Chapter OneI scanned the darkness.
My sensitive eyes and ears caught the slightest movement; I was instantly aware of Kaylee’s lean smoky–grey wolf form next to me and Chasidee’s small, spotted owl form in the dense canopy above. My own lithe golden form of a lioness was crouched perfectly still beside a small pond. I padded softly forward, inch by inch. My prey, a dracaenae woman, slithered along the damp, moss-covered rocks. Her serpent’s tail, which replaced her legs, was a beautiful jade green.
Kaylee stalked forward towards the dracaenae. I flicked my tail in anticipation and followed swiftly. With a low growl of warning, I leapt out of the brush and landed both paws squarely on the monster. Kaylee raked her powerful claws through the tail, and Chasidee ripped the dracaenae’s skin with her long, deadly talons. With a snarl of delight, I lowered my head and gnashed my teeth, ready to kill my prey. My teeth sank into the delicate, pale skin of the serpent-woman’s neck. Her cool blood flowed into my mouth; I recoiled at the unnaturally sour taste.
Kaylee and I backed off the dracaenae in unison, and Chasidee fluttered up to a higher branch. The woman slowly faded out of view, her body being claimed and taken to the Underworld, a natural occurrence for monsters we had killed. Chasidee and Kaylee waded into the water, washing out the dirt and leaves. My feline side pleaded with my feminine side, begging that no matter how dirty I was, I would not go into that water. After debating for several minutes, I finally followed them into the pond water.
After I had thoroughly cleaned my pelt, I shifted to a more familiar form. As a human, I still had heightened senses and fast reflexes, though they weren’t nearly as intense as when I was phased as a lioness. I sat down on the ground, staring into the crystal clear water. My golden-blond hair and amber eyes gave insight to my true self.
I was Aden, Blessed at birth by Apollo, and granted the gift of the lioness to represent the sun, warmth and power that Apollo ruled over. I was here to stop monsters from rampaging freely across the world, and to stand by the ancient Greek gods throughout my life. Kaylee and Chasidee were more than friends, both Blessed and committed to the same cause as I was.
Kaylee, Blessed by Artemis and given the gift of a wolf to represent the night, moon, and solidarity, phased back and shook her glossy, silver-blond hair. Her misty-grey eyes shone in the dim moonlight, and her slim figure and mysterious features became overly-evident. She flipped onto a tree branch with practiced perfection.
Chasidee, Blessed by Athena and given the gift of an owl to represent her seemingly endless knowledge and logic, landed gracefully and shifted back as well. She ran her fingers through her thick black hair, and her deep green eyes flashed with impatience. She turned her intelligent gaze to the cloud-covered sky.
“Let’s go,” Chass murmured softly, not wanting to disturb to the peaceful night.
I nodded and followed Kaylee into the forest, running with more speed than a human. In less than a minute we had run over a mile through the woods toward our house. Morgan, our adopted mother, stood at the back door.
Morgan’s sad jade eyes addressed each of us in turn. “Girls, I hope you all realize that our flight leaves at three this afternoon. I packed your things.”
We all nodded. Chass and Kaylee continued inside, but I lingered in the doorway. I understood why we moved so much, but I still felt a sharp pang of sorrow. Looking towards the horizon, I watched the sun as it slowly crept into the sky. We had been preparing for this our whole lives. Every time we moved, it was to find more monsters. It was to fulfill our purpose, our destiny.
Still, it didn’t make leaving our friends and our home any easier. I turned to go into our house, fearing the long day I knew was waiting.
I glanced at the small white slip of paper, my new schedule, in my hands again. I saw Kaylee and Chasidee doing the same. I twisted in my seat to look at the stuffy room around me. I sat in the counselor’s office of my new school, a small campus in southeast Texas that paled in comparison to the larger one in California we had just left.
The counselor inspected our schedules, looked us up and down, and looked unsatisfied. Again.
And then she said that Jason would show us around as soon as he got back. Again.
We all sighed, having been through the same routine ten times in the last five minutes.
Every school was the same: the same grumpy counselor, the same unfamiliar halls, the same teachers acting like they didn't hate having to bring you up to speed on the assignments. The same things that happen again and again and again, no matter which school we're at. This small campus had an air of finality, though. Our day had started with the normal routine, picking our schedules, getting our lockers, and checking out textbooks, but I felt we might be here to stay. At least for a while.
