that.”

“Oh yeah? Watch this.” Bre grabbed two berries out of his hand, and threw them in the air. One fell down into her mouth, but the other was caught in the mouth of a man standing over her.

Eoghan smiled down at Bre as he chewed the raspberry.

Bre sensed Cole’s ‘I told you so’.

“Good morning, Princess,” Eoghan said, playfully falling into Bre as he sat down with a handful of berries.

“Where were you this morning?” Bre asked with a hint of annoyance.

“Can’t tell you. It’s a secret,” Eoghan threw another berry in his mouth then tried to feed one to Bre.

“Friends don’t keep secrets.” Bre grabbed an apple out of the pile Cailean had created and turned it over in her hands.

“Friends, huh?” Eoghan looked down then tilted his head towards Bre to catch her eye. Bre refused to look away from her apple. Eoghan nodded, disappointed. “Friends it is.”

“Hey, Eoghan, up for a spar?” Brian called out waving his sword around his arm.

“You got it, Chief!” Eoghan jumped up and grabbed his sword from his tent. Without looking back at Bre, he disappeared down the hill with Brian, and moments later, the clanging of swords and the laughter of two comrades filled the valley.

Cailean nudged Bre in the ribs again. “Come on, Doll. Let’s go watch and see if we can liven them up a bit with a couple of tricks I know.” Sparks flew out of his palm and he smirked at Bre with a crazy, playful look that always meant he was up to no good.

Bre laughed and agreed, then took a bite out of her apple. They headed over to watch Brian and Eoghan, leaving the three brothers and Lysandros at the fire. The four men sat and ate their breakfasts in silence, until Leo choked on a rabbit bone. Nikolaos slapped his back as Cole laughed hysterically. Lysandros barely acknowledged Leo’s distress and continued playing with his breakfast.

Lysandros huffed and tossed his plate aside, food barely touched. “What do you think about what Alina told us last night?” Lysandros asked the brothers.

“I guess it means Bre has some important issues to deal with,” Leo said, his voice scratchy from choking.

“It means we all have important issues to deal with. You heard mother, we can’t leave her or we all fail,” Cole added.

“We’ll deal with whatever comes our way. Let’s just figure out the next step first,” Nikolaos replied.

“I say we find the monsters that killed Alina,” Lysandros said, glaring at the flames.

“That sounds like a great plan, Lys! That is exactly what we should do. Let us lead Breanna to the people who want to kill her so they can take her powers. Which will then make them the most powerful beings in the world! What a mastermind we have here, gentlemen. Why don’t you leave strategizing to the blood of War,” Leo answered with his usual sarcasm.

Don’t speak to him like that, Leo, Bre telepathically scolded her brother.

“Get out of my head woman!” Leo shouted down the hill at Bre.

Bre materialized right next to Leo, making him jump and spill his food. “Good Zeus! Where did you come from?”

“Ah, she discovered she can materialize. Nice power, isn’t it? We haven’t had to use ours in a while,” Cole smiled proudly at Bre.

“I think we should all brush up on the powers we haven’t used in a while,” Brian called out as he, Cailean, and Eoghan walked up the hill.

Brian and Eoghan were sweaty and out of breath. Brian’s hair stood on end as he approached the group, causing Cole and Leo to spit their food out from laughing. Cailean had shocked Brian while he sparred with Eoghan.

“I agree with Lysandros,” Bre added, tearing her eyes away from Eoghan, who smirked because he caught Bre admiring his sweaty, muscular physique as he reached for a canteen of water. She cleared her throat and turned back to her brothers. “I can take them.”

“What is it that you agree with?” Brian asked cautiously after a few large gulps of water.

“They want to hunt down Eversor and Elpis in revenge,” Nik answered.

“Easy, Herakles. It will take all of our efforts to defeat Eversor and his evil bride,” Cole said, rubbing his hand on top of Bre’s head to mess up her hair.

“What do we do until then?” Eoghan asked as he washed up with a wet rag.

“We practice, until we have a clue where to go or what to do. We can set up protective charms that will hide us from Eversor and Elpis, who are undoubtedly searching for us. We need to learn to fight as a group. We each have excellent fighting skills in single-hand combat, but you heard Alina: we need to stay together.” Brian explained his plans for practicing and set up a schedule of when they would work with magic and when they would practice sword fighting.

“I am wondering if the gods will help us or stand idly by as we fight their battles,” Lysandros added bitterly.

Brian placed a hand on Lysandros’ shoulder to comfort his friend and whispered something in his ear. When Brian finished, Lysandros stood up and walked down the hill, out of sight. Cailean and Brian then took Bre to show her how to set up protective charms. They cast protection spells in the North, South, East, and West corners of the camp.

“These charms should shield us for a week or two,” Brian said, pleased with Bre’s use of magic.

After securing the safety of the camp, the group began their practicing. Eoghan fought with Bre and her animals. When Eoghan rolled right, Aurora rolled with him while Clover jumped over him to protect his left. Leora stood in the background controlling Eoghan’s emotions, clearing his head of thoughts that did not pertain to the fight. Lupa instructed the animals how to better control their movements, and where they should make their stand against Elpis.

It took all of Lysandros’ self-control, and some convincing from Brian, to stop himself from chasing down Elpis and Eversor. He forced his mind to remember Alina’s warning that Bre’s protection must be above all else.

He could protect her body, but her mind was at the will of the gods.

Chapter 31

A Divine Warning

Five days later, the groups’ practicing was intense and flawless. They fought as if they could read each other’s minds. Bre, conveniently, actually could and used that to her advantage. Her psychic abilities grew stronger; she could now communicate psychically with every member of the group, instead of just her brothers.

Even still, the four siblings could not turn off the psychic connection and continued to unwillingly share their most intimate thoughts. Leo constantly complained about Bre’s thoughts, while Cole yelled at Leo for planning his pranks.

That night, Bre had another one of her nightmares without the presence of the Blood-Moon. Usually, her nightmares comprised of Elpis’ life story, but this time it was different: a life much darker than Elpis’.

“Run Your Highness. Run!” were the only words the young princess heard over the clashing screams of iron. The panicked princess desperately searched for her knights, her most precious followers. They were her friends, her brethren, and her soul mates of the past, present, and future.

The slashing of her own sword rang in her ears. She could see nothing but the warriors that charged her, who sought fame by killing the greatest warrior known in their time.

With every second that passed and every warrior she killed, anger swelled from her desperate situation. The separation from her knights distracted her from escaping the battle. She sent out telepathic pleas for her knights to answer, but the only reply she suffered was the deafening sound of silence.

As her anger grew, power surged through her veins. She knew what was about to happen but did not care. All that mattered was the preservation of her kingdom. She threw down the sword and spread her arms wide. She would finally unleash the wrath of her power.

The princess’ enemies halted their charge out of fear and amazement as white light emanated from the princess. Finally, this was the moment of impact: the moment where she must bury her stoic morals and protect everyone close to her.

A single tear ran down her cheek as she closed her silver eyes and slowly raised her arms towards the heavens. Thunder rang from above and lightning crashed to the ground, shaking the earth beneath the battle.

Bre cried in her sleep as the woman glowed brighter, blinding her enemies. The woman’s eyes shot wide open; what were once a beautiful silver were now black as night. A deep voice resonated from her, “Integere.”

In the background, purple lights sporadically lit up throughout the battle. Finally, a shockwave of energy surged outward from the woman and spread across the battlefield, disintegrating everything in its wake.

The white light faded from the woman as she lowered herself back to the ground. She hunched over to catch her breath. When she stood, the ground, where moments ago soldiers fought to their deaths, was scorched. The only things left standing were large masses of purple lights. Each light contained a person or an animal saved from the shock wave’s destruction. The woman waved her hand and the lights disappeared.

“Your Majesty!” a man ran over to her. “Are you hurt?”

“I’m alright, Gawain.” she hugged the man and looked at the rest of them. “Are you all alright?”

They all replied “yes” in one manor or another, despite several serious injuries. The woman chuckled and held up her hands. A soft blue light radiated from her palms, healing their wounds. They appeared as if they had never seen battle.

Two giant cats and a wolf trotted over to the woman and knocked her to the ground, licking her face and purring in her ears. The woman laughed as she tried to push them off. A horse whinnied in the background, and she stood up defensively to see who rode towards them.

“Bre!” a man shouted as he jumped from his horse and ran towards her.

The woman sprinted towards the man and threw her arms around his neck, crying as her fingers ran through his soot-coated hair. “I was worried. I couldn’t sense you. I didn’t know if my spell protected you or not. Eoghan, I was so scared.” She grabbed the back of his head and embraced him with a kiss.

A jolt of red light broke their intimate moment and sent the couple and the rest of the men crumbling to the ground. Standing above the princess was her mortal enemy, with a golden eagle soaring above their heads. A woman stood tall in full Gaelic battle gear, carrying a bright red sword pointed at Eoghan. She raised her sword high above her head and thrust the blade down.

“Noooooo!” the princess screamed as a jet of gold light coursed out of her hand.

“Get away from her! Breanna, wake up!” Breanna heard Nikolaos screaming.

Breanna opened her eyes to find a woman in a brown and grey dress standing over her. Bre lay on the ground outside, instead of in her tent where she originally fell asleep. It was still dark out, and the cool air brought goose bumps to Bre’s skin. Their only source of light was the fire Cailean stoked before going to bed.

“What do you want, Andraste?” Brian asked the woman as he scurried in front of Bre. Lupa stood next to him, baring her teeth with a low growl.

Nikolaos, Cole, and Leo had their swords pointed at the woman. Lysandros grabbed Bre and pushed her behind him. Eoghan ran to Bre and cupped the side of her face, “Are you ok?” Bre felt shear panic coming from him, as if her heart were about to give out.

Bre nervously moved out of Eoghan’s worried embrace and faced Andraste.

“I do not need to justify my business with you,” Andraste calmly dismissed Brian.

“No, but apparently I am your business, and you will justify it to me.” Bre moved out from behind Lysandros and confronted the goddess. She lightly touched Nikolaos’ arm. “Put your weapons down. If she wanted to hurt me, she would have done so while I slept.”

“Very wise, young one,” Andraste replied. “I am the goddess of Celtic Magic and Divination. I felt that you should know a part of your future.” Andraste answered bluntly.

“You are the reason for my nightmares growing up, aren’t you?” Bre’s power boiled in her veins.

“No. The Blood-Moon is connected to The Queen at birth. It provided The Queen’s life in order to educate and prepare you for your choice: a choice you must make without bias. I came to give you clarity. You can learn from your future just as you can learn from your past,” Andraste said and walked over to a smoldering stump.

“Oh, no. Did I do that?” Bre stared at the half-missing tree. The beautiful field they fell asleep in was now burnt, just like the battlefield in her dream. “Did that happen because of what I saw in my dream?”

“It is not what you saw, My Queen. It is what you can, and will, do.” Andraste waved her hand and the tree and field were whole again.

Panicked, Bre grabbed Nikolaos’ arm, digging her nails into his skin. “What woke you up?”

“There was a purple light around the tent, and then I felt the ground shake. I immediately got up and saw you shooting gold light towards her,” Nikolaos replied, nodding at Andraste.

“I protected them, didn’t I?” Bre turned back to Andraste, “Just like in my dream, with those other men. The princess in my dream is me, but who are those men?”

“Spoilers. There are some events that you must not be aware of until they happen.” Andraste lazily picked an apple from the tree and bit into it.

“Then what is the point in showing me?” Bre asked, agitated.

“So you will make the right choices. In order to have the future you want, you need to make the right sacrifices now.” Andraste tossed her half-eaten apple to the ground where a rabbit nibbled on it.

“That future doesn’t seem so bright. Maybe I don’t want it,” Bre said defiantly.

“You don’t understand. That future may or may not end the way I showed you. Its ending depends on what you decide now. Make the right decisions, and maybe your future will have a brighter outcome. Don’t make any decisions and it could end darker.” Andraste shrugged and then picked up the rabbit, stroking its soft fur. “Choices will be necessary sooner than you wish. Choose wisely.” with that final warning, she disappeared in a puff of black smoke.

“Will someone please explain what just happened?” Bre demanded, facing Brian and Cailean.

Brian pressed his thumb and pointer finger against the bridge of his nose and shook his head. “Andraste is trying to help us in her own special way.”

“That was special alright. She could have gotten us killed making Bre use her powers like that.” Leo sheathed his sword and headed back to his tent. “Well, now that we know our future will be bright and perfect, I’m going back to sleep.”

“Leo is right.” Nikolaos paused, surprised to hear himself say that. “We all need to get rest. Apparently there is a lot left to figure out.”

Nik and Cole walked back to their tents.

“Come on, Bre,” Eoghan said and held out his hand.

“I can’t let that go. How am I supposed to sleep knowing I could kill you all in my dreams?” Bre threw her arms up in the air as Eoghan walked behind her and pushed her back to camp.

“I can whip up a temporary binding spell that should keep your powers in check through the night,” Cailean said, throwing his arm around Bre’s shoulder.

Brian walked back to his tent, afraid of what the right choices meant and if Bre could handle them. He decided to channel the future to understand Andraste’s concern. He hid himself in his tent and meditated in front of a bowl of water.

In Breanna’s tent, Cailean cast a binding spell that instantly made Bre fall asleep.

“I thought it was a binding spell, not a sleeping spell,” Eoghan raised his eyebrows at Cailean.

“I put a little more oomph behind it,” Cailean smiled. “Get some sleep, Eoghan. We’ve had a rough couple of days, and more are yet to come,” Cailean said. He patted Eoghan’s shoulder and walked back to his tent.

Eoghan watched Bre as she slept and gently stroked her hair. “How could I leave you? You need me.”

Tonight was not the first time Eoghan met Andraste. Five mornings ago, when Bre had gone looking for Eoghan and he refused tell her where he went, it was because Andraste warned him not to.

Andraste surprised Eoghan after he decided to survey their surroundings. She left him with a word of warning and showed him an image of two graves. One tombstone marked with his name and the other marked with Bre’s. Andraste explained that if he walked away from the fight she would grant him immortality. He could then live to fight many wars alongside Brian and Cailean.

However, it meant Bre would face Eversor and Elpis alone. It also meant that she would die without him by her side. Andraste warned that if he stayed with Bre, he was sealing his own death. Her words echoed through his memory, “Your future is open, young Gàidheal. Forsake The Queen to fight for the world, or die beside her and the world will suffer your loss.”

It pulled at his guts to think that he would have to leave Bre.

Bre shivered in her sleep, and Eoghan instinctively lied down next to her to keep her warm. Feeling his warmth, Bre inched closer, burying her face in his chest. He smiled and pulled her tight against his body. Eoghan drifted to sleep holding Bre, nestling in her silky hair.

A couple tents over, Brian woke from his meditation in a sweat. He hurried outside and vomited behind the nearest tree. The chilly night air felt good against his hot skin and calmed his stomach. He walked to the fire where Andraste sat, waiting for him.

“You knew this was never going to end well,” Brian accused, irritated with the goddess.

“I know everything, Brian. I am a divination goddess,” Andraste said flatly, her voice void of all emotion, “And you should know by now that this will never end, let alone end well. Otherwise, there was no point in creating The Power all those years ago.”

“She is a child.” Brian looked over at Bre’s tent.

“She is no child. At twenty-one she is five years past being of age. She is Queen of two lands and heir to the world’s throne. Her domain is wherever she walks. You know this, Brian. Why are you playing the fool?” Andraste kept her tone light and inquisitive as she stroked a sleeping rabbit in her lap.

“She will die without the gods’ help. How will her death help the world?” Brian asked, frustrated.

