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Authors: Scarlett St. Clair

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BOOK: A Touch of Chaos
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“It is time.”

Persephone's pain flourished again as six Amazons approached. She stepped away, following Hippolyta from the home with Hecate, Hermes, and Ilias in tow. As they emerged, she found the path they'd followed was flanked by Amazons. Some carried torches while others carried weapons, and when Zofie was brought forth from the home, they began to sing a haunting melody. It followed them as Hippolyta led the procession into the courtyard where the women of Terme continued their song while they clashed their spears and swords on their shields, slammed their fists against their breasts, or tore at their clothes in grief.

They did not cease, even as Zofie came to rest on the pyre and the Amazons who carried torches threw them at its feet, not even when the flames rose and caught Zofie's dress aflame and then her flesh, filling the air with a metallic tang that lingered in the back of Persephone's throat. Her eyes began to water, and she did not know if it was from the smoke or the sorrow that weighed heavily in her limbs.

Then Hecate took her hand.

“Do not stop your tears, my dear,” she said. “Let them give life.”

At first, Persephone did not understand, but then she felt something brush the hem of her gown, and when she looked, there were flowers at her feet, the petals so white they glowed like moonstones.

She smiled despite her sadness as the blooming bed continued to spread, and when Hippolyta noticed, she turned toward Persephone.

“I suppose what you said is true. Death gives birth to life.” Then she narrowed her eyes. “What will you birth, Persephone?”

“Rage,” she answered without a second thought.

CHAPTER VI
THESEUS

The tension in the Council chamber was thick, and though Theseus could barely breathe, he did not find the sensation unpleasant. He liked what it meant, that the Olympians were at odds with one another.

He watched them from the shadows, concealed by the magic of the Helm of Darkness.

“How dare you stand against me!” Zeus was saying. “
Me
, your king!”

He stood before his great throne, large and imposing. The air around him was electric, heavy with the threat of his magic. Behind him, his golden eagle lurked, beady eyes alert but unaware of Theseus's presence.

Given Zeus's usually placid nature, it was hard to remember his power. The God of the Sky rarely intervened in matters outside his interest, and his interests extended mostly to the women he wished to bed. Now and again, he might take revenge against someone who looked at Hera too long, but mostly, he was content to
watch the world and its gods do as they pleased, even if it meant going to war.

Until his reign was threatened, and then suddenly, he was a warrior.

“Someone is out there killing gods,” said Hermes. “And you wish to ignore that in favor of pursuing a goddess who has done no harm.”

The God of Thieves stood before his own throne, his exuberant joy suffocated beneath his anger.

“If gods are dying, they have only their weaknesses to blame,” said Zeus. “I will not count myself among them, which is why my brother's lover must be eliminated.”


Her name
is Persephone,” said Apollo, who also stood, his arms crossed over his chest. “Or do you fear saying it like you fear her power?”

Zeus's eyes flashed bright like a strike of lightning on a dark horizon.

“I do not fear her,” he hissed. “But I will not be dethroned.”

“She did not try to overthrow you,” Apollo snapped. “She
restored
Thebes, and you brought war against her.”

“And when the time came to choose a side, you opposed me. That is the same thing.”

An angry silence followed Zeus's words.

“Why do you defend her?” asked Artemis. The goddess was one of a few who sat on her throne, her hands curled around the arms of her chair as if at any moment, she might launch herself from it and attack. “What has she done for you?”

Apollo glared at his sister as he answered, “She is my friend.”

Artemis scoffed. “You are a god. Mortals are dying to be in your presence.
They
will be your friends.”

“It is not the same,” he said. “But you would not know that because you have no friends.”

Artemis glared at Apollo and then looked at Zeus. “I will hunt her, Father.”

“You will do no such thing.” It was Aphrodite who spoke this time.

“You would defend her too, my child?” Zeus asked. Unlike the anger he showed Hermes and Apollo, toward her, he was hurt.

