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Excerpt for Chaos by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

Chaos

Book Two: The Eternal Daughter Series

Patti Larsen


Smashwords Edition

Copyright 2016 by Patti Larsen


Purely Paranormal Press


Find out more about Patti Larsen at

http://www.pattilarsen.com/


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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.

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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


Pathetic, really, that’s me. Eve, Daughter of Life and Death, Chaos personified, Creation’s biggest disaster waiting to happen and more powerful than the gods of the Pantheons and Mistress of the newly woken Mist realm. With far better things to do, one would think, than lurk behind a burly maple tree on the outskirts of a park watching the tall, handsome mortal boy play basketball with his friends.

Like I said, pathetic. And yet, I couldn’t stop myself or resist peeking in on him. Adam Worth had been a source of comfort for me not so long ago, a dying young man in a hospital bed with a quick and kind sense of humor, a big heart despite his impending passing and his own layers of pain that made me feel like we might be two peas from the same sad, broken pod.

Except, of course, I couldn’t let him die. I watched with my lower lip between my teeth, doing my best to shadow behind the large maple as Adam dashed across the court beyond the chain link wall and retrieved the ball, shouting with laughter as he spun and made a long, wild shot. His friends roared when it sank through the frayed hoop’s weave. Adam took a gracious bow before running to join them again.

He lived, he breathed, he played ball with his buddies and had returned to his normal life because of me. I’d gone against my father’s commands, against the Grim Reaper himself, the Book of Death, by doing what I did best—the opposite of what I was supposed to. Neither an angel of Life nor of Death, I’d spent the eight years I’d been tasked with those two jobs doing pretty much the reverse of my orders, though at the time I had no idea why I failed so often and left my brothers and sisters avoiding and even despising me. Bringing Life to those meant to die and Death to souls just beginning their journey weighed heavily on me for a long time.

Coupled with the pressure of the empathic field I carried, the same one that absorbed the emotions of others and crushed me beneath its weight, I had spent a miserable young adulthood assuming I was just the biggest screwup in Creation and nothing could be done to fix me.

Until, of course, I accidentally touched the Loom of Creation. And changed everything.

Adam paused at the edge of the court, hands on his knees, breathing hard. He glanced my way, quick and curious. I had hidden myself from mortal view with the power of my persona but I still flinched from that gaze. The last time I’d seen him, Adam hadn’t known me. He’d stared at me with a blank smile, asked my name. Heartbroken, I’d left him in his driveway with my horrid sister, Daphne, now Life herself, beating me up over yet another failure.

It was she who told me those I’d attempted to help as an angel only suffered for my attention. That the living meant to die wished they were dead, forced into an existence they didn’t want. And that the dead who were supposed to live were lost and their families destroyed.

Like I needed more guilt. But Adam, at least, seemed okay, happy even, as he returned his attention to the game. I sighed and leaned into the tree beside me, knowing I’d swear to myself I wouldn’t come back, that I’d leave him alone to live his Life and trust in this case Daphne was wrong. Adam was the first I purposely saved after touching the Loom and waking Chaos. Maybe that broke the chain? Shattered the curse I seemed to pass on to mortals I tried to help? Could it be he’d actually live out a joyful existence and that I had done the right thing after all?

“How’s your boyfriend?”

I flinched, spinning to find my most hated brother, Kael, standing behind me. I’d always called him my brother, but Chaos firmly reminded me as old habits tried to make me afraid of him, he technically wasn’t. He was the son of the original Death, but another host not Samael, who was mine. Which meant I could disown his ugly ass if I really wanted to. And I really wanted to.

Chaos chuckled and spiked as I crossed my arms over my chest and firmly pushed back against Kael’s attempt to batter me with the weight of his emotions. He’d used this tactic against me when he’d discovered the presence of my empathy, had done everything he could for a long time to destroy me. Did he realize he’d only made me stronger? That adversity had given me the courage and strength I needed to be Chaos? As the thought crossed my mind, I grinned, all my fear lost at last, even the last bits left behind by body memory and time.

