C1 Chapter 1
I wake with a start, my heart beating with such force I fear my ribs will crack. A sheen of sweat soaks my clothes, making my skin itch, and my head feels crushed in a vice. My eyelids peel open, but the light is too bright, and I squeeze them shut against the glare. Every part of my body aches, and a dread I can't define has me in its grip.
A nightmare. I must have been having a nightmare...but why do I feel as if I've been hit by a truck?
Through my anxious haze, music floats to me as if in a dream. Something stringed— a lyre—plays a calming melody that dances in my mind. I try to move, to sit up, to see where the music is coming from, but my body feels tethered to some dark place, and I moan, finally giving up, still keeping my eyes tightly shut.
The music pauses.
"Easy now," a deep voice soothes. "You might feel a bit disconnected from yourself for a bit. I hear that's perfectly normal when your memories return."
My pulse quickens. The voice is familiar but not. Just like the music. In fact, this entire moment feels like deja vu on steroids.
I force my eyes open once again, blinking rapidly to ease the strain of the bright golden light saturating the room. I peek through my eyelashes as my vision gradually focuses.
Standing over me, I see a beautiful man. His short golden hair curls around a face so stunning it's nearly blinding. Thick lashes frame his large, golden eyes. He’s gorgeous with full lips and a straight nose. On his shoulder, a large white raven perches, studying me with sharp pitch-black eyes as it digs its long, curved talons into the fabric of his tunic. Unnerved, I shift my gaze back to the man, noting the halo of light that surrounds him, and I realize with a start, the light is coming from him, as if his skin is made of the sun itself.
Recognition shoots through me. "Apollo," I say through parched lips.
The music stops, and Apollo sets the lyre down. As the raven launches itself from his shoulder to settle on the foot of the bed, the god of light helps me sit up. "Greetings, Prometheus, and welcome home."
Prometheus. The name triggers a flood of memories. Finding Homer the Cyclops. Remembering my past life as a Titan, my true self. Clay framing me for poisoning the gods. Mirk, Torak, Ladron all helping me to escape.
Then, the worried faces of my people swim through my thoughts. Holy Lemons, what has Clay done to them in my absence?
"My queendom. My people," I gasp. I try to stand, but instead fall back into bed as white-hot pain lances through my body. I clutch my side and glance down. Golden ichor oozes through my fingers.
Apollo steadies me with a hand. "I fear your wound is poisoned, my friend. Clay used Death Mist. Achlys potion. Fortunately for you, this is something I can heal.”
Of course. Clay knifed me during the duel. It’s not surprising that he used poison. The betrayal of his actions hurts deeply. Not Lily Lemon, the college girl who died—and who totally expects this kind of thing from Clay—but the Prometheus part. That layer of my soul who mourns for the loss of a brother, of Epimetheus now known as Clay.
I look up to see Apollo tilting his head, studying me with curiosity in his eyes. "You're him but you're not," he muses with a touch of surprise in his voice. "Normally when gods return, they regain their memories and slough off their human lives—which are so short as to almost be irrelevant in the scheme of things. But you...you aren’t truly Prometheus now, are you?" He sits back in his chair and fixes me with a measuring gaze as if trying to determine the exact percentage of Prometheus I truly am, like a live scan version of a genetic test.
There's so much to unpack here, not the least of which is Apollo's role in Clay's attack on the gods. But I'm still processing my own godhood and history, so—one thing at a time, I guess.
"I’m still Lily Lemon, but I remember Prometheus’ life, like it’s a book I read long ago. Or a dream,” I say. I know of no better way to put it. Prometheus feels like someone else, and I have an emotional connection to what was important to him, but my personality, my desires, my gender... that's all still solidly Lily Lemon. “His memories are still here, somewhere.”
Narrowing my eyes, I lift myself slowly on an elbow, the slight movement setting off stabs of pain. As I adjust on the bed to ease my aching side, I take a deeper note of my surroundings for the first time. I’m still in Prometheus’ dungeon room, the walls lined with shelves of scrolls and books, and his—my—skeleton is still slumped at the table. Someone lit the beeswax candles. Homer the Cyclops, probably. With glowing skin, Apollo is his own light source.
I relax back onto the pillows with a frown. How did I end up in bed? When did Apollo arrive? My last recollection is talking to Homer about how to fight back. I settled on a plan to free the gods from Clay’s attack.