A small montage of memories scrolled through my mind, remembering every school we had been to since kindergarten. Even before moving and switching schools was about finding monsters, it had been about safety when we were younger. A Blessed child was an easy catch in the sadistic eyes of our prey.
We had enrolled in Texas twice: once in third grade, and now. We had been to California, New York, and everything in between. We had even been to a middle school near Miami, Florida. However, we hadn’t ever been to Hawaii…
I smiled, thinking about Morgan’s numerous excuses on why we couldn’t move to Hawaii. I’d get a great tan, I thought. Of course, I knew Chass would bring up skin cancer, and Morgan would pull out the sunscreen. I laughed to myself, shaking my head.
A sign of life, of course, prompted another glare from the counselor.
I sighed inwardly and wondered how quickly my sisters and I would blend into this school. Having been ‘the new kids’ several times, it wasn’t something that bothered us. But still, I wondered.
I examined my outfit mentally: a simple white shirt, cute red jacket, comfy jean capris, and my always-in-style Converse. I pulled a small mirror from my purse and checked my hair (perfectly straight) and my makeup (naturally flawless).
I glanced over Kaylee’s pink dress, noticing how the color lit up her cheeks, her unnecessarily-dressy heels, and braided hair that was absolutely too casual for the rest of her outfit.
I laughed to myself at Chasidee. Her overload on mascara and eyeliner, added with her long, straight black hair, grey shirt from some way-too-dark-and-heavy rock band, black leather jacket, dark skinny jeans, and long dark boots, gave her the impression of being, well… a gothic rocker chick. Of course, Kay and I knew better. On the inside, Chass was too smart for her own good, and definitely not as dark as she dressed.
Thankfully, before I could think of anything else completely off-topic, the bell rang. The door to the counselor’s room swung open and the counselor sighed.
“Finally, Jason…” she grumbled. “Take these girls around the school and get them to first period, please."
"Yes ma'am." Jason pretended to salute, his blue eyes sparkling with humor.
The counselor shook her head. "This would have been much easier if you were here on time…” She muttered something about having to rush, turning to her computer.
Jason grinned, taking our schedules. “Sorry, Mom, but Kristine needed some homework help.”
I caught the counselor’s disappointed glare as she mumbled, “You spend too much time with that girl…”
“That’s my mom,” Jason clarified as he led us out of the office and through the unfamiliar halls, “and Kristine is my girlfriend. They hate each other.”
“We need to know this why?” I whispered under my breath, too low for mortal ears to hear.
Kaylee laughed softly, following Jason as he pointed to a row of lockers.
“These three are yours." He gestured to two top lockers and a bottom locker. “They should work ok, but they’re ancient and don’t always open. Especially since they haven’t been used since last year. They’re probably stuck.”
I glanced back at my schedule and saw I had a top locker. From Chasidee’s sharp sigh, I knew she had the bottom locker. “Hooray for the beginning of the alphabet,” I grinned, knowing it would just make her more frustrated.
“C is at the beginning of the alphabet,” Chass groaned.
"Hey," Jason asked suddenly, reading over our schedules, "How did all three of you end up in so many classes together?"
I shrugged, not sure how to answer. Morgan had told the counselor we needed classes together, and it happened. That's how it had always been.
"Stress," Chasidee sighed, always prepared to give a mortal an excuse. "We're in a lot of advanced classes and don't really need to worry about remembering where to go. And plus, we move a lot, so sometimes it's hard to remember everything."
"Stress?!" Jason shook his head. "No, look, on Chasidee's schedule, for second period, is AP French Four. You guys are all juniors. How does that happen? You can't even get into French One until you're a freshman!"
Chass smiled. "I tested out of French Two. Skipped a year."
Jason looked at her with wide eyes. "You're lying."
Chasidee and I shook our heads. She was a genius. Not only was she fluent in French, but she knew Spanish, Latin, and even some Greek.
And I was struggling in Spanish Two.
“Guys,” Kaylee whined, bringing our attention back to the present, “mine won’t open.”