“She will die many deaths, and her sacrifices will help the world. The Queen is a lonely and sorrowful being that is born into a deadly life. I do not know any who would trade places with her,” Andraste spoke.

Brian exhaled and slumped forward, gesturing his surrender. “What do I have to do?” His voice was void of hope.

“Help her make the right decisions. The future depends on it.”

“Yes, you keep saying that, but what decisions?” Brian cracked his neck, trying to control his rising temper.

Andraste did not answer but merely looked over at Nikolaos’s, Cole’s, and Leo’s tents.

“No! There is no way I can do that!” Brian stood up, outraged.

“Then the world will suffer Elpis’ victory and the gods will be no more,” Andraste said.

“With the brothers’ help we can defeat Eversor and Elpis. If we remove them from the fight, we will certainly lose,” Brian argued with the goddess.

“Heed my words, o’Conaill. You will not succeed in this fight regardless. Make the right choices and some may live to fight again. The Phoinix must burn. You must make your decision within three days’ time.” Andraste stood and gently touched his arm, giving him a pitiful look before disappearing.

Brian knocked over the bench he was sitting on and knelt down next to the fire. Peeking out from his tent was Cailean, who overheard Andraste and Brian’s conversation. He called out to his brother, “Bri, you alright?”

Brian’s head jerked towards Cailean’s tent, startled by his brother’s voice. “I’m fine, Cail. Just heading back to bed. Get some rest, we need to talk in the morning.” Brian walked back to his tent and closed the flap.

Cailean went back to bed, but his mind raced with Andraste’s warning. He knew Brian would never take Bre’s brothers away. He could not make that decision. Brian was a good, moral man and looked at Bre as his own daughter. There was no way he could hurt her like that.

Cailean had to make this decision for his brother. He decided to sleep, hoping his mind would be clearer in the morning.

Come morning, his mind was far too clear.

Chapter 32

A Brother’s Decision

The following morning, Brian woke first and headed to the stream for a swim, trying to clear his mind. He shivered as Andraste’s unnerving warning replayed in his mind. How could he explain everything to the group and make them understand?

Brian, always a calculated individual, absentmindedly walked to the stream with a thousand thoughts and questions swarming through his mind. “I am too emotionally involved. I cannot get rid of the brothers, my best friend’s sons. How would I even be able to do it? They are immortal. I could not kill them, there has to be another way. How do I save them, but remove them?”

Brian dove into the cool water. The crisp stream refreshed his senses. Further upstream, a mother bear taught her cubs how to fish. She drove her head into the water and reemerged with a fish flopping in her muzzle. As her cubs tried to imitate her, they tumbled over and completely submerged themselves into the stream.

Brian laughed as the innocent cubs frolicked with each other, learning from the other’s mistakes of how to swim and where to jump. One cub jumped too far and struggled to get back to his family, when suddenly another cub bit, clawed, and nudged its sibling back to safety. Mama bear finally herded them back to shore where they promptly ate their breakfast. She stood watch as her babies tore into their fish.

As Brian watched the mother bear shield her cubs from harm, a revelation broke through his dulled senses. “That’s it!” he yelled to himself. Mama-bear grunted at his startling outburst. “I am the oldest. It’s my job; they’re my cubs. They will all survive the pending battle and the brothers will be a part of it.” Brian commanded as if addressing Mother Nature.

Brian waded back to shore, threw his clothes on, and ran back to camp to wake everyone. His decision was final and he would fight anyone who told him otherwise, even the gods.

When Brian arrived back at camp, Cailean had rekindled the fire with a fresh kill of rabbits roasting over the flames.

“Cail!” Brian walked over to him with a big smile. “Nice choice in breakfast, little brother.”

“Good morning, Bri. I wondered where you went off. I was up early. I couldn’t sleep,” Cailean rubbed the back of his neck and averted eye contact.

Brian honed in on Cailean and stared him down. “What’s wrong, Cail?”

“Nothing. Just tired,” Cailean forced a small smile, but Brian’s face remained concerned.

“You’re lying. Why are you rubbing your neck? What’s happened?” Brian persisted.

Before Brian pushed the conversation further, Bre and Eoghan emerged from Bre’s tent. Cailean and Brian looked stunned seeing them both come out of the same tent.

“Isn’t that a surprise?” Cailean called out, raising his eyebrows to Eoghan.

“I’d say indeed,” said Brian, smirking at Breanna who blushed when she sat next to him.

“Nothing happened you two,” Eoghan added quickly as he sat next to her. “Only tried to keep her warm, that is all.”

Bre cleared her throat and changed the subject. “Where are my brothers? I miss hearing Leo’s complaining when I first wake up.” Bre tossed a few berries in her mouth.

Cailean stood up, rubbing the back of his neck again and grabbed the rabbits over the fire. “Not sure. Must have gone for a walk, or maybe they’re training over the hill. Rabbit anyone?” Cailean kept his eyes on the ground, fear creeping into his gut.

“Ooo, yes please!” Breanna said, holding out her hands impatiently. Cailean gave her the skewer of rabbit. “They are quiet. Maybe they finally found a way to block our thoughts from each other,” Breanna said with a hopeful smile.

Eoghan and Bre made small talk over their breakfast while Brian closely watched Cailean. The animals woke up from the smell of cooked meat and gathered around the fire. However, Cailean threw them raw meat he saved specifically for them, and the horses had fresh grass and oats. Cailean had prepared everyone’s breakfast.

Brian cleared his throat hoping to gain Cailean’s attention, but Cailean ignored his attempt and stared into the flames as he nibbled on fruit. Brian knew his brother all too well. Brian jumped up, gripped the back of Cailean’s arm, and dragged him down the hill where the group usually practiced.

Looking around the field, Brian prayed to find the brothers training as Cailean suggested.

“What have you done, Cailean?” Brian demanded.

Cailean ripped his arm out of Brian’s grasp.

“I haven’t done anything,” Cailean said, his voice wavering as he massaged the back of his neck once more.

“You are lying to me! Look at you!” Brian yelled and yanked Cailean’s arm from his neck, “You are ashamed of something! Now I am going to ask you once more before I read your mind. What. Have. You. Done?” Brian emphasized slowly.

Cailean backed away from his brother before he read his mind. Even though Brian had promised years ago that he would never do it unless it was dire, he seemed determined to find out what Cailean was hiding. Despite the threat and fear of his brother, Cailean remained fruitlessly silent.

Brian quickly grabbed Cailean around the back of his neck with both hands and stared directly into his eyes, freezing him where he stood. Cailean tried with all his might to hide the memory that would incriminate him, but Brian was a master at dredging up old memories. A fresh memory would put up little resistance.

What Brian uncovered astonished him. He never thought his brother capable of such cruelty.

The memory began with Cailean waking up early that morning, still dark out, stepping lightly around the camp trying not to wake anyone. Still tired from his restless night’s sleep, the events with Andraste plagued his dreams. He sighed, glancing back to his tent, his body urging him back to bed, but a soft voice whispered in his head, Save The Queen.

Cailean ran a hand through his tousled hair and breathlessly whispered, “I have to.” His glossy eyes promised tears.

He crept over to Nikolaos’ tent and nudged him awake. “Nik, wake up. Brian wants us all to gather in the cave past the field.” Cailean nudged him once more for good measure.

“I’m up, I’m up,” Nikolaos mumbled, grabbing his sword and rubbing the sleep from his eyes.

“Can you wake your brothers up psychically?” Cailean added before leaving Nikolaos’ tent.

“Sure,” Nikolaos said, a hint of pleasure in his tone. Leo, Cole. Nikolaos started out sweetly. Wake up boys! He screamed in their minds and then bit his blanket to muffle his cackle.

Nikolaos laughed to himself as he heard Cole and Leo swearing at him mentally.

Nikolaos emerged from his tent and poked his head into Cole’s tent to make sure he was up. Cole smacked Nikolaos with a pillow then followed him out of his tent. Cole and Nikolaos proceeded to Leo’s tent where they found him asleep again. They both jumped on him and lightly punched him wherever they could until he got up.

Cailean waited patiently behind the tents, Tears still burning for release.

“Ready?” Cailean sounded depressed. The brothers assumed it was because they were up so early.

“What in the gods’ names are we doing up before the sun?” Leo looked around, barely able to see through the dark.

“Brian wanted a meeting, probably to prepare in case of a night attack. I believe the cave he found has an exit we could escape through,” Cailean explained as he led the brothers down through the practice field.

“And you’re telling me this couldn’t wait until the morning? Andraste already rudely woke us up. Now Brian has to as well?” Cole yawned.

“Och, you know how Bri is. Always needs to be properly prepared,” Cailean forced a light chuckle.

Cailean’s chest tightened as he guided the brothers through the field. A ball of pain grew in his heart with every step he took. The nausea in his stomach demanded him to turn around. However, an image of Brian having to make this awful decision popped into his head and he continued with his plan, determined to save his brother from the awful fate that awaited him.

“Let’s just get this over with. Leo needs his beauty rest,” Cole yawned.

Leo dug his elbow into Cole’s side. Cole chuckled and slung an arm around his little brother’s shoulders as they followed Nik and Cailean.

Days earlier, Cailean discovered a hidden cave past the field where they practiced. He now guided the brothers through the winding cavern. “He shouldn’t be too far down. Soillsich,” A blue light appeared in front of the men as they walked deeper into the cave.

“Brian?” Cailean shouted. He then hovered a hand over his throat and whispered, “Ailis.” Brian’s distant voice answered back, but it was Cailean’s mouth from which the sound escaped, “I’m down here, Cail. Did you bring the brothers?”

“Yeah, we’re all here, you rooster. Why in Hades did you wake us up so damn early?” Leo answered the fake voice.

“You’ll see whe…” Brian’s disembodied voice responded. Cailean’s lips trembled, causing the last word to break up and trail off.

The men turned a sharp corner and came across a doorway big enough for one person to enter at a time.

Cailean stepped aside and motioned with his arm for Nikolaos to go through. Cole and Leo followed with Cailean bringing up the end. Once inside, the brothers lazily gazed around to see the rest of their group. Instead, they stood in an empty room with only the light Cailean conjured.

“What’s going on, Cail?” Nikolaos beseeched his longtime friend.

Cailean stared at the floor and rubbed the back of his neck. “I am so sorry.” His words trembled as his burning tears streamed down his face. “A decision had to be made, and I am making it to spare Brian and your sister. Destiny has led us down a dark path. I am so sorry I have to be the one to do this.”

Cailean raised his head to retain what little respect he had for himself and look the brothers in the eyes as he did the unthinkable. They stared back, confused and cautious.

Nikolaos lifted his arm, a small gesture, to comfort Cailean. Cailean mistook the move as aggressive and jumped back through the doorway. Nikolaos raced towards the door, but before he reached the exit, Cailean raised his hand and shouted, “Ciur Caisg Air!

Frost sprung up from the ground and cold white light blinded everyone in the cave. Cailean could not believe what he had done. He hunched over, leaned against the wall and hyperventilated. The massive guilt of betrayal brought him, a grown man, to blubbering tears.

He sprinted back through the cave and up through the practice field before the light vanished, revealing the aftermath of his spell work. Silent tears kept his face wet and puffy. He grabbed several long, thin pieces of firewood and conjured them into a bow and arrows. He thought hunting might calm his nerves, but deep down he knew nothing would take away his guilt.

Back around the campfire sat Eoghan and Breanna, curious as to where everyone went. They headed down the slope where Brian and Cailean came into view, Brian holding the back of Cailean’s neck with both hands, staring him in the eyes as if in a daze. When they were close enough, Bre recognized what Brian was doing and called out to him.

Bre’s voice broke Brian’s concentration. He gave her a pitying glance of disbelief.

Brian let go of Cailean and sprinted towards the cave. Cailean ran after his brother, and Bre and Eoghan followed, screaming their names.

Brian did not stop until he found the doorway he saw in Cailean’s memories. Cailean leaned against the cave wall and slid down to the floor with his face in his hands. Bre and Eoghan were seconds behind Cailean. Their gasps of shock filled the silent cave.

There, displayed behind glass, were Bre’s brothers, frozen as statues depicted in motion. Nikolaos took a sprinters position, racing to the door. He bit his lower lip to urge his body faster. Cole stood behind Nikolaos with his hand extended, no doubt trying to cast a spell to counteract Cailean’s spell. Leo casually rubbed his eyes and yawned.

“What happened? Who did this? Were we attacked last night and I didn’t realize? I should have been able to sense they were in trouble,” Bre sobbed and buried her face in Eoghan’s chest.

Eoghan gaped from Brian to Cailean as Brian swooped down and grabbed Cailean by the shirt. He pulled him to his feet and slammed him against the cave wall.

“Why?” Brian shouted in his brother’s face, his own cheeks burning red. “Why did you do this?

Bre watched Brian scream at his brother, wiping tears from her eyes and trying to understand, not wanting to believe it.

Eoghan rushed over to separate them. He pulled Brian off Cailean and demanded answers, “What is going on between the two of you? And what happened to the brothers?”

“My genius of a brother here decided to take fate into his own hands. You overheard my conversation with Andraste last night, didn’t you?” Brian shouted at Cailean, straightening out his clothing.

“Yes, and I saw your face when she told you that you would have to make the decision about the brothers. I did not want you to go through that. I thought I would be saving you from how I feel now!” Cailean shouted back.

“I did make a decision, you overzealous fool! I decided to leave the brothers alone. If you had just come to me and discussed this like, oh I don’t know, an adult, we would have come up with a proper plan. We will not be able to defeat Elpis without them!” Brian continued to yell.

“Why did Andraste come back last night? What did she say?” Bre asked trying to break Brian’s murderous stare, afraid for Cailean.

Brian ignored Bre. “Remove the spell, Cail,” he warned, pointing a finger at Cailean.

“I can’t. The spell can only be removed when the cosmos deems it necessary,” Cailean said grimly.

Irate and shaking, Brian lunged at Cailean and almost freed himself from Eoghan’s grasp. “Are you telling me you cast the Nádúr spell, the most sacred spell in our religion? You bent nature’s will to do your beckoning? You should know that you cannot command the universe like that! It will end up commanding you!”

“You heard what Andraste said; they needed to fight another day. I figured the world will know when it needs its heroes,” Cailean tried to diffuse his brother’s temper with logic.

“Brian, answer me,” Bre walked over and grabbed Brian’s face with both hands, forcing him to look at her. “What did Andraste say last night?”

Eoghan still had a firm grip on Brian, hoping he would not make another move towards Cailean.

“She wanted me to know our fate resided with the brothers’ involvement in the battle. She insinuated that if the brothers were removed that the world would be safer,” Brian explained.

“How will the world be safer if they do not fight? How is it better that they are frozen like statues? What is this spell?” Bre desperately asked with tears forming in her eyes.

Brian eased his tension against Eoghan as he listened to the desperation and trauma in Breanna’s voice. “I believe Andraste wanted us to understand that they need to live for another time. They could have died in this battle and she did not want that to happen. However, what this means is that we will fail in this battle. I don’t know how we can defeat Elpis without your brothers, Breanna.”

Eoghan let go of Brian and took a deep breath. “We will have to find a way. We are powerful as we are and Breanna is The Queen. There must be a way to fight.”

“There is always a way to fight, but there is not always a way to win,” said Brian, locking his defeated eyes with Eoghan’s.

Brian turned and walked back to the cave entrance. Eoghan followed his chief in silence, leaving Bre alone with Cailean. Bre walked up to the glass and tears fell from her hazel eyes, freezing when they touched the ground near the glass.

“I am so sorry, Bre. I thought I was doing the right thing to help you and Brian. I wanted to protect you all,” said Cailean moving closer to Bre.

