Quil Carter

Imagination is the only weapon in the war against reality

OBVIOUSLY BIG FUCKING SPOILERS DON'T READ UNLESS YOU'VE READ ALL THE PUBLISHED SERIES AND COMPANION BOOKS!

Chapter 1

Jade

 

        What a beautiful night. I loved clear winter nights like these, when you can see the stars through the haze and the moon glows past its coating of ash like a flashlight under a blanket. I could see my breath as vapour in front of my eyes, and the frozen air was cold enough to make my nose burn with every inhale.

However, there was also something different about this night. There was an electricity in the air, it was alive around me as I weaved through buildings, staying in the shadows and avoiding that beautiful moon wherever its silver light hit. I had no intentions of being discovered by any manner of arian, but who was I kidding? I was stealth in its rawest form, no man could catch me.

Just like death would never have me.

I pressed myself up against a stone building and lowered my breathing to listen for anything out of the ordinary. Yes, perhaps it was overkill. Even if someone did spot me, what would they do? Arrest me?

Bitch, I am the fucking King of Skyfall.

But even though I was an immortal chimera above every and all laws and the fiancé of the King of the Dead World, I would always be a Morosian at heart. And Morosians snuck, they slinked, and they stuck to the shadows, so once they were done with you, you wouldn’t even know what hit you.

Just like my target wouldn’t even know what hit him.

When my enhanced hearing gave me nothing to be alarmed about, I walked on quiet feet down an alleyway made by two close together buildings. The makeshift alleyway, with old boards on one end and shrubs on the other, opened up to a grassy courtyard enclosed by an iron fence, and further on, the three-storey manor that was my target.

And inside, my mark would be sleeping soundly.

I walked to the end of the alleyway and looked around. It was past midnight, almost all of Skyfall was asleep, and this quaint house on the outskirts of Skyland was no exception. The residents inside went to sleep early, just like they probably ate dinner at three in the afternoon.

Well, that worked for my advantage at least.

I ran across the one-lane street and stopped in front of the iron fence. My husband had warned me of a single guard that would be patrolling outside, but if Elish had done his job, he would be distracted by an urgent call regarding his daughter being arrested.

My hands rose to touch the cold iron of the fence, I shook it slightly to gauge the strength and nodded to myself. With one more look around, and only the chirping crickets to witness me, I climbed up the five-foot fence and swung my body around.

Both shoes landed softly on the ground. These shoes were custom made for me, light slip-on shoes that fit tightly on my feet to make me even more of a shadow than I already was. They were made of a light material like water shoes, without a sole or a piece of rubber on them.

I crouched down after I landed and listened again. The three-storey manor was twenty feet in front of me, with nothing but a lawn between us, the grass dormant for the winter. Moonlight shone on several places like weak searchlights, but with some weaving, I would make it to the balcony without any trouble.

Third floor, first balcony. And as my eyes flickered up, the building shrouded in a silver glow consuming all corners of my vision, I saw the wooden balcony where my target would be sleeping.

Hopefully, he would be alone with his door closed.

Quietly, I sprinted across the lawn, my cold breath making plumes before the night consumed it. I aimed for underneath the balcony, in between two windows with drawn curtains, and pressed my back against them. To my left, was a single rain barrel, which would be all I’d need to climb up three storeys.

I made it, but I had no time to pat myself on the back; I didn’t have much time before Apollo came bursting through the doors with the devil inside of him.

But I’d be done with Jiro before that happened.

I jumped up onto the rain barrel, the water inside of it with a thin layer of ice. I stood on top of it, one foot on each end of the rim, and grabbed the wooden railing with my gloved hands. Then, with a grunt, I pulled myself up, swung a leg onto the balcony, and easily rose to my feet.

I dusted off my black leather pants and adjusted the zippered hoody. I would’ve preferred to go out in just a vest, my leather pants, and perhaps some netted gloves, do it all Shadow Killer style, but the sengil and the husband both ganged up on me. Apparently being immortal didn’t mean you could just go out and catch pneumonia just because you could.

I didn’t even get Luca’s cat ears tonight, which I thought was just downright ridiculous, but Elish didn’t want me to look, well… ridiculous.

The sliding glass door in front of me was covered in a green curtain, the lights off with no sounds coming from inside. I listened again but heard nothing, so I climbed onto the railing and reached for the balcony above my head.

Then I jumped, grabbed, and pulled myself up, and here I was on the third-storey of the Marigold Manor, elite nursing home for only the specialist of old people.

