Are you ready to start reading? Fair warning, you might not be able to stop. . .
You do not enter a race to lose.
Diana bounced lightly on her toes at the starting line, her calves taut as bowstrings, her mother’s words reverberating in her ears. A noisy crowd had gathered for the wrestling matches and javelin throws that would mark the start of the Nemeseian Games, but the real event was the footrace, and now the stands were buzzing with word that the queen’s daughter had entered the competition.
When Hippolyta had seen Diana amid the runners clustered on the arena sands, she’d displayed no surprise. As was tradition, she’d descended from her viewing platform to wish the athletes luck in their endeavors, sharing a joke here, offering a kind word of encouragement there. She had nodded briefly to Diana, show‐ ing her no special favor, but she’d whispered, so low that only her daughter could hear, “You do not enter a race to lose.”
Amazons lined the path that led out of the arena, already stamping their feet and chanting for the games to begin. On Diana’s right, Rani flashed her a radiant smile. “Good luck today.” She was always kind, always gracious, and, of course, always victorious.
To Diana’s left, Thyra snorted and shook her head. “She’s going to need it.” Diana ignored her. She’d been looking forward to this race for weeks— a trek across the island to retrieve one of the red flags hung beneath the great dome in Bana‐ Mighdall. In a flat‐ out sprint, she didn’t have a chance. She still hadn’t come into the fullness of her Amazon strength. You will in time, her mother had promised. But her mother promised a lot of things.
This race was different. It required strategy, and Diana was ready. She’d been training in secret, running sprints with Maeve, and plotting a route that had rougher terrain but was definitely a straighter shot to the western tip of the island. She’d even— well, she hadn’t exactly spied. . . . She’d gathered intelligence on the other Amazons in the race. She was still the smallest, and of course the youngest, but she’d shot up in the last year, and she was nearly as tall as Thyra now.
I don’t need luck, she told herself. I have a plan. She glanced down the row of Amazons gathered at the starting line like troops readying for war and amended, But a little luck wouldn’t hurt, either. She wanted that laurel crown. It was better than any royal circlet or tiara— an honor that couldn’t be given, that had to be earned.
She found Maeve’s red hair and freckled face in the crowd and grinned, trying to project confidence. Maeve returned the smile and gestured with both hands as if she were tamping down the air. She mouthed the words, “Steady on.” Diana rolled her eyes but nodded and tried to slow her breath‐ ing. She had a bad habit of coming out too fast and wasting her speed too early. Now she cleared her mind and forced herself to concentrate on the course as Tekmessa walked the line, surveying the runners, jewels glinting in her thick corona of curls, silver bands flashing on her brown arms. She was Hippolyta’s closest advisor, second in rank only to the queen, and she carried herself as if her belted indigo shift were battle armor.
“Take it easy, Pyxis,” Tek murmured to Diana as she passed. “Wouldn’t want to see you crack.” Diana heard Thyra snort again, but she refused to flinch at the nickname. You won’t be smirking when I’m on the victors’ podium, she promised.
Tek raised her hands for silence and bowed to Hippolyta, who sat between two other members of the Amazon Council in the royal loge— a high platform shaded by a silken overhang dyed in the vibrant red and blue of the queen’s colors. Diana knew that was where her mother wanted her right now, seated beside her, waiting for the start of the games instead of competing. None of that would matter when she won.
Hippolyta dipped her chin the barest amount, elegant in her white tunic and riding trousers, a simple circlet resting against her forehead. She looked relaxed, at her ease, as if she might decide to leap down and join the competition at any time, but still every inch the queen.
Tek addressed the athletes gathered on the arena sands. “In whose honor do you compete?”
“For the glory of the Amazons,” they replied in unison. “For the glory of our queen.” Diana felt her heart beat harder. She’d never said the words before, not as a competitor. “To whom do we give praise each day?” Tek trumpeted. “Hera,” they chorused. “Athena, Demeter, Hestia, Aphrodite, Artemis.” The goddesses who had created Themyscira and gifted it to Hippolyta as a place of refuge. Tek paused, and along the line, Diana heard the whispers of other names: Oya, Durga, Freyja, Mary, Yael. Names once cried out in death, the last prayers of female warriors fallen in battle, the words that had brought them to this island and given them new life as Amazons. Beside Diana, Rani murmured the names of the demon‐ fighting Matri, the seven mothers, and pressed the rectangular amulet she always wore to her lips. Tek raised a blood‐ red flag identical to those that would be waiting for the runners in Bana‐ Mighdall.
“May the island guide you to just victory!” she shouted. She dropped the red silk. The crowd roared. The runners surged toward the eastern arch. Like that, the race had begun. Diana and Maeve had anticipated a bottleneck, but Diana still felt a pang of frustration as runners clogged the stone throat of the tunnel, a tangle of white tunics and muscled limbs, footsteps echoing off the stone, all of them trying to get clear of the arena at once. Then they were on the road, sprinting across the island, each runner choosing her own course.
You do not enter a race to lose.
Diana set her pace to the rhythm of those words, bare feet slapping the packed earth of the road that would lead her through the tangle of the Cybelian Woods to the island’s northern coast.
Ordinarily, a miles‐ long trek through this forest would be a slow one, hampered by fallen trees and tangles of vines so thick they had to be hacked through with a blade you didn’t mind dulling. But Diana had plotted her way well. An hour after she entered the woods, she burst from the trees onto the deserted coast road. The wind lifted her hair, and salt spray lashed her face. She breathed deep, checked the position of the sun. She was going to win— not just place but win.
She’d mapped out the course the week before with Maeve, and they’d run it twice in secret, in the gray‐ light hours of early morning, when their sisters were first rising from their beds, when the kitchen fires were still being kindled, and the only curious eyes they’d had to worry about belonged to anyone up early to hunt game or cast nets for the day’s catch. But hunters kept to the woods and meadows farther south, and no one fished off this part of the coast; there was no good place to launch a boat, just the steep steel‐ colored cliffs plunging straight down to the sea, and a tiny, unwelcoming cove that could only be reached by a path so narrow you had to shuffle down sideways, back pressed to the rock.
The northern shore was gray, grim, and inhospitable, and Diana knew every inch of its secret landscape, its crags and caves, its tide pools teeming with limpets and anemones. It was a good place to be alone. The island seeks to please, her mother had told her. It was why Themyscira was forested by redwoods in some places and rubber trees in others; why you could spend an afternoon roaming the grasslands on a scoop‐ neck pony and the evening atop a camel, scaling a moonlit dragonback of sand dunes. They were all pieces of the lives the Amazons had led before they came to the island, little landscapes of the heart.
Diana sometimes wondered if Themyscira had called the northern coast into being just for her so that she could challenge herself climbing on the sheer drop of its cliffs, so that she could have a place to herself when the weight of being Hippolyta’s daughter got to be too much.
You do not enter a race to lose.
Her mother had not been issuing a general warning. Diana’s losses meant something different, and they both knew it— and not only because she was a princess.
Diana could almost feel Tek’s knowing gaze on her, hear the mocking in her voice. Take it easy, Pyxis. That was the nickname Tek had given her. Pyxis. A little clay pot made to store jewels or a tincture of carmine for pinking the lips. The name was harmless, meant to tease, always said in love— or so Tek claimed. But it stung every time: a reminder that Diana was not like the other Amazons, and never would be. Her sisters were battle‐ proven warriors, steel forged from suffering and honed to greatness as they passed from life to immortality. All of them had earned their place on Themyscira. All but Diana, born of the island’s soil and Hippolyta’s longing for a child, fashioned from clay by her mother’s hands— hollow and breakable. Take it easy, Pyxis. Wouldn’t want to see you crack.
Diana steadied her breathing, kept her pace even. Not today, Tek. This day the laurel belongs to me.
She spared the briefest glance at the horizon, letting the sea breeze cool the sweat on her brow. Through the mists, she glimpsed the white shape of a ship. It had come close enough to the boundary that Diana could make out its sails. The craft was small— a schooner maybe? She had trouble remembering nautical details. Mainmast, mizzenmast, a thousand names for sails, and knots for rigging. It was one thing to be out on a boat, learning from Teuta, who had sailed with Illyrian pirates, but quite another to be stuck in the library at the Epheseum, staring glazed‐ eyed at diagrams of a brigantine or a caravel.
Sometimes Diana and Maeve made a game of trying to spot ships or planes, and once they’d even seen the fat blot of a cruise ship on the horizon. But most mortals knew to steer clear of their particular corner of the Aegean, where compasses spun and instruments suddenly refused to obey.
Today it looked like a storm was picking up past the mists of the boundary, and Diana was sorry she couldn’t stop to watch it. The rains that came to Themyscira were tediously gentle and predictable, nothing like the threatening rumble of thunder, the shimmer of a far‐ off lightning strike.
“Do you ever miss storms?” Diana had asked one afternoon as she and Maeve lazed on the palace’s sun‐ soaked rooftop terrace, listening to the distant roar and clatter of a tempest. Maeve had died in the Crossbarry Ambush, the last words on her lips a prayer to Saint Brigid of Kildare. She was new to the island by Amazon standards, and came from Cork, where storms were common.
“No,” Maeve had said in her lilting voice. “I miss a good cup of tea, dancing, boys— definitely not rain.”
“We dance,” Diana protested.
Maeve had just laughed. “You dance differently when you know you won’t live forever.” Then she’d stretched, freckles like dense clouds of pollen on her white skin. “I think I was a cat in another life, because all I want is to lie around sleeping in the world’s biggest sunbeam.”
Steady on. Diana resisted the urge to speed forward. It was hard to remember to keep something in reserve with the early-morning sun on her shoulders and the wind at her back. She felt strong. But it was easy to feel strong when she was on her own.
A boom sounded over the waves, a hard metallic clap like a door slamming shut. Diana’s steps faltered. On the blue horizon, a billowing column of smoke rose, flames licking at its base. The schooner was on fire, its prow blown to splinters and one of its masts smashed, the sail dragging over the rails.
Diana found herself slowing but forced her stride back on pace. There was nothing she could do for the schooner. Planes crashed. Ships were wrecked upon the rocks. That was the nature of the mortal world. It was a place where disaster could happen and often did. Human life was a tide of misery, one that never reached the island’s shores. Diana focused her eyes on the path. Far, far ahead she could see sunlight gleaming gold off the great dome at Bana‐ Mighdall. First the red flag, then the laurel crown. That was the plan.
From somewhere on the wind, she heard a cry.
A gull, she told herself. A girl, some other voice within her insisted. Impossible. A human shout couldn’t carry over such a great distance, could it?
It didn’t matter. There was nothing she could do.
And yet her eyes strayed back to the horizon. I just want to get a better view, she told herself. I have plenty of time. I’m ahead.
There was no good reason to leave the ruts of the old cart track, no logic to veering out over the rocky point, but she did it anyway.
The waters near the shore were calm, clear, vibrant turquoise. The ocean beyond was something else— wild, deep‐ well blue, a sea gone almost black. The island might seek to please her and her sisters, but the world beyond the boundary didn’t concern itself with the happiness or safety of its inhabitants.
Even from a distance, she could tell the schooner was sinking. But she saw no lifeboats, no distress flares, only pieces of the broken craft carried along by rolling waves. It was done. Diana rubbed her hands briskly over her arms, dispelling a sudden chill, and started making her way back to the cart track. That was the way of human life. She and Maeve had dived out by the boundary many times, swum the wrecks of airplanes and clipper ships and sleek motorboats. The salt water changed the wood, hardened it so it did not rot. Mortals were not the same. They were food for deep‐ sea fishes, for sharks— and for time that ate at them slowly, inevitably, whether they were on water or on land.
Diana checked the sun’s position again. She could be at Bana‐ Mighdall in forty minutes, maybe less. She told her legs to move. She’d only lost a few moments. She could make up the time. Instead, she looked over her shoulder. There were stories in all the old books about women who made the mistake of looking back. On the way out of burning cities. On the way out of hell. But Diana still turned her eyes to that ship sinking in the great waves, tilting like a bird’s broken wing. She measured the length of the cliff top. There were jagged rocks at the base. If she didn’t leap with enough momentum, the impact would be ugly. Still, the fall wouldn’t kill her. That’s true of a real Amazon, she thought. Is it true for you? Well, she hoped the fall wouldn’t kill her. Of course, if the fall didn’t, her mother would. Diana looked once more at the wreck and pushed off, running full out, arms pumping, stride long, picking up speed, closing the distance to the cliff’s edge. Stop stop stop, her mind clamored. This is madness. Even if there were survivors, she could do nothing for them. To try to save them was to court exile, and there would be no exception to the rule— not even for a princess. Stop. She wasn’t sure why she didn’t obey. She wanted to believe it was because a hero’s heart beat in her chest and demanded she answer that frightened call. But even as she launched herself off the cliff and into the empty sky, she knew part of what drew her on was the challenge of that great gray sea that did not care if she loved it.
Her body cut a smooth arc through the air, arms pointing like a compass needle, directing her course. She plummeted toward the water and broke the surface in a clean plunge, ears full of sudden silence, muscles tensed for the brutal impact of the rocks. None came. She shot upward, drew in a breath, and swam straight for the boundary, arms slicing through the warm water.
There was always a little thrill when she neared the boundary, when the temperature of the water began to change, the cold touching her fingertips first, then settling over her scalp and shoulders. Diana and Maeve liked to swim out from the southern beaches, daring themselves to go farther, farther. Once they’d glimpsed a ship passing in the mist, sailors standing at the stern. One of the men had lifted an arm, pointing in their direction. They’d plunged to safety, gesturing wildly to each other beneath the waves, laughing so hard that by the time they reached shore, they were both choking on salt water. We could be sirens, Maeve had shrieked as they’d flopped onto the warm sand, except neither of them could carry a tune. They’d spent the rest of the afternoon singing violently off‐ key Irish drinking songs and laughing themselves silly until Tek had found them. Then they’d shut up quick. Breaking the boundary was a minor infraction. Being seen by mortals any‐ where near the island was cause for serious disciplinary action. And what Diana was doing now?
Stop. But she couldn’t. Not when that high human cry still rang in her ears. Diana felt the cold water beyond the boundary engulf her fully. The sea had her now, and it was not friendly. The current seized her legs, dragging her down, a massive, rolling force, the barest shrug of a god. You have to fight it, she realized, demanding that her muscles correct her course. She’d never had to work against the ocean. She bobbed for a moment on the surface, trying to get her bearings as the waves crested around her. The water was full of debris, shards of wood, broken fiberglass, orange life jackets that the crew must not have had time to don. It was nearly impossible to see through the falling rain and the mists that shrouded the island.
What am I doing out here? she asked herself. Ships come and go. Human lives are lost. She dove again, peered through the rushing gray waters, but saw no one. Diana surfaced, her own stupidity carving a growing ache in her gut. She’d sacrificed the race. This was supposed to be the moment her sisters saw her truly, the chance to make her mother proud. Instead, she’d thrown away her lead, and for what? There was nothing here but destruction.
