Genre = Paranormal Women's Fiction, Fantasy, Romance
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LENGTH: 76,800 words, 314 pages
Muse inspired is a paranormal fantasy women’s fiction and fantasy novel and an action and adventure tale from USA Today Bestselling Author Donna McDonald.
My body flipping between ages 40 and 60 is not inspiring.
The Fates have gone missing and their mother blames me. Why would she do that? They tell me what to do. It doesn’t work the other way around. In their absence, time has gone crazy. I’ve got to fix that problem before I can worry about searching for the missing Moirai.
And who knows? Maybe the Fates got tired and wanted a vacation. Gaia knows, I could certainly use one. But going to Tibet to throw myself off a mountain in order to find Shangri-la is not my idea of rest and relaxation. One man’s paradise is another’s prison, but I have to go there. I’m searching for the original Titan timekeeper—Father Time—to fix time in the Mortal Realm so I can work on the prophecy before I get too decrepit to care.
I have to move quickly. It looks like I may have to stop another full-out Dragon war now that Ares is loose again. The Dragons are out for his blood and Ares is out for mine. My wicked half-brother knows that he’s never going to sit on the Olympian throne while there’s breath left in my body. I intend to put my annoying sister there instead because Athena deserves to spend eternity babysitting our pantheon.
Of course, if I don’t get time fixed, Ambrosia-eating Ares won’t get much fight from a Goddess who keeps getting older and older every day. Ironically, the older I get, the more I need inspiration to keep going. You can’t inspire those around you if you don’t have faith that you can win in the end.
Maybe I needed to go live in a cave. Dank and dark as a cave might be, I knew I could find one with room for a bigger bed to sleep in and with no needy family down the hall.
Night could join me or not. I’d leave that up to the sentient owl. He and Mother’s parrot were still a thing, so I could see Night choosing to stay here, just as I was doing currently. I stayed because I had nowhere else to go yet.
Mother’s bedroom door cracked open as I walked by and a naked Zeus popped out to smile at me. “Good morning, Atlanta. Your mother and I will be up shortly. Are you making coffee?”
I nodded while doing my best to avert my eyes. If I’d been raised as Zeus’s daughter, I would have been scarred by his nudity, but that hadn’t happened, so I only found it annoying. Sometimes I found it funny too, but that was not the case this morning.
“I’ll be making breakfast for Cale and me. You’re welcome to join us.”
“Great. Mnemosyne and I will both have the usual,” Zeus said, closing the door before I could sarcastically ask what in seven hells their ‘usual’ was. I hardly ever cooked for Mother Mnemosyne because she only had coffee most mornings. Mother had no usual.
I rolled my eyes at my birth father’s nerve and continued on. Maybe I’d put eggshells in his eggs to get even. Was this really my life now? Was my destiny to be a servant in the house I’d earned the money and bought for the woman who raised me?
Gaia knew, I wasn’t much like my father, but I was his daughter in one undeniably way. I wanted to be respected or at least not taken for granted. Where were all the pats on the back for working so hard to save everyone? Why did no one ever offer to cook me breakfast?
In the God Realm, Zeus used to give homes and servants to those who pleased him. When you made Zeus unhappy, he evicted you and gave your home and servants to someone else. Since my birth father and I lived as sworn enemies in that realm, a house of my own had been far beyond my reach. I’d unhappily continued to live with Mother Mnemosyne and the Muses to put a roof over my head.
Having birthed nine of Zeus’s favorite daughters, Goddess Mnemosyne always lived in a God Realm mansion. But I can tell you that even the most luxurious accommodations do not make up for a lack of privacy when eleven people and random guests are sharing the same space. That’s why the Muses have their own mansion here in the Mortal Realm and why I bought Mother this house.
I’d lived with Mother and the Muses both before and after I returned from my time in Rome. While away helping the Romans conquer most of the known human world, I lived in one of my temples. The Roman soldiers lived in tents or barracks, so a temple was an enormous step up for their beloved Goddess Minerva, which was my beloved secret identity. Well, it used to be. Now I’d told nearly everyone, including my father. Fortunately, I’d made them swear to Gaia never to reveal it to others, so I was safe from the revenge of my father’s innumerable offspring—both known and unknown.
Temples weren’t the most comfortable of spaces to spend one’s personal time because they were spiritual centers rather than domestic spaces. At least in my temple, I got to have something of my own and my priestesses made sure I never lacked for food. Outside of Cale ordering breakfast or the Muses occasionally bringing me donuts, that was the only time family ever took care of my needs.
Years earlier, I was forced to develop gastronomical survival skills when I moved in with Duff, my Leprechaun roommate, who provided me the private space I craved. Duff claimed to be a chef, but in reality, the future queen of Otherworld burned water. She was worse than me at caring for herself. I learned to cook to keep from starving. Now I was a roommate again, this time to Zeus and Mother, because my life loved being ironic.
