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nancy richardson fischer
The Key To Tartarus

The Key Trilogy

THE KEY TO TARTARUS: Book II

PROLOGUE

Thousands of years ago the Gods and Goddesses of Mount Olympus created the first woman and named her Pandora. Each God gave Pandora a magical gift and among those were beauty, the power to create reality from imagination, musical and artistic prowess, cunning, the skill to kill, and healing powers.

Zeus, King of the Gods, gave Pandora two gifts: curiosity and an intricately carved gold box. The box was filled with five Furies: Plagues, Natural Disasters, Hatred, Jealousy, and the most devastating fifth Fury, Annihilation. Pandora was to be sent down to earth to punish mankind for stealing fire from the Gods. Zeus reasoned that curious Pandora would open the box and the Furies would be released to torment men for eternity.

At the last moment, Hades, God of the Underworld, placed a delicate chain around innocent Pandora's neck with a small key fashioned from iridescent onyx. If Pandora was cunning enough to close the box before the Furies escaped, she could use the key to keep them locked away. In addition, Hades made the box impregnable to all but Pandora and her female lineage. However, if Pandora or her descendants were killed, he decreed that anyone could take the key from around her neck and open the box.

Pandora was sent to earth and her curiosity did, indeed, lead her to open the box. But when she realized what she'd done, she slammed the lid, trapping Annihilation inside. Furious that the fifth Fury had not been released, Zeus cursed Pandora. For the crime of trapping the Fury, she would violently die in the prime of her life. Athena added to the curse, decreeing that it would apply to all of Pandora's female descendants.

Zeus believed that within one or two generations the descendants would die out, or someone would kill them to take the key and release Annihilation. He never imagined that an all female Sect named Pandora would be created to protect the descendants and the box. Or that they'd succeed in keeping Annihilation trapped inside. Nor could he have foreseen that all memory of the box and key's history would fade until only a handful of people knew the truth.

Thousands of years passed before a descendant finally discovered her true identity. By then mankind had evolved and no longer believed or prayed to the Greek Gods. The result was that the forgotten Gods' powers waned and eventually all but faded from the universe.

But a wronged and forgotten God is a vengeful God; such a God will commit heinous crimes to regain their power and display their wrath.


Pandora's Key

PART ONE
CHAPTER ONE

Evangeline's fingers brushed the luminous black key. It responded to her touch, sending waves of warmth from where it rested between her collarbones. The key was a part of her now, a reminder that she was no longer whom she'd once thought. A reminder that she had powers but also responsibilities. I am the Descendant of Pandora. Evangeline felt a blush creep across her cheeks. Saying it still felt like a lie.

"You okay?" Raphe asked, taking her hand.

"It's the shoes." E looked down at the high-heeled silver sandals she'd talked Dr. Sullivan, into buying her for prom. "I'm having trouble walking in them."

"You look incredible."

E blushed again, fiddling with the platinum and diamond earrings that Dr. S. had given her to wear. They'd been his wife's. It must've been hard to see them on me.

"Should we...do you want to dance?" Raphe asked. He was wearing a black old-fashioned tuxedo with narrow laps that hung perfectly on his six-foot-two body. His light-brown hair was slightly messy and his amber-colored eyes framed by lashes too long for any guy. Raphe smiled, the dimple in his right cheek showing, and Evangeline couldn't help but smile, too.

"Um, okay." Evangeline stood up, adjusting the silvery-blue sheath dress that clung to her body and took Raphe's outstretched hand. They walked around cardboard cutouts of massive waves and beneath countless neon-colored fish, giant octopus with glowing red eyes, delicate starfish covered in gold glitter, and exotic mermaids with flowing hair, that all dangled from the ceiling. The advanced art students had been painting for months to represent the prom's theme: Under the Sea. The lighting was opera-blue, meant to symbolize the deep ocean and give the ballroom at The Benson Hotel an enchanted atmosphere.

Raphe walked to the center of the dance floor. Coldplay's "Paradise" was bouncing off the walls. Is this a fast or slow song? E felt horribly self-conscious. A month ago she never would've guessed that she'd be dancing with her boyfriend. I have a boyfriend? She felt like the kids in her class were watching from the corner of their eyes and wondering what such a geek was doing at the prom, let alone with a popular guy like Raphe.

"You're beautiful," Raphe said. He brushed a loose blonde curl from her cheek, tucking it behind her ear, his fingers lingering, making her skin feel more alive.

It still doesn't feel like me. "Um, thanks." E looked around at the other girls on the dance floor and then copied them by draping her arms around Raphe's neck.

Raphe put his hands on E's waist and struggled not to laugh. "You've never danced with a guy before, have you?" He pressed his hands into her back, refusing to let E escape the awkward situation. "It's just like hugging, but to music." He pulled Evangeline closer, until all that was left between their bodies was a thin wisp of air and E's barely there dress...And the key.

