Gods no More Book One

Once upon a time...

The guards led her away. Her long white dress sashayed around her legs as she strode with her head held high. She was being taken to her execution, but she didn’t once let her chin drop.

Her long black hair tumbled around her shoulders as wind raced along the side of the palace, its haunting cry shaking over the mountaintop. It rustled through the megalithic trees that stood beside the grand building and brought her attention to a solitary white bird seated on a swaying branch.

She stopped to stare.

Once upon a time, they’d called her a bird. The little white bird who always got away.

This time, there would be no escape.

“Move,” one of the imperial guards snapped as he shoved in close and jabbed the hilt of his golden spear into her back.

He didn’t measure his hand, and he hit her more than hard enough that she stumbled to her knees. The long golden chains that tied her to her guards jangled as they fell around her.

“Up,” the same guard said.

Move. Up. Stop. You’ll soon die, witch.

Those were the only words these men had deigned to share with her.

“Move faster,” the other guard snarled as he repeated his friend’s move and rammed the hilt of his spear into her already tender side.

She didn’t make a sound as she fell again and rose. She wasted no time in drawing her head up high and silently walking on.

The king’s chamber lay directly ahead. Squeezed between the palace and a sheer drop off the celestial cliff behind, it was the most sacred building atop Olympus.

It would be the last place she’d ever see. Once her sentence was carried out, she’d be thrown off the cliff.

And there, she would tumble into the mortal realm. Not technically death, but a fate far worse. Stripped of her power and, most importantly, her memories, she would never have a chance for revenge.

As they neared the king’s chamber, other gods strode from the palace to watch. Every one of them wore looks of rage, derision, and satisfaction.

To them, she deserved this.

“Broken queen,” one hissed.

Slicing her gaze over, she said nothing.

“Lying witch,” another snarled.

“Your wings will be torn from your back, little bird,” another whispered.

Every comment she ignored but the last. At that violent promise, the fear she’d been hiding exploded in her chest. It streamed through her body until it centered on her back.

Glowing symbols charged over her skin, becoming as bright as dying stars as they ate her magic. She wasn’t only trapped by chains – the tattoos that had been scorched into her flesh by Hephaestus himself were her true prison. They locked her power in her body, ensuring it could never come out.

“Your wings will adorn the new queen,” that same hateful voice whispered.

As more fear bolted through her like a charging horse, her body desperately tried to spread her wings. It couldn’t. Hephaestus’s magical symbols only burnt all the brighter as they channeled her power back into her body.

She felt like a bomb that could never explode. Like a fire that would never be more than a spark.

For no reason, one of the guards shoved her again. She fell, splitting her knee on the jagged path.

This only drew more gleeful jeers.

The crowd wanted blood.

They wouldn’t get it.

He wouldn’t kill her.

Zeus wouldn’t dare….

She closed her eyes as tears rimmed her lashes.

There’d been a time when she’d loved him, and in all her long existence, she had never loved before.

He’d be her first and last.

She would never trust again.

They reached the king’s chamber. Standing either side of the door were Eris and Phobos. They smiled. Tools of the war god, Ares, they knew precisely how to smile with death behind their eyes.

She stared past them.

The great golden doors opened, and there he was.

Zeus seated on his throne. Zeus, the god of thunder. Zeus, the king of Olympus.

Zeus, her ex-husband.

Zeus, the man who’d betrayed her.

Zeus, the man she would never forgive no matter how many lives she led.

The path leading up to the throne was carved from gold. Magic – the lifeblood of the gods – ran through it.

And that magic centered on Zeus. Everything did. There was a reason he was the king of the gods – he was by far the most powerful.

But power is one thing – the wisdom to wield it correctly another. There’d once been a time when she’d thought Zeus the wisest man on Olympus.

That time had ended.

She was taken to the foot of his throne. There, her two guards parted and walked out. They were no longer needed. Behind Zeus stood his brothers, Poseidon and Hades. At the front of his throne, just to the left, stood Ares.

