I promised you a big teaser and here it is - the full first chapter of Unfree! It picks up right where Humanless left off. Enjoy!
Ava felt as if the ground beneath her was pulsating with energy, and then suddenly it disappeared like a carpet pulled out from under her feet. She lost her balance and felt Blake’s strong arms catch her before she fell, scooping her up. Everything around her was vibrating and moving way too fast to notice actual shapes. The blur gave her a headache and she felt she might vomit at any second. Closing her eyes, she tried to relax in Blake’s arms and pull herself together. After all, she didn’t want throwing up to be the first thing she’d do in the Kingdom of Heaven.
Sensing the movement had stopped, Ava ventured opening her eyes. It couldn’t have lasted more than a few seconds, but in such a short amount of time, they had been transported to a completely different world. Blake set her feet on the ground but kept his arms around her. Looking around, Ava saw an enormous hall made entirely of sand-coloured stone with colossal pillars and huge arc-like windows with no glass in them. The air that came in was so fresh and energizing that Ava wondered if it was actually air or some other substance. But she could breathe normally, so it had to be the same consistence as Earth air. Her headache had disappeared the moment she inhaled her first breath and her whole body was tingling with energy.
There was nothing much in the hall in terms of furniture or decorations. It looks like… an entrance hall, Ava thought. But if the entrance hall is so big and majestic, what must the rest of it be like?
The doors in front of them flew open and a figure walked towards them. Ava couldn’t see who it was because it was dark outside, and only a few massive burning candles in the left corner prevented the total darkness. The guards moved away from the three of them, and Ava felt both Jason and Blake tense beside her. The figure came closer, and she saw an incredibly beautiful man, wearing only what seemed like silk pyjama bottoms. His chest was bare and she’d never seen anything more perfect. He was a Greek God statue in the flesh.
“Welcome,” he said, spreading his arms. The muscles on his chest contracted and his skin glowed in the candle light. His voice was deep and melodic; his blond hair shimmered with gold when it caught the light; his full lips parted in a genuine smile and his deep brown eyes were mesmerizing. Ava couldn’t tear her own eyes away from him, even when she felt Blake’s arms tighten around her. “Asclepius,” he continued, shaking Jason’s hand, “I was very surprised to learn that you are not dead. But given the circumstances, I’m glad.”
Jason relaxed, and nodded. “My king,” he said, and bowed his head, slightly.
“My son!” Zeus turned to Blake and gave him a fatherly hug. That seemed very odd since he didn’t look any older than twenty-five. “I’m sorry for everything that’s happened to you.”
Blake nodded as well but didn’t bow. He had moved his arms away from Ava to return his father’s hug and now that Zeus stood in front of her, she felt very vulnerable. She wanted to look away from his hypnotizing gaze but couldn’t.
“Ava, I presume,” he said. She nodded in a silent reply. “So you are the one causing all the trouble?” he asked with a charming smirk.
“No, sir,” she said. “I believe that’s your wife.”
Zeus laughed wholeheartedly at her remark and took her hand to his lips, his eyes never leaving hers.
“I believe you are right,” he said. “Please follow me.”
All of them, including the guards followed him through a maze of identical corridors to a room which resembled a dining-room with a big table in the middle and twelve high-back chairs around it. They were all made of black stone with tiny silver particles that sparkled when they caught the light from yet more massive candles in every corner of the room. It was much smaller than the previous hall and seemed more intimate, more like an actual room where people gathered to eat and talk. The windows still didn’t have any glass covering them but they were decorated with dark purple and gold embellished curtains that swayed just a little from the gentle breeze. The walls were covered in golden and silver symbols, shapes and drawings which caught the light and played with it. They certainly love glitter here, Ava thought as she sat on the chair one of the guards had pulled out for her. It was surprisingly comfortable even though it was entirely made of that weird black stone.
Zeus waved his hand at the guards who turned around and closed the door behind them without uttering a word.
