2 years earlier…
Avalon is beautiful, a secret place that most beings in the human world don't realize exists: perhaps they have only imagined it as a myth. It lies just beyond the Pindos and Rodopi mountains in Greece. If you stare long enough between the mountains, past the point when everyone looks away and forgets the mirage that never quite resolves, your eyes will focus on the mythical island of my home. Not many venture that far—it’s gone just when you glance at it. It's a place where immortal creatures live an eternal life, where the enforcers of the Gods keep the peace between the human world and the world of the Gods. A white stone castle sits high above a cliff looking out to the ocean. Trees the brightest of neon to the darkest of emerald flourish as if they’ve always been plentiful with life and energy. Exotic flowers with colors that have never reached the world of man, sparkle opalescent pink and shimmer like purple-orange fire with a touch of gold. The ocean is so clear you can see to the bottom, and sometimes farther into the depths of the abyss. It's a very peaceful place.
Maybe too peaceful. I dream every moment of leaving this place because a part of me has always felt like I don’t belong. Turns out there’s a reason for that, but I’m jumping ahead.
I sit on the edge of a rock, my feet lightly splashing in the cool water. The ocean expands past my line of vision, touching nothing but the edge of the Earth, wherever that is. A light mist rolls in, engulfing the moss-covered rocks like a tattered blanket. I’ve been sitting here most of the day, daydreaming once again, and night had fallen too quickly. The stars shined brightly, asking me to come play with them as they light my way to the world beyond this one; the world I want to explore more than anything.
To visit that outside place and experience its glory would wake a part of me that has been asleep since the death of my parents. Oberon, the Fae King, took me under his wing and raised me as his own. He’s always watched over me and taught me and has given me ultimate power as one of his most experienced assassins. That's why his recent proposal took me by surprise.
Oberon’s voice floated through the air, sweet yet sinful, pulling me from my thoughts. I turned and gazed up at the magnificent power that stared down at me. My feelings for Oberon have always been paternal. Lately he has been eager for me to make a decision about our future together. I’ve told him I’m flattered, but I don’t yearn to marry him. He sure wasn’t taking me seriously.
I shifted myself to stand without falling into the sea as he took my hand to help me. I sensed his admiration, his longing for me. His beautiful eyes stared down at me.
“Yes, my King?”
He smiled faintly. “Your beautiful voice sends chills down my body.”
I internally rolled my eyes. Here we go again.
“My deepest desire is for you to see me not only as your protector, but also your lover.”
“Oberon…” I began.
He resumed his speech, cutting me off. “There is a threat to the human world that could cross onto our shores if it is not handled immediately.” He paused and I looked at him in anticipation. “I want you to descend upon the world of man, eradicate this threat, and return to me and accept the throne I’ve offered you. I won’t wait any longer, Lex.”
I was without words. It didn’t matter that I’d turned down his proposal—this was a command. I ducked his embrace and asked about his first order. “Why send me to the human world?”
He sighed greatly. “You are my best assassin and I know you will triumph where others would fail. And your fascination with the human world always lights a fire in your eyes that I hardly ever see.” He paused. “One that I have not seen for a very long time.”
That was true. I had wanted to travel for as long as I could remember. The human world was a guilty pleasure for me. I would watch the humans from Oberon’s throne room. I would look in the reflecting pool that lay at the altar and watch as the humans would spend time in cafés and small shops. Laughing, looking as though life was perfect. I brought myself back to the current conversation. Did he just say something about a threat? “What do you mean threat? What are you talking about?”
“The ocean can feel it. It can anticipate the sudden change in the balance of man and our home. We may not stay hidden for much longer. This fear has haunted my dreams for nearly a thousand years.” He touches my cheek. “Zeus, the King of the Gods, has threatened to, as he says, ‘take back the world which he birthed. The time has come to show the humans I rule their lives and can crush them without a moment’s thought’.”
“What does this have to do with us?” I asked.