Worse still, I’d bought yet another house in the Mortal Realm—one Cale and I actually had purchased together with our hard-earned mortal money. Maybe I’d been naïve about what I expected, but I honestly thought when Cale and I purchased the ex-Elvis house that we’d found a place to call our own. Sadly, that proved not to be the case because the ex-Elvis house was currently infested with all the confused female Dragons I’d helped rescue.
Yes, I realize it was my own fault they were there. Solving the previous task of Doomsday Prophecy ended up dooming me to remain in Mother Mnemosyne’s guest bedroom for a while longer. That meant I all-too-frequently ran into a naked Zeus exiting Mother Mnemosyne’s bedroom. It also meant I ended up making coffee and feeding a bunch of mooching Gods and Goddesses on a regular basis.
Gaia only knew who would appear at Mother’s back door expecting coffee and eggs every day. I thought about laying a trap for them, but since most were relatives, I’d just get in trouble. Mother Mnemosyne was big on not being rude to guests.
I shoved the shiny stainless-steel café back into the new and much larger deluxe coffeemaker Cale bought for us. Despite my Champion slash Dragon passing his human businesses along to one or two of his brothers to manage, Cale continued to have an endless supply of money whenever we needed it. I, on the other hand, was afraid to touch a penny of the money the Muses were bringing into our business while I was away. Why? Because they overspent on cosmetics and face creams when I wasn’t around to stop them.
Good Gaia, I was so done being everyone’s heroine. I needed to save myself. I needed a place I could relax at the end of a hard day.
The only bright spot in my current gloom was that Athena and Indar had moved out of Mother Mnemosyne’s house and into the Drakon’s guest house. Athena still came every day that Zeus stayed here, but she didn’t hang around and torment me with endless questions about why I wasn’t hustling to complete the last task. How sad was it I counted my twin’s absence as the biggest blessing of my life?
Cale was still in the shower. While I waited for him to finish, I wandered outside with my morning caffeine and aimlessly headed toward the firepit. Flames erupted without warning and sent my eyebrows soaring. There was no sign of the Fates, and I felt no tingles, but the summoning fire now blazed on its own. It was too early yet to freak out over the unknown, so I sipped my coffee as I wondered what in the Underworld was going on.
I looked around without taking a seat. Who could have conjured the summoning fire?
A woman dressed all in black slowly solidified in front of me. No, not a woman. Make that a witch. Her head was covered with a dark shroud that hid her face. The rest of her clothing looked like a bedsheet fashioned into a cloak pinned at each shoulder. Definitely a witch, and a Titan one if I was guessing right.
I sipped my coffee and waited silently for the Titan Witch to tell me what she was doing here so early. She pushed back the cowl and let it fall. Instantly recognizing her, I saluted her with my cup. “Good morning, Auntie. What brings you to see me at this ungodly hour?”
Titaness Nyx glared at me. It thrilled me to see her so unhappy. I owed her some suffering for all she’d put me and Cale through with her stupid prophecy.
“Hear me, Daughter of the Immoral Zeus.”
I sipped my coffee and stared at her over my cup. “Don’t you mean immortal?” When Nyx glared harder, I couldn’t suppress my grin any longer. “No, you’re right. Zeus is definitely immoral. My bad.”
“Silence,” Nyx said as she swiped a wrinkled hand through the air. “The Moirai are missing. There is an unbalance in all realms. I think someone trapped them in the veil.”
I lowered my cup and stared at her. “Who is powerful enough to trap the Fates?”
“You,” Nyx said, glaring at me again.
I snorted and then laughed. “The Fates grant me power and snatch it away whenever they wish. If I was strong enough to do something like that to them, I’d have zapped them there ages ago.”
“You’ve trapped them with your lack of actions. I suspect they’ve gone to The Place Between so they wouldn’t be tempted to interfere with the next task of the prophecy.”
“Are you referring to the prophecy that you wrote to get even for Zeus making a pass at you?” I asked, mostly to see what she’d say—or admit to. A woman scorned was one thing, but Nyx had taken it to a whole other level of getting revenge. Zeus was cursed to live at the mercy of his libido. It hadn’t been as fun as it seemed. Plus, he ended up procreating monsters and demi-gods who wreaked havoc in every realm. Luckily, his other hundred or so children, outside of Ares, adored him.
“I wrote that as a desperate act to save the only child of Zeus worth saving. I would not have done so if I’d known how you would turn out. You act like him far too much.”
“No, I’m nothing like Zeus,” I told her, smirking at my angry aunt. My birth mother’s sister was a hard woman to like. “I’m not like anyone in Metis’s family or Zeus’s. I’m what I made myself because no one bothered to train me.”
Nyx threw up her hand. “You do foolish things and take unnecessary risks. You brought your dead mother back and led her around the Mortal Realm like a pet. Do you think just any Goddess could do that? Only a Titan child with a good deal of Titan blood could do that.”
I shrugged. “I have no idea about what others can do. I’m stumbling my way through my life trying to save a bunch of powerful people who are selfish, cruel, and think they’re better than humans. If it hadn’t been for your daughters, Rome would have conquered everyone and I’d be the only goddess worshipped in the Mortal Realm. What other goddess in our pantheon would have let themselves be talked into giving up such fame and glory? The answer is none—none but me. So stop chewing on my ass for doing what you forced me to do.”
