Excerpt for Chance by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

Chance

Book Three: The Eternal Daughter

Patti Larsen

Smashwords Edition

Copyright 2016 by Patti Larsen


Purely Paranormal Press

Find out more about Patti Larsen at

http://www.pattilarsen.com/


***


Smashwords Edition, License Notes

This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to Smashwords.com and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

***


Cover art (copyright) by Valerie Bellamy. All rights reserved.

http://www.dog-earbookdesign.com

Edited by Annetta Ribken, freelance Goddess. You can find her at http://www.wordwebbing.com/

Copy edits by Jessica Bufkin.

***


Chapter One


Everything about the towering, thundering, one-eyed god before me made my jaw ache from clenching too tight. Odin of the Æsir’s pompous bellowing he considered necessary for our conversation jarred my nerves from the instant I set foot in Valhalla. Yes, the instant. The moment I passed the stone door capped with stylized dragon heads, a puff of chilled air sending a spate of snow out to land on the hem of my jeans his big, deep voice beckoned me into his realm.

“COME, CHAOS,” he hollered like a bullhorn had been permanently embedded in his throat. “GREET THE ALLFATHER.”

And he hadn’t shut up since. Not for the five minutes it took me to cross the bulky stone bridge into Valhalla. Mist rose from hot springs lining the promenade on the way to the dragon capped rock palace with a pair of big chested blondes standing out front. The shield maiden’s braids hung over both shoulders across protruding breast plates that left nothing to the imagination. I endured Odin’s booming rant all the way up the wide steps to the foyer of his home.

I shivered in the cold, not out of unhappiness with the temperature but because if I didn’t I’d instead lose control of my rapidly heating temperature and embracing the chill seemed the smarter choice.

Odin wasn’t alone, though he chose his full sized persona to greet me. A dark leather patch studded with steel rivets covered his right eye, fur bulking his well-proportioned upper body in a tunic of some kind of creature whose silver skin graced Odin’s towering form. I was absolutely certain whatever animal that hide came from likely deserved to wear it far more than this posing lord of the Norse Pantheon.

My only saving grace as the minutes ticked by and my tolerance for this blowhard old sack of ego was the silent, calm presence of Seth. My advisor seemed unaffected by Odin’s blustering. Continuing chatter thundered out at a volume so loud I quickly lost interest and instead focused on the headache his yelling had started between my eyes.

Patience. Seth knew me well by now, or perhaps always had. He’s almost done.

I dug my fingernails into the soft flesh of my palms and forced myself to listen to the final few words of Odin’s ridiculous show of audible power.

“—MY REALM OUT OF THE KINDNESS OF MY HEART.” He leaned toward me, the scent of unwashed fur and too much malty mead making me want to throw up on his dirty boots. Seriously, since becoming Chaos I’d grown more and more disillusioned with the supposed powers of the Pantheons and wondered if any of them actually had a shred of politeness or decency to their names. “BEWARE YOUR STEP IN VALHALLA, CHAOS—”

Was it his puffed up sense of self-importance that triggered me at last? Or perhaps the large fleck of spittle that left his wide, puffy lips to land at my feet? Maybe it was the way the two ravens perched on his throne—Huginn and Muninn, better known as Thought and Memory, clacking their beaks and reminding me of Dad’s old advisor, Corvus and his constant judgments—that pushed me over the edge.

I suppose it doesn’t really matter why. But whatever the reason, the instant I let Chaos have an inkling of control, she roared her disapproval and surged to the fore.

Was it wrong a small part of me reveled in her appearance? I wasn't so deluded I couldn't admit I rather enjoyed her lack of giving one ounce of care or regard for the feelings of others, especially others such as this airbag of Nordic arrogance. And honestly, if I were to examine the moment again, could I swear under oath I didn’t actually let her out?

Well, again. Not like it really mattered once the deed was done. I ignored Seth’s hiss of warning, aware he sensed her rise but did nothing to stop her as Chaos pushed herself upward, taking me with her, a willing witness—all right, participant—as she manifested in full persona.

