Of Silver and Beasts

By: Trisha Wolfe

A Goddess Wars Novel

The mercury in my blood nearly boils.

The morning sun hangs over the sand-covered queendom of Cavan, reflecting off the glass buildings towering above the downtown market, its heated rays drawn to my dark uniform.

Straightening my starched shirt and leather harness, I try to pull the material away from my sweat-slicked skin, cursing the already blistering sun. But Cavan’s sweltering summer is only partially the reason I’m bathed in sweat. The protector advancement ceremony is in an hour, and my nerves are about to consume me.

Goddess, I curse inwardly, and fan my face with my hand.

Judging by the bustle on the dusty streets, everyone is in a hurry to hear Empress Iana’s address at the palace. A knot forms in my stomach, and I push the queasy ache down.

“Only five dinnels for this lovely coral vest,” a merchant with greasy, sweat-soaked dreads says to me as I pass under his awning to escape the roasting heat.

I eye the hideous coral vest and hold up my hand, shaking my head. He moves on to his next potential customer, and I continue my trek through the marketplace to where I always meet up with my friends before training.

Glancing up at the puffs of steam escaping the mercury plant’s glinting copper pipes, I pray the man-made clouds block some of the sun’s heat for the ceremony. The glass building soars fifty stories high in the center of the city, and is the largest mercury distributer in the Three Realms. If anything could blot out the sun, it’d be that monstrosity.

I rub my chest, feeling the cool glass casing beneath my fingertips. Nearly everything in our country is mercury-powered. Even the cybernetic fix that filters the poisonous mineral away from my heart pumps mercury through its gears and wires.

Mercury is believed to be the divine blood of our goddesses, as it’s the purest mineral. My mother continually reminds me that I’m not cursed—but blessed. I shake the thought from my head as I spot Lilly and Willa. My usual concerns are unimportant today.

Lilly leans against the tech shop’s awning pole as Willa waves a piece of chocolate-coated crisp in her face. I smile as I approach them.

“Stop trying to force feed her,” I say, resting my hand on the pommel of my sword. “You know she won’t eat a thing when she’s nervous.”

Lilly gives me a toothy, sweet smile, her red ringlets cascading over her shoulders like flames licking her uniform as it catches the sun. “I’m not nervous,” she says. “I’m watching my figure. My girlfriend mentioned just how thick I’m getting right before you arrived.”

“I did not,” Willa retorts. She gives Lilly a stern glare, but a smile hikes up the side of her face. “I said muscled.” She shakes her head, her dark braid bobs. “It was a compliment.” She quickly kisses Lilly’s cheek, and I laugh at them.

All three of us started protector training at the same time, at the same age. I’ve known Lilly my whole life, as we grew up in the same quarter just two apartments apart. But when Lilly met Willa, they became inseparable. Willa is her perfect match. We’ve all been together since, and I can’t imagine moving on to the Nactue without either of them. Especially Lilly.

We’re not allowed to discuss our factions among each other, though. All the protectors in training were given their status last week, and I’m dying to find out if we’ll advance together.

Lilly pulls her attention away from Willa. “Are you ready?” she asks me.

“Of course.” I nod once, forcing the anxiety roiling my stomach down. “Although I’m about to pee my uniform if you two don’t hurry up.” She laughs, and I relax into my easy life away from the haunting walls of my home. Here with them, I’m another person completely. I’m brave and loyal Kaliope, protector in training to the Empress Iana and the deities of Nalbis.

But in the small, cluttered apartment of my childhood home, I’m that same quiet and distant girl who kept to herself. Even after my father was sent to the mental ward, it’s as if that home will always be his, and the very smell of musty air filtered through our sorry ventilation system will return me to her—that little, scared girl.

I vow to buy my mother a new home as soon as possible.