Chess was Maggie’s favorite game. It always reminded her of her father, who had taught her the rules and then mysteriously disappeared one year later.
Maggie dreamt of where he might have gone often. Tonight was no different.
When dawn broke, Maggie jolted awake. Sometimes the speculations to her father’s whereabouts were happy and sometimes they were darker. This time it had been one of her darker imaginings.
Maggie flipped on the lamp on her bedside table, drenched in sweat. She was breathing hard and fought to calm her frantic heartbeats. She glanced at the framed photograph she kept on her desk of her and her father. She was young, maybe six or so.
Maggie got up and plodded down the hallway to the bathroom. She turned on the lights and regarded her reflection in the mirror. She had deep, bruise-like circles under her eyes and her hair was a tangled mess. She reached for her comb, but paused as a little figurine sitting on the sink caught her eyes. It was a chess piece: a white pawn.
Maggie picked up the pawn and frowned. This one was intricately carved marble and looked highly expensive. Plus Maggie was sure she had put all of hers away. This was not one of hers.
The white marble pawn glinted in the light of the bathroom as Maggie studied it.
A voice filled her head as she stared at the pawn.
Maggie, it whispered. Maggie, come find me.
Maggie was utterly confused. Who? Who are you? Where are you?
There was no response to her questions.
Maggie set the pawn back down on the sink and went back into her bedroom, her messy hair forgotten. There was a black rose lying on her pillow, along with a note. Maggie picked it up and read:
My lovely rose, I am hidden away in the darkest night. This pawn is only the beginning. Follow it to the next location and free your father.
Down at the pawnshop,
You’ll find your next clue,
So come drop by,
His rescue is overdue.
Maggie stared at the piece of paper. His rescue?
Was this saying her father was kidnapped? Honestly, despite the various scenarios in her dreams, Maggie had always thought he’d just run off with some other woman.
“The pawnshop…” Maggie murmured. She then immediately began packing a bag. She stuffed clothes and snacks and anything she might need into the duffel, then ran downstairs, grabbed the keys, and jumped into her car.
The lights in the pawnshop were off. The sign in the window said it opened at 7:30am. Maggie glanced at her watch. 6:43am.
Lucky she had some bad girl skills. Maggie knelt by the door and pulled a bobby pink out of her finally-brushed hair and picked the lock. The door opened easily.
Maggie flipped the lights on inside. Maggie wasn’t sure what she was supposed to find. Maggie walked around and found another chess piece sitting atop a used piano.
This time it was a white rook. Under the marble piece lay another note. Maggie hesitantly picked it up and read:
A bishop awaits,
Come find your next clue.
Hidden behind the gates.
It won’t take long; you’re almost there.
Gates? What did that mean?
Maggie racked her brain. The last line probably meant that the gates were close. But she didn’t know any gates anywhere nearby.
But then it hit her.
It wasn’t gates. It was Gates, with a capital G. It was a surname. It was behind Richard and Francesca Gates’ house. Her neighbors.
Maggie ran back to her car and shoved the key into the ignition.
Maggie snuck into the Gates’ backyard, praying she didn’t get caught. She spotted a small white dot on the patio and approached. It was a marble bishop.
Maggie read the note that accompanied this piece:
Chase the knight,
Deep in the lonely forest.
Guided by the light,
You’ll find the way.
The Lonely Forest was a good forty-five minute drive. Once there, Maggie stood for another twenty minutes, pondering what was in the shadowy depths. By now, the sun was halfway up the sky, but between the trees Maggie saw only darkness.
Maggie pulled a flashlight out of the trunk, took a deep breath, and headed into the forest.
After an hour of wandering, Maggie thought, This is hopeless. She was beginning to believe she’d never find the knight, let alone her way out of the wood. She was about to give up when the beam of her flashlight landed on a tree stump, upon which was a white marble knight.
Maggie snatched up the note and read:
A queen you must next find,
Out of the wood,
Between two stars that are aligned.
You’re almost there!
Two stars that are aligned? Maggie growled in frustration. What the hell did that mean? This was by far the hardest clue. The rest had been pretty straightforward. The last one had even named this forest.
Maggie knew she sure as hell wasn’t going to travel into outer space. She thought of the other definitions of star. Celebrity, perhaps? Two married celebrities? But there were no famous people in this town.
Maybe it was a star decoration? Or a surname, like Gates had been? But Maggie didn’t know as Stars, if you didn’t count Melissa Starr and the spelling was different. Plus she lived alone, so that disregarded the aligned part. Though didn’t Melissa have a sister who lived out of state named Megan? Maybe they’d been estranged and recently had reconnected? That was a bit of a stretch, though…
Maggie went back to her car and placed the knight piece with the others in the passenger seat. She read the note again. Well, if this one was the queen, then surely next was the king and her father. But only if she could figure out the stars aligned line!
You’re almost there, Maggie… The voice was back.