And sleeping just behind this sliding glass door would be Jiro, Apollo’s husband for the last several decades. He was over eighty years old, and currently suffering from Alzheimer’s; his health had been in rapid decline over the last several years, and he now didn’t recognize Apollo at all.

But Apollo remained the devoted husband that he was. Unable to give Jiro the around-the-clock care that he needed due to his work and family duties, Jiro had been moved to this nursing home and he had three nurses taking care of him at all hours. Apollo visited him often, but according to Lance, Apollo’s sengil and Luca’s brother, the visits were painful and hard on him. The husband who was by his side for a majority of Apollo’s life didn’t know who he was, and due to his disease, would become violent and cruel to both the nurses and Apollo. Jiro’s personal doctor even recently had the discussion with Apollo that perhaps he should stop visiting, since it was obviously painful for Apollo, and Jiro didn’t know the difference anyway.

Apollo had been leaning quite heavily on Artemis during this time. The twins, who lived together, slept together, shared sengils, cicaros, and pets together, had become all the closer during this time. I’d noticed it, as did Elish. We thought it was rather touching that their bonds were becoming ever more strengthened over this tough time in their lives.

It was so sweet.

I reached a gloved hand out to the handle of the sliding glass door, and slowly rolled it back. It was unlocked, which wasn’t a surprise considering this was the third floor, and inside was dark and quiet.

When no yelling or swearing reached my ears, I slid into the room and swept it with my gaze. It was all one huge area, with a living room in the far right corner, a study, which was where I currently stood, and to my left… a hospital bed.

And in that hospital bed was an elderly man with wispy white hair, a heavily lined face, and a single thin, liver-spotted arm that rested across a blue blanket that was covering him to his chest.

The nurses didn’t sleep in this room with him, whichever one was on shift was sleeping across the hall ready to come at the slightest rustle of their charge. Jiro even had a button next to his bed, which would set off an alarm that would alert them, but my plan wouldn’t have him waking up.

Even so, when I tip-toed over to Jiro, I picked up the red button attached to a wire, and put it on the far table. Then I turned to the old man, and smiled down at him.

“You’ve become quite troublesome as of late,” I whispered. “You’ve been creating some problems, and my husband and I want to see those problems be remedied.” I walked the last two steps to the sleeping old man, until I was right next to his bed, my shadow covering his wrinkled face.

“Unfortunately, Jiro, this will hurt,” I pulled my gloves off with my teeth, then held out both hands, “but it won’t hurt for long.”

I glanced to the sliding glass door when I heard the squeal of tires on pavement and the revving of an engine. This made me smirk, and with that smirk on my face, I put my hands on each side of Jiro’s head, and closed my eyes.

I focused my empath abilities, finally without fear of what they would do to me and my formerly weak mortal existence, and I began to search Jiro’s brain.

How long it took, I couldn’t tell you. There doesn’t seem to be time while I was in that state; time went on around me, but I remained in limbo, my eyes black and my hands clenched over the warm dry skin of the old man.

Then I was thrown back into reality by a hysterical scream, and I was grabbed by two iron grips and ripped away from my target. I fell to the ground with the man who grabbed me, and as light flooded the previously dark room, I saw just who I’d expected: the hell-fires of Hades had thrown at me a silver-haired demon with purple-blue eyes.

But no, there was no rage in those two swirling nebulas. As I stared back at Apollo, his mouth open as the bellowed yells sprung forth, I only saw intense sadness, despair so thick around him, you could hang a jacket from it.

He wasn’t angry, he was crushed.

“You bastard!” he screamed, and viciously he grabbed my jacket and began shaking me back and forth. “You fucking demon-eyed bastard!” Tears sprung to his eyes, and as I smirked back, Apollo raised a hand to strike me.

Then an arm came out of nowhere and a familiar hand snatched Apollo’s in mid-swing. Elish appeared behind him as Apollo looked over his shoulder, and my husband pulled the mad chimera off of me.

“Don’t you fucking touch me!” Apollo screamed. He wrenched his arm away from Elish and stumbled to his feet, tears streaming down his pale cheeks and his body trembling like he’d been dunked into frigid waters. “You fucking bastard! He’s innocent; he was harmless!” Apollo released a gut-wrenching wail, one that I knew would wake the entire building. “You deserved what happened, Elish, and you know it! You deserved it. You fucking deserved it!”

