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With My Last Breath

Courtney Cole


  I was floating in a dark place, a place where I was all alone and the blackness was consuming. It filled me up and I drifted on it as it ebbed and flowed peacefully all around me, the warmth calming me with soothing fluidity. Until cackling, bitter laughter abruptly pulled me from the lovely darkness, reminding me of what had caused me to lose consciousness in the first place.


  The sound of the ancient woman snapped me back to reality as quick as a bolt of lightning. A brief image of my soul mate, Cadmus, with Moros’ deadly sister Thanatos ricocheted through my mind, accompanied by an ever-widening ripple of panic and a stuttering heart beat. He was in danger.

  I emerged from my imaginary tranquil pool as my eyes popped open. Staring into Moros’ faded eyes, I watched for a split second as crimson blood ran in rivulets from the corner of her eye and streaked down her wrinkled cheek, dripping onto her black cloak. I shuddered. Her eyes continually bled from all of the horror that she had seen, all of the pain that she had inflicted as an enforcer of the Fates throughout the millennia.

  It had turned her into a monster.

  ‚What have you done?' I hissed as I sprang to my feet and shot out of my bedchambers like a rocket.

  Cadmus was my only focus as I charged down the cascading marble staircase of Zeus’ palace in a blinding streak of motion. We had just gone to hell and back as the Fates and their sisters, the Keres, had imprisoned all of the gods and goddesses of Olympus and the surrounding Spiritlands. They had entranced my husband, Cadmus, in the process and I had only just gotten him back. This couldn’t be happening.

  I barely noticed the banquet attendees who were laughing and sipping Olympian nectar and dancing carefree around the twinkling, lantern-adorned courtyard as I pushed through them to plunge into the sweetly scented dark night outside.

  My mother, Aphrodite, froze in place when she saw me, apprehension immediately pooling in her eyes. She grabbed my father’s arm and Ares turned toward me as well, his chiseled face instantly wary.

  ‚Harmonia, what is it?' Aphrodite quickly asked, anxiety etched on her perfect face. She knew from simply looking at me that something was horribly wrong. She almost knew me better than I knew myself.

  It was impossible to answer her because I couldn’t even breathe as I scanned the perimeter of the crowd to locate the exact place where Cadmus had been standing just a few minutes earlier. His tall frame was gone.

  Courtney Cole 3

  With My Last Breath, Book Three

  He and Annen, an ancient Keres priest, had been there just two minutes ago. But now there was nothing, just the blackness of the Spiritlands night closing in on us as the stars twinkled overhead. I struggled to catch my breath as I frantically searched through the crowd.


  But just as I started to turn away, I caught a glimpse of Olympus residents congregating in a circle on the edge of the courtyard, murmuring in panic. My stomach dropped like a lead weight and I innately knew that Cadmus was there and that something was very, very wrong.

  Placing one numb foot after the other, I woodenly approached and the crowd parted to allow me to pass. Stunned faces stared at me from the circle but I paid them no mind. My gaze was frozen on my soul mate.

  Cadmus was lying on his back in the middle of the circle, completely still and quiet.

  The angles from his bronzed face caught the light of nearby lanterns and as always, his beauty was staggering. His hair was dark and shiny, his muscular frame lithe and taut.

  Normally, he was stronger than almost anyone else I knew, but right now he was limp against the dew-covered ground.

  I dropped to my knees next to him and collapsed onto his chest, feeling as though I was moving through the haze of a bad dream. My fingertips were numb as I shook his shoulder.

  ‚Cadmus! Please, wake up,' I murmured into his neck.

  He smelled so good and familiar as my lips grazed his warm skin, but his dark eyes stayed closed. He didn’t even twitch as I kissed first his cheek, then the side of his neck.

  And in sudden horror, I realized something. No pulse beat beneath my lips.

  Frantically, I ran my fingers along his neck and then his wrist, but it was futile.

  There was nothing there to feel. His heart, so brave and strong, had stopped beating.

  I screamed into the night, ripping it apart with my agony as I collapsed once again onto his hard body, clutching him to me as I cried. His handsome face was slack and peaceful and completely unresponsive to my pain. He had been my soul mate for thousands of years, but he was gone from me now. The pain was unbearable and I couldn’t even think.

  Cool hands grasped my shoulders and tried to pull me away from Cadmus, but I wouldn’t have it. I was going nowhere. I clutched his shoulders, breathing him in. I was determined to stay with my husband no matter what. They would have to pry me away.

  And then someone did.

  Ares pulled me into his strong arms and I clung to him limply as I cried. It didn’t seem possible that everything had changed so drastically in the blink of an eye and this unexpected sorrow was debilitating.

  Courtney Cole 4

  With My Last Breath, Book Three


  A voice creaked from the darkness and my sobs froze in my throat as I pulled away from my father and whirled around. Moros’ sister stood close by, flanked by the old Keres priest, Annen.

  Thanatos. Her name meant death. And while it was true that she could not literally kill an immortal, because only Zeus’ lost sword could wield that power, she could drain the life from one, leaving him or her lifeless for all of eternity. Which is exactly what she had done to Cadmus.