Maggie shook her head. I’m losing it, she thought. I’m on this wild scavenger hunt that may or may no lead to my father who has been MIA for years and I’m hearing people talking into my mind. My father is probably dead and this is some psycho serial killer leading me to the slaughter.
Maggie shook herself again. Even so, she couldn’t take the chance that this did lead to her father and her not follow it.
She read the note for a third time, set it with the other chess pieces and clues, then turned on the car. An idea was starting to form in her mind.
Maggie drove back into town, forty-five minutes, then another six to reach the twin barns. They were two identical barns connected by a roofed tunnel… each barn with a huge silver star above the door. Maggie cut the engine and climbed out of the car to inspect the ground around the tunnel. It must either be inside or on top…
Maggie frowned. The doors were presumable latched and there was no way she could climb onto the roof.
Maggie went to one door. Locked, as she’d thought. She tried to jam a finger into the crack to pop the latch, but couldn’t quite get it. Maggie ground her teeth in irritation.
A dreadful thought came to her. What if she’d been wrong? Maggie had thought coming up with the connected barns with stars on them had been clever, but perhaps this wasn’t the place?
Maggie sat on the ground with her back against the door, thinking. It had to be here.
Determined, Maggie got up and went to the other door. It was latched too, but the crack was bigger. She popped it open easily. She went inside and found the white marble queen sitting directly in the middle of the connecting tunnel. She grabbed it and went back to her car.
The note read:
Your final clue,
A king you must reach,
An innocence that’s new,
Your father waits.
A new innocence? Birth? The hospital perhaps?
Maggie drove to the town hospital and rushed to the maternity wing. Sitting on the windowsill to the room where they keep all the newborn babies was a black marble king. The second Maggie touched it, a tingle shot through her, then blackness.
Maggie blinked awake in the middle of what looked like a huge throne room. A beautiful man with a mischievous grin on his face, intense green eyes, and short dark hair and dressed in a black suit sat on the only throne on a high dais.
“Maggie,” he greeted me, voice velvet. It was the voice from inside my head. “Welcome. I see you managed to follow my trail. I’ve always loved chess, don’t you?”
Maggie stood silently, not sure where she was or what she was supposed to say. Am I dreaming?
The man in the throne laughed. “Feel free to pinch yourself.”
Maggie jumped. He’d answered her thought. She finally found her voice. “Where’s my father?”
The man gestured to a corner of the room where an unshaven, ragged man was tied up and whimpering.
Anger made her voice stronger. “What have you done to him?”
The man stood. “Allow me to introduce myself. I am King Sebastian of the Underworld.”
“I thought that was Hades,” Maggie said, wanting to run to her father but afraid of taking her eyes off the beautiful man who claimed be was ruler of Hell.
“I’m his son.”
“What happened to Hades?”
“He retired to be with his lovely wife and my mother, Persephone.” Sebastian shook his head and smiled that alluringly sexy grin again. “The Overworld can have your father back again… for a trade.”
“A trade?” Maggie eyed Sebastian carefully. “What do you want?”
“Me?” Maggie thought back to the myth of Sebastian’s parents. “Doesn’t your family know of any other way to find a bride than kidnapping her?”
Sebastian shrugged. “It’s been done this way for generations. You’ll hate it at first, but then you’ll grow to love me.”
“Stockholm syndrome is not love.”
Sebastian laughed. “I don’t understand your fancy human terms, but it’s your hand for your father’s life.”
Maggie glanced at her father’s bloody and beaten body. Clearly Sebastian and his servant had been torturing him. Maggie knew she’d regret it, but she made a snap decision, the tormented face of her father hot in her mind. “Let him go. I’ll stay here.”
Sebastian smiled. “I thought you might.” He nodded to the guards by her father. “Escort the prisoner back to his old life.” He advanced on Maggie, but Maggie was desperate to escape. She threw a punch, but Sebastian was faster.
He had her in a hold that held her incapable of movement quicker than she could blink. Sebastian smoothed her hair out of her face.
“Oh, and to think of what we could have been, Margaret…” The cold sharpness of a dagger cut into her neck.
Maggie gulped, trying to push herself closer against Sebastian’s chest to get her throat away from the knife.
Sebastian dipped his head down to whisper into her ear. “I guess I’ll have to kill you now.” He sighed. “Oh, but I so don’t want to…”
“Then don’t.” Maggie begged quietly.
Sebastian chuckled. “Oh, but I do so enjoy feeling the blood of virgins running over my hands.”
Well, I was right about the psycho serial killer…
“At least my father’s to safety,” Maggie murmured, closing her eyes.
“Oh, sweetheart. You didn’t really think I let him go, did you? Your father was placed back in my dungeons.”
Maggie’s eyes snapped open. “No…!”
Sebastian pressed his lips to Maggie’s neck. “Checkmate,” he whispered.