“He’s great,” I said. “See for yourself.” The last thing I wanted was for Kael to go anywhere near Adam, but he’d be approaching the mortal over my dead body. Well, his dead body, because I’d kill him before I’d let him do a thing to Adam. Chaos swirled her agreement and support of that idea as Kael’s smirk deepened.

“For now,” he said. “And as far as you can see. But I hear he’s been having problems.” It came out in a subtle, caring tone I knew was a lie, the softened edge of his emotions the same fake concern he’d used on me as a child to uncover my secret and the empathy he used against me. The bastard. I fought the clench of my jaw as he went on. “He’s been depressed, the poor boy. Puts on a good show, but, well.” Kael shrugged, sighed, blue eyes meeting mine with so much cruelty behind them I felt goosebumps rise as his smile returned, biting, sharp. “I’m sure he’ll live a long and miserable Life thanks to you.”

Despite my best intentions and Chaos’s muttering fury, doubt burbled, whispered and not for the first time I felt hate wake against the horrid angel of Death before me. “Stay away from him.” He’d been watching Adam? Like I had been, I guess. Leave it to Kael to use this against me.

The tall, handsome angel with the jet black hair and blue eyes most girls would be jealous of shrugged like he didn’t care. Volumes of personality in that gesture, or lack thereof. “Such a pity,” he said, deep voice cutting despite its velvet tones. “He could have had a wonderful new existence if he’d been allowed to die, his soul to move on. Instead, someone forced him to stay in this,” he waved his hands around him before plunging both of them into the pockets of his designer jeans, “against his will.” While his emotions didn’t affect me anymore—at least, not the way they used to—I still quailed at the truth. Because it was the truth. I was fooling myself, knew better. Adam wasn’t okay. This was a façade he put on for his friends and he was suffering. Because of me.

Chaos grumbled, the mist swirling, breaking the guilt spell and shaking me firmly out of the depression spiral threatening.

“Was there something specific you wanted?” I raised an eyebrow, playing cool and composed while my heart ached. “Or were you just wasting my time?”

Kael’s smirk didn’t fade. Was he aware just how ugly it made him, how he lost his delicious handsomeness and the air of peaceful Death he was meant to carry when he grinned like that? I doubt he’d care either way. “Nice to see you, Evie,” he said, my nickname always sounding vile and disgusting from his lips. He vanished then, leaving me to hug myself next to the maple tree, to stare down at the toes of my sneakers and tremble a little, the messy ball of my curls loosened bun dangling over one shoulder while I fought the old hurt and worry.

I was Chaos now. He couldn’t cause me pain unless I let him. Kael had lost his power over me. Why then did it ache so much?

“Hey.” I looked up, sharp and afraid, at the sound of Adam’s voice. He stood a few feet from me, head tilted to one side, a faint half frown, half smile on his handsome face. His dark hair had grown out from the buzz cut of his stay in the hospital. While to me it had only been a short span, a matter of days, Time moved faster in the mortal realm. Adam had lived a month or more already, healthy and cancer free.

I hesitated, didn’t answer, voice locked though my lips flapped as I tried to muster a sound. He came a step closer while I backed up, making him stop. His emotions swirled, the faint feeling of uncertainty coupling with unease as he raised a hand in a vague wave.

“I’ve seen you around,” he said. “You go to my school?” So much confusion. Did he remember me after all? Was the Adam I knew still in there? I was about to answer when his friends shouted his name. Adam turned, waved to them with far more enthusiasm than he’d show me, then spun to grin at me. “Got to go,” he said. “See you in class, beautiful.” He winked before running off, his emotions clean again, though I had to accept, as he leaped into the back seat of a car and was driven off, while Kael’s cruelty was a ploy to hurt me, there was a spark of truth in it.

Because the soul of the young man I knew felt dark around the edges as he left, his smile hiding the depression Kael brought up. And I wondered, then, if I could find a way to release him after all, to just let Adam go.

