Authors: Elisabeth Naughton
The witch shook her head and gripped Talisa’s hand. “No. The Argonauts…can’t…they won’t…win. I overheard them. He’s chosen…her…for the Siren Order.”
Max’s eyes grew wide. Zeus had marked Elysia? For the Siren Order?
Fear wrapped around his chest and squeezed like a boa constrictor. Elysia would never last. While she had the strength and fortitude to one day rule their land, she wasn’t a warrior. She was more like her mother than her father. She didn’t know the first thing about fighting or warfare or strategy. If someone didn’t do something fast, the Sirens would destroy her.
His gaze darted to Talisa, and a new sense of urgency rippled through his veins. “We have to get her back.
Talisa looked up at him. “I—”
“You can’t, Guardian.” The witch drew a shuddering breath. “It’s too late. They’ve already taken her to the island of…Pandora.”
lysia came awake with a start. Sunlight blinded her. She blinked until her vision cleared and squinted up at palm trees swaying gently in the breeze.
Her mind spun, but she couldn’t grasp a memory or even an explanation. Pushing up on her hands, she felt something soft and grainy against her palms. One look confirmed she was sitting in sand.
Her gaze drifted to the right, where waves lapped gently against a beach. Stumbling to her feet, she turned and took in her surroundings. The beach was bordered by thick brush and a jungle of trees. In the distance, cliffs rose from the sand. Beyond, tall mountains reached toward the sky.
Her spine tingled. She had no memory of this place. Nothing looked familiar. Panic built in her chest, made it hard to breathe. Glancing down at her hands, she realized she was wearing a short, khaki cotton skirt and a matching halter top. No shoes. Nothing else. Just flimsy fabric that blew softly in the breeze.
Elysia! That was her name. She knew that much for sure. But everything else was lost—how she’d come to be here, what had happened to her, even what she was supposed to do next.
She glanced up and down the beach. No other people. No footprints. No signs of life. Lifting her forearm, she noticed her skin was pink but not tanned or sunburnt. She hadn’t been out in the sun long, which meant…what? That she’d been left here? By whom? And when?
She looked around for some kind of shipwreck but couldn’t see one. An eagle cawed high above. Blocking the sun with her hand, she squinted toward the sky. The bird held something in his talons. Something that looked like…
He let go of the object. A box floated down to her with the help of a small red-and-white parachute.
She stepped back as it drew close. The box landed in the sand feet away. The object was as long as her foot and as wide as her hand. Dropping to her knees, Elysia lifted the box and studied it from all sides. It was made of wood—oak, it seemed to her. And stamped on two sides was the Greek letter for Sigma, cut with an arrow.
Sigma…arrows…oak and eagles…
The eagle and oak tree were symbols of Zeus, the king of the gods. And the Sigma insignia cut by an arrow was that of Zeus’s elite Siren warriors.
A shiver of foreboding rushed down Elysia’s spine. She wasn’t sure how she knew all that—especially when she didn’t know anything other than her name—but something told her she was right.
Licking her lips, she eased back on her heels and flipped the latch on the box. Inside sat a scroll of parchment paper that looked to be ancient. She drew it out and unrolled the paper.
Welcome to Pandora, Siren Recruit—
Your trial begins now. In order to join the incoming Siren class, you will be put to the test. Only the strongest and sharpest recruits will succeed, so be mindful of everything you do from here forward.
Our order was formed thousands of years ago by seven original Sirens, each of whom completed seven labors to prove their worthiness. Below you will find the first of seven similar labors. Once a labor is completed, a new box will be delivered to you. Upon fulfillment of all seven labors, you will join the Siren class at Siren Headquarters on Olympus. Should you fail at any of your labors, you will remain on Pandora until such time as you succeed, or the island’s inhabitants find you.
There is no way off this island save completion of the labors, so do not waste time looking for an escape. You have been chosen by Zeus for this task, recruit. Prove your worth.
Elysia read the letter three times. Athena? The goddess of war? The head of the Sirens? Holy
. A new, more intense shiver rushed down Elysia’s spine. She’d been chosen for the Sirens. She didn’t know the first thing about being a warrior. Sure, her father was an Argonaut, but that didn’t mean she—
Her gaze skipped over the beach once more. Yes. Her father was an Argonaut. A great warrior. She searched her mind for anything else…a memory, an image, something about him…but came up blank. She couldn’t picture him. Didn’t know his name. It was like trying to see through thick fog. She knew the thoughts and memories were close, but for some reason, she couldn’t reach out and grasp them.
She read the scroll one more time and noticed a note at the bottom.
Build a shelter that can be defended from predators.
Elysia’s gaze lifted to the trees, and her stomach tightened with fear. What kind of predators lived on this island? If Zeus and Athena sent Siren recruits here as a test, something in the back of her mind warned the predators had to be far worse than lions and tigers and bears.
The brush behind her rustled, and she jerked in that direction. Her heart rate shot up. Pushing to her feet, she gripped the scroll and watched with wide eyes. Maybe finding some kind of shelter, away from whatever lurked out there, wasn’t a terrible idea.
She glanced toward the canopy again. From above, she’d have a better view of anything coming toward her. Since she and Talisa and Max had built numerous tree forts when they were younger, she knew how to climb. She—
Whoa. Who were Talisa and Max?
