“This isn’t a hotel,” Aiden said, his gun leveled on Seth.
The Apollyon eyed the gun in Aiden’s hand and then arched a brow. “You really like pointing that thing at me.”
“You have no idea how much joy it gives me.”
Seth got that look on his face—the one that said he was tossing out bait and knew Aiden was about to bite. “Don’t let me forget. I do owe you for the knock over the head yesterday.”
“You want that again?” Aiden smirked. “Keep talking.”
“Oh, for the love of gods everywhere, stop it,” I said. “This is ridiculous.” Everyone turned to me. “Obviously you don’t think he’s tricking us, Apollo, or you’d have blasted him with some god juice by now.”
“Just because I haven’t doesn’t mean I won’t.”
Seth opened his mouth, but I jumped in before he could make the situation worse. “And it’s rather pointless. He can get out if he wants to. So what’s the point of making him go back into the cell?”
“I can knock him out again,” Aiden suggested calmly. “He’ll stay put for a while after that.”
“You’re really starting to annoy me.” Seth turned to Aiden, his eyes glowing faintly. “You know what your problem is?”
I rolled my eyes.
“Do tell.” A muscle spasmed in Aiden’s jaw.
“One word.” Seth took a small step forward, a grin playing across his lips. “Jealousy.”
I threw my hands up. “I give up. Not like we don’t have real problems to deal with, but let’s continue the boy-fight.”
“Actually, as entertaining and long overdue this boy-fight is, Alex has a point for once. Surprising, huh?” Apollo earned a death glare for that. “Aiden, put your gun away. Marcus, there’s no need for daggers.” Then he eyed Seth. “If you have nothing to hide, you aren’t going to run from me.”
Seth’s spine straightened. “I would never run.”
I had no idea what was going on, but Seth held himself still as Apollo took two long strides and placed his hand on the center of the Apollyon’s chest. Surprise flickered across Seth’s face, and then Apollo stepped back.
“He’s telling the truth. He’s no longer working with Ares, but that doesn’t mean he’s not still a threat,” Apollo announced, and I had a feeling I knew what the god was referencing. And then he turned to me. “We need him here anyway. He’s not the problem. You are.”
“What?” He was staring at me. “Why me? I’m, like, the voice of reason for once.”
“It’s not that.” Apollo faced me completely. “Guards, leave the room and close the door behind you.”
They didn’t even hesitate. They scattered like cockroaches. Unease formed little knots in my belly as I glanced at Aiden. He hadn’t put the gun away, and looked like he was going to aim it at Apollo next. Deacon had successfully pinned himself against the wall, out of everyone’s path.
“Have you been marked?” Apollo asked, his nostrils flaring.
I shook my head, taking a step back. Sweat dotted my brow as I eyed the door. I wanted out of this room really badly. “I have no idea what you’re talking about, but you’re starting to freak me out.”
Apollo’s eyes flipped from blue to white—no pupils, no irises. Static crackled in the air. “Come here,” he repeated.
I needed to get out of here. Blood pounded in my veins. Every ounce of my being screamed for me to leave. Apollo wasn’t—
He shot forward—over the roaring in my head, I heard Aiden shout—and clamped his hand down on my shoulder. I staggered under the weight.
“Did he mark you?” Apollo demanded, his expression furious. “Did Ares mark you?”
Those all-white eyes became my whole world.
“What is going on?” Marcus asked, but he sounded far away.
Apollo reached around me and grabbed the hem of my shirt. By the time I realized what he was doing, it was too late. He yanked up the shirt, exposing my back. Aiden exploded, yelling at the god as I tried to twist away.
“There it is.” Apollo’s hand landed on the oddly-shaped scar, and my entire body jerked as if I’d been shocked. “Phobos! Deimos! Show yourselves!”
I started to think Apollo might’ve lost his damn mind, but then, without any warning, there was a deep wrenching inside me. I broke the god’s hold and stumbled back a step. A tremor worked its way through my body, rippling through every muscle. The room tilted.
“Oh, gods,” I whispered, doubling over and clutching my stomach.