“I got it.” Jason pretended to roll up his sleeves and tugged on the locker door. Nothing happened.
I spun the lock on my locker, finding the right numbers. It opened easily and I shrugged. “Mine works.”
“Mine, too.” Chasidee slammed her bottom locker in disgust.
As Jason struggled with the locker, a familiar face bounced through the crowd. Kyle Stevens smiled when he saw us, and veered sharply across the hallway.
“Hey, strangers!” Kyle smiled, giving me a brief but tight hug. "Long time, no see! What brings you to the neighborhood?”
I laughed along with Chasidee. It wasn't unusual to find a couple of Blessed when we moved, but it was always nice to find someone we already knew.
Kaylee hugged Kyle and grinned. She broke into giggles as Kyle stole a quick kiss on her cheek.
A part of me wanted to turn and run right then; Kyle had been a major part of Kay's life for a long time, and it had been a few months since we had seen him last. I could tell they had some… well, catching up to do.
I swore right then, if they started dating again…
Even Chasidee frowned at the two of them. “I have to wonder—Why would Morgan send us to a tiny school to…” she glanced at Jason, who quickly took the hint and left, telling Kyle he was in charge of showing us around, “well, you know, take care of business.”
“I don’t know. But, you’d better hurry or you’ll be late. Where are you ladies heading?”
I grimaced. “English. With Harris.”
Kyle beamed. “Me, too! Aw, don’t worry, she’s not that bad.”
“Wait!” Kay called as the rest of us turned to leave. “My locker.”
Kyle laughed and easily pulled her locker open. “It just takes a little muscle,” he grinned, winking. “By the way, that was Jason. I’ve known him for a while, and he normally eats lunch with us, but these days he’s usually flirting with Kristine, his—”
“Girlfriend,” I interjected. “We know.”
“Ok.” Kyle shrugged. “Anyway, since I’m showing you around, this is your English class.”
We followed Kyle into Mrs. Harris’ classroom, happy to have met someone we already knew. Kyle' dad, or his mortal step-dad, anyway, since none of us actually knew our parents, was a friend of Morgan’s. Kyle was Blessed by Ares, and was unusually friendly, considering his guardian was the war god, and his second form was the irritable grizzly bear. I watched as Kyle walked confidently through the door, shaking his disheveled brown hair.
Mrs. Harris was a busy woman who liked to talk. She had beautiful golden brown hair that tumbled elegantly to her waist in long graceful curls. She was always moving, and taught with enthusiasm. Luckily, she didn’t make us introduce ourselves, so class went smoothly. I think I'm going to like this class, I thought. Of course, as Kyle and Kay flirted playfully, I knew they would enjoy it, too.
When the bell rang an hour later, Kaylee and Chasidee followed me fluidly to the door. Kyle rushed through some directions, apologizing for not being able to show us where our next class was. Kaylee and I hurried to our next class, Spanish, and Chass waved and headed towards French.
We walked through the door as the tardy bell rang. Spanish Two was on the other side of the building. Mr. Hernandez was short, fat, and balding and seemed fairly nice. But then, he asked us to give a short but complete introduction, which made me hate the class even more that I would have originally. I was glad when the bell rang.
By third period, I was recognizing faces and names. One stood out in particular. A girl named Lyssa. She had gorgeous white-blond hair and icy blue eyes. She was, to say the least, a bit cold in disposition. I wouldn’t have paid much attention, but she smelled. It was a delicate scent that only sensitive noses like mine could detect. She didn’t smell sharp and metallic like monsters, or dull and natural like humans, she smelled sweet, like honeysuckle. She smelled Blessed.
I broke from my sisters on the way to lunch and caught up with Lyssa.
“Hi! I’m Aden, and I just moved here. I couldn’t help but notice that you’ve been in several of my classes today.”
"Yeah, well it's a small town." Lyssa narrowed her eyes, sitting at an empty table.
"Umm, yeah… So, my sisters and I are friends with Kyle, and… you know…" I was trying really hard to tell her we were Blessed without actually saying it, which, with as cold as she was being, was going to be difficult.
Actually, I wasn't really trying that hard. But come on, I could smell Morgan's spaghetti a mile away, literally. I was standing right in front of Lyssa; surely she could smell that I was Blessed.
