Genre = Paranormal Women's Fiction, Fantasy, Romance
Muse No More
LENGTH: TBD words, TBD pages
Muse No More is a paranormal women’s fiction novel and is a women’s action and adventure tale from USA Today Bestselling Author Donna McDonald.
Coming Soon! Book 3 of Nine Heirs and a Spare. Don’t miss the next action-packed adventure in this paranormal women’s fiction and humorous fantasy series.
With four tasks of the Doomsday Prophecy solved and five more to go, I need time off to rest and recharge. My goddess power is dwindling daily. Signs of mortal aging are warning me that my goddess days may be nearing their Mortal Realm end.
Should I admit failure to both the Fates and beg for help from them? That’s never happening. Or at least it’s not happening until I’ve run out of other options.
I’m not sure what other goddesses would do in my situation, but I’m taking my dragon champion and heading to Rome for a break. Who knows? Maybe I’m just tired. So what if I can’t make a portal and have to ask a magical friend to do it for me. A visit to my secret treasure vault will hopefully be worth swallowing that much of my pride.
I’m guilty of the same sins as the rest of my pantheon. Maybe a walk down memory lane is long overdue too.
AUTHOR NOTE: This story is both paranormal (think Dark Fairies, Pegasi, and Dragons) and women’s fiction (think issues of aging). Many fantasy and romantic elements are also included. This is the third book in the Nine Heirs and a Spare series which has its roots in Greek mythology. You can count on the good guys (or rather good women) winning some of their battles, but that’s the only promise I can make. As with all my work, there will be some good laughs along the way.
“Why are we at the office? Couldn’t we do this from home?”
Cale sat on my office floor playing with the puppies to keep them entertained while we waited. Normally, I would have been freaked by Cale referring to my mother’s house as home, but today I was freaked about much bigger things. I discovered this morning that I couldn’t transport myself to the office, much less Cale, the puppies, and Night who was sliding his owl body along the back of my client chair because he was bored.
“Zavak’s portal opens here. He insists on controlling when I use it—not just me, but all his trainees. It’s his way of maintaining his privacy and not having a bunch of us randomly appearing in his space.”
Cale looked thoughtful and then nodded. “I can see that. Are you okay today? You seem concerned, which is not something you do often. Mostly you charge ahead and just get stuff done.”
I suppose it made sense that the main man in my life would figure me out. “Just trying to conserve my energy today. That’s why I asked Petal to make a portal for us this morning.” Well, conserving was one of my reasons.
“I could have called us for a ride to the office. The service I use will transport pets too.”
Night rotated his head more than halfway around to blink his black owl eyes at me before he rolled them. I shook my head and frowned to keep Night from lecturing Cale on why taking our magical menagerie of animals anywhere in a mortal vehicle would be a terrible idea.
“The hellhound puppies aren’t trustworthy enough yet,” I said, latching onto my easiest excuse.
Cale chuckled as he hard-rolled Moose across the floor to show the pup who was still the alpha animal in the room. Moose wanted to believe it was him. Demon watched with curiosity and looked like he was smirking. I was secretly glad Cale wasn’t letting Moose get too full of himself. Dealing with an arrogant demonic hellhound was the last thing I needed. My life was crazy enough.
“I keep forgetting they’re not just cute little dogs,” Cale said.
He wasn’t the only one. I kept forgetting about it too. Then I’d remember what had to happen in order for me to keep them from hurting someone… or eating the wrong person or thing. Night said they had picked up hunting faster than he’d expected. Gaia only knew what that meant. I’d been too mentally exhausted to ask a ton of questions.
“I grew up around their father. When I look at them, I see Cerberus only with fewer heads. Once you meet him, I think you’ll understand the puppies better.”
At the mention of their father, the puppies stopped playing, whined, and then lay down with their heads on their paws. They were still babies and obviously still missed both their parents.
Were they even ready for what I had in mind?
“They miss their father a lot,” Cale said with sympathy.
In the big picture, I knew my Uncle Hades was right about Demon and Moose not fitting into the Underworld. But seeing them grieving like this over a father they barely got to meet made me see red. I wanted to make my uncle pay for not being understanding of their needs. They were babies, for Gaia’s sake.
I could feel myself getting worked up, which wasn’t a good idea, so I pushed my sympathy away. Zavak would be opening the portal soon. If he didn’t say yes to my idea, I could kiss my trip to Rome goodbye and would have to come up with a Plan B for the puppies.
I needed to stay focused on what I was willing to pay Zavak and how to get him to agree.