  Before Ares could react, I flew directly at Thanatos’ face, scratching and flailing my arms at her. She didn’t even try to fend me off. She simply stood, allowing me to pummel her as I screamed. Her bones felt thin and hollow beneath my fists, but her frailty didn’t deter me. I wanted her to feel my pain.

  ‚Why?' I screeched, as my left hand connected with the rim of her eye. ‚Why him?

  He never did a thing to you!'

  Her blood, seeping from her cloudy eyes, was smeared all over my arms and my long evening shift, but it was of no consequence to me. Nothing mattered anymore but hearing her explanation. My eyes were frozen on her ancient face.

  ‚Why?' I demanded again. But she remained frustratingly silent.

  ‚You know why.'

  The answer came from behind me. I spun to find Moros standing on the edge of the circle, her face a calm mask of perfunctory necessity. Rage exploded within me and I tried to throw myself at her as well, but Ares smoothly caught me, stroking my hair as he held me still.

  ‚Calm yourself, daughter,' he murmured into my ear. ‚It won’t bring him back.'

  As he leveled his black gaze at Moros, his voice turned into malicious steel.

  ‚Why have you done this?' he gestured toward my crumpled soul mate and my heart broke into pieces. From behind Ares’ thick arm, I glared at Moros with all of the ice I could muster from my frozen heart.

  ‚Why?' she sounded surprised. ‚Harmonia knows why. I told her a moment ago.

  According to the prophecy, she will experience a great loss before she seeks Zeus’

  sword. I have just given her that great loss.'

  I shrieked again and flailed helplessly against my father as he held me as easily as a rag doll. My mother, however, was not restrained and blurred into motion, instantly standing in front of the old Keres.

  ‚How dare you?' she demanded, with more malice than I had ever heard coming from her lips as her chestnut hair fluttered in the night breeze. Her face, which was perfect in its beauty, was contorted in barely contained rage. ‚The prophecy does not say that it
should be you that brings Harmonia a great loss.

  Courtney Cole 5

  With My Last Breath, Book Three

  ‚Do you think that you can meddle with the gods so easily and there will be no consequences? Do you think that Harmonia will find the sword and simply hand it over to you so that you can reign over Olympus, bringing tragedy and sadness to us all?

  I think not, you ancient hag.'

  Aphrodite’s anger was so great that it fueled the nearby torches and they exploded into the night sky, orange sparks spitting onto the thick damp grass before dying quietly in the dew.

  But Moros did not shirk away. She stood hunched as she always did, meeting Aphrodite’s unflinching gaze with eyes that were so faded that they seemed strangely opaque. The blood that fell from the corners made her seem that much more grotesque.

  It dripped down her creased cheeks, running down her arms and streaming into a puddle to the ground around her feet.

  She watched Aphrodite silently, something that infuriated my mother even more.

  Aphrodite lunged at her, grabbing her by the front of her long cloak and hurling the old woman forcefully against a nearby blooming Lotus tree. The Keres collided into the massive trunk and on impact, the brilliant blue Lotus blossoms shriveled and died, falling to the ground in dried black petals.

  Moros lay crumpled at the base of the tree, curled into a heap, but her stare was still firm and focused with laser precision on my mother.

  ‚The prophecy is specific,' she stated simply, her voice thin and fragile.

  ‚Harmonia will suffer a great loss before she finds the sword. It will benefit all of Olympus when she finds it.'

  ‚Especially you?' Aphrodite pressed stubbornly. ‚You feel that you will benefit as you step into your sisters’ shoes? Now that we’ve imprisoned the Fates you think to take their place as the usurping rulers of the Spiritlands in Zeus’ absence?' She was so furious that her arms shook and her cheeks flushed in red streaks.

  ‚Aphrodite,' Ares interrupted, handing me to my sister Ortrera as he stepped carefully toward my mother. ‚Be still.'

  She turned to him in surprise and agitation.

  ‚Be still? You mean… be silent?' Her voice raised an octave. ‚How dare you?

  This pathetic heap has rendered your daughter’s husband lifeless and you stand idly by and tell me to be silent? This… coming from the god of war? Ppft.'

  She turned up her nose but gasped as Ares’ sword sliced the air directly next to her ear. She whirled, only to find that the sword had impaled one of the many children of the Gorgons.

  With the body of a snake and a human head, the creatures were scary enough, but coupled with their ability to turn anyone to stone with their stares, the Gorgons were simply terrifying. This one had wound its way silently from the branches above Courtney Cole 6

  With My Last Breath, Book Three

  Aphrodite’s head and had been preparing to dangle in front of her, forcing her to meet its deadly gaze. But luckily for her, Ares had seen it first.

  As the lifeless Gorgon hung limply from the tree trunk, impaled by Ares’ sword, Aphrodite gasped again, staring at the bloody half-reptile. She took a shaking step toward Ares, but she was too slow.

  In a blur of motion, he was already standing next to the wounded Keres. Staring down at Moros, his voice boomed like thunder.