Out of the corner of her eye, she saw a flash of white, a big chunk of what might have been the ship’s hull. It rose on a wave, vanished, rose again, and as it did, Diana glimpsed a slender brown arm holding tight to the side, fingers spread, knuckles bent. Then it was gone.
Another wave rose, a great gray mountain. Diana dove beneath it, kicking hard, then surfaced, searching, bits of lumber and fiber‐ glass everywhere, impossible to sort one piece of flotsam from another. There it was again— an arm, two arms, a body, bowed head and hunched shoulders, lemon‐ colored shirt, a tangle of dark hair. A girl— she lifted her head, gasped for breath, dark eyes wild with fear. A wave crashed over her in a spray of white water. The chunk of hull surfaced. The girl was gone.
Down again. Diana aimed for the place she’d seen the girl go under. She glimpsed a flash of yellow and lunged for it, seizing the fabric and using it to reel her in. A ghost’s face loomed out at her from the cloudy water— golden hair, blue gaze wide and lifeless. She’d never seen a corpse up close before. She’d never seen a boy up close before. She recoiled, hand releasing his shirt, but even as she watched him disappear, she marked the differences— hard jaw, broad brow, just like the pictures in books.
She resurfaced, but she’d lost all sense of direction now— the waves, the wreck, the bare shadow of the island in the mists. If she drifted out much farther, she might not be able to find her way back.
Diana could not stop seeing the image of that slender arm, the ferocity in those fingers, clinging hard to life. Once more, she told herself. She dove, the chill of the water fastening tight around her bones now, burrowing deeper.
One moment the world was gray current and cloudy sea, and the next the girl was there in her lemon‐ colored shirt, facedown, arms and legs outstretched like a star. Her eyes were closed.
Diana grabbed her around the waist and launched them toward the surface. For a terrifying second, she could not find the shape of the island, and then the mists parted. She kicked forward, wrapping the girl awkwardly against her chest with one arm, fingers questing for a pulse with the other. There— beneath the jaw, thready, indistinct, but there. Though the girl wasn’t breathing, her heart still beat.
Diana hesitated. She could see the outlines of Filos and Ecthros, the rocks that marked the rough beginnings of the boundary. The rules were clear. You could not stop the mortal tide of life and death, and the island must never be touched by it. There were no exceptions. No human could be brought to Themyscira, even if it meant saving a life. Breaking that rule meant only one thing: exile.
Exile. The word was a stone, unwanted ballast, the weight unbearable. It was one thing to breach the boundary, but what she did next might untether her from the island, her sisters, her mother forever. The world seemed too large, the sea too deep. Let go. It was that simple. Let this girl slip from her grasp and it would be as if Diana had never leapt from those cliffs. She would be light again, free of this burden.
Diana thought of the girl’s hand, the ferocious grip of her knuckles, the steel‐ blade determination in her eyes before the wave took her under. She felt the ragged rhythm of the girl’s pulse, a distant drum, the sound of an army marching— one that had fought well but could not fight on much longer.
She swam for shore.
As she passed through the boundary with the girl clutched to her, the mists dissolved and the rain abated. Warmth flooded her body. The calm water felt oddly lifeless after the thrashing of the sea, but Diana wasn’t about to complain.
When her feet touched the sandy bottom, she shoved up, shifting her grip to carry the girl from the shallows. She was eerily light, almost insubstantial. It was like holding a sparrow’s body between her cupped hands. No wonder the sea had made such easy sport of this creature and her crewmates; she felt temporary, an artist’s cast of a body rendered in plaster.
Diana laid her gently on the sand and checked her pulse again. No heartbeat now. She knew she needed to get the girl’s heart going, get the water out of her lungs, but her memory on just how to do that was a bit hazy. Diana had studied the basics of reviving a drowning victim, but she hadn’t ever had to put it into practice outside the classroom. It was also possible she hadn’t paid close attention at the time. How likely was it that an Amazon was going to drown, especially in the calm waters off Themyscira? And now her daydreaming might cost this girl her life. Do something, she told herself, trying to think past her panic.
Why did you drag her out of the water if you’re only going to sit staring at her like a frightened rabbit?
Diana placed two fingers on the girl’s sternum, then tracked lower to what she hoped was the right spot. She locked her hands together and pressed. The girl’s bones bent beneath her palms. Hurriedly, Diana drew back. What was this girl made of, anyway? Balsa wood? She felt about as solid as the little models of world monuments Diana had been forced to build for class. Gently, she pressed down again, then again. She shut the girl’s nose with her fingers, closed her mouth over cooling mortal lips, and breathed. The gust drove into the girl’s chest, and Diana saw it rise, but this time the extra force seemed to be a good thing. Suddenly, the girl was coughing, her body convulsing as she spat up salt water. Diana sat back on her knees and released a short laugh. She’d done it. The girl was alive. The reality of what she’d just dared struck her. All the hounds of Hades: She’d done it. The girl was alive.
And trying to sit up. “Here,” Diana said, bracing the girl’s back with her arm. She couldn’t simply kneel there, watching her flop around on the sand like a fish, and it wasn’t as if she could put her back in the ocean. Could she? No. Mortals were clearly too good at drowning.
The girl clutched her chest, taking huge, sputtering gulps of air. “The others,” she gasped. Her eyes were so wide Diana could see white ringing her irises all the way around. She was trembling, but Diana wasn’t sure if it was because she was cold or going into shock. “We have to help them—”
Diana shook her head. If there had been any other signs of life in the wreck, she hadn’t seen them. Besides, time passed more quickly in the mortal world. Even if she swam back out, the storm would have long since had its way with any bodies or debris.
“They’re gone,” said Diana, then wished she’d chosen her words more carefully. The girl’s mouth opened, closed. Her body was shaking so hard Diana thought it might break apart. That couldn’t actually happen, could it?
Diana scanned the cliffs above the beach. Someone might have seen her swim out. She felt confident no other runner had chosen this course, but anyone could have seen the explosion and come to investigate.
“I need to get you off the beach. Can you walk?” The girl nodded, but her teeth were chattering, and she made no move to stand. Diana’s eyes scoured the cliffs again. “Seriously, I need you to get up.”
She didn’t look like she was trying. Diana searched her memory for every thing she’d been told about mortals, the soft stuff— eating habits, body temperature, cultural norms. Unfortunately, her mother and her tutors were more focused on what Diana referred to as the Dire Warnings: War. Torture. Genocide. Pollution. Bad Grammar.
The girl shivering before her on the sand didn’t seem to qualify for inclusion in the Dire Warnings category. She looked about the same age as Diana, brown‐ skinned, her hair a tangle of long, tiny braids covered in sand. She was clearly too weak to hurt anyone but herself. Even so, she could be plenty dangerous to Diana. Exile dangerous. Banished‐ forever dangerous. Better not to think about that. Instead, she thought back to her classes with Teuta. Make a plan. Battles are often lost because people don’t know which war they’re fighting. All right. The girl couldn’t walk any great distance in her condition. Maybe that was a good thing, given that Diana had nowhere to take her.
She rested what she hoped was a comforting hand on the girl’s shoulder. “Listen, I know you’re feeling weak, but we should try to get off the beach.” “Why?”
Diana hesitated, then opted for an answer that was technically true if not wholly accurate. “High tide.”
It seemed to do the trick, because the girl nodded. Diana stood and offered her a hand. “I’m fine,” the girl said, shoving to her knees and then pushing up to her feet.
“You’re stubborn,” Diana said with some measure of respect. The girl had almost drowned and seemed to be about as solid as driftwood and down, but she wasn’t eager to accept help— and she definitely wasn’t going to like what Diana suggested next. “I need you to climb on my back.”
A crease appeared between the girl’s brows.
“Why?” “Because I don’t think you can make it up the cliffs.” “Is there a path?”
“No,” said Diana. That was definitely a lie. Instead of arguing, Diana turned her back. A minute later, she felt a pair of arms around her neck. The girl hopped on, and Diana reached back to take hold of her thighs and hitch her into position. “Hold on tight.”
The girl’s arms clamped around her windpipe. “Not that tight!” Diana choked out. “Sorry!” She loosened her hold. Diana took off at a jog.
The girl groaned. “Slow down. I think I’m going to vomit.” “Vomit?” Diana scanned her knowledge of mortal bodily functions and immediately smoothed her gait. “Do not do that.” “Just don’t drop me.” “You weigh about as much as a heavy pair of boots.” Diana picked her way through the big boulders wedged against the base of the cliff. “I need my arms to climb, so you’re going to have to hold on with your legs, too.”
“The cliff.” “You’re taking me up the side of the cliff ? Are you out of your mind?”
“Just hold on and try not to strangle me.” Diana dug her fingers into the rock and started putting distance between them and the ground before the girl could think too much more about it.
She moved quickly. This was familiar territory. Diana had scaled these cliffs countless times since she’d started visiting the north shore, and when she was twelve, she’d discovered the cave where they were headed. There were other caves, lower on the cliff face, but they filled when the tide came in. Besides, they were too easy to crawl out of if someone got curious.
The girl groaned again. “Almost there,” Diana said encouragingly. “I’m not opening my eyes.” “Probably for the best. Just don’t . . . you know.”
“Puke all over you?”
“Yes,” said Diana. “That.” Amazons didn’t get sick, but vomiting appeared in any number of novels and featured in a particularly vivid description from her anatomy book. Blessedly, there were no illustrations.
At last, Diana hauled them up into the divot in the rock that marked the cave’s entrance. The girl rolled off and heaved a long breath. The cave was tall, narrow, and surprisingly deep, as if someone had taken a cleaver to the center of the cliff. Its gleaming black rock sides were perpetually damp with sea spray. When she was younger, Diana had liked to pretend that if she kept walking, the cave would lead straight through the cliff and open onto some other land entirely. It didn’t. It was just a cave, and remained a cave no matter how hard she wished.
Diana waited for her eyes to adjust, then shuffled farther inside. The old horse blanket was still there— wrapped in oilcloth and mostly dry, if a bit musty— as well as her tin box of supplies.
She wrapped the blanket around the girl’s shoulders. “We aren’t going to the top?” asked the girl. “Not yet.” Diana had to get back to the arena. The race must be close to over by now, and she didn’t want people wondering where she’d gotten to. “Are you hungry?”
The girl shook her head. “We need to call the police, search and rescue.”
“That isn’t possible.”
“I don’t know what happened,” the girl said, starting to shake again. “Jasmine and Ray were arguing with Dr. Ellis and then—”
“There was an explosion. I saw it from shore.”
“It’s my fault,” the girl said as tears spilled over her cheeks. “They’re dead and it’s my fault.”
“Don’t,” Diana said gently, feeling a surge of panic. “It was the storm.” She laid her hand on the girl’s shoulder. “What’s your name?”
“Alia,” the girl said, burying her head in her arms. “Alia, I need to go, but—” “No!” Alia said sharply. “Don’t leave me here.”
“I have to. I . . . need to get help.” What Diana needed was to get back to Ephesus and figure out how to get this girl off the island before anyone found out about her. Alia grabbed hold of her arm, and again Diana remembered the way she’d clung to that piece of hull. “Please,” Alia said. “Hurry. Maybe they can send a helicopter. There could be survivors.” “I’ll be back as soon as I can,” Diana promised. She slid the tin box toward the girl. “There are dried peaches and pili seeds and a little fresh water inside. Don’t drink it all at once.”
Alia’s eyelids stuttered. “All at once? How long will you be gone?”
“Maybe a few hours. I’ll be back as fast as I can. Just stay warm and rest.” Diana rose. “And don’t leave the cave.” Alia looked up at her. Her eyes were deep brown and heavily lashed, her gaze fearful but steady. For the first time since Diana had pulled her from the water, Alia seemed to be truly seeing her. “Where are we?” she asked. “What is this place?”
Diana wasn’t quite sure how to answer, so all she said was “This is my home.”
She hooked her hands back into the rock and ducked out of the cave before Alia could ask anything else.
Should I have tied her up? Diana wondered as she scaled the cliff, the noon sun warming her shoulders after the chill of the cave. No. She didn’t have any rope, and tying up a girl who had almost died didn’t seem like the right thing to do. But she’d need to have answers ready when she returned. Alia had been shaken by the wreck, but she was coming back to herself, and she clearly wasn’t a fool. She wouldn’t be content to stay in the cave for long.
Diana lengthened her stride. There was no point in going to Bana‐ Mighdall to retrieve the flag. She would return to the arena and make some kind of excuse, but she couldn’t think beyond that. The farther she got from the cliffs, the more foolish her decision seemed. A cold, prickling fear had coiled just beneath her ribs. The island had its own rules, its own prohibitions, and there were reasons for all of them. No weapons were carried except for train‐ ing and exhibition. The few off‐ island missions permitted were those sanctioned by the Amazon Council and the Oracle— and then only to preserve the isolation of Themyscira.
She needed to get Alia back to the mortal world as soon as possible. Days would pass among the humans while Alia waited in her cave. Rescue ships might be sent for her lost boat. If Diana moved quickly enough, maybe she could get Alia out there on another craft so that she could rendezvous with them. Even if the girl tried to tell the authorities about Themyscira and by some chance they believed her, Alia would never be able to find her way back to the island.
The deep bellow of a horn sounded from the Epheseum, and Diana’s heart gave a sick thud. The race was over. Someone had claimed the laurel crown she’d been so sure she would wear today. I saved a life, she reminded herself, but the thought was hardly comforting. If anyone found out about Alia, Diana would be sent from her home forever. Of all the island’s rules, the prohibition against outsiders was the most sacred. Only Amazons who had won the right to a life on Themyscira belonged here. They died gloriously in battle, proving their courage and heart, and if, in their last moments, they cried out to a goddess, they might be offered a new life, one of peace and honor among sisters. Athena, Chandraghanta, Pele, Banba. Goddesses from all over the world, warriors of every nation. Each Amazon had earned her place on the island. All but Diana, of course.
That prickling coil tightened in her gut. Maybe rescuing Alia hadn’t been a misstep, but something fixed in Diana’s fate. If she had never really belonged on the island, maybe exile was inevitable.
She hurried her steps as the towers of the Epheseum came into view, but her feet felt weighted with dread. How exactly was she going to face her mother after this?
Too soon, the dirt of the road became thick slabs of Istrian stone, white and weathered beneath her bare feet. As she entered the city, she felt as if she could see people staring down at her from their balconies and open gardens, their curious eyes dogging her path to the arena. It was one of the most beautiful buildings in the city, a crown of glowing white stone perched atop slender arches, each emblazoned with the name of a different champion.
Diana passed beneath the arch dedicated to Penthesilea. She could hear cheering and feet stamping, and when she emerged into the sunlit arena, the sight that greeted her was worse than she’d expected. She hadn’t just lost. She was the last to return. The victors were on the podium, and the presentation of the laurels had already begun. Naturally, Rani had placed first. She’d been a distance runner in her life as a mortal and as an Amazon. The worst part was how much Diana liked her. She was relentlessly humble and kind and had even offered to help Diana train. Diana wondered if it got tiring being splendid all the time. Maybe heroes were just like that.