Nyx rolled her dark eyes and made me laugh. She was my birth mother’s cousin. Maybe I was more like my mother’s family than I ever realized. When I visited Metis in the Underworld, she was going to enjoy hearing about my visit with Nyx.
“Olympians and their progeny are not that bad. You sound like Mother Gaia.”
“Wow. Thank you,” I said with a genuine smile. “I enjoy being compared to my Great Grandmother.”
“Mother Gaia destroyed chaos and separated the heavens from the earth. She put the Dragons in the skies and help your father banish the Titans she professed to love to its fiery center. The Great Mother is not the benevolent being you seem to think she is. And she changes her mind all the time.”
I shrugged. “The Titans were destroying the Mortal Realm. She had no choice but to help the Olympians banish them. And last time I spoke to her, she told me she preferred being called the Great We.”
When Nyx silently glared at me over my comment, I scratched my head and sighed. “This critique of my similarity to Gaia is fascinating, but what does it have to do with the missing Fates?”
Nyx straightened until she levitated off the ground. “Until my Titan daughters are back in control, time itself will be your enemy. I advise you to not delay solving the next task of the prophecy—if it can still be done.”
Nodding, I lifted the hand with my now empty coffee cup in it. “Fine. I’ll start working on the next task today. It’s not like I needed a break and some time to rest from fighting a Hydra and freeing all those female Dragons from their stone prisons. I’ll get right on that last task, Auntie.”
“You’ve been warned, Daughter of Zeus. Saving my daughters is up to you.”
I sighed as Nyx faded away until she totally disappeared. She didn’t bother to pop in and out like her daughters did. Like a ghost intent on haunting me, Nyx went for the creepiest effect every time. Since her drama irked me so much, I guess her plan to get my full attention worked.
Trudging back to the house and mumbling swear words under my breath, I wondered what Nyx meant by time being my enemy. Wasn’t time everyone’s enemy? No one wanted to age and die. Everyone wanted to live forever and be happy. Wasn’t that why I was working on the prophecy?
I shook my head and pondered how much I hated puzzles, riddles, and the stupid Doomsday poem. After facing a naked Zeus and a lecturing Nyx already today, I now wished I’d never gotten out of bed. That feeling doubled when I slid open the patio door to go back inside and nearly stumbled over the two barking Hellhound puppies dancing at my feet.
Either Demon and Moose had found the fountain of youth in the Muses’s backyard, or Nyx’s prediction was already coming true.
* * *
“What do you mean Dragons aren’t affected by time? You have silver in your hair, Cale. You’re affected.” I held up Moose who was tiny enough to fit into my hand. “He was bigger than me when I went outside to drink my coffee. Now, look at him.”
Cale gave me a Kyril kind of smile. It was Kyril’s ‘silly goddess’ smirk, and I had hated it on both their faces. The smirking creature sharing my bed was now a blend of the man I loved and another that I hated. That creature sighed before trying to explain something he’d already decided my female mind was incapable of comprehending as well as his male one had.
Such blatant condescension would not have me back writhing under him anytime soon.
I found my mind drifting away and wondering if Athena got this kind of condescending crap from Indar, who was far more arrogant than even Kyril had been. I was starting to get why she’d avoided him for all those centuries. Indar had to be outstanding in bed. Otherwise, I felt sure my bloodthirsty sister would have already stabbed him with her golden sword.
Cale interrupted my nosy thoughts about my twin and her lover with his lecture.
“Dragons and full Titans were created before linear time, while Titan progeny, Dragon progeny, and humans are participants in it. This means my human side will be slightly affected, but my Dragon side will not. I have no explanation for why the Hellhounds have regressed in age. Following what else is happening, they should have morphed into elder animals. Night looks like he’s a hundred years old.”
“Well, they have regressed and I need to know why,” I said, setting a squirming puppy version of Moose back down to wrestle with a whining Demon one. “We need to get started on the ninth task right away. Apparently, the Fates have disappeared and messed up the timelines of all the realms. Nyx said it was all my fault.”
“I’m sorry I missed that conversation. How many creative ways did you tell her to go to hell?” Cale asked with a grin.
“Sadly, none,” I admitted with a grin, glad to see Cale’s own personality peeking through. “I’m sure Uncle Hades has enough problems of his own to deal with if this is happening in his realm as well. I got in a few verbal smacks. This situation is her fault as much as anyone else’s.”
Cale chuckled as he checked out his reflection in the mirror. “I like my silver streaks. I look like Grandpa Theo.”
“And like your father Galen, but I’d rather you looked like the young man I met. I don’t want your rapid aging on my conscience. I have enough things to be responsible for.”
“We should focus on the bigger picture,” Cale said, turning to smile at me.
Blowing out a breath, I nodded. “You’re right. Let’s go get some food. I’ll make us some toast and eggs before we head to the office. I already texted the Muses to let them know we needed to work on the poem this morning. I want this whole thing over as much as Nyx does.”