Odin’s single blue eye bulged, the collection of gods gathered at his throne gaping while the storm over my curls burst into life, lightning striking the rough stone beneath my feet. Three stars fell from my neckline, high pitched squealing like the death of fireworks silencing everyone in the throne room. The two ravens, squawking their protests, lifted off in the quiet and flew a safe distance to the far end of the massive space.

“ENOUGH.” I hated shouting and only let that one word out at the same volume Odin used. Or was it slightly louder than he’d employed? One upping was Chaos’s choice, I swear it. The mist pooled around me, swirling in angry puddles at my feet while the storm descended further and I dropped my voice to a more conversational level. “I came to talk, Odin. Not to argue. Are you done being rude or should I just go home?”

Oh, Eve, Seth sighed in my head while the Allfather spluttered.

“Will you let this invader speak thus to you, Father?” The massive younger god behind Odin’s throne postured, golden mustache bristling. The giant hammer at his belt told me he was Thor, though the god of thunder I knew from popular culture seemed a lot more likeable than this petulant creature. I sighed myself, feeling my anger dissipate, too late to fix this and enough of a wakeup call I regretted coming here at all.

But Odin simply stared at me, single eye narrowing. And then, with a thud from one heavy fist on his throne’s armrest he began to laugh. Deep, rich and full of life. I grinned back, nodded ever so slightly in acknowledgement while Odin rose, shrinking as he left his throne, the rest of his gods doing the same in response to his actions. I waited just a heartbeat longer before releasing Chaos and resuming my own unassuming teen girl persona. Just Eve with my messy curls barely held together by an old hair tie, in my favorite black jeans and t-shirt, sneakers scuffing the stone floor as I accepted Odin’s offered hand.

He towered over me yet, but at least he wasn’t being a dick any longer.

“I’d heard things of you, Chaos.” He was still kind of shouty, but now he was smiling and at ease, so I bore the volume as best I could as well as the firm grip he used to grasp my arm. I squeezed back aggressively, uncomfortable after a moment when he didn’t release me. “I wondered if this streak of rebellion and courage could be true of one so young. And yet, you have proved me false and yourself worthy.”

Of him? I almost snorted and ruined everything. Thank Creation, as always, for Seth who intervened by bowing to the Allfather with a smile on his dragon face. It still freaked me out a bit, the juxtaposition of his reptile features mounted so casually on the body of a broad-shouldered man dressed impeccably in a tailored suit and emerald tie that matched his glowing eyes. But I couldn’t fault his professional savvy or the way he seemed so comfortable speaking to everyone regardless of rank.

Time to let him step in and make sure I didn’t screw up what I’d come to do.

Mind you, as Seth spoke to Odin, I was feeling a bit more confident this might turn out all right. After all, I’d made the Nordic god laugh. Who else did that?

“Allfather,” Seth said. “We are grateful for your welcome to Valhalla at this time. Chaos’s initial visit here, in your realm, was our first choice.” He was such a liar. We’d approached all of the heads of the major Pantheons when Seth broached the suggestion I at least attempt to endear myself to the leaders now that the Furies no longer wanted to kill me. Or didn’t have orders to anymore. Calling the three horrid creatures on the agenda they’d pursued had driven them off, as had the failure of their partner in crime, Isis, to lay me low with false accusations and sneak attacks that made it appear as though I harmed the realms instead of my wretched former mother. But, while I might have been vindicated and left alone by the avenging spirits of Creation, that didn’t mean all the Pantheons were suddenly on my side. To the contrary. It seemed like trying to make nice would be about as easy as pushing a stone giant uphill in a rainstorm.

Seth refused to quit trying, though, and I grudgingly agreed to participate. My advisor and the first of Chaos’s monsters almost lost me when Odin was the only one who responded, and with a rather rude command that I present myself before him. It took a great deal of soothing conversation for me to agree to this jaunt, and I was actually surprised Chaos hadn’t shown herself earlier out of pure pique.

