War came to Olympus.
There was no warning. No clues that an unknown enemy was building an army against them; an army whose only goal was complete destruction. One moment there was peace, the next they were fighting for their very existence. It was bloody, brutal and totally unexpected.
But for one Olympian, it was the perfect opportunity to fulfil a dream.
Paelen ducked behind a marble pillar and watched the best Olympian warriors gathering to take on the invaders. Jupiter was leading the attack with his thunder and lightning bolts in hand. His wife Juno stood on his left, grave-faced and ready. On his right, Hercules was looking strong and prepared, as were Apollo and his twin sister Diana with her bow. Mars was there, and Vulcan with his armoury full of weapons. Standing behind them in his winged sandals and helmet was Mercury, the messenger of Olympus. All preparing to fight.
Paelen’s gaze trailed over to Pegasus. The stallion’s eyes blazed and wings quivered as his golden hooves pounded the ground in anticipation of the upcoming battle. Further back gathered more Olympians, all there to defend their home.
But Paelen had no intention of fighting. He wasn’t a warrior. He was a thief with plans of his own which didn’t include getting killed in a battle they couldn’t possibly win. War was everyone else’s problem. He was too busy concentrating on how best to profit from it. With the defenders occupied in the struggle against the Nirads, a thief would be free to enter the palace of Jupiter and take whatever they wanted.
But Jupiter’s treasures weren’t what interested Paelen. What he desired most was the shiny gold bridle worn by Pegasus.
Everyone in Olympus knew the bridle was the greatest treasure of all. It alone held the key to possessing the powerful winged stallion. With Pegasus under his control, Paelen could go anywhere he wanted and take whatever caught his eye, with no one able to stand against him. This was the true prize, not the silly jewels or gold coins that could be found in the abandoned palace.
As Jupiter called his fighters forward, Paelen crept closer to listen to his desperate speech.
“My children,” he said gravely. “We are in our darkest hour. At no other time in history have we faced such terrible danger. The Nirad fighters have breached our borders. Even now they are making for the Flame of Olympus. If they succeed in extinguishing it, all our powers, all we have ever known, will be lost. We must stop them. That Flame is our very existence. We cannot let them succeed. If we do not make our stand against them now, then everything we have known will be destroyed.”
Paelen listened to the murmurs of the crowd and felt the tension growing. His eyes were still locked on Pegasus. The stallion shook his head and snorted, causing his golden bridle to give out an enchanting tinkle that no other forged gold could ever make.
Hearing the bridle’s song made Paelen’s fingers itch to reach out and snatch it from the stallion. But he controlled himself. This wasn’t the time to make a move. His dark eyes were drawn back to their desperate leader.
“We who never die, now face our destruction,” continued Jupiter. “But it is not only our world we must defend. All the other worlds we guard will fall if the Nirads defeat us. We fight for them!”
Jupiter raised his lightning bolts in the air and their ferocious booms echoed throughout all Olympus. “Will you join me?” he cried. “Will you rise against these invaders and drive them back to where they came from?”
Paelen’s eyes grew wide at the sight of all the Olympians raising their arms to Jupiter. Pegasus reared on his hind legs and opened his wings in salute. Battle cries filled the air.
“For Olympus!” howled Jupiter as he turned and led his warriors into battle.
The First Chapter
Emily put her hand on the window and felt the glass shaking from the heavy peals of thunder cracking overhead.
All day the radio had been reporting on the unexpected and violent storms raging up and down the east coast of the United States. Where Emily lived, in the heart of New York City, the storm was at its worst. Sitting alone in the apartment she shared with her policeman father, she never imagined that a simple thunderstorm could be this bad.
She clutched her cellphone and felt guilty for lying to her father. He’d just called to check on her.
“All the police have been summoned in to work, honey,” he explained. “We’re doing double and triple shifts. The city’s a madhouse because of the weather and they need everyone on duty. Do me a favour, will you? Keep away from the windows. There are lighting strikes all over the city, and our top-floor apartment is at particular risk.”
Yet, despite his warning and her promise to keep away, Emily sat in the large window seat and watched the raging storm. This had always been her mother’s favourite spot. She used to call it her ‘perch’: her special place to sit and watch the world moving around twenty storeys below. Since her death, Emily found herself sitting there more and more often as though it could somehow bring her closer to her mother.