Maybe. I could talk to Dad about it. But bringing up the giant mess that had almost driven us apart didn’t seem like a good idea. And I’d already done enough damage to Adam’s Life. Trying to lead him to Death? I couldn’t risk making a worse mess than I already had.

I just had to live with the truth. Daphne had been right. And so was Kael.

With my heart heavy and Chaos silent, I spun on my sneakers, the grass squeaking beneath the rubber, and headed for the nearest door.


***


Chapter Two


My fingers cramped, twisting into themselves under the warmth of the robe holding my shoulders down with the weight of stars and mist. Surely such things had no weight, floating in peaceful softness around me. The sparkling lights that outlined my neckline twinkled their delight, the robe of swirling eddies as light as air. And yet combined, with the storm of echoing thunder in the distance churning in my curls, faint pops of lightning a constant reminder of my new role, the robe I wore felt as if it weighed more than Creation itself.

What a shift from the park in the mortal realm to this new existence. It was hard not to focus on that painful pinpricking of blood trying to circulate through my fingers, my attention divided between the need to clench myself as tightly as I could and the tall, gnarled monster standing before me. His guttural words might as well have been another language I would never learn to decipher as he grunted on about something I just couldn’t focus on enough to comprehend. Not while the storm over my head chuckled its delight I’d come home at last. It missed me, greeting me when I’d returned from my journey across the Crosspath to the mortal realm, waited to embrace me the instant I passed through the Mist door. Reminding me no matter how much I might carry, whatever guilt or old pain remained, this was my Life now. Mistress of Chaos evermore.

The monster ended his harsh, grumbling monologue abruptly, wide shoulders seemingly formed from chiseled rock coated in some kind of moss, though not the bright green kind of the forest. This musty gray mass clung to him like disease eating through solid stone. His deep set eyes, pits of blackness in a hard edged granite face with a gash for a mouth and burning redness, shone malevolently in my direction the spark of Life in his gaze.

Someone cleared their throat next to me, a hand rising and falling, catching my attention and breaking me out of the stunned discomfort that seemed to be my constant companion these days. My advisor, the dragon man who Chaos created as her first monster, loomed in his polished perfection beside me. We’d only just met three days ago, and yet he felt as familiar to me as my own heartbeat. From the moment we’d reunited, from the instant I stepped through the Mist door and into my realm, Seth had been there, his ever-present support and kindness the biggest reason I hadn’t run screaming from this place yet.

Seth hadn’t said a word when I returned from my first real escape from my new realm. I hadn’t told him where I was going, slipped away when he was busy with two squabbling monsters. He could have given me a hard time, but instead simply waited for me to embrace Chaos’s form and mount my throne once more. I almost wished he’d yelled. I would have felt better, as weird as that sounded.

“Thank you for coming,” I said, nodding, knowing I likely just made an idiot of myself. For all I knew, the giant rock creature with weeds for a loincloth and hands made of chipped stone had asked me a question. But, it seemed I got it right again. Either that or the creature didn’t care, happy just to have his mistress here to mumble his rumbling speech to. His massive hand rose and saluted me, fingers to forehead—or what passed for both—with a grinding sound that set my teeth against each other in a painful clench before he turned and stomped away. I held myself in that same rigid, tense position I’d taken on since sitting down. It felt like years ago but was likely only an hour or so. The booming echo of his stone feet on the polished black floor bounced back to me and only added to the sound overload while the storm intensified for a moment, as if applauding my efforts. He marched away, as steady as the sound of a gargantuan ticking clock counting down my doom.

I glanced sideways when my constant companion shifted slightly toward me, unobtrusive but absolutely invaluable. Seth’s human hand moved ever so slightly, index finger waggling. So he was aware of the fact I struggled to pay attention. Good for him. A small shiver of anger rose with the mist that threatened, the constant shadow inside me begging me to let out the emotions boiling beneath the surface. The stars on my chest burst with light, a couple falling into my lap in a cascade of sparks before dying out, replaced immediately by others while a singularly loud crack of thunder sounded over my right shoulder.

