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My Tattered Bonds

Courtney Cole

  To my husband, my daughter and my sons.

  Thank you for putting up with me during the many different

  worlds that I write about.

  Know this:

  No matter what world I create in my books,

  I will always, always prefer to live in mine,

  with you.

  Chapter One

  The girl’s skin glistened in the firelight. She was ghostly pale and seemed to shimmer as she hovered over a young man, her dark reddish-brown hair curling around her slender, naked shoulders. The man was no older than twenty years old and he watched her in rapt fascination as she gyrated above him, sliding her hands over his bare chest as she bent her head to kiss the smooth skin where she had touched.

  She kissed a trail to his neck as he ran his freckled hands lightly over her bare back. Hovering above him, she turned her gaze to meet mine, her eyes a tranquil, calm gray.

  “Help me,” she whispered.

  And then she plunged her teeth into the side of his neck.

  He thrashed wildly and attempted to get away, but she was inhumanly strong and held him tightly to the bed until he grew limp and still while she remained fastened to his neck.

  Finally, her appetite was sated and she raised her head, her gaze still locked with mine as blood streaked down her chin and dropped onto her neck.

  “Help me,” she repeated, speaking directly to me. And then I realized in horror that the firelight flickering against her skin was actually coming from her. Her hair wasn’t auburn, it was on fire.

  I screamed.

  And then I was awake, grasping the bedclothes while Cadmus held me, murmuring into my ear.

  “Harmonia, it’s alright. You’re alright. We’ll find her,” he soothed, stroking my back gently with large hands.

  I tried to still my racing heart, to calm my rasping breath, as I studied my husband. He thought I was dreaming about our daughter again, as I had for several nights in a row. Ever since we had discovered that undoing the Fates’ hold on the mortal world had also ripped our daughter from our grasp, I had dreamed of Raquel.

  But not tonight.

  “My love,” Cadmus murmured, pulling me to his chest, “If I could take your pain and your fear away, I would do it in a moment. I hope you know that. Watching you struggle rips my heart apart.”

  “I feel like nothing will ever be the same,” I whispered into the dark. He stilled for a moment before he answered, his voice quiet in the night.

  “It won’t be,” he acknowledged. “But once we find our daughter, we will be better than we’ve ever been. Our lives will be perfect.”

  I closed my eyes and listened to his strong heart beat. I had known him for centuries. As my soul mate, he knew me better than anyone. He could take one look at my face and know what I was thinking, even without reading my thoughts- which he was perfectly capable of doing, as well.

  I sighed and looked up to find his chocolate eyes fixed on my face.

  “Cadmus, I love you. I’m sorry that I have been so distant these past few days. I have faith that we will find Raquel and bring her home. It’s just that my nightmares are so vivid. When I see her screaming for me in the wastelands, it is as though I can reach out and touch her… and then she is gone. I feel so helpless. And if that weren’t enough, now I’m dreaming about someone else. I don’t know her, but she asked for my help.” I sighed again and dropped my forehead against his warm body.

  “Was this person real?” Cadmus raised a dark eyebrow. “Or is your sense of responsibility just bleeding into your dreams?”

  “I don’t know,” I answered thinly. “It could be either one, I guess.”

  He pulled me closer, stroking my hair away from my forehead. His large hands were strong and comforting. He had been very patient with me these past couple of days. I knew that.

  “Hush then, sweet one, and go back to sleep. I will protect you from your dreams- you need to rest. We have a long journey in front of us. You will need to be strong.”

  I nodded and nestled into him, willing my mind to stop churning. Cadmus was handsome, strong and he always knew my heart, but he was wrong about this. He could protect me from everything else, but he couldn’t stop my dreams. Regardless, I knew he was right about needing my strength and I closed my eyes.

  When I opened them again, morning light was flooding our bedchambers and Cadmus was gone. I had thankfully slept through the rest of the night without nightmares. I stretched and glanced around the room. Brilliant sunshine bounced from every surface, from the marble walls to the polished stone floors, to the massive furniture. And there was no one else here, which was strange. It was rare that I was alone.

  Ever since our epic battle with the Fates and the Keres on the fields of Camelot a few days ago, someone had always made sure to be by my side… whether it was my mother, Aphrodite, my father, Ares, my sister, Ortrera or my husband. Because the Fates had managed to have the last laugh and undo my daughter’s very existence after they had been dragged into the underworld by the Keres, I would readily admit that I hadn’t been at my best.

  A sniveling wreck would be a more accurate description.

  It had taken us three days to prepare for our journey, to gather everything that the goddess of witchcraft, Hecate, had thought that we might need as we crossed the Spiritlands, the mortal world and heaven only knew where else as we hunted for the imprisoned Olympians. Without Zeus, I would never get my daughter back. He had to be found.

  The mere thought of Raquel’s frightened face caused my heart to start racing again and I slumped against the pillows. We had only just discovered that she was ours before she had been wrenched away. And deep in my heart, I knew she was frightened. I could feel it with a mother’s intuition. Even though I had only known myself to be a mother for a few days.

  “Stop it,” a quiet voice murmured.

  Startled, I turned and found Hecate lingering in my doorway. Vibrant and beautiful as always, her long blonde hair tumbled to the small of her back in wavy curls. She was most certainly not what you would expect the goddess of witchcraft to look like.

  “Stop torturing yourself,” she insisted as she crossed to my bed. “You must. None of this is your doing. None of us, not even me, saw this coming. So get out of bed, get dressed and let us leave so that we can repair it. You will not fix anything at all from in here.”

  Her stern voice surprised me and my head snapped up.