“This is my unofficial welcome to you,” Zeus began, relaxing in his chair. “Tomorrow there will be an official gathering in the Crown Room so that everyone can extend their welcome and best wishes.” He fell silent and waited, but nobody said anything. Blake was looking at Ava with obvious concern; Jason, his elbows on the table and his hands under his chin, was staring at Zeus with a blank expression on his face, Ava was looking down at the table top, gliding her hand on the smooth surface and frowning.
Sensing the uncomfortable silence, Zeus continued, softening his tone, “I want to apologize on behalf of my wife and everybody else who was involved in this… plan.” He spat the last word as if it were a bitter sip of wine. Ava doubted he’d ever drank anything even remotely resembling cheap wine. “I know how hard it must have been for you, Ava, to be thrown in the middle of this…”
“You don’t know anything,” said Ava, her fingers still making circles on the table top in front of her, her voice low and hard. “You have no idea how I feel. I have just buried my best friend because of your stupid games.” She took her eyes off the table and looked straight at Zeus who was watching her with knitted eyebrows. Blake stiffened beside her as if getting ready for a fight, and Jason leaned back in his chair, folding his arms in front of his chest. Ava knew she was out of line talking to the King of Gods that way, but she couldn’t help it. In a way, that was the person responsible for Posy’s death, for her being dragged away from her family and her life. She couldn’t care less how he was going to react, she’d been through hell already and there was nothing he could do to hurt her any more.
“You’re right,” he said after a long pause. All three of them looked at him in surprise because that was the last thing anyone expected. “I have no idea how you feel. All I know is that I didn’t know any of this and I had nothing to do with it. Those responsible are being punished.”
“That doesn’t make me feel any better. Someone else’s suffering doesn’t make mine any easier.”
“What do you want me to do, Ava?” Zeus asked, leaning forward and extending his bare arms on the table. His voice was so warm and gentle that Ava felt her resolve crumble. Maybe it really wasn’t his fault; after all, Hera did all this behind his back.
“I want to go home,” she said as her eyes filled with tears.
“I’m sorry but that’s the only thing I can’t do.”
“Because your Fate is to live here in the Kingdom of Heaven. You’re destined for much greater things than a simple human life.”
“I’m not going to marry you,” Ava said, instinctively leaning back towards Blake’s arms.
Zeus eyed them with a frown. “I know that. But you love my son. Don’t you want to stay here with him?”
“He’s not immortal anymore. We want to spend our lives together on Earth as mortals.”
“I’m sorry, but that’s not what you are destined for.”
“How do you know? How can you be sure what my Fate holds when you’ve been so wrong before?” Ava asked, blinking back tears.
“The Moirae are indebted to me, considering they helped my wife in her cunning plan. Instead of punishing them, I decided to let them redeem themselves. Now they are my strongest ally,” said Zeus, an arrogant smirk appearing on his lips. “They told me that you’re destined to be here, Ava. You are far more important than you think.”
Ava shook her head unable to believe that she, a simple human being, was so important that Zeus himself wanted to keep her prisoner in his Kingdom. A tear rolled down her cheek as she questioned: “What about my family? They’ll look for me.”
“I’ve taken care of that,” Zeus said with a dismissive gesture.
“How?” Ava asked, panic rising inside her.
“Their memories of you have been erased. Everybody who’s ever known you has been made to forget. All records of you ever existing have been destroyed.”
Ava felt her vision blur and her ears began to ring. Anger, mixed with desperation and grief while helplessness burned inside her, barely contained. Finally it had become too much for her. She’d been so strong the past few days, and dealt with so much without allowing herself to succumb to fear or grief. Ava realized none of it mattered anymore because all she’d ever done had been for nothing. Her whole life had been effectively deleted.
“How dare you?” Ava asked, raising her voice and not bothering to hide the menace in it. “You have no right to drag me in your stupid, petty quarrels. It’s not my fault you’re married to a jealous, conniving bitch or that you can’t seem to keep it in your pants. That’s your life, your choices and I refuse to be a puppet in your games. I’m entitled to my free will, if nothing else, and you can’t erase that like you did with my whole earthly existence.” Ava stormed out of the room, tears streaming down her face, shaking with anger and frustration.