To his surprise, Bre wrapped her arms around his neck and hugged him tightly. She released him then kissed his cheek. Bre slipped her hand into his as she said, “I know. I can feel your grief. I am not angry with you, Cail. I am angry with Andraste. I’m just afraid of what will happen to us once we face Eversor and Elpis. Not so much me, but you, Brian, and Eoghan. ”

Cailean looked back up the path that led to the entrance and tugged on Bre’s arm. “I am not sure of the future, but I can be sure that I will protect your brothers. I can hide them and they will not age or die in this spell. They are time locked until the universe releases them from it.”

Bre tightly held on to her wolf pendant with one hand. With her free hand, she pressed her fingers to her lips, and then pressed them against the glass. The glass that held her brothers captive burned her fingers from the cold. Bre wove her free arm around Cailean’s as they jogged towards the entrance.

Brian and Eoghan waited outside with their arms folded across their chests, deep in conversation.

“Let’s go, you two. We need to plan. I have a feeling that in three days we can expect company,” Brian said coldly.

“Wait one second,” Cailean raised his hands and shouted, “Cleocadh agus dìdean!”

As soon as he said the last word, the ground rumbled and rocks fell from the ceiling, collapsing the entranceway. A wall of dirt and rock blocked anyone’s path to the brothers, but Bre’s heart jumped at the thought that it blocked her brothers’ path out. When the dust settled, the air rippled around the entrance and the cave completely vanished, turning into a clear field and blank rock wall.

“The first thing you’ve done right all day, Cailean,” Brian’s tone was cold and cruel. He turned and headed back to camp. “Let’s go!” he snapped over his shoulder.

Eoghan followed him up the hill, too afraid to speak. He had never seen his chief in such a cruel mood before. Bre hugged Cailean one more time and thanked him for hiding her brothers. Bre and Cailean silently walked back to camp. There was nothing left to say to ease each other’s pain.

When Bre and Cailean reached the camp, they found Brian exiting Lysandros’ tent, holding on to his blanket. He immediately confronted Cailean. Bre conjured a small shield charm from her palms to keep the brothers apart.

Furious, Brian waved Lysandros’ blanket through the air as he shouted, “Where did you hide the body this time?”

Chapter 33

Pride and Sacrifice

More annoyed than surprised, Cailean quickly rebuffed the allegation. “I haven’t done anything to Lysandros! You searched my mind. You would have seen if I had!”

“Then where is he, Cailean? He wouldn’t up and leave with impending doom heading our way!”

Brian turned away from Bre’s shield charm.

“I don’t know, Brian, but apparently he has because I didn’t do anything to him!” Cailean’s temper rose, against his internal judgment.

A sense of peace came over the group. Cailean and Brian calmed down, while Eoghan stretched out in front of the fire and folded his hands behind his head. Breanna yawned and leaned against a tree.

Brian saw Leora out of the corner of his eye and shook his head to snap out of the calm. “Leora, enough!”

Leora snorted at his command and intensified the emotion. Brian’s legs became weak and lazy, forcing him to sit. The potent emotion affected everything living in the camp. The horses relaxed on the ground, Aurora and Clover rolled in the grass getting comfortable for a nap, and even Lupa yawned while resting her head on a protruding tree root.

“Easy girl,” Bre said. She lazily walked over to Leora and patted her head. “You are going to put us all to sleep. We have far too much to do.”

Leora did as Bre asked and Brian and Cailean snapped out of their peaceful bliss. Bre pointed a finger at Brian, silently warning him not to attack his brother again.

Brian stormed off to his tent then returned with a rolled up, yellowish parchment. Brian waved his hand and a large wooden table appeared. He tossed the parchment into the air and the thin paper glided down to the table fully extended.

“I woke up this morning with this map next to my bed. I can only assume Andraste left it for us,” Brian said without looking at any of them, especially his brother.

Bre had never heard him speak in such a cold and distant tone. Her hands balled into fists and she clenched her teeth. His anger made her angry.

“This is a map of Cymru. This is our camp,” he said and tapped at a particular spot. When he pulled his finger away, a brown spot appeared on the map where he pressed down. “Now, over here, on this island, is where The Morrigan and Eversor hid from the other gods centuries ago. I am assuming this is where Eversor took baby Elpis.” He pointed at an island at least a hundred miles away from where they camped.

“It would take a week for them to reach us, even if they knew where we were,” Eoghan said as he measured the distances in his head.

“You underestimate how powerful they are. Just as Bre can disappear and reappear, Elpis and Eversor can do the same. However, they have more experience and can pinpoint their locations over great distances,” Brian explained.

“That is a lovely thought,” Cailean shook his head, thinking about how foolish he was for taking away three other sources of magic and locking them into nature’s alarm clock.

“Exactly, that is why we need to prepare more vigorously. We can’t beat them in hand-to-hand combat anymore, which means we will have to use more strategic moves,” Brian explained.

“Do you remember the story you told me of three-hundred Spartans who fought the Persian army and held them off for days?” Bre asked with a hint of excitement in her voice. “Look at the valley pass here. The entrance to the valley is barely big enough for two small people. Eoghan and I can take on Eversor and Elpis if we can hold them at the entrance. I have been over there with Nikolaos. The Cliffside is lined with hidden caves, so you and Cail could attack from above.”

Brian examined the map and nodded. “That has potential, Breanna. let’s go see this passage.”

The four remaining members of the group stood in the middle of the valley pass planning their attack. For the rest of the day, they practiced spells and strategized. They barely took breaks for water. The schedule even drained the animals.

Tensions were high with everybody, especially Brian and Cailean.

“Brian!” Breanna scolded as she healed Cailean from a blast caused by one of Brian’s “practice” spells.

“Unnecessary, Brian!” Cailean yelled as he watched the burn mark disappear.

“It’s practice, Cailean. If that had been Eversor, you would have been dead,” Brian defended his actions.

“I get the feeling you wouldn’t mind that,” Cailean said coolly.

Brian whipped around to face Cailean. Cailean glared at his older brother, unafraid of what he would do and ready to defend himself. About to bait his brother into another verbal fight, Cailean stopped when a flinch of guilt and pain appeared on Brian’s face. Brian recovered his brief moment of vulnerability with a burst of anger that sent a lightning bolt crashing into a nearby tree, followed by a scream of fury.

That night, they ate their food in silence. The o’Conaills ignored each other, and Eoghan and Bre snuck glances while the other was not looking.

Cailean went to bed first. Brian followed minutes later, but the sound of sharpening metal rattled from his tent. All that was left were the animals, Bre and Eoghan. Bre sensed Eoghan’s emotions consuming both their thoughts, begging for release.

The firelight danced off Bre’s hair and glimmered in the flecks of gold in her eyes. It took all of Eoghan’s strength not to take Bre in his arms and finally tell her how he felt about her. She astounded him. He was defenseless against her looks, attitude, and power. She was everything he never knew he wanted until this journey began.

Bre became awkward, unsure of how to act around him. Everything she did or said seemed more formal or proper than their usual friendly and close behavior. Her chest tightened from her fear of the exponential growth of her own feelings over the past few weeks, and even more because she felt his feelings: the longing for her to look or speak to him, the protectiveness of his gaze, and the love silently pouring out of his heart every time he stood next to her. His emotions mixing with hers made it difficult to distinguish between the two.

Eoghan leaned over to stoke the fire, but Bre jumped up and backed away from him. “I can’t handle this anymore!” Bre protectively wrapped her arms around herself as she shook her head uncontrollably. “I can’t do this.”

Eoghan cautiously stood up, staring at the frazzled princess, hands out defensively. “Whoa! Do what? What’s wrong?”

“This. Us. Whatever this is. I cannot do it. I can feel you inside me,” she pounded a closed fist over her heart as she spoke, “taking over my emotions. I can’t handle it anymore.”

“I’m not sure I understand, but there has to be a magical solution for a magical problem, right?” Eoghan forced a positive tone and a smile to calm her.

“No. I am barely strong enough now. I cannot hinder or damage my powers because of you.” Bre’s whole body shook with a raw mixture of fury, lust, and love.

“What do you want me to do, Bre? I will do anything,” Eoghan pleaded.

Please don’t do anything crazy, I can’t lose you. Oh the gods, I can’t lose you, Eoghan thought, but Bre heard him.

“Stop. Please, just stop. No more thinking,” Breanna sobbed, holding her head in her hands. “No more feelings. I can’t bare these emotions. I can’t tell whose is who’s anymore, you’re invading my soul!”

Eoghan choked back tears; it was now or never. He pushed his chest out and grabbed Bre’s arms. “Tell me you don’t love me. Tell me you don’t love me and I will find a way to get rid of my feelings for you.”

Breanna stood quiet, shivering, afraid to answer.

“Tell me,” Eoghan demanded, slightly shaking her.

Bre stopped shivering, her face clear of emotion as she stared into Eoghan’s eyes. As Eoghan stared back, her eyes changed from hazel to silver. It broke his heart to know that she had to call upon her powers just to speak to him.

“I cannot love you, Eoghan. It is not my duty to love you, nor my destiny to be with you. We will never have a future other than a fellowship. You are my soldier and subject, nothing more.” Her words felt like a dagger shredding his guts.

Tears swam in Eoghan’s eyes, but he blinked them away. He sighed and bowed his head, “As you wish, Your Highness.”

Without another word, Eoghan turned and walked down the hill towards the practice field. For the first time, Breanna did not feel the need to follow him; pushing him away was right for both of them.

A smooth rock on the ground caught the firelight and Bre’s attention. She instinctively picked up a small jet-black rock and turned it over in her hands. Not knowing or caring why, Breanna put it in her pocket.

Leora transmitted a calming sensation as she and Clover laid their heads on her lap. Aurora curled up on Bre’s feet, while Whisper loudly chomped on oats in the background. his carefree crunching made Bre laugh. Even after the draining emotional conflict she had with Eoghan, the night had a sense of normality.

Do you want us to follow him? asked Clover.

“No. He needs to find a way to separate us. It is what’s best for the battle…what’s best for him,” Bre answered with a sad smile as she pet the large wolf.

Sitting and relaxing with her animals, Bre realized, “I’m not going to make it through this war…”

She gazed up at the sky and smiled as a shooting star passed through the clear night sky. She closed her eyes as the night air gently caressed her skin. The crickets, owls, and the whispering wind seemed to hum a melody just for her.

Smiling blissfully, she scratched behind Clover’s ears and relaxed under the peaceful lull of Aurora and Leora purring.

“…And I’m ok with that.”

Chapter 34

Acceptance

The clanging of metal and the laughter of men woke Breanna up. At least two hundred soldiers surrounded her, and none of them paying attention to the sleeping girl by the fire.

Bre scurried to her feet and backed away from the herd of men. The morning sun shone brightly, blurring her already sleepy vision. Not only was there nowhere to hide, but there was also no way she could grab her sword undetected. Even if she could get her sword, she could not fight two hundred men on her own, no matter how good she was. In order to save her and her friends, she would have to use her powers.

She forced her power to swell in her chest. She remembered Cole directing her to feel her powers’ warmth take over her body and soothe her nerves. All fear disappeared as The Power filled every crevice of her body. The irises of her eyes turned silver and her hair pitch black.

Bre’s voice changed into multiple voices as she said, “Earth and air bend to my will. Destroy those who threaten your protection.”

The air around her swirled and the skies turned grey. Thunder rang out and crashed to the ground. A deep rumbling from the earth got the attention of the strange men in the camp. The men fell silent as they stared at Bre opened mouthed, in awe.

Before she repeated her spell, Brian grabbed the side of her face. “Bre look at me. Stop it. Stop it now. They are not our enemies. Breanna!

“Oh, let her go! This is entertaining,” a man’s voice laughed. “Besides, uncle will have some more soldiers to use against the demon woman.”

“Breanna,” a sweet voice whispered into her ear, “Calm down, Amica Mea. Come back to us. You and I have catching up to do.”

A hand stroked the back of her head and Bre felt her powers retreating against her will. Her hair and eyes returned to normal as she focused on Brian, distressed by the sight of her. She turned to see the woman who stroked her hair and gazed into the golden brown eyes of a beautiful woman dressed in a red and black toga with a smile that made Bre smile.

“There you are, Princess. My name is Rhea Silvia. I am your grandmother,” Rhea said and grabbed Bre’s hand to guide her back to the fire. “This is your grandfather, Mars, who apparently, after centuries, still doesn’t know when to demote violence.”

Rhea glared at Mars as he laughed.

Lupa growled and bit Mars’ hand, causing him to stop laughing as he grumbled in pain.

The Men moved out of Bre and Rhea’s way as they walked back to the fire, fearful of the princess. Once back to the fire, Bre’s heart jumped and her body released the tension it still held from the day before. Standing next to Cailean was Lysandros.

“Lysandros!” Breanna squealed and ran towards him. She jumped into his arms and tightly squeezed him.

Lysandros laughed as she refused to let him go. He gave into her bear-like clutch and held her, wrapped around his neck.

When she finally let go, she gave him a shove. “Where in the worlds have you been?”

“He came to find me,” a familiar rough, raspy voice answered.

The voice gave Bre butterflies. She never thought she would hear that voice again. It instantly brought tears to her eyes. She whipped around and gasped at a man who looked and sounded just like her father. “Who are you?” she demanded, taking a startled step backwards.

“Well that was a rather dumb question,” Mars added. Rhea shoved him and pointed a finger to warn him to remain silent.

“I am your Uncle Romulus. I know we’ve never met, but I know all about you, Your Majesty.” Romulus bowed his head in respect.

“We needed more firepower to take on Elpis and Eversor. Since Romulus has a large kingdom, I figured his army would be perfect to recruit,” Lysandros explained. “I called Mars the night before last. I needed divine help to get to Roma and to your uncle in time.”

“No thank you needed, just a good war in repayment,” Mars wiggled his eyebrows excitedly and grinned at Bre.

“Help to get to the man who absorbed Breanna’s kingdom by violent conquest and killing his own brother,” Eoghan said as he strolled up the hill from the practice field. He spoke evenly, and his face remained expressionless. He showed no fear of Romulus.

“Eoghan, that’s enough,” Brian warned, surprised by his rude, although truthful, statement.

“Merely stating facts,” Eoghan shrugged off the warning as he walked past Bre without a glance.

Eoghan carried himself with cold confidence. Bre sensed the intense feelings they shared the night before were gone. The only emotions coming from him were those of a soldier to his general. Even their close companionship was gone. Bre winced at the harshness of his demeanor, unsure whether she should be relieved or hurt at his sudden change of heart.

“We need to prepare for the impending battle. It is approaching much quicker than we expected,” Eoghan addressed the group without looking at Bre. “I met with Andraste last night, and she showed me that Elpis and Eversor are on their way and will arrive shortly.”

“You met with Andraste?” Bre’s anger flared. “Why on earth would you meet with that hag?” she felt nothing but distrust and anger towards the goddess for what happened to her brothers.

Eoghan answered her in the same indifferent tone, “You know full well why I did. I keep my promises.”

Cailean and Brian watched Eoghan closely, concerned about his change in attitude.

“What did she show you?” Cailean asked, deliberately stopping Bre from pursuing the issue.

“The Morrigan performing a location spell, and unfortunately, she found us. As we speak, The Morrigan is working to bring down our protection charms. Once she does, Eversor and Elpis will be here in seconds.” Eoghan’s face remained impassive.

New Eoghan was an oddity. He used to be full of emotion and life. Now he stood as if he cared for nothing. Bre walked away. Eoghan’s stone heart made hers sink into her stomach. The men continued discussing their battle plans without her.

Rhea watched Bre walk down the hill, struggling with her emotions. She leaned up and whispered in Mars’ ear, “I have to go. She has no mother to help her understand and answer questions.”