As she made her way toward the dais, she forced herself to smile. Though the sun had helped to dry her, she was keenly aware of the rumpled mess of her tunic, the seawater knots in her hair. Perhaps if she acted like the race hadn’t mattered, it wouldn’t. But she’d only taken a few steps when Tek emerged from the crowd and slung an arm around her neck.
Diana stiffened and then hated herself for it because she knew Tek could tell.
“Aw, little Pyxis,” Tek crooned, “you get bogged down in the mud?”
A soft hiss rose from the people standing nearby. They all understood the insult. Little Pyxis, made of clay.
Diana grinned. “Miss me, Tek? There’s got to be someone else around here for you to judge.”
A few chuckles bubbled up from the crowd. Keep walking,Diana told herself. Keep your head held high. The problem was that Tek was a born general. She sensed weakness and knew exactly where to find the cracks. You’ve got to give as good as you get, Maeve had warned Diana, or Tek won’t back down. She’s cau-tious around Hippolyta, but eventually you’re the one who’s going to sit that throne. Not if Tek has her way, Diana thought. “Don’t be cross, Pyxis,” said Tek. “There’s always next time. And the time after that.”
As Diana moved through the spectators, she heard Tek’s allies chiming in.
“Maybe they’ll move the finish line for the next race,” said Otrera.
“Why not?” Thyra replied. “There are different rules when you’re royalty.”
That was a direct slight to her mother, but Diana grinned as if nothing in the world could bother her. “Amazing how some people never tire of the same song, isn’t it?” she said as she strolled toward the steps that led to the royal loge. “You only learn one dance, I guess you have to keep doing it.”
Some of the onlookers nodded approvingly. They wanted a princess who didn’t flinch at the easy barbs, who stood her ground, who could spar with words instead of fists. After all, what real harm had Tek caused? Sometimes Diana wished Tek would challenge her outright. She’d lose, but she’d rather take a beating than constantly pretend the taunts and jabs didn’t bother her. It was tiring knowing that every time she faltered, someone would be there to notice.
But that wasn’t the worst of it. At least Tek was honest about what she thought. The hardest thing was knowing that, though many of the people smiling at her right now might be kind to her, might even show her loyalty because she was her mother’s daughter and they loved their queen, they would never believe Diana worthy— not to walk among them, certainly not to wear a crown. And they were right. Diana was the only Amazon who had been born an Amazon.
If Tek found out about Alia, if she discovered what Diana had done, she’d have every thing she ever wanted: Diana banished from the island, the clay girl lost to the World of Man— and Tek would never have to challenge Hippolyta outright.
Well, she’s not going to find out, Diana promised herself. There has to be a way to get Alia off the island. Diana just needed to secure a boat, get Alia on it, and find some human to hand her off to on the other side of the boundary.
Or she could tell the truth. Face ridicule, a trial if she was lucky, instant exile if she wasn’t. The dictates of the goddesses who had formed Themyscira were not to be taken lightly, and no offer‐ ings to Hera or prayers to Athena would change what she’d done. Would Diana’s mother speak on her behalf? Offer excuses for her daughter’s failings? Or just follow the punishment demanded by law? Diana wasn’t sure which would be worse.
Forget it. She would get a boat somehow.
She scaled the steps to the queen’s loge, keenly aware that all attention had shifted from the victors’ podium to her. Light filtered through the silken overhang, casting the shaded platform in red and blue, jasmine tumbling from its railings in sweet‐ smelling clouds. There were no seasons on Themyscira, but Hippolyta had the vines and plants changed with every equinox and solstice. We must mark time, she’d told Diana. We must work to maintain our connection to the mortal world. We are not gods. We must always remember we were born mortal. Not all of us, Diana had thought but hadn’t said at the time. Sometimes it was as if Hippolyta had forgotten Diana’s origins. Or maybe she just wanted to. There are different rules when you’re royalty.
Diana had no doubt that her mother had seen her as soon as she entered the arena, but now Hippolyta turned as if glimpsing her for the first time and smiled in welcome.
She opened her arms and embraced Diana briefly. It was the proper thing to do. Diana had lost. If her mother showed too much warmth, it would be perceived as foolish or inappropriate. If she treated Diana too coldly, it might be seen as a rejection and could have far‐ reaching repercussions. The embrace was as it should be and nothing more, balanced on the sword’s edge of politics. So why did it still prick her heart?
Diana knew her role. She remained at her mother’s side as they placed the crowns of laurel on the victors’ heads, and smiled and congratulated the morning’s competitors. But the cold coil of worry in her belly seemed to have sprouted tentacles, and with every passing moment they squeezed tighter. She told herself not to fidget, to stop checking the position of the sun in the sky. She felt sure her mother could tell something was wrong. Diana could only hope Hippolyta would blame her behavior on the shame of losing the race.
The games would continue through the afternoon, followed by a new play at the amphitheater in the evening. Diana hoped to be back at the cave long before then, but there was no escaping the first feast. Long tables had been set in the gardens beside the arena, laden with warm bread, heaps of poached cuttlefish, grilled strips of venison, and pitchers of wine and mare’s milk.
Diana forced herself to take some rice and fish, and pushed a piece of fresh honeycomb around her plate. It was usually her favorite, but her gut was too full of worry. She caught Maeve’s questioning glance from the end of the table, but she had to remain with her mother. Besides, what exactly was she going to tell Maeve? I definitely would have won but I was busy transgressing against divine law.
“In Pontus we would have had lamb grilled on the spit,” Tek said, pushing at the venison on her plate. “Proper meat, not this gamey stuff.”
No animals were raised for slaughter on the island. If meat was wanted, then it had to be hunted. It was not a rule created by the goddesses or a condition demanded by the island, but Hippolyta’s law. She valued all life. Tek valued her stomach.
Hippolyta just laughed. “If you can’t find meat worth eating, drink more wine.” Tek raised her glass and they clinked cups, then bent their heads together giggling like girls. Diana had never seen anyone make Hippolyta laugh the way Tek did. They’d fought side by side in the mortal world, ruled together, argued together, and together they’d chosen to turn from the World of Man. They were prota adelfis, the first of the Amazons on Themyscira, sisters in all but blood. Tek didn’t hate Hippolyta— Diana was fairly sure she couldn’t hate her— only what she’d done when she’d created Diana. Hippolyta had made a life from nothing. She’d brought a girl into being on Themyscira. She’d made an Amazon when only the gods could do such a thing.
Once, when Diana was just a child, she’d woken in her pal‐ ace bedroom to hear them arguing. She’d slid from her bed, the marble cold beneath her feet, and padded down the hall to the Iolanth Court.
This was the heart of their home, a wide terrace of graceful columns that overlooked the gardens below and the city beyond. The palace was full of objects that hinted at the world her mother had known before the island— a golden cup, a shallow black kylix painted with dancing women, a saddle made of tufted felt— pieces of a puzzle Diana had never been able to fit together into a whole story. But the Iolanth Court held no mysteries. It ran the length of the western side of the palace, open on three sides so that it was always flooded with sunlight and the sound of fountains burbling in the gardens below. Sweet, waxy plumeria twined around its columns, and its balustrade was marked by potted orange trees that drew the gossipy buzz of bees and hummingbirds.
Diana and her mother took most of their meals there at a long table that was always cluttered with Diana’s schoolbooks, half‐ full glasses of water or wine, a dish of figs, or a spill of freshly cut flowers. It was where Hippolyta welcomed new Amazons to Themyscira after they had been purified, her voice low and gracious as she explained the rules of the island.
But with Tek, Hippolyta ceased to be the dignified, benevolent queen. She was not the mother that Diana knew, either; she was someone else, someone a little wild and careless, someone who slouched in her chair and snorted when she laughed. Hippolyta was not laughing that night. She was pacing back and forth on the terrace, the silks of her saffron‐ colored robe billowing behind her like a banner of war.
“She is a child, Tek. There is nothing dangerous about her.”
“She is a danger to our very way of life,” Tek said. She was seated on a bench at the long table in her riding clothes, elbows resting on the table, legs stretched out before her. “You know the law. No outsiders.”
“She isn’t an outsider. She’s a little girl. She was made of this island’s very earth, fashioned by my own hands. She’s never even been outside.”
“There are rules, Hippolyta. We are immortal. We’re not meant to conceive, and the island was intended for those of us who have known the perils of the World of Man, who know what it is to fight against the endless tide of mortal violence, who choose to turn away from it. You had no right to make that decision for Diana.”
“She will be raised in a world without conflict. She’ll walk a land in which blood has never been spilled.”
“Then how will she know to value it? The gods did not intend this. They made their laws for a reason, and you have subverted them.”
“The gods blessed her! They endowed her with living breath, made my blood to flow in her veins, bestowed their gifts upon her.” She sat down beside Tek. “Be reasonable. Do you think it was my power that gave her life? You know none of us have magic like that.”
Tek took Hippolyta’s hands in hers. Seated like that, hands clasped, they looked like they were making a pact, like they were colluding over some wonderful plan.
“Hippolyta,” Tek said gently, “when do the gods give such a gift without exacting a price? There is always a danger, always a cost, even if we haven’t seen it yet.”
“And what would you have me do?”
“I don’t know.” Tek rose and rested her hands on the balustrade, looking out at the dark stretch of city and sea. Diana remembered being surprised by how many lanterns were still lit in the houses below, as if this were the appointed hour in which adults argued. “You’ve put us in an impossible position. There will be a reckoning for this, Hippolyta, and all for the sake of something to call your own.”
“She belongs to us, Tek. All of us.” Hippolyta laid a hand on Tek’s arm and for a moment, Diana thought they might make peace, but then Tek shrugged her off.
“You made the choice. Tell yourself what you need to, Highness, but we’ll all pay the price.”
Now Diana watched Tek and her mother talking as if that argument and all the others that had followed didn’t matter, as if Tek’s regular torment of Diana was a fond game. Hippolyta had always waved away Tek’s behavior, her coldness, claiming that it would fade as the years passed and no disaster befell Themyscira. Instead, it had gotten worse. Diana was almost seventeen, and the only thing that seemed to have changed was that she presented a bigger target.
Diana’s eyes flicked to the sundial at the center of the feasting grounds. Alia had been alone in the cave for nearly three hours. Diana didn’t have time to fret over Tek. She needed to figure out how she was going to get her hands on a boat.
As if she could read Diana’s mind, Tek said, “Somewhere you need to be, Princess?” Her eyes were slightly narrowed, her gaze speculative. Tek saw too much. It was probably what made her such a great leader.
“I can’t think of anywhere,” Diana said pleasantly. “If I didn’t know better, I’d think you wanted me to leave.”
“Now, what would give you that idea?”
“Enough of that,” Hippolyta said with a flick of her hand, as if she could simply wipe away discord. And sure enough, the musicians began to play and the feast table filled with song and laughter.
Diana moved the food around on her plate and did her best to be merry as the sun arced westward. She couldn’t be the first to leave and risk looking like she was sulking after her loss. At last, Rani rose from the table and stretched. “Who wants to run to the beach?” she asked. She held the red silk flag aloft and shouted, “Catch me if you can!”
Chairs were shoved backward as the Amazons rose, whooping and cheering, to follow Rani down to the shore before the next round of games began. Diana took the chance to slip away to the alcove where Maeve was waiting. She wore a crushed‐ velvet tunic in pale celadon that barely counted as a dress and that she had paired with nothing but sandals and a circlet of leaf‐ bright green beads braided into her red hair.
“I think you may be missing your trousers,” Diana said as Maeve looped an arm through hers, and they headed toward the palace.
“Two things I love best about this place— the lack of rain, and the lack of propriety. Sweet Mother of All Good Things, I thought that meal would never end.”
“I know. I was seated across from Tek.”
“Was she terrible?”
“No more than usual. I think she was on good behavior because of my mother and Rani.”
“It is hard to be petty around Rani. She always makes you feel your time would be better spent improving yourself.”
“Or emblazoning her profile on a coin.” They passed beneath a colonnade thick with curling grape vines. “Maeve,” Diana said as casually as she could, “do you know if the Council has mentioned a mission on the horizon anytime soon?”
“Don’t start that again.”
“It was just a question.”
“Even if by some chance they did, you know your mother would never let you go.”
“She can’t keep me here forever.”
“Actually, she can. She’s the queen, remember?” Diana scowled, but Maeve continued on. “She’s going to use any excuse to keep you here, and you gave her a good one today. What happened? What went wrong?”
Diana hesitated. She didn’t want to lie to Maeve. She didn’t want to lie to anyone. Still, if she shared this secret, Maeve would be forced to either reveal Diana’s crime or keep Diana’s confidence and risk exile herself. “There were rocks blocking the northern road,” said Diana. “Some kind of landslide.”
Maeve frowned. “A landslide? Do you think anyone followed you? Knew your route?” “You’re not actually suggesting sabotage. Tek wouldn’t—” “Wouldn’t she?”
No, Diana thought but didn’t say. Tek doesn’t think she has to sabotage me. She thinks I can fail all on my own. And Diana had proven her right.
“Hey,” Maeve said, giving Diana’s shoulders a squeeze. “There will be other races, and—” Maeve seized Diana’s arm. Her eyes rolled back and she swayed on her feet.
“Maeve!” Diana gasped. Maeve crumpled to her knees. Diana curled an arm around her waist, supporting her. Her friend’s skin felt wrong. It was too hot to the touch. “What’s the matter? What is it?”
“I don’t know,” Maeve panted, then bent double, releasing a low howl of pain. Diana felt it a second later, the echo of Maeve’s anguish. All Amazons were connected by blood, even Diana through her mother. When one felt pain, they all shared it.
Women were already running toward them, Tek at the lead.
“What happened?” Tek asked, helping Diana raise Maeve to her feet. “Nothing,” said Diana, her panic spiking. “We were just talking and she—”
“Hell’s hounds,” swore Tek. “She’s burning up with fever.”
“An infection?” asked Thyra. Diana shook her head. “She has no wounds.”
“Could it be something she ate?” Otrera suggested. Tek scoffed.
“At the feast? Don’t be absurd. Maeve, were you foraging today? Did you eat anything in the woods? Mushrooms? Berries?” Maeve shook her head. Her body convulsed on a thready sob. “Let’s get her to bed and try to cool her body down,” said Tek. “Fetch water, ice from the kitchens. Thyra, go get Yijun. She has experience as a field medic. We’ll take Maeve to the palace dormitory.”
“Maeve lives in the Caminus now,” said Diana. New Amazons spent their first few years in the dormitory connected to the palace before they chose which part of the city they wanted to live in. Diana had visited Maeve’s new lodgings just the other day.