But then I looked at the sad puppies again and my heart jerked in my chest. “As soon as all nine tasks are behind us, we’ll set something up so Cerberus can visit them on a regular basis. He can change his appearance when he wants, at least for a short time. Maybe Cerberus can teach Demon and Moose’s brothers to do it too, so they can tag along. I’d be willing to deal with them all for an afternoon now and again. Once I buy the right piece of land, I could designate part of it as a hellhound dog park. They need a safe space away from the Muses and Mother to practice their abilities.”
Cale laughed as he got to his feet. “You sound like a soccer mom trying to find a place for her kids to practice sports at home.”
I rubbed my forehead. “Some women are born with a maternal gene, but I didn’t get it. Instead, I grew up fast and was an angry teenager by the time the Muses were born. I did the best I could to help my adopted mother raise my adopted siblings, but the best I could do was keep them alive. At least they were goddesses like me so I understood them. Puppies are a whole different challenge.”
“You take good care of Night,” Cale pointed out.
His praise made me laugh. “I don’t think providing a completely sentient owl with the occasional piece of fresh meat counts as caring for him. Night mostly takes care of himself. He comes and goes like a roommate, and I don’t worry about him. Honestly, Alastor has required more care than Night or the puppies.”
“Your Pegasus is healing from severe trauma. ”
“I don’t consider Alastor mine. We’re just… friends.”
“Alastor thinks of you as a kindred soul. You both visited Otherworld and came back scarred from the trip.”
I refused to think of myself as scarred, but I did often think about how helpless I’d been in the castle’s dungeon. Didn’t it count that I was back to sleeping in my own bed without a naked Cale wrapped around me? I thought it counted.
“I hope you’re right about Alastor healing. Poor guy. And I seriously hope he never goes back to Hades. I can’t imagine my uncle treating him well.”
Alastor stayed with Cale’s family after we got home from Otherworld. Wizard hung out with Alastor now and the two of them did male bonding stuff all the time—like racing each other across the field and mock-fighting to impress the six mares Cale’s family purchased.
“Are we bringing the Minotaur back with us? He’d fit right in with all the other magical creatures in our zoo.”
Cale snickered when I glared at him. He couldn’t be that stupid. Well, he could, but I seriously hoped that wasn’t the case. “If you’re going to be dumb enough to call Zavak an animal, you deserve what he does to you.”
“Are you saying a Minotaur is not an animal?”
I snorted. “A Minotaur is a special kind of demigod. Zavak’s a man like you with some animal features. In the Mortal Realm, someone like Zavak might end up working in a circus or for a freak show. In the God Realm, Zavak’s the kind of friend you want when other people are bullying you. Only a thousand or so Minotaurs were born throughout the history of the God Realm. The ones who didn’t get killed by crazy mortals are still alive because they’ve outlived the gods.”
Cale grinned. “I see where you’re going with this. No ‘where’s the beef’ jokes allowed around him, right?”
My eyes narrowed to slits. “I think I’ve changed my mind about bringing you with me. The whole apex predator thing seems to have gone to your head. Zavak is like family to me and I’m going to see him to ask him for a huge favor. Don’t try to be funny with him.”
A still grinning Cale gave a shrug. “Okay. I’ll behave. I promise.”
But his wicked laughter after that did not reassure me.
When the portal opened, the puppies bounded through it with no fear about what might be waiting on the other side. “Night, come on,” I yelled as I jumped through as well.
On the other side, I nearly landed on the puppies who’d braked to a halt at the sight of a giant bull-man. Cale leaped around me to keep from landing wrong as he followed us all through and nearly hit my back.
The puppies backed up with each of them trying their best to hide behind one of my legs.
Cale looked down at them. He scooped each pup up with one hand and held them in his arms. “Dudes, relax. He’s friendly.”
“Thanks, Cale.” I was getting used to having that extra set of hands around that my accidental champion always seemed so willing to loan me.
“Atlanta,” Zavak said, smacking one of his giant fists into the flat palm of his other hand.
“Zavak,” I said, mirroring his greeting by putting a fist to my palm.
Then I broke through the politeness and walked over to him for a hug. Zavak’s enormous bulk wrapped around me. He towered over me more than Charon. Only two males in my life gave me a sense of being safe when I was near them. Zavak was the first. Cale ran a close second.
“I’ve missed you, Zavak,” I said from my heart.
Zavak rubbed my back as he hugged me. “I missed you as well, my little goddess rebel. Any improvement in your power issues? I heard you were half through with all the Doomsday Prophecy tasks. There’s a betting pool among the demigods about whether or not you’ll survive all nine. Thank Gaia, you’ve gotten through the first four.”