In full ceremonial battle armor, the god of war looked like an apparition of death. His sword was slung at his side, but at the sight of her, he reached over and settled a large, powerful hand on it. Immediately, it reacted to his touch and started to burn a devilish red.

She stared at it, knowing what would come. Of all the weapons on Olympus, save for Zeus’s lightning bolt, Ares’s sword was the only tool that could cut her wings off. Zeus wouldn’t dare get her blood on his hands.

Ares would enjoy it too much, anyway. A fact he proved as a smile drove into his lips and tugged his left cheek up.

Footfall echoed from the side of the room, and a goddess pulled herself out of the lines of deities either side of the throne.

Hera. She’d always had eyes on Zeus. Now she’d be able to have him.

Hera smiled as she strode forward and stopped in front of Zeus. “You have made the right decision, my King. The witch Fos must be punished for betraying you.”

The witch. So that’s all they were going to refer to her as now? Once, she’d been queen. Once, she’d been Zeus’s one and only light. Now she was nothing more than a meaningless trickster.

But this witch still had wings.

And that’s what they were truly after.

“She must be made an example of. Fos tried to steal your thunderbolt, the very seat of your power,” Hera continued. “She tried to usurp your throne. This creature, this witch who isn’t even a god – she must be punished for all to see. Strip her of her power and send her to the humans. Let her live their meaningless, short lives in punishment for reaching too high.”

Zeus said nothing.

Fos hadn’t looked at him yet, and he hadn’t looked at her. She could tell this, as his chin was still level. Here she was at his feet – at his mercy – and he couldn’t even muster the courage to gaze at her.

There’d once been a time when he hadn’t been able to take his eyes off her. When he’d found her and protected her from those who hunted her wings, Zeus had watched over her with all his heart.

Now he didn’t glance her way once, and nor did he speak.

Hera smiled as she turned, her long purple dress sashaying around her legs. She stared down her nose. “You will reap what you have sown. You have angered the gods. It is time to pay the price we have set. You will be banished to the human realm, but not before your wings are cut from your back.” Hera took so much pleasure in the word cut, it could have sliced through the very air.

There was muttering through the room.

No one actually expected Zeus to cut Fos’s wings off. He’d done so much over the years to protect her and her unique power – it would be for naught if her wings were lost at his hand.

He moved. For the first time, he acknowledged her as he tilted his head down.

He stared at her.

She lifted her head up and stared at him.

… There was nothing in his eyes. They were dead. Zeus was nothing but a statue in that throne – nothing but a king in name only.

“What do you say, Fos?” he asked, his tone emotionless.

“What do I say? The only thing I’ve been saying since this hateful charge was brought against me. I did not try to steal your thunderbolt.”

“I saw it with my own eyes.”

“Your eyes were deceived.”

Hera took a quick step forward. She tilted her head back until her long hair played attractively around her face. “There is no need for this, Your Highness. We have heard her lies before. You saw her crime with your own eyes. She,” Hera pointed behind her in a vicious move, “is nothing but a deceptive witch. No one but you and your ex-wife has the power to wield – or touch – your thunderbolt. You saw it in her hands. There is no deception. She must pay for her crimes.”

Zeus turned his gaze to the ceiling. “The decision has been made.”

The room became quiet.

“For a love betrayed, you will be banished to the human realm,” he said, his voice even on the word love.

Hera took a step forward, her expression falling. Ares straightened too, the skin around his mouth becoming tight with worry.

It was clear they both feared that Zeus would decide to leave Fos’s wings.

They needn’t have worried.

He stared right at Fos and did not remove his gaze once. “And for a power betrayed, you will lose yours. I gave you the ability to touch my thunderbolt. I cannot remove that permission, but I can take your power. Your wings will be removed.”

Removed.

He couldn’t even say the word cut.

Hera nodded adoringly at her king.

Ares smiled at Fos as he pulled out his sword in anticipation.

So this was it? After years of loyalty – and love – at Zeus’s side, it was over. After years of protecting her, he would be the hand to cut her down – or at least, the voice that ordered it.