His hand glided away from my cheek and he stroked my arm before he walked past me. His touch made me uncomfortable, a little awkward. He stood at the edge of the rocks looking out toward the sea. I stared at his back, contemplating that discomforting caress. I worried for him, as a child would watching their parent struggle with the idea their family was in jeopardy. I wasn’t sure he’d give up his pursuit of me.
“A thousand years ago, during a great battle, we allied with the humans and the Old Ones: Demons. We battled till the streets ran with blood. All sides—the Fae, the humans, and the Demons—suffered many losses. Zeus's own children rose against him, because he forced them to fight. He lost love for the humans, said they were a deceiving and vile race. He wanted them eradicated from this world. I decided the best course of action was to cast him out. He was losing his grip and the humans were losing their faith in him.”
“I know all of this; I’ve heard the stories. Zeus found out you planned to overthrow him, so he went into hiding in Tartarus. His Imperial Guards joined our side and went after him, but he disappeared.”
“You do not know the whole story, Lex. Zeus left Tartarus and escaped to the human world. Rumor spread that during his escape, your parents were caught in the middle.”
My insides did a somersault. “What do you mean?” I asked cautiously. I wanted to jump out of my skin as I waited for him to answer my question; a terrible thought entered my mind. I asked a question I wasn’t sure I wanted answered. “Did he murder my parents?”
Oberon turned. Grief and shame showed all over his delicate face. For a moment, I saw a slight sparkle in his eyes; then it was gone. He struggled to form the words, to find a way to tell me what I already knew, some soft thoughts that would ease my pain. Something tugged at my senses; he was different in that moment, satisfied. It was unsettling.
“Yes,” he said with a touch too much haste.
I tried to breathe. Vulnerability made you weak. Feelings always got in the way of duty, and I never wanted mine to be used against me. I was angry; I wanted Zeus’ head. Crickets chirped somewhere in the night. The moon’s reflection sparkled brightly above the ocean.
“What do you need from me?” I asked.
“I want you to find Zeus and take him out before he can return to Mount Olympus and reclaim the throne. I’m afraid if he isn’t stopped, he will destroy our home and every being that resides here. There are whispers that the Old Ones have returned.”
“Do you know where Zeus might be? And why now? Why is this so urgent?” I had so many questions. This had all happened a thousand years ago. If Zeus escaped Tartarus, wouldn’t he have already retaken the throne and exacted his revenge?
A smile bloomed on Oberon’s face. He read me so easily; my eyes give everything away.
“Zeus made it clear how much he despised the humans. The most logical place for him to be is in their world. Lucian has contacts in Greece who have sighted him in Plaka, a neighborhood in Athens. I don’t know why Zeus waited this long, but it doesn’t matter. Don’t forget, Lex, he is responsible for the death of your parents.”
How could I forget? I’d been waiting years for the truth. “Who is Lucian’s contact?”
“His name is Jakorah.”
“I’ll go,” I said.
Oberon smiled down at me. “Please be careful. The sooner you resolve this the better it will be for all of us. I sense there are others looking for Zeus as well. Be wary of who you trust, Lex.”
I gave him a reassuring look. I would not let Oberon down—too much was at stake and this assignment was an honor. Another upside to all this, besides killing Zeus, would be time away from Oberon. A pause, to contemplate my life and what I wanted out of it. To say I was excited was an understatement.
I hadn’t been outside the walls of Avalon in ages. I remember when I was younger my mother caught me in Oberon’s throne room staring into the reflecting pool. She would tell me I spent too much time daydreaming about places I would never go. I was eager to walk through those worlds. My whole life I had been looked at as the fragile one, the protected one. I was forbidden from exploring Avalon like the other kids. I wasn’t allowed to dive off Lanos Mountain, a thirty-foot cliff that peered over the Mediterranean Sea. Somehow my parents always knew. With effort, I convinced Oberon to allow me to train with the Sikarios—highly skilled assassins.