Mars looked over his shoulder at Breanna, now clutching her chest as she walked. He nodded and kissed Rhea on the head. Rhea warned him to behave in her absence and then followed her granddaughter down the hill.

“You are the cause, aren’t you?” Rhea gave Bre a sympathetic smile.

Bre lurched sideways at Rhea’s sudden appearance next to her. She let her heartbeat slow down before answering. “Eoghan or this war?” Bre replied sardonically.

Rhea raised an eyebrow. Bre chuckled, now seeing where her father got his reaction to sarcasm. It was their way of saying, ‘You know full well what I am talking about.’

“We couldn’t afford to let emotions affect the battle. It was too much to handle. I would not be able to concentrate on Elpis if I was worried about his safety. I would constantly be feeling his concern for me. Not to mention, I know he would involve himself in my battle with Elpis, or worse, he would sacrifice himself to protect me.” Rhea tried to interrupt Bre but Bre put up her hand to stop her. “You are a goddess of soldiers. You have seen him and you know what he is willing to do for me. ”

Rhea released a troubled sigh, followed by a pitying smile. “Amica Mea, it is his emotions who have changed, not yours. Your concern has not dissipated; otherwise you would not have walked away from him. You need to understand that war is passion. The Power in your soul was created as a result of that passion. You have empathic abilities because you are meant to feel the adoration of life with the stimulation of fear. Eoghan is a gift from the universe because of the sacrifices you must and will make.”

“You mean is he a pity gift” Bre interrupted.

“I mean he is meant to make you fight harder for the world, because he is your world.” Rhea said, guiding Bre towards a group of trees that provided shelter from the valley breeze.

“My powers are too new. I do not have full control while his emotions mix with mine,” Breanna tried to explain.

Rhea disapprovingly shook her head.

“Breanna, your powers are older than you, and wiser. They are the perfect balance in the universe, the root essence of life. You have to understand, the most repeated trend in history is Love and War. They are fundamental aspects of the universe.”

Rhea sat poised beneath a shady tree and patted the ground for Bre to sit next to her. Rhea held Bre’s hand in between her warm palms. “Your father and uncle were born from the love of a war god. Do you understand how rare that is? It is why the power chose to exist in your father, who would later find its other half in your mother. The Power wanted to conceive its future vessel. You were chosen, Breanna, after centuries of The Power hiding. That has never happened in the history of man or the gods. Even Etruria has been reborn into Rome, A kingdom forged from the love and war of two brothers; a sacrifice The Power commanded in order to live.”

Delusional from the news, Breanna half laughed and half cried. “You are saying that my soul demanded the death of my parents, and now you expect me to be Love and War? It destroys everything near me,” Bre tried to hold back tears.

Rhea sweetly replied, “Oh, Amici Mea, what have I been telling you? War and Love are the roots of our universe. Even the gods bend to their authority. You are upset about Eoghan because love is a battle because you fear it. From the moment you received your father’s half of The Power, emotions, especially loving ones, will be a constant struggle for you. You need to accept what you are and life will be easier.”

Bre once again breathed a laugh of disbelief at Rhea’s explanation of her emotional conflict. “Why couldn’t you make me understand this earlier? You are direct, and I appreciate that, but it’s too late. I forced Eoghan to give up his feelings for me. Even worse than that, he did it through magic. Who knows the consequences that will follow?”

Rhea had no further explanation or words of comfort. The two women silently sat under the tree. Rhea gazed at the beautiful scenery while Bre picked at blades of grass. As Bre twirled the blades between her fingers, a small stream of water rose up from the ground next to her. The water startled Bre, but Rhea seemed more suspicious than scared. The water continued to flow closer to Bre’s hand until it reached her fingers and swirled around her wrist and up her arm.

Bre wildly shook her hand to stop the water but Rhea grabbed her. “Don’t move. The water will not harm you. Water is used for divination. It opens the mind to glimpse what the eyes cannot.”

The water reached the base of Bre’s neck and sunk into her skin. Her eyes turned ice blue and her face became expressionless as she was forced into a deep trance. Bre grabbed Rhea’s hand, and the goddess fell into the same trance.

Chapter 35

Binding of the Gods

Bre and Rhea stood on a stone pathway outside of a cave that overlooked rolling green hills in the distance. To the right of them was a rocky cliff with a straight fall to the ocean. They should have been cold from the ocean breeze, but they could not feel the chill. In fact, their entire bodies were numb.

From inside the cave, two women argued, followed by an explosion.

“How dare you hide that abomination!” one woman screamed before another explosion rattled the cave walls.

Bre and Rhea ran into the cave. Once inside, they saw a woman dressed in a sheer, white dress held up only by thin pieces of fabric around her shoulders. Slender bands of fabric flowed from her shoulders and attached to gold cuffs around her arms and wrists. Strips of gold stretched out from a gold belt and wrapped around her breasts. Sandals made of gold with leather straps wound up her calves. She had a red rose pinned to the side of her light brown hair that fell just below her shoulders. Her Beautiful facial features turned to rage. It became obvious that she was the one yelling and the origin of the explosions. She had her arm extended with a grey energy ball formed in her palm. Her eyes blazed a bright red.

A second woman across from her stood with a pleased smile. Purple light, a protection charm, shielded her from the explosions. She wore a long, black dress with a silver bodice. She had a raven-feather cape that shimmered green and purple in the dim light of the torches on the walls. Random raven feathers stuck out from her black hair, tied into a bun. An amethyst amulet rested in the middle of her forehead, fastened with black metal chains connected to the sides of her bun. Her eyes were black with a slight purple shimmer in the center. If evil had a face, it would be hers.

“Anath,” Rhea said, pointing to the woman in white and gold, “and the Great Phantom Queen,” Rhea pointed to the other.

“Great Phantom Queen?” Breanna whispered.

“There is no need to whisper here, Breanna. This is only a vision. They cannot hear nor see us. We, in return, have no powers. The Phantom Queen is also known as The Morrigan.” Rhea did not take her eyes off The Morrigan. She seemed uneasy, as if she did not completely believe they were invisible. “She is a shape shifter goddess of war and death, well-rehearsed in the dark magic of her religion. The Morrigan is the one who taught Eversor the secrets of Celtic sorcery, who then created the order of the Druids.”

“Eoghan said she was trying to break down our protection charms. She can’t be trying to reveal our location if she is detained by flying energy balls,” Breanna said, staring at The Morrigan, wondering if she was as powerful as everyone made her sound.

“Do not underestimate The Morrigan. Look at her hand.” Rhea pointed to a glowing blue light in The Morrigan’s palm. “She is actively wearing down our shields as she defends against Anath.”

“I thought that was her protection spell.” Breanna said with a knot in her stomach as she watched the goddess multitask complex spells with ease.

“The protection spell is cast by the Amethyst crystal on her forehead,” replied Rhea.

“You had no right, you hag. You have betrayed the entire council! You should have handed him over when you found him!” Anath screamed and sent another energy ball crashing into The Morrigan’s shield, spraying sparks into the air. “I will wear down your shield, Morrigan.”

The Morrigan smiled and calmly said, “Tienne.”

Suddenly, a ring fire erupted around Anath. Anath fell to her knees, grabbed her head, and screamed.

Bre lunged to help Anath, but Rhea grabbed her arm, holding her back. “Listen to me carefully. The Morrigan has great power. Even if she cannot see or hear us, she may be able to sense us if we get too close. That will be most unfortunate for us. This vision is a warning. Let us not do any harm to its cause. We must wait and see the true reason we are here.”

Bre stayed next to her grandmother, but every fiber in her body urged her to rescue Anath. Rhea was a goddess, but The Morrigan frightened her. If a goddess was scared of her, Breanna had to heed her advice. Anath writhed in agony on the floor. Breanna was thankful she was powerless here and could not feel Anath’s pain.

The purple light around The Morrigan faded as she walked closer to the screaming goddess.

“Beg,” The Morrigan said coldly. Her tone was unforgiving and her power unyielding. “Beg for mercy, Anath.”

Anath refused. Anath gritted her teeth as she said, “You can torture me for a thousand years, but I will never satisfy your sadistic soul.”

The fire rose in height and Anath now lay on the ground with her nails digging into the floor, Her back rigid and arched as waves of pain convulsed her body.

“I see you are as stubborn as ever, Grandmother,” a woman said disappointedly from the back of the cave. “With the plans I have for all of you, you will not have to yield to The Morrigan.”

The third woman emerged from the shadows of the cave, appearing to be no older than her mid-twenties. She had wavy, dirty-blonde hair that fell to the middle of her back. Her eyes were a crisp blue that glowed in the dim light. She wore a mid-thigh, red silk dress with a low cut back that stopped just shy of her behind. A gold belt clung to her hips with a gold sheath that hung to the side. She wore black leather sandals with straps that climbed her legs and up her thighs, hiding beneath the rim of her dress. Egyptian style daggers engraved with hieroglyphs of animals covered her shins.

The woman looked all too familiar, but Bre could not place where they would have met.

“Now, now, my love. Don’t reveal too much of our plan.” Eversor stepped out from behind the woman and kissed her forehead.

“It does not matter. She and her kind will soon be dead and the world will be ours again.” the woman smirked at Anath and The Morrigan, unafraid of both goddesses.

The Morrigan glared at the third woman, who ignored her and walked towards Anath.

Anath tried to relax her body and control the pain, but it kept surging through her, forcing her back to arch repeatedly. Still gritting her teeth, Anath gazed up at the third woman. “It is not possible…we killed you.”

The third woman clenched her fist and the waves of pain increased in frequency and forced Anath to seize on the floor.

“Yes, dear Grandmother. It is I, Elpis, the Great Queen and Bane of the Gods,” Elpis said with an evil smirk and looked at The Morrigan out of the corner of her eye.

Bre took a step back in shock. Images of the massacre at the Nemeton of Arras and the baby pulled out from Haley’s stomach raced through her mind. Disturbingly enough, the memory of Eoghan conceiving the baby replayed over and over again.

“I’m going to be sick,” Bre said bringing her hand to her mouth.

The Morrigan waved her hand and the fire around Anath disappeared. Elpis screeched in fury and sent a gust of wind into Anath when she tried to stand, knocking her into the corner of the cave. Elpis snapped her fingers and chains wrapped around Anath’s limbs, waist, and throat, pinning her to the ground.

As Anath struggled against her restraints, burn marks sizzled on her skin and smoke rose up from the chains. Anath whimpered as the chains singed her perfect skin.

“You witch. She could have escaped!” Elpis rounded on The Morrigan. “Everything would have been ruined!” Elpis’ hand shook in anger.

The Morrigan laughed, and suddenly a ring of fire circled Elpis, forcing to her kneel before the goddess. Elpis did not scream, but held her breath and clenched her jaw, refusing to give The Morrigan pleasure in her pain.

“You are a pathetic child. I am thousands upon thousands of years older than you, and with greater power. You only have half of The Power, making you no match for any god, let alone someone as powerful as me,” The Morrigan gloated as she enjoyed Elpis’ suffering. “I can end your miserable existence with a flick of my wrist.”

“Enough!” Eversor stepped in between The Morrigan and Elpis. “We have a ritual to perform, and you need to find Breanna and her group so we can complete our plan.”

The Morrigan glared at Elpis, but nodded to Eversor. She waved her hand and the fire disappeared.

Elpis stood up, ready to attack The Morrigan, but Eversor stepped in front of her and pointed to Anath.

Elpis glared at Anath and held out her hand to Eversor. He removed a dagger from his belt and placed it in Elpis’ palm.

Rhea gasped upon seeing the dagger. “How could they have found that? Oh no, my sweet son.”

“That’s the dagger that killed Mother. Can it kill other gods?” Bre asked.

Rhea trembled as she said, “It is also the dagger that killed your parents. It can kill anything it stabs. A rare poison is injected into the victim when injured by the blade, a poison that is rarely healed. The dagger was enchanted centuries ago by the gods to kill Elpis. She was the most powerful being in the world then and it destroyed her. It is the only blade that can remove The Power from a vessel.”

Bre and Rhea held their breath as they watched the horrid scene. Elpis took the dagger and sliced open her forearm.

When she lifted the dagger, a thin string of red light dangled from the tip of the blade. Without hesitation, Elpis yanked Anath’s head back by her hair. Smoke floated out from behind Anath’s neck as fresh skin burned against the chains. Elpis then plunged the dagger into Anath’s chest, piercing her heart. She withdrew the dagger and Anath’s wound immediately healed. Elpis then sliced her palm open and held her freshly cut hand on Anath’s forehead and chanted, “I bind one, I bind you all. I bind one, I bind you all.”

Rhea grabbed Bre’s hand, “We need to leave, now.”

Bre nodded, not wanting to argue with her panicking grandmother.

Before they left, a baby cried in the back of the cave. Bre turned around to see The Morrigan glide over to a small cradle and lift a baby to soothe its crying. “There, there, Igraine. It is not time to wake. You have many years left to sleep. Hush now sweet babe.”

Bre extended her arm without thinking and a white light erupted from her palm. Rhea and Bre were yanked backwards until they woke up against the tree they had been sitting under.

Rhea gasped, eyes wide with fear. “Run!” she warned, pulling Bre to feet and dragging her back up the hill.

Bre and Rhea returned to the group to find half of Romulus’ soldiers gone.

“Where did…” Bre started.

Romulus cut Breanna off in a hurry, “They are at the pass preparing the archers for battle.”

“There will be no archers,” Breanna’s said authoritatively, unafraid of her uncle.

“Excuse me?” Romulus said, shocked and unaccustomed to someone speaking to him in that manner.

“Men will be fighting down in the pass and I will not allow anyone to shoot arrows at us while we are trying to save your behinds,” Breanna said and jabbed a finger into her uncle’s chest.

Romulus laughed, “You were right, Lys, she is feisty. My dear niece, we are not going to shoot the arrows down into the pit, we are shooting the arrows into the sky. My scouts have found an unusual amount of gold eagles in the area. Where the eagles are, Elpis is surely to follow.” He winked and headed towards the pass where they would make their final stand.

“That ought to be fun. While we’re fighting, dead birds will be falling on our heads.” Bre folded her arms across her chest and shook her head as she watched her uncle walk away.

“That sounded a lot like Leo. I’m afraid he may have rubbed off on you.” Lysandros smirked at Bre’s stunned expression when she realized how much she sounded like her brother.

“Rhea! We must leave. Now! We are being recalled to Mount Olympus. A lock down of all the gods has been issued.” Mars appeared next to his wife and grabbed her arm.

“That is because Elpis bound the Phoenicians. With one swish of the dagger she can kill the entire Phoenician pantheon.” Rhea explained what they witnessed in the vision.

“We must go,” Mars said, pulling Rhea closer to his side.

“Wait! You can’t leave us. We need your help to defeat Elpis and Eversor. Giving in to the lock down will only ensure their victory,” Cailean shouted, his anger getting the best of him.

“That is your problem, Gàidheal,” Mars said, pointing a finger at Cailean then turning to Bre. “The fate of the gods and the world are in your hands, young Phoinix.”

Mars winked at Romulus and proudly smiled. Before anyone could say another word, Mars and Rhea disappeared in a puff of red smoke.

“That’s perfect! The gods abandon us and leave us to fight their war!” Cailean yelled at the sky.

“It is not their war; it is ours. They should run and hide,” Brian said calmly. “If Elpis acquires a god from each pantheon and binds them, the world could lose every god in existence. With the death of each pantheon, its corresponding civilization will perish. We cannot allow that to happen. Anath must be saved before the Phoenician pantheon and its culture are destroyed.”

“How do you propose we prevent it?” Lysandros folded his arms and squinted his eyes as a hundred attack scenarios played out in his head.

