Authors: J. F. Jenkins
by J.F. Jenkins
Published by Astraea Press
This is a work of fiction. Names, places, characters, and events are fictitious in every regard. Any similarities to actual events and persons, living or dead, are purely coincidental. Any trademarks, service marks, product names, or named features are assumed to be the property of their respective owners, and are used only for reference. There is no implied endorsement if any of these terms are used. Except for review purposes, the reproduction of this book in whole or part, electronically or mechanically, constitutes a copyright violation.
Copyright Â© 2012 J.F. JENKINS
Cover Art Designed by For the Muse Designs
For my parents, who love unconditionally.
It was just a dream.
When Anj Willam dreamt about places like the underworld, nothing good ever came of it. This wouldn't be the first time he'd been to the place in a vision, but it was the first time he'd gone there and actually understood where he was. He would have preferred to never return there again. Somehow, though, he found himself back inside its dark, musty dungeon. He could see clearly, naturally, without the aid of the magic he used to temporarily cure his blindness, and he sighed with relief for that consideration, at least.
A dry, hot place, and Anj hated to be there for more reasons than it being the home of the dead. He knew from his previous visits that only desolation surrounded the enormous black fortress that was Hades' castle, and there was an overpowering sense of doom lingering in the air. Anj shivered as he crossed the barely lit corridors of the castle dungeon, going to the cell he recognized as the place where the love of his life, Jewl Dite, had been taken barely twenty-four hours ago. He'd helped rescue her and had hoped that would be the last time he'd ever set foot in the place. But of course he wouldn't be so lucky. Even going to the underworld in a dream was like being there in his physical body.
The castle provided some relief from the heat, but the dark, evil aura grew much stronger inside its walls. In the dungeon it multiplied. Rumor said it was several hundred floors deep, full of cells holding some of the worst, cruelest beings in all of existence. Not just people, but creatures: angels, demons, and Anj didn't want to imagine what else were kept in the cells of the dungeon. The farther down one went, the more the feelings of desperation, hatred, loneliness, worthlessness, and every other negative emotion imaginable grew stronger.
Jewl had been kept in that dungeon on the first floor, but inside of a cell all the same. Anj had felt the hopelessness inside of him when he went to rescue her, and he was hardly ever hopeless.
Instead of traveling down the steps into the dungeon like he had the last time he was there, he went up them, making his way through the lower floors. Each staircase he went through was more adequately lit than the last, making it easier to know where he was going. The heavy feeling of doom slowly began to lift. When he reached the first floor of cells, the place where Jewl had been, he saw Denver Collins fighting with the man named Zacheus.
Zach had once been Jewl's bodyguard when he was alive. He'd died in the line of duty and was sent to Hades afterward, where he voluntarily took up the job of guarding one of the many gates. Anj had met the young man for the first time last night, but he had seen him in visions many times before. The name and the face had meant nothing to him until then.
Zach backhanded Denver to the floor. One good thing about the visions was that Anj could be places undetected and see things no one else could. Anj couldn't help but grin, because backhanding Denver was something he'd wanted to do on countless occasions. It looked as fun as he'd always imagined â he was a little jealous of Zach. Denver had it coming to him and then some.
“I don't trust you,” Zach said, picking Denver up from the floor and holding him off the ground by his shirt collar.
The guy was much stronger than Anj had anticipated. How much of it was natural and how much was enhanced from being a guardian of the dead, he didn't know. Zach was not a big man. In fact, everything about his appearance was average. Standard height, dusty blond hair that was now tinted red from the sands of the underworld, and dull, dead, gray eyes: he wasn't anything to write home about. What he'd been like alive, Anj didn't know, but he didn't see the man as a threat against his life or in his pursuit of Jewl.
Denver laughed, his green eyes glittering when the soft lighting hit them. “You say that like I care.”
“You don't care. I know, but consider it your warning. You may have helped Jewl get away, and for that I'll always be grateful. But you're not off the hook. I'm still watching you.”