My mind churned, and I didn't sense Lucian until I literally ran into him. He grabbed my shoulders to steady me. I looked into his eyes and a wave of nausea hit; I jerked out of his grasp. Lucian had been my mentor. He was the most respected among the Fae, but he had begun enjoying his duty too much.
“If you don't keep an eye on where you're going, you might just end up somewhere you don't wanna be,” Lucian said.
His smile used to calm me. Now it just gave me the creeps. “Stay away from me, Lucian.”
“Such fire. That's why you were my best student: so much power.”
“I’m leaving,” I said.
“You better watch yourself, Lex. You might be Oberon's pet but you're not infallible.” Lucian called after me.
My apartment wasn't far, and I’d left the lights on—something I often do. It gives me a sense that I’m coming home to something. Home…soon I'll be leaving it behind. Though it hasn't felt like home for a long time.
In Avalon, our homes and apartments are not much different from those in the human world. My apartment didn't have much: a small dinette set in the corner, a flat-screen TV on top of the mantel, a silver and gray couch and a light blue armchair. I didn't have pictures on the wall; I didn't have books or anything else that made a place a home. Guess I always knew my life would be heading in a different direction; I was just waiting for the right time. I opened the refrigerator and grabbed the last bottle of wine, deciding to forgo a glass and drink straight from the bottle. I kicked off my boots and fell into the plush armchair. I’d just started on the bottle when there was a knock at my door. Ugh. With bottle in hand I walked over to the door and opened it. Marius, my best friend, stood on the other side.
“I guess the rumors are true then?” he said jokingly.
Marius and I met during training. We'd been paired off and I remember him saying he got the short end of the stick because I was smaller than the other girls. He was trying to be the big man on campus by showing off and making a fool out of me. Unfortunately for him, it only resulted in my fist to his face and him on his back. We'd been best friends ever since.
“That you're a loser,” he smiled, and I stepped aside, letting him in. He strolled straight to the fridge, noticed I had no beer, and snatched the wine bottle out of my hand.
“Hey!” I squealed.
“Go shopping,” he laughed back at me.
After he took a sip, his face turned serious. “Are you scared?”
“Scared of what?” I asked, trying not to sound nervous.
“Come on, Lex, it's me.”
I sat down on the couch and took the bottle back. I took a long swig and sighed. “I can do this; I've been training my whole life.”
He looked at me. “That's not what I mean. You're going out there with no one to watch your back. You don't know what you're walking into.”
“Fine, I'm a little apprehensive.” I said honestly.
“Then why are you doing it?”
I stood up and paced. “I can't stay here. I'm suffocating.”
“Oberon at you again, huh?”
I looked at him, surprised.
“Seriously? Everyone knows he's been in love with you forever; it's not like he hides it. Why do you think every guy avoids you like the plague? I mean, you’re gross, but that’s not the reason,” he laughed.
I picked up one of the pillows and threw it at him; he caught it before it hit him in the face. “Thanks,” I said sarcastically. “That's exactly why I need to get out of here.”
“So, you're just gonna up and leave me?” he asked in a sad voice.
“How’d you find out I was leaving anyway?”
“There are spies everywhere,” he said in a fake scary voice.
I raised my eyebrow.
“Fine. Oberon came to me, wanted me to watch out for you.”
“You’re not coming with me,” I said.
“That would never happen. Not if Lana has anything to say about it.”
He held out his hand. I reached out and grabbed a gold coin. I turned it over and scrutinized it. There was writing etched into the face: The Café Bar.
I looked up at him. “What is this?”
“It’s from a bar in Plaka. You’ll find my contact there.”
He was quiet. “I was sent to Plaka to track down a lead on Zeus. The owner of that bar…helped me when I needed it.”
“When did you go to Greece?”
“It was my first assignment.”
“Why didn’t you tell me? We tell each other everything!” I was amazed that Marius had kept this from me.
“Oberon didn’t want me to. Your fascination with the human world had become obsessive to the point that he feared you’d get lost in your head and forget everything else.”
“You still should have told me.”
