The last thing we needed was to attract the attention of the Council of the Gods. Again.
I hovered over Dad’s shoulder and peered out the expansive window of our RV, our four-wheeled home away from normal life. “There. See that trail? Burned on the edges. Chimera tracks.”
We’d left normal a long time ago.
Rumors of a strange bear-slash-wild boar-slash-Big Foot had brought us to the foothills outside Hot Springs, Arkansas.
How anyone could mistake a chimera for Big Foot was beyond me. The beasts were an indecisive mash-up of a goat, a lion, and a serpent. The god who’d created them had a really hard time making decisions.
But until the Council sent us our next mission, this was how we spent our free time. Hunting down mythical creatures and sending them back to their side of the veil. And unless we royally screwed up, the Council left us alone. Which was better—safer—for everyone. The gods, for all their own failings, couldn’t abide ours.
Dad pulled the RV over to the side of the backwoods road, and I hopped out before he turned off the ignition. Trees towered over us, thick and shadowed, and a chill floated on the air that defied the ninety-plus degree weather everyone else was having. Perfect hunting weather.
I reached up to a charred branch, still warm to the touch, though just barely.
Dad jumped to the ground behind me and shoved his Guardian sword into the scabbard on his back. “This one’s yours. We’ll back you up.”
He’d been telling me this day was coming. My first time to lead the hunt. But rather than nervous sweats, excitement trilled in my blood.
I’d come to love a good fight.
I darted into the deep blues of the forest and followed the chimera’s trail. My song went out before me, a soft whisper, to detect any other powers nearby. A chimera didn’t have magic per se, but they were mythical beings in a human world. No human weapon could take them down.
I was a weapon. But not, apparently, human.
My song stuttered.
And that was all the warning I had.
The chimera’s fire sword swung at my neck, and the scent of my burnt hair caved in on me. Fires sprouted through the underbrush, but Dad and Neri would get those.
I rolled out of the way and into a crouch and patted out the spark singeing the end of my curls. My Siren song coiled in the center of my chest.
I whirled around, took the chimera in. It didn’t matter how many times I encountered the mythological, their weirdness always stole my breath.
It paced a few feet away on two paws, twirling a giant, flame-breathing sword and wielding double-edged smiles. The goat head was ridiculous. The lion head…not so much. The chimera’s serpent-headed tail flicked around and darted at my ankles.
I skipped over its fangs and leapt into the air. “If I’ve told you baddies once, I’ve told you a bajillion times…” I gasped, threw a throat punch, ducked, whirled around in a low, roundhouse kick, and connected with the chimera’s paws. “The hair is off”—kick to its chest, dodge the serpent tail—“limits.”
The look on its two faces would have been comical had it not also been about to meet its doom.
My song sprang from my chest like a supernatural jack-in-the-box, connected with the beast, and wrapped it in a ball of white energy. The ball grew to enclose the chimera’s massive size, all the while singing a melody apparently only I could hear, and, with a heartbeat-like pulse, bulged out and collapsed on itself. It sent out a disc of energy like an exploding star and sent everything the chimera had brought with it—from her wooden dishes to her red cape—back behind the veil.
What was it trying to be? Little Red Riding Hood and the Big Bad Wolf all at once?
Neri flapped down from a tree branch and landed on my shoulder. “They’re getting stronger.”
“Noted. Thanks for the help.” In addition to being a super-powered Siren, I also was a super-powered sarcastic.
She ruffled her iridescent feathers and stretched out her owl neck. For a spirit guide from behind the veil that separated our world from the mythical world, she really wasn’t much help.
Dad plowed through the underbrush, using his Guardian’s sword as a hatchet. Probably not how the Council had intended him to use the weapon.
“You were a little slow on your initial attack. Remember, the first attacker—”
“Has the advantage,” I finished for him. Over the past six months since we’d left Brooklyn, my friends, my life, I’d heard phrases like that from morning to sunset. And since the three of us shared an RV, it’s not like I could escape to my room. Nope, my room was a bed that converted to the kitchen table during the day. And my dad…wasn’t my bio-dad, even though he’d pretended to be for years.
He had since embraced his unveiled role as the assigned Guardian over my life and I rarely saw him act like a dad anymore. But trainer, coach, instructor, boss—I’d seen enough of those roles to last me however long my Siren life lasted.
