Welcome to the conclusion of the first chapter of Architects of Illusion, a young adult historical fantasy series inspired by the land and legacy of Biltmore Estate, where Greek mythology meets The Book Thief and Fantastic Beasts!
Fish Fountain at Biltmore Estate
The Serpent’s Secret
April 15, 1912
Asheville, North Carolina
The journey from the pyramid’s portal led her a thousand miles away to the heart of the Appalachian Mountains, in a place guarded by magic and guided by the Muses.
The portal opened into the wall of a limestone fountain, where a fearsome stone fish, its tail wrapped around a trident, dissolved into a window of glowing green water. Calypso stepped from the water into the crisp arms of the mountain air that wound through a shaded walkway dripping with wisteria.
“Do you have it?” a woman asked, her face hidden beneath the hood of a crimson cloak that flickered as if made of flames.
Calypso held out her hand. The artifact pulsed in her palm. “The ship was lost, as were most of the humans on board.”
“An unfortunate outcome,” the woman said, her empathy as insincere as her thirst for vengeance was genuine. “Such is the price of war.”
I can say with some authority that the woman in the red cloak had no love for humans. They were merely pawns in a treacherous game she relished playing.
“By securing the key, you’ve saved countless more lives.” She reached for the artifact, her silver serpent ring slithering around her fingers like a living thing. “I assure you, no one will ever find it.”
Something stirred above them. The woman glared at the tangle of wisteria, searching for the source. “Bellator!” she called over her shoulder. A massive stone lion stepped from the shadows. “Search for interlopers. You know what to do should you find any.” The lion nodded his head before slipping back into the dark.
“Now then, be a good nymph and hand over the key,” the woman insisted, her fingers eager to pluck the shimmering device from Calypso’s palm.
Calypso bristled and closed her fingers around the relic. “This also has a price,” she said, her voice unwavering.
The woman clenched her fist, her serpent ring raising its head as if to strike.
“There’s a child from the ship, an orphan, Catharina Van Impe. You are to bring her here and keep her safe,” Calypso demanded.
The woman let loose a low guttural laugh. “Why should I be bothered with another mortal child? My domain is already infested with them.”
“She was wearing the key.” Calypso’s instincts told her the girl had an important role yet to play.
And she was absolutely right.
The woman cocked her head, her face veiled in shadow. “Curious, that someone with your reputation should be concerned with the fate of a human liability.”
Calypso dangled the chain from her fingers, the glow of the key reflecting in her unyielding glare. “That is my price.”
“Along with your silence?”
“It shall be done. No harm will come to her.” The woman reached out her hand, impatience oozing from her lips. “You have my word.”
Calypso dropped the artifact into the woman’s palm. The serpent ring coiled around it, its ruby eyes flashing with triumph.
And there, in the space between illusion and truth, in the midst of myths and monsters, the most powerful key in history would remain out of reach from all, save one.
© 2018 Samantha Redstreake Geary