We headed down the hall with our two tiny Hellhounds on our heels. A naked Zeus stepped out into the hallway again. I stopped and stared at him, shocked by how he’d changed.
“Atlanta? I almost didn’t recognize you with all that white in your hair.”
I swung to stare at Cale. “Why didn’t you tell me my hair had turned gray too?”
Cale shrugged. “You’re still beautiful to me. What does it matter?”
I rolled my eyes before turning back to Zeus. “Why do you look like a kid? Why are you growing younger while the rest of us are getting older?”
Zeus lifted his arms and studied his muscles. He ran a hand down over his abs and grinned. “Well, that explains why I woke up feeling so frisky. Mnemosyne is still sleeping off multiple orgasms. I enjoy being young again. This is cool.”
“Gaia save me,” I muttered, slamming the naked idiot into the wall as I pushed my way through the hallway. Even Athena wouldn’t have blamed me for abusing Zeus this morning. I wanted to maim him simply for bragging about Mother. “Put some freaking clothes on before I chop off your man parts and feed them to my Hellhounds.”
The Hellhound puppies stopped wrestling each other, looked up at me in terror, and then booked as fast as possible back down the hallway to our bedroom.
Cale snickered. “You’re just all kinds of terrifying today.”
“Shut up,” I ordered, tromping forward.
Behind me, I heard Zeus chuckle. “So I’m guessing you’re not as talented in the sack as I am, Cale. Atlanta’s grouchy every morning.”
I felt Cale freeze in place. Grinning, I turned back to smirk at him. “Fry him, Cale. Go on. I dare you to rid me of my worst problem.”
Cale stared at me for a second, then burst out laughing. “Killing the King of the Olympians is not an option at this time. Like all of us, he has an important role to play in this drama.”
Rolling my eyes over Cale’s strange pronouncement, I shook my head and headed for the kitchen. If I had to deal with more snarky family members before I had some food, someone was going to die.
My sisters all looked like they hadn’t hit puberty yet. Their normally snug clothes hung loosely on their underdeveloped bodies.
Luckily for me, their minds hadn’t regressed as far backward in time as their boobs had.
“You need to get your hair dyed. Those grays don’t flatter you at all,” Mellie said, staring at me in shock.
I glared at her for pointing out what I was trying my best to forget. “Yeah? Well, your flat chest doesn’t flatter you either, Mellie, but do you hear me harping on that?”
Mellie looked down and sighed. She unbuttoned her loose blouse, tied the front in a knot, and suddenly looked like a twelve-year-old again.
I rubbed my forehead over the shame I felt for fussing at her. None of us were being spared from whatever had taken hold of the world. I had to stop being mad at everyone and everything.
“I’m sorry, Mellie. I shouldn’t have said that.”
“It’s okay. As old as you look, you’re probably going through menopause,” Mellie said with a smile and a shrug.
Wicked Tally burst out laughing at Mellie’s inference that I wasn’t hormonally on top of things. Soon, all nine Muses were giggling. I sighed and lifted both hands in defeat. “Maybe I am going through the big change because you all are annoying the crap out of me—more than usual, I mean.”
Cale sat in the corner with his arms crossed and grinned over everything going on. If I’d had my dagger, I would have thrown it at him, right between the eyes. He was annoying the crap out of me today, even with the sexy silver strands running through his hair. I wondered if Indar was turning gray as well.
“Can we please get down to business?” I pleaded, hating the sheer amount of entreaty in my voice. I looked to my Muse sister who had gotten the next stanza. “What do I have to do to finish this, Urania?”
“I don’t know,” Urania declared, and then promptly burst into tears.
Time stopped for real as the Muses closest to her patted her back and offered comfort.
I rubbed my forehead again and forced my voice to be calm when I spoke. Yelling at Urania to pull herself together would have all nine of them at my throat. “That’s why we work on these as a group. Tell me what you’ve learned and we’ll sort it out.”
Urania sniffled as she looked at me. “The heavens are changing every moment. There are planets that were gone and now are back. I feel like I’m going nuts just saying this out loud. The universe is in chaos again. It’s terrible.”
I bit my lip. My great grandparents defeated chaos to create all that was before Gaia settled to live on Earth. Was the Great We now missing in action as well? Is that why chaos had returned? I hoped not because I had ninety-nine enormous problems already and didn’t need an even bigger one.
Sighing, I blew out the breath I’d been holding. “Goddess Nyx said time was now my enemy. I think it’s become everyone’s enemy. Why don’t you read the stanza and let’s see if we can figure it out together?”
Nodding, Urania sniffled and stood. She lifted the scrap of paper she held. “Even the stanza has changed since I first got it. I’m not sure it won’t change again. If the heavens and earth aren’t fixed in their orbits, what will happen to Earth and the Mortal Realm?”
“I don’t know.”
I wanted to say something to comfort my sisters, but I had nothing. I had no idea where time would land once I’d completed the prophecy. Some of us were moving forward and others backward. I didn’t even know who to ask for help with this mess. Everyone I knew with power enough to help was now missing.