Restraint. Maybe I was learning after all. So odd, really. The old me, the Eve who thought she was a screw up, who killed those meant to live and gave Life to those destined for Death, would never have considered herself brave or courageous or even a match for someone the likes of Odin. Funny how much had changed and so quickly. And yet, I still felt a queasiness in my stomach that maybe I’d overstepped after all when Odin scowled at my aide.

“Don’t try to politic an old politician, Seth.” Odin shook his head, thick, white hair blending with the long fur of his tunic. “You know full well why you’re here first.”

Because all of the polite appointments my aide tried to make were ignored. All but this one.

“Truth.” Seth tipped his muzzle in acknowledgment. “And yet I knew you, Father of all Æsir, had the grace and presence to accept what the others would ignore out of pettiness and ego.”

Odin laughed again, and this time his people laughed with him, including the two ravens. The god released me at last and used that same hand to clap Seth firmly on the shoulder. The dragon in man form staggered ever so slightly, and I winced at the thought of just how hard he’d been hit. On purpose? Or perhaps the Allfather didn’t know his own strength. Whatever the reason, Odin didn’t seem angry, leading us away from his throne, past his gathered gods and into a grotto beside the throne room. Not his private quarters behind his throne, but one of his personal spaces, much like the garden in Death’s realm of Undertown. I sat gingerly on a white marble bench, the chill of the stone making my tailbone ache while Seth took a seat next to me. He carefully crossed one leg over the other, hands folded neatly in his lap, polished shoes shedding small chunks of slush with wet plops. Odin paced the low walls of the grotto to the sound of icy water burbling over the stone and into a pool that turned into a dancing stream. It really was quite lovely with the looming peak of Valhalla over us despite the chill and snow, the blue above as cold a sky as I’d ever seen.

I glanced sideways at my advisor, not sure where to go from here. Maybe it would be better to just call this a win and run for the hills while running was still a viable option. But Seth seemed comfortable to sit and chat with Odin while I wondered for the millionth time how I’d gotten myself into this and if I leaned on Seth just a little too much these days.

Thought and Memory joined us, settling on the stone wall, staring at me with their shining black eyes and making me think of Corvus. Death’s raven had disappeared when Kael deposed Dad and stole the Grim Reaper’s persona from him. Now that my favorite brother, Nero, held the throne of Undertown, I wondered if he’d made it a priority to find the missing advisor. I blamed Chaos for the uncharitable flicker of not really caring so much if his fate was ever uncovered as Odin spoke.

“You realize your presence here is being monitored.” The Allfather seemed uncomfortable for a moment before he shrugged, large, beefy hands spread before him as an apology, perhaps, or an admission of duplicity. “That they are watching to see what you do.”

“My reaction in the throne room,” I said. “They’ll take that badly?” No need to ask who “they” were. All three of us grimaced slightly, though Seth’s turned to a dragon’s smile instantly.

“Perhaps you will relay Chaos’s continued desire to meet and converse with the rest of the Pantheons.” He stood abruptly and I joined him, confused by his choice to leave so suddenly. We’d sort of formed a rapport with Odin, hadn’t we? Just when I thought staying was an option… why were we running off now? “Our aim is the stability and continuance of all Pantheons in Creation. The reawakening of the Mist realm doesn’t need to mean strife or destruction as is feared by those most esteemed leaders.”

Odin stared at Seth for a long moment, face unreadable. “I’ll do my best,” he said. And turned his gaze to me. “I like you, girl,” he said then, sounding sad. “You have guts and a damned scary persona that boils my blood and makes me want to fight you just to see what happens.” That was a good thing? Clearly for the Allfather it was, because he was smiling. “But make no mistake, your wakening still worries me. And as much as I’d like to back you, I can’t.” His hands clenched at his sides. “We’ve too much to lose if what we fear your arrival means for Creation.”

“Which is?” Seth hissed softly next to me when I spoke up, but I had to know.

“The end of the realms,” Odin said, flint in his tone, single blue eye glittering with ice and control. I hadn’t feared him before. I thought him full of himself and a blowhard. But now, now that he showed me the being he truly was, fear woke as grim determination and death stared at me from that single blue eye. “And I’ll do anything, anything, to prevent Ragnarok.”

