CHAPTER ONE True
Pressure. Pain. My head was wedged inside a vise. Squeeze release, squeeze release, squeeze release. I pried my eyes open and winced as the sunlight stabbed at my retinas. My skin felt tight, dry, and cold. My scalp tingled. My toes were numb. As the room around me gradually came into focus, I realized why. I was buck naked and the room was freezing. Shivering from my very core, I grabbed the rough brocade blanket beneath me and wrapped it up and around my shoulders. Something fell to the floor with a clang.
A small, silver arrow glinted in the sun on the hardwood. Orion’s necklace. I had tried to give it back to him. I had thought it would be something for him to hold on to. But I had failed. I had failed him in so many ways, and now he was trapped in Zeus’s palace, alone and terrified, and I was the only one who could save him.
I bent to pick up the arrow, then double-knotted the broken chain around my own neck. The pendant felt warm against my cold skin and I touched it with my fingers, closing my eyes and trying to send a message to Orion.
I will save you. I will return for you.
As I pushed myself up off the floor, a slice of pain through my
temples sent me off balance and I staggered sideways into the ice-cold iron radiator attached to the wall. The pain moved to my forehead, throbbing with each pump of my heart. I closed my eyes and breathed, pressing one hand against my skull, and waited for the ache to subside.
If anything, the throbbing intensified. I pulled my trembling fingers away to stare at them. They weren’t warm. They didn’t glow.
Seized by panic, I whirled toward the window, leaning against the glass as the pain gripped me all over again. Outside, the world was bright and full of motion. Cars whizzed by on the street. A couple jogged along the sidewalk in matching sweat suits, weights strapped to their hands. On the corner a woman in uniform held up a stop sign and waved a group of skipping children in front of stopped traffic. Verdant trees lined the brick walkways, a pair of tiny dogs yipped as their owner cleaned up their excrement, a mail carrier tipped his hat at the driver of a bakery truck idling near the curb. American flags adorned the porches, and the license plates read New Jersey. So at least I now knew where I was.
It was so picturesque and adorable, I felt an almost irrepressible need to scream.
“Sent me to the happiest place on Earth, didn’t you, Zeus?” I muttered, casting my gaze toward the heavens. The King of the Gods had a wry sense of humor. But, I supposed, it could be worse. At least in a place like this, people would be open to love. He could have sent me to a dank cave in some oppressive, war-torn country devoid of hope. The fact that he hadn’t, said something. It said that on some level, Zeus wished me to succeed. This was a very good thing.
Taking a deep breath, I braced both my hands on the desk surface, letting the blanket fall to the floor. I homed in on the mail
carrier, focusing every ounce of energy on his heart. If I had my powers, his inner yearnings would reveal themselves to me. I concentrated and held my breath and prayed to the gods, but nothing happened. He simply stood there, whistling as he went through his mail. I felt no inkling of his true self, no surge of emotion; I didn’t even hear his name or his age or his status. My heart sank so low I could have crushed it under my heel. This power was innate. Not having it . . . it was like not having the ability to blink or to breathe.
Any surge of defiant adrenaline I’d felt back on Olympus withered and died inside my chest. I didn’t know how to do this without my powers. How was I to begin? I’d never been to Earth for more than a day or two at a time, aside from my weeks spent alone with Orion. And other than Orion, I’d never interacted with a human in my existence, not for more than a few minutes.
Something crashed inside the house. I turned, and the mail carrier froze in his tracks at the foot of our front walk, his jaw hanging toward the ground. Oh, right. Naked. I shrugged at him and snapped the blinds closed.
“Mother!” I shouted, going to the closet on the far side of the bed. The inside revealed a paltry selection of clothing. I grabbed a baggy white sweatshirt and pulled it on. On a normal day, I simply closed my eyes and imagined a gown or a dress or hunting apparel and it would appear on my body, perfectly fitted and flattering. Another power I was sure I would miss. “Mother! Where are you?”
I heard a groan. The wooden hallway floor creaked beneath my feet as I staggered toward the noise. I passed another bedroom, a bathroom, and the top of the stairs before coming to the largest bedroom yet. It was situated at the back of the house with windows facing north, south, and west, but every single one of the blinds had been closed and the drapes flung down, so that hardly a sliver of
light shone through. In the center of the four-poster bed, a mound of blankets writhed.
Her slim white hand emerged from beneath the covers. “Here.”
I walked to her bedside. She sat up with a bottle of wine, her blond hair stuck to her forehead with sweat, and flung the bottle at the floor, where it clinked and rolled toward the dresser. It was already empty. She pulled another from under her covers and popped the cork.
“Where did you get that?” I asked.
My mother gulped down half the contents and dragged the back of her hand across her mouth before answering. “Wine cellar. Well stocked. Zeus has shown some mercy.”
“Mom, you have to get up. We have to figure out what we’re going to do,” I pleaded as she hunkered back against the huge, downy pillows.
“That is where you are wrong, Eros,” she said, taking a sip and smacking her lips. “You must devise a plan. You have a mission to complete.” She gestured at me with the bottle. “I was sent here out of spite and therefore, I drink.” She lifted the bottle in a toast to no one and brought it to her lips.
“But mother, I have no powers!” I shouted, throwing my hands out. “I’ve never done this without them. How am I supposed to match people when I have no idea of their inner needs? When I can’t read their thoughts? When I—”
“Enough of your incessant whining!” my mother spat, throwing the now-empty bottle at the wall so hard it shattered, exploding shards of glass across the antique armoire and ancient, worn throw rug. My heart stopped, but she didn’t even pause. “Let us make one fact perfectly clear, Eros,” she seethed, shoving herself out of bed, wearing nothing but a long black T-shirt. “It was your
carelessness that exiled us. I have never been banished to Earth before. Never! Do you know how many gods can make that claim? I was a legend, and now I am nothing.” She looked down at herself, her fingers, her toes, and clutched the shirt with both hands as if she might rend it from her body. “Nothing but a mortal. And it is all down to you.”