“Read what you have, Urania. We have to start somewhere.”
“Alright,” she said in a soft voice.
Time and time again in life, destiny comes to change us all,
The Queen must rise in the end so the King can survive his fall
The heavens call to the Goddess, they wait for her answering cry
Earth’s fate rests in the hands of the Goddess who owns the sky.
I prayed for some instantaneous solution to hit me, but I got nothing. Was I the Goddess? How does someone own the sky? I rose to pace. My thinking was clearest when I was moving. “I’m going to need some time to figure this one out.”
“Do we have time for you to do that?” Urania asked.
I shrugged in reply. That was an excellent question.
* * *
“No more secrets, Atlanta. I want an answer. What have you done to us?”
I turned to face my angry twin. Athena was in a pisser of a mood, but so was I. “Are you saying that you think I’m actually powerful enough to control time?”
Athena frowned at me. “Well, no. Only Gaia and the Fates are that powerful.”
“Right. So shut up and let me think,” I told her, walking to where Indar and Cale stood talking.
Indar looked perfectly normal—no gray in his hair at all. Cale looked the same as he had this morning, with a sprinkling of silver streaks in his hair. Athena looked like an older version of our dead biological mother, Metis, only with far more wrinkles because she was the type that worried incessantly. After what Mellie said this morning, I was avoiding all mirrors. If I looked old, I didn’t want to know.
I stared hard at Indar. “Talk to me, Dragon. What’s happening to everyone but you?”
Indar struck what I thought of as his professor pose. He put one hand in a pants pocket while the other stroked his handsome and still youthful chin. “Earth is stuck inside a fluctuating time warp. The space-time continuum won’t stop shifting. Time is like it was when my egg had barely hatched.”
I glared at the ancient Dragon. “Stop sounding like one of Cale’s stupid Sci-Fi movies and explain that again in English.”
Indar grunted. “Linear time has become unstable. This is how it was when the Earth was first formed. Back then time changed from moment to moment. That seems to be happening again now. We’re lucky it only seems to be happening to people instead of mountains, valleys, and oceans.”
“What’s the solution to restore it to normal again?”
I glared at him to make sure Indar knew I wasn’t in the mood for more stories and theories. I needed actions to take, not a philosophical discussion about the cause.
Finally, Indar shrugged. “Since I’m not affected, I don’t feel any of the shifts. As far as I can tell, there’s no problem. If not for the changes happening in everyone around me, I would be unaware. Ergo, I don’t know how to fix this.”
I scrubbed a hand over my face. “Okay. Got any suggestions at all?”
“Put the Fates back in control.”
I rolled my eyes at Mr. Obvious. “And how do I do that since they’re missing?”
When Indar shrugged, I walked away to keep from hitting him.
I stood with my back to everyone and stared out across the Drakon fields. In the distance, two Pegasi raced among a herd of mares to show off. Apparently, Alastair and Wizard weren’t affected by the time fluctuations either. I wondered how my Titan grandparents were faring. From what I could see so far, time seemed to mess up only for Gaia’s creatures who were created later—like the Olympians.
I turned back to Indar. “Goddess Nyx paid me a visit this morning. Not even the mother of the Fates knows where they are. The three of them have totally disappeared.”
Indar’s eyebrows rose at the news. “Perhaps I can help you find them. The power they exude possesses a strong signature. Mine does as well, and they’re more powerful than me. I should be able to locate them.”
I studied the ground before looking back at him. “According to Goddess Nyx who visited me this morning, I’m as powerful as the Fates. She blamed me for their absence.”
Indar blinked at me for a moment and then burst out laughing. I wanted to be mad at him for making fun of me, but he was only doing what I hadn’t had the chance to do yet. I thought it was preposterous as well.
I smirked at him. “I’m just sharing what she told me. I didn’t say I believed her.”
“You are very powerful, Atlanta, but the Fates are omnipotent and immortal.”
I sighed and shrugged. “I made the same argument. Maybe not in those same words, but I knew Nyx had to be wrong.”
“I didn’t say Goddess Nyx was wrong. Maybe the power she spoke of you having hasn’t developed yet.”
I pointed at the gray in my hair. “I’m about as all-grown-up as I can get, Indar. I’m bordering on the edge of being decrepit, not omnipotent.”
Indar smiled. It was that same condescending smile I hated seeing on Cale’s mouth. Good Gaia, Dragons really believed they were the smartest creatures in existence. Maybe they were, but they needed to learn some humility and stop pissing off the rest of us with their smirking.
No wonder Zeus and Ares wanted them all dead. If not for Cale, I might have shared the urge to wipe them from all the realms myself.
Indar raised a finger. “Time is nothing more than a universal agreement to count events using the same measurements. Each creature counts time both universally and individually. For example, a butterfly counts its time as a caterpillar as its first life, which ends in its death before a miraculous rebirth. A snake sheds its skin to enter another phase of its life. It is truly inspiring how so many of Gaia’s creatures handle time transitions.”