"Ever been to Olympus? Plan on going soon?"
The questions caught me off-guard. "Uhh, no. And no."
"Oh, lucky you," Lyssa snorted. "You don't get to meet the wonderful woman who so lovingly abandoned me. Hera," she added, her voice serious again.
"Oh. Well, I'm sorry, but I've never met Apollo, and Chass and Kay…" I played with the hem of my shirt, feeling more and more uncomfortable with Lyssa's icy gaze on me.
"Yeah. If you ever need an arctic fox to help you out…" Her eyes were hard, and I wasn't sure if that was an invitation or a warning.
“Thanks, Lyssa. I'm really looking forward to…uh, working with you. I guess.” With a hesitant smile, I waltzed back to where Chasidee, Kaylee, and a small girl with elfish features and deep brown hair sat.
As I approached the table, the unfamiliar girl stood and introduced herself. “Hey! You’re Aden, right? I told your sisters that you guys can sit with me at this table. I really don’t mind. I’m Jenifer, by the way. But, call me Jen, alright?”
I sniffed inconspicuously. Warm, natural, dull. With a hint of… roses? I smiled, certain Jen was going to be an adventure in herself. Suddenly, Jen’s heart rate spiked to twice its speed. Kyle sat down next to Chasidee and smiled at Jen. I shared a quick smile with my sisters as Jen’s breathing quickened.
“I… uhh, need to use the restroom. I’ll be right back.” Jen smiled awkwardly, standing up.
As Jen walked into the girls’ bathroom, I motioned for Kyle to stop talking. I closed my eyes and concentrated on the noisy cafeteria around me. I followed my ears to the restrooms, where I heard a squeal of delight. As I listened, Jen let out a big breath and giggled hysterically. Another squeal broke out, probably from one of Jen’s friends’, as Jen spilled every detail of her lunch so far, squealing again every time Kyle's name was brought up.
Something broke my concentration. It was a sound. Or rather, it wasn’t a sound. I heard nothing, absolutely nothing, from the table in the back corner. My eyes flew toward the silence, and my heart raced with excitement. Vampires. Empousai, as they were called in ancient Greek. Although, they weren't real vampires, some off-topic part of my mind contemplated. Their existence had something to do with a goddess and magic; I knew that if I really wanted to know, I could just ask Chass.
But honestly, I didn't really care. As long as they put up a good fight, I didn’t need to know how they got there.
“Kyle! Who are they?” I pointed to the far table, adrenaline coursing through my body.
Kyle grinned. “Me and Sunshine over there,” he jerked his chin towards Lyssa, “have been trying to catch them for months. The tall one is pretty strong, he’s Rick. The one with the red hair is pretty much just-”
“Gorgeous?” I offered, only somewhat sarcastically.
Kyle grimaced. “Shut up, Aden. You don’t really want to fall for a vampire with no intention of catching you, do you? His name is Jared. And then, the short one is named Katy or something like that. She's pretty fast.”
I nodded. “Thanks.” I studied them discreetly. It had been years since I had seen an empousa. They were strong, fast, graceful… Everything I was. They were a challenge.
As if reading my mind, Kyle shook his head. “They’re too fast, too strong. Lyssa’s an incredible fighter, and she can’t handle one, even with my help.”
Kaylee grinned, her cool grey eyes shining with excitement. “You’ve got three incredible fighters who’ve probably seen more than Lyssa ever will see. I want to catch them. Today. It’s been months since we’ve had a decent fight.”
Chasidee and I agreed enthusiastically.
Kyle smiled. “Nope. Not right now, anyway. The bell’s about to ring.”
Soon after lunch, I headed to athletics with my sisters. The coaches gave us our uniforms, but we didn’t have to dress out. I was glad; I wasn’t looking forward to a sweaty ride home.
After school I met my sisters in the parking lot. Morgan had bought us a new car shortly before we moved, and we had gotten a sweet silver Corvette.
As soon as we pulled out of the student parking lot, I turned up the radio. We sang along the whole way home, trying to pretend that we were truly at home, and that we were completely human, and that we didn’t have three deadly empousai following us through the forests that whipped steadily past our open windows.