“First, we need to rescue Anath before Elpis kills her.” Brian pressed his thumb and pointer finger to the bridge of his nose as he desperately searched his mind for answers.

“But how?” Cailean asked impatiently.

“I can summon her,” Bre positively said.

Bre closed her eyes as she pictured Anath and the cave in her mind. Bre wrinkled her nose as the smell of damp dirt mixed with burning flesh filled her nostrils. Thunder rang through the sky and lighting crashed to the ground. Kneeling on the ground, next to Bre was Anath. The goddess tried not to move while the chains were still wrapped around her. Bre snapped her fingers and the chains unclasped, falling to the ground.

Anath stood up, lightly rubbing the burn marks on her skin. “Thank you, but I must leave. She cannot find me. The survival of my pantheon depends on my escape.”

“I am well aware of what is going on, but…” Bre began but Anath cut her off.

“Listen to me, little…” Anath said but her voice disappeared when Bre waved her hand.

“Speak when spoken to,” Bre said glaring at Anath, her voice filled with venom. “You are a member of the War Council that created this monstrosity. You condemned Elpis and I to a life of misery. Therefore, you will listen to me now. You are a goddess and you will help us defeat her. I don’t care if I have to chain myself to you in order to keep you here. Your kind knows full well we need divine assistance to win.” Breanna leaned towards Anath, eyes narrow with anger, and whispered, “You owe me, Anath. I saved you from that cave.”

Bre waved her hand and gave Anath her voice back.

Anath immediately fired back at Bre, pointing her finger as she berated her. “You don’t get it. You have already lost. The gods cannot help you now. Your brothers are gone, you’ve damaged one of your protectors,” Anath motioned to Eoghan, “Even your grandparents refuse to stand by you.”

Unexpectedly, the air around the camp electrified, causing the hair on Bre’s and Anath’s arms to stand up. A green light fell to the ground around the camp. “The Morrigan,” Bre whispered to herself. “She broke through.”

Anath did not seem to notice as she continued to berate Bre, “I owe you nothing. Be grateful you possess such power, even half of it.”

“And you should be grateful that I do not have that other half, Grandmother,” Elpis said and appeared behind Anath.

The group found themselves face-to-face with Elpis and Eversor. Eversor folded his arms across his chest, his head held high and smug. Elpis slowly walked towards Anath and cast an arrogant smile as she noticed her grandmother’s trembling burnt hands and wrists.

In the distance, hundreds of eagles screeched as they rapidly approached.

Chapter 36

The Meeting of Two Halves

Elpis’ eyes flickered to the right where Eoghan stood, unafraid and purposely staring her in the eyes to start a fight. Her arrogant smirk turned bright and humorous. “Hello, Father.”

A fire raged in Bre’s chest. It took all of her self-control not to lunge at Elpis. How dare you address Eoghan that way? Bre screamed in her head. Bre tried to read Elpis’ mind to see what exactly she was planning to do with group, but all was silent, forebodingly silent. How? she asked herself, How can anyone hide their mind from me?

“Mmmm,” Elpis closed her eyes and blissfully smiled as if remembering something sweet. “You may have my empathic powers, Breanna, but I can see your anger. It radiates off you in waves of pink passion. Oh, how I have longed for that fervor.”

“You are nothing but a hungry warlord,” growled Lysandros.

Lysandros tugged on his sword but it stuck in its holder. Eversor stood behind Elpis with two fingers pointed towards him.

Elpis’ eyes blazed with fury at Lysandros’ comment, her eyes wild with anger, but she spoke eerily slow, “Do you want to see what I am hungry for, dear Guardian?” Her tone was clear and poisonous.

Elpis’ eyes flashed green and Lysandros folded over, violently coughing. Warm, crimson blood spewed onto the grass.

Elpis cackled at the sight of him, “Your stomach is disintegrating, Guardian!” She turned to Bre as she wiped tears of laughter out from under her lashes. “Now, Bre. Oh, my apologies!” Elpis feigned social indignity and portrayed sarcastic manners, “May I call you Bre? Lovely! Now Bre, What are you going to do about this?”

Romulus’ soldiers fled after Elpis attacked Lysandros with only her eyes. They headed towards the pass, seeking the protection of their archers. Breanna instinctively surrounded the remaining group in a shield charm. The purple light stopped Lysandros’ bloody vomit; however, Breanna took on his symptoms. Her stomach contracted and burned as if being boiled inside her body. She clutched her stomach as blood ejected from her mouth, leaving a horrid metallic taste that intensified her gag reflex.

It was in this moment she needed Eoghan the most. She reached out a hand as she normally would when things went wrong. This time, Eoghan was not there to take her hand and soothe her ailments. This time he would not hold her and make her pain disappear. Eoghan remained expressionless next to Brian, not even looking at Bre. Instead, he stared pensively at Elpis and Eversor. He bore no sign of concern for his childhood friend.

“You fool! Ha-ha!” Elpis exclaimed.

“Your clan was charged with educating and training the young princess, to groom her if you will. The most fundamental detail you could have armed her with was that Elpis’ power is Breanna’s power, yet you neglected it. Your intelligence fails you with age, Brian,” Eversor said with distain as he shook his head in disappointment.

Blood continued to eject from Bre’s mouth. Her protection charm fell, as she could no longer concentrate on maintaining it.

Elpis walked over to Bre and stroked her hair. Her touch was soft, almost comforting as Bre hunched over, lurching from the bloody vomit. “You cannot defend against yourself, dear child. Ha-ha. Look at you, Princess. You have half of the world’s greatest power in you and you are dying from it. That is indeed humorous. You cannot protect them from me without harming yourself. Oooo, this is going to be fun,” Elpis excitedly clapped her hands together. “When will self-preservation take precedence over the lives of your friends, Breanna?”

Elpis grabbed the back of Bre’s head and shoved her to the ground. At Elpis’ touch, the violent stomach contractions stopped. Once Bre stopped vomiting, she cast the shield charm around everyone again. Elpis smirked and shook her head at Bre’s futile attempt of heroism.

Elpis eyed Eoghan and withdrew the dagger she used to stab Anath. She ran the blade over the chests of the men she passed to get to Eoghan. When the edge of the dagger touched the purple barrier, pink sparks flew into the air.

Brian gasped and a horrible knot formed in his stomach when the blade ran over his chest. “Where did you get that?” Brian shouted, outraged and sick at the sight of the enchanted dagger.

“Oh this old trinket? It has been in the family for years,” Elpis replied with her sweet yet wicked smile. “You should have known better than to hide it from me. Oh, Breanna! Look at him! That is pure fear in his eyes.” Elpis shivered with raw happiness. “Mmm, can’t you taste it? The sweet, yet sour taste that drips down your throat? I have missed the taste of fear during my slumber.”

Bre knew the taste Elpis described. She had tasted it since Elpis started torturing Lysandros.

Elpis stopped in front of Eoghan. Bre’s terror eased slightly with the shield charm still active around Eoghan.

Bre, stop her. That blade is enchanted by the gods and will kill Eoghan. Between her power and the power the blade is infused with, it will easily break the shield charm, Brian yelled psychically.

Bre held her breath in horror as Elpis walked behind Eoghan and held the blade above his chest. She ran her free hand down Eoghan’s arm and then caressed the side of his face. Her fingers bent the shield charm but did not penetrate the light to reach Eoghan’s skin.

“I can see what the ladies see in you. You have a sense of rugged handsomeness,” Elpis whispered in Eoghan’s ear.

Bre sensed no fear coming from Eoghan. Her empath power raw from every emotion she could name, she was thankful for Eoghan’s numbness.

“This won’t hurt you one bit. Especially since that selfish girl made you sacrifice your emotions to Andraste. This is nothing compared to that torture,” said Elpis, making sure she locked eyes with Bre, pleased when Bre winced at the word torture. Elpis raised the blade higher, ready to plunge it deep into Eoghan’s chest.

The Power overtook Bre’s body without being summoned. She was selfish, and her soul refused to lose anyone else in her life. Bre’s self-preservation came out in a way neither Bre nor Elpis expected. A yellow light rapidly expelled from her chest and before Bre or anyone else in her group knew it, they stood in the middle of the pass with the rest of Romulus’ army.

Bre collapsed, and the purple light around the group vanished. Lysandros rushed to her side and carried her into one of the hidden caves in the cliff wall.

“I should have known,” Brian cursed himself.

“Yes, you should have known. You were charged with this responsibility and you have done nothing but fail in every way. We chose you for this task because of your history with Eversor and you let us down…again!” Anath snapped at Brian. “You even failed in the simple task of keeping that dagger from Elpis. That demon spawn stabbed me with it!”

“That demon spawn is your granddaughter and your mistake. How was I supposed to know she would desecrate Remus’ grave to get it?” Brian snapped back.

“It wasn’t her that broke into Remus’ grave. It was Eversor. That is the dagger he had at the nemeton when Elpis was reborn,” Eoghan said impassively.

It was disturbing for the group to see him so uncaring.

“Ok, once we get out of this mess, we’re going to straighten your arse out,” Cailean pointed at Eoghan and bumped into his shoulder, making Eoghan stumble sideways.

Eagles screeched from above, and several archers in the caves warned Romulus of the impending aerial attack. Annoyed, Romulus shook his head and barked out orders to his men. One man stood out to Brian and Cailean.

“Brathadair,” the o’Conaill brothers said in unison.

Brian’s hand shook in anger, ready to start a fight.

“Not the time, Brian,” Romulus warned. “Brath, you need to get up there and enchant the arrows to kill those flying rodents. Go.”

Brathadair flashed Brian a victorious smile. He spun up through the air using the wind to carry him to the highest cave, where he could inflict the most damage.

“I’m going to help the archers and ready the ground troops if they are needed. Brian, can you and Cail serve up some shield charms?” Romulus looked radiant, elated to be mixed up in the thick of a battle.

“Yes, but there is no telling how long the charms will last against Eversor and Elpis,” Brian said, worried as he judged how well they could defend their corner of the valley.

“They will hold as long as I allow them to,” Breanna said with conviction and pushed her shoulders back.

“Whatever you three decide, hurry up and hide me. We must begin the unbinding spell,” Anath sat down and folded her arms impatiently.

Electricity flowed through Breanna’s body. Her fingers tingled as waves of power pumped through her veins. For the first time in her life, Bre did not need help, but they instead needed her. She used that gratifying thought to send a strong gust of wind that forced the bedrock to form a wall across the entrance of the pass. Bre then cast several shield charms that would stop the incoming birds but allow the arrows to pass through.

Brian and Cailean watched their grown-up princess cast challenging charms and bend the elements to do her bidding. A rush of pride tugged at the corners of their mouths, but the dangerous reality of their situation quickly washed the sentiment from their faces. They were trapped behind a wall of rocks and spells, waiting for their safeguards to fail.

As soon as Bre cast the last of her spells, yells from the caves overlooking the skyline signaled the arrival of Elpis’ eagles. The birds descended onto the pass, and the thuds of bows releasing arrows filled the air. Hundreds of arrows passed through the shields and lodged themselves into the hearts of large gold eagles.

The archers had impeccable aim, no doubt from Brathadair’s enchantments. The dead birds made a soft thumping noise when they landed on Bre’s charms. As the birds slid down the shield, streaks of gold blood tinted the view of the blue sky, making it look green.

“Well done, Breanna,” Brian nodded, but in a distant tone. He turned his attention to Anath. “Now what did Elpis do? I need exact details.”

As Anath recounted the events in the cave, Brian shook his head and Cailean stared in shock. Eoghan ignored the story, grabbed a bow, and took off to help the archers. Bre watched as he fearlessly scaled the wall.

“We need the dagger to break the bond, and I am not sure how much power we will need to unbind the entire Phoenician pantheon.” Brian took his normal concentrating stance with his thumb and pointer finger pinching the bridge of his nose.

Bre stood and wiped dirt off her pants. “The only person who has that amount of power is me and my animals.”

Bre smiled at her four animals relaxing in the darkness of cave. Aurora licked her chops, staring up at the dead birds.

“No. The last thing we need is another of our allies to be infected with Elpis blood again. You keep your hunger in check, kitty,” Cailean said sternly and pointed a finger at Aurora.

Aurora licked her chops again, this time staring at Cailean. Cailean inched behind a smirking Lysandros, hoping he would serve as protection.

“So glad you are having a good time with this. Can we get back to the problem at hand, which happens to be me?” Anath grabbed Cailean’s chin, forcing him to look at her.

A jet of white light sent Anath crashing into the cave wall. Bre stepped in between Cailean and Anath, Her eyes blazing with anger. “Don’t ever touch him or any one of these men like that again, do you understand me?” she said through gritted teeth.

Anath shrugged the warning off and fixed her dress without a response.

Romulus jumped down from the closest cave with Lupa at his side. Lupa’s growl echoed through the pass. “Couldn’t help overhearing, but Bre, you saw what spell Elpis performed, correct? Then the only way to reverse a complicated spell like that is to…”

“Recite the spell backwards. I know. The spell is simple enough, but we still need the dagger,” Brian cut Romulus off.

“A spell so easily cast is easily broken,” Lysandros said solemnly with his head bowed. “Alina once said that.”

Romulus ignored Lysandros’ comment and continued his train of thought. “That shouldn’t be too hard. Elpis has it and Elpis is looking for us. All we need to do is get it out of her hands.” Romulus acted as if the plan was easily executed.

“Oh, that shouldn’t be too hard. Except for the fact that none of us can match her strength, and the only person who might be able to cannot defend against Elpis without getting hurt herself!” Lysandros took an aggressive step toward Romulus, putting himself in between Bre and her uncle.

Bre placed a hand on Lysandros’ arm and he hesitantly sidestepped to allow Bre beside him.

“But in return, she cannot defend against my attack.” Bre smiled at the thought.

“Your mother used to get that look,” Lysandros said, shaking his head with a ‘here we go’ expression.

“And none of us liked it because it usually came with a crazy idea,” admitted Brian.

“A crazy idea that usually worked,” added Cailean.

Their conversation was interrupted by a scream and the sound of something being electrocuted, accompanied by a blurry, flickering image of Elpis in the middle of the pass. The image disappeared seconds later.

“What in the heavens was that?” Lysandros said as the rest of the group stared, speechless and in shock.

Breanna chuckled. “She tried to materialize in the valley and found the trap I left for her and Eversor.”

“Ha! You cast a lightning curse. Well done!” Cailean clapped loudly as he laughed.

“Nicely done, Breanna, but if we want that dagger, that trap needs to come down,” Brian instructed, pleased with her spell work.

“Aww, can’t we leave it up for a little in case she tries again? You have to admit it was entertaining.” Cailean laughed.

Lysandros chuckled, “You are beginning to sound like Leo and Cole.”

Cailean grinned at Bre and shrugged his shoulders. “Nothing wrong with a little humor.”

Bre snapped her fingers in the direction of the pass “There. It is done; no more trap.”

“Ok. Now that the evil monster from Tartarus can appear behind our shields, what is the plan to get the dagger? And how are we going to fight her?” Lysandros asked impatiently. “Oh! And let’s not forget the last time we fought Eversor, he multiplied himself!”

“Then we fight each Eversor the best we can. We defeated his clones once before, we can do it again,” Brian answered resolutely. “Bre, you are the only one who stands any chance against Elpis. She will first come for Anath. Stay with her until Elpis shows and we will distract Eversor.”

Bre nodded at Brian, concealing her terror as her stomach knotted behind a mask of conviction.

“She loves Eversor, right? Maybe if I cast spells on him she will try to deflect them, causing her harm,” Bre suggested.

“Good idea, but Eversor has his own magic, remember? He can deflect spells all on his own; he doesn’t need Elpis,” Brian pointed out, smashing any hope she had at returning the physical and emotional pain Elpis had caused her.