I glared at him. “Are you calling me a caterpillar, Indar? After solving all those tasks of the prophecy and living to tell the stories, I’m fairly sure I’m a frigging butterfly for the purposes of your metaphor.”
“I’m not following any of this discussion. You’re both being ridiculous,” Athena declared.
When Indar laughed at Athena’s comment, I glared at her. “You don’t understand because you’re still a freaking caterpillar.”
“I am nothing of the sort,” Athena said, glaring back at me.
Despite my frustration, my mouth twitched. “Want to spar? I’ve had the urge to kill someone all day.”
“When the prophecy is done, I will gladly give you your death,” Athena promised.
Laughter burst out of me. “My butterfly ass would kick your caterpillar ass in a heartbeat.”
Athena grunted in my direction. “I don’t know how you’ve stayed alive this long. You torment people into wanting to kill you.”
“Don’t get mushy on me now,” I said, grinning at her. Not having more time to spend teasing my volatile twin, I looked at Indar who only had eyes for a glaring Athena. “I’ll take any help you offer. Find the Fates if you can. Start with The Place Between. Nyx insinuated they were put there by someone.”
Indar dragged his gaze from Athena back to me. “Here’s the only other thought I have about how to help you. There once was a hermit who in a weak moment confessed to me that he was Father Time. He might know how to stabilize time in this realm while you work on this task of the prophecy. He lives in Shangri-la.”
I laughed a little. “I thought that place was a myth. Is that an actual place?”
Indar nodded. “Yes, but it’s difficult to reach. You have to climb the highest peak in Tibet and throw yourself off the mountain to find it. People rarely find their way back, though.”
“Do you honestly expect me to try and survive going there on the off chance I might find this Father Time person?”
Indar shrugged. “His helpfulness is simply a theory. My understanding is that he went there after Gaia put the Fates in control of time here in the Mortal Realm. They already controlled it everywhere else. Perhaps he felt unneeded.”
Cale glared at Indar. “My mate will not throw herself off the side of a mountain to test a theory. Why would you suggest such a thing?”
Indar narrowed his gaze. “Because it’s the only solution I can think of, my liege. I honestly don’t want all the humans to die. Plus, I’m not sure what will happen to you and the others that are only half-Dragon. The last thing I want is to be the only full male Dragon left alone in this realm with all those mate-less females we rescued. That is not my idea of happiness.”
“Well, I am not happy with your suggestion,” Cale said.
“Neither am I,” I said to Indar while glaring at Cale. “But I’m also present and will make up my own mind about what to do.”
Cale’s gaze swung to mine. “Fine. We’ll die together. I’m not living without you again, and I will not let you live without me. Centuries passed in a loneliness I can’t describe to you. Both sides of me would rather be dead than suffer that pale existence again.”
My gaze dropped from his, and I closed my eyes. I had no real argument about what I would never in a million years be able to fully understand. Cale felt what Kyril felt and had all of Kyril’s memories.
I shook my head as I answered because I wasn’t sure who I was talking to. “I would not decide lightly or without you, Cale. I simply need some time to think about this before we rule it out.”
“Do we have time for you to think about it?” Cale asked.
I laughed dryly and shook my head. “I really wish people would quit asking me that.”
“Atlanta, what’s going on?”
I turned to the new speaker and felt my heart thud against the walls of my chest. Zeus and Mother Mnemosyne stood nearby. Zeus was old now and Mother was a freaking crone. Their canes seemed to be all that was holding them upright.
“Father!” Athena rushed to Zeus’s side and nearly knocked him down. She turned a frightened gaze my way. “I’m sorry I made fun of you, sister. Do something.”
I rubbed my forehead and looked at the Dragon I loved, hoping my Champion was still inside him somewhere. “This is only going to get worse. I have to stabilize time before I can work on the prophecy.”
Cale sighed and nodded. “So we’re going to Tibet?”
“Yes. Pack your favorite parka,” I said.
“I’ll watch over our parents while you’re gone. Indar can look for the Fates,” Athena said.
I nodded at her offer but had no enthusiasm for heading into the unknown while I continued to get older.
For the first time in my long Goddess life, I wondered if Cale and I would make it back.
I didn’t want Cale to exhaust himself flying us all the way to Tibet. Gaia only knew what obstacles we’d encounter on our journey. I wanted his Dragon to be as strong as possible if or when we had to fight our way out of trouble. And I knew there would be trouble. We hadn’t solved a single task yet without having to first solve massive obstacles in our path.
Making a travel portal to Tibet would drain my powers, so we traveled via more reliable transportation. After some shrewd negotiation with our Pegasi friends involving a large number of apples and much begging, Wizard and Alastair finally took us. We were racing against the next shift in time and space, which fortunately didn’t happen on the way. The trip by Pegasus took more hours than I’d hoped, but we both arrived unharmed and relatively unchanged.