“She took a spear for her,” said Poseidon. “Or have you forgotten the way Hephaestus screamed for her?” The God of the Sea chuckled.

Aphrodite glared at her uncle before her gaze slid back to Zeus. “It is not Persephone or Hades who are dangerous, Father,” she said. “It is their love. Tear them apart, and they will tear you apart.”

Artemis scoffed and rolled her eyes.

“The prophecy has made the danger of their love very clear, Aphrodite,” said Hera. It was the first time the Goddess of Marriage had spoken. “Together or apart, they are a continuous threat.”

Zeus looked at his wife with affection, as if her defense of him was an illustration of her love, but Theseus knew otherwise—and so did everyone else in the room. Hera was just as afraid of losing her position and title, and while it was foolish for Zeus to think it meant anything more, his inability to see Hera for who she truly was worked in Theseus's favor.

So did his attention to Hades and Persephone.

But that was the danger in attempting to unravel
an oracle's words. There was no way to guess how their predictions might unfold. Indeed, Hades and Persephone's union
had
produced a god more powerful than Zeus.

But that god was Theseus.

“How many times must we pick apart a prophecy when we all know there is no avoiding Fate?” asked Athena.

“Are those supposed to be wise words?” Hera asked.

Athena narrowed her eyes and lifted her proud chin.

“You should not even be allowed a voice here,” said Ares. “You and Hestia abandoned us on the battlefield. Cowards!”

“Do not pretend you participated in battle out of loyalty,” Athena shot back. “You only wished to satisfy your bloodlust.”

Ares pushed off his throne and took up his spear, but Aphrodite stepped in front of him, and the anger that had overtaken him seemed to vanish.

“Is she wrong, Ares?” Aphrodite asked.

Ares's jaw tightened, and his knuckles turned white around his spear, but he did not move to strike or whatever he had intended to do when he rose against Athena. Instead, he took a step back and returned to his throne.

Zeus looked at Athena and then at the gods who had opposed him.

“I have escaped Fate more times than I can count,” he said. “I can assure you the last thing that will bring me to my knees is a pair of star-crossed lovers.”

“You have
prolonged
Fate,” said Athena. “There is a difference. Why do you think the same prophecy haunts you?”

“Worse things have haunted me, Daughter,” said Zeus. “But in this moment, nothing more than your words.” A heavy silence followed as Zeus assessed the gods. “Those who stood against me on the battlefield will suffer my wrath. Apollo, Hermes, Aphrodite—you are hereby stripped of your powers.”

“Father—” Aphrodite said, taking a step forward.

Zeus held up his hand, silencing her.

Hermes's mouth fell open before he slammed it shut and glared at his father. Only Apollo seemed unfazed, having faced a similar punishment before.

“For one year, you will know the struggle of what it means to be mortal,” Zeus continued, as if he were foretelling the future. “To those who stood with me, I offer my shield to the one who brings me the Goddess of Spring in chains. Let it serve as a symbol to be bestowed on the greatest hunter among us.”

Apollo glared at Artemis, who had straightened in her throne, eager for the honor.

Hermes's aura burned with anger, a halo of gold blazing around him.

“Will Hephaestus suffer the same?” Aphrodite asked. “He was only defending me.”

Theseus knew why the Goddess of Love inquired after her husband. He was the blacksmith of the gods, responsible for forging their powerful weapons—ones she would need without her powers.

“And in doing so, he has illustrated where his loyalties lie,” said Zeus.

“Oh, give him a break, Brother.” Poseidon chuckled. “We all know Hephaestus is limited in the ways he can please his wife.”

Aphrodite's jaw ticked, but she did not speak, waiting for Zeus to make his declaration.

“If Hephaestus goes without punishment, then you must take his year.”

Aphrodite swallowed but did not hesitate. “Fine.”

Hermes grimaced, shaking his head.