Lightning crashed behind the group and Eversor and Elpis appeared, Elpis slightly charred because of Bre’s trap.

Bre couldn’t help but smile at the disheveled woman. Elpis was furious, mainly because she fell for Bre’s trap. If looks could kill, every one of them would have dropped dead on the spot.

Elpis pointed a finger at Bre and calmly warned her, “Bring me Anath and I will let your friends live.”

Chapter 37

One Advantage

Thuds from the bows echoed as arrows descended upon Elpis and Eversor. Eversor pulled black powder out of his pocket and blew it at the archers. Breanna and Brian tried to summon the wind to blow the dust back at Eversor, but Elpis swiped her hand and tossed the two into the wall. Before anyone could stop it, the black cloud disintegrated a batch of archers.

“Like I said, give me the goddess and I will let them live…for now.” Elpis’ evil soul glistened in her eyes, shining through the beauty of her face. She exhibited no remorse for killing those archers. Her revenge against the gods poisoned her thoughts to the point of blatant disregard for human life.

Anath stepped forward. “What happened to you? You used to be good and pure. You used to help people, not harm them. Elpis, you were born to stop war.” Anath stretched a hand out to Elpis, hoping to appeal to whatever humanity remained in her soul.

“What happened? Did you honestly ask me that?” Elpis shook with anger as she recoiled from Anath’s hand. “You killed me, Grandmother. You took me from my parents then killed me when I got angry about it! You gods were jealous of my powers: jealous I made a life that you wished you could live. You created this monster,” Elpis pointed to herself, “now you will die at its hands.”

Elpis clenched her fist and Anath jerked forward, as if grabbed by the front of her shirt. Before Elpis pulled Anath closer, Bre yelled out “Teine” and a blast of fire hurled towards Elpis’ chest.

Elpis tried to shield herself but the blast slammed her into the rock wall of the valley. Elpis stood with burn marks across her body and the ends of her hair singed.

“How quickly you forget, Elpis! If I cannot defend against you, you certainly cannot defend against me,” Bre bragged and pushed Anath behind her, shielding the goddess.

Bre cupped a hand in the air and swirled a finger over her empty palm. Water bubbled from the ground at Elpis’ feet and coiled around her legs. Elpis tried to scramble away but it was too late. The water traveled up her body and rushed into her mouth. She gagged as the stream of water filled her throat, inhaling it into her lungs. The liquid poured out from her nose, continued under her skin, up to her eyes, and then streamed down her cheek from her tear ducts.

Eversor grabbed another handful of black powder, ready to blow it at Bre’s friends, but Whisper sprinted up and slammed his hoof into the ground, causing a small earthquake. Eversor lost his footing and fell. The powder flew out of his hand and into the gentle wind that streamed through the pass. Bre whipped around at Whisper’s commotion and froze as the black particles swirled over Eversor and Whisper.

Distracted by Whisper, Bre’s spell on Elpis vanished. Freed from the water, Elpis created a gust of wind that blew the black powder away from Eversor and Whisper before it disintegrated her husband. She then threw an energy ball at Whisper.

“Noo!” Bre screamed, racing towards Whisper. Suddenly, the purple light of a protection spell wrapped around Whisper. Behind Whisper, Brian lowered his hand and nodded at Bre, knowing Bre’s power could not save Whisper from Elpis.

In retribution, Bre sent a ball of black light at Eversor but Elpis stepped in front of him. The ball slammed into her stomach. She clutched her chest, gasping for air.

Eversor, now back on his feet, conjured the same double-headed axe he had the last time he fought Bre.

“Prepare yourselves, boys!” Brian called out.

Eversor slammed the axe into the ground, sending a shock wave through the pass. Dust flew into the air, clouding everyone’s vision. The violent quake made several archers fall from their caves and break their necks on impact. The sound of their bodies thumping to the ground churned Bre’s stomach. She prayed she would not find Eoghan’s body amongst the dead.

When the dust settled, the group faced over a hundred Eversor clones and one extremely angry Elpis.

“Well that’s not exactly a fair fight. Here we go again.” Brian charged at an Eversor clone, starting the epic battle they were warned about.

Before Brian reached a clone, a dead eagle fell between them. Dead birds rained into the pass as the men fought. Bre’s shield charms fell; the last barrier between them and the eagles failed to protect the ones Bre loved. They were now vulnerable from the ground and from above.

Unexpectedly, something weighed heavy in Breanna’s pocket. When she reached inside, the rock she picked up back at camp the night before warmed her hand. Then, a memory replayed in her mind like an alarm going off, reminding her of Arawn’s hint.

“Earthquake on Delos,” Bre whispered to herself.

The nightmares that plagued Bre all her life clouded her vision as she held onto the stone. Arawn mentioned Delos as a key word to trigger the memories once Bre had the stone. Finally, the memory of when Elpis found her parents appeared in Bre’s mind. Elpis’ parents lived on Delos.

Bre gripped the stone tighter and the air cooled around her and Elpis. Small clouds of breath escaped their mouths. Time stopped around them, halting the battle. Bre glimpsed her friends, suspended mid-attack.

Only one other person remained unfrozen…Elpis. She tried to conjure an energy ball to hurl at Bre but she could not summon her powers.

“How? The Power is not capable of this while divided,” Elpis said in shock.

Bre smirked, tasting Elpis’ fear as it dripped down her throat. Bre knew something Elpis did not, something that gave her a dangerous advantage.

“My mother was not mortal.” the ground shook as Bre’s grip tightened around the onyx stone. “She was the daughter of Death, Queen of the Dead, and Commander of the Earth’s depths.”

Elpis stumbled backwards, her breath jagged in her chest. “She was a daughter of Arawn.”

Bre nodded and a crack appeared in between the two women. Arawn’s favorite hellhound, Cnaimh, bounded up next to Bre. The dog slowly circled and growled at Elpis. Smoke poured out of the crack, and suddenly two figures appeared. Elpis gasped.

Elpis spoke, barely above a whisper, as tears dripped down her face, “Mother? Father?” Elpis fell to her knees and cried at their feet. “You’re demigods, how can you be dead? Who killed you?” Elpis wept.

“About a decade ago there was an earthquake on Delos. Demigods are only immortal so long as they are not mortally wounded. Hundreds died on Delos from the destruction, your parents among them,” said Bre with an evil smile, the same evil smile her mother had when using her Celtic powers over the dead.

Elpis’ parents, Tyreneas and Arelia, walked towards their crying daughter, but Bre clenched the rock tighter. Suddenly, Remus and Alina appeared in front of Elpis’ parents and stopped them.

Bre jerked her hand and yanked the ghosts of Tyreneas and Arelia to her feet. Alina and Remus confronted Elpis. Alina conjured an energy ball to toss at her, but Arelia’s pleas for her daughter’s life stopped Alina’s attack.

Remus put a hand on Alina, gently pushing her behind him, and stepped closer to Elpis. He drew his sword and raised it high above his head, ignoring the desperate screams of Arelia. As he swung the sword down, Elpis drew the enchanted dagger and caught Remus’ blade. She deflected his attack then dodged his back swing.

When Elpis regained her balance, she lunged at Remus with the dagger. Unsure if the dagger would hurt her father, Bre summoned Cnaimh to attack. She twirled the rock in her hand and pulled her parents safely behind her.

Elpis caught the hellhound in the leg with the dagger and he howled in pain. The ground rumbled as Bre’s anger grew. Her anger forced it to respond and widen the crack in the earth.

When Elpis tried to attack the injured dog, Bre squeezed the rock, and Elpis’ parents shrieked in pain.

Cnaimh limped back to Alina where she tended to his wounds.

“Stop! Stop hurting them, please!” Elpis begged.

“Then remove the binding spell from Anath,” Bre demanded.

“Never,” Elpis said, disgusted by the thought.

Bre squeezed the rock tighter. Elpis’ mother hunched over, making gurgling noises, and her father clutched his chest as he coughed up dust.

“Remove the spell or I promise they will suffer an eternity of this torture. I can make them bleed, I can make them turn to dust, and I can cut them endlessly with poisonous daggers because I own them.” as Bre spoke of the tortures, blood spilled out of Arelia’s mouth and Tyreneas coughed up more dust. Then, gashes appeared all over their bodies with green ooze pouring out from the wounds.

“I will never remove that spell,” Elpis yelled, but her features softened as tears of pity fell from her blue eyes.

Grinding her jaw, Bre sighed impatiently. “Give me the dagger. This is your final chance before I send your innocent parents back to the underworld with the tortures you let them carry.”

Elpis had no other choice; her powers were limited by half and she could not stand seeing her parents tortured. She threw the dagger on the ground and backed away.

Bre loosened her grip on the stone, healing Tyreneas and Arelia. Bre bent over to grab the dagger, but Elpis was quick and kneed Bre in the ribs. The rock slipped from Bre’s hand as she collapsed to the ground. She rolled over in time to see Cnaimh and her parents’ fade away into white smoke.

As the battle unfroze, the screeching of eagles and the thuds of bows once again filled their ears.

Elpis ran over to Bre and kicked her in the face, splitting her lip open. Before Elpis landed a second kick, something caught the late morning sun and blinded her. Around Bre’s neck, shimmering in the sunlight, was Remus’ half of the wolf pendent. Elpis bent down, ripped it off, and tossed it aside.

Elpis repeatedly kicked Bre in the stomach until she lay face down in the dirt, spitting out blood. When the beatings unexpectedly stopped, Bre struggled to glance upward and see Elpis flash her evil smile. Suddenly, a sharp pain pierced Bre’s back. Bre whimpered but refused to scream.

Tears filled Bre’s eyes; not because of the familiar pain in her back, but because of what the pain meant. She glanced around the battlefield at everyone she loved, crying because their danger increased tenfold. This time, she was the threat.

Chapter 38

Fire in the Sky

An eagle swooped down and dug its talons into Bre’s back, causing her to yelp in pain. The bird tried to lift Bre, but she put all of her strength into staying on the ground. She would not let the bird take control of her, not like last time.

Bre dug her nails into the dirt, hoping a physical connection with the elements would cause a magical lock in her mind and prevent her from being possessed again.

The bird had other ideas. The eagle dug its talons deeper into her back and flapped its wings, causing Bre to hover inches above the ground, the earth just out of reach. Bre hung her head in defeat as the warmth of her blood dripped down her back.

“To the cave,” ordered Elpis.

“Bre!” multiple voices shouted.

Breanna heard the voices calling her name, but hope flooded out of her body with the blood as it dripped from her back. With what little mental strength she had left, Bre sent a message to Brian, There is nothing more you can do. You are safer away from me. Gather Cailean and Lysandros and let me go.

“No,” Brian screamed as he raced towards Bre. A clone stepped in his path and smashed his fist into the side of Brian’s cheek. Brian crashed to the ground as Eversor jumped on top of him and held his sword to Brian’s throat.

Before Eversor could cut into Brian’s throat, the tip of a blade poked out from his chest and the clone disintegrated into black smoke. Romulus stood over Brian with a dagger in his hand. He nodded at Brian and ran over to help another soldier pinned down by a clone.

Leave. You need to be safe, Breanna begged.

Brian did not have time to respond. He heard his brother call out for help and saw that Eversor had magically bound him to the wall and formed an energy ball in his hand. Torn between helping Bre or Cailean, Brian froze, looking back and forth between them, unable to leave either until Bre confidently whispered in his mind, It’s alright. Save Cail, I can handle this.

The eagle flapped its wings again and Bre whimpered. Its talons wiggled beneath her skin as it flew to the nearest cave. Once inside the damp cave, the eagle released Bre and then flew to the highest point, carefully watching her.

A flash of green light flew past Bre and into the cave wall. The green mass slumped to the ground and did not move. Bre winced from the wounds on her back as she sat up to get a better look. Anath lay on the ground, wrapped in glowing green chains.

“You are strong, Princess,” Elpis conceded, seeming mildly impressed. “It would be an honor to take you as an apprentice. If I wasn’t about to kill you, that is.”

“Then do it. Why sit here and discuss it?” Bre inched closer to Anath.

“Because it is not enough to kill you anymore, dearest Breanna. I want to drive every ounce of pride and strength you have out of your body. I want to shred every emotion you have, so the fibers of your being throb with agony. I want you to beg for death. You crossed a line when you tortured my parents back there. Now, all of their suffering will be yours. You will watch as my husband slays your friends, and that pathetic group of farmers you call an army.” Elpis walked over to Bre and lifted her chin to look into her eyes. “I want to see the light of hope fade from your eyes.”

Bre’s eyes were defiant as she glared back. “I will kill you, Elpis. I will shred you and your ungodly husband apart with my bare hands.”

Bre glanced at Anath out of the corner of her eye for a mere second, but long enough for Elpis to notice.

“Oh, no, Princess. There is no hope for her. My Grandmother sealed her fate many centuries ago. I…” Elpis stopped talking and smiled brightly down at Bre. Elpis was truly a beautiful woman, but ill intent turned what should be a sweet smile into malevolence. “I won’t have to do a thing. You will.”

Elpis snapped her fingers and the gold eagle perched itself on her shoulder. The bird stared Bre in her eyes as Elpis commanded, “Take her.”

The eagle spread its massive wings and released a bone-chilling screech. Bre closed her eyes, trying to remain in control of her mind, but every nerve urged her to return the eagle’s hypnotic gaze. Dizzy and drowsy, her mind started to slip into the dark abyss of the eagle’s eyes.

Desperately trying to maintain control, Bre focused on the stinging wounds in her back. Her body went numb, and she was overtaken with a sensation of floating. She had nothing physical to focus on, until her powers burned in her chest. Her powers unnaturally raged in her veins as they flowed through her arms and legs, turning numbness into fiery agony. Instead of a safe extension of her body, her powers boiled beneath her skin, burning her alive.

Bre screamed and clawed at her skin.

“The more you resist the more it will hurt!” Elpis laughed.

Bre burned as if she was tied down to a bed of red-hot coals. She curled into a ball on the ground and shook.

The same voice from the last time Elpis possessed Bre entered her head. Let it happen. I promise you will feel much better once you do. Let me in, I can help you. Collapse into my power, I can care for you, better than anyone else. I know what you need…what you crave…

“Noooooo,” Bre said through gritted teeth in defiance.

“Breanna, you can fight this! You are the granddaughter of War. You can’t get more stubborn than that,” cheered Anath.

“I won’t fail…I can’t fail.” Bre closed her eyes and a tear pinched out from between her lashes, sizzling and evaporating on her cheek.

Giving in to The Power is not failing, Breanna. It is accepting who you are, the voice whispered.

Bre desperately fought against her rising fever. Beads of sweat covered her body as she clung to dirt from the floor in an attempt to drag her body closer to Anath. Another wave of power burned her veins; she tasted the charred flavor of singed meat from her throat.

“Fight it, Breanna. I need you. Everyone outside needs you,” Anath begged and pointed to the battle.

Unaware of how hard she had been fighting, Bre opened her eyes and was surprised to find herself on her hands and knees. Her nails bled from digging into the ground, her back muscles were rigid, and the veins popped out of her neck. Unable to breath from the heat pressure in her chest, she collapsed, succumbing to the soothing black-abyss.

“No,” Anath whimpered, hanging her head in defeat.

Elpis laughed at Anath’s heartbroken shock of losing Bre. “I now control your last line of defense. Are you scared now, Grandmother?”

When Bre woke again, she wore a black strapless dress with white rope wrapped around her waist. Bre appeared tranquil, but The Power inside rushed through her veins like vengeful river rapids, itching to claim a life.

