PREVIEW: DREAMS OF THE DAMNED
Atlantis Legacy, book 3
“Agh!” I cried out as a well-placed kick to the sternum sent me stumbling backward. The heel of my boot caught on an ancient paving stone, and I rolled, ass over teakettle, hissing curses under my breath. I landed ungracefully on my hands and knees and spat out a mouthful of sand.
A shadow blocked the moonlight, and heaving a breath, I raised my head to take in my attacker. Meg stood with her fists on her hips and a suppressed smile tugging at her lips. Behind her, the clear night sky formed a starry backdrop above the outlines of the two largest of the famed pyramids of Giza—those belonging to Khufu and Khafre—and a halo of silver moonlight surrounded the upper half of her body. The channels running the length of her form-fitting hoplon suit glowed a subtle amber, matching the stone in her activated regulator, signaling that her psychic powers were suppressed.
Her smug expression set my teeth on edge, and I growled low in my throat. Before Meg could get too comfortable in her victory, I dove for her legs, wrapping my arms around her thighs and knocking her onto her back.
Meg grunted with the impact, and sand went flying all around us. Lips twisting into something that was part grimace, part grin—and pure aggression—she gripped my braid and yanked my head to the side.
I yelped, gritting my teeth and arching my neck to alleviate the sharp pain in my scalp.
Meg used the shock from the dirty hair-pull maneuver to snake her legs around my neck in a brutal choke hold. Her thighs were a steel vice cutting off my air supply, and a whole new set of stars danced around the edge of my vision as my blood ran dangerously low on oxygen. I clawed at her legs, trying to dig my fingers in between her thighs and my throat, but it was no use. She was too strong.
I double tapped the outside of Meg’s thigh, letting her know I was giving up. For the third time in a row.
Here I was—Persephone, a psychic Olympian warrior of the Order of Amazons with seventeen lifetime's worth of combat training and experience, and I couldn’t even beat a seventeen-year-old girl. Sure, she was also a psychic warrior—though a human one—born and raised in a hidden underground city buried deep within the heart of the Amazon Rainforest, but she was still a relative child. Besting her shouldn’t have been a struggle. It should have been a given. But it wasn’t because I wasn’t just Peri. I was also Cora, a twenty-six-year-old gamer who had clocked thousands of combat hours in the virtual world, but about twelve in the real world.
Meg’s legs relaxed, and I sucked in a much-needed breath and flopped onto my back on the sand. I stared up at the night sky, watching as the darkness of impending unconsciousness receded from the edges of my vision with each cherished breath and the stars flared to their full glory overhead.
“Let’s take a break,” Meg said from beside me. A sidelong glance told me she wasn’t in much better shape than me, sprawled on her back on the sand, breathing hard. Beating me hadn’t been easy for her. So, at least there was that.
But I knew she had only suggested taking a break because she could sense my irritation at being bested by her—again—through the psychic bond we had forged barely a week ago when she had pledged her life to mine in recompense for attempting to kidnap me. No matter how tightly we squeezed the psychic vice to tamp down on the bond, we hadn’t figured out a way to block it completely. A little bit always trickled through. Enough that I could sense Meg's train of thought before she even opened her mouth.
“You'll get stronger, Cora. And your stamina has already increased.” As she spoke, her compassion and understanding for my situation trickled through our bond, and I smashed my lips together to keep myself from lashing out at her. Anger roiled in my belly, but none of it was aimed at her. “It just takes time,” she added weakly.
I growled in frustration and rolled onto my hands and knees, then climbed to my feet, brushing my hands off on my outer thighs. Meg sat up, reclining back on her hands.
I despised being so weak. Never—never—in any of my lives had I felt so pathetic or helpless. Four days ago, my two selves had become one. I was no longer just Cora, the reclusive gamer or just Peri, the psychic warrior—I was both Cora and Peri, and I had all the knowledge and skills I had acquired over my many lifetimes. In theory, at least.
