Chapter 1

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Today was supposed to be a day of celebration for Solus. The war canon that he designed for the Atlas army passed testing and the Senate approved production. With help from his senator-father, his wife’s family factory won the bid to build the canons. Tonight, he and his wife, Katerine, were hosting a dinner, and Katerine took it upon herself to find him appropriate attire. And so he found himself walking through the central market, the heat of the mid-day sun competing with a gentle Mediterranean breeze.

They walked through the colorful stalls of the central market, vendors calling out their wares to them as they passed. But Katerine was on a quest to find the right style for their dinner. She led Solus purposely through the crowded throughfare and past a variety of fabric stalls, her cinnamon curls bouncing along her back. Her amber eyes searched each festive stall until she came to the one she sought. Brightly colored tunics and cloaks hung from pins around the stall, providing shade for a cacophony of fabrics piled on short tables inside.

A small woman with weathered skin greeted them with a warm smile. Katerine and the vendor exchanged pleasantries while Solus stood by uncomfortably. He did not like crowded spaces very much, mostly because people he didn’t know would stop to talk to him, hoping to gain favor with his father for some project or political stance.

So far this day, he managed to avoid such situations, mostly because Katerine’s determined pace through the market did not leave room to stop and banter. He was even more anxious to avoid conversation today. News of a senator’s untimely death was the topic of the moment, and discussion of the man’s demise would ultimately bring up the subject of his opposition stance to Solus’s father in the senate. The rival’s death was a benefit to Solus’s family; and that was how most would frame it.

“This would look perfect with your dark hair and complexion,” Katerine’s voice brought his attention back to the task at hand, and he shook off a momentary feeling of guilt.

She held up a blue colored tunic, brightly hued to resemble the color of the Aegean sea, and turned him to face a polished mirror. He wasn’t sure if the color looked fine against his sun-drenched complexion, but he did notice his nose had a slight peel from being on the seawall every day during testing. His reflection wrinkled its nose back at him and he shrugged.

“I think it looks good,” he responded, hoping he sounded enthused enough about her choice.

Her arched eyebrows suggested she was not convinced and she continued to search the stall for other choices. The old woman joined in and held up a multitude of colorful tunics and short cloaks for his approval. He just smiled helplessly back and nodded at the woman’s choices.

Katerine finally settled on a light green tunic with gold embroidery that reached Solus’s knees and a rich purple cloak lined with a saffron and red pattern at the sleeves. He smiled and nodded his agreement.

“We have only been married a month and yet you already know what is best for me,” he teased.

Her tawny cheeks flushed as she smiled shyly and looked away. But she retorted in a steady voice, “But we have known each other since you climbed a tree at academy.”

He let out a chuckle and was about to reply when the ground began to shake violently. Nearby patrons shrieked in fear and headed into the open throughfare, afraid the stalls would collapse. Solus grabbed hold of his wife and hurriedly stepped into the open. The ground continued to shake and Katerine stumbled and fell. As he helped her up, Solus glanced upward toward the mountain at the eastern end of the island. Awestruck, Solus watched as it opened up and hell descended upon them in a rain of volcanic ash and molten rock. In moments, the city of Atlas was drowning in a wave of flames. Fires pockmarked the market, both stalls and people set ablaze.

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