Cursed by the Gods

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Hope has a deadly secret… 

Hope has spent her entire life on the run, but no one is chasing her. In fact, no one even knows she exists. And she’ll have to keep it that way. It’s safer.

Even though mortals think the gods have disappeared, Olympus still rules. Demigods are elite hunters, who track and kill monsters. And shadow-demons from the Underworld prey on immortals, stealing their souls for Hades.

When tragedy destroys the only security she’s ever known, Hope’s life shatters. Is it the fulfillment of Apollo’s curse, or is she being hunted?

Forced to hide, alone this time, Hope pretends to be mortal. She’ll do whatever it takes to keep her secret safe— and her heart protected. But when Athan arrives, her world is turned upside down. 

With gods, demigods, and demons closing in, how long can a monster stay hidden in plain sight? 

Join Hope on her unforgettable journey to discover what it means to live and her daring fight to break Apollo’s curse. *Previously released as Curse of the Sphinx. New covers pending for the rest of the series*



PROLOGUE

The dead they escorted always cried. From the time of death until their delivery to Hades, tears dripped and trickled from their grief-stricken eyes. Clearly, there was something they felt a need to mourn. Athan trudged through the musty mists of the Underworld, his thoughts swirling in blackness as gloomy as his surroundings. Surely life wasn’t meant to be as barren as the banks of the River Acheron. “Athan!” Hermes beckoned. “Hurry up, Son.” Focusing on the bright aura surrounding his father, Athan sprinted ahead. “You’re quiet today.” Hermes’s voice had a rich lilt to it, the accent of the divine.

“Did you know this demigod we escorted? Was he a friend?” The young man they’d delivered to Hades had hung his head as he wept, refusing to even acknowledge his guides. Athan shook his head. “No.” And definitely no. He’d given up on friendships long ago. Getting burned by his best friends, the people he thought he could trust, did that to a person. At least he had his dad. Not that he was always around, but Athan knew he could trust Hermes. And Athan would do just about anything for his father. They walked through the desolate waste separating the Fields of Asphodel from the River Acheron.

Shrieks from Tartarus, what humans called Hell, pushed through the dense fog. Dark mist swirled at their feet, carrying with it the saturated scent of decay. Moans and cries rolled off the river before it came into sight, misery lapping with the waves. At the dock, Charon’s tall figure cut through the fog, his dark robe billowing behind him on the small ferry. “Hermes.” Charon’s hollow voice came from deep within his hood. Athan looked down at the pitch waters where the dead wailed in despair, their tears feeding the river.

 If he looked closely, he could see the faces of the mortals who’d drowned themselves in their own desolation. “Charon.” Hermes held out his hand and dropped two small coins into the ferryman’s emaciated palm. “How are you?” A ghostly chuckle emerged from within the folds of fabric, and the god stood aside to allow passage onto his vessel. “Hermes!” A lithe woman with warm russet skin and dark chocolate curls ran out of the mist and onto the dock. She wore a traditional chiton, a dress trimmed in gold, and in her hands she clasped a long rod with ancient Greek markings running the length of it. Across her chest she wore a small, but very modern, messenger bag. “You must hurry.” Her rushed speech also held the musical inflection of divinity. She shoved a piece of paper into his hands. “Messengers from Olympus arrived just after you left. Apollo has summoned Thanatos to kill her.” Athan glanced at his father. The god’s warm hazel eyes were flint, his jaw clenched, and his hands balled into fists. “You don’t think . . .” Hermes looked at his son. This must be what Hermes and Hades had held their whispered conversation about in the throne room of the Underworld. “Atropos was commanded to cut her thread,” the girl continued, “She will delay as long as she can.” Atropos.

One of the three Fates, the goddess responsible for cutting the thread of life. Athan didn’t know who her was, but for four gods to meddle with her future? Extraordinary. Hermes ground his teeth. “I brought only enough obols for passage. Not enough to speed the way.” “Charon.” The goddess’s lilting voice brought the cloaked figure to the edge of his boat, and the god tilted his head at her. “Please take them quickly across and to the portal.” She threw a handful of golden coins toward the ferryman. Several clattered on the wooden dock, a few plunked into the river, but the majority of them rattled at the bottom of the skiff. “More awaits when you return.” Charon waved his hand and the small coins levitated from the boat’s floor and into his palm, the water dripping through his bony fingers. “No need, Lachesis. This is more than sufficient.” Two additional figures emerged from the mist. Both were young women—one tall, dark, and angular with several pairs of shears hanging from her girdle; the other walked with her head down, her loose blond curls obscuring her face.