Elish looked down at me and my heart filled to bursting when I saw pride in his eyes. Wordlessly, he reached a hand down and helped me rise to my feet.

And as I rose, Apollo collapsed to his knees, his arms wrapped around his chest. “Never did I think you could stoop this low. Never did I think…” Apollo screamed again, and to my surprise, he suddenly burst to his feet.

Yes, there it is, there’s the hell-fires that I had previously missed. Oh, he’s going to kill me, look at him. I knew there was a chimera hidden under all that sophisticated pomp and elegance.

Sure enough, Apollo’s features darkened, his eyes widened and flared, and with a snarl, he charged at me.

“Apollo?”

And just like that – Apollo stopped, as if saying his name was the incantation to freeze him on the spot.

Then Apollo turned, we all turned, to the hospital bed where the tired voice had originated from.

Jiro, his watery blue eyes open and focused, was looking at Apollo. “Apollo?” he said again. “Is that you, Poly?”

Apollo’s face dropped, then a hand raised and cupped his mouth. “Jiro?” he whispered. His hand lowered and he took several steps before stopping. “You know who I am?”

Jiro chuckled. “I… I do,” he said with a smile. “I remember you. My, my, you look as handsome as the day I married you.”

Apollo then let out a muffled sob and ran to Jiro. He threw his arms around him, clutching the old man, and cried into his neck. Jiro, confused by this reaction but still smiling, raised a hand and patted Apollo’s back caringly. “What’s wrong with you?” he asked with a chuckle.

I stood beside Elish, and again we exchanged smug smiles. We both stayed in the middle of the room and watched Apollo and Jiro, Apollo a mess and Jiro wondering why, and while we did, I slipped my hand into Elish’s, just for a moment, and squeezed it.

And Elish squeezed back.

“Why?” Apollo croaked. I thought for a moment he was talking to Jiro, until his flushed, tear-stained face turned to Elish and myself. “Why did you heal him, Jade?”

I smiled. It was my newest trick, something that I had decided to master after Gage Kohler had healed me, and further back, when King Silas had healed me as well. When I was mortal, it had been forbidden due to my empathic powers overwhelming my brain, but now that I was immortal, there was nothing stopping me.

Not even a nose bleed since I woke up from those white flames.

“You don’t think my husband is cruel enough to kill an elderly man in his bed, do you?” Elish said casually. “Now don’t you feel stupid for that outlandish overreaction?” Elish turned from Apollo and Jiro and headed for the door, I motioned to follow, but then stopped.

Artemis was standing several feet away from the doorway in the hall, close enough to see what was going on inside, but far enough away that Apollo couldn’t spot him. Strangely, he was wearing a hat that covered all of his wavy silver hair. He could’ve easily passed for Apollo.

The expression on Artemis’s face… was everything we could’ve hoped for.

It was shock, it was hidden despair, it was the look of a man who’d just been slapped across the face by a hand he didn’t see coming.

The corner of Elish’s lip rose, and I closed the door behind him.

“Artemis,” Elish said in a tone of mock surprise. “How unexpected. What are you doing here?” He looked him up and down and his eyes brightened. “Well, if I hadn’t created you myself, I wouldn’t be able to tell you apart from Apollo. How… strange.”

Artemis just stared at Elish, the shocked look a permanent feature on his face.

“Don’t take me for an idiot, Elish,” Artemis said in a hushed whisper, his head began to slightly, yet rapidly, shake back and forth. “Don’t you dare play stupid with me.”

Elish smiled, a smile that was so cold his lips seemed coated in ice. “The next time you decide to be a dog sitting at his master’s feet… make sure it’s the right master, Artemis.” Elish put a hand on my shoulder, then turned towards the stairs. “Now, why don’t you go and congratulate your brother? His husband’s mind is back, and they can be happy again. Apollo and Jiro – we’ll be hearing those two names together for a while yet.”

“You heartless fuck…”

“Good night, Artemis.”

I looked over my shoulder, just to get one more glimpse of Artemis’s face, and said with a toothy smile. “Good night, Artemis.”

And Elish and I walked down the stairs, wordlessly past the curious and surprised eyes of the nurses, and to Elish’s awaiting car.

The car that Apollo must’ve came in was parked askew in front of the building, the engine still running and the driver’s side door open. The man certainly had been in a hurry to get here, he must’ve easily ate my master’s bait.

“No bleeding I see,” Elish said as we both got into the car. “You’re not feeling any different?”