I noted Alastair and Cale seemed to have reached some level of Dragon-Pegasus friendship that excluded me. They communicated without speaking now, but I heard Alastair occasionally cut loose with that horsey laugh of his. Whatever he found funny, Cale only lifted an eyebrow when I looked his way. I knew better than to ask to share the humor. Been there, done that, and had gotten laughed at. Obviously, I didn’t possess the correct body parts to appreciate their male jokes.
Wizard, though silent under me for the entire trip, proved to be as solid a ride as ever. Once we landed on the top of Indar’s recommended mountain, and I found somewhere to stand amidst the steep snowdrifts, I thanked Athena’s Pegasus profusely as I slid off his back.
While Cale and I got settled into our fur-trimmed parkas and snowshoes, we watched the Pegasi launch themselves into the sky for their trip back home.
Soon we were on our own facing the numbing cold, the ungodly weight of our heavy clothes, and the unforgiving Tibetan wind. I peered over the side of the mountain and imagined throwing myself over it. Death surely waited at the bottom for any fool who did such a thing. The thought was too ludicrous for me to entertain, but I could see a path that wound around and down the mountain like a corkscrew.
I was tempted to melt the snow around me as we started on the path that led downward. Not wanting to spend my power in that manner was really all that stopped me. Well, that… and I had another idea.
“Why don’t you make us a snow-free path with your Dragon fire, Cale?”
“The melting snow would flood the valley below us.”
Did I care about that? I probably should care. Wow, my attitude sucked today. Was this what being older was like? How did people do this? I thought forty in human years was bad, but however old I was now was even worse.
I turned back to Cale. “Fine. We’ll hike down this whole thing. So what if we don’t get there until next week? We’ve got all the time in the world, right?”
Cale grinned at my complaining without replying to it. I rolled my eyes at his smugness, then watched in stunned silence as his body suddenly went flying off the mountain. I searched for the enemy, but all I saw was a white blur moving fast.
“Cale, are you okay?”
A Dragon’s angry roar split the skies as Cale transformed. An answering roar of a very different sort made the snow around me shudder. All the roaring was going to cause an avalanche if Cale and his attacker kept screaming at each other.
I stumbled across the white ground until a pair of ice-blue eyes blinked wide at me from a face covered in white fur. Having watched too many of Cale’s movies, my first thought was ‘Wookie’, but I soon realized what it truly was.
“Cale, don’t hurt it!” I called out while calling my green energy sword at the same time. “It’s a Yeti. They hate Dragons. Well, actually they hate everyone. Anyway, try not to kill it.”
I stumbled through the snowdrifts until I could see the creature even more clearly. It roared at me in warning.
Waving my energy sword in warning back, I advanced on the creature. “Look, I don’t want to kill you, but I will if you make me. I’m looking for Shangri-la. If I don’t find it, you and every other creature on this planet might die. So stop roaring and let me work my way down this mountain.”
For an answer, I got another roar of disapproval.
I could tell how the Yeti was feeling from the amount of angry drool that kept hitting me every time it opened its mouth to roar. As wet as I already was with its spittle, I would not survive this encounter without every inch of me being covered with Yeti cooties.
“Now look…” I said as I tried again, my patience with this creature already worn as thin as possible. “I’m not invading your home. I’m only passing through. Stop roaring at me.”
Before I could react, I got grabbed up into a large white claw and thrown off the mountain too. The energy weapon disappeared as I panicked and screamed. A large black claw closed around me and stopped my descent. Cale hovered in mid-air clutching me in his claw. His wings were barely flapping. How was he doing that? It was amazing.
I stumbled to my feet and yelled up at the beast through Cale’s talons. “Next time you throw me off a mountain, I’m going to climb back up there and cut your head off!”
It stood at the top of the mountain roaring down at me even louder. It seemed more upset that Cale had saved me. What an idiot creature! Did it even have a brain?
“I hate Yetis!” I yelled. Above my head, I heard a Dragon laughing. I turned my glare on him. “Don’t make fun of me, Cale. I thought I could reason with it. You’d think a nearly extinct species would be a little more friendly.”
Seconds later, Cale’s voice was in my head.
Meh-Teh have the IQ and personality of a two-year-old human. Their only motivation is to protect what is theirs. We were on her mountain and she wanted us off it.
“Her mountain?” I asked as we started slowly spiraling lower.
Yes. The males are much more reasonable. Their IQ is higher.
I hoped my disbelieving snort vibrated Cale’s claw. I was silent for the rest of our drop to the valley below. The scenery didn’t change. Everywhere we looked was white. Had we missed the entrance to Shangri-la?
While I was pondering how lost we were, Cale’s Dragon claw opened and I went splat into the snow. I sunk deep before I landed. When I stood up, I found myself covered completely in wet white flakes. It helped a little that the snow had washed some of the Yeti spittle off me, but it was still rude of Cale to drop me without warning.
“Sorry, Atlanta. I thought you’d land better. Weren’t you paying attention to how close we were to the ground?”
I brushed the snow off my head and out of my hair with both hands while I glared at him now back in human form. “No, I was trying to figure out where we were. Give me a warning next time you intend to drop me. It wasn’t like I could see through your massive claw. Every talon you possess is as big as I am since you merged with Kyril.”