“Thank Zavak, I had excellent training,” I joked. Then I stepped back from him and sighed. “My power situation improved for a short time, but I spent most of that boost solving one of the last two tasks. At the moment, I’m feeling very mortal. I think I’m going to have to call the Fates for help.”
Zavak made a face that looked more bull than man. “Is there no other recourse than humbling yourself to Nyx’s wicked daughters?”
I laughed. The Fates hadn’t been kind to Zavak either. “I’ll let you know how desperate I get when I return from Rome. I’m going to visit my temple there and look for inspiration.”
Zavak looked around me at Cale holding the puppies. “If we’re openly talking of Rome, you must trust your companion.”
“I do trust him. My companion is also my champion.”
“Really? This is your champion?” Zavak said with a small chuckle as he peered over my head to check out Cale.
The Minotaur towered over Cale and me. To Zavak, I was tall for a woman which he considered an advantage. Used to gods and demigods topping seven feet, I knew Zavak viewed Cale’s height as average. Zavak’s sexism was of a bullish demigod kind.
“Rumors circulating among those left in the God Realm say that your champion is a dragon.”
“Cale is descended from a Great Beast of the Sky that I freed from a metal statue Zeus had locked him in,” I explained, taking Zavak’s arm and pulling him over. “Cale, this is my trainer, Zavak. He’s a Minotaur.”
Cale nodded. “Nice to meet you. Atlanta has told me a lot of good things about you.”
“Has she? Strange that she’s never mentioned you to me before.”
“Only because you won’t let me visit you now that I’m mortal,” I said, crossing my arms.
Zavak turned his bullish stare my way. “Because I will not be responsible for your death, Atlanta. We’ve had this discussion many times.”
I sighed loudly. “Hurt is probable, Zavak, but death is unlikely. I recently beat Athena, Goddess of War while we were sparring.”
“Goddess Athena? The Goddess Athena?” Zavak asked in surprise.
“No—some other Athena.” I laughed at Zavak’s puzzled look. “Yes, of course, Goddess Athena. My sister has been helping me with some of the tasks. The other day she challenged me to spar. When I won, I knocked her out. Your training was spot on, my friend.”
Zavak clapped for my story. “Feel better now that you’ve tasted victory over her?”
Did I feel better? Not really, but I felt completely right about having insisted on studying my famous twin’s fighting methods. “Neither of us had full goddess powers when we fought. My superior strength combined with your superior training made my victory possible. Next time we spar, I pray we will both have returned to our full strength.”
“Bragging about your skills again?” Zavak asked.
Grinning, I shook my head. “No. Bragging would be foolish. Victories are nearly always short-lived. Today if we fought, Athena would likely win. I have learned to appreciate my powers more now that I cannot rely on them to get me out of trouble. Good friends have been critical to my success.”
“That’s a life lesson all loners end up having to learn,” Zavak said before turning his attention to Cale and the puppies. “Are these my potential students?”
I knew he included Cale in his question to make my champion uncomfortable, but Cale seemed to miss the nuance. “These pups are two of the five sons of Cerberus and Sarama, a Hindu Demon Dog goddess. Uncle Hades wouldn’t let these two pups stay in the Underworld with their father because they looked too normal.”
Zavak’s gaze dropped to the ground. “Sarama. I think I know her. Her children usually have four eyes.”
“Yes, I read that about her as well. That could have been why Hades let the other three stay.”
“Did he seriously separate these two infants from their father?” Zavak bent to look at each puppy. Demon and Moose pushed back against Cale’s chest as much as they could. “These two need nurturing more than they need training.”
I agreed but I didn’t have time to nurture them. “Hades threatened to kill them so Charon offered to bring them to me. I think my uncle wanted the puppies to distract me from my tasks. His plan is working out so far because it’s impossible for me to give the pups the time and attention they need.”
“Are these your first pets?” Zavak asked.
“Unless you count Night.”
Zavak snorted, sounding like the bull he partially was, which frightened the pups further. “Does the owl know you consider him your pet?”
The owl had flown into a nearby tree and was hooting. I had no idea why. Night had insisted on coming and yet he’d flown off as soon as we arrived.
“Night is definitely not my pet. He’s more like a house guest or a roommate. Athena knows I have him now. I suspect she and Zeus sent him to me, but I haven’t asked him yet. I can’t decide if I want to know the truth.”
Zavak straightened. “You’ve been getting into all kinds of trouble lately. I thought the Mortal Realm would offer you that quiet, peaceful life you keep saying you want.”
“I do want that.”
“That’s a bunch of bull crap,” Zavak said.
Cale burst out into laughter and the puppies went frantic in his arms. He had to set them down. When he straightened and looked at Zavak, he burst into laughter again.