“If this is a contagion, I want it isolated. The dormitory is empty and easy to quarantine.” “
A contagion?” said Otrera in horror.
“Go,” commanded Tek. Thyra ran toward town to find the medic, and Diana bolted down to the palace kitchens to fetch a pitcher of ice. When she found Maeve and Tek in the dormitory, Maeve was huddled beneath a thin sheet, quivering. Diana set the pitcher beside the bed and stared helplessly at her friend. “What is this?”
“It’s a fever,” Tek said grimly. “She’s sick.”
This couldn’t be happening. It wasn’t possible. “Amazons don’t get sick.” “Well, she is,” snapped Tek. Thyra raced into the room, her golden hair flying. “The medic is coming, but two more alarms were raised in town.” “Fevers? Were they at the feast?”
“I don’t know, but—”
Suddenly, the whole room seemed to shift. The walls shook, and the floor heaved like a beast waking from a deep sleep. The pitcher of ice tipped and shattered on the tiles. Thyra slammed into the wall, and Diana had to grab the doorjamb to keep from falling.
The shaking stopped as quickly as it had started. The only signs that anything had happened were the broken pitcher and the lanterns that continued to sway on their hooks.
“Freyja’s braids!” said Thyra.
“What was that?” Tek’s expression was bleak. “An earthquake.”
“Here?” said Thyra disbelievingly.
“I need to find the queen,” said Tek. “Wait for the medic.” She strode from the room, boots crunching over shards of pitcher and ice.
Diana unfolded a blanket and tucked it around Maeve. She brushed the red hair back from her friend’s face. Maeve’s skin was too white beneath her freckles, and her eyes moved restlessly beneath her pale lids. Contagion. Quarantine. Earthquake. These words did not belong on Themyscira. What if they’d come with Alia? What if Diana had brought this language of affliction to her people?
No mortal was to set foot on Themyscira. The law was clear. In Amazon history, only two women had dared to violate it. Kahina had brought a mortal child back from a mission, desperate to save her from death on the battlefield. She’d begged to be allowed to raise the girl on the island, but in the end they’d both been exiled to the World of Man. The second was Nessa, who had tried to secret her mortal lover aboard a ship when she returned to Themyscira.
As a child, Diana had asked to hear Nessa’s story again and again, wriggling in her bed, anticipating the horrible ending, the image of Nessa standing on the shore, stripped of her armor, as the earth shook and the winds howled, so angered was the island, so angered were the gods. Diana always remembered the final words of the story as told by the poet Evandre:
One by one, her sisters turned their backs as they must, and though they wept, their salt tears were as nothing to the sea. So Nessa passed from mercy into the mists, and to the lands beyond, where men breathe war as air, and life is as the wing-beat of a moth, barely seen, barely understood before it is gone. What can we say of her suffering, except that it was brief?
Diana had shuddered at the shrug in those words. She had watched the moths that gathered around the lanterns of her moth‐ er’s terrace and tried to fasten her gaze on the blur of their wings.
There and gone. That fast. But now it was Evandre’s other words that she recalled with a terrible feeling of recognition: The earth shook and the winds howled, so angered was the island, so angered were the gods. When Diana had rescued Alia, she’d believed the risk she was taking was for herself alone, not for her sisters, not for Maeve.
Diana squeezed Maeve’s hand. “I’ll be back,” she whispered.
She hurried out the door and ran across the columned court that connected the dormitory to the palace.
“Tek!” she called, jogging to catch up with her.
As Tek turned, another tremor struck. Diana careened into a column, her shoulder striking the stone painfully. Tek barely checked her stride. “Go back to your friend,” she said as Diana trailed her up the palace stairs to the queen’s quarters.
“Tek, what’s causing this?”
“I don’t know. Something is out of balance.” Tek strode into the upper rooms of the royal quarters without hesitation.
Hippolyta was at the long table, consulting with one of her runners, a fleet‐ footed girl named Sabaa. Hippolyta looked up as they entered. “I know, Tek,” she said. “I sent for a runner as soon as the first earthquake hit.” She folded the message she’d penned, then sealed it with red wax, marking it with her ring. “Get to Bana‐ Mighdall as fast as you can, but be cautious. Something is wrong on the island.”
The runner vanished down the stairs.
“There have been at least three reports of illness,” said Tek.
“Are you sure that’s what it is?” Hippolyta asked.
“I saw one of the victims myself.” “Maeve,” Diana added.
“It may be striking the younger Amazons first,” said Hippolyta. “Not all of them,” muttered Tek, casting a sidelong look at Diana. But Hippolyta’s gaze was focused on the western sea. She sighed and said, “We’ll have to consult the Oracle.”
Diana’s stomach clenched. The Oracle. There would be no hiding then.
Tek nodded, a look of resignation on her face. Visiting the Oracle was no small decision. It required a sacrifice, and if the Oracle found an Amazon’s tribute wanting, she could inflict any number of punishments. “I’ll light the signal fires to gather the Council,” Tek said, and was gone without another word. It was all happening too quickly. Diana followed Hippolyta into her chambers. “Mother—”
“If they ride hard, the Council should be here within the hour,” said Hippolyta. Some members of the Council lived at the Epheseum or Bana‐Mighdall, but others preferred the more isolated parts of the island and would have to be summoned by the fires.
Hippolyta shucked off the comfortable riding clothes and silver circlet she’d worn at the arena, and emerged from her dressing room a moment later in silks the deep purple of late plums, her right shoulder covered by a golden spaulder and scales of gleaming mail. The armor was purely ornamental, the type of thing worn for affairs of state. Or emergency Council meetings.
“Help me bind my hair?” Hippolyta said. She seated herself before the large looking glass and selected a golden circlet studded with heavy chunks of raw amethyst from a velvet‐ lined case. It seemed bizarre to Diana to stand there plaiting her mother’s ebony hair into braids when the world around them might be falling apart, but a queen never appeared as anything less than a queen to her people.
Diana summoned her courage. She needed to tell her mother about Alia. She couldn’t let her go into a Council meeting with‐ out that knowledge. Maybe it isn’t Alia. It could be a disturbance in the World of Man. Something. Anything. But Diana did not really believe that. When the Council consulted the Oracle, Alia would be discovered and Diana would be exiled. Her mother would look weak, indulgent. Not every one loved Hippolyta as Tek did, and not every one believed that a queen should rule the Amazons at all.
“Mother, today, during the race—”
Hippolyta met Diana’s eyes in the mirror and clasped her hand. “We’ll talk about it later. But there is no shame in the loss.”
That wasn’t remotely true, but Diana said, “It’s not that.”
Hippolyta set two more amethysts in her ears. “Diana, you cannot afford more losses like that. I didn’t think you would win—”
“You didn’t?” Diana hated the hurt that spread through her, the surprise she couldn’t keep from her voice. “Of course not. You’re still young. You are not yet as strong as the others or as experienced. I hoped you might place or at least—”
“Or at least not humiliate you?” Hippolyta lifted a brow. “It takes more than the loss of a little race to bring low a queen, Diana. But you were not ready, and it will mean you must work even harder to prove yourself in the future.”
Her mother’s assessment of her chances was the same as her measured embrace on the platform, just as practical, just as painful. “I was ready,” Diana said stubbornly.
Hippolyta’s look was so gentle, so loving, and so full of pity that Diana wanted to scream. “The results speak for themselves. Your time will come.” But it wouldn’t. Not if she was never given the opportunity. Not if even her mother didn’t think she could win a damned foot‐race. And Alia. Alia.
“Mother,” Diana tried again.
But Hippolyta was sweeping out of her chambers. Lamplight sparked off the gold in her armor. The earth shook, but somehow her steps did not falter, as if her very stride declared, “I am a queen and an Amazon; you are wise to tremble.”
In the mirror’s glass, Diana saw herself reflected— a dark‐ haired girl in disheveled clothes, her blue eyes troubled, teeth worrying her lower lip like some hand‐ wringing actor in a tragedy. She squared her shoulders, set her jaw. Diana might not be queen, but the Council members weren’t the only ones who could petition the Oracle. I am a princess of Themyscira, she told the girl in the mirror. I’ll find my own answers.
Diana hurried to her room to change clothes and fill a traveling pack with a blanket, rope, lantern and flint, and the rolled bindings she used for her hands when sparring— they would do for bandages in a pinch. Four hours had passed since Diana had left Alia in the cave. The girl must be terrified. Hera’s crown, what if she tries to climb down? Diana winced at the thought. Alia had all the substance of a bag of kindling. If she tried to get out of the cave, she’d only end up hurting herself. But there was no time to return to the cliffs. If Diana was going to fix this, she needed to speak to the Oracle before the Council did.
She opened a green enamel box that she kept by her bed, then hesitated. She had never been to see the Oracle, but Diana knew she was dangerous. She could see deep into an Amazon’s heart and far into the future. In the smoke from her ritual fire, she tracked thousands of lives over thousands of years, watching the way the currents moved and what could be done to alter their courses. Access to her predictions always came with a steep cost. The most essential thing was to approach with an offering that would please her, something personal, essential to the supplicant.
The green enamel box held Diana’s most cherished objects. She shoved the whole thing into her pack and ran down the stairs. She’d been pocketing food throughout the feast, but she stopped at the kitchen for a skin full of hot mulled wine. Though the kitchens were always a tangle of clatter and chaos, today the staff worked with grim determination and strange smells rose in billows of steam from the cook pots.
“Willow bark,” said one of the cooks as Diana peeked beneath a lid. “We’re extracting salicylic acid to help bring the fevers down.” She handed over the goatskin. “You tell Maeve we hope she feels better soon.”
All Diana said was “Thank you.” She didn’t want to add to her list of lies for the day.
The city streets were full of bustle and clamor as people ran back and forth with food, medicine, and supplies to shore up buildings damaged by the quakes. Diana pulled up her hood. She knew she should be at the center of it all, helping, but if her suspicions about Alia were right, then the only solution was to get her off the island as quickly as she could.
A glance at the harbor told her that stealing a boat would be close to impossible. The wind had risen to a full gale, and the sky had gone the color of slate. The docks were crawling with Amazons trying to secure the fleet before the storm descended in full force. Diana took the eastern road out of the city, the most direct path to the Oracle’s temple. It was bordered by groves of olive trees, and once she’d entered their shelter, she broke into a run, setting the fastest pace she dared.
Soon she left the olives behind, traversing vineyards and tidy rows of peach trees clustered with fruit, then passed into the low hills that bordered the marsh at the center of the island.
The closer Diana drew to the marsh, the more her unease grew. The marsh lay in the shadow of Mount Ptolema and was the only place on the island that existed in a state of near‐ permanent shade. She had never ventured inside. There were stories of Amazons entering its depths to visit the Oracle and emerging weeping or completely mad. When Clarissa had sought an audience at the temple, she’d returned to the city gibbering and shaking, the blood vessels in both of her eyes broken, her nails bitten down to ragged stumps. She’d never spoken of what she’d seen, but to this day, Clarissa— a hardened soldier who liked to ride into battle armed with nothing but an axe and her courage— still slept with a lit lantern beside her bed.
Diana shivered as she entered the shadows of the marsh trees, draped in veils of moss like funeral‐ goers, the gnarled masses of their exposed roots reflecting sinister shapes in the murky waters. She could hear no sounds of the approaching storm, no familiar birdsong, not even the wind. The marsh had its own black music: the lap and splash of the water as something with a ridged back broke its surface and vanished with the flick of a long tail, the scuttle of insects, whispers that rose and fell without reason. Diana heard her name spoken, a chill breath at her ear. But when she turned, heart pounding, no one was there. She glimpsed something with long, hairy legs skittering over a nearby branch and quickened her steps.
Diana kept heading what she hoped was due east, farther into the marsh as the gloom deepened. She was sure now that something was following her, maybe several things. She could hear the rustle of their creeping legs above her. To her left, she could see the glint of what might be shiny black eyes between drooping swags of gray lace moss.
There is nothing to be afraid of here, she told herself, and she could almost hear the swamp’s low, gurgling laugh.
With a shudder, she pushed through a curtain of vines bound together by milky clusters of cobwebs and stopped. She had imagined the Oracle’s temple would be like the domed buildings in her history books, but now she was confronted with a dense thicket of tree roots, a woven barricade of branches that stretched as high and wide as a fortress wall. It was hard to tell if it had been constructed or if it had simply grown up out of the swamp. At its center was an opening, a gaping mouth of darkness deeper and blacker than any starless sky. From it emanated a low, discordant hum, the hungry murmur of a hive, a hornet’s nest ready to crack open.
Diana gathered her courage, adjusted her pack, and stepped onto a path of wet black stones that led to the entry, leaping from one to the next across water the dull gray of a clouded mirror, her sandals slipping over their glossy backs.
The air near the entrance felt strangely thick. It lay heavy against her skin, damp and unpleasantly warm, wet as an animal’s lolling tongue. She lit the lantern hanging from her pack, took a shallow breath, and stepped inside.
Instantly, the lamp went out. Diana heard whispering behind her and turned to see the roots knotting closed over the mouth of the tunnel. She lunged for the entrance, but it was too late. She was alone in the dark.
Her heart set a jackrabbit pace in her chest. Over the vibrating insect hum, she could hear the vines and roots shifting around her, and she was suddenly sure they would simply close in, trapping her in the tangled wall forever.
She forced herself to shuffle forward, hands held out before her. Her mother wouldn’t be afraid of a few branches. Tek would probably give those roots one withering look and they’d literally wither.
The hum grew louder and more human, a sighing, keening sound that rose and fell like a child’s weeping. I’m not afraid. I am an Amazon and have nothing to fear from this island. But this place felt older than the island. It felt older than every thing.
Gradually, she realized the tunnel was sloping upward and that she could see the dim shapes of her hands, the woven‐ root texture of the walls. Somewhere up ahead, there was light.
The tunnel gave way to a round room, its ceiling open to the sky. It had been late afternoon when Diana set out, but the sky she was looking at now was black and full of stars. She panicked, wondering if she’d somehow lost time in the tunnel, and then she realized that the constellations above her were all wrong. What‐ ever sky she was seeing, it was not her own.
The bramble walls held torches alight with silver flames that gave no heat, and a moat of clear water ringed the room’s perimeter. At its center, on a perfectly flat circle of stone, a cloaked woman sat beside a bronze brazier hanging from a tripod by a delicate chain. In it, a proper fire burned vibrant orange, sending a plume of smoke into the star‐ strewn sky.
The woman rose and her hood fell back, revealing coppery hair, freckled skin.
“Maeve!” Diana cried.
The Oracle’s face shifted. She was a wide‐ eyed child, then a wizened crone, then Hippolyta with amethysts in her ears. She was a monster with black fangs and eyes like opals, then a glowing beauty, her straight nose and full mouth framed by a golden helm. She stepped forward; the shadows shifted. She was Tek now, but Tek as touched by age, dark skin lined, gray at her temples. Diana wanted nothing more than to turn and run. She stayed where she was.