“You’ve said your piece. It is time I say mine.” Fos stared at him. She didn’t let her hatred show. She showed something far more frightening – the cold indifference of someone who knows they are right. “One day you will learn you were duped, my king. One day, you will learn I am innocent.”

Ares opened his mouth to snarl an insult.

Zeus lifted his finger to silence him. All the while, Zeus never once dropped his gaze from her.

Was there still love somewhere in his stare? Was there even a grain of the loyalty they’d once shared?

No.

There was nothing but cold betrayal.

Fos stiffened. She couldn’t open her wings, so she let her eyes show what little power she had left. “And when that day comes, when you finally understand what you’ve done, I won’t come for you. No matter how hard you try to find me, you never will. You have sealed your own fate, Zeus. You can rule without me, but you will never be happy again. I won’t be able to fly,” she voluntarily took a step toward Ares and his glowing red blade, “but you won’t be able to love.” She knelt down in front of Ares. As she tore her gaze off Zeus, she knew she would never gaze upon his face again. Every loving memory they had ever shared would be nothing but dust at her feet.

The feel of his hands, his heat, his power – the unique experience of being trapped in his otherworldly gaze – she would wipe all of them from her soul like someone washing paint from a once-great canvas.

Zeus made a sound. Without staring at his expression, she had no clue what it could mean.

Perhaps it was the only admission he would ever give that he could be wrong. Or maybe it was the sole tear he would ever cry at what he was about to do to her.

Zeus raised one of his fingers. Hephaestus’s seal broke across her back, tingles of power rushing through her body as her wings naturally unfurled.

With her face still turned to the ground, she watched the shadow of her wings play over the golden floor.

Ares waited no longer. She heard the wind whistling along his blade as he brought it down.

It sliced through her wings.

Her unique white blood splattered over the floor by Zeus’s feet.

He made a noise. She couldn’t discern it – all she could feel was pain eternal as it ripped through her body and blasted through her mind.

She only just stopped herself from screaming.

“Remove her from his sight,” Hera demanded, her shrill, strident tone the only thing that could make it through Fos’s pain.

Ares knelt down beside Fos. He would carry her to the cliff behind Zeus’s throne and throw her into the mortal realm.

No. She would do that herself. She no longer had magic without her wings, and blood pooled down her back, staining her already white dress, but that didn’t stop her from staggering to her feet.

She wouldn’t look at Zeus, not once as she pushed away from Ares and staggered toward the gaping open hole at the back of the chamber.

She tuned out every hiss and jeer.

Wrapping her arms around her middle, she made it to the hole. And there, she stared down at the mortal realm. It was visible as nothing more than a flicker of light at the base of the celestial cliff.

There was no climbing up that cliff. She would never reach Olympus again.

Good.

She would turn her back on it, and him, forevermore.

She staggered to the edge of the cliff. The wind sliced up it, moaning like a trillion lost souls. It brought with it the messy, bloody smell of humanity in all its murky glory. She swore she could even see them – trapped mortals with lives like flickering candles. They lived with no power, in the hands of the gods with no way to ever hold onto what mattered to them.

She took a step, one bare foot hanging over the edge of the cliff. Her toes tingled with the heat of summer and the frozen cold of winter. Her nose started to pick up the scents of pollution, of bodies, of food, of the dead – of a world beyond the clean beauty of the realm of Olympus.

Before she could step over the edge, she stopped. She’d decided not to stare at Zeus ever again, but just at the last moment, the remaining few flickers of her love for him rose.

Once, he had loved her. She’d felt it in every lingering touch, heard it in every soft whisper. And she’d seen it, over and over again as he’d protected her from those who would use her wings for evil.

… Maybe somewhere in Zeus’s heart, a flicker remained.

She went to turn.

Someone locked their hand on her shoulder, preventing her from moving any further.

She stared up into Ares’s hate-filled eyes. His cold blue irises were rimmed with flickers of fire. As his fingers squeezed her blood-covered shoulder, his magic sending sparks blasting over her dress, he drew close for one last word. “Don’t look back. There’s no need. He won’t ever find you again. But I will, Fos.” With that, he pushed her off the cliff.