“You are a queen, Breanna. You should start acting like one, or at the very least, start dressing like one.” Elpis rolled her eyes and drew a circle in the air around Bre’s head. A crown made of silver twigs that matched Elpis’ gold one appeared on top of Bre’s hair.

Elpis walked around Breanna, watching her carefully in case the possession did not work. With her back to the entrance of the cave, Bre sensed the war outside. She squeezed her fists together and rocks tumbled from the highest points of the pass down onto the battlefield, killing several Roman soldiers.

“There. Now that is how our power is to be experienced. Not controlled, but unleashed with the fury of the elements as its weapon. It’s bewitching, isn’t it?” Elpis gloated.

“Yes, it is,” Bre smiled wickedly, drunk with power.

Anath shuttered at the evil on Bre’s face. She wore a smile more devious than Elpis’. For the first in millennia, someone scared her more than Elpis.

Bre inhaled deeply and turned to leave the cave, but Elpis barred her exit.

“Not yet. I will let you kill them later. It is the gods’ time to be punished for their crimes.” Elpis lightly touched Bre’s elbow, guiding her back to her restrained grandmother. “Start with her, and then we will storm the gates of Mount Olympus together. We will destroy the pantheons, bloody and beaten.”

Elpis’ eyes narrowed as she focused on Anath. “You are a sorry excuse for a war goddess. Or is it love goddess? I mean, you did make my parents fall in love with each other, and then forced them to conceive a child you would try to manipulate.”

“Your parents did not need my powers to love one another. They fell in love on their own. All we did was provide direction. Although, we should have known a child born in the House of Ares would turn out to be the destruction of mankind.” Anath rolled her eyes at Elpis.

“You destroyed mankind, Grandmother. You ensured its destruction by killing its only protector all those centuries ago.” Elpis tried to remain calm but her anger grew too wild. She squeezed her fist and the chains tightened around Anath’s body. “Besides, look at this beautiful creature born into the House of Mars: my puppet and key to ridding the universe of the almighty gods.”

Bre smiled at Elpis’ sarcasm. The same hatred and anger towards the world’s pantheons toiled in her mind.

Elpis grabbed Bre’s hand and thrust the dagger’s handle into her palm. The evil emanating from the small blade vibrated through her bones, edging her subconscious towards death and destruction. Bre closed her eyes and slowly inhaled, succumbing to the addictive nature of evil. She then pricked her finger on the tip of the blade, and the knife absorbed her blood and the power that thrived within it.

Anath pleaded with Elpis once more to drag her away from her malevolent goal, but there were no words left. Elpis showed no remorse or pity for what was about to happen. She waved her hand dismissively and said, “Kill her.”

Bre walked towards Anath, and the goddess begged for her life, “Please. You were prophesized to be the savior of the gods. You can fight her. You have a pure heart. Do not let her consume you. Think of the great civilization that will be lost if you kill…”

“Silence,” Bre said softly and the green chains wrapped around Anath’s mouth.

Bre gripped Anath’s hair and yanked her head back to look her in her eyes. When she hovered the dagger over Anath’s chest, the chains separated, revealing bare skin over her heart.

Elpis’ and Bre’s hearts sped up as their powers sensed Anath’s heart rate increase. Anath’s eyes widened in fear as Bre drew her arm back. Elpis triumphantly smiled as her grandmother’s muffled cries filled the cave. Bre thrust the blade into Anath’s heart, and the hilt of the dagger pressed against her breast.

Bre slowly pulled the dagger out, but before the tip left Anath’s chest, the handle grew too hot, forcing Bre to let go. A fire burst out of the goddess’ chest and quickly consumed her body. The fire grew, and before anyone could take cover, Anath exploded like a jar of Greek Fire, sending Elpis and Bre crashing into the cave walls. The dagger flew out of her chest and wedged itself between the wall and stone debris.

Outside the cave, the battle stopped as a blast of fire filled the blue sky. The men and animals stopped to stare at the fire burning in the heavens. One man ignored the spectacular scene and continued his fight against an Eversor clone.

Romulus lunged at the clone, catching him off guard while Eversor stared at the sky victoriously. When Romulus’ sword lodged into Eversor’s body, Romulus expected him to disappear into black smoke. However, Eversor pulled the sword out of his stomach and tossed it aside.

“It’s not that easy to kill me, Romulus. It seems we are at a standoff here. You cannot kill me and unfortunately, the only person who can kill you is already dead. Tell me, do you feel any remorse for murdering your twin, or did you enjoy the sensation of death?” Eversor taunted Romulus, unaware of Brian behind him mumbling a power-binding spell.

Before Brian finished, Clover tackled Brian to the ground. Romulus pulled out his dagger and willed his sword to return. Eversor threw a grey energy ball at Romulus but he dodged it. The ball crashed into a Roman soldier behind Romulus.

Romulus lurched forward to aid his fallen soldier but the man was dead before he hit the ground. Cursing and angry grunts regained Romulus’ attention. Brian and clover wrestled on the ground, Clover winning the quarrel.

“Go!” Cailean shouted and took Romulus’ place. Romulus ran to help Brian and left Cailean with the real Eversor.

Clover’s teeth inched closer to Brian’s throat with every snarl. IT took all of Brian’s strength to keep the angry wolf from tearing him apart. He held one forearm in the wolf’s throat and the other one just below her ribs.

Thunk!

The large wolf collapsed on Brian’s chest, knocking the air from his lungs. Clover’s eyes rolled in the back of her head and her tongue hung out of the side of her mouth. Romulus stood over Brian with his arm still raised from bashing Clover in the back of the head with the hilt of his sword.

Lupa growled, displeased with Romulus.

“Really? Would you have preferred I cut her head off?” Romulus snapped.

Lupa snorted at his remark and bounded off to help other soldiers with Eversor clones.

The sun reflected off something shiny in the dirt next to Brian. Romulus bent down and picked up the wolf pendant that Elpis ripped from Breanna’s neck. Romulus helped Brian to his feet and showed him Bre’s half of the charm.

“Where did Elpis take her?” Brian asked as he frantically searched the battle.

“Not sure, but wherever she is, she failed to save Anath. That explosion in the sky was the Phoenician pantheon dying an extremely fiery death.” Romulus quickly deflected an attacking clone and slashed its head off. “I do know, however, that without this amulet she is vulnerable to possession. With the amount of eagles around here and Elpis roaming free, and apparently victorious, Bre must be under her spell, or…”

“Don’t say it,” Brian warned, pointing a finger threateningly at Romulus. He could not stand the thought of Breanna being dead.

Out of the corner of his eye, Brian saw Leora stalk towards a cave to the right of where they stood.

“There. They must be in there,” Brian said pointing to the cave.

When Leora entered the cave, an eagle let out an ear-piercing screech.

Brian ran towards the cave, but Romulus grabbed his arm and yanked him to a stop. “Wait, she’ll need this too.”

Romulus pulled off his own wolf pendant and held it next to Breanna’s. When Romulus pressed his half to Breanna’s, the two pieces reunited. The two wolves once again stood side by side, glistening in gold as if they had never been separated. In the reflection of the wolf, Remus smiled up at his brother. The image of Remus quickly changed to reflect an eagle descending down on him and Brian.

Both Romulus and Brian turned to attack the bird, but two arrows lodged into the bird’s chest and dropped the eagle at Romulus’ feet.

“Nice shot, Eoghan,” Brian acknowledged his skilled aim.

“Brian, go help your brother, he looks like he needs it,” Romulus demanded, motioning to Cailean who struggled against Eversor’s magic.

“Bre. We need to help Bre,” Brian said and turned back to the cave.

“No, we are needed here. Eoghan, however, is not.” Romulus firmly grabbed Eoghan by the shoulder and looked him in the eyes. “How good are you with that bow? Can you get the bird without being in the cave?” Romulus pointed at the gold eagle that kept squawking at Leora.

Without a hint of arrogance or concern, Eoghan silently reached back, grabbed a single arrow from his quiver, and nocked it in his bow. When he pulled back the arrow, the horsehair strings and the arrows shimmered in a silver light. The arrow shot forward and lit up the darkness to reveal Bre and Elpis unconscious on the ground. When the arrow found its target, the gold bird fell to the floor and the light disappeared.

“Bre!” Brian tried running to Bre, but once again, Romulus held him back.

“Damn it, man! I said help your brother!” Romulus shoved Brian at Cailean. “Eoghan, help Bre and put this pendant around her neck. It will prevent any possessions. She will then at least be able to help us kill that damn demon woman!” Romulus sprinted off to fight other Eversor clones.

Eoghan sighed at his trivial task and casually walked into the cave.

Chapter 39

The Heartaches of Love

Bre sat up, dizzy, her head pounding in rhythm with her heart. A dead gold eagle was sprawled at her feet with an arrow protruding from its chest. Next to her, Elpis lay unconscious, bleeding from her brow. Bre watched her chest for movement, holding her breath in hope Elpis’ chest did not rise. Bre exhaled and hung her head in a disappointment when Elpis’ breathing was steady and strong.

The dagger, she thought to herself.

Bre frantically surveyed the cave, afraid to make noise and wake Elpis. She spotted the dagger near the entrance lodged in between the cave wall and stones that fell during the explosion. She glanced at Elpis then back at the dagger. She slowly stood and crept over rocks, heading to the entrance. Bre jumped over a large boulder, almost to the entrance. When she jumped, her dress wedged between the rock and several smaller stones, and suddenly a small landslide of rocks tumbled off to the side of her. Her heart pounding, Bre checked on unconscious Elpis.

“Tartarus,” Bre cursed to herself. She whipped around and ran to grab the dagger.

With the dagger inches from her fingertips, Elpis appeared in front of her. Elpis withdrew the dagger from the wall with ease and admired it as a string of red light clung to its tip.

“Did you really think you would be able to get this from me? It belongs to me, after all,” Elpis smiled and stared protectively at the red light.

The shadow of a man fell at the entrance of the cave. Eoghan emerged with bow and arrow. Upon walking in on the two women, he tossed his bow aside and withdrew his sword, spinning the blade around his arm, waiting for Elpis to attack.

Bre conjured her sword and without waiting for Eoghan slashed at Elpis’ neck. Eoghan followed Bre’s lead and lunged at Elpis’ abdomen.

However, Elpis was quick and spun out of their way. Eoghan whirled around to rebound, but Elpis disappeared then reappeared behind him. She cracked his sword hand on a rock, forcing him to release his weapon. He ground his teeth and held his wrist against his chest. He tried to move it, but his thumb moved over two bones that used to be one. Elpis wrapped her arm around Eoghan’s throat, forcing him to bend backwards because he was taller. She pressed against him, using him as a shield.

Bre halted her attack and watched in horror, unsure of what Elpis would do to him.

Elpis laughed at Bre’s helplessness. “I can fix him, you know. I can make him whole again, make him remember his feelings for you. You did me a favor in killing the Phoenicians; this is your reward.”

Elpis ripped open Eoghan’s shirt and placed her hand over his bare chest. His chest lit up with a pink light and tears welled in his eyes. He gasped in between sobs to catch his breath.

“Eoghan!” Breanna screamed.

Tears streaming down his face, Eoghan met Bre’s frantic stare and mouthed the words, ‘I’m sorry.’

Bre stood speechless, staring at Eoghan as all his emotions flooded back to him. She felt every emotion as they returned, as if they passed through her first. It began with pain, then remorse, then the return of the longing he had for her, and finished with every fear he had of losing her and the intense devotion he still held for her.

Overwhelmed with a mix of his emotions and hers, Bre could no longer tell them apart. It no longer mattered; she needed to save him.

Think, Breanna. You are my daughter. Daughter of Strategy. Think quick and efficient. What is the first thing you need to do? Remus’ voice whispered in her head.

Keep my emotions in check, Bre mentally answered. Leora, I need you. Build a wall in my head while I beat this demon bitch.

Leora purred loudly in the cave and Bre’s emotions dulled. They weren’t completely gone, but turned down enough for Bre to concentrate. Her head cleared and she cunningly smiled at Elpis then disappeared in a flash of lightning.

“Oh no you don’t!” Elpis yelled out.

With a second crash of lightning, Bre reappeared behind where Elpis used to be standing. Bre frantically searched for Eoghan. A whistle drew her attention to the back of the cave, where Elpis held Eoghan on his knees in front of her. The sickening sound of torture once again filled air as a crippling jolt of pain stabbed Breanna in the chest. However, it was not Bre’s screams of agony that echoed in the cave.

Elpis stood behind Eoghan as he knelt in front of her, and she slowly pushed the dagger with the string of The Power into Eoghan’s chest.

Bre shared Eoghan’s agonizing torture as the dagger slowly cut through his muscles, the crunch of his ribs splitting as the metal broke through bone, and then finally the tearing of muscle as the blade pierced his heart. The Power surged through him with every beat his injured heart could manage. Disturbingly, she also shared Elpis’ pleasurable high in torturing them.

“Noo,” Bre said breathlessly as she hit her knees, holding her throbbing chest.

“Oh, Yes, Princess,” Elpis said with a huge grin. “If The Power is removed, it will split his soul in two, and he will die just like your parents and Anath. The ultimate victory here is that you will never be able to fulfill your precious destiny as The Queen without every inch of The Power. Moreover, you are no match for my skills with half of The Power. In order to kill me, you will have to kill Eoghan.”

Elpis ripped the dagger from Eoghan’s chest and tossed him against the wall, smashing his head off a rock. “Now you will feel the heartaches of love that I have had to endure,” Elpis said coldly. Her evil smile turned into a distant scowl as memories of heartbreak flooded her mind.

Breanna crawled over to Eoghan. She rolled him over expecting to see a bleeding wound on his chest, but it was in perfect shape as she ran her fingers over his smooth muscles. Bre put his head on her lap and held her hand over his head, keeping one hand over his heart. In seconds, a blue light healed his head injury and Eoghan woke up.

“Pathetic girl. Love will get everyone you care about killed. It is a weakness that I will not yield to again,” Elpis said disappointed as if hoping Bre would make a better decision. She turned her back on the couple and left the cave. With a wave of her hand, she put up a barrier charm, locking them behind a wall of orange light.

“I’m so sorry. I failed you all,” Breanna whimpered as she held Eoghan’s face in her hands.

“Pull yourself together, woman. We have a war to win,” Eoghan said as he stood, yanking Breanna to her feet. He pulled the completed wolf pendant out of his pocket and laid it around her neck. “Don’t lose this again, or else I think your Uncle Romulus will kill us both.” Eoghan smiled at the teary-eyed princess.

Bre held the pendant in her hand and her father reappeared in its reflection. He mouthed the word ‘Think’ to her as he tapped the side of his head and blew her a kiss. She breathed a small laugh as a tear splattered against the glossy metal, washing away the image of Remus.

“We need to get that dagger. It is the only way to kill her. I’m going to enjoy ripping her soul in half.” Breanna said as she cracked her knuckles.

Bre’s appearance changed from the black, strapless dress to a silk, crimson dress with gold leaves holding the pieces together over her shoulders. Her father’s sword hung from her hip and glowed red in the dim light of the cave. Her eyes turned silver with flecks of green, ready for an epic battle.

Meanwhile, Eoghan didn’t notice Bre’s change of appearance, as he had been trying to put his own ripped shirt back together. Finally, he discovered his newly acquired powers and a yellow spark flew out of his fingertip, magically sewing his shirt back together.

“Well I could get used to this,” Eoghan said, amazed and chuckled.

“You’re going to have to, otherwise you die.” Bre did not smile back. She clenched her fists, furious with Elpis as a flame flickered in her pupil. “Since you have a portion of her power, her power isn’t as strong as mine. She may have more skill with her portion of The Power, but I own more of it. She cannot defend against my power, so if I am able to conjure up a strong spell, it may weaken her enough so that she cannot defend the dagger. I can finally end this. I just need to catch her off guard.”