“So be it,” said Zeus, a grave edge to his tone. “You shall live two years as a mortal. Enjoy watching your fellow Olympians pursue your beloved friend while you are helpless to defend her.”

“And are you prepared to face Hades's wrath?” Hermes asked.

The corner of Theseus's mouth lifted. Hermes's question was akin to a scare tactic. He knew Hades was missing and that no one could protect Persephone from what was coming for her.

“The question you should be asking,” said Zeus, “is whether Hades is prepared for mine.”

Theseus manifested outside Hera's orchard, which was known as the Garden of the Hesperides. Its walls were high and white, obscured by tall and pointed trees. Beyond the iron gates where he stood, he could see an extensive maze of low hedges and topiaries, among which colorful peacocks roamed. The orchard grew among rolling hills. Atop the tallest was a tree, more magnificent than any other. Its trunk seemed to twist from the ground, and its branches unfurled like a palm, open to the sky, fingers splayed. Each limb was heavy with dark green leaves and golden fruit.

It was the fruit Theseus sought. One bite would cure him of his one weakness: vulnerability.

He ground his teeth, and a surge of white-hot anger warmed his chest, reminding him of how he'd been injured, both by Dionysus and Persephone. He'd taken the God of Wine's thyrsus to the stomach and five black barbs to the chest from the Goddess of Spring. Both wounds had been slow to heal, but what made him most angry was that his vulnerability was no longer secret.

Hades had known, which meant Dionysus had told him, and before word spread, Theseus intended to be invincible.

He took a step toward the gates of Hera's garden but was blocked as the goddess appeared.

“The audacity of a man,” she said, her expression severe. “To encroach upon my sacred space.”

“The audacity comes from my divine blood,” Theseus replied.

“Yet not even my husband would dare set foot here.”

“Growing favorable toward him, Hera?” he asked.

She glared at him, her lip curled in disgust. “You are not entitled to my things just because we are on the same side.”

“Do you wish to win or not?” he asked.

“What a ridiculous question,” she snapped.

“Then allow me what I came for,” he said.

“What exactly did you come for?”

Theseus tilted his head. “A golden apple from your orchard.”

“You crave invincibility?”

He did not answer. The request made it obvious, but saying it aloud felt like admitting to weakness.

“It is not a tree of wishes,” said Hera. “It will demand something in return.”

“As all divine things,” he said.

He knew this, had prepared for it. Hera just stared. After a moment, she lifted her hand, and a golden apple appeared in her grasp. “Partake of this apple,” she said, “and it will take your immortality.”

“That is a heavy price,” Theseus said.

“An equal price,” said Hera.

He knew which had more value in the present given how close they were to battle. He would worry about deification later, when the war was won and he sat on the highest throne, exalted as the one true god of the world.

“What will it be, Theseus?” she asked, extending her hand farther.

He took the apple, and as he brought it to his lips, she spoke.

“You may only eat from this tree once.”

It was a warning that he could not return and make the exchange again.

Theseus took a bite.

The flesh was soft, almost slushy, as if it were close to rotting, and when he swallowed, he felt no different than before, save that his tongue was coated in a strange, sour film.

He looked at the apple, examining the juicy, white pulp, and then took another bite, gaze leveling with Hera's.

“Are you ready to make your sacrifice?”

She raised an angry brow. “And what sacrifice is that?”

“The one where you fuck your husband for the greater good.”

Her eyes darkened.

“Do not pretend our sacrifices are the same,” said Hera. “Yours only saved yourself.”

Theseus smirked. “Are you suggesting
sex
will save the world then, Hera?”

She glared and spoke between clenched teeth. “Do your part, Theseus, so my sacrifice is not made in vain.” Her eyes dropped to the apple. “You had better finish that,” she said. “You wouldn't want to find out what happens if you waste a drop. Now, leave.”

“At once, Your Majesty,” he mocked and then vanished.

BOOK: A Touch of Chaos
13.87Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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