He closed the door with the wave of his hand before speaking. “I know you feel strongly for her.”
I met his stare. “I love her. You don’t get that.”
“No. I do. You forget that I was with you when you hunted down Eric. I saw what no one else did—how affected you were by what had happened to Alex. And I know what you did to that daimon.”
My jaw clenched and I looked away. “He deserved it.”
“I’m not contesting that.”
What I had done to Eric wasn’t something I was particularly proud of. “Torture” seemed too light of a word for what I’d done. I swallowed hard. “What are you getting at, Apollo?”
He tilted his head to the side. “The kind of love you hold for Alex is admirable, but I’ve seen this love before. It has brought down entire civilizations. Need I remind you of Troy?”
“Is this a history lesson?”
His eyes flashed. “Okay. We won’t talk about the glaring elephant in the room, Aiden.”
“I haven’t been entirely forthcoming with information,” he said after a few moments.
I laughed darkly. “Why doesn’t that surprise me? You’ve been a fountain of honesty.”
Apollo ignored that. “Since Zeus created the Apollyon thousands of years ago, the First has always been of my lineage.”
“What?” I wasn’t following him. “Artemis said that Alex was of your lineage.”
“She is.” He moved to the rack of wine and popped a cork. “But throughout history, the Apollyon always has been an offspring of mine. To this day, I have no knowledge of who Solaris was descended from and I don’t know who Seth hails from. This time—only this time—has been different.” Pausing, he poured himself a glass. “Seth is the First, but he is not one of mine. Somehow, another god is responsible for him. And I’d bet my laurel crown that this same god was responsible for Solaris.”
He offered me a drink and I waved him off. “Are you saying Alex was meant to be the First and Seth was the fluke?”
Apollo shrugged. “I don’t know. And none of the gods are claiming responsibility for him.”
“Well, obviously,” I said dryly.
A smirk graced his lips as he placed the wine back in the rack and then took a drink. “That’s not the kicker, Aiden. Whoever is responsible for Seth is not claiming him for their own reason—the same reason that Lucian would know spells to keep me out of his home.”
“You think a god is working with Lucian—the same god of Seth’s lineage?”
“Most likely,” he said, downing the glass of wine. “But there’s another reason why that god would not stand up. Because he or she would know that there is another way to kill the Apollyon.”
A sheet of ice slipped over me. “What are you saying, Apollo?”
“The god linked to their bloodline is able to kill them. I can kill Alex.”
THE FLOOR SEEMED TO MOVE UNDER MY FEET AND THE walls changed from white paint to deep brown paneling. It took me a few moments to realize that I was walking—walking away from Apollo, away from the bomb he’d just dropped.
Of course he followed. “Aiden, where are you going?”
I was heading for the basement. I needed to put myself between Alex and… and whoever came for her.
Apollo appeared in front of me, blocking my route. I stepped to the side, but he followed. “Aiden, listen to me.”
“I’m done listening.”
“This is not a threat, my friend. But if she is about to connect with the First, I will put her down. I have to—” He caught my fist, pushing me back. “The entire world hinges on us not going to war.”
I stepped toward him, beyond thinking, and he pushed me back again. And again. Pain tore through me. Physical? Emotional? I didn’t know. “You’d kill her?”
“I wouldn’t want to.” The blue of his eyes glowed. “And that’s why I’m doing everything to avoid that. Putting her on the Elixir gives us time, Aiden. And we need time. I need time, because I have six family members ready to rip into the mortal world. I cannot be here, waiting for Alex to manage an escape or for Seth to figure out a way to connect with her.”
“No one is asking you to be here, Apollo. I have it covered.”
He shot me a dubious look. “You’re not getting it. The gods know they can’t kill her, but that doesn’t mean that will stop them from trying. And while they might not be able to kill her, they will harm her.”
Leaning against the wall, I pressed the heels of my hands against my temples. All I wanted was to go down there, get Alex, and take her far away from all of this. “You’re asking too much.”
Apollo sighed. “You need to take a step back from this, Aiden. Look at this from the perspective of a Sentinel—how you were trained.”
I lifted my head, pinning him with a dark look. “You’re asking me to be objective now?”
He barked a short laugh. “Yes, I know I’m not the most objective god, but you have a job to do, Aiden. A job to protect mankind—and to protect the Hematoi. That is your duty. And you know what the right thing to do is.”
“So I need to choose between my duty as a Sentinel and my duty as a man? To Alex?”
“Yes and no. You need to choose both.” Apollo leaned against the other wall, still towering over me, and I was a good six and a half feet. “Marcus is right. Apollyon or not, she can’t last much longer like this. Not eating? Not sleeping? Has she even been drinking water?”