She teetered slightly, then turned and crawled back into bed. “I should never have helped you go to him that first day. I should never have let you stay. I should have known this would happen. I should have seen it in the stars. But did I? No. Why? Because you were so blissfully happy that I, for some unknown reason, felt the need to indulge you in your ongoing, unrealistic daydream.”
Her words stung. It had been some source of pride to me that my mother had aided and abetted my relationship with Orion, that she’d done so willingly, even merrily. I had felt, for the first time in a long while, like I truly meant something to her.
“Could it have been motherly love?” I asked hopefully.
My mother scoffed and pulled the covers over her head. “Sentimentality is for the weak, Eros. Now get to work.”
My throat was dry, my stomach tight with disappointment and fear. But I knew when not to argue with my mother. She was wallowing. And when she was wallowing, there was no reasoning with her. I was alone here. On Earth. Mortal and friendless and alone.
I turned toward the door but paused, my hand on the molding. “I just have one question,” I said. “How? How did Ares find out about us?”
“I know not,” she replied without lifting her head. “I told no one and my cloak was never breached.”
“Why didn’t he come to me?” I asked. “Why didn’t he talk to me about Orion instead of kidnapping him off to Zeus?”
“You’ve now asked three questions,” my mother pointed out impatiently. “Now go!”
The floor creaked beneath my feet and she sat up, heaving a sigh. “Your father did what he did because he cares about only two things: himself, and the favor of Zeus. He knew that if Zeus found out and realized Ares hadn’t told him, or worse, that Ares hadn’t even known what his daughter was doing, that it would lower him in Zeus’s eyes. Your father is an egotistical megalomaniac, Eros. He always has been, and he always will be. As much as I once tried to convince myself otherwise, he loves no one more than himself.”
She dropped back onto the bed. “Now please,” she said wearily. “Do your job.”
Silently I turned and left the room, closing the door behind me. As the catch clicked, I suddenly longed for my sister. She always knew the right thing to say, the right thing to do. But even as I wished for her wisdom, I knew we were better off with her on Mount Olympus. She would keep an eye on Orion. She would do what she could to make sure Zeus didn’t get out of hand, didn’t go back on his bargain. I needed her right where she was.
Taking a deep breath, I closed my eyes and tried to hear Harmonia’s voice. In my heart I knew what she would say. I was a goddess. I was powerful. I’d brought Orion down from the stars. I’d traveled back and forth from Mount Olympus to Earth for months with no one suspecting. I had nursed him back to health. I was a scholar, a hunter, a daydreamer, a soul searcher. I could do this. I had to do this. I had to save Orion.
The question was, where to start.
Slowly I wandered back to my room, my skull still radiating pain. There were billions of people in the world. How was I supposed to know who was single and who wasn’t, which people had
found their soul mates and which hadn’t, without being able to read their hearts? Not every soul on Earth was desperate to be in a relationship, not everyone was open to it. Where was I going to find hundreds of souls willing to be paired up? Ready for and open to true love?
Inside my room, I heard a horn bleat a staccato rhythm. Something big and yellow and loud stopped outside my window and hovered there, rumbling. A school bus. I took a step forward and my breath caught as a couple of gangly teenage boys climbed the steps. They both paused to gawk when a pack of girls strolled by, giggling and whispering and glancing over their shoulders. Then the door squealed shut, the brakes released, and the monstrosity rumbled on.
Every inch of my skin tingled. High school. Of course. Who longed for love more than a community of hormonal, attention-starved, drama-addicted teenagers? I needed to go to school.
For the first time, I noticed a manila folder sitting in the center of the desk. Next to it was a large hourglass hewn of ash and filled with dark red sand. It was already running, gravity releasing the sand at the top of the timer through the minuscule hole at the center, spraying the tiny red particles across the bottom of the glass. My heart thumped.
Undoubtedly, it was a gift from Zeus. But did I have this much time to complete my first pairing, or to complete all three? For the moment, I decided not to dwell on that awful question.
I opened the folder and found a smiling photograph of my own face. It was attached to a transcript from a high school in Maine called James Monroe. The transcript boasted straight As in everything but psychology, where I’d received a C. A school in Maine, where Orion and I had hidden. Only average at psychology, the
study of the soul. Very funny, Zeus. But at least he’d seen fit to provide this for me. The meaning of the gesture was not lost. It was important to him, to each and every one of the gods, that love continue to thrive here on Earth. Without it, the balance of good and evil, of right and wrong, would be forever altered. Without love, all would be lost.
Of course that didn’t mean that he wouldn’t enjoy torturing Orion while I was stuck here, carrying out his little mission. Zeus was a complex god.
At the very top of the page in front of me was a space for my name and my birth date, which had been left blank. At least the king had given me that, the chance to choose my own name.
I stared out the window and considered, then picked up a pen and wrote it in. True Olympia. It would be a daily reminder of my mission—to save my true love and return myself and my mother to Mount Olympus. My birth date was, of course, February 14, and I quickly did the math, writing down a year that would make me sixteen today.
Another horn honked outside, and my head exploded along with it. I closed my eyes and brought my fingertips to my temples again. Still nothing. It wasn’t bad enough that I was stuck on the mortal plane without my powers and with a seemingly impossible mission, but I had to be in debilitating pain as well? Talk about adding injury to insult. But it was nothing. Nothing compared to what Orion was going through. It was time for this goddess to suck it up.
I took a deep breath, walked back into the closet, and readied myself for my first day as a mortal.