“Daughter of Earth,” said the Oracle. “Make your offering.”
Diana willed herself not to flinch. Daughter of Earth. Born of clay. Had the Oracle meant those words as an insult? It didn’t matter. Diana had come here with a purpose.
She set down her pack and reached inside for the green enamel box. Her hand hovered over a jade comb Maeve had given her on her last birthday; a carnelian leopard, the little talisman she’d carried for years in her pocket, its back bowed in the spot where she’d rubbed her thumb against it for luck; and a tapestry of the planets as they had appeared at the hour of her birth. It was lumpy and full of mistakes. She and her mother had made it together, and greedy for Hippolyta’s time, Diana had pulled rows of threads out every night, hoping they could just keep working on the project forever. She felt along the box’s lining, fingers closing over the object she sought.
She looked at the moat. There was no obvious way across, but Diana was not going to ask for instruction. She’d heard enough people speak of the Oracle to know that— if her sacrifice was accepted— she would be permitted three questions and no more.
She stepped into the water. She could see her foot pass through it, see her skin, paler beneath the surface, but she felt nothing. Maybe the river was mere illusion. She crossed to the stone island. When she set foot on the smooth rock, the hum of voices dimmed as if she had entered the eye of a storm.
Diana stretched out her hand, willing it to steadiness— she did not want to tremble before the Oracle— and uncurled her fingers, revealing the iron arrowhead. It was long enough to cover most of her palm, honed to a cruel point, its tip and crevices stained in a red so dark it looked black in the torches’ icy light. The Oracle’s laugh was as dry as the crackle of the fire. “You bring me a gift you despise?”
Diana recoiled in shock, hand closing protectively over the arrowhead and drawing it close to her heart. “That’s not true.”
“I speak only truth. Perhaps you are not ready to hear it.” Diana glanced back at her pack, wondering if she should attempt some other offering. But the Oracle said, “No, Daughter of Earth. I do not want your jewels or childish trinkets. I will take the arrow that killed your mother. Though you despise a thing, you may value it still, and the blood of a queen is no small gift.”
Reluctantly, Diana extended her hand once more. The Oracle plucked the bloodied arrowhead from her palm. Her face shifted. She was Hippolyta again, but this time her black hair was unpinned and unbraided, curling around her shoulders, and she wore a white tunic embroidered in gold. She was as Diana remembered her the day Hippolyta had found her daughter crying in the stables after Diana had overheard two of the Amazons talking before their daily ride. They said I’m a monster, she’d told her mother. They said I’m made of mud. Hippolyta had dried her tears with the sleeve of her tunic, and that night she’d given Diana the arrowhead.
Now the Oracle spoke with Hippolyta’s voice, the same words she’d said sitting in the lamplight beside Diana’s bed. “There is no joy in having been born mortal. You need never know the sorrow of what it is to be human. Among all of us, only you will never know the pain of death.”
The words had meant little to Diana at the time, but she’d never forgotten them, and she’d never been able to explain why she treasured the arrowhead so much. Her mother had intended it as a warning, as a reminder to value the life she’d been given. But to Diana, it had been the thing that tied her to a larger world, even if it was through something as gruesome as her mother’s blood.
The Oracle wore the face of an aged Tek once more. She tossed the arrowhead into the brazier, and a shower of orange‐ hued sparks shot upward.
“You bring me gifts of death today,” said the Oracle. “Just as you have brought death to our shores.” Diana’s head snapped up. “You know about Alia?”
“Is that your first question?”
“No!” Diana said hurriedly. She was going to have to be smarter.
“The land shakes. The stalk that never wilts grows weary.” “All because of me,” Diana said miserably.
“All because of Alia.”
“And those that came before her. Speak your questions, Daughter of Earth.”
Some tiny part of Diana had hoped she might be mistaken, that Alia’s rescue and the disasters on Themyscira had been mere coincidence. Now she could not hide from the truth of what she’d done and the trouble it had wrought. If she was going to make things right, she would have to word her questions carefully.
“How do I save Themyscira?” “Do nothing.” The Oracle waved her hand, and the smoke above the brazier arced over the moat. Through it, Diana saw a figure looking back at her from the water. It was Alia. Diana realized she was seeing into the cave on the cliff side. Alia huddled beneath the blanket, shaking, eyes closed, forehead sheened with sweat.
“But she wasn’t injured—” Diana protested.
“The island is poisoning her just as she is poisoning the island. But Themyscira is older and stronger. The girl will die, and with her will pass the taint of the mortal world. Most of your sisters will survive and return to health. The city can be rebuilt. The island can be purified once more.”
Most would survive? Will Maeve live? The words burned on Diana’s tongue, begging to be spoken. “I don’t under stand,” she said, careful not to ask a question. “I’m not sick, and Alia was fine when I left her.”
“You are of the island, born uncorrupted, athanatos, deathless. You will not sicken as your sisters do, and your proximity may prolong the girl’s life, may even soothe her, but it cannot heal her. She will die, and the island will live. All will be as it should.”
“No,” Diana said, surprised at the anger in her voice. “How do I save Alia’s life?” Her second question, gone.
“You must not.”
“That isn’t an answer.”
“Then call her by the name given to her ancestors, haptandra, the hand of war. Look into the smoke and know the truth of what she is.” Again the smoke billowed up from the brazier and spread over the water, but this time when Diana looked, it felt as if she’d been engulfed in flame. She stood at the center of a battleground, surrounded by fallen soldiers, their bodies strewn over a ruined landscape, limbs like driftwood on a black‐ash shore. She flinched as a massive armored vehicle roared by, a war machine of the type she’d seen in books, crushing bodies beneath its treads. She could hear a rattling sound in the distance, explosions that came in rapid bursts.
As her eyes focused on the horror around her, a helpless moan escaped her lips. There, only a few feet away, lay Maeve, her heart pierced by a sword, pinned to the ground like a pale insect. The bodies that surrounded Diana were Amazons. Her eye caught on a splash of dark hair: her mother, battle armor smashed and broken, her body discarded like so much refuse.
She heard a war cry and turned, reaching for a weapon she did not have. She saw Tek, her body glazed in sweat, her eyes battle‐bright, facing down some kind of monster, the kind from stories, half‐ man, half‐ jackal. The jackal’s jaws closed over Tek’s throat, shook her like a doll, tossed her aside. Tek fell, blood gushing from her torn jugular. Her eyes focused on Diana, blazing with accusation.
“Daughter of Earth.”
Diana gasped, struggling for breath. The image cleared, and she was looking at her own face in the water, her cheeks wet with tears.
“You’re getting salt in my scrying pool,” said the Oracle.
Diana wiped the tears from her face. “That can’t be. I saw monsters. I saw my sisters—”
“Alia is no ordinary girl. She is polluted by death.”
“As all mortals are,” Diana argued. What was different about Alia? The island had rejected her as it would any human presence. If Diana could just get her away from Themyscira, every thing would return to normal.
“It is not her death she carries but the death of the world. Do you think chance brought her boat so close to our shores? Alia is a Warbringer, born of the same line as Helen, who was herself sired by Nemesis.”
“Helen? Not Helen of—” “Ten years the Trojan War raged. No god was spared. No hero. No Amazon. So it will be if Alia is allowed to live. She is haptandra. Where she goes, there will be strife. With each breath, she draws us closer to Armageddon.”
“But it was Helen’s beauty that caused the war.”
The Oracle cut a dismissive hand through the air and the torches flickered. “Who tells those stories? Tales of vengeful goddesses who wager in human lives for vanity’s sake? Of course men believe a woman’s power must lie in the fineness of her features, the shapeliness of her limbs. You know better, Daughter of Earth. Helen’s blood carried in it war, and in her seventeenth year, those powers reached their peak. So it was with every Warbringer. So it will be with Alia. You have seen it in the waters.”
“A line of Warbringers.” Diana turned the words over. Was it possible? How could a mortal— even a mortal whose ancestry could be traced to Nemesis, goddess of retribution— cause so much misery?
The Oracle was watching her closely. “Heed me, Daughter of Earth. When a Warbringer is born, destruction is inevitable. One has been the catalyst for every great conflict in the World of Man. With the coming of the new moon, Alia’s powers will reach their apex, and war will come.” She paused. “Unless she dies before then.”
“The explosion wasn’t an accident,” Diana said as under‐ standing came. “Someone wanted Alia dead.”
“Many someones will do all they can to make sure that the world does not enter an age of bloodshed. But you need do nothing. Simply wait, and the girl will die, as she was meant to in the shipwreck. It is the best way.”
Diana’s eyes narrowed. She’d read the stories. She knew how oracles spoke. “The best way,” she considered. The Oracle’s mouth turned down at the corners as if she truly could read Diana’s thoughts. For the first time, Diana asked herself why the Oracle had chosen to appear with Tek’s face. To frighten her? To intimidate her? “The best way, but not the only way.” The Oracle’s eyes flashed silver fire, as if they blazed with the same light as the torches on the walls. “Ask your final question and be gone from this place.” Diana opened her mouth, but the Oracle raised a graceful hand. “Think carefully. I am not always so obliging in the gifts I accept. You worry over the fate of one girl when the future of the world hangs in the balance. Worry instead for your own future. Wouldn’t you like to know if Tekmessa is right about you? If you will bring glory or despair to the Amazons? Eventually, your mother will grow weary of rule. Wouldn’t you like to know if you will ever truly be a queen or if you are doomed to spend your life in half shadow? I can show you all of it, Daughter of Earth.”
Diana hesitated. She thought of Tek’s words, of her mother’s denials. The Oracle might tell her she was an abomination, secretly reviled by the gods, destined to bring only misery to her people. But what if the Oracle told her she carried the gods’ blessing, that she could be a boon to her sisters instead of a curse? It would absolve her mother, cease the endless speculation about Diana. Tek would never be able to say a word against either of them again.
But would it make Diana any more of an Amazon? I could ask how to obtain their approval. I could ask how to win glory in battle. She thought of Alia’s hand gripping the hull, Alia’s pulse beating beneath her questing fingers. A girl restored to life by Diana’s own breath.
Save my people and Alia dies. Save Alia and I’ll watch my sisters slaughtered. Really, it made the question simple.
“How do I save everyone?”
Fury suffused the Oracle’s features. Her image flickered— a serpent, Tek, a skull, a black‐ gummed wolf. Her eyes were gem‐ stones, snakes writhed upon her head and poured from her mouth. “Stubborn as all girls are stubborn,” she snarled. “Reckless as all girls are reckless.”
The words were out before Diana thought better of them. “And were you never a reckless, stubborn girl?” A pointless question, but it didn’t matter now. Diana had asked the important question first, and the Oracle’s anger made her believe it had been the right one.
The anguished hum rose around them, an aching lament layered with wild sorrow, and in it Diana heard the echoes of her sisters’ cries on that terrible battlefield.
When the Oracle spoke, she was no longer Tek, but wore a different face, one that seemed hewn from light itself: “The Warbringer must reach the spring at Therapne before the sun sets on the first day of Hekatombaion. Where Helen rests, the Warbringer may be purified, purged of the taint of death that has stained her line from its beginning. There may her power be leashed and never passed to another.”
Therapne. Greece. It would mean leaving the island. Impossible. And yet . . .
“The line of Warbringers would be broken?”
The Oracle said nothing, but she made no denials. If Alia died on Themyscira, a new Warbringer would be born— maybe in a month, maybe in a hundred years, but it would happen. If they could reach the spring in time, if Diana brought Alia there under her protection, that would all change.
“I see you, Daughter of Earth. I see your dreams of glory. But what you do not see is the danger. Factions in the World of Man hunt the Warbringer. Some seek to end her life that they may ensure peace; some seek to protect her life that they may bring about an age of conflict. In less than two weeks, Hekatombaion begins. You cannot hope to reach the spring in time. You are one girl.”
Diana clenched her fists, thinking of the bloodied arrowhead the Oracle had accepted as sacrifice. Her mother’s blood. The same blood that flowed in Diana’s veins. “I am an Amazon.”
“Are you? You are not a hero. You are not battle tested. This quest is far beyond your skills and strength. Do not doom the world for the sake of your pride.”
“That isn’t fair,” Diana said. “I’m trying to do what’s right.” Even as she said the words, Diana knew they weren’t entirely true. She did want glory. She did want the chance to prove herself, not just with a footrace or a wrestling match, but with a hero’s quest, something no one could deny. She wanted to argue with the Oracle, but what was the point in debating an all‐ seeing ancient?
“Go home,” said the Oracle. “Go back to the Epheseum. Com‐ fort your sweet friend. Let her know her suffering will soon be at an end. When the Council comes, I will tell them nothing. No one ever need know what you have done. Your crime will remain a secret, and you need not fear exile. The island will return to what it was, the world will be safe, and you may live in peace with your sisters. But should you take the girl from the island . . .”
The hum rose to a howl, a thousand howls, screams rising from the charred earth, the clash of swords, the lamentations of the dying, her sisters’ misery amplified a thousand times. The sound of a future Diana could prevent by simply doing nothing.
“Go,” commanded the Oracle.
Diana turned and ran, back into the tunnel, into the dark, unable to escape that terrible howl. She ran without caution, scraped her shoulder against the bramble wall, tripped as the tunnel slanted downward, stumbled to her knees. Then she was back up, running again, that horrible chorus of anguish building to a shriek that vibrated through her bones and hammered at her skull.
The roots parted before her, and she tumbled out of the temple and into the brackish water of the marsh. She dragged herself upright, breathless, and lurched toward the banks. Through the gloom of the marsh, she fled, trying to put as much distance as she could between herself and the temple. Only after Diana burst from the darkness of the trees and crested the first set of low hills did she allow herself to stop. She could smell the sweet, green scent of honey myrtle, feel the fresh spatter of rain on her skin. But even here she did not feel safe.
I am an Amazon.
In the whispers of the leaves, she heard the Oracle sneering,
She could not risk it. She could not risk her sisters’ lives for the sake of a girl she barely knew. She’d been foolish to dive into the sea this morning, but she could make the right choice now. The earth rumbled beneath Diana’s feet. Lightning split the sky. She hitched her pack more securely on her shoulders and headed for the cave. Alia was dying. If Diana could not save her, at least she could make sure she did not die alone.
The giant was back. Alia thought that maybe after the wreck, in her panicked, adrenaline‐ fueled state, she’d exaggerated the details of her rescuer. But, no, the girl was back in the cave, and she was just as Alia remembered her— six feet tall and gorgeous, built like someone who could sell weird fitness equipment on late‐ night television. The Ab Blaster. The Biceps Monger.