There was nothing I could say. No amount of protestations or reassurances were going to do me a bit of good. And just when I thought I might come to like him, too.

I left without a word, not bothering to do the long walk that would feel like shame, out his throne room and to the bridge. Instead, I grasped Seth’s hand, nodded to Odin and shifted myself through his realm and into the Crosspath. Because I was done, so done.

Only, my aide wasn’t.

The instant I dropped us on the thick, green carpet of the hub of Creation, Seth spun on me in a surge of anger I’d never witnessed from him before.

“Eve,” he snarled. “What were you thinking?”


***


Chapter Two


My first instinct was twofold, which goes a long way to show just how much I’d changed from the girl who knew she was a disaster waiting to happen. Side one wanted to beg his forgiveness and hang her head—for what, I wasn’t exactly sure but it was clearly something huge because Seth never lost his temper with me. Never.

The other side? My chaotic and emotionally scrambled side? She snapped her head up with a resounding hell no while the dragon man before me pulled himself together. That didn’t stop him from firmly grasping my bicep in his big hand and tugging me gently toward the doorway leading to the Mist realm. I walked without resistance at his side, the real battle going on within while Seth inhaled deeply before exhaling.

“I’m sorry,” we both said at exactly the same time. I giggled, a nervous reaction, and he flashed his fangs at me in a dragon smile, sparks in his emerald eyes.

“Forgive me,” he said then, releasing my arm, voice lowered, private. “Mistress, my sincerest apology for such an outburst. It was rude and you deserve better.”

“Seth.” I put as much weight into his name as I could, watching as his slitted pupil flickered toward me, silver whiskers wavering around his muzzle. “I lost my temper back there. You have every right to be mad at me.”

“That’s not why I…” Seth paused half a step, startling me, making me stumble before he resumed smoothly like he hadn't hesitated at all. I felt like an idiot scrambling then to catch up. He kindly slowed and waited for me to fall into step again before speaking. “Your temper,” he said, “while a common source of concern, served us well in the realm of the Æsir.” That sounded like praise. A lot like praise. I did my best not to grin as he went on. “But your blatant disregard for his warning… Eve.” Seth stopped again, this time at the Mist door. It undulated before us, beckoning for our return, but he didn’t pass through it just yet, staring into its depths with his dragon face now unreadable. “He attempted to provide you with information and you disrespected him by exiting his realm outside diplomatic egress.” I unscrambled his political speak before frowning.

“You’re mad because I took a short cut?” The fact I could travel through the realms this way felt a distinct advantage, one I had used in front of many gods by this point, including my ex-mother, Isis, and the Egyptian ruler of the Netherworld. Surely it wasn’t a secret.

“I was frustrated,” he said, soft in his correction, one index finger rising as though to school me, “by your lack of decorum with a god who chose to treat you with the respect you requested of him, despite his fears and the influence of those who directed us to Valhalla first.”

My headache grew while I glared at Seth’s finger. He dropped his hand, shrugged elegantly, but I wasn’t letting this go just yet. While shouting at my advisor in the Crosspath outside my own realm door seemed far too trashy for someone who wore the mantle of as powerful an entity as Chaos, it felt oddly appropriate to do so. I couldn’t blame my persona for that. No, my need to lose my temper this time, that was all sixteen-year-old Eve.

But Seth wasn’t done. “I apologized,” he said, tilting his big head down so I could meet both of his eyes under the heavy scaled ridges of his brow, “because I know just how difficult this is for you. And I, too, must learn to hold my temper when it comes to you. I have spent eons alone, without access to our realm to sustain me. Awaiting your return, doing my very best to uphold your way and your monsters and hoping that I would prove worthy of you when you finally came home to me.”

From anyone else? That would feel like a guilt trip, an attempt to make me fall into regret and the need to make it up to him. But from Seth, never. His genuine emotion radiated from him, his honesty reaching my sensitive empathic field with the kind of truth that made me stop and listen instead of react.

