Sneak Peek: "Irredeemable"

"She wasn’t a fool. Eternal torment was all that awaited her in the Underworld, but an easy death was a coward’s way out and she’d been far too proud to take it—only realizing too late that pride wouldn’t keep her from going mad once the Furies came calling."

Deimos Kassandra confronting Alexios during the battle of Amphipolis.

This is the opening scene to my current WIP, a novel called "Irredeemable," which is shaping up to be the spiritual sequel (or perhaps, bookend) to "The Breaking." At the end of that story, Kyra wonders what Deimos might have done with a second chance. So do I.

Once, her name was Terror.

Deimos, they called her, and other epithets, too. The Butcher of Pylos. The Sword of Order. The Champion of Kosmos. With a demigod’s blood flowing in her veins, she’d cut a burning swath of bodies across Greece and forced the leaders of nations to their knees. She was the Chosen One, destined to bring order to this world, and she’d risen to every challenge, eliminated every enemy, conquered every polis, until her goal lay within her grasp—

But Alexios had stopped her.

Alexios the Eagle Bearer, hero of Greece. Alexios her brother, who had shown her that everything she’d known of herself had been a lie. Alexios, who crouched beside her now, in the shadows of a dank and foul cave, watching a priest of the Followers of Ares unsheathe a dagger while three acolytes dragged a woman to their bloody altar, her pleas for mercy bouncing uselessly off the cave’s stone walls.

“What now, brother?” she asked him, keeping her voice low and quiet, though she needn’t have bothered—the captive’s shrieks filled the chamber. The air thrummed with fear. She breathed it in and allowed herself a moment to savor it. Then an unwelcome twinge shot through her ribs and she glanced at Alexios, glad that he hadn’t turned around to see her. She nodded at the altar below. “Skulking in the shadows like rats won’t save that woman.”

Alexios stirred, then pulled the Spear from its sheath, the blade of the dagger-like weapon shining liquid bronze in the dim torchlight. “I’ll take the ones at the altar. You take the reinforcements.”

“Finally,” she muttered, but he was already gone, having used the godly power of the Spear of Leonidas to launch himself at the priest with the speed and force of a thrown javelin. She was alone, as she preferred to be. She jumped into the center of the chamber, landing lightly on her feet, and as she strolled towards the passageways that would bring her amusements to play with, she whistled between her teeth and stroked the pommel of her sword.

Behind her, metal gnashed against metal as Alexios fought the priest and the acolytes, and the sound of battle called a handful of Followers into the chamber a few moments later, their weapons drawn and ready. But when the man leading the charge caught sight of her standing in his path, he stopped short, his drug-addled eyes wildly darting between her face, her gold cuirass, and her white pteruges. “Deimos?” he asked.

She smiled and drew her sword. “Ready to meet your god?”

The acolytes stared at her in confusion, the friend they expected having turned into an enemy, and in the space of their hesitation she drew upon the endless rage that boiled within her and channeled it into her sword, its grip growing hot within her fingers. She thrust it point-first into the ground, unleashing a concussive wave of force that knocked the acolytes off their feet. In its wake she followed, walking among the dazed figures and dispatching each one with quick thrusts of her blade.

As she finished off the last, more rushed into the chamber through the second passageway. She glanced at the altar, where the bodies of the priest and his minions lay in the dirt, and grinned at Alexios as he joined her in the fray, his sword and spear flashing as he cut a path through the acolytes with a fluid grace that always surprised her.

Her own style was far more direct. Holding her sword ready, she watched a pair of acolytes approach, her eyes flicking between the elder’s spear and the fanatic’s axe, reading the intentions behind the shifting weight at their knees, hips, and elbows with practiced ease. She’d spent twenty years learning to glean meaning from the slightest of movements, and when the point of the elder’s spear thrust towards her throat, her counter-attack unfurled with the snap of a winch suddenly released: her shoulders turned to let his spearpoint pass by harmlessly while her sword whipped around to cut his throat wide open. With her free hand, she caught his now-falling spear out of the air, spun it around, and let the onrushing fanatic impale himself upon its point, his axe tumbling from his dying grasp.

She was sudden force applied with lethal effect, more like the strike of a snake than Alexios’s whirlwind of blades. The Cult of Kosmos valued efficiency almost as much as it valued obedience, and its philosophies had been drilled into her by trainers who’d made her into a weapon unlike the world had ever seen.

These Followers of Ares were unworthy foes, clumsy and disorganized. As Alexios sliced through acolyte after acolyte, she amused herself by devising ways to turn their own weapons against them. A spear here, a sword there, smiling at their surprise as they died by the very blades they’d carried at their sides during the day and kept by their pillows at night.

The fight ended as suddenly as it began, the chamber falling silent but for the crackling flames of torches and braziers. For a time, nothing moved. Then a muffled sob drew her eyes to the cages that lined the cave’s walls—and the pathetic figures huddling within them.

She flicked the blood off her sword and slid it back into place on her belt, then stepped over the first of several bodies between her and the cages, pausing once to pick up a fallen axe along the way.

A man’s voice drifted out from between the bars. “Please, warrior, free us from this monstrous place. They’ve been feasting upon us for weeks.”

Cannibals, these Followers of Ares were. A decade ago, they were an unorganized group of zealots who believed that consuming human flesh would imbue them with the power of Ares himself. Then Harpalos had come along, using his charisma to quickly anoint himself their leader and build them into an army, one that the Cult had welcomed with open arms.

Lunatics, all of them. But after the Cult convinced Harpalos of the power in her bloodline, he and his minions had become useful in their obedience—and Deimos had found herself worshipped as a god by followers who kidnapped innocents across the land and devoured them in sacrifice.