  “What?” she asked, her thin eyebrow raised. “Do you think I should tiptoe around you like everyone else? Yes, your daughter has been taken from you. Yes, the Olympians are hidden from us somewhere. But you are the Chosen One, Harmonia. It is time for you to start acting like it once again.”

  “Why are you being so mean?” I whispered as I curled my fingers deeper within my sheets, turning my face away from her. The desolation that I felt deep inside was consuming. I could hardly think past it. There was no way she could understand.

  “Get up!” Hecate hissed as she threw my covers back and pulled me to my feet, ignoring my question. “This is not you, Harmonia. You are strong. You are a fighter. You are the Chosen One, for god’s sake. You’re the goddess of peace—summon some of that for yourself. Get up!”

  I stared at her blankly, then whimpered.

  “Where’s Cadmus?”

  She rolled her eyes and then snapped, “He’s with your parents. They don’t have the heart to do what I am doing now. This is called tough love. Why do you think we have taken so long to prepare for this trip? Because we have been waiting for you to regain your feisty spirit before we set off. And I was patient—you’ve been through a lot and you deserved a brief rest. But three days? Enough is enough! So many things hinge upon your actions, Harmonia. Your mortal mother is waiting
on Calypso’s island and your daughter must be found, not to mention the Olympians. Pull yourself together.”

  Staring into my eyes, she shook me hard. My head whipped back and I should have been angry. Or startled. Or something. I knew that was her intention. But I wasn’t. I felt numb and when she stopped, I stood still once more with my head bowed.

  “Oh, god’s teeth,” Hecate muttered. “I’ve readied a bath for you in the bathhouse. Go and bathe. We will ride at dusk.”

  “Why dusk?” I asked woodenly.

  “Why not?” she threw over her shoulder as she walked out. “Just be ready.”

  I stared at her for a moment, pondering my circumstances. I had always loved a good hot bath and Zeus’ bathhouse was the finest anywhere. But the mere thought of bathing was exhausting, much less actually doing it. However, the thought of suffering Hecate’s wrath if she returned to find me still here spurred me into motion.

  It seemed to take too much effort to summon the energy to materialize in front of the bath, so I walked instead, one numb foot after the other. I kept my eyes straight ahead, ignoring the stares from the house servants as I descended the stairs of the palace.

  As I passed through the courtyard, the beauty surrounding me faded into an insignificant backdrop. The falling blue lotus blossoms, the intricate arbors dripping with jasmine, honeysuckle and climbing wisteria, the sculpted gardens that stretched as far as I could see… all of it blended together. The scents filled the air and my nose. But I didn’t enjoy it as I normally did. The swirling sky above me, unique to the Spiritlands, was bright with daylight hues… pinks, whites, yellows and blues. The clouds swirled and puffed and it was a happy scene.

  I should have felt brightened at the sight. But I did not. I felt empty inside.

  Hecate was right. I had been through a lot lately. In the not so distant past, I had found out that for several millennia the Fates had lied to me, telling me that I was a Keeper of fate and that I was marked to carry out their plans for the mortal world. That was a lie. For thousands of years, I had lived their lie, which typically had tragic and heartbreaking consequences for me in each life. In reality, I was the daughter of Aphrodite and Ares. And if that weren’t bad enough, the Fates had somehow managed to imprison the gods.

  I had already found Zeus’ elusive sword, which had saved my husband Cadmus from their clutches, but when Hecate had sheathed it next to Zeus’ throne, it had interfered with many things that the Fates had designed… one of them being my daughter.

  Sweet little Raquel. I had only just discovered her. The Fates had hidden her from me throughout the millennia, erasing her from my memory so that I didn’t even know that she was mine. Until now—and right after I had found her, she had been wrenched away. She was just…gone. It was so devastating that I didn’t know if I could stand it.

  “Chosen One,” I muttered as I kicked a pebble on the cobblestone walk to the Bathhouse. I might be the Chosen One, meant to return the Spiritlands to Zeus, but how could I do that when I had allowed my very own daughter slip from my grasp?

  Pushing open the jeweled doors, I gazed inside the massive bathhouse. It was an opulent scene straight from ancient Rome. A massive sparkling pool heated to the perfect temperature filled the majority of the room. Open hallways on either side, sculpted with flying buttresses, housed several smaller pools each fed from fountains flowing from the marble walls. White marble statues of the gods lined the backlit alcoves.

  The soothing bubbling sounds filled my ears as I padded across the cut granite floor, the stone cool beneath my bare feet. It was empty but for me. Letting my soft linen sheath drop to my ankles, I stepped out of it and into the water, wading into the largest pool wearing only my bloodstone.

  My bloodstone. I sighed. A gift and a curse, it had been given to me by my step-father Hephaestus in his attempt to seek revenge on my mother, Aphrodite, for betraying him with my father, Ares. Zeus had donated a bit of his own blood to Hephaestus for the cause, which had resulted in the pendant possessing powerful abilities, as well as Hephaestus’ curse.

  Because my memories were wiped clean in every mortal life that I had lived for the past couple of millennia, I had forgotten who I actually was and the history of my Bloodstone for a very long time. The Fates had allowed me to think that they created it instead, that it was part of their organization, the Order of the Moirae. Just another lie in an entire life filled with them.

  I sighed again. The water was perfect, hot enough to steam, but not so hot that I couldn’t bear it. Pulling the water back with my arms, I dropped onto my back and floated. I imagined that the water smelled like honeysuckle and instantly the flowery scent surrounded me. I stared up at the stone ceiling. It was painted with an intricate mural of Zeus and Hera presiding over a royal banquet.