“They test my patience, too,” he said, faint smile in his voice. “Oh, how they have tested me, Mistress.” His slip, using my first name instead of the more formal title he preferred, was apparently over. “From the first of them to the most recent, how they have bullied and bossed about your monsters, treated them like slaves, enjoyed the fruits of your realm as if their own because those creatures had nowhere else to call home. I have waited and longed for the day we two could stand against their judgment, their casual advantage and show them just who Chaos really is. What she commands.” His big hands clenched at his sides, a reflex, perhaps. And I felt his rise of emotion, the passionate need he had to do these things he said burning in his heart. “But that need is a folly. For both of us.” Seth relaxed, nodded to me like I’d agreed with him when I wasn’t sure I did. Chaos certainly didn’t, tumbling and butting against my insides with her rejection of such diplomacy. “We must make the most of your return, Mistress. We must embrace who we both are now, not who we wish we were. I am grateful for you, for your return. And I will never put you at risk again.”

I jammed my hands into my pockets, hating that he sounded so reasonable, that standing down was the only way to go. Imagine that. Me wanting to get out there and start a fight, the girl who was happy to hide in the background and pretend she didn’t exist. The girl who couldn’t muster anger to save herself from attack not so long ago. The girl whose own feelings were more a hindrance than any kind of help. Touching the Loom of Creation changed all that. There was no going back for me and despite Seth’s reticence, we might not have a choice if push came to shove.

I was so close to being over the bullying of the Pantheons that maybe a little show of Chaos might be in order.

She whispered to me about storms and shaking things up until I exhaled and nodded to my advisor, firmly stuffing the persona I carried deep within. And at last accepted my loss of temper with Odin was her doing, though I would take the blame out of responsibility for what she did.

“Fine,” I said. “I’ll be the bigger person in this. I’ve bowed my head and done my duty. Despite the mess that’s been made of my whole life by Isis choosing to break the rules and have a daughter with Death. Chaos might be more powerful than the lords of the Pantheons, might have been there at the beginning of Creation, done her part to make all this,” I waved my hands around me a little wildly, defensive at last and more than a little cranky about the way things had turned out, “a reality. Sure, Seth. I’ll toe that line they drew for me when they cut me out of Fate and sent the Furies after me. Why should things ever change?” Okay, now I was really angry, and not Chaos angry. Eve angry. She actually held back this time. I felt her watching, observing, wondering and let out my own personal frustrations on Seth despite knowing none of this was his fault. “I’ll be a good girl like you want and Chaos will hide in her realm and do as she’s told while the Pantheons continue to be arrogant bullies who think they are better than everyone else.” I let my anger fade. “Because, when it comes down to it, Seth, things were better before I came along. Safe and quiet and functioning perfectly with everyone getting along and no bad things ever happening to anyone, the way Creation intended. Weren’t they?”

He didn’t speak, didn’t have to, not when he looked away so he could avoid my gaze.

“Your need for me was just wishful thinking so you could shake off feeling like their lackey. You and the other monsters.” I sagged as my anger died out and Chaos sighed within. Disappointed in me? Maybe. I really didn’t care just then. “I’m the bringer of all things ruinous, let’s not forget. So what do you really expect of me, anyway, if not disaster, destruction and the shaken snow globe of all Creation?”

He met my gaze at last, jaw dropping open before snapping shut with his sharp teeth meeting in a rattling clunk. “Mistress,” he said, voice slightly strangled. “What do you want to do?”

Destroy, reshape, realign, recreate. Chaos’s instant reaction hit me with the power of a hurricane, staggering me. Seth caught me, supported me, worry in his emerald eyes. While Chaos laughed and raged and wept.

“Likely,” he spoke as if he hadn’t just witnessed my sudden disorientation, “you’ll hear from Jupiter of Rome or even Zeus of Greece next.” Total change of subject. Or was it? I just nodded, shaking hand pressed to my forehead.

“I look forward to it,” I said with a half-smile while Chaos retreated again, the Mist door sighing as it opened to let us in.


