IN THE BEGINNING, THE WORLD WAS MADE OF beauty and of magick. Before there were humans, there were gods and those who served them and did their bidding whatever their bidding was. At war with each other, the gods fought among themselves until a new breed was born out of their senseless violence. Chthonians by name, these new creatures came from the earth that flowed red with the blood of the gods.
The Chthonians rose up and divided the world between the gods-they split the world among themselves.
To maintain the peace, the soldiers of the gods were ordered to be put down. None were to survive. Chthonian law took pre ce dence and together they were able to bring peace to the world once more and to protect the new life-form of mankind.
But the Chthonians were not without corruption. Nor were they infallible.
It wasn't long before they bickered, too.
And so time moved forward. Mankind matured and learned to dismiss the gods and the magick that existed in their world. Unable to fight on their own, mankind chose to ignore it.
"Poppycock." "Hokum." "Fantasy." "Fairy tales." Those were some of the many words man used to denigrate that which couldn't be explained by their so-called science. Empiricism became its own religion.
There were no shadows stalking innocent victims. It was nothing more than a human mind playing tricks. An overactive imagination.
Wolves can't turn into humans and humans can't turn into bears. All the ancient gods are dead-relegated to mythological tales that we all know are untrue.
And yet . . .
What was that sound outside the window just now? Was it the howling of the wind? A stray dog perhaps?
Or something more sinister? Something truly predatorial?
The subtle hair rise on a neck could very well be nothing more than goose bumps. Or it could be the sensation of the dead walking near. The sensation of the hand of an unseen god or servant passing through.
The world is no longer new. It's no longer innocent.
And the old ones grow tired of being ignored. The winds that whispered through the yard earlier weren't the tender caress of a climate change. They were a siren's call that can only be heard by certain preternatural species.
Even now, those forces gather and unite.
This time, they want something more than the blood of the gods and one another.
They want us . . .
And we are at their mercy.
STRYKER PAUSED AS HE LOOKED AROUND TARtarus. His father, the Greek god Apollo, had brought him here once, eons ago, when he'd been a small child to meet his great-uncle Hades, who ruled the Greek Underworld and oversaw the ancient dead. On that day his father had also bestowed a rare and beneficial gift on Stryker. The ability to come and go from the Underworld so that Stryker could visit his uncle. As a child, Stryker had been terrified of the dark god whose eyes had only softened when he looked at his wife, Persephone.
Luckily, Persephone was here with Hades now and the god was too occupied by her to notice the fact that there was an uninvited demigod in his domain. Hades could be extremely temperamental over such insults.
Especially when the uninvited demigod carried a vial of potent blood with him. More to the point, Typhon's blood. The son of the primordial god Tartarus, whose name was given to this very part of Hades' domain, Typhon was deadly and lethal. His power enough to take down even Zeus, the king of the gods. At least until the Olympian gods had banded together to trap Typhon under Mount Aetna.
"Thank you for not being able to kill him," Stryker said, holding the vial up so that he could see the luminescent purple blood he'd taken from the trapped Titan. With this, Stryker could wake the dead and bring back the most potent of scourges.
Gripping the vial tightly, Stryker headed to the lowest part of Tartarus. This level was relegated to the beasts and gods that the Olympians had defeated. To the ones they feared above all others.
But it was the tomb in the back Stryker had accidentally found as a child that drew him now. In the darkness around him, he could still see the look of fear in his father's eyes. . . .
"What's that, Father?" Stryker had pointed up at the statues of two men and one woman.
Apollo had knelt down by his side. "They are what's left of the Machae."
"The spirits of battle." Apollo had pointed to the tallest in back. Huge in stature and built like a warrior, the statue had made a seven-year-old Stryker gasp in fear of his coming to life to hurt him. "That is War. The fiercest of the Machae. He was created by all the gods of war to kill the Chthonians. It's said that he and his minions pursued them to the brink of extinction. In one final battle that lasted for three full months, War held the last of the Chthonians down until they tricked him. Beleaguered, he screamed mightily as his powers were bound by spell and then he was cast into his current stasis. Here he remains until someone reawakens him."
It had seemed a rather harsh punishment to Stryker's boyish mind. Ignoble and cruel. "Why did the gods not kill him?"
"We weren't strong enough. Even with our powers combined, we still lacked the ability to end his life."
None of that had made sense to Stryker at the time. "I don't understand why the gods fear the Chthonians so. They are human."
"With the powers of gods, child. Never forget that. They alone can kill us without destroying the universe and return our essence to the primary source that birthed us."
"Then why don't the Chthonians kill all the gods and replace them?"