“I have that effect on people. No one can keep their eyes off of me. Flattered, but I'm not into dudes. Sorry,” Denver said with his usual smug smirk. The comment earned him a shove into the wall. He grunted when his back impacted the hard, cold bricks and he slouched against them. Anj wanted popcorn; this was a great show.
Zach glared down at Denver. “Whatever your business is here, I
find it out. This isn't the first time I've seen you inside of the castle. I notice things.”
“You're an observant puppy. I'll make sure Master gives you a treat,” Denver said.
With a yell, Zach threw Denver across the room. Denver landed hard on the ground, just short of the bed where Jewl had been lying only hours before. Anj was pretty sure his head hit the frame.
At that moment Lucien, the dark angel and heir to Hades, came to the cell with two demon guards. His red angelic wings, flecked with silver, were opened wide. Anj often had vague and disoriented visions of him too. Never had the demon appeared to be so angry though. His fury seeped into the air so strongly even Anj felt it, and he was generally considered emotionally dense. The lights flickered as if the castle could express its master's feelings.
“What happened? Where did she go?” Lucien demanded. His voice was forceful but not loud. Still, it reminded Anj to stay off the guy's bad side. But given that Anj had helped free Jewl, he'd probably be on it sooner rather than later.
let her go,” Zach said, and pointed at Denver.
Lucien glared, staring at the teenage boy who slouched against the bed. “While it's normally a pleasure to see you, I'm not so happy about this. Why did you let the heir of Aphrodite go? You know how important she is for my plans.”
“You know me. I'm all about making deals. I got a pretty good one for setting her free. Besides, I have a new plan for you. You'll like it,” Denver said from the floor. Although he was beaten, he beamed.
Lucien pulled a huge sword from a hilt on his back. Zach backed away, recoiling with fear. Something about the sword scared the demons as well, and Denver flinched briefly before resuming his confident demeanor.
The dark angel pointed the tip of the sword at Denver's chest. “I had better like what you say. In the past your assistance and ideas have been of much use to me. Do not be a disappointment.”
As the dream faded, Anj felt relieved. The dungeon of the underworld went away, and he was left in blackness. Not the same kind of darkness he was used to, given his blindness, but a kind he was still familiar with. It always came when he passed through having a vision and returned to the “real” world, as he liked to call it.
A blue door appeared before him. That wasn't uncommon. Half the time he went straight back after his visions, and the other half he went to see the Elders.
Anj had a dream almost every night. If he didn't dream, he worried something might be wrong with him. When he had dreams about places like the underworld, he worried something might be wrong in general. Seeing the Elders after such a vision only confirmed his suspicions.
It was all part of being a Fate though. Anj dreamt about a lot of things he wished he'd not seen: the presents and futures of those he loved were often the subject of his visions. Sometimes he thought he was being tormented on purpose because he saw only bad things. Every day there was a new warning, a new possible downfall for someone he cared about, and he couldn't stop it.
And people wonder why I'm always so cynical? Now if I could just get them to see that I'm not playing mind games, I'd be set. Too bad nobody wants to listen to my warnings.
He grabbed the handle of the blue door and opened it. Like always, there were three people sitting on the other side. Their chairs rose high above him as if they sat on thrones overlooking a kingdom. In a way they did. Sitting in those chairs were the Elders who guided all of the Fates. Seeing them almost always meant he was in for some bad news, but refusing to open the door only made things worse.
The head Elder was a man who appeared to be in his seventies. His balding head had a soft layer of silver fuzz over it, and his blue eyes were sharp. He answered to the name of Neil, and despite his grandfatherlike appearance, he was the hardest of the group to please. Francis, a petite, fifty-something, unnaturally dyed redhead sat on his right. On his left was a thirtyish man named Kale. The three made quite a peculiar image together. Kale had always seemed too young to be an Elder to Anj. He'd met Fates who appeared older than both Kale and Francis, and they were nowhere near as well respected as they were. Both spoke with wisdom beyond their supposed years. Anj tried to not get involved with or understand Fate politics, however. There were far too many rules to remember.