***


Chapter Three


I should have been used to finding monsters lurking near me by now, but honestly some of them were so shocking in appearance I still started when I encountered them. Case in point, as I crossed into my realm and set foot on the bridge, I jerked back from the small, pale creature hovering against the rough rock entry. She had tucked herself so carefully against the stone I almost didn’t see her and would likely have stepped on her if she hadn’t moved, looked up, her blood red eyes weeping more of the same down her corpse-white face. Thin strings of black hair clung to the crimson stains on her cheeks, the dark gray and rotting sheath of fur covering her dragging over her gnarled and bloody toes. When she flinched away from me I drew a breath and forced myself to smile and nod to her. She was one of my creatures, this monster who looked like a bloodied child. Her lips were stained black as night, features blunt, ancient in appearance, as unrefined as her jagged teeth when she smiled in return, hesitant but brave to approach me on her own like this.

“Ghola.” Seth saved me from asking her name, joining me on the threshold of the bridge. The tiny girl horror bobbed her head first at him then at me again as she smiled her revolting and hopeful smile. Her thick, black tongue swept over her lips, shedding some dark green ichor that trickled in a thin line over her perfectly dimpled chin.

“Seth.” Her voice was an odd mix of fear-inducing and delightful, as if a beautiful girl truly lived within the body of the creature. “Mistress.” The second syllable trembled. “Forgive me, I’ve waited to speak to you.”

What she’d come to say would be delayed, though not out of choice. As I leaned closer to ask her what she wanted, the sound of approaching footsteps at speed drew my attention. I did my best to not overreact at the grim, intense and blank expressions—three different ones for three different faces—of the trio approaching.

Seth didn’t react either, simply waiting with his usual patience as my father, the bounty hunter Mafdel and the former first advisor of Life, Lilith, all came to a stomping, graceful and/or slithering halt before me, none of them waiting until they’d achieved a complete standstill before speaking. Over one another. So loudly I had to hold up my hands to get them to just stop.

While I appreciated their support and having them with me, Dad, Mafdel and Lilith had grown increasingly combative between themselves. It had only been a few days since I managed to shake the Furies from their intent to murder my mortal form. To rescue my father from the horror of the Egyptian Netherworld, no less, sent there without cause as a sick punishment by Isis and the brief host of Death, Kael. While the three had, I truly believed, intended to work together to keep me safe, the escalation of their initial coordination for my benefit rapidly deteriorated into sniping, opinions and about as much biting banter as I could handle.

“You went.” When they fell quiet at my silent request, Mafdel spoke up, filling the instant of stillness that followed. Why was I not surprised it was she who took the initiative? From the moment we met, the Egyptian goddess who hunted dangerous creatures had assured me she was on my side until I proved I needed dealing with, something she pointedly mentioned she’d handle herself. But she’d proven valuable and loyal and had gone out of her way—misguided or not—to keep me safe. In ways no others could. Speaking up and taking action were Mafdel’s strongest personality traits. “You took your butt to the Norse,” she went on in that same cutting tone. “Despite my warnings to the contrary.” She glared at Seth, her black eyes sparking with anger, tall, lean form sheathed in silent, soft leather the same glossy darkness as her thick, straight hair. I admired her very much, and appreciated having her at my side despite everything. But Mafdel’s idea of diplomacy was a well-placed arrow in the hearts of my enemies, preemptive strikes to assure my dominance.

“I went,” I said, surprised at my own patience. Seth was wearing off on me. “And I spoke to Odin. He’s not our enemy, Maf.”

If using that familiar shorthand of her name bothered her, the bounty hunter didn’t show it, likely too focused on her task at hand. Namely, bullying me. She snorted, fists on hips, full lips a thin, unhappy line on her olive skinned face. “Idiot,” she said. I let her talk to me like that why? Because good luck stopping her. “You’re listening to him too much, kid.” She jabbed one long, thin index finger at Seth. “And not enough to the instincts of Chaos.”

The fact the persona inside me grumbled her agreement wasn’t helping anything. Nor the fact I kind of thought the same way. But Seth played this game far longer than I had and I needed to trust he knew what he was doing.