Cale’s laughter rang out through the valley. When I glared at him, he put his hood up and fastened it under his chin. He’d long ago mastered bringing his clothes back after shifting from Dragon to human, but sometimes he enjoyed showing off. The parka was new and so was his darker sense of humor. Shades of Kyril kept showing up in his personality. Would I ever get used to the two being one?
Since the last thing I wanted at that moment was to lose more time contemplating my stupid personal problems, I studied the sea of white around us instead. There was nothing but snow and ice for as far as I could see. “Do you think Indar was wrong about the location and how to get there?”
“Since the female Yeti threw us both off the mountain, I’m going with no,” Cale said, looking around himself. Finally, he pointed. “Let’s go that way. There’s some energy in that direction. It could be another Yeti, but we’re prepared this time.”
“Are we?” I asked with heavy sarcasm, huffing as I waded through the thigh-high snowdrifts. If Shengis was with us, the Troll wouldn’t be able to see over the snow. One of us would have had to carry him. “I thought Shangri-la was supposed to be a utopian paradise. Gaia’s secret island with its giant plants was better than this place.”
“If we had time to snuggle, I could make you like it here,” Cale said with a chuckle, striding past me as if the snow didn’t bother him at all.
Bragging was another thing I hadn’t gotten used to yet. Cale was not a braggart, whereas Kyril thought too highly of himself. Their merger left me with a version of Cale who subtly bragged about everything. I didn’t mind it when he was flirting with me, but why was he suddenly doing it?
If I slept with this blended being, would he view our intimacy as proof of his masculinity and brag even more? Because I would have to kill him in that case. Or maim him at least.
Disgusted with myself for worrying about stupid things, I fell in behind Cale and walked in his footsteps. My long legs helped me manage it. Good thing they did because Cale was moving right along. How did he defy the snow? I was ready to summon a lightning bolt and send it out in front of me to clear a path.
When Cale stopped, I bounced off the back of his new parka and flopped backward to the ground. Our parkas were fluffy, and I felt like a Yeti in mine—round and bouncy. Apparently, Cale’s was bouncy too. Chuckling, Cale offered me a hand to help me up. I smacked it away and climbed to my feet on my own. His grin was both wicked and satisfied. He would be wise to never explain that kind of pleased expression to me.
“We’re here,” Cale said, pointing at a wooden arch propped in the snow.
“Is this Shangri-la?”
Cale shrugged. “It’s an energy portal in the middle of nowhere. Your guess about where it leads is as good as mine.”
I waded ahead kicking the snow aside as I walked. I brushed off as much white as I could from the portal, pulled off my glove, and put my bare hand on the wood. Seconds passed and then I felt the portal hum to life. I backed up when green energy lit it all around. It looked like my sword.
Cale walked to stand beside me. “Looks like you activated it. Are we going through?”
I sighed. “I wish I had time to think about it first. A strange portal can toss you out in lots of dangerous places.”
“What does your gut say?”
I looked at Cale. “That I’m being led down a path that’s going to get us into trouble.”
His usual grin, this time at least, cheered me up a little. “So we have the same old problem, just a new day.”
“Yes,” I said, grinning back finally. “Let’s go through. We’re not going to find any answers on this side.”
There was a loud roaring behind us. This one was deep and guttural. It never occurred to me to research Yetis before I began this trip. I might have been able to learn how to befriend them. Maybe I needed to learn how to roar.
Another roar, and one that was too close for comfort, sent us jumping through the portal to escape the beast. We landed on the concrete floor of a prison cell. I could tell it was a cell because a set of bars surrounded us and the door appeared to be locked.
After climbing to my feet, I put out a hand only to find I couldn’t draw an energy sword, which meant I couldn’t cut us free of the bars.
Cale lifted an eyebrow at my action, walked to the bars, and tried his best to pull them apart. After a moment or two, he turned and shook his head.
Just as I was ready to retreat, the portal behind us winked totally out of existence. I put my hand on the wall where it had been and felt nothing under my hand at all. It was as if I had imagined the portal being there moments before.
Cale looked at me. “Are you completely powerless?”
I didn’t bother answering such a stupid question. He was a smart male and would eventually figure it out.
Sliding down the now solid wall, I landed on my poofy parka-covered butt, leaned my head back, and closed my eyes. We were officially someone’s prisoners—someone with the power to neutralize our powers, which meant our warden had the advantage. Only Gaia or one of her strongest minions should have been able to do such a thing to us, but I wasn’t even picking up on any nearby energy beings.
Everything about this situation shouted my epic failure in finding the lost city of Shangri-la. This felt like the Otherworld prison I’d spent time in while helping Duff, only without the whips, Dragon chains, and Otherworld tormentors.
There was nothing in this cell but us. There wasn’t even a chair or cot. Sitting on the floor was the only option we had. I felt a hundred percent sure that the Yeti who chased us in here was working for the person.
Or maybe that was just me looking for answers to how in Gaia’s name I’d messed up things so fast.
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