I hated how this persona showed my temper so clearly. I’d spent most of my life unable to express anger and still found it uncomfortable. I looked away, not needing to meet the deep green of his dragon’s eyes past the perfect black suit and crisp white shirt, the deep russet tie he adored that framed his reptilian head. I wondered if Seth even had a human face or if the affectation of bipedal form was just a joke to him. Then again, it would have been hard for the first advisor to Chaos to do his job in hulking dragon shape. My tall, black throne of roughhewn stone was big, but it would have been crowded up here on the dais with a four story winged and horned drake wrapped around my seat.

Then again, it might have limited the visitations I endured over the last three days. It seemed every single monster who was ever conceived in the history of Creation came to my throne room to say hello. I knew they’d been forced to live out their existence in other realms while this one had been closed off, evolved on their own, new ones emerging with the beliefs and fears of mortals guiding their existence. Still, all the monsters were returning to their origins, children of Chaos, as much as I had when the Mist door formed at its release. And yet, part of me struggled with accepting their utter delight at coming home at last. Not because I begrudged them their sense of belonging, but because they hung that emotional rush on me.

A diminutive girl with half her chest missing and feet made of charred roots took the place of the stone monster and bobbed a deep curtsy, black pits of her eyes bottomless and horrifying. I murmured a welcome to her, cringing as she smiled, porcelain skin cracking with deep ridges and weeping blood.

Kindness and patience, my mistress. Seth’s voice in my head made me jump, despite the deep calm of his mental touch. More thunder and lightning—the flash of light first, of course, the sound following in short order—making the poor thing before me tremble in surprise and nervousness. She might have been hideous and likely someone’s nightmare, but she had feelings, too. I sensed her excitement, her joy and anxiety at meeting me in person through the aura of her emotional field as it brushed against mine. I flinched from her feelings, pulled myself in tight so I didn’t have to take on the further pressure of being her hero or something equally trite.

They’d waited so long. How could I shatter their expectations by showing them I wasn’t the magnificent and all-powerful mistress they longed for?

The monstrous girl curtsied again once her composure returned and left, a small pile of cinders turning to dust where she’d stood. Not that it mattered. The slithering creature with a silently screaming woman’s head attached to its slime crusted green body quickly smeared the ashes into the floor.

They have waited an eternity to meet you, the children of the mist.

I didn’t answer Seth’s soft chiding, if it could even be classified as that. Though it was the first indication he’d given he disapproved of my sneaking away. I didn’t need his guilt, no matter how gently delivered. I was well aware of the fact these monsters had endured their entire Creation without Chaos, their mistress, to look after them. Had fended for themselves all along. But that wasn’t my fault, was it? I was just the lucky sixteen-year-old girl who got to carry Chaos around.

He must have taken pity on me, because before the screaming serpent woman could be replaced by the next monster in line, Seth stepped forward, a subtle but, I’d learned, powerful gesture.

“Thank you,” he said, voice low, carrying easily despite the vaulted ceilings disappearing into the starry sky overhead. I looked up as he spoke, the storm that sometimes raged there still circling my curls instead of leaving me alone already. “Our mistress will return presently.”

They grumbled but seemed content enough to wait as I rose so fast I felt a hint of dizziness overtake me. My hands unclenched at last as I nodded to the waiting lineup of creatures extending down the long, wide avenue of the throne room and out the doorway into the main foyer of my palace.

Shaking, I turned and slipped around my throne, past Seth and through the doorway behind the hulking slab of black marble. Such relief to leave them behind and the demanding stares, the weight of their need. My subjects, the horrendous and the damaged who called Chaos and the mist of this realm home.

Shame on me for judging them. But their need was worst of all. Me, of all people, in control of the most powerful force of destruction and emotion in Creation. How did anyone ever think this could end well?