“That’s good and all, but how are we getting out of here?” Eoghan pointed to the wall of orange light.

Bre called up every ounce of power she had and pushed it to her fist. A white light covered her arm and pulsated with Power. She slammed her fist into the ground and cracks spread through the floor, causing larger cracks to travel up the walls. The orange light fell as the cave walls crumbled.

After locking Bre and Eoghan in the cave, Elpis enjoyed the harmonious ballad of spells whistling through the air and clanging of swords crashing against each other. She walked through the battle with her own sword, slashing through soldiers with ease. Her sword glowed a dark-green light. As she swung her blade through men, they disintegrated and left nothing but a pile of ash on the ground.

“Eversor?” Elpis called as she continued her deadly parade through the battle.

“I’m here, my sweet,” Eversor appeared next to his wife and hugged her in the middle of the battle. He squeezed her tight and cradled her head against his neck lovingly, but Elpis simply patted his back in return.

“You’ve won. You destroyed the Phoenicians. Tell me, sweetheart, how does victorious revenge feel?”

“Empty.” Elpis said, void of emotion as she pushed herself away from Eversor. “Our mission is far from over.” Elpis yawned. “I’m tired of this. I want the other pantheons dead. I must destroy the gates of Olympus that they pitifully hide behind,” Elpis yelled up to the heavens. “They act like the gates have stopped me before. Simpletons, the lot of them.”

“We will, but first I have a vendetta with the o’Conaill brothers. Let me abolish their bloodline and we will go.” Eversor spotted Brian and Cailean fighting his clones.

Eversor smiled at his wife and sweetly kissed her forehead.

Elpis reached a hand up and adoringly cupped the side of his face. “Oh, my love, you misheard me. I said I must storm the gates of Olympus. Do not worry. Your powers will play a part in that massacre.”

Elpis stabbed her husband in the chest with the enchanted dagger he once used to kill her.

As Eversor gasped for air, black light traveled out from his chest, through the blade, up Elpis’ arm and into the nape of her neck. Her skin absorbed his powers and her eyes turned black as night. All around her, puffs of black smoke where clones used to be filled the air, leaving confused soldiers looking for their foes.

“Why?” Eversor asked his wife.

Elpis looked at her dying husband with cold black eyes and said, “Because you are my weakness. Your mind was weak all those years ago, poisoned by the will of the gods. Our love has destroyed me once before. I will not let it happen again.”

An explosion of rocks burst out into the battlefield. Walking out of the rock dust, Bre and Eoghan aimed their swords at Elpis. They expected to walk into a raging battle, but instead witnessed Elpis pulling the dagger out of Eversor’s chest, his lifeless body crumbling to the ground.

You are too late to save anyone here, Princess, Elpis whispered in Bre’s mind.

The dagger in Elpis’ hand grew into a sword. Elpis slowly inhaled through her nose as her body seemingly recharged itself from the power she stole from Eversor. Her sword glowed white as heat radiated off the blade. Bre, standing at least a hundred feet away from Elpis, felt the heat vibrate on her face. Bre read Elpis’ mind and saw she was planning to incinerate everyone in the pass.

With a wave of Bre’s hand, all the soldiers, Lupa, and her uncle disappeared from the battlefield. All that remained were the members of her intimate group, the people who began this journey with her.

“No! How?” Bre glared at Elpis. She meant to send Eoghan, Lysandros, and the o’Conaills with Romulus.

“A simple transference spell? Honestly, Princess, you need to get better with your magic. Be original with them. It is not hard to interfere with simplicity,” Elpis scolded Breanna.

Elpis had a wicked smile and pulled a closed fist to her chest. With a quick jerk of her wrist, Eoghan knelt in front of Elpis again, but this time his hands were tied behind his back. Elpis pulled her sword back, aimed at his heart, about to reclaim The Power.

To Bre, everything appeared in slow motion. Cailean and Lysandros sprinted forward to grab Eoghan, while vines sprung out from Brian’s palm to restrain Elpis. Off to the side, Andraste stood in the entrance of one of the caves. In her hand burned a small bird made of orange and red flames.

Breanna nodded, understanding what must happen. “The Phoinix must burn.” Andraste bowed her head apologetically and disappeared.

Help me one last time, Bre sent a message to her animals.

Of course, Leora replied.

It was a good run, Whisper answered with a nod of his head.

This is not the end, My Queen, Aurora responded, followed by a purr.

We gladly follow you, Clover howled in the now silent pass.

Bre smiled appreciatively as a blue light radiated out from her and the animals, freezing time in the pass.

Bre glided gracefully towards Elpis, silently saying her goodbyes to Cailean, Lysandros, and Brian as she walked past them. They were so fierce and dedicated in this fight. They fought valiantly; she would not let any more harm come to them.

A trail of white roses followed Bre as her tears of farewell fell to the ground.

When Bre arrived in front of Elpis, she expected anger or fear on Eoghan’s face. Instead, he gazed at her with the loving look he always had for her. He knew without a doubt that one day Bre would find a way to bring him back.

She loved him even more for his never wavering faith in her. Bre shook her head and mumbled, “Stubborn, stubborn man,” under her breath. Bre touched the side of Eoghan’s face and unfroze him from the spell. She quickly untied his hands and knelt down in front of him so she could entwine her fingers with his.

“Marry me,” Eoghan whispered in her ear.

“No,” Bre chuckled and pushed her hair out of her eyes, “Die with me.”

Eoghan flashed his usual prize-winning grin as he said, “Gladly, Brat.”

The blue light faded and the sword Elpis drew back to kill Eoghan pierced both of their chests. Neither cried out in pain. They firmly grasped each other’s hands and stared in each other’s eyes, welcoming the lull of death.

Cries from the men rushing to stop Elpis were a distant sound as The Power built up in both Bre’s and Eoghan’s chests.

Elpis smiled gloriously thinking she won both powers because of “foolish” love. However, she quickly discovered their hearts were not all she pierced. White light blazed out from the wolf pendant around Bre’s neck. The sword stabbed the smallest edge of the necklace before plunging into Bre’s chest, but it was enough to cause a massive surge of power.

The light quickly consumed the entire pass, and the screams of Elpis shook the earth miles away. The screams of her defeat were the song of victory in the heavens.

When the light subsided, Breanna, Eoghan, the animals, Elpis, and the bodies of the dead vanished. It was as if there had never been a battle. All that remained was the wolf pendant with jagged cut on the back of one of the wolves and Elpis’ sword, with a red string wrapped around the blade.

Brian, Lysandros and Cailean ran over to the where Bre and Eoghan had been. Brian picked up the sword and examined the weapon. The handle burned his palm. He ripped a piece of his shirt to wrap around the handle in order to hold it.

“We failed her. Elpis won and vanished with Breanna’s power. How are we going to stop her now?” Lysandros squatted down, on the verge of tears. “I promised her mother I would protect her.”

Brian, still examining the sword, said, “Elpis does not have Bre’s half of The Power. It is here on the sword.”

“Maybe they survived that…whatever that was. Maybe they were transported somewhere,” Cailean added, flustered, grief starting to set in.

Brian patted his brother on the back to console him. “No, Cail. Without The Power in their bodies, they would not be able to survive such a surge. Breanna and Eoghan are physically dead, but that does not mean this is the last time we will see them. Elpis, however, is another story. There are too many gold eagles here. She may have escaped a true death again, although, I have a feeling that she will not be an issue right away.”

“What do you mean by physically dead?” Cailean asked, hopeful.

Brian smiled and plunged the sword into the ground. The Power spread from the sword and into the earth, casting a red hue throughout the land.

“She will rise again, because the prophecy has not been completed,” Brian gave a light-hearted chuckle.

Brian helped Lysandros up and swung his arms around Cailean’s and Lysandros’ necks as they limped out of the pass. “This is not the end, boys. Let’s be prepared for the next time, huh?” Brian laughed loudly.

The sounds of Brian’s laughter echoed through the caves as if they celebrated with him.

Chapter 40

New Beginnings

In the year 527 A.D., a nobleman’s second son and a princess slept warm in their beds. A reoccurring nightmare plagued them on the nights of the Blood-Moon, always the same burning white light. They felt the pressure of someone squeezing their hands and a slight burning throb in their chests.

The windows blew open and glass shattered in their rooms, but they did not wake from their slumber. White light consumed the room as the two fifteen-year-olds tossed and turned. A red burn mark appeared on their chests over their hearts.

The nobleman’s son gritted his teeth and gripped the sheets of his bed, bearing the pain as a true warrior would…silently.

The burn mark singed his shirt as it glowed brighter. The boy gasped for air as his lungs burned from the inside, filling with ash. When the light vanished from his room, the boy shot up in bed, sweat dripping from his forehead, and screamed, “Breanna!”

The princess could not hide her pain as the nobleman’s son could. She cried out with tears streaming down her face. She tore at her nightgown, pressing a hand against the burn mark. As the room grew hotter from the white light, the princess’ breathing stopped and she fell limp on her bed.

Suddenly, she rose from her bed and walked over the broken glass to the windowsill. Her eyes flung open, revealing silver irises with flecks of green.

In a low raspy voice, the young princess repeated, “Two halves of the whole will reinstall as Regina to all. The death of one will burn into another.”

Her lungs once again filled with air and her eyes returned to her normal, brilliant hazel. The princess collapsed on the floor, stared out her open window at a full crimson moon and breathed one word, “Eoghan.”

The howl of wolves was the last sound she heard before she passed out.

Three men sat around a fire, laughing and joking until they heard the wolves howling in the forest behind them.

The eldest of the men, named Brian, smiled up at the Blood-Moon and said, “And so it begins…again.”

You can discover new stories about the characters you already know, and some you don’t, by visiting the following links:

www.slmancuso.com

www.facebook.com/slmancuso1

www.twitter.com/SL_Mancuso

Thank you so much for reading!

Much love,

-S. L. Mancuso

Coming Soon

The Phoinix

The Light of Albion

No one could navigate Camelot Castle better than Breanna. She would occasionally use secret tunnels to avoid her teachers or spy on people. Mainly, she would use them to sneak out to the stables and enjoy a night run on her favorite horse, Whisper, the fastest in the kingdom. Whisper was a white stallion with a black mane and tail, larger and stronger than any other horse. Few people were able to ride him without being tossed from the saddle.

Cailean and Bre snuck through the tunnels so they could get a good look at the future knights of Camelot. Cailean did not need to sneak about, spying on the new recruits, but he enjoyed the frivolousness and thrill of possibly being caught and told off by Brian. Breanna brought out the child in his heart.

The new knights were all around Breanna’s age: if not eighteen, no more than two years older. This new group was the largest Breanna had seen. Normally, only two or three in a group gathered in the hall, but today, six men arrived. All of the recruits were over six feet tall, and some were clean-shaven while others sported a scruffier look. They either had brown or hazel eyes; Bre fancied the hazel. However, one recruit with piercing blue eyes caught Breanna off guard.

The handsome recruit was at least 6’2 with well-toned muscles. Even though Cailean and Breanna were hidden in the secret passage, peering through peepholes in the wall, the man looked straight in their direction and smiled. Bre automatically responded with a flirtatious smile, but she was sure he could not appreciate it from her hideaway.

Cailean stumbled backwards in shock after noticing the instinctive flirtation. Cailean placed a hand over his mouth, mumbling, “It couldn’t be.”

Before Bre could ask what was wrong, Cailean grabbed her arm and sprinted down the passageway.

“What’s the rush, Cail?” Bre asked, barely able to keep up.

“We have to find Brian!” excitement filled Cailean’s voice. His hand tightened around Bre’s wrist, making it impossible to shake him loose, even if she tried.

The two busted through the passage door and found themselves in the hall where the future knights waited patiently. Cailean and Bre skidded to a halt when they realized where they were. Bre’s heels were more slippery than Cailean’s boots, causing her to slide past Cailean and into one of the recruits. The man was so large and muscular that when Bre slammed into him it was like running full force into a wall. The man would not have noticed if it were not for the small squeal she made when she hit the ground.

The room erupted into laughter as Bre sat on the floor looking up at the man, dumbfounded at his size. The giant recruit peered over his shoulder and then whipped around, apologizing as if it were his fault she hit him. He started to bend over to yank Breanna up but slightly jerked back, thinking twice about touching her, staring at his hands accusingly.

Cailean tried to hide his chuckling, but when Bre cracked a smile, he burst out laughing.

Still giggling, Bre raised her hands up towards Cailean, “Oh, shush and help me up.”

Cailean wiped away a tear and stepped towards the princess to help. Before he reached her, the man with striking blue eyes and handsome scruff picked Bre up with a firm grip around her waist. “Are you alright, Ma’am?” he asked with a dashing smile that made Bre blush.

Bre was cut off before she could respond.

“That would be Your Majesty, not Ma’am,” an authoritative voice corrected the man.

Bre grimaced as she turned around to find Brian looming in the door, shaking his head disapprovingly at her and Cailean. Brian bowed his head slightly in Breanna’s direction, “Princess Breanna.” Brian gave her half a smile and shook his head as if saying “only you.”

Relieved he did not scold her, Breanna chuckled and wiped dirt off her hands. “Hello, Sir Brian! This nice gentleman kindly broke my stride.” She smiled sweetly up at the man she hit.

“The name is Percival, Your Majesty,” Percival turned red from embarrassment.

“It’s lovely to meet you, Percival,” Breanna curtsied to the recruit, who was turning redder by the minute.

“Why don’t you get ready for the feast while we contend with the recruits?” advised Brian with more of a ‘do as I say’ tone.

“It was a pleasure watching you fall, Your Majesty. Maybe next time it will be me who you fall for,” another handsome recruit walked over to Bre and kissed her hand. He had bright hazel eyes and wavy brown hair that swept just below his ears. His voice was smooth and soothing, and he had a smile that could make any girl swoon.

“Easy, Gawain,” Brian warned the future knight, raising an eyebrow.

Brian put a hand on Gawain’s shoulder to let him know Breanna is protected at all times.

Gawain put his hands up in surrender and backed away from the princess. Brian looked at Bre and motioned towards the door. She gave him a playful grin as she headed towards the exit. As Breanna passed Gawain, she grabbed his arm and kicked his legs out from under him. The sudden crash of his weight on the floor rattled the decorative suit of armor next to him. Once again, the room erupted into laughter.

Bre flipped her hair over her shoulder and smiled triumphantly at an amused Gawain, “Or maybe you’ll fall for me.”


The Phoinix: Age of Demigods

Breanna, a young Etruscan princess, comes from a famed bloodline of demigods. Since childhood, she has dreaded the nights of her birthdays when a full Blood-Moon rises and her dreams are plagued with vivid, horrifying memories...of another's life. As her nightmares consume her mind, her body reacts, causing violent outbursts that jeopardize the safety of those she loves, even putting her own life in danger. On her eighteenth birthday, an ancient prophecy threatens to destroy everything she loves and thrust Breanna into a magical feud between an old enemy and the gods. Now, not fully understanding her new powers, she must decide between those she loves and accepting her destiny to save the gods from annihilation. As she stands at the crossroads of fate, Bre doubts the intentions of the gods and wonders if she faces the same demise as her predecessor. Worse yet, what is the cost of becoming the divine savior? The Phoinix rises into the literary world as the debut series of S. L. Mancuso that shares an epic tale of myths, war-torn civilizations, and a complex love affair that transcends time

  • ISBN: 9781311993977
  • Author: S. L. Mancuso
  • Published: 2015-09-22 00:35:31
  • Words: 107338
The Phoinix: Age of Demigods The Phoinix: Age of Demigods