A row of terrified eyes watched her. In the before times—before Alexios had dragged her down and made her mortal, with a mortal’s guilt—the sight of that much fear would have put her in a good mood for days. Now, it felt like a leap from a high rooftop: a momentary rush of delighted freedom, followed by a painful slam back to earth.

She hefted the axe, hammered it against the lock until the hasp split in two. And as she tugged the door open, the captives’ terror gave way to a grateful relief that engulfed her in waves, as incomprehensible as the babble of a foreign tongue.

Then Alexios opened the other cage, and she tossed her axe aside and nodded at him silently as she joined him. The captives burst from the cages, running for freedom without stopping to thank their saviors. She would have done the same, had she been in their place, and as it was, she shook away a shivered memory of confinement in a cold darkness, surrounded by unyielding bars.

All the captives fled except one. In the doorway of a cage stood an old woman, a woman who stared at her with piercing eyes.

“You,” the woman said, pointing at her. “They called you Deimos. I heard them.” Her voice was strident, and she stepped closer without fear. “You’re the Butcher of Pylos. And Amphipolis. My son...” and then, quick as a viper, the woman spat in her face.

The woman was right: Deimos was her true name. She had not asked for it, but it had been given to her all the same, beaten into her with fist and lash and other cruelties, multiplying the terror inside her a tenfold, a hundredfold. The Cult had encouraged it and nurtured it, training her to it like a grapevine to a trellis. They’d taught her to find pleasure in releasing terror back into the world.

And she’d been very, very good at it, her infamy spreading far and wide.

Warm spittle slid down her cheek, yet she didn’t move. And here was Alexios, placing himself between her and the woman. He held his palm towards her as if to keep her from doing... what? Flying into a rage? Killing someone?

Her heart beat itself against frozen ribs. She forced herself to draw in a breath. Then she turned, wordlessly, and walked away, heading for the passage that led out of the cave, surrounded by the echoes of the woman wailing behind her.

“She murdered my boy. My boy. And now she’s saved my life. Oh, the gods are cruel, to make me live with this knowing.”

Once, not long ago, she would have killed the woman without another thought, but now she wiped spittle from her cheek and placed one foot in front of the other, fixing her eyes on the ever-moving darkness at the far end of the passageway. She tried to keep her breath steady, even as the stone walls seemed to take on the sheen of metal, closing in around her, the air smelling and tasting of copper.

When she finally reached the cave’s entrance, she stumbled into the sunlight, dizzy and reeling, and she doubled over, hands on her knees, and retched into the dust.

The cave opened into a hollow in the hillside. Further down the steep slope was a road, and to her left stood an enormous carving of Sisyphos struggling with his boulder. He loomed over this corner of Korinthia, as big as a mountain.

Her feet somehow brought her to a stony outcropping that overlooked the entire valley, from the city of Korinth all the way to the sea, and she stared at the people traveling the road far below in lines like ants, until she heard the rustle of grass and the soft creak of armor, knowing without turning that it was Alexios who approached her.


That name still meant nothing to her, but she would have to learn to answer to it. “What?”

Alexios clambered up beside her. “Are you all right?”

She kept watching the people below. “Yes, I’m just fine,” she said, letting her voice twist with sarcasm. “Skewered some lunatics and got spat on for my troubles. Just fine.”

“You just saved a dozen lives.”

Now she turned to him. “You saved a dozen lives,” she said. “I wouldn’t have even stopped.” She’d been minding her own business as they’d walked the road earlier in the day, and it had been Alexios who’d spotted the blood-spattered banners waving their dire warning on the hillside above them. Of course he’d dragged her along with him to investigate. That’s what heroes did, apparently. Wandered around the countryside, looking for people to save.

“What happened in there...” He breathed in, searching for words. “Pylos. Amphipolis. It was war.” They’d even crossed blades in both battles, fighting on opposite sides, but neither duel had reached a conclusive ending. “How many do you think I’ve killed?”

His clumsy attempt to soothe her feelings nearly made her laugh. She doubted Alexios’s number was as astronomical as hers. Even if it was, had he enjoyed each murder as much as she had? “My crimes run far deeper than fighting for a nation I cared nothing about,” she said, and then she smiled, knowing it would make him squirm.

She had tortured him once, her fists slamming into his flesh, and she’d basked in the delight of making him hurt the way she had for so many years. But he’d simply hung there, pliant at the end of his chains, blood running from his nose and the split in his lip, asking her, “Why, sister? Why do this?”

His words had only stoked her anger hotter, and as she raised her fists to begin the next round, he lifted his head to look at her with those bronze-flecked eyes so like her own, and his gaze never flinched, not once.

Sister, he’d called her, every time their paths crossed.

What kind of sister would do such things to her own brother? She felt another retch begin to build deep in her throat.

It would’ve been easier if she’d made him kill her on that clifftop on Mount Taygetos. She wouldn’t have to remember his grunts of pain every time she looked at him. She wouldn’t have to figure out how to live under the crushing weight of the terrible things she’d done. Just one lunge—towards him, towards their mater—and he would’ve driven his Spear through her throat and sent her to Hades’s doorstep.

She wasn’t a fool. Eternal torment was all that awaited her in the Underworld, but an easy death was a coward’s way out and she’d been far too proud to take it—only realizing too late that pride wouldn’t keep her from going mad once the Furies came calling. Tisiphone’s invisible hand was already at work: the closer she and Alexios got to Athens, the more she’d been recognized, each confrontation forcing her to stand face to face with yet another person she’d wronged.

She wasn’t sure how much longer she could bear it.

“Let’s go,” she heard herself say, turning to begin the long journey down to the road without waiting for Alexios to answer, and as they picked their way down the rocky slope, she spared a glance up at Sisyphos, his granite face too contorted with agony to stare anywhere but the distant unknown.

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