“Why are you involving Ananke?”
Apollo waved him off. “Now is not the time to discuss that. Dionysus has gained information that has all of Olympus preparing for war.”
Dionysus yawned. “As much as politics and blood bore me, I am of great use when it comes to gleaning information from those who are in the know.”
“Wine and drink,” Solos murmured.
“Loosen the tongue,” Dionysus finished, grinning. “There is an encampment of sorts surrounding the movement of Lucian and the First. Damn near the size of an army. They have moved to just outside the Tennessee Covenant. My brothers and sisters are watching them closely.”
Dammit. If Seth and Lucian went after the Council there, the gods would retaliate again, and more innocent lives would be lost.
“There are over a hundred half-blood Sentinels and Guards with them,” he added as an afterthought.
“Dear gods,” Solos muttered, rubbing his temple.
“Whatever the two are selling, those people are buying like crack addicts.” Dionysus studied his fingernails, appearing bored. “No offense, but the halfs are like idiot cousins if they truly believe siding against us is wise.”
I didn’t have to look at Solos to know that comment didn’t sit well with him. “Lucian is probably offering them the one thing no one ever has.”
“And that is?” Dionysus asked.
“Freedom.” I sat on the arm of the couch. “The freedom to do as they please and to not be indebted to the pures in any form.”
“But this one is free, is he not?” Dionysus gestured at Solos.
“Free?” Solos straightened. “If I may be blunt?”
“Sure,” the god replied. “Why not?”
Solos took a shallow breath. “Becoming a Sentinel was the lesser of two evils. My choices were to allow myself to become indentured and have everything that I am stripped away from me, or this life, which is one that most likely ensures an early grave. How is that freedom?”
Dionysus’ brows knitted. “Do you not feel that your duty is honorable enough?”
“It has nothing to do with his duty,” I cut in, glancing at Apollo. “The halfs who are Guards and Sentinels believe in their duties and will give their lives for them, but we haven’t given them any choice—not the same kind of choice I had. And if Lucian is tempting them with the idea of choosing their own destinies, then can we really blame them?”
“I understand that desire, Aiden, and maybe there is a need for change, but we cannot allow Lucian to lead them to war against us,” Apollo said. “And I know what you’re thinking—that those following him are innocent in their naiveté, but that does not change the outcome if they go against us.”
“Which is exactly what they’re planning,” Dionysus said, much to everyone’s dismay. “A night ago, I made sure several halfs who were with Lucian were well-stocked in the whiskey department and sent in a few of my… girls. I’ve learned that they are planning to make a move on the New York Covenant, but are waiting for Seth and his little girlfriend.”
My teeth were going to break from how hard I was clenching them. Marcus leaned forward, clasping his hands together. “What I don’t understand is how none of you can take out Lucian.”
“We can’t get near him. He is always accompanied by the First.” Dionysus shrugged. “And we cannot harm him, but he can harm us.”
“A few bruises,” I said. “Without him being at full power, he can’t kill you.”
Dionysus’ brows rose. “He killed Thanatos’ furie.”
“By draining Alex of her power,” I argued. “Without her near, he can’t tap into that.”
“We won’t take the risk.” Apollo leaned against the seat. “He can put us out of commission. If one of us is weakened, so are we all.”
“The family that—”
“Anyway,” Apollo cut Dionysus off. “According to what he has learned, they’re planning a full assault on all the Covenants. We cannot allow that.”
“So what does Olympus plan?” Marcus asked, shoulders bending as if the weight of this conflict rested on them.
“See, there’s the pickle.” Hearing the word “pickle” come out of Dionysus’ mouth just seemed wrong. “We plan to go to war, but there is dissension among the fearless leaders.”
“What kind of dissension?” I rubbed the heel of my palm over my temple, pressing against a dull ache no doubt brought on by lack of food.
“Six want to annihilate the problem,” Dionysus said casually, as if he were discussing where he got his gaudy-ass shirt from.
“Go after Lucian and those supporting him?” Solos asked. “Take as many out as possible?”
Apollo nodded. “The rest of us believe there is still hope that a full-scale war can be avoided, because if we do go to war, what happened with the Titans will have nothing on this. The body count will include mortals—possibly millions of them. There is no way that can be avoided.”
There is still hope. Those four words brought forth images of Alex cradled against my chest, talking about Seth just a few short weeks ago. She’d had hope for him—right up to the moment he’d connected with her.
“Not to mention the risk of exposure,” added Marcus. “Gods, this is…”
There were no words.
It sort of struck me then. None of us—not even the two gods—really had foreseen this a year ago. The prophecies hadn’t predicted that the world would be on the verge of a war the likes of which had never been seen before—a war that would rip this world apart.