I shook my head, a proud expression on my face. “Nothing at all,” I said. “I would’ve been twitching on the floor if I’d tried that while I was mortal. But now? I feel like I could run a marathon and still have energy left over after.”

Elish raised a hand and grasped my chin; he turned my head this way and that, obviously not believing my own boasting words.

“Incredible,” he murmured, “yet baffling.” His eyes looked me over. “King Silas would’ve had to have been dispatched when he healed you those years ago, if he hadn’t died in that explosion already. But you…” Elish’s head shook back and forth. “Nothing at all. Your abilities rival Gage’s, and although I have my theories, I’m not entirely sure why.”

I couldn’t help my beaming expression. The fact that this was my truth now that I was immortal, that my empathic abilities had strengthened beyond the King Who Ended the World, it was something that had my stomach filling with excited butterflies.

And not only that, enough self-confidence for ten people.

“Let’s not jinx it,” I said. Elish now had the car started and soon we began to move towards the closed iron gate about fifty-feet away. “But I’m sure one of the scientists will figure it out eventually.”

“Yes, then I can make a suitable replace-”

As was his punishment for every time he took a jab at me, I gave him one back. I reached over and dug my fingers into his side, a horribly ticklish spot of my master, and he let out a cross between a gasp and a yelp and began trying to hit me. “Not when I’m driving, you miniscule little moron!” he said, but there was no anger in his voice. “You’re immortal now, if I wish I can snap your brittle neck like stale bread and be free of you.”

I grinned. “But you’ll miss me.”

“Never.”

I laughed, and beamed again when I saw him smile, though both eyes were on the road. “Are you proud of me? I did good?” I said sweetly.

“You didn’t fail, I suppose it is something,” he said. The car stopped for a moment and a guard, perhaps a new one or maybe the old one had come back, opened the gates without question, or eye contact. “The expression on Artemis’s face is one I will be treasuring for quite a while.”

“Wouldn’t it have been something if Apollo saw Artemis standing there?” I said. Elish drove the car through the gate, a low-lit empty street in front of us. This place was far away from the busy center of Skyland where we were living, it was so tranquil. It almost made me wish we lived on the surface, but I’d become used to being in the air.

“I wouldn’t want Apollo to have seen Artemis,” I was surprised to hear Elish say. “Or for Apollo to have put-together just why his twin brother was sneaking into Jiro’s room. It’s much more beneficial for us to have that card in our hand.” Then he looked at me out of the corner of his eye, before they flickered back to the road. “Explain to me why that is; take all the time you need.”

I was silent as I thought about it. I had been Elish’s devoted protege since he’d become king, and every opportunity he took to teach me what he’d learned in his almost-century of life, I hung on his every word.

In the silence of the car, my eyes watching the headlights bathing the street. Then we turned on an intersection and I saw the brightly lit downtown Skyland in the distance.

After carefully organizing my thoughts, I decided to see if I’d come to the right conclusion.

“The easy answer: Because now we’ll have that to hold over Artemis’s head,” I said, and hid the smile when Elish nodded his approval. “If he steps a toe out of line, we’ll have a way to keep him on our straight and narrow.”

“And what else?”

“More complex answer: It doesn’t really benefit us to have Apollo mad at Artemis, especially not the level of rage and hurt Apollo would have over Artemis trying to end Jiro. Even though Artemis would try to convince Apollo, like he’s most likely convinced himself, that it was done out of love since Apollo was suffering so much, and maybe even love for Jiro since he was suffering too. If Apollo found out and held anger towards Artemis, it would only cause disruption and drama in the family, and quite frankly, we don’t want that shit.”

Elish smirked. “No, we certainly do not,” he said. “I would have to mediate between the two of them, because if another brother tries it will just make things worse, and the last thing I want is to have to do that.” His hands tightened against the wheel. I looked at them, and felt tempted to make a joke or something, because I knew Elish was thinking back to what had happened on that floor, floor seven, and I didn’t want his mind to go back there.

But I knew when to talk, and I knew when to keep my mouth shut, and right now, it was ‘shut up, Jade’ time.

“Another reason, is because of what you’ve done. It’s going to throw the rest of the family off-kilter,” Elish carried on, his tone dropping and his hand kneading the leather steering wheel. “They’re not stupid, they know how in love Artemis is with his twin, and they’ll know exactly why we did what we did. I want them to know we’re only getting started.”

We’re only getting started…

We.

 

 

End of excerpt. Now you just gotta wait.