In the case of physical combat, my brain knew what my body needed to do, but my body was lagging, unable to execute moves I'd done a thousand times before. And the worst part of it was that this was my own fault. Two decades of playing video games had done little to prepare my body for anything beyond sitting for long periods of time. Even if I hadn't known who—or what—I really was, it was no excuse for the extreme neglect I'd shown toward my own body. I was mad at my mom and Emi for letting me embrace such a sedentary, slothful lifestyle, but I was mostly mad at myself for letting my apparently intrinsic lazy nature mold me into such a worthless piece of—
“Wow,” Meg said dryly, drawing my attention down to her. “And I thought I was the queen of self-loathing.” She stood, brushed off her backside, and bowed to me with a dramatic flourish. “I stand corrected, your highness.”
I stared at her, unamused.
At the crunch of sand grinding against stone, we both turned to watch Raiden make his way up the ancient limestone walkway cutting through the desert sand, leading from the Great Sphinx to our favored sparring location behind the massive monument. He raised a hand to wave, his full lips spreading into a hesitant smile.
I heaved a deep breath, tension seeping into my shoulders.
Raiden was the last person I wanted to see right now. He was a glaring reminder of just how weak I had been. Of just how much I had needed him to help me rescue my mom and track down Hades. Me, a psychic warrior of the Order of Amazons, relying on a man to complete a mission. Olympian men couldn’t even become Amazons; only the females of our species were capable of withstanding the genetic modification that enabled our psychic gifts. We were the top of the food chain in Olympian society, the best of the best. It was unheard of for one of my kind to take the backseat to anyone other than another Amazon warrior. But with Raiden, I had been the follower, the sidekick, the backup for pretty much my whole life. The memory of how much I had relied on him—of how much I had truly needed his help—disgusted me.
And yet, I loved Raiden with all my heart. Or, at least, with the Cora half of my heart. Now that Hades was awake, my love life was a lot more complicated.
But the more time I spent as my true self, aware of all I had experienced over my many lifetimes—both as Peri and as Cora—the harder it was to reconcile myself with whom I had become in this life. How was it that this version of me had turned out so differently from all the others? Did my training truly make up that much of who I was—who I had been? Did my life as Cora represent my true nature, or was she—I—just another product of my environment? To say I was having an identity crisis would be a gross understatement. I felt like I was losing my damn mind.
“Mind if I join you?” Raiden asked as he veered off the path and trudged through the sand toward us. “Don't want to get too out of shape…”
I gritted my teeth, practically grinding them together. Raiden looked like an action figure turned to flesh and bone, his body honed to combat perfection after nearly a decade spent in the military. The idea that he was on his way to getting out of shape was beyond laughable.
I hadn't grappled with Raiden since that night in the hotel in Rome when I had awakened him from a nightmare, and his half-asleep self had attempted to strangle the life out of me. I’d beaten him then, but with the way my arm muscles currently trembled with fatigue, there was no doubt the outcome of a match between us now would be dismal—for me. I couldn’t handle losing to him right now. I was too deeply entrenched in my latest identity crisis.
Planting my hands on my hips, I stared off at the top half of the pyramid of Khafre, all that was visible of the landmark over the sloping sand. “You two go ahead,” I said, my voice distant as my thoughts wandered to other ways to improve my physical fitness. My abysmal stamina was my weakest point and putting in more effort in that department would go a long way toward reclaiming my former glory.
My eyes narrowed on the top of the pyramid. It was maybe a quarter of a mile away. Sprinting there and back a few times every day ought to do the trick. My stamina would be up to snuff in no time.
I started toward the pyramid at a jog. “I’ll be back in a bit,” I tossed over my shoulder, then shifted into high gear, my boots digging into the sand as I pushed myself as hard as my exhausted legs would allow.
Through my bond with Meg, I could sense her concern for me.
I pushed myself even harder until the burn in my muscles was rivaled by the fire in my lungs. Until all thoughts and emotions fled from my mind, and anything leaking through my bond with Meg was buried under a mountain of physical discomfort. Until the only thing that mattered was putting one foot in front of the other. Over, and over, and over again.
Thanks for reading this preview of Dreams of the Damned (Atlantis Legacy, book 3)! You'll be able to read the rest of the book when it releases on October 2.
If you haven't already, be sure to snag your free copy of the Atlantis Legacy prequel, Sacrifice of the Sinners.