“Making appointments and trying to gain the approval of the Pantheon leaders is bunk.” Mafdel’s bluntness didn’t pull at the strike. “The Furies have backed off. You don’t have to hide anymore.” That had been her suggestion, forcefully rendered, not so long ago, in the form of dragging me through realm thresholds and abandoning me under the care of three of her bounty hunter friends. “Taking this route? You’re making them think Chaos is weak and putting yourself into further danger. Have you forgotten your mortal form is vulnerable?” She shook her head before I could respond. “Just because you won the battle with the Furies doesn’t mean this war is over, kid.”

I opened my mouth to respond, but Dad beat me to it. “That’s why it’s so important to make allies.” He turned to me while Mafdel folded her arms over her chest, her face closing down. Surely steam would rise from her ears or flames shoot from her eye sockets any second now. “To find those who think like you do, who want to use the power of Chaos to make Creation a better place.”

“I didn’t realize Creation was broken.” Seth’s dry sarcasm didn’t stop Dad from forging on.

“Of course it’s broken,” he snapped at the dragon man. “It’s been broken for a long time. And Isis’s darkness is endemic of that damage.” He met my gaze with his blue eyes. “The fact Chaos has returned should be the biggest sign of all.”

I tried not to take that as a personal jab, because I knew he didn’t mean it that way. And since I also wasn’t interested in talking about my former mother, I decided not to comment. As if I would have had an opportunity while Lilith put her two fangs in and the circle of their unhappiness closed over me again.

“I disagree,” she hissed, her upset making her lisp more obvious, the rainbow sheen of her scales dulled by her retreat from the Garden and Life with Isis’s return to the throne and persona. She’d come to me, my sister Cadence at her side, refusing to go back to her former mistress, though I knew she was having second thoughts. Proven when she went on. “While you have the support of Death in Nero, it’s time to mend fences with Life and pull your power base together again.”

I wasn’t going to tell the ageless serpent what I thought of that idea. “Are you three done?”

“Unless you take this fight to the gods,” Mafdel said, actually shaking her finger in my face, uncharacteristically emotional, enough so I listened out of shock if nothing else, “you are setting yourself and your realm up for something I don’t think any of us will survive. Kid.” She drew a breath, retreated physically and emotionally, her sheer will shutting down her connection to my empathic field so I no longer endured the weight of her unhappiness. “You’re Chaos, yes. But remember what you did with Life? With Death?” I nodded, uncomfortable at last. “We needed you to wake the Mist realm. But that doesn’t mean you’re Chaos forever. Does it?”

I didn’t have the answer to that. And when I turned to look at Seth, he shrugged, indicating he didn’t know, either.

“This is old news,” Dad said, his own tone grim and dark. He’d changed since he’d lost Death, since his rescue from the Netherworld. He’d always felt so kind, so compassionate to me when he wore the persona of the Grim Reaper. But losing it had changed him. Or, more likely, reverted him closer to the person he’d been before he took on that role. At least, I told myself that since I couldn’t bear to think I’d failed him. “Mafdel is partly right.” Grudging, that admission. “But a show of force without backup will get you nowhere. Unless you plan to take on the entirety of Creation on your own.”

The bounty hunter sighed loudly and rolled her eyes, cocking one hip in visible irritation. “Just let it drop, Samael,” she said, voice ice cold. “We’re not going to the Angels.”

This was the first I’d heard of it. “Angels?” I looked to Dad for information. “As in the agents of Life and Death?” My brothers and sisters? What could they do for me?

“Not the ones you’re thinking of,” Dad said, face lighting up so much I actually smiled reflexively back, happy to see his shine returning. “My family, in Heaven. The Angels of the Christian Pantheon.”

Wait a second. Dad was what?

“Absolutely not.” Seth’s entire body twitched, such an unusual reaction from him I stared. “There will be no contact with that Pantheon.”

“Why?” I looked back and forth between them while Dad grit his teeth, anger returned.

“Your biases are showing,” Dad said.

“No,” Seth said, “my protectiveness of my mistress is. You really want to turn all of the Pantheons against Chaos? Align with the Angels and their particular agenda.” There was more to it, I could feel Seth’s need to continue, but instead of doing so, he huffed softly and pulled himself together before speaking again in a more controlled tone. “Chaos cannot choose any of the Pantheons over the others. Selecting allies will only create strife with the rest of the realms.”