One was to not speak unless spoken to when in front of the Elders. Disrespect meant a loss of information, and it would always be a piece of knowledge that was key to further understanding what being a Fate was. When the Elders stopped talking, Anj would be left to deal with everything alone. That was a lesson he'd learned the hard way.
“You're never alone, my boy, but it is good you respect our power all the same,” Neil said.
Anj had gotten used to people reading his mind, so it didn't bother him when Neil did it in the slightest. His mentor could, the fallen angel Mr. Thantos, as well as many of the students and teachers within the walls of the Vala School and Seminary. Anj had learned a long time ago to have confidence in his thoughts. Life got a lot easier once he did. However, not all the Elders had the ability to read minds. Only Neil did, and he liked to flaunt it.
“You've decided to tell someone our secret,” Francis said.
“Yes, I did. That happened about a week ago,” Anj said, trying to keep cool and not show his irritation. If they were going to lecture him about the decision, then they should have done it right after the fact.
“We know when it happened. We've been discussing it for that long,” Neil said. His blue eyes narrowed as he stared down at Anj. “She's Divine.”
I like to think so,
Anj thought in an attempt to restrain his wit rather than spout off. He shifted his weight from foot to foot as he tried to maintain his confidence.
“I know Jewl is of the Divine, but she's not like the others. She's not stuck up, and I trust her with the secret,” he said.
“And you remember you can only tell
person that you're a Fate, right? So you can't mention any of this, any of what you are, anything about your family bloodline, or even the truth behind your conception to your twin brother,” Kale said, and the way he did sounded like a hint that Anj had made the wrong decision.
Anj took in a deep breath. “Yes, I know this means I can't tell him. It was one of the biggest factors when I was weighing my options on who to tell. I love Jewl. She's it for me. If I didn't tell her, I'd lose her forever. We finally spilled all of our secrets, and they were the only thing getting in the way of our relationship. No, we're not exactly together anymore, but once she gets over the paranoia over her magic, we will be. I'm sure of it. I'll always have Zes. Her, I couldn't be so sure.”
The three Elders glanced among each other.
Kale looked on him as if with pity. “You're in love. I can understand and respect that. Most of our kind do tell the person they're in love with. Having her be one of the Divine makes things a little more complicated. But like you said, she's not stuck up or entitled. Being a Fate makes our relationship with all of the Divine sticky in general, so be warned, your path with this girl is not going to be an easy one.”
“It never has been.” Anj thought over all the trials and drama he and Jewl had been through during their nearly three years of dating. While the school liked to think of them as on-again-off-again, he didn't count their numerous breakups as time apart. The emotional attachment had always been present, so in his eyes, they had been dating for a long time.
Part of the reason he knew she was it for him was the fact that despite everything, they were still in love with each other. That had to say something. Even if things didn't work out and they never married, she would always hold a special place in his heart. She'd always be the best friend he'd ever had, completing him in ways that not even Zes could, despite their being twins. Had Anj told his brother about being a Fate, it would only cause Zes to worry. Zes was good at it.
“It's going to be a lot harder,” Kale added.
“I'm ready. Besides, what's done is done. I can't take it back.”
The Elders sat silently in front of him, watching his every move. Neil was smirking, which was odd since the man rarely displayed any kind of emotion. At least, Anj didn't think he did, but he had a hard time understanding visual expression. Compared to what he'd seen other people do, Neil acted like a statue.
“There is a way to take it back, but much like your decision to share your secret, it is not something to be taken lightly and can only be done one time. We've done this in the past for foolish young Fates who thought they were in love,” Neil said.
Anj clenched his fists. “I see.”
“Something to think about, but don't tell us one way or the other until after we have finished our next portion of lessons.”
“We haven't had those in a while,” Anj said.
“Because you weren't ready yet. You've been coming along nicely since learning of your gifts, and we're impressed with your work and ability to hold your ground despite the hardships of it. However, we have decided it's time for you to advance to the next level of Fatehood. Especially if you want to understand why your dating, and telling, a member of the Divine is such a bad idea,” Neil said.
Anj held back a groan. “Yes, sir.”
“Not tonight. Tonight you need to rest, given your latest adventure.”