Again she tried to make connections between the names suddenly popping into her mind and any kind of logical memory, but nothing made sense. Why couldn’t she remember?
The brush rustled again, jerking her out of her thoughts. Moving quickly down the beach away from whatever was lurking, she circled the cove until she was at least a hundred yards away. In the trees, she spotted vines she could tie together to create rope. One look at the sun told her it was early afternoon. She had plenty of time before dusk.
She worked through the heat of the day, swiping away the sweat with her forearm as she braided vines together to create multiple ropes. By the time she was finished, she was hot, sticky, and thirsty. Climbing the closest tree until she was about fifteen feet above the ground, she tied the rope around the trunk and a thick branch, then dropped back to the beach and repeated the process in another tree, stretching the vines until she’d made a hammock well out of reach of any predators. It wasn’t the best “shelter,” but it was strong enough to hold her weight, and this high, she had a good view of the beach, the bluff to her left, and anything moving through the thick brush below.
Just as she finished tying the last rope, an eagle cawed above. A low whistle sounded, and another item floated toward her, falling in the hammock she’d just created. Carefully, she climbed out onto the hammock and grasped the box.
The same Siren symbol was stamped into the wood. Elysia flipped the lid open and pulled out another scroll. This time there was no letter. Just the following words:
You have completed Labor One. Well done, recruit.
Find and transport fresh water.
“Yeah, no shit, I need water,” she muttered, dropping the scroll and box in her lap. Her mouth was dry as paper, and her energy was seriously lagging. She could survive weeks without food, but without water, she’d be dead in three days. She glanced toward the sky again. The sun was already dropping toward the ocean, which meant she only had an hour or so before it set.
She did not want to be caught in the jungle at night. She still didn’t know what was out there, but she had a strong hunch it wasn’t good. Water was a must, though.
Scowling, Elysia climbed out of the tree, stopped with her feet in the sand, and perched her hands on her hips as she scanned the area. Finding water was only half her problem. Transporting it—as the scroll said—was another issue altogether.
Her gaze dropped to the box still in her hand. It was made of wood, but she doubted it was waterproof. Though some plants in the jungle stored water…
Turning away from the beach, she brushed vines and palms out of her way and moved toward the inside of the island. Bamboo held water. This was a tropical island. There had to be bamboo somewhere close.
The temperature grew higher the farther she walked, and perspiration slicked her skin, making the flimsy cotton outfit cling to her body. The ground angled steadily uphill. Glancing left and right, she studied every bush and tree for something she could use to transport water, but nothing looked useable. Just when she was sure this was a lost cause, she spotted a tall plant with a thick stalk and small leaves.
Bamboo. Relief swept through her. But as she stared at the trunks, a frown pulled at her lips. How was she supposed to cut the damn thing? Bamboo was strong as shit. A dagger or axe or sword would come in handy right about now.
Or a parazonium like the Argonauts carry.
Yeah, that would be a total help. But…whoa…how did she know what the Argonauts used for weaponry?
As much as she wanted to rack her brain for the answer, she didn’t have time. Her gaze dropped to her feet. Pushing the brush away with her toes, she spotted an old section of bamboo, three feet long and as wide as her arm. It was hollow inside and open on both ends. Biting her lip, she scanned the jungle floor and noticed a banana tree.
Her stomach grumbled. Banana trees meant food. They also held water. And they were a helluva lot softer than bamboo.
She still didn’t know how she knew any of this, but it seemed to make sense, so she went with it. Maybe she was a biologist or a botanist or something. That would explain her knowledge base.
And what the hell is a botanist?
She rolled her eyes, then glanced at the ground again and found a smaller piece of bamboo as long as her hand and as wide as her thumb. She moved to the banana tree, located a rock, and used it to hammer the smaller section of bamboo into the trunk, creating a tap.
Several seconds passed, and nothing happened. Frowning, she turned toward the bamboo. That was probably her best bet, but how was she going to cut it? A trickle of liquid sounded at her back. Whipping around, she stared at the banana tree and grinned. Water flowed from the tap in the trunk as if a faucet had been turned on.
A smile spread across her face. Grasping the trunk, she lowered her mouth below the tap and drew a mouthful of liquid, then grimaced.
The water was definitely fresh, but it tasted like bananas. Not her first choice, but better than nothing. And water from a plant meant she wouldn’t have to worry about boiling to decontaminate as she would if she’d found a stream or spring.
Swiping her wet hands on her skirt, she reached for the bamboo piece she’d found, wrapped several large banana leaves around one end, and tied them in place with more vines she wove together. After setting the makeshift bamboo bucket under the tap, she found a spot on the ground, sat back, and waited for the water to fill.
Not bad for a princess. She rested her forearms on her updrawn knees and smiled. Not bad at all.
Her grin faded. Princess? Where the heck had that come from? Princess of what?
Again she searched her memory, but the fog just seemed to grow thicker. What in Hades was happening to her? Why could she remember random bits but not the whole picture?
Brush rustled somewhere to her right. Her heart raced all over again, and she stumbled to her feet. Another eagle cawed above the thick canopy, but she didn’t look up. Her focus was locked solidly on that brush—and whatever the hell was lurking inside.
A third box floated through the tree limbs and vines and landed at her feet. Elysia’s gaze remained on the brush, which had grown still. Was she letting her imagination get away from her? The letter had warned of predators, but she’d yet to see anything—or anyone—else on this island.