Sighing, frustrated, tired and feeling very alone, I wondered if this was to be my existence for the rest of eternity. While I knew better than to ask for something to happen, to shake up this long, boring introduction to being Chaos, I just wished I had a choice in the matter.

Poor Eve. At least I wasn’t a disaster anymore. With a slightly buoyed heart, I clung to that truth and hoped my days of ruining everything were actually over. Even as Chaos nudged me with a push of sorrow and joy and anger tied together. To remind me I was the literal source of mess and trouble.

Of course. Silly me. How perfect. Shoulders now slumped in dejection, I slouched my way into hiding.


***


Chapter Three


The large, private space behind my throne welcomed me into its cool dimness. The lights overhead brightened when I called on the power of Chaos to shed the black robe trimmed in misty silver threads with a life of their own. The stars from my neckline rose and filled in the ceiling, the storm sullenly circling among them as if disappointed I’d retreated from Chaos’s full persona in favor of being Eve again.

I dropped onto the dark purple sofa I’d had installed. The plush fabric gave way, soft under my hands, firm but deep cushions a welcome change from the cold, rigid stone of my throne. As Seth approached I pulled my feet up under me, hugging my knees, chin resting there, a reflexive action though he didn’t frighten me.

Well, not much, anyway. Our first meeting had felt like an old friendship renewed, back when I still felt like this was where I was supposed to be. But the more time passed the more Eve emerged and the mist retreated. To the point I felt like the downtrodden girl who struggled to find her truth rather than the Mistress of Chaos.

“You have become increasingly troubled,” Seth said, sitting delicately on the matching chair opposite me, his crisp suit opening at the waist as he casually and with precision undid the buttons. The shining russet vest beneath glittered with a length of silver chain, the dragon motif watch he adored peeking from the pocket. “And I am at a loss to help you, Mistress.” It was the first time he sounded truly concerned and guilt returned. No mention, though, of my side trip. I left it alone and instead chose to show remorse.

“I’m sorry.” Reflex, that apology, Eve’s reaction not Chaos’s. But wasn’t I both? “I don’t know what I’m doing.” My fingers toyed with the laces of my sneakers, black and white, my jeans so long they hung to the heels. I’d once favored sensible black shoes, but my new kicks seemed far more in keeping with my angsty teenaged troubles. I’d already scuffed the pristine white toes, faint hints of green from the grass in the mortal realm reminding me of Adam and only adding to my inadequacy. Did Seth care I took so little pride in the clothes I wore compared to his perfect wardrobe? At least the massive, mist filled robe that covered me on my throne ensured I looked moderately respectable. Made me think of Dad, though, and sigh in loneliness.

Death would know what to say to make me feel better.

Seth crossed one leg over the other, his polished black dress shoe whispering over the thick, black carpet. I’d done my best to remove the dread and old, unfinished feeling from the office behind my throne, adding pops of color in the form of pillows in rainbow hues and a painting of a sunset my best friend, Tulip, found for me in the Repository of Creation. But there was no dispelling the chill with fabric and decorations or the misty feeling to everything, the ancient roughness of the realm. This was the source of Chaos, after all. Could I bear to spend the rest of my life in such dim gloom?

Not that I had a choice. Even Undertown, my father’s realm, wasn’t this grim and he was Death, for the sake of all Creation.

Seth’s hands settled on the arms of his chair. His large silver ring, the head of a dragon to match his own, winked at me from the deep green of its emerald eyes. His drake’s face was so hard to read, protruding snout scarred across one nostril, giving him a rakish appearance despite his care and attention with how he dressed. Like he wanted to be a polished gentleman but had the heart and soul of an adventurer. A soft puff of smoke escaped one nostril, horns gleaming from his forehead as he tucked his chin and sighed.

“This has been difficult for you.” His tone changed, kind again, careful, almost fatherly. I felt like I’d known him my whole life and, I suppose, longer than that. Chaos made him first, after all. It had to be hard for Seth to find himself in the presence of his beloved—if his dedication was to be classified—mistress in the body of a reticent teenager.