“Like we just did with Odin?” Seth seemed uncomfortable with my challenge, but I just sighed and turned to my father. “Dad.” I cut him off before he could answer Seth, likely with some heat considering how red he’d gone in the face. “I’m not aligning with anyone.”

“First smart thing you’ve said,” Mafdel grumbled. “Show them who’s boss, Evie.”

I almost grinned at her for the use of my nickname, likely a retaliation for using hers. “I’m not, because it sounds like no one wants me.” That came out a bit whiny, but I shrugged off the implications and told them what Odin said. “Whether they like me or not, hate me or not, they don’t trust me. I’m on my own. But,” I pointed my own finger at Mafdel this time, “that’s no excuse to run off and stir the cauldron of Creation to teach them a lesson that’s irrelevant.” Because honestly, things really had run just fine without me for eons. If anything, I was the problem Odin worried I’d be. I knew that. And maybe hiding away in the Mist realm was the only option if the status quo was to be maintained. “I need a good reason to get out there and make a mess.”

“You’re not safe as long as they think you’re vulnerable.” Why did I think talking about this yet again would get through to Mafdel? To any of them. Dad’s sullen silence just meant he was saving up to natter at me later. As for Lilith, she slithered her massive coils into a circle beneath her and raised herself to my height.

“All the more reason to solidify your relationship with Life,” she said. “An alliance with the root powers of Creation makes perfect sense.”

“If you’re so gung-ho on Isis,” Dad snapped, “why don’t you just go back to the Garden, Lilith?”

The serpent sagged, sinking down to the stone bridge. “I have no love for her,” she said. “But I, too, fear for Eve. While perhaps things were fine the way they were—and I disagree that’s the case considering Isis’s issues—that’s all changed now. Chaos is here. And Eve must take her place, her role, or I fear Fate may force her hand.”

The Fates had cut me off from the Loom of Creation, so I doubted they had any influence, but I got the point.

I honestly just wanted this conversation to be over, but the way it ended had nothing to do with me. In fact, I was shocked by the voice that piped in and broke up our argument, the same voice that gave me both chills and an odd feeling of happiness the first time I’d heard it.

“Forgive me, Mistress,” the one Seth called Ghola said, just loudly enough in the moment of silence we all turned to her. She shivered at our attention, tiny body quivering. I sensed her anxiety, knew despite the fact she, as a monster, had a terrible history of doing wretched things to people, it was her nature to do those things. Speaking up, however, seemed completely out of her comfort zone, especially to her mistress, I guess. “I don’t want to interrupt, but I really must talk to you.”

I nodded, happy for the distraction. “Go ahead, Ghola,” I said.

She smiled again, brightening a truly horrifying sight to behold as more ichor trickled down her chin, her red eyes weeping excess blood down her pale, pale face. Tiny hands emerged from the rough fur of her dress, fingertips as raw and bleeding as her toes. She gestured me closer, gaze flickering over my companions, and I understood. I leaned in, letting her whisper her message directly in my ear with breath that smelled of the grave and flowers.

“There’s something I need to show you,” she said, fear in her voice now, and nervousness in her emotional aura. “I think it might help you decide who to listen to.”


***


Chapter Four


I crouched next to her, shutting out my companions who watched with a mix of emotions I did my best to block out. Sometimes the empathic field that surrounded me gave me the kind of input I needed to read others. Once upon a time it had been the means of attack from the world around me, from my cruel and heartless brother, Kael, from the disappointment and disapproval of my sisters. Since Chaos woke, though, I saw it as a benefit—except when the ones I cared about most stood around me, the weight of what they felt pressing against me. Mind you, the field protected me now, instead reflecting their own emotions. Not a great thing in a fired up moment when everyone was on edge. But feeling them judging the small monster who came to her mistress with information worked up my own anger enough I let Chaos bump them into silence of the feels as well as the mouth.


Purchase this book or download sample versions for your ebook reader.
(Pages 1-18 show above.)