Cale held up a hand and sucked in a deep breath. “I’m sorry. It was what you said… I’m just…” He drew in a few lungfuls of calming air. “Is this where you kick my butt?”
Zavak snorted again. “Show me your dragon and we’ll see.”
Cale took a few steps backward and shifted smoothly.
“Remarkable. He really is a dragon,” Zavak said.
Then he whistled loudly and made my ears tingle. The puppies laid down and looked frightened. Cale in dragon form fell to the ground and rolled until he was human once more with his hands covering his ears.
“Ow, that hurts… how did you get me to vibrate?” Cale got to all fours and pushed upwards with his hands until he was facing us on his knees.
Zavak smiled at Cale. “No sacred temple is guarded more closely than I guard my training area. Yes, I guard it even against dragons who allegedly no longer exist. Consider this a warning, Great Beast, that you are never allowed to think of me as a food source.”
Even though obviously suffering, Cale laughed as he struggled to get up.
Zavak turned and looked at me. “I can see why you like him, Atlanta. The two of you have a similar sense of humor. Isn’t he a bit young for a bed partner, though?”
I crossed my arms. “I didn’t bring Cale here to watch you torture him until he becomes respectful.”
“You didn’t? But I’m having such a good time.” Zavak whistled again. Cale, who’d barely gotten to his feet, collapsed to the ground once more. “Got any cow jokes you want to tell me, boy?”
Cale laughed once more as he got to his hands and knees again. “No. That would rude and insensitive.”
“Yes, it would be,” Zavak replied with a smirk before turning back to me. “I like him, Atlanta. He’s a very quick learner.”
I smiled at Zavak. “Can we please talk about the real reason I came?”
Zavak smiled back at me. All the metal hanging from his face lifted with the action. “My answer is mostly yes. I’ll train the little hellhounds… on one condition.”
Cale limped to my side. “He’s brutal. Now I know how you got to be so tough.”
It was simply too hard not to make fun of his misery, so I let my laughter rip. “I tried to warn you.”
“Yes. Yes, you did,” Cale admitted with a grin. He turned to Zavak. “They’re great dogs. Atlanta and I love them. Whatever your condition is, we’ll do our best to meet it.”
“Hey,” I said, swinging my gaze to my mouthy champion. “I’m the goddess here. I make the deals.”
“Sorry,” Cale said with a grin. He swept a hand at Zavak. “If you want to grovel and beg him to help, don’t let me stop you.”
I rolled my eyes at Cale before looking back at Zavak. “What’s your condition?”
Zavak snapped his fingers. In each hand, he now held a meaty bone. He stooped down and held them out while making a clicking sound to call the dogs forward. The puppies looked from him to the bones still very unsure of his friendliness. Zavak waved the bones and both dogs inched toward him. He set the meaty bones on the ground and rose to back off.
“I just happened to have these treats for them today. That oversized feral Nordic dog escaped his realm again and ended up here. He killed one of my favorite cows before I could stop him.”
“Did you kill him back?” I asked. It would bad if Zavak had killed Fenrir. That dog played a major role in Norse mythology.
“No, I let him live. He was just doing what dogs do. It was those in charge of him that I was mad at. I paid witches to shrink him for me, and then I sent him back to the Nordic Realm in a tiny cage. The spell will wear off eventually. He’ll break the cage and hopefully any building they put him in. He’s a giant animal.”
“Do you want me to go ease the tension between you and the Nordic Pantheon? I owe you a few favors.”
Cale grabbed my arm. “I don’t think Zavak is suggesting that you kill anyone for him.”
Zavak burst out laughing, which drew our attention back to him. “The dragon really does know you. I’m impressed, Atlanta.”
I sighed, lifted a hand, and motioned for Zavak to tell me what he wanted.
Zavak looked unsure for a moment, something he almost never was, and then his powerful gaze met mine. “I want to spend time with others like me. I’m tired of being alone and tried of consorting with people who will never understand my life. Find me some Minotaurs, preferably female ones. I’m ready for a mate.”
I’d known this being—this amazing bull-man—for literally centuries. Not once had it ever occurred to me that Zavak lacked female companionship. It had taken me becoming mortal to develop empathy for the beings I met during my goddess life. I learned the hard way that I’d lived every bit as selfishly as Gaia had accused my entire pantheon of living.
“How many Minotaurs do you know already?” I asked.
Zavak shook his head. “None. I’ve never seen one.”
“Seriously? Zero?” I asked to confirm. “How do you know they exist?”
