She'd known her destiny since she was a child. Had heard it spoken in whispers amongst her father and the other elders. Had seen her two older cousins sucumb to the same fate. Had even met the one to whom she had been promised. After that brief meeting, at the tender age of six, Aeryn Flynn started planning her escape.

Just as she'd known her destiny, she'd understood the consequences of leaving. Desertion they called it. Leaving this seemingly peaceful, tiny island kingdom and mixing with the "ungifted." Captured deserters were given up to whichever god the elders wanted to please most. Given up to spend eternity as a slave, a companion or killed outright. The elders didn't care. Neither did Aeryn. Getting out was worth the risk.

The day before her sixteenth birthday, while her father and the rest of the capital had been making the final preparations for her wedding, she'd packed a small bag with essentials and slipped out of the palace she'd never thought of as home. For five years she remained vigilant. Lived as a shadow. Learned to live without the gifts she'd relied on since birth. Until she'd seen the little boy dash out into the street unaware of the heavy truck only yards away. Before she realized what she was doing, the words were out of her mouth and the boy was out of harms way. It had only taken them four hours to find her after that.

It hadn't been a peaceful surrender. There were bruises on her back, arms and abdomen and a gash on her forehead that, even hours later, continued to bleed. Her head throbbed from the vicious onslaught of mind-control tricks and memory-altering spells. It had taken three of the burliest guards to hold her down long enough for one of the elders to jab a syringe in her arm. Once they reached Brakken, she'd been whisked away by two female guards, bathed and dressed in a shapeless gray shift. Changing the color of the shift to scarlet had earned her another dose of sedative.

If the elders expected her to hang her head in shame during the procession from the palace to the center of town, they were disappointed. She stood straight and proud, bravely staring down the few who would meet her eyes. Her father, brother and former betrothed stood on the hastily constructed dais with the other elders. There was steely reserve, anger and a faint trace of disgust on her father's face. Her brother's eyes held only sorrow and regret. The simmering fury in Don Kendrick's eyes sent a shiver down Aeryn's spine.

"Aeryn Flynn, you have been found guilty of desertion. For your crime, you will be offered up as a sacrifice. Do you have anything to say in your defense?"

Her gaze still locked on Kendrick's red face, Aeryn shrugged one thin shoulder. "I would rather spend the rest of my days kissing the feet of the god of the dead than spend one moment as Kendrick's brood mare."

The flaring of Kendrick's nostrils was the only warning Aeryn had before searing pain drove her to her knees. Her skin felt like it was on fire and her brain felt four sizes too large for her skull. She tried to stop the attack, but her tongue was too swollen, too dry to form words. The last thing she saw before giving into the welcoming darkness was Kendrick's triumphant smirk.

Awareness came slowly. She kept still with her eyes closed to quickly catalog her injuries. A sixth sense picked up after years of being on the run, warned her that she wasn't alone. Her stomach was churning, every breath burned her lungs and her right knee felt sprained, but she could still put up one hell of a fight.

"As lovely as you look in repose, Aeryn Flynn, I am on a schedule."

The deep tenor, with its mix of exasperation and amusement, had Aeryn rolling over onto her back. She opened one bleary eye only to immediately slam it shut. She let out a muttered curse as she struggled to her knees. "He did it. I don't believe he actually did it. I knew he could, just didn't think he'd ever have the balls to kill me. In front of the elders, no less. Son of a b--"

"You are not dead."

Aeryn glanced down at the polished black shoes mere inches away from her knees. Her need to insult Kendrick had overwhelmed her common sense and now she'd have to pay. "Damn."

A hearty chuckle echoed in the dark room. "An eternity kissing my feet? I must admit, it does hold some appeal."

"Eternity? I never said eternity. I said the rest of my days. Big difference."

"Not any more. Your mortality, or lack there of, is tied to me. As long as I wish it, you will remain as you are now." He extended one large hand to help her rise to her feet. Any trace of good humor disappeared as he lifted her chin. "I find you amusing. Intriguing. I have spared your life now, princess, but bear in mind that you are a burden I will not hesitate to relieve myself of."

"Oh my god."

He flashed a wry smile and led her out into the night. "Yes, but you may call me Thanatos."