“Did you clear the area?” Guardian Dad sheathed his sword into the scabbard always attached to his back, folded his arms across his chest, and widened his feet into his battle stance. Looking at him, you’d think it was the time of King Arthur, not the Kardashians and Insta celebrities.
“I was a little busy.” I gestured at the chimera’s destroyed campsite.
“Clear the area,” he spouted off and stalked back in the direction of the RV.
“What’s with him?” I shrugged Neri off my shoulder.
She flapped into the air and helped me make sure none of the chimera’s friends had come with her. Not that they’d still be here. My brand of Siren power had that side effect.
“He received a message from the Council this morning. There’s a new mission.”
My legs wobbled like someone had kicked them. Missions from the Council were never good. Once, they’d had us retrieve a black rock from an old, abandoned prison. Turned out it was a blood stone that all the criminals had dripped their blood on, ensuring that whoever held it would be cursed.
And did the Council tell us not to touch the rock? No, they did not.
That had been a fun weekend.
We joined Dad at the RV an hour later. He knelt by the campfire, elbows on knees like a wild gorilla, burning a piece of paper that let off silver sparks. All telltale signs that he was burning the gods’ message.
“You look like a hangry caveman,” I announced. “What’s for dinner?” I asked in my best caveman voice.
Dad looked up, startled, and dropped the message into the fire. It balled up in a flame of dancing silver and slowly burned away.
Normally, Dad would have read us the mission from the paper and re-read it until he was certain we had memorized every misplaced comma—the gods weren’t known for their grammar skills.
He stood and stretched out his legs, like he’d been in ape position for a while. “I haven’t started it yet. Hot dogs or popcorn?”
And six months ago, I would have shifted my thoughts to dinner. Hot dogs or popcorn? But Dad was hiding something that was in the Council’s message—and expecting me to trust his silence.
I’d learned how to fight, use my song as a weapon, and live in small quarters. But the most valuable skill I’d learned since that night was guarding my trust.
I didn’t trust anyone anymore. Especially not him.
I grabbed hot dogs and popcorn out of our dwindling stash. If I was going to fight creatures who looked like they’d been pieced together by a two-year-old who’d just discovered glue…by myself…I was going to have a feast.
We’d have to raid a grocery store soon if we could afford it—surprisingly, being the gods lap Siren paid less than my now non-existent allowance.
We sat around the fire, roasting our hot dogs on a stick and waiting for the foil-covered popcorn to pop. Neri perched on a brass coat rack Dad had found at someone’s curb back in Mississippi.
I rotated my hot dog, the skin bubbling and turning brown. “Where are the gods sending us next?”
Dad set his dog on fire. Not by accident. Because he liked the taste of ashes. Probably reminded him of the taste of his fallen enemies or some other stupid Guardian thing. “Idaho.”
“What’s in Idaho?” I pulled my hot dog out of the flames, dropped it onto the paper plate in my lap, and grabbed a handful of mustard packets.
Neri shuffled from side to side, waiting for Dad to relay our orders.
He hesitated. “A new weapon. We are to recover the weapon and learn how to utilize it before Phorkys can discover its location.”
Another warning flag. Instead of reciting the gods’ message word for word from memory, he’d paraphrased.
“Phorkys knows it exists?” As a rule, we didn’t mention Phorkys’s hunters, but my mind couldn’t help but go there.
“He does. And Korrina?” His voice softened, falling back into rare Dad-mode.
“Once we unlock the weapon’s secrets, the Council wants you to use the weapon as bait.”
He didn’t look at me. He looked everywhere but at me.
I couldn’t breathe. My lungs were trapped between two boulders, shifting and grinding against each other, the dust falling into my throat, making me choke.
I knew this scene. I’d been here before. Only that time had been when Jare—don’t say his name, don’t think his name—the newest Siren Hunter had been kidnapped.
“Bait for what?”
“They want you to kill the Siren Hunters.”
My song fired through me, starting in the center of my chest, spreading out and burning each of my veins, my nerves, until my hands, my feet, my knees felt on fire. Ania, the darker half of my soul who was prophesied to destroy the world, squirmed at the back of my mind.
“That’s an order?” My voice was calm, steady, emotionless. I’d become a clay statue holding fire. I’d become a hidden torch.
“Yes. That’s an order.” Dad’s voice went whisper-serious. Regretful and firm. He held the pain I couldn’t show.
The bad thing about combining fire and clay? Eventually, the fire wins. The clay explodes.
And killing the Siren Hunters? Killing him?
I’d never piece myself back together.