  ‚You thought to turn my beloved to stone?'

  His voice was as dark as a hurricane and I flinched from the threat that it contained.

  He lifted a muscled leg and smashed his heavy foot into the old Keres’ chest. Her frail bones crunched and I watched her deflate as she wilted into the ground, her ribcage shattered. Her vague moans didn’t move me at all. She deserved all of this and more.

  Her ragged pants faded into the backdrop of the night as against my will, my gaze sought out my lifeless husband once more.

  He lay perfectly still, his beauty unbearable, even in eternal sleep. I collapsed to the ground and scrambled to his side. Curling into him, I held his hand and wept. His limp hand was still warm and I wondered how long it would take before his strong body cooled.

  I had never actually seen an immortal rendered lifeless before. I had no way of knowing what to expect. Would he remain just as he was now? Warm and vibrant? I traced the outline of his hand, weaving my fingers through his long ones, wrapping his limp arm around my body.

  If I didn’t find Zeus’ sword, he would remain as this… a lifeless shell of the man that he was. Only the sword could bring him back to me and Zeus could have hidden it anywhere in the world.

  The crowd around me was hushed as they waited for me to move. But I didn’t. I lay motionlessly with my husband for longer than I knew. As I inhaled his familiar scent, curled into his warm side, I pretended that nothing was wrong…that we were simply laying together as we would any other time. Time passed impotently by. It didn’t affect us anymore. We were immortal.

  Finally, Aphrodite knelt at my side, her voice gentle.

  ‚Sweetling, let us move Cadmus into the palace. We’ll post guards with him. He’ll be safe there while we begin our quest for the sword.'

  ‚What about the hags?' I whispered, my eyes flitting to the Keres.

  Moros was still crumpled on the ground. She hadn’t healed yet from her wounds.

  Each ragged breath she took rasped in her throat and I took joy in that fact. Thanatos hovered near her sister. Her face was unconcerned. She knew her sister would heal quickly. All immortals did. She also knew that she had nothing to fear from us. Only Zeus’ sword could truly kill them, just as any other immortal. I swallowed hard.

  Courtney Cole 7

  With My Last Breath, Book Three

  ‚Well?' I prompted. ‚What of the Keres?'

  ‚You know that you hold no power over us,' Thanatos uttered. ‚You cannot do a thing.' She turned to my father and pointed a gnarled finger. ‚Count yourself lucky.

  There will be no retribution today, war god. But you will not be so lucky next time.'

  Ares glared at her and took one menacing step, but before he could take another, Thanatos, Moros and Annen were all gone. I glanced around but they were nowhere to be found.

  I closed my eyes against the murmuring crowd. I could hear that they were unsettled and afraid, but I couldn’t concentrate on that. All I could focus on was my husband’s lifeless hand in my lap. I stroked his thumb in the same way that he usually stroked mine.

  Bending, I kissed his brow, then his nose, then each closed eyelid. I opened my eyes to study the way his long, dark lashes curled against his cheeks. My heart shattered into pieces and I swallowed hard.

  ‚Sleep tight, my love,' I murmured into his ear. ‚I will undo this. I promise. I love you.' I lay with my cheek pressed against his, the wetness from my tears soaking both of us. Finally, my father bent and scooped me up, striding in long steps toward the palace.

  ‚Bring Cadmus,' he called over his shoulder to some of the residents swarmed around us. ‚Carefully.'

  I closed my eyes and rested against my father’s stout chest as he strode purposefully through the courtyard and up the wide marble staircase that led to the back of the palace. I didn’t look behind us or in front of us, I simply kept my eyes closed and focused on the strange numbness that was enveloping me.

  My husband was the same as dead. It was hard to wrap my mind around. Even though I had lost him in every mortal life that I had been forced by the Fates to live for the past two thousand years, as soon as I returned to the Spiritlands and reclaimed my goddess heritage, I thought I would never have to face this again.

  But here we were. My husband was being carried lifelessly to the palace behind me and there wasn’t anything I could do. But cry.

  Courtney Cole 8

  With My Last Breath, Book Three

  Chapter Two

  We were surrounded by warriors.

  I glanced up with tear soaked cheeks from my bed and gazed woodenly at my half-sister Ortrera’s Amazon wa
rriors who were circling the perimeter of my large, airy bedchamber. Proud and strong, their muscles bulged as they stood at attention, guarding both me and my lifeless husband.

  Cadmus lay completely still on a nearby table. As I wept, Aphrodite had covered the long table with cushions and soft blankets before the Olympus residents gently laid Cadmus down on the makeshift bed. His beautiful face was peaceful, as though he slept without a care in the world. His strong hands lay lifelessly at his sides and I wondered where he was. Was his soul simply asleep, waiting for me to wake it? I swallowed hard.

  ‚Ortrera, you do not need to stay in here,' I insisted once again to my sister, but I knew that once again, she wouldn’t listen. She was as head-strong and stubborn as a bull. She stared at me as though I was a child, her brown eyes penetrating mine as she assessed my grief ravaged face.