Maybe I’m delirious. She knew she had a fever and chills, but she couldn’t make sense of her symptoms. The headache and the nausea could be the result of a concussion. No doubt she’d been banged around pretty badly when the Thetis went down. But she didn’t want to think about that— the shock of the explosion, Ray screaming, the gray weight of the water as it dragged her down. Every time her mind brushed up against it, her thoughts stuttered to a stop. Better to focus on the cave, the blanket tucked around her, the terrible pounding in her head. If it was just a bad concussion, then her job was to stay awake until help came— and she’d done it. Here was help. In the form of a girl who looked like a supermodel who moonlighted as a cage fighter. Or vice versa. But where was the rescue team? The helicopter? The EMTs to flash a light in Alia’s eyes and tell her every thing was going to be all right?
“Just you?” she croaked, unnerved by how weak her voice sounded. The girl sat down beside her. “Have you eaten anything?”
“Not hungry.” “At least some water?” Alia didn’t have the strength. Dimly, she was aware of something being pressed to her lips. “Drink,” the girl commanded.
Alia managed a few sips. “Is help coming?” The girl hesitated. “I’m afraid not.”
Alia opened her eyes fully. She’d succeeded in keeping her panic in check so far, but she could feel it trying to claw free. “Is it the earthquakes?” At the first tremor, Alia had dragged her‐ self to the cave opening, terrified the rock above her would give way and she’d be crushed. But one glance at the drop to the sea had sent her scrambling backward. She’d huddled in her blanket, fighting her rising fear. One thing at a time, she’d told herself. I’m on an island— maybe there’s volcanic activity. Just wait for help to come. She’d done her part. She’d kept conscious, managed not to expend her energy on crying or screaming. So where was her rescue?
The girl’s expression was troubled, her gaze trained on her sandaled feet. Alia realized she’d changed clothes. Back on the beach she’d worn some type of white tunic, but now she was in brown leather trousers and what looked like a cross between a tank top and a sports bra. “This island is very isolated,” she said. “It’s . . . Contacting help wasn’t possible.”
“Then the rest of the crew . . . ?”
“I’m sorry. I wish I could have saved them all.” Her words didn’t quite make sense to Alia. Nothing did. She closed her eyes, the ache of tears filling her throat. Her best friend, Nim, liked to joke that Alia was a jinx because trouble seemed to follow her everywhere. Fights erupted at parties. Couples started arguing over nothing. Then there was that time a free concert in Central Park had somehow turned into a riot. It didn’t seem so funny now.
Thinking about Nim, about home, about the safety of her own bed, made the tears spill over.
“Were they your close companions?” the girl asked quietly.
“I barely knew them,” Alia admitted. “I need a doctor. There’s something wrong. I think I hit my head during the wreck. There may be internal bleeding.” Though even as she spoke, she realized that since the girl had appeared, the pain in her head had receded. Maybe she’d been more dehydrated than she realized.
“There was an explosion on your craft,” said the girl. “Before it sank.”
Alia leaned her head back against the cave wall. “I remember.”
“On the beach, you said it was your fault.”
Those words felt like a fist pressed against her heart. “I did? I must not have been thinking clearly.”
“Do you think . . . Is it possible it was intentional? Some kind of bomb?”
Alia’s eyes flew open. “What are you talking about?”
“Could the wreck have been deliberate?”
“No, of course not, it . . .” Alia hesitated. All of Jason’s paranoid warnings came back to her. We’re targets, Alia. Our money. The Foundation. We have to be smart.
Smart meant trained bodyguards on staff at the penthouse. It meant an armed driver to take her to school every morning and drop her off every afternoon. It meant no class field trips, schedules that accounted for every minute of her day so that Jason always knew where she was, summers spent in the same place each year, seeing the same people, staring out at the same view. It was a good view. Alia knew she had nothing to complain about. But that didn’t stop you, did it? She’d been happy to whine to Nim on every occasion. And she’d pretty much jumped at a chance for something new, a month spent with different people, away from Jason’s ridiculous rules.
Maybe not so ridiculous. Could someone have put a bomb aboard the boat? Could one of the crew have blown up the Thetison purpose?
Her fears must have shown on her face, because the girl leaned forward and said, “Speak. Is it possible?”
Alia didn’t want to believe it. If someone had been willing to blow up her boat, to murder innocent people just to get at her and the Foundation, then Jason had been right about every thing and she’d been the biggest fool alive. “It’s possible,” she admitted reluctantly. “I’m a Keralis.”
“A Greek name.”
“My dad was Greek. My mom was black, from New Orleans.” People always wanted to know where the color came from. Alia reached for the water. She really did feel a little better, though her hand shook as she lifted the skin to her lips. The girl steadied Alia’s arm as she drank. “Thanks. You’ve never heard of the Keralis Foundation? Keralis Labs?”
“No. What does that have to do with the explosion?” Alia felt suddenly wary. “Who are you?”
“I’m . . . My name’s Diana.”
“Why does my name matter?”
Why? Because even if this girl lived on a remote island, every-one knew the Keralis name. That was part of the problem.
How had Diana gotten to the wreck site so quickly? What if she’d known about the bomb on the boat? Alia gave her head a little shake and was rewarded with a stomach‐ churning wave of dizziness that left her panting. She pressed her head against the cave wall and waited for it to pass. She wasn’t thinking straight. There was no reason for a girl to try to kill her, then save her life and stuff her in a cave. “People hate my parents; now they hate me.”
“I see,” said Diana in understanding. “Did your parents slay a great many people?”
“What?” Alia cast her a sidelong glance. “They were biologists. Bioengineers. People get weird about some of the work they did in genetics and the Foundation’s politics.”
Diana’s brow furrowed, as if she was attempting to parse all of this information. “You think that’s why someone attempted to take your life?”
The girl said nothing. Alia felt another tide of nausea roll through her. A cold sweat broke out over her body. “I need a doctor.”
“There’s no one on the island who can help you.”
“A clinic. A boat back to Istanbul or the nearest port.”
“It’s just not possible.”
Alia stared at Diana, feeling her panic slip free of its leash. “Then what’s going to happen to me?”
Diana looked away.
Alia pressed her palms to her eyes, humiliated to find tears threatening again. She didn’t understand what was going on, only that she’d never felt more tired or scared. Not since she was a kid. How had things gone so wrong so quickly?
“I never should have left home. Jason said to stay in New York. He said it was safer. But I wanted this so much.”
Diana drew another blanket from her bag and tucked it around Alia. It smelled of sage and lavender. “What did you want?”
“It’s stupid,” Alia said.
“Please. I’d like to know.”
Alia closed her eyes again. She felt too weak to talk, but the guilt and shame were stronger than her fatigue. “There’s this summer‐ at‐ sea program for biology students. You get college credit. It’s really hard to get into, but I thought, I’ll just apply and see what happens. But then they accepted me and I realized—”
“How very much you wanted to go.”
“Yeah,” Alia said with a small smile. She felt it fade from her lips. “I lied to Jason.”
“Who is this Jason?”
“My older brother. He’s a great brother, the best brother. He’s just overprotective. I knew he’d say no to the trip, so I told him I’d been invited to Nim’s parents’ place in Santorini. You don’t know how hard it was to keep everything secret. I had to get a visa, get all of these medical approvals, but then I was just doing it. I ditched my bodyguards at the airport, and I didn’t call Jason until I was about to board the Thetis in Istanbul.” Alia released a sob. “He was so angry. I swear, I’ve never heard him raise his voice, but he was yelling. He forbade me— forbade me from going. I hung up on him.”
“Does he command you frequently?” Diana asked. “Many men enjoy having authority over women. Or so I’ve been told.”
Alia snorted, but Diana looked serious. “Well, sure, but Jason’s not like that. He was just worried about me, trying to keep me safe. I thought if I could show him that I could handle this on my own, he’d have to stop babying me.”
Diana sighed. “I understand. My mother doesn’t think I can handle anything on my own, either.”
“Are you kidding? You saved my life. You carried me to a damn cave on your back. You seem pretty capable.”
“In my family, among . . . my friends, I’m the weak one.”
“You don’t seem weak to me.” Diana gazed at her for a long moment. “You don’t seem weak to me, either.”
Alia blew out a breath. “But Jason was right. If I had stayed in New York, if I’d just listened to him, no one would have died. I should never have left home.”
Diana frowned. “If you’d stayed home, maybe others would have been harmed. Your friends or your family.” “Maybe,” Alia said, but the thought brought her little comfort. “And you had this dream,” continued Diana, “to study, to garner accolades.”
“Well, college credit, at least.”
“How could it be wrong to wish to prove yourself?” she asked, a fierce light in her eyes. “You were not wrong to dare.”
“Jason cannot protect you forever. We cannot spend our lives in hiding, wondering what we might accomplish if given the chance. We have to take that chance ourselves. You were brave to board that boat.”
“I was stupid. Everything that happened just proved Jason right.”
“No. You survived the wreck. When the waves came, you held on. Maybe you’re stronger than you think you are, than anyone thinks you are.” Diana stood. “Maybe I am, too.” She offered Alia her hand. “We have to get you out of here.”
“I thought you said—”
“I know what I said. Do you want to get off this island or not?”
Alia had no idea what had caused this turnaround, but she wasn’t going to look a gift giant in the mouth. “Yes,” she said eagerly. She took Diana’s hand and rose slowly, trying to fight the surge of dizziness that overtook her. “What do we do? Do you have a boat or something?”
“It’s more complicated than that. I’m going to need you to trust me. The people here . . . There are terrible risks, and the things you see . . . well, if we make it out of this, you can never speak of them again.”
Alia raised her brows. Was this girl messing with her, or was she a little nuts? “Okay, sure.”
“Swear by what is most dear to you.”
Maybe more than a little nuts. “I swear on Jason and Nim and my shot at an Ivy League school.”
Diana cocked her head to one side. “It will have to do.” She turned her back to Alia and said, “Climb on.” Alia groaned. “Do we really have to do this again?” She wasn’t feeling particularly spry, but there was something humiliating about jumping on someone’s back like a five‐year‐old.
Diana shrugged and said, “See for yourself.”
After her first terrifying glance down, Alia had deliberately avoided the entrance to the cave, but now she gathered the blankets around her shoulders and peered over the edge again. The drop to the rocky boulders below looked even steeper than it had that morning. Holding tight to Diana’s hand and the ragged rock of the cave mouth, she looked up. Somehow the sheer cliff rising into the stormy sky seemed twice as terrifying as the drop.
“We’re going to climb that?” she asked.
“I’m going to climb that.”
“With me on your back?”
“You’re very light. I wonder if you have a calcium deficiency.”
“My calcium’s just fine.” “Your muscle tone is poor, too.”
“I prefer the pursuits of the mind,” Alia said loftily. Diana looked doubtful. “Most philosophers agree that mind and body must be in accord.”
“Is that like four out of five dentists?” Alia asked. Besides, she doubted most philosophers ever had to play dodgeball in the Bennett Academy gym. She sighed. Even at her best, the climb would have been close to impossible for her, and she was definitely not at her best. She eyed Diana warily. Alia had never thought of herself as short, but next to this person, she felt about as statuesque as a miniature schnauzer. It wasn’t just that the girl was tall; she was sort of majestic. Like a skyscraper. Or Mount Rushmore, but less craggy.
Alia straightened her spine. “Okay, we do it your way.”
Diana nodded and turned, gesturing for Alia to clamber onto her back. Alia hopped on, and the girl hooked her hands beneath Alia’s knees, shifting her into place like an oversized backpack. So much for dignity.
“Giddyup,” Alia said sourly.
“On, you huskies?”
“I am not your steed,” Diana said, but she trotted— jogged— to the mouth of the cave. Without warning, she dug her fingers into the rock and swung outside. Alia squeezed her eyes shut and held on tight, trying not to think of the unforgiving boulders below.
“So,” she said, chin tucked over Diana’s shoulder, attempting to distract herself. “Now that we’re hanging off the side of a cliff together . . . any hobbies?”
“My mother is trying to get me to take up the lyre.”
“Interesting choice. Siblings?”
“Any nicknames?” Alia felt the girl’s muscles tense beneath her.
Maybe that was enough small talk.
Diana’s body moved in stops and starts as she searched for holds, making steady progress up the cliff. Occasionally, she would grunt sharply or mutter, but she wasn’t panting or grumbling the way Alia would have been.
Just as Alia was wondering how much cardio this girl did, the cliff shook with a tremor. Diana’s foot slipped. They dropped. A cry escaped Alia’s lips as her heart lodged in her throat. They jerked to a rough halt, dangling in the air, supported by nothing except Diana’s right hand jammed into the rock. Alia could see blood trickling from somewhere between her fingers.
The urge to look down, to see how far they’d come, how far there was to fall overtook her. Don’t do it, her logic centers commanded. But the rest of her nervous system was in full flight‐ or‐ fight mode. She looked down. Dizziness washed through her. There was nothing below but roiling sea and hulking black rocks, whitecaps smashing to foam on the humps of their backs.
Alia looked up at Diana’s bleeding fingers slipping slowly from their hold. Her own hands felt sweaty; her body was sliding. She wriggled to keep her grip.
“Stay still,” barked Diana. Alia froze.
Diana released something between a roar and a grunt and shoved her body upward, swinging her left arm overhead. For a moment, Alia thought they were falling. Then Diana’s fingers found purchase, her toes dug in, and they were wedged against the rock once more.
Alia felt the tension in Diana’s back, the contraction of her muscles. They were moving again, higher and higher. Alia didn’t risk another glance down. She shut her eyes and, long moments later, Diana was hauling them over the top of the cliff. Alia rolled off her, and for a moment they just lay there.
Diana leapt to her feet, dusting herself off.
She offered Alia a hand. “Give me a minute,” said Alia, trying to get her heart rate to return to normal.
“Why are you tired?”
“We almost died!”
Diana cocked her head to one side. “Do you think so?”
“Yes.” What was wrong with this girl? Alia took the offered hand and they stood. The clouds above them were knotted with thunderheads, and the wind tore at their hair. She touched the braids at her scalp. They were uncomfortably stiff with salt and sand.
The beginnings of another storm, or maybe the same storm that had caught the Thetis was moving in. She peered along the coastline but could see no lighthouse or harbor, no signs of civilization at all. This place really was isolated.
Alia didn’t want to look at the sea, but she did anyway, searching for some sign of the Thetis and its crew. Jasmine, Ray, Luke, Dr. Ellis— Just call me Kate, she’d said. But they’d called her Dr. Ellis anyway. What had Ray and Jasmine been arguing about when the winds had picked up? They’d been blown off course, their instruments giving readings that made no sense, and every one seemed to be blaming every one else.
The crew had been sniping at one another since they’d boarded. Alia had kept to herself, feeling a sinking sense of disappointment. Her month aboard the Thetis was supposed to show Jason that she’d be safe on her own, but it was also supposed to give her a chance to make some new friends away from Bennett Academy, and to escape the tension that seemed to follow her everywhere lately. Instead, the trip had been more of the same. Ray and Luke had actually started shoving each other over a playlist, of all things. And now they were gone.
“Maybe we should stay where we are,” said Alia. She’d been feeling pretty awful before Diana had shown up, but now that she was out of the cave, her lungs were clearer and she felt a bit less woozy. “They’ll send search parties for the ship. Maybe we can find a way to signal from shore.”