“I’m telling you now. With you gone, who am I going to spar with when I'm having trouble dealing with domestic life?” he asked.
“Oh please, Lana is more than capable of keeping you in check.” Lana was Marius's wife; they’d met when we were all in training. They’d married a few years later and had a baby girl named Jazzbella—Jazzy, as I called her. In training, we’d been taught that emotion got you killed, and nothing was more important than the mission. Domestic life didn't resonate with me. I’d never wanted a family because it was just easier to be alone. Seeing Marius as a dad was odd—besides myself, he’d been the best assassin Oberon had—but it was good that Marius was starting to settle down. When he met Lana, he had changed. He wasn't the hard-core assassin I had come to love like family—he'd gone soft. I didn't want that for myself, I didn't want to be vulnerable. Sure, Marius was still handy in combat, but when you’re protecting those you love, you get sloppy. That's one reason he’d quit a few years ago—Lana got pregnant and he lost his edge.
“Speaking of Lana, if I don't get home, she'll kill me.”
He got up from the couch and the smile fell from his face. This wouldn't be easy for either of us. He walked over and wrapped me in a tight hug. I caught his breath hitch then it was gone. He pulled back and stared at me.
“Just…don't get yourself killed.”
It was the closest thing to “I love you” coming from Marius. I leaned in and kissed him on the cheek. Before he left, he handed me a small, translucent device the size of a quarter. I looked up at him, confused.
“It’s called a Spyder Cell. Attach it to your neck and you can call me anytime. It’s translucent so it’s harder to detect. Make sure you use it.”
“Thanks.” As I saw him out, I told him to give Lana and Jazzy a kiss for me. When he turned to leave, tears started to well in his eyes. I shut the door behind him and retreated to the couch.
I didn't pack; everything I needed for any mission was always ready to go. This just might be the last time I'd be here. What would I face or find? I was nervous. I’d heard many things about the human world—I've watched it since I was young—and now being about to experience it for myself…what could be more exciting? I couldn’t sleep: my mind raced, and my hands shook with adrenaline. I was riding a major high. The clock on my microwave read 1:00 a.m. I picked up the wine bottle…empty. Marius had finished it off before he left. What a sweetheart. I crawled in bed and stared at the ceiling. I hadn’t stopped to think about what I was getting into, but I didn’t care, I was about to start a new adventure. I closed my eyes and drifted into a dreamless sleep.
Morning came hard and fast. My coffee maker sounded off, waking me up. I wanted to make sure I’d blend in, the short, white dress melt away, like peeling paint. I opted for dark, fitted jeans, a white shirt, and a black tank. I put on my black boots and walked out to the kitchen. Pouring my coffee into a large mug, I headed out to my balcony where my apartment overlooked the ocean. The morning sunrise peeked over the horizon, casting a luminescent glow over the still water, and I had the best seat in the house. It was an amazing sight to behold. I’ve always loved watching the sunrise; it’s like watching the world wake up. The sense that for just one moment everything is perfect. Too perfect, like my life here. Maybe I needed a little bit of chaos…but I guess I should be careful what I wish for.
I wanted to be alone when I passed through the barrier from Avalon to the human world. It's a very intimate process, like a part of you is being caressed by the most experienced lover who then grabs a hold of your soul and rips it from your body. Not the most pleasurable of experiences. Oberon, Lucian, and the Sikarios were the only other beings in Avalon who could access the barrier. Oberon was pretty controlling; he didn’t want just anyone coming and going through the portal.
I stood in front of the barrier, pondering my next step. I’d gone over my trip to the human world in my head so many times. My life would change, but was I ready for that? I stepped up to the barrier. It moved when I touched it, like a ripple in the ocean. It was beautiful. Some people who’ve visited the other side had wonderful experiences, while others thought it was the worst decision they had ever made. They had found the human world full of hatred and deceit…but everyone experiences new things differently. This was the beginning of a whole new chapter in my life and little did I know how much my life would change. As I cautiously stepped through, I whispered to myself, “Here goes nothing.”