“I have already called a meeting among my subjects,” said Phillip. “They know not to bow to his will no matter the cost.”
“Cronus has more power than all of us combined,” said Irene, a determined edge in her voice now. “We cannot fight back as we are and expect to achieve any measure of success.”
“What about the other gods?” said James. “They could help.”
“They have nearly all signed a petition insisting they will not,” said Walter. “Besides, they could all join us and put everything they have into this war, but it would still not be sufficient. They are not powerful enough to make up for the loss of Henry and Calliope.”
I gritted my teeth. Henry wasn’t dead yet. “I could talk to Cronus,” I said. “He—he was nice to me. He might listen.”
“No,” said my mother. “Even if you did have that sort of hold over him, he will stop at nothing until he has what he wants. He has waited and planned for eons. You will not change his mind no matter how fond of you he might be.”
Across the circle, James focused on me. I ignored the question in his stare and concentrated on the floating image between us instead. “It could work,” I said.
“That is a risk we cannot take,” said Walter. “Calliope has already proven she will kill you if given the opportunity, and Cronus may not be willing to protect you any longer. No, we must focus our efforts on coming up with a way to even our odds despite our missing members.”
Frustration, hot and unyielding, rose inside me. Of course they would invite me to join them only to dismiss every idea I had. What else did I expect? “What about Rhea?” I said. It felt like years since I’d decided to leave the Underworld to ask for her help. She was the only one who could match Cronus in power, and if anyone could win this war, it was her. “What did she say?”
Silence. Walter and Phillip exchanged an uneasy look, and finally James piped up. “No one’s tried to find her.”
“What? Why not?”
“We did not know you were not—” started Walter, but my mother cut in.
“Most of us did not know Kate was not searching for her,” she corrected, fire in her eyes. Walter’s lips thinned underneath her stare.
“Yes. Most of us did not know you were not already searching for her.”
Right. That moment between Henry and Walter in the office. Henry had hinted Walter may have known what was going on. “And that entire time, you didn’t stop to think it might be a good idea to send someone else instead?” I said.
Walter cleared his throat. “Our efforts were focused on trying to stop the impending war, not escalate it.”
“Oh, yeah? How did that turn out?” I said, and my mother squeezed my hand, a silent command to stop talking.
This was my fault though, every last bit of it. I’d won immortality and stolen Henry from Calliope, or at least that was how she saw it. My stupid mistake had forced Henry to release Cronus from Tartarus in the first place. Now, because I’d left Cronus, nearly a million people were dead, and more would undoubtedly follow.
No, I wasn’t going to shut up.
“While the rest of you flounder and try to figure out what to do, I’m going to find her,” I said. “And I’m going to get her to help us.”
I expected an argument, but instead the council was silent. “It’s our greatest chance at obtaining a powerful ally,” said Sofia after a long moment. “We can’t hope to sway Calliope back to our side, and without a balance of power, more cities will crumble, and more people will die. I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’m willing to try anything that might bring us peace.”
Walter sighed wearily. “Very well. If you are able to convince Rhea to assist us in containing Cronus, then you will do us a great service, Kate.”
And possibly prevent millions—maybe even billions—of people from dying. Yeah. No question. “I’ll do it.”
“I’ll go with her,” said James. Our eyes met again, and this time I didn’t look away. “Like it or not, I’m the only one who can find her, so don’t argue.”
“I wasn’t going to,” I said. “I trust you.” If there was one person I knew wouldn’t betray me, it was James. He had nothing in this fight except his own survival, and his ability to find anyone meant we wouldn’t waste time searching for Rhea. He would know exactly where she was.
“We must all trust each other now,” said Walter. “Those who are here and those who are not.” He focused on Ava’s empty seashell throne for a moment before turning his gaze to me. “We all have made mistakes. We all have a burden to bear. But unless we are united, we will fall, and we must find forgiveness and understanding within ourselves. Pure evil does not exist. Even Cronus has his reasons for doing what he does, and the better we understand each other, the better chance we have at finding a solution before our foundation crumbles.”
I averted my eyes. Once upon a time, when I’d first faced the council, I’d forgiven Calliope for killing me. I’d been able to see past her crimes and examine the reasons underneath, and in a way, I’d been able to understand her. But if Walter was really asking me to do the same with Ava...
It wasn’t my life she’d threatened. It was Milo’s, and some things were unforgivable. But despite my anger, I wanted to forgive her—I wanted to sympathize with her. I wanted her to be on our side again. And I could understand why she’d done it, even if I didn’t want to admit it to myself. Calliope was blackmailing her, using Nicholas’s life to ensure Ava’s cooperation. The day she and I had left the Underworld, the signs had been obvious, and if I’d taken a moment to think about it, I would have known something was up. Ava’s strength was in how she loved others. I’d known Calliope had taken Nicholas and she’d spoken to Ava alone, and I should’ve realized that Ava would do whatever it took to protect him. I should have done something to help her before she’d had to betray me.