Diana shook her head. “No one is going to find you here. No one ever does.”
Alia raised a skeptical brow. “Is this some Bermuda Triangle shit?”
“Something like that. The island is incredibly hard to reach. It doesn’t show up on any maps or charts.” Alia waggled her fingers. “Google knows all and sees all.”
“Google,” Diana repeated. “Is Google one of your gods?” “Hey,” said Alia. “Just because I spend time online doesn’t mean I’m totally brainwashed.”
Diana looked at her blankly, then gestured for Alia to follow. “Come on. We’re too exposed out here.”
“I’m not sure the woods are a good place to be in a thunder‐ storm,” Alia said. Diana bit her lip, as if she hadn’t considered that. “I’m guessing you don’t get bad weather around here?”
“Never,” said Diana. “But it has to be the woods. We can’t stay out in the open.” A chill spread over Alia’s arms that had nothing to do with the storm or her damp clothes. “What do you mean?” “The people on this island came here because they don’t want to be found.” “Like you?”
“I . . . didn’t have a choice. I was born here. But they really don’t like outsiders.”
Alia shivered. Great, they were one step shy of a dueling‐ banjos scenario. Dueling lyres? Keep it together, Alia. “They’re not in some weird militia or something, are they?”
“Actually, a lot of them are . . . uh . . . military.”
Better and better. Probably a bunch of paranoid survivalists, with Alia’s luck. If they didn’t like outsiders, they definitely weren’t going to like a brown girl from New York. “And they don’t have phones? Radios?”
“No contact with the outside world.”
“What if someone gets sick or hurt?”
“That isn’t a problem here,” said Diana, then added, “Or it didn’t used to be.” So Alia had managed to get shipwrecked on Cult Island. Perfect.
“Can’t we just steal a boat or something?” she asked.
“I considered that, but the docks are full of people. They’ll notice someone taking out a craft, especially during a storm. And I think we’re going to need more than a boat to get us to Therapne.”
“Southern Greece. The Gulf of Laconia.”
That made no sense— not if Alia remembered her geography right. The Thetis had only been a few days out from Istanbul. Even if they’d been wildly off course, it made no sense to travel that far. Why not Thessaloniki or even Athens? “That’s hundreds of miles from here. We can’t sail all that way.”
“Of course not.”
Alia took a deep breath. Her chest hurt as if someone had punched her. Her lungs still felt waterlogged, and her body was covered in bruises. Beyond that, she felt nauseous and bleary. She needed to see a doctor. She needed to get to a real city.
Unless Diana was lying or delusional— both of which were definite possibilities— she was stuck on an island crawling with weirdos, so she needed to be smart. Play along, she told herself. This girl wants to go to southern Greece? No problem. Alia could nod and smile for as long as it took to get somewhere with a phone.
She steeled herself and followed Diana into the green hush of the forest. It was like stepping into an alien world. Alia’s parents had taken her and Jason on a trip to the Brazilian rain forest when she was little, so they could learn about some of the new species of plants being discovered there and the medicines developed from those findings. It had been a bit like this— lush, alive— and yet not like this at all. The trees here were like nothing she’d ever seen, some of them wide enough around that the Thetis could have docked in their rings with room to spare. Their roots ran along the forest floor in thick spirals, covered in vines that bloomed with widemouthed trumpet flowers. The air smelled sweet and felt almost silky on Alia’s skin, and the raindrops on every surface made the moss, leaves, and branches glint like they’d been hung with gems.
Great place for a cult.
Alia knew she should keep her mouth shut, but she couldn’t resist asking, “Why do we need to go to southern Greece?”
“Your expedition wasn’t attacked because of your parents’ work. You are being hunted.”
“Hunted,” Alia said flatly. “For my silky pelt?”
“Because you are haptandra.”
“I’m not into gaming.” Diana shot her a baffled look over her shoulder. “The Oracle says we must reach the spring at Therapne before the sun sets on the first day of Hekatombaion. It’s the site of Helen’s tomb, where she was laid to rest beside Menelaus. Once you and your bloodline have been cleansed in the spring, you will be a Warbringer no longer. You will never need fear for your life again.”
“Sure,” said Alia. “Makes perfect sense.”
“Hopefully, your enemies believe you’re dead, but we should be ready for anything once we’re off the island.”
I’m going to be ready to find the nearest police station and get the hell away from you, Queen Loon, Alia thought. But all she said was “Got it.”
Diana stopped abruptly and put a finger to her lips. Alia nodded understanding, then crept up behind her and peered over her shoulder through the leaves.
She wasn’t sure what she’d expected to see. Maybe a fort or wannabe military encampment, a bunch of rednecks in camo. Instead, she was looking down at a wide road that led into a city cut from golden stone that seemed to glow in the fading light— a fairy‐ tale city of arches and spires, open porches bursting with cascades of flowers, their domed rooftops and silk awnings held aloft by elegant columns.
Something was happening. Women were hurrying back and forth along the road, a sense of urgency in their movements. Some wore leather trousers and banded tops similar to Diana’s, but others were draped in bright silks. They looked less like survivalists and more like a group of performers getting ready to take the stage.
Diana met Alia’s eyes and made a gesture.
“That some kind of military thing?” Alia whispered.
“Never mind,” said Diana on an annoyed breath. “Just follow me and stay quiet. Try to walk light. For such a little person, you make a lot of noise.”
“I am not little,” Alia protested. And, okay, she wasn’t exactly graceful, but it wasn’t like she’d run into a tree or something.
They continued through the forest, picking their way between the branches. Diana was sure‐footed and never stopped to rest, but Alia felt worse with every step. She had no idea how long they’d been walking, but she’d lost her canvas tennis shoes in the wreck, and despite the mossy covering on the forest floor, her feet were protesting every root, bump, and pebble.
At last, Diana came to a halt. This time she got down on her belly and caterpillar‐ crawled beneath a tree covered in fat green leaves. Alia stood there for a moment. Was she really doing this? She heaved a shrug, then lay down on her stomach and followed. They emerged overlooking a high‐ walled citadel.
“The walls have cracked,” Diana said, her voice full of a kind of miserable awe. “They’ve stood for nearly three thousand years.”
Now Alia knew the girl was nuts. There was no way this build‐ ing had been around for that long. It looked brand‐ new, despite the big crack in one of its sand‐ colored walls.
As they watched, Alia saw two more women in leather trousers and tops jog beneath an arch. When they reemerged, they had another woman with them. She had only one arm and it was tattooed with what looked like—
“Is that chain mail?”
Diana nodded. “Everilde disguised herself as a knight so that she could fight in the Crusades. The tattoo covers the whole of her torso.”
“Wow. It’s like she never has to leave Ren Faire. What’s written on her shoulder?”
Diana blinked, her inky‐ black lashes dappled with rain. “Peace. In Arabic. She had it done when Hafsah came to the island. Both of them work in the training rooms, but with the storm and the earthquakes, they probably need as much help as they can get at the Epheseum.” Diana groaned. “My mother is going to kill me.”
“I should be down there, helping. Taking a leadership role.” Alia almost laughed. Apparently, even cult kids had moms with expectations. “What is this place?”
It seemed awfully beautiful for an armory.
When the women were gone, Diana led Alia down the embankment and beneath an arch buried in flowers. Alia reached out and touched a cream‐ colored rose, its petals tipped with red and heavy with rain. She’d never seen a more perfect blossom, and it was nearly as big as her head.
“Gauntlet roses,” Diana said. “Jericho lilies, nasturtiums. They’re all plants associated with war or victory. My mother really loves a theme.”
“Doesn’t sound weird at all,” murmured Alia.
But when they entered the Armory, her jaw dropped. The room was a vast hexagon topped by an enormous dome. Each wall featured a different weapon: swords, axes, daggers, staffs, as well as things with spikes and prongs and creepy little barbs that Alia had no name for. The walls seemed to be organized chronologically, the oldest‐ and most rustic‐ looking weapons at the top, their sleek, modern counterparts closer to the bottom.
“No guns,” she noted.
Diana looked at her like she was daft. “The gun is the coward’s weapon.”
“Hmmm,” Alia said diplomatically. The gun was also the most effective weapon. There was a reason you didn’t see cops walking around with double axes. An anti- gun, horticulture- loving survivalist cult. Maybe they were just hippies who happened to be weapons collectors?
“What is that thing?” Alia asked, pointing to a staff topped by a giant claw.
“A zhua. It’s used for robbing a mounted opponent of her shield.”
“It looks like the world’s deadliest mop.”
Diana considered it. “Perhaps you can use it to scare the floor clean.”
They crossed the vast room, past padded floor mats and dummies clearly intended for sparring. “You guys just leave all of this lying around? Seems dangerous.”
“No weapons are permitted outside the Armory unless they have been sanctioned for exhibitions.”
“What if someone steals something?”
“How? These belong to every one.” Alia silently added socialist to her list of cult adjectives. Jason would not approve. But she didn’t want to think about her brother or how worried he must be. Or the fact that she might not see him again if she didn’t find a way off this island.
They walked through another archway and entered a smaller room. The light was dimmer here, filtered through the blue panels of a stained‐ glass dome above. The chamber was full of glass cases fitted with clever mirrors that made their contents seem to float in the blue‐ tinted light. It was like standing at the center of a sapphire.
The cases had no labels or plaques, and each had a different costume in it— a breastplate of pounded bronze and a pair of weathered sandals; the segmented steel and leather of what Alia thought might be samurai armor; heavy furs and beaded saddle‐ bags; a pilot’s jumpsuit that looked like it might be from the twenties— Alia wasn’t too clear on the history of military fashion, though Nim would know. But when Alia looked closer, she saw the pilot’s jacket was riddled with bullet holes. She peered at the heavy plated armor in the case beside it. It had a hole in it, as if it had been pierced by a spear.
There was something else: the armor, the way the clothes were cut, the crowns and bracelets and boots. Alia stopped dead. They’d seen twenty or thirty people on the road into the city— and not a single man. “Hold up,” said Alia. Diana was standing in front of a glass case at the center of the room, larger and brighter than the others, lit by white light piercing the oculus at the top of the dome. “Are there any men on this island?” Diana shook her head. “No.”
“No.” “Holy shit, are you guys some kind of radical feminist cult?” Diana frowned. “Not exactly?”
“Are you all lesbians?”
“Of course not.”
“It’s cool if you are. Nim’s gay. Maybe bi. She’s figuring it out.”
“My best friend.” My only friend, Alia did not add. Jason didn’t count. And Theo was more “just a friend” than actual friend.
“Some like men, some like women, some like both, some like nothing at all.” “But why no guys, then?” “It’s a long story.”
“And how were you born here if there are no guys allowed?”
“That’s a longer story.” Diana turned back to the case and lifted the latch but then hesitated. Tentatively, as if she was afraid the metal might burn, she reached inside the case and took out a slender gold crown, a huge ruby cut like a star at its center.
Alia had seen a lot of big jewels on a lot of Park Avenue socialites, but nothing like that. “Who does that belong to?”
“Me, I guess. My mom had it made when I was born. But I’ve never worn it.”
“Is the ruby real?”
Diana nodded and smiled a little. “Red like the Dog Star. I was named for the huntress, Diana, and born under the constellation of her favor, Orion. The stone was cut from the stone of my mother’s crown.” Diana gestured to the wide tiara that hung suspended in the case, a far larger ruby at its center. “They’re heartstones. They act as a kind of compass.”
She popped the star‐ shaped ruby from its setting and returned the gold circlet to its base. “I hope no one will notice.”
“A missing ruby the size of a macaroon? Definitely not.”
Diana let her fingers trail over the other items in the case: a wide golden belt set with red jewels and hunks of topaz as big as Alia’s thumbnails; an elegant unstrung bow and an embroidered leather quiver full of arrows; a set of what looked like wide iron bracelets; and a long rope, coiled like a snake.
“We’ll need this,” Diana said, taking the lasso from the case. As Diana fastened it to her hip, it glinted brightly, as if it had been woven from something other than ordinary rope. Diana touched the cuff of one of the iron bracelets. “My mother used to bring me here every week when I was little. She’d tell me the story behind each case, all the women who came here. These are the relics of our greatest heroes. Pieces of the lives they led before they came to the island, and the battles they fought to preserve peace after. She told me all of their stories. All but hers.”
They must be heirlooms, Alia thought. Then the bracelet Diana was touching moved.
Alia took a step backward and almost crashed into the case behind her. “What the hell?” It was as if the metal had turned molten. It slid from the case and clasped itself around Diana’s wrist. “What. The. Hell,” Alia repeated as the second bracelet slithered around Diana’s other wrist.
Diana looked just as shocked as Alia felt. She held her hands before her like a surgeon about to scrub in and stared at the bracelets, widemouthed in disbelief.
I have a concussion, Alia’s mind babbled. I definitely have a concussion. In fact, maybe I’m in a coma. I got knocked out during the explosion, and now I’m in a hospital in Turkey. I just need to wake up, because Nim is going to pee her pants when I tell her about the magical island of women.
“Maybe it’s a sign,” said Diana.
“Of what?” Alia managed to squeak.
“That my quest is just. That I’m making the right choice.”
“To help me get off the island? Absolutely. The justest.” Alia considered the rope and bracelets. Regardless of what Diana had said about people carrying weapons, if any of this was real, there could be a whole slew of cult ladies running around with battle‐ axes and death mops right now. “Maybe we should take something else?”
“You’re the one talking about enemies hunting me. Don’t we need, like, a crossbow or a spear? Something pointy, like that sword.”
“The other artifacts? That would be stealing.”
“What about the bracelets?”
“These are my birthright.” “Can’t we borrow something from the training rooms, then?”
“We’re not going to the spring to start a fight. We’re going there to prevent one.”
“Yeah, but you know what they say: Sometimes the best defense is a good offense.” Diana raised a brow. “And sometimes the best defense isn’t showing up with a giant sword.”
“Says the girl who tops out at six feet and can carry me around like a knapsack. No one’s going to mess with you.”
“You’d be surprised. I—” Another tremor tore through the floor, making the room swim with blue light.
“Move,” Diana said, seizing Alia’s arm and yanking her away from the case as it tipped sideways and smashed against the stone floor, sending splinters of glass flying. “We have to get you off this island.”
Alia tried to keep pace with Diana as they fled back through the Armory. Her head was pounding, and the nausea had returned worse than before. Chunks of rock dislodged themselves from the vast dome, crashing to the training‐ room mats as Diana and Alia zigzagged toward the entrance.
Diana held Alia back as they approached the arch, but their path must have been clear, because she grabbed Alia’s hand and they ran for the woods. Only when they were up the embankment and hidden by the trees did they pause. Alia felt like her chest was going to explode. She knew she was out of shape. Nim was always trying to make her do yoga, and Jason was basically in a committed relationship with his treadmill, but this was something else. Her head was spinning, the pain pushing against her skull in urgent pulses.