"Just cause we're dressed up doesn't need to make us uncomfortable," Raphe pointed out. "Pretend you're in your usual—jeans, a T-shirt and a hoodie."

"First of all, I don't always were a hoodie," E said, mock serious. "Sometimes I wear sweaters. Second of all, you've never worn high-heels. They're kind of a reminder that this isn't an every-day event."

Raphe looked sideways and when she followed his gaze he stole a kiss that was too quick for E's taste and left her leaning in for more. She relaxed. This was Raphe. She'd known him since they were kids. He saved her a seat on the bus every day. They walked to classes together, hung out at lunch, and loved the same music—Rihanna, The Black Eyed Peas, Coldplay, and old stuff like Bob Dylan and Phish. They preferred Torrefazione to Starbucks because it wasn't corporate but instead totally Pacific Northwest. On rainy weekends they'd watch Portlandia marathons or Talladega Nights for the zillionth time and eat popcorn smothered in butter.

Only a month ago Melia, her best friend, had made fun of E, telling her that she needed to make the first move with Raphe. But E couldn't imagine Raphe liking a geeky girl like her and she hadn't wanted to lose his friendship. And then Raphe had kissed her on her 16th birthday. Before everything changed. I'm still here, now, at the prom with Raphe. Not everything has gotten worse.

"E, where are you?" Raphe asked, his warm breath tickling her ear.

Evangeline rested her head on his shoulder and breathed Raphe in—he smelled like soap with a hint of wintergreen. It was her favorite smell. "Right here," she murmured and meant it. She relaxed into Raphe and they fit together—her body folding into his as if they were almost one person.

Taylor Swift was singing now. And her classmates were fast dancing to "You belong with Me." But Raphe held E close and they continued to slow dance as if they were alone. "Um, I think this is a fast song," Evangeline pointed out.

"I'm still hearing a slow one," Raphe said and E giggled until his lips brushed against her hair and sent electric shocks through her body. She lifted her head from Raphe's shoulder and kissed him, feeling the velvety softness of his lips brushing hers, their tongues tasting, bodies responding. I never want this to end. I think I'm...happy.

"I want you to be happy," Melia whispered through her memory, "like my boyfriend and me."

Evangeline pressed against Raphe, anchoring herself in the present. Focus on the kiss and Raphe's hands pressing into your back and the delicious way our hips are moving together. It's just Raphe and me. "I feel like Cinderella," Evangeline whispered in his ear. "Like a fairy godmother gave me a beautiful gown to wear and glass slippers and sent me to the ball."

"To meet the prince," Raphe added, kissing her slowly, lingering on her lower lip.

Evangeline's insides twisted in a good way. "Except my godmother isn't a kindly old woman, she's Samantha—"

Raphe put a finger to her lips to stop her from talking. "Who cares right now? You're here. We're here." He pulled her closer, his hands running down her body and resting just below the small of her back.

"Would you try to find me if I ran away at the stroke of midnight before my horse-drawn carriage turned into a pumpkin and my dress to rags?"

Raphe laughed. "Yeah, but I wouldn't try to make your foot fit into a glass slipper. I'd bring you a pair of Jack Purcell sneakers cause that's what you like to wear."

Evangeline leaned back and met Raphe's eyes. "Sneakers wouldn't match my dress. And just in case you're wondering, despite the high heels I wouldn't want to be anywhere else but here." She melted back into him, feeling his heart beat strong and steady against her chest.

Someone nearby popped the cork on a bottle of sparkling cider and Evangeline jumped, gunfire and screams invading her mind. She pushed the memories away just as she'd successfully done for the past month and held onto Raphe.

Strobe lights flashed on the dance floor making all the kids appear skeletal and their movements eerily disjointed. They were laughing and pretending they were diving, swimming, and plunging into the ocean, their hands batting the dangling sea life. The strobe made the metallic colors on the fish flash and Evangeline saw the glint of a gun. Another pulse of the strobe and she saw blood flowering on the front of Melia's sweater. Don't. But the memory refused to be denied. Melia's boyfriend shot her and Evangeline had watched her best friend die. The strobe pulsed faster and faster and images of death and violence beat through her mind to the rhythm of her racing heartbeat. No! Push it all away. You are here, now. You are here!

Raphe put his fingers on Evangeline's chin and drew her gaze up from the floor. He kissed her again, but Evangeline could hardly feel his lips. She couldn't stop the images; couldn't shut out the voices; couldn't hide any longer. She broke the kiss, turned and tore away, pushing students and teachers aside, ignoring Raphe as he called her name. She was desperate to outrun the past, but it followed at her heels as she raced into the cold, rainy night.


© Nancy Richardson Fischer