RC: 7-DW-F (Read and Comment)

Chapter One

The chapel of the funeral home was filled with familiar faces, each one drawn into a somber expression as they wandered past Harper Cygnini's sister's casket.  A blonde nymph laid a single crystal swan inside the box, carefully placing the bird by the hundreds of others.  The bird sat with its wings touching those of the one next to it, looking as if they would come alive and fly Jenna to the realm of the gods.

     Harper stood at the head of the casket and shook her head as people passed by, never looking her in the eyes.  There were no words to express the sadness that filled the room.  This didn't happen.  Nymphs rarely died.

     She dabbed at her stinging eyes.  She had cried so much in the last week it came as a shock to her there were any tears left to be shed.  Her heart wasn't merely broken -- no, the pain ran much deeper -- it was almost as if she had died as well.  Maybe she should have -- the gods knew she deserved to be struck down.  If she had just been more involved with her sister, if she had paid more attention, perhaps this would have never happened.  She could have stopped her sister from being kidnapped.  She would have noticed that Jenna had been missing.  Instead Harper had merely gotten the call that Jenna's body had been found frozen in a snow bank on some mountain.

     The only comfort she could find was that the men responsible had been incarcerated and awaited trial in Montana.  They would pay for their atrocious crimes.

     The only man in the room, Beau Morris, sat next to his fiancee, Ariadne Papadakis, the leader of the Sisterhood of Epione.  Ariadne, noticing Harper's gaze, dipped her head in a humble tribute to Jenna.  Harper recognized a few of the other women within the room as mustang, snake, and swan-shifters.  It was easy to tell them from the non-supernatural attendees as, even in mourning, most nymphs were perfectly beautiful -- unscathed by time and the ravages of living.

     The same couldn't be said of Harper, but she didn't care.  She glanced down at her black dress.  She couldn't remember putting it on or doing her hair, but what did it matter?  Even as a demigod life was short and filled with pain.  What difference did her appearance really make -- it was like so many other important things that both humans and nymphs seemed to deem worthwhile.  She couldn't strike the impious thought that life was only some guy's sick joke -- merely playing around with everyone's lives, striking down those who displeased him and testing to see how much pain those that remained could withstand.

     A hand touched her shoulder, making her jerk to attention.

     "Harper?" a redheaded woman asked.  She was beautiful and clearly a nymph, but she didn't ahve the same youthful, healthy glow of the others that filled the room.  Instead her face was thin and her eyes tired.

     "Yes.  Thank you for coming to show your respect," she answered robotically as she readied herself for more well-deserved but undesired condolences.

     "I'm Carey Jackson, a friend ... I mean I was a friend of your sister."

     The words pierced Harper's armor and drove straight to her heart.  The tears stung her tired eyes.  She could only nod, or any control she had would be lost.

     Carey dropped her hand from Harper's shoulder.  "I'm sorry to have to do this to you, but your sister was my landlord and, well, she promised she would help me.  And now I don't have anyone to turn to, except you."

     Harper looked around, checking to see if what she was hearing was really happening here, at her sister's funeral.  Some of the pain she had been feeling dissipated and was replaced by red-hot anger.  "You can't be serious.  You didn't come here to ask for a favor.  You didn't come to this place ... and this time ... and want to use my sister's death to your advantage.  No one can be that callous."

     The redhead stepped back from the onslaught of verbal strikes, "I'm ... I'm sorry.  I didn't mean to upset you.  I just need help.  You don't understand."

     Harper's gaze dropped to Jenna.  Her makeup was perfectly applied and her pale face was unmoving, as if she had merely fallen asleep.  Her brunette hair haloed around her and, even though she lay there in the white metal box, it was still hard to believe she was really gone.

     Carey reached into her purse and pulled out a picture, "I'm looking for this man.  I need to find him, it's important.  Please."

     Harper didn't know what to say.  She knew her anger toward the woman was based mostly in her own grief.  The redhead needed help, even if she had made a msitake in approaching her here on this day.

     Carey offered her the picture.  Harper looked down at the image -- the man was muscular and tan, almost the color of fresh honey.  His copper-tinted brown hair framed his face and accentuated his stubble-covered jaw.  He was laughing at some secret joke that had been lost in time and only his smile was preserved.  She flipped over the picture and scrawled across the back was the name Chance Landon.

     "Look," she started.  "I don't think I can help ... "  She glanced up, but the redhead was gone.  The next mourner in line, a petite woman with a sharp beak-like nose, stepped forward.

     "Where ... " Harper looked past the mousy haired woman in front of her in search of the mysterious redhead.

     "Excuse me?" the mousy woman said with an out-of-place smile.

     "Yes, sorry," Harper said, forcing herself to look at the gray business suit clad woman in front of her.  The top button of the woman's white dress shirt was fastened and there wasn't a wrinkle to be seen anywhere on her perfectly put together outfit.  "Thank you for coming."  The practiced words tumbled from her lips.

     "You are welcome.  I just wanted to introduce myself.  I'm Dr. Redbird.  I was the chief medical examiner on your sister's case."

     Harper tried to keep the shock from striking her down.  So many emotions invaded her all at once.  Anger.  Pain.  Resentment.  Thankfulness.  "What are you doing here?"

     "The woman's smile flickered and she glanced over her shoulder, like she was looking for some kind of attack.  "I just wanted to say how sorry I am for your sister's death.  I thought I would pay my last respects to her family ... and your kind."

     Somehing about the woman seemed off, but then again everything that was happening in Harper's life didn't seem to fit.  She'd never prepared herself to be standing in a room full of acquaintances, mourners, and a favor-asking redhead -- especially when they were all there to pay respects to her sister, a woman she had thought would never die.


"I absolutely love this piece!  It is descriptive, yet gets straight to the point.  The scene is set, the emotions are felt and the mystery is already unraveling.  As a reader, this gets me engaged from the start.  I enjoy that these mystical nymphs reside in the real world.  It's a great contrast.  I felt Harper's reactions were very true to life, especially with losing someone so young in such a tragic way.  Who wouldn't be quick to react when they're stricken with this kind of shock and grief?  I loved the description of Chance Landon's photo too!  It was creative and conveyed his allure.  I would love to read more!"  (6-LL-NF)