Zavak narrowed his eyes over having to explain himself. “The Oracle of Delphi told me they did. We are a small race of creatures, but there are a few thousand of us. Most were born Minotaur. Until Priestess Pythia disappeared, I would check in with her every few years to make sure they still existed. My intention was to eventually ask the Oracle of Delphi specifically where I could find a female like myself. As I’m sure you heard, Priestess Pythia lost her prophetic abilities and had to retire. Regretfully, I waited too long to ask the important question that lived in my heart.”
And now I felt worse than I’d ever felt in my life.
I rubbed both my temples. “So you intended to ask the Oracle to help you find a female Minotaur, but now are asking me because you’re out of other options?”
Zavak frowned and snorted. “Yes. There has been no one else to ask because the other Oracles don’t deal with affairs of the heart. If I knew who stole the omphalos stone from the Temple of Apollo at Delphi, I would break them in half. Pythia never said that was her problem, but I eventually figured out that was the only thing that had changed.”
“How do you know all this, Zavak?”
“Pythia told me, of course. Solving mysteries is not in my skillset or I would have found and returned the omphalos stone.”
I scrubbed both hands over my face. The puppies were happily chewing on their meaty bones. Zavak had made his request. Now I had to come up with an answer.
Already feeling guilty, the worst of thoughts occurred to me. “What if I try to find other Minotaurs and fail to do so?”
“You have more integrity than any god or goddess I’ve ever known. If you say you will do this for me, I know you will do it… or you will die in the effort. I can set no time limit for your success, but this is my price for doing what you want me to do.”
“Or I could just pay you, Zavak. I have gold in my temple. I could bring some back for you. I’m sure business must be down since my pantheon got evicted from the God Realm.”
“What have I had to spend money on all these years? It’s not like I have a family. The cows require little to keep them happy—just some pasture land. I sell their milk to the Nordic realm. Freya likes to make cheese from it. Truly money is not something I have need of. I could live comfortably for a couple of millennia.”
While I was glad Zavak was financially solvent, his disinterest in money created a dilemma I had no hope of solving.
“Atlanta… I want you to find me a female Minotaur or two. I’m tired of dating females who see me as a novelty and not as a real person. Only another hybrid like myself can appreciate the challenges of my life.”
“I can see that could be the case,” I said while I looked for a way to change the subject. “Night wanted to come along on this trip to say hello. He’ll be sending the puppies through to you each day and will be there to receive them back each evening. My sisters, the Muses, will see to it that the puppies get fed while I’m away solving Doomsday Prophecy tasks.”
“You trust the owl not to eat them in your absence?”
The idea of Night eating a fellow magical made me laugh. He was far too picky about his food. I was more worried about what Night might deem it necessary to teach Demon and Moose.
“Night and I have an understanding about what prey he’s allowed to eat. I intend to impart a similar understanding to Demon and Moose. They’re babies with no control yet. That’s why I need you.”
Zavak smiled. “I’m glad to be needed. So we have a deal?”
I sighed and nodded. “Yes… we have a limited deal. I promise to try to find your people. I can’t promise to actually succeed.”
“You’ll succeed,” Zavak said with conviction in his voice.
Chimes rang out in the air above us. Zavak didn’t seem to notice them, which told me far more than I wanted to know.
Behind me, Cale swore. I swore too, but only on the inside. What lay ahead of us concerning the prophecy was not solving Zavak’s problem with females of his own kind. My next task would be about me undoing some of the bad stuff I did in the past.
And I wasn’t talking about that accidental shoplifting incident from five years ago. I’d gone right back and paid the woman for the lipstick I’d shoved in my pocket without thinking.
No, I was talking about me having stolen the Oracle’s omphalos stone. It hadn’t mattered to me then that I’d shut down Apollo’s primary temple. My Uncle Hades had talked me into taking the stone, and at the time, I thought such an act would prove to my family how clever I was.
At no time had I considered all the various people seeking the guidance the Oracle provided. Nor did I lose any sleep over ruining Priestess Pythia’s career too. I felt bad now, but how was I ever going to make this right?
I forced myself to smile at Zavak. Confession would not be good for my soul or for my relationship with him. “Can I leave the pups here for a few days so they can get to know you? I’ll collect them after I get back from Rome.”
“Absolutely. I was just going to suggest that very thing,” Zavak said. “Leave Night as well. He’ll find plenty to eat in the woods around here.”
“Great. I guess Cale and I will be going then.” I looked toward the woods. “Night? We’re leaving. Help Zavak keep an eye on Demon and Moose.”
Night hooted back. I was used to him communicating with words to me, but I would take that as a yes.
Zavak looked so hopeful when I waved before entering his portal.
I felt like the worst goddess who’d ever lived.