“I need to stop,” she said, bending double. Her vision was blurry. She felt something trickling over her lips, and when she touched her hand to her face, it came away bloody. “What’s happening to me?”
Diana took a cloth from her pack, moistened it with rainwater from the nearest branch, and gently dabbed at Alia’s mouth and nose. At her touch, Alia felt the pain recede slightly, her vision clear. “I told you— we need to get you away from the island.”
“The island is a metaphor,” Alia muttered to herself. “When we get off the island, I’ll wake up.” “It isn’t a metaphor,” said Diana. “My home is killing you before you can destroy it. We have to keep moving. Do you want me to carry you?”
“No,” Alia said, batting Diana’s hand away. “I’m fine.”
Diana shook her head, but she didn’t argue. Alia trailed behind her, leaning on the trunks of trees when she had to, listening to the rattle of the breath in her lungs, squelching her way through soft patches of earth the rain had turned to mud. She was aware of birds taking shelter between the great green leaves, the rustle of their wings. She heard the screech of monkeys, though she saw no sign of them. This place was so alive, brimming with life, drunk on it.
What’s real and what isn’t? Alia wondered. Maybe the island was real and her perceptions were off. Her brain could have been damaged in the wreck. Her body had definitely been flooded by adrenaline. Or maybe she was lying in a hospital somewhere, being pushed into an MRI machine, and this was all a hallucination. She liked that idea a lot. They’d figure out what was wrong with her misfiring mind and they’d fix it. Science could solve anything given the time and the resources. That was what her parents had taught her and Jason. The world had a beautiful logic to it, hidden patterns that would reveal themselves if you could just learn to see them. What would they think of giant trees and jewelry that acted like a well‐ trained pet? They’d say there had to be an explanation. They’d find one.
Alia staggered after Diana as the woods sloped down. The trees thinned and gradually gave way to a clearing. She had the jar‐ ring sense of slipping from one world into another. They’d just left a forest dense with vegetation, crowded with flowers and brightly colored songbirds. Now she was looking at what could only be described as grasslands, long rolling hills of gently shifting reeds, gray and pale green that resolved to the colors of an overcast sky.
Alia tried to catch her breath, acutely aware that she was panting like a tired dog, while Diana didn’t seem winded at all. “This doesn’t make any sense. This kind of ecology is completely wrong for this climate.”
Diana only smiled. “The island is like that. It gives gifts.” Alia tried not to roll her eyes. “My mother never talks about life before the island,” Diana continued. “But she loves this place. I think it reminds her of the steppe.”
Diana stood for a long time, staring out at the grasses. Alia had no desire to start walking again, but she also had the distinct impression that they were supposed to be in a hurry.
“So . . . ,” Alia began. Diana shook her head, placing a finger to her lips. “If you’re going to shush me—”
“All I hear is the wind.”
“Here,” Diana said, taking Alia’s hand. She squatted down and tugged Alia with her, placing her palm against the damp earth. “Do you feel it?”
Alia frowned but then— a trembling, different from the earthquakes. It was more like the patter of rain, but that wasn’t quite right, either. “Close your eyes,” Diana murmured.
Alia gave her a wary glance, then shut her eyes. The world went dark. She could smell the storm in the air, the deep mossy fragrance of the woods behind them, and something else, a warmer smell she couldn’t name. She heard the lonely rustle of the wind moving through the grass, and then, so faint she doubted it at first, the softest whinny. It came again, and the sounds began to coalesce with the gentle drumbeat she felt through the earth: bodies shifting together, a snort of breath, hoofbeats.
Her eyes flew open. She felt herself smiling. “Horses?” Diana grinned and nodded. They rose. “But where are they?” “Here, in the field, the phantom herd.” Diana unhooked the golden coil of rope from her hip and began to move through the tall grass. It came up to her thighs, almost all the way up to Alia’s waist, tickling her bare legs in an itchy way that made her think of cobwebs.
“My mother and her sisters were great horsewomen,” Diana said. “They could ride any steed and coax the best from it, land arrows while hanging from a saddle, aim upside down. When Maeve came to the island . . .” Diana’s voice wavered. “The phantom herd was a gift from the goddess Epona. A thank‐ you to Hera and Athena for granting Maeve immortality.”
Diana gestured for them to stop, and Alia saw that she had knotted the rope into a loop, forming a lasso. Diana let it swing gently from her hands, building momentum.
Alia could hear those sounds growing closer now, the rumble of hooves that seemed to echo a heartbeat, double it, treble it. The tall grass moved against the wind as if trampled by some unseen force. Alia’s mind refused it. It can’t be. It can’t.
Diana’s eyes were closed. She stood with her face tilted to the wind, listening, the lasso moving in a lazy, looping rhythm. The rope seemed to glow in her hands as she released it. It cut a long, shining path against the gray sky, then dropped around the neck of a huge white horse that hadn’t been there a moment before. It was as if the lasso had caused the horse to appear.
Alia took a step backward, heart slamming in her chest. Diana gave the lasso slack, turning in place as the horse shook its shimmering white mane in frustration, checking its stride. She tugged gently and it slowed, rearing back on its hooves and releasing a high, angry whinny.
“It’s all right, Khione,” she murmured, her voice low and soothing. “It’s just me.”
The horse danced back, tossing its mane, and Diana gave another gentle tug, the muscles of her arms shifting beneath her bronzed skin. She whistled softly, and the horse’s ears flicked. Grudgingly, it settled, hooves landing on the grass with a sulky thump, and blew out a disgruntled breath. It walked forward as Diana reeled in the lasso. When it was close enough, she crooked an arm over the horse’s neck and patted its flank as it bumped its great head against her.
“She’s Maeve’s favorite,” Diana said, and Alia could hear the sadness and worry in her voice. She waved Alia forward with an encouraging smile. “Go on.”
Alia hesitated, then cautiously reached up to stroke the creature’s velvety nose. A lot of kids at her school rode, but she’d never seen an animal like this, white as alabaster, marble-hewn, a horse that looked as if it had leapt down from some monument at the center of a plaza. Its lashes were the same snowy color as its mane, but its eyes had no whites. They were the deep purple‐ black of a pansy.
The horse— the invisible horse, Alia’s mind corrected, then rejected— bowed its head, and Alia felt some tiny bit of the terror she’d been carrying since the wreck release. Suddenly, she was blinking back tears. She thought of a glass filled to its brim, the tension at its surface that kept it from spilling over. The horse was warm beneath her hand. She could see the long curl of its lashes. It was real in a way nothing else had been since the cold of the waves. If this creature was possible, then all of it might be real. It was too much.
Alia shut her eyes and pressed her forehead against the rough silk of the horse’s mane. “What did you call her?” “Khione. It means ‘snow.’ ”
“And she was a gift?”
“Yes. When a rider sits one of the phantom herd and takes hold of its mane, she becomes as invisible as the horse.” “How can we see her now?”
“The lasso. It always shows the truth.”
Alia took a shuddering breath that was halfway to a sob. “Can you ask the lasso if I’m going to get home?”
“It doesn’t work that way. And, Alia, you can’t go home. Not yet. People tried to kill you.”
“Because of the Foundation.”
“Because of what you are. You’re dangerous to a lot of people. We have to get you to Greece, to the spring at Therapne.” Diana whispered in the horse’s ear and then plucked several strands of Khione’s mane. Khione made a disapproving nicker but remained in place, stomping her huge hooves.
“What are you doing?” Alia asked.
“We need these to get off the island.” Another tremor struck and the horse reared back, yanking the lasso from Diana’s hands. Diana stepped in front of Alia, arms spread wide, her expression unruffled. Khione took some skittering steps, then seemed to calm. Diana waited a few more moments before picking up the rope. She patted the horse’s flank. “It will be better soon,” she said softly. “Promise.”
Diana slid the lasso over the horse’s head, and Alia watched in wonder as Khione vanished. Magic. She was seeing real magic. The kind of magic in movies. No wands or wizards yet, but maybe if she stayed on the island long enough, a dragon would show up. It all feels so real, Alia thought as she followed Diana through the grasslands. But that was probably how delusions worked.
At some point she realized that the terrain was starting to look familiar. In the distance, she saw the sea. They’d returned to the cliffs.
“I’m not going back to the cave,” she said stubbornly.
“Not the cave,” said Diana. “The cove.”
Alia picked her way cautiously to the edge of the cliff and looked down. There was a small sandy beach carved into the coast, like the top of a question mark.
“Okay, but no way am I getting on your back again.”
“I can hitch up a sling,” said Diana, removing a length of ordinary rope from her pack.
“Not happening. I’m not going over that cliff.”
“I won’t let you get hurt.”
“You know what, Diana? We just met, so maybe you haven’t picked up on this, but I’m not made like you. I appreciate that you saved my life—”
“A couple of times.”
“Okay, a couple of times, but this day has been a lot. I don’t do miles of hiking or any kind of rock climbing that doesn’t involve a safety harness, an indoor wall, and some jacked‐up guy on the gym floor shouting stuff like ‘Good hustle!’ I’m trying my best, but I’m about ready to lose it here.”
Diana studied her for a long moment, and Alia was pretty sure that the girl could simply throw her over her shoulder if she wanted to. But Diana nodded and gave a small bow. “Forgive me.”
Apparently, cult kids had really good manners, too.
“No problem,” Alia said, embarrassed by her outburst. At least this meant no more piggybacks. Diana led her along the cliff to the beginning of a steep, narrow path. Alia swallowed and did her best to feign confidence. “Much better.”
“My way would be faster,” Diana offered.
“Slow and steady wins the race.”
“That is almost always untrue.”
“Take it up with Aesop.”
“Aesop never existed. The stories credited to him were the work of two female slaves.”
“That sounds about typical. I’ll ponder it on the way down.”
Alia started along the path, carefully choosing each step, afraid she’d lose her footing and go right over the side.
“It’s going to take you an hour if you do it that way,” said Diana.
“I’ll get there when I get there. I’m not part goat.”
“Could have fooled me.” At that moment another small tremor struck, and Alia pressed her body to the cliff side.
“You’re sure you want to take the path?” Diana said.
“Positive,” Alia squeaked.
“All right. Wait for me on the sand.”
“You aren’t coming?”
“I’ll go my own way.” Diana tossed her pack over the side of the cliff to the cove below. Then, as Alia watched in disbelief, she sprinted the length of the cliff top. Alia clapped her hands over her mouth. She can’t mean to—
Diana leapt, silhouetted for a moment against the thunder‐ heads, toes pointed, arms outstretched. She looked like she might sprout wings and simply take flight. Stranger things have happened today. Instead, her body arced downward and vanished over the cliff side.
“Show‐ off,” Alia muttered, and continued down the path.
As she shuffled along, she alternated between trying to find the next place to put her foot and gazing out to sea to try to locate Diana in the rocking gray waves. The surf was huge, beating at the cove with ceaseless rage. What if Diana had simply been dragged under? What if she’d cracked her gorgeous head open on a rock?
The farther Alia went, the worse her own head ached and the sicker she felt. By the time she reached the bottom of the cliffs, her thighs were shaking and her nerves had frayed to nothing from fear of the fall. There was no sign of Diana, and Alia realized she had no idea what to do if she didn’t return. Climb back to the top? She wasn’t sure she had the strength. Hope one of those hip‐ pie weapons collectors found her and was friendlier than Diana had suggested? And what about every thing Diana had said about Greece and Alia being dangerous?
“Girl is addled,” said Alia decisively to no one. “That’s what growing up in a cult does to you.” Yeah, and you’re the one talking to yourself on a beach.
Even so, Alia felt the knot of worry in her chest loosen when she looked out to sea and saw Diana cutting through the ocean, her arms slicing through the water at a determined pace. There was something behind her, a massive shape that appeared and dis‐ appeared in the spaces between the waves.
When Diana reached the shore, she emerged with water streaming from her dark hair, ropes thrown over her shoulders, feet digging into the sand, every muscle in her body straining as she strode forward. It took Alia a long moment to under stand that the ropes were rigging.
Diana had hauled the Thetis from the bottom of the sea.
A bone‐ deep shiver quaked through Alia. One of the masts was still intact; the other had snapped free close to its base. The prow was completely gone. The explosion had left nothing but a jagged line of wood and fiberglass where the rest of the boat should be. You are being hunted. . . . Because of what you are.
Diana didn’t under stand. Alia’s family had been targets for so long, first when people accused them of “playing God” with their research, then because of the rules the Keralis Foundation attached to any grant for aid. There was still speculation that the crash that had killed her parents had been an assassination plot. A thorough investigation had proven that there was nothing more to that terrible night than a slippery road and distracted drivers. But every few years, some news paper or blog ran a conspiracy piece on the deaths of Nik and Lina Keralis. Alia would get an email from some curious reporter, or she’d walk by a newsstand and see her parents’ wedding photo looking back at her, and the wound would open all over again.
She remembered sitting in the backseat with Jason, his profile lit by streetlamps, her parents in the front, arguing about which bridge to take home. That was the last memory she had of them: her mother drumming on the steering wheel, her father jabbing at the screen of his phone and insisting that if she’d just taken the Triborough, they’d be home by now. Then the strange feeling of the car moving the wrong way, momentum carrying them across three lanes of traffic as they slid into a skid. She remembered the car hitting the divider, the shriek of tearing metal, and then nothing at all. She’d been twelve. Jason had been sixteen. When she’d woken up in the hospital, she still had the smell of burnt rubber in her nose. It took days for it to dissipate and be replaced by the cloying stink of hospital disinfectant. Jason had been there when she woke, a big slash on his cheek that had been stitched closed, his eyes red from crying. Their godfather, Michael Santos, had come, and his son, Theo, who had put his arm around Jason and held Alia’s hand.
Looking at the remains of the Thetis felt the same as waking up in that hospital bed, like grief rushing straight at her. You are being hunted. Was Alia the reason for the wreck? Was she why Jasmine and Ray and the others were lost forever?
Diana had set about disentangling the rigging and was now tearing the hull apart as easily as if she were digging into a lobster dinner. “What are you doing?” Alia asked, eyeing her nervously. Maybe the cult members mixed steroids in with their chewable vitamins.
“We need a craft to get out past the boundary.”
Diana hesitated, then said, “I just meant open sea. The hull is useless, but I think we can salvage part of the deck and the sail and use it as a raft.”
Alia didn’t want to touch the boat. She didn’t want anything to do with it. “A raft? In that surf? Why don’t we wait for the storm to pass?”
“This storm isn’t going to pass. It’s only going to get worse.” Diana peered out at the water. “We could try swimming, but if we got separated—” “It’s fine,” Alia said, helping Diana brace a piece of the hull against her shoulder and tear it free.
At that moment Diana doubled over in pain.
“What is it?” Alia asked, panicked. Without realizing it, she’d started to think of Diana as invulnerable. “Maeve,” she said. “The others. We have to hurry. Soon it will be too late.”
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