That almost made me giggle in sad understanding. “For both of us.”

He shrugged, so casual and yet competent. “We shall figure out each other, Mistress,” he said. “They are not the only ones who have waited for eternity.”

Awkward silence fell over us. I just didn’t know what to say to that and, after a moment, Seth cleared his throat as if regretting his words, his discomfort matching mine. At least we had that much in common.

“Soon the audiences will diminish and your subjects will go back to their lives,” he said. “Some may choose to return to the homes they’ve known all along and others will want to ask for residence here, in the Mist realm.” I nodded to that, wondering where he’d spent the last eons and realizing then I’d failed to ask him anything, really, about who he was before Chaos woke. Selfish and small of me, despite my own troubles. But before I could query, he finished his thought. “And you can pursue your true purpose.”

“Which is?” I dropped my feet to the floor, interest surging. The constant scrutiny of the monsters who claimed me was just the beginning. I knew it, but couldn’t see past their attention. Grateful for the distraction, I prodded him further. “I know so little about what I’m supposed to do, Seth.”

He didn’t meet my eyes, hands falling to fold carefully in his lap. “We shall deal with that once you’ve consolidated your position.” Equally careful those words, that politically correct and diplomatic tone of voice. So strange from the snout of a dragon-headed man and yet I’d grown accustomed to him already with his dark gray scales and scars. Found his long, silver whiskers fascinating as they quivered when he spoke. “But until you have the full support of your realm and its people, we must be cautious.”

I’d spent the last three days of my life confined to Chaos’s misty realm—aside from my now regretted side trip to see Adam—after pretty much a lifetime bobbing between Life and Death. With occasional forced jaunts into the mortal sphere and relieved journeys into the Repository. Aside from the last week or so, my existence circled around my parents and my attempts to put a halt to the disasters that seemed to follow me everywhere I went. And honestly? I would have given anything at that moment, facing Seth’s subtle suggestion my life was only going to become more complicated and not less so, to return to the six month controlling rotation of my mom and dad.

Well, maybe not Mom. After all, Isis, the former ruler of Life, only conceived and birthed me to control me and the power at my disposal. Had almost used me to kill my father. Trying to please her had ended in the sad and equally furious realization she never loved me and, ultimately, drove me to strip her of her power and send her back to the Egyptian Pantheon where she’d come from.

Leaving my least favorite sister, Daphne—and that wasn’t saying much, really, since most of them hated me—on the throne. I still wondered if that had been the right decision even as I curled in on myself once again and asked the obvious question.

“Cautious of what?”

Seth blinked slowly, once, inside lids flickering over his emerald eyes, the white filament making him look momentarily blind. He would never know how much that creeped me out. At least I hoped not. He deserved better from me.

“The other Pantheons.” Precise and slow. He spoke as if I wouldn’t understand but he had to try. “There has been… unrest.”

That was hardly news to me. I knew taking over this realm, being revealed as Chaos, wouldn’t sit well. Hadn’t Creation itself bound the mist to the Repository at the dawn of everything to prevent its escape? And weren’t Life and Death banned from having offspring for exactly the reason Mom tricked Dad into fathering me? To prevent Chaos from being released into mortal form. My form. The Fates already hated me for being outside the Loom they wove to control Creation. And I’d had enough inkling from my awakening the Pantheons of gods who mortals bound to their realm weren’t happy with my appearance I figured I’d have to deal with their issues eventually. But cautious? Of what? I was Chaos.

“Seth,” I said, trying my best to sound like Dad, the most together person I knew. Which only made me sad to think of him and the fact I hadn’t seen him in days. Even when I lived in Life with Mom during my six month rotation I still found reason to at least talk to my father on a daily basis. The absence of him from my present existence felt like a kind of dying all its own. “There’s more. And I’m a big girl. Cut the candy coating and tell me.”