Then, everything went black.
I refocus my attention on the god before me. Apollo truly is unreasonably beautiful. It's almost hard to look straight at him. And deep inside, I feel Prometheus’ memories stir. He respected Apollo. Loved him, even. Which makes my own rising emotions conflicting and confusing. My queendom, my people, are my highest priority, and the fact that these gods have been treating them like pawns in a chess game stirs a rage deep in my soul.
As Ladron’s last words replay in my mind, I clench my teeth and say, "You've got some explaining to do, Apollo. Ladron told me the details of your plan. You and Clay attacked my queendom and poisoned the gods, and now my people are dying, all because you wanted to break open these Dungeons to rule through chaos and fear.” Yeah, that isn’t going to happen. Not on my watch.
If a god can look repentant...Apollo almost gets there. I can't describe him as humble, simply self-aware. He's clearly struggling with what to say next, so I wait, giving him time to collect his words. My heart is skipping beats in my chest, but I know if he wanted to kill me, I'd already be dead.
Finally, he leans back in his chair and says, "Our world needed a change of leadership. Zeus has abused his power for far too long. Look what he has done to you, old friend." He nods at my skeleton by way of example. "Torturing you for helping the humans. Then throwing you in here to rot. And that's just one example of many, many lives he's destroyed over the millennia." He pauses, flinching. "Hermes, Mirk and Torak were meant to help, but they didn't like my methods."
“And they’re paying for it,” I say. I left them fighting for their lives. Again, I move to stand, but Apollo stops me with a hand.
“They’re alive,” Apollo cuts me short.
Relief courses through me. Sarcasm follows on its heels. "Yeah, well, I can't imagine just why they weren't okay with you releasing monsters into the world to kill innocent people," I say, watching him fiddle with his lyre in a gesture that’s defensive, guilty almost.
He draws a long breath in through his nose. "I meant to create temporary chaos so we could spare even more lives with a clean transfer of power,” he replies. “Sometimes you must sacrifice a few to save many."
“Not much comfort to the few,” I object.
Apollo sighs, reading my expression to know he’s never going to convince me. “Well, nothing went as expected. I sent the hellhounds to Earth to bring Epimetheus back, but that didn’t go well.”
“Besides bringing me along, too?” I ask. Technically, that had been Clay’s doing, shoving me in front of the hellhounds to save his own skeezy hide.
“Epimetheus used to be much easier to control.” Apollo shifts in his chair. “It seems his human years affected him more than I expected.”
The dull ache in my side sharpens and I feel suddenly raw. The Prometheus part of me knows nothing with Epimetheus is ever as expected. He’s never been one to pay attention to consequences. He demonstrated that even during his short human life as Clay. And now, he’s gone from shoving me into hellhounds to poisoning gods and who knows what else with my queendom. And as for Torak, Mirk, and Ladron... I’ve got to get moving, make some lemonade out of heads and all that, but not until I get Apollo out of the way.
“Just why are you here, Apollo?” I ask abruptly.
His shoulders sag. "Epimetheus has betrayed me.” His answer is stark, direct, and the light issuing from his skin dims. “Our original plan was to retake the kingdoms, install the sons of the kings onto the thrones and govern our people with peace and prosperity. But..." His voice trails off.
"It’s Clay you’re dealing with. You should have known better." Pain dampens my sarcasm, but it comes through enough to make him wince.
"I don't know how I didn't see it," he mutters, his voice heavy with regret. "But now, his thirst for power knows no end. He’s putting himself on the throne. Every throne. Every kingdom. He’s mad. And next...”
“Next?” I prod when he doesn’t continue.
"Next Clay intends to take his army to the Underworld where Persephone reigns. There’s a gate to the mortal realm there, and if Clay gains access, he’ll take his army through and use his powers to rule Earth and all her people."
A chill runs down my spine. "You need to stop him.” I want to shake some sense into Apollo, open his eyes to the mess he’s made, but the pain of my wound is keeping me bound to the bed. Still, he has to take responsibility. "You started this, Apollo. You need to end it. Do the right thing."
His light dims even further, nothing like he was when I first awakened. A bitter smile tugs the corner of his lip as slowly, he pulls his tunic aside. I see a gaping hole in his flesh, and the ichor oozing out is a sickly yellow, nothing like the glimmering gold it should be.
Then, he looks me in the eye and simply says, “I’m dying.”