Jason had never seen Zeus look so stunned, so genuinely surprised and shocked before. He didn’t even move during Ava’s outburst, not even when she ran out and Blake followed her, none of them asking for permission to leave. It took him several minutes to compose himself after they had left and, Jason suspected, decide how to react. He could easily send the guards after them, but Jason doubted he would.
“That was interesting,” he finally said, a smile playing on his lips. “Is she always like this?”
“Pretty much,” said Jason, still unsure of what would happen next.
“Asclepius, I want you to know that you are safe here. You can stay as long as you want,” said Zeus and that was the last thing Jason expected to hear.
“Well, this is your home, isn’t it?” said Zeus, but when Jason didn’t seem convinced he continued: “I’m eternally grateful to you for saving Ava. It put me in a terrible position with Hades, as you can imagine, but I managed to handle him. If you hadn’t done that, I’d have never known about any of this, I’d never have been able to fulfill my Fate.”
“But can’t you see? Your Fate has changed. It’s not the same as it was centuries ago. Ava wasn’t meant for you. She loves your son.”
“Yes, she does,” said Zeus, his brown eyes catching the flame from the candles and trapping it there. “For now.”
Jason shook his head disapprovingly but didn’t say anything under his King’s scrutinizing gaze. “Oh, and by the way, to prevent any trouble in the future, can I have Athena’s kérma back? I don’t want to deal with my obnoxious brother again if you decide to be the hero of the day and bring any more souls back.” Zeus extended his hand waiting for Jason to place the priceless coin in it. The healer hesitated for two seconds too many.
“Asclepius, don’t test my patience. It’s wearing thin this evening already. Give it back now or I’ll tell Ava how you chose to send her beloved cousin and only true friend to the Underworld so that Ava can have the happily ever after she deserves.” Zeus never raised his voice but his eyes radiated so much menace that Jason remembered why he’s been the King of all Gods for so long without anybody challenging him and placed the kérma in his hand.
The inscription προφύλαξη ψυχή – “soul saver” – shone brightly in contact with Zeus’ palm, recognizing the King’s power and surrendering to it.
Jason was soul saver no more.
“Ava!” Blake shouted when he saw her collapsing on the floor. He sat next to her and enveloped her in his arms while she sobbed. Feeling her body shake made him so angry. She didn’t deserve any of this. Everything she said in there was right – she was an innocent human girl, caught in the cross-fire between self-obsessed, cruel, selfish gods. And now she was being held against her will in a foreign world, still just a piece in a puzzle.
Zeus didn’t have any intention of ever letting them go, at least not Ava. Blake had never seen him so careful with his words, so calculating, so indifferent to insult. There was a plan brewing somewhere, a very clever plan, and Zeus liked his plans to go without a glitch.
“The King has sent me to show you to your bedroom,” said a guard, appearing out of nowhere. “Please, follow me.” Without waiting for Blake’s answer, the guard turned on his heels and walked away from them. For a second, Blake thought of refusing the bedroom, of taking Ava away from the palace, but he knew it wouldn’t be so easy. Zeus wanted her here and he, a mere mortal, could do nothing about it. They both desperately needed some rest so he decided to playing along with Zeus’ plan while taking advantage of staying in the palace and keeping a close eye on his father. Keep your enemies close, right?
What worried him most was that Zeus was probably using the same strategy. He was keeping them, or rather him, here to be under his control. He obviously knew about the choice he had made by saving only Ava, so why hadn’t he used that to break them up the moment they arrived? It was surely the easiest option. Blake hated being part of their games yet again so he made a mental note to confront his father and make him come clean.
The guard was almost out of view. Blake turned his attention back to Ava and seeing that her sobs had subsided a little, he scooped her up in his arms and took her to their bedroom.