He nodded then, seemed to relax, shoulders settling, a faint smile on his toothy muzzle. I was getting used to his expressions, the way his lower fangs showed more prominently when he was amused. “Yes, Mistress,” he said. “Forgive me. I’m doing my best to fill this role you made for me so many years ago. I’ve grown accustomed to being all things for our people without you to guide me I’ve forgotten you are Chaos and I the advisor.”

Anyone else would have taken that as a rebuke, I think. Found fault or hurt in his words. Not me. And only because I think I really heard him, maybe for the first time, the mist rising beneath us both to wash over his feet and the base of his chair. He meant every word, was grateful I was here. And, in saying so, in sharing his worries and his perceived weakness, I felt myself relax too, and embraced the return of the mist within.

He shuddered at the touch of the cold air rising but not out of unhappiness. If anything his green eyes glowed brighter and he appeared eager, excited even.

“Someone stirs the Pantheons against you, Mistress,” he said, a faint growl in his voice. “I believe neither of us have doubt who that might be.”

Bubbling anger and joy mixed with the need to act. The girl I was retreated while I stood and shook off my lethargic reticence, though I held back the mist as best I could, not ready to be Chaos just yet. Maybe never. And, perhaps, that was the point of containing it in a mortal form. Checks and balances.

They feared me, the Pantheons. I was the unknown. And it would be just like her to use that against me. But, to what purpose? And what was my mother’s end goal now that she was no longer the ruler of Life?

“You should have killed her,” Seth said with such casual ferocity I started, “when you had the chance.”

“You’re talking about my mother.” I might have been Chaos, but even that misty emotion-riddled entity balked briefly at matricide. Though, was it the idea of killing Isis that troubled Chaos or was it the finality of the act, the fact Chaos hated endings? That much was clear to me. It thrived on continuing disaster.

I needed someone fresh to talk to, someone outside this realm and knew exactly the person to turn to. Though I’d felt trapped here the last three days, managing a quick trip to the mortal realm to see Adam without disaster freed me from my worry the simple act of emerging would cause some great cataclysm. The sudden urge to leave once again refused to allow me to stay any longer. I surged to my feet, a cascade of stars falling over me from the ceiling above in response to my haste.

“I’ll be right back,” I said, turning from Seth though I feared it might hurt him to abandon his counsel for another. “I need to see my dad.”


***


Chapter Four


Thank goodness for side exits and secret passageways. I’d discovered not so long ago Mom and Dad had their own private access to each other’s realms through their sanctuary rooms behind their thrones. I had, as yet, to locate the same in my own private quarters in the Chaos realm, but I did find, my first day here, a way around the throne room through a small archway behind a mirror.

Seth let me go without comment and made me wonder if my trip to see Adam had been a deception or a journey the dragon had simply let pass uncontested. I was grateful regardless, though I knew we’d talk when I returned. He had as yet to chastise me or treat me with anything but kindness and care. I wondered if he’d ever break out of his thoughtful and professional demeanor enough to call me to task. I honestly doubted it. It just wasn’t in the dragon man’s nature.

So strange, really. There had to be a certain measure of ruthlessness in him, even if I hadn’t seen it yet. He was a dragon, after all. And he’d spent his entire existence to this point watching over and guiding the paths of every monster in Creation. I’d do well to learn from him, I guess.

The long, dim corridor bypassing the throne room had a ceiling, at least, narrow walls of black stone and faint light coming in from no source I could ascertain. Every other space in the realm seemed open to the stars, engulfing Creation and making me feel infinitesimal despite the massive presence of Chaos within. I did my best not to look up very often when the storm wasn’t present, though as odd as it sounds the enclosed corridor made me so claustrophobic I had to hurry to reach the end. The fact neither wide open space nor embracing protection made me feel comfortable any longer wasn’t lost on me. I just couldn’t seem to find a balance. Considering I was Chaos, perhaps that shouldn’t have come as a surprise, though I did find myself pondering, as I reached the far end of the hall and the door etched with the image of a flying dragon, if I was doomed to spend all of my days in exactly this same state of flux.