Her hands worked knitting needles in a furious clacking, and pale thread trailed behind her. “He’ll never make it in time, Lachesis.” The dark-skinned girl’s sharp tone matched her shears. Athan narrowed his eyes. The pictures in his textbook looked nothing like the beautiful goddesses standing before him. These were the Moirai: the weaver, the measurer, and the cutter of the thread of life. Anxiety tickled his throat, and he coughed. The pale girl, Clotho, looked up from her needles, and her hands froze.

Her blue eyes locked on him. “It is fine, Atropos.” Her voice was steady, and her gaze stayed fixed. “This is what is necessary.” She nodded and then dropped her head. The clacking of the needles started again. Trepidation fluttered in his chest. The gods didn’t notice you, unless . . . They pulled away from the dock, and the boat rocked on the water.

Athan shifted his footing, and when he looked back, the young women had disappeared into the swirling vapor. “Skata!” Hermes’s curse broke the heavy silence. “Can you move us any faster?” The water churned where Charon’s pole pushed through the black depth, and they glided noiselessly across the river. Time seemed suspended, and yet each moment felt an eternity. Hermes released another string of curses, the profanities rolling from his tongue and stagnating in the thick air. “Dad?” Athan gripped his father’s arm. “What’s going on?” Hermes exhaled and ran his hand through his hair. “We must hurry.

There is no time for me to take you elsewhere, or I may miss too much.” Athan’s mind raced, but he nodded. “I’ll veil us. Just don’t do anything. I don’t want Apollo to know we’re there.” All these gods . . . Who were they going to see? Athan was about to ask when a dock swirled and solidified before them. “Thank you, Charon,” Hermes said as he leapt from the boat. “Anything to vex Thanatos.” The ferryman chuckled. As Athan stepped from the boat, Hermes grabbed his arm, and the two of them lurched ahead.

 Athan and his father were standing in the corner of a small living room. In the kitchen, a striking blond woman holding a telephone to her ear crossed the linoleum floor. Tears streaked her haggard face, a sharp contrast to her beautiful white-silk cocktail dress and her careful updo. Hermes disappeared, and as Athan looked down at his own body, he realized he’d been veiled, too. It was an odd sensation to not see his own body.

Glancing around the apartment, he noted simple furnishings: a couch and loveseat, table and chairs. The walls were empty—no art or family photos. A marble sculpture of Hecate sat on the mantle. The only other decorations were four wooden letters sitting atop the mantle of the fireplace. Clearly painted by a child’s hand, they were vibrant green-and-blue and spelled the word hope. “Come quick,” she said into the phone. Then, “No, I’ll wait here.” A warm breeze tickled the air, bringing with it the smell of honeysuckle and sunshine.

A flash of light momentarily blinded him, and when Athan’s vision cleared, Apollo stood in the doorway of the kitchen. The blond god of light, prophecy, and medicine arrived barefoot. His skin was sun kissed, and he wore a pale linen skirt trimmed in gold that fell to his knees. A bronze sash hung from his left shoulder to his right hip. Apollo was muscular, and his face was both beautiful and terrifying. “Foolish girl.” His harsh words seemed at odds with his melodic voice. The woman turned, and the phone slipped from her fingers. “It is fulfilled.” He stepped toward her, his lips flattened in accusation. “You did not even give me a chance. One rash decision and your fate was sealed. There is nothing, absolutely nothing, I can do. Do you understand?” His nostrils flared. “I would have made you happy.”

With a moan, she sank to the floor and buried her face in her hands. A dark mist, similar to the one Athan had seen in the Underworld, spilled from a shadow on the wall. The darkness solidified, and another figure appeared a few feet in front of them. Tall with inky hair, this god, Thanatos, was dressed in the dark colors of the Underworld. The woman’s eyes widened, and her breathing hitched. “Oh, gods! No! You can’t!” She looked from one god to the other. “What will happen to my daughter?” She made her way to her feet and stumbled toward Apollo, arms outstretched. The sun-god withdrew every time she took a step toward him, staying just out of her reach. She fell to her knees, arms imploring. “I didn’t know.” She shook her head so hard wisps of golden hair fell loose around her face. “You can’t do this. Who will take care of her?” Apollo glared at her. “You did this.” His finger punctured the air in front of her. “You married him. A stupid mortal, thus fulfilling the curse.” Turning toward the god of death, Apollo waved a hand dismissively. “Take her.” Apollo’s skin began to glow brighter and brighter until the light engulfed his entire figure. The woman closed her eyes and pulled away from the heat. Athan felt a sudden coldness hit his core, but he shook off the chill. If he took even one step forward, he would break contact with his father. One step forward and he would be exposed. This wasn’t his affair. Thanatos glided to the crumpled figure and placed an ashen hand on hers. She snatched her hand away. “Don’t touch me! I know who you are.”