“We believe that the war can be stopped,” Apollo continued, “but the others are doubtful, especially with the most recent events.”
“Alex,” I whispered, now accustomed to the pang that shot across my chest.
Dionysus stood. “Many were willing to stay out of it, even after what the First did to the North Carolina Council. Only Poseidon and Hades were quick to respond, but now that she’s connected, they have no hope. And they are searching…”
Unease stirred and spread like a weed. “Searching for what?”
With a sigh, Apollo said, “A way to kill the Apollyons.”
I WORKED AT KEEPING MY EXPRESSION BLANK AND MY temper in check, but anger was tearing through me, shredding my control. It took everything in me not to leave the room and go downstairs to keep vigil over Alex.
Solos eyed me and cleared his throat. “I was under the impression that only the Apollyons can kill one another.”
My hands balled into fists as Apollo turned to me. “You know.”
Now Marcus and Solos stared at me, and I wanted to shove my hand through a wall. “The Order of Thanatos killed Solaris and the First. Somehow they know how to do it, which means wouldn’t the gods?”
Dionysus laughed. “Thanatos gifted the Order with the ability—a code or something—but even Thanatos can’t recall what it was. There were never supposed to be two Apollyons—never the possibility of a God Killer. Thinking it wouldn’t be needed again, he didn’t write it down. Idiot.”
Should I feel bad for being relieved?
“The Order knows, but with Telly’s death, they’ve scattered. Not to mention that some of the Sentinels under Lucian aren’t hunting daimons anymore.” Apollo paused and glanced at the door. “They’ve begun hunting members of the Order.”
“Good gods.” Marcus strode to the window. Stopping, he dragged his fingers through his hair. “I don’t even know which is worse.”
There was the distinct impression that there was more. After a few more barbs directed at Apollo, Dionysus vanished, and a little bit of the pressure seeped from the room. “Is he on our side?” I asked.
Apollo laughed dryly. “Yes, but not because he feels the way we do. Only because he’s too lazy to engage in battle.”
Well, that was good for something. I sighed. “There is more, isn’t there? And it has to do with Alex.”
“Yes.” He looked toward the door again, eyes narrowing. Turning back to me, he nodded. The message was clear—the same one look we’d shared a dozen times over the years, when he’d been known as Leon. We had spies. Hands fisting at my sides, I stalked toward the door while Solos continued to gain information from Apollo about the Sentinels hunting the Order.
Two narrow shadows crept along the wall of the hallway, and I was sure the two thought they had James Bond stealth. More like two of the Three Stooges. How long had they been standing outside the room, and was I going to strangle them both? Possibly. I stepped out.
Deacon jumped back, knocking into an equally unprepared Luke. One would think, after all Luke’s training, he would’ve recovered a lot quicker, but things were different now. The Covenant hadn’t trained their students to face what was coming.
A sheepish look crossed my brother’s face as he straightened and ran a hand through the mess of blond curls. Instead of being angry over him eavesdropping, I was just relieved that he was here with me, when things seemed to be crashing down around us.
“Hey, there, brother…” he said.
I arched a brow. “Deacon, what are you doing?”
Luke’s shoulders squared, and then he stepped in front of Deacon. “It was my idea, Aiden.”
“Not really.” Deacon rolled his eyes. “I felt the presence of another god and I told Luke—”
“But I suggested that we try to find out what’s going on.” Luke drew in a deep breath. “You guys have been keeping us out of the loop on everything, and this stuff involves us, too.”
“Probably because it’s safer that way for you,” I pointed out.
Luke shook his head. “Honestly, considering how screwed-up everything is right now? With Evil Alex locked up in the basement and a war brewing, keeping us safe isn’t a top priority. We should know what’s going on. We could help.”
My respect for the young half-blood fought to show itself in the form of a smile. “How could you two help?”
“We haven’t quite figured that part out yet,” Deacon replied, leaning against the wall. “But I’m sure there’s something. And I think Lea’s going to kick our asses if she’s forced to spend one more evening with us.”
I frowned. “Where is Lea?”
The half-blood had been through enough, and all of us had been keeping an eye on her. First, she’d lost her father and stepmother in a daimon attack orchestrated by Alex’s mother, and then Seth had killed her sister during his attack on the Council. I knew her ties to those deaths had gotten to Alex.
“Sleeping,” my brother answered, craning his neck, trying to see around me. “Which god was here?”
There was no reason to keep that a secret. “Dionysus.”
“Dude? Are you serious?” Deacon looked crestfallen. “He’s like my favorite god of all time.”