Doing my best not to be depressed by that realization, I slumped my way out the door and into the foyer. It was easy enough to bypass the waiting line of monsters who seemed perfectly content to mingle and chat among themselves. They weren’t looking for a pale, teenaged girl with her hands in her jeans pockets, head down, messy bun of dark curls hanging loosely to one side as she skittered past them in the shadows and mist. My Chaos persona wore a living cloak of black and silver and stars and a wild tousle of clouds and lightning. She towered over them on a throne of black marble. They hadn’t gotten to know me well enough yet to recognize me in my regular form.

I was more than willing to take advantage of that fact for as long as I could get away with it. And while I felt badly for abandoning Seth with this ponderous lot of monsters, I just had to see my father. It was like a sudden compulsion, a passionate demand for normalcy I had to obey.

It took a few seconds of patience at the main exit, over the bridge of mist to the hub of realms to escape at last. I watched out of my peripheral vision, head still down, as two towering trolls drooling slime and thudding giant feet over the ground followed a gliding group of vampirish women in dark red gowns heading for the palace. The moment they were out of the way I made a dash for the exit and freedom.

The door to my realm seemed to sigh in regret as it allowed me to pass, the mist clinging to me though it didn’t fight me as I entered the Crosspath and took a deep breath. The hub of the realms was empty, at least for now, though it wouldn’t be long before someone showed up. I skirted the mortal realm entry across the industrial dark green carpet, ignoring the cluster of sofas in the middle of the hub and the fire pit smoking silently there. The door to Life appeared as gaudy as ever, more so truth be told. Mom had been over the top with her golden cherubs whose creep factor gave me more than a few nightmares. But my sister seemed intent on outdoing Isis, adding giant vines of a multitude of flowers in a veritable riot of color so aggressive in size and growth they tumbled out over the floor of the Crosspath like an encroaching invasion of blooms and green finger vines. If someone didn’t hack that mess back soon it would take over the whole hub.

Shaking my head and wrinkling my nose at the smell that assaulted me even across the massive space, I instead reached for the entry to Death. The skull on the door animated instantly, smiling at me in its rictus grin, tipping its chin in welcome before chattering bone white teeth in greeting.

“Nice to see you, too,” I whispered, smiling in return. Good to know the entry was happy to see me. I’d spent most of my childhood endearing myself to it and that hadn’t changed even with my alteration of address and job description.

The tingle between my shoulder blades pulled me to a halt and killed my good humor, the feeling someone observed me drawing me around. I fought the urge to hunt down whoever was staring at me, unable to find sign of another soul in the Crosspath. Imagination? The mist inside didn’t think so and, from the grim expression on Dad’s door, neither did Death’s entry.

“Let them watch me,” I murmured to it before patting the skull’s bony cheek. “Chaos couldn’t care less.”

Look at me talking big. The skull grinned and let me pass like it believed my bluster. At least someone did.

It had been exactly three days since I stood on the far side of the bridge to Undertown. Three days since I almost killed my father, since Mom’s attempt to control me as Chaos, since my life changed forever. I’d spent half my life in Dad’s realm, used to think of it as pretty much the only real home I’d ever had. Funny how only a few short days could do such damage.

Undertown wasn’t home anymore. I felt a distinct disconnect as I forced my feet to move, sneakers silent on the stones of the bridge, gaze travelling with sad realization over the carvings of men and animals and creatures marching silently across the stones toward death. Undertown might have been somewhere I lived, but it wasn’t home anymore.

Feeling like an outsider, I suppressed the sadness and rage combination the mist offered up and strode like I knew what I was doing toward the courtyard outside Death’s palace. It was all I could muster, knowing they stared, my brothers, though their glares had been traded for fearful peeks. Where once the angels of Death looked upon me as a disastrous failure, their only sister worthy of their contempt and disdain, now the few I encountered on my way to Dad stared at the ground and hurried to escape my presence as fast as possible.


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