But not only that, from this vantage point Emily could see the top of the Empire State Building and watch it suffer the storm’s onslaught. Her father had once told her that the building itself worked as a giant lightning rod to protect the other buildings around it. But as more and more forked lightning struck its tall antenna, she wondered how much more it could take.
Emily hugged her knees to her chest to keep from trembling. She’d never been frightened of thunder when her mother was alive. Somehow, they’d always found ways of making foul weather fun and exciting. But now, all alone with her father at work, Emily felt her mother’s loss as acutely as the day she died.
“I wish you were here, Mom,” she whispered sadly as she gazed out the window. As they had done countless times before, Emily’s eyes filled with tears that trailed down her cheeks.
Suddenly there was an ever louder peel of thunder and brilliant flash of lightning. It struck the Empire so hard, the antenna at the top of the building exploded in a flash of electrical sparks and flying debris.
Emily could hardly believe what she had just witnessed. She wiped the tears from her blurred eyes as all the lights in the tall building blinked out. Immediately after, the lights in buildings around it went out. The darkness spread like a grape-juice stain on the carpet, as the city was hit with a black-out.
Emily followed the progression of the black-out as she peered up Broadway. Block after block was going dark. Even the street and traffic lights were out. It wasn’t long before the power outage reached her block, plunging her apartment building into darkness. She leaned further against the glass and tried to see where the blackout ended. It didn’t. The whole city was in darkness.
She jumped as her cell burst to life. With trembling hands she flipped it open and read her father’s name on the small view screen.
“Dad,” she cried. “You won’t believe what just happened! The top of the Empire just blew up! Lighting hit it and it exploded. Pieces went flying everywhere!”
“I just heard,” her father said anxiously. “Are you all right? Did anything hit our building?”
“No, everything’s fine,” Emily replied, hiding the fact that she was far from fine. She was actually starting to get very frightened. “But the power’s gone out. From what I can see, it’s dark all over the city.”
Emily heard another voice in the background. Her father cursed before speaking to her again.
“We’re getting reports that the blackout has spread to all the boroughs and is now hitting New Jersey. This is a big one, Em. And from what I’ve just been told, it’s not going to be fixed anytime soon. I need you to go into the bathroom and fill the tub with water. Then fill whatever you can in the kitchen. We don’t know how long this is going to last and we’ll need that water.”
“I will,” she promised. Then before she could stop herself, Emily asked weakly, “Dad, when are you coming home?”
“I don’t know, honey,” he answered. “Hopefully soon. Look, do you want me to call Aunt Maureen and ask her come over to stay with you?”
Emily loved her aunt, but she didn’t want to sound like a baby. She was thirteen, after all; certainly old enough to take care of herself. “No, thanks, Dad, I’m fine.”
“You’re sure?” her father asked. “I’m sure she could use the company.”
“Yeah, I’m sure,” Emily said. “The storm’s just got me a bit freaked. But I’ve got lots to do here. Besides, it’s too dangerous for Maureen to come over in all this and then have to climb twenty flights of stairs. Really, I’m fine.”
There was a hesitation in her father’s voice before he said, “All right. But if you need me or anything at all, I’m just a phone call away. Understand?”
“I do. Thanks Dad,” Emily said. “Now I’d better go before the water shuts down.”
Emily ended the call and used the light from her cellphone screen to guide her into the kitchen. She quickly found the emergency flashlight and crossed to the bathroom.
This was the standard operating procedure for blackouts. Fill the bathtub with water and anything else that will hold it. One of the downfalls of living in a tall building during a blackout was the pumps sending water up to the apartments soon stopped. If they didn’t store all the water they could, they would quickly find themselves in a lot of trouble.
She began to fill the bathtub, and then the pots and pans in the kitchen. Just as she finished filling the last big soup pot, the pressure behind the water flow started to weaken. It wouldn’t be long before it stopped completely.
“Well, it’s better than nothing,” she sighed aloud as she shut off all the faucets.
While she worked, Emily had managed to forget about the storm for a few minutes. But with the water off, the sound of the rumbling thunder and police and fire sirens from the city took over as the only sounds in the apartment.
Just outside the bathroom window, Emily saw another burst of lighting and heard more thunder. The lightning was so bright it left her seeing flashes, even after she closed her eyes. There was no pause between the light and sound, which meant this latest strike was very close.
As the thunder rumbled angrily, Emily moved away from the window. This time she would follow her father’s advice and stay well clear of them. The storm was now directly overhead – and getting worse by the minute.