I closed my eyes. “Twice. She drank water twice when she thought I wasn’t watching.”
He cursed under his breath. “She needs to rest. She needs a break from this, Aiden. And we need time to find a way to end this.”
“Or what—you will kill her?”
Apollo didn’t answer.
“Gods.” I listened to the feet of Sentinels on the floors above for a few moments. “Who knows about what you can do?”
“Only my sister Artemis and possibly Zeus—if he’s been paying attention, which is up in the air,” he said. “I have gotten the six to agree that if we put Alex on the Elixir they will back down. It’s not just about her, Aiden. It’s about millions of people.”
I nodded, pushing off the wall, pulling myself back together. Duty and love had never really mixed well before, but there’d always been an in-between. “I need time.”
“Aiden, we don’t have time.”
“I’m not asking for days. I’m just asking for tonight.” I started toward the basement door and paused. “I need to try one more time.”
“I can’t fault you for that.” He grinned. “I’ll give you tonight. Then I’ll be back tomorrow morning.”
Nodding again, I opened the door. Apollo was gone when I glanced over my shoulder, and I was alone. Alone with a decision I knew I could never live with if I made it.
Alex was lying on the mattress, curled on her side, back to the door. She didn’t start demanding that I let her out or start cussing me like she’d done the last three days or so. She didn’t even acknowledge I was there.
Maybe she was sleeping, but my heart rate picked up as I reached into my pocket, pulling out one of the three keys to the door. “Alex?”
Nothing. Not even a flicker of a muscle.
Hopefully, she was sleeping, but my hands shook as I turned the lock and slipped inside, quickly closing and locking the door behind me. I called her name again as I slid the key back into my pocket. There was no answer, and by now, Alex would’ve been all over me like a daimon after aether.
Something was wrong.
I rushed to her side and knelt on the edge of the mattress. A mess of hair hid her face. Pulse pounding, I placed my hand on her still shoulder. “Alex, are—”
Flipping onto her back, she slammed her bare feet into my stomach. Air rushed out of my lungs in a grunt. I fell back, catching myself as she popped up on her feet.
Dammit. I should’ve known she was like a daimon playing possum.
With a near-feral sound, she came down on me, knees first. I flipped to the side, and I could’ve taken out her legs, but hurting her wasn’t something I would do. Hitting the floor beside me, she threw her leg over mine, locking it between her thighs.
My brows shot up. “What are you doing?”
“Shut up,” she hissed, grabbing my hand closest to her.
“Really, if you wanted to hold my hand and snuggle, all you had to do was ask.”
Anger flushed her cheeks as she rolled on top of me, straddling my legs. Silent and scowling, she went for my pocket.
I grabbed her wrist. “Geez, Alex, normally I’d love you being all grabby, but knock it off.”
She sneered as she tried to pull her arm free. “Didn’t know you were such a pervert.”
Smiling tightly, I twisted my other arm free and caught her hand when she tried to slam it into my throat. “You know exactly what I am.”
“Don’t remind me.” Using her weight and what strength she still had, she tore herself free. Scrambling to her feet, she balled her hands into fists. “Let me out of here, Aiden.”
I stood. “That’s not going to happen.”
Alex shot forward, shoving me back a step. “Give me the key. I have to go. I need to go to him.”
Hearing her say that pricked at my skin. “What you need to do is listen to me.”
Her chest rose quickly and her eyes darted to the locked doors. She moved her left foot back an inch, and just like I’d taught her, she braced her weight on that leg and spun.
The kick was freaking perfect—knee bent at a ninety-degree angle to get the most oomph behind the extension—but I expected it. Using my forearm, I blocked the kick instead, using the momentum to send her crashing to the hard floor, hissing as hot pain jarred my bones.
Alex was incredibly fast when she wanted to be, even more as the Apollyon. Spinning around, she jabbed with her elbow and then the heel of her palm. Then she dipped, going for my legs—all maneuvers we’d played out hundreds of times. Fighting each other truly was like fighting ourselves.
Anticipating a butterfly kick, I darted behind her. She pivoted around, swinging her arm. Air rushed over my jaw as I ducked around her and wrapped my arm around her waist. I drew her back against my chest, jerking my head back to avoid hers.
“Let me go!” she screeched, wiggling like crazy. Her voice was pitched high, as if I was hurting her, but I knew I wasn’t. “Let go of me!”
“Alex, you need to listen to me.” Reasoning with her probably ranked right up there with insanity, but I had to give her a chance to pull out of this. “If you don’t break this connection with Seth, you’re not going to like what happens.”
“You’re not going to like what happens!” She threw her weight back, lifting her legs to her chest, but I held her easily. “Because I’m going to seriously hurt you when I get out of here. My first visit is going to be to your brother!”