His delicate features twisted into a grim smile. “You cannot cheat death, Sphinx—or a curse.” The Sphinx? A curse? “But you don’t understand.” She tilted her tear-streaked face up, and her golden eyes locked on his midnight ones. “I have a daughter. She needs me.” Her hands fluttered uselessly in her lap. Hermes cleared his throat. Athan looked toward the sound and saw his dad. They were visible! The ashen god turned, and his posture stiffened. “Hermes.” Thanatos’s eyes narrowed. The woman turned to them. “Please help me. My daughter . . .” Hermes looked at Athan, lips pursed, look calculating.

The god turned back to the woman. “I can send my son—” “No!” The woman’s scream became a roar of protest, and Athan watched in horror as Thanatos pulled her soul from her body. “Thanatos!” Hermes lunged across the room. But it was too late. The woman’s body and soul were separate, no longer the same. The form now crumpled on the floor was still human from the waist up, but large feathered wings lay folded behind the feline haunches that had appeared in place of her legs. This was the Sphinx! “You can’t bargain with them, Hermes. They have nothing to offer except their pain.” The woman’s soul turned to Thanatos and fixed him with a glare. Her mouth opened, but nothing came out. “She cannot speak?” Athan looked from his father to Thanatos. In all the years Athan had been travelling with his dad, he’d never even tried to talk to one of the deceased. Thanatos laughed.

“The dead cannot speak in the realm of the living.” He shifted and then amended, “Not before judgment. I’m surprised you did not know this, son of Hermes.” “It’s Athan,” he said, tilting his chin up and extending his hand. Thanatos chuckled but did not take Athan’s outstretched hand. Hermes pushed his son’s arm down. “Don’t shake hands with Death, unless you’re done living.” He pushed the other god away. “You’ve done what you need to do here. I’ll do the rest.” The spirit of the woman watched her eyes wide. She flailed her arms, moving her mouth in a desperate attempt at communication, but the silent outpouring was useless. Thanatos’s smile became a thin line, and he reached for her.

“She is strong, that one. She did not want to come.” She turned away from the god and looked down at the crumpled form. An unfamiliar heaviness filled Athan’s chest. Hermes took her hand. “You are the Sphinx?” She nodded. “But you are not the first one?” A shake of her head. “And you have a daughter?” When she again nodded, he continued, “Is she a Sphinx?” Another nod. “Skata!” The curse rang, an exclamation of impossibility. “How old?” She flashed ten fingers and then another six. “Sixteen?” Hermes looked at his son, then back to the Sphinx again. There was another Sphinx? How was that even possible? She nodded, her eyes wide, and pointed at Athan. Hermes looked at his son. “Well? What do you think?” What was he asking? “You want me to go get the Sphinx?” Hermes shrugged as if he were suggesting a quick trip the grocery store then leaned forward, eyes fixed with intensity. “Find her and bring her to me.” He stepped away and continued. “You saw what happened.” Athan’s heart pounded to life, the thrill of the hunt taking over. He could do this. And it would be a nice break from babysitting reluctant, ignorant demigods. “Will she be human?”

He pointed at the monster’s body on the floor. “Or am I looking for this?” She pointed at her soul and flashed her fingers, then to the body on the floor, and held up two. Her mouth continued to move, but it was pointless. Whatever detail she meant was lost without her voice. But he gathered the creature would be able to shift; sometimes she’d look human and other times the Sphinx. He had no idea how that could even be; he’d never heard of a monster that could shapeshift. Not that it mattered. A sphinx couldn’t be too difficult to find, so he’d just focus on that. “Is she dangerous?” The woman shook her head. What was she going to say? His mind went back to the history of the Sphinx and the hundreds of men she’d strangled outside the gates of Thebes. A monster with the power of an immortal—she could kill him if he wasn’t careful. Thanatos laughed. “You’re going to hunt the monster?” “Thanatos.”

Hermes glared at the other god. “What?”
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Author

Raye Wagner