“Alex?” shouted Aiden.
“Don’t touch her!” Apollo got in between us, holding Aiden back with nothing more than a raised hand. It was like an invisible shield appeared between us. “Deimos! Phobos! Σε διατÎ¬ζω να σου αÏ?Î®σει αυτÏ? το πλÎ®θος!”
The skin…oh gods…the skin under my hands moved, pushing out against my shirt and my palms, and formed…fingers. Pressure expanded my stomach, and I dropped to my knees. Something slithered through my chest, into my throat. I couldn’t breathe. Aiden’s voice sounded further and further away as a sensation like icy, sticky fingers crawled under my scalp. It slipped down to the base of my skull, joining the mass in my throat.
Tears streamed from the corners of my eyes as I threw my head back. I opened my mouth to scream, but thick, white smoke poured out of me, steaming to the ceiling. Through the haze of tears, I saw the smoke spread and then drop into two separate pillars. There was a final tugging motion deep in my chest, as if something was digging in and not wanting to let go, and then it broke. The last of the smoke slipped out of me.
I fell forward, catching myself with my hands. Breathing raggedly, and with trembling arms, I lifted my head.
“Holy crap,” someone whispered.
The pillars of white smoke spun like mini-tornados, taking shape with each dizzying pass. Two sets of legs. Two sets of arms. An ear-piercing cry reverberated through the room. A burst of wind rattled the chairs and the desk, and then there was nothing.
Two gods stood in the room, their forms translucent, but there was enough mass to them to make out their identical features. They weren’t as tall as Apollo, but I had a feeling they weren’t fully formed.
One of them drifted toward me, too quick for me to react. Through his eerily handsome face, I could see Seth’s legs coming forward. “You’re prettier on the inside…” the god said, his voice slick like a snake.
“Than you are on the outside,” the other said.
The first one gave a mocking smile. “Then again, you’re not…”
“All there, are you? It’s nothing but rot.” the twin finished, chuckling. It sounded like ice falling.
“What a shame,” the first spoke again.
The second floated closer, his wispy lower body dissipating. “And who’s really to blame?”
“In the end?”
“When there’s nothing left to defend?”
I shrank back, horrified. They were like the twisted oompa loompas of the Olympian world.
More and more, their forms faded out, but their words were clear. “You’re all destined to die. Taste the fear…”
Strong arms encircled me from behind, pulling me back from the gods and against a hard chest. Aiden turned, using his body to shield mine, but it didn’t stop me from hearing their final words.
“It will all be over by the end of this year…”
A loud sigh swept through the room as the smoke dispelled. The twins were gone.
“Well,” Apollo drew the word out. “That made absolutely no sense.”
Muscles weak, I slumped over and would’ve face-planted on the carpet if Aiden hadn’t caught me. He gripped my arms, but my skin felt too sensitive, too raw as he gently lowered me to the carpet. I crawled away, dragging in deep breaths.
“What…what was that?” Deacon asked, his voice hoarse.
Shaking, I sat back and lifted my head. There was a balloon expanding in my stomach, moving up my chest.
Apollo stood in the middle of the room with his hands on his hips. “That was Phobos and Deimos. The gods of fear, dread, panic, and sheer terror. They are Ares’ sons. When you fought him, he marked you, giving them access to your psyche. I knew something was off about you while you were in Olympus, as did Artemis when she was here, but I didn’t see it until now.”
I blinked slowly. “What?”
“Phobos and Deimos have been riding you, feeding off your emotions, and choosing and amplifying which ones you feel.”
Seth paled as he took a step back. His eyes met mine. “I didn’t know.” He raised his hands. “I had no idea.”
“That’s what Artemis meant by something being inside of her?” Aiden was kneeling beside me. Horror whipped through his voice. “They were inside her?”
“Yes.” The white light dimmed in Apollo’s eyes and blue irises appeared.
“I thought…I thought I was going crazy. I thought I was pregnant. I didn’t think…” I was too shocked, too everything to care about what I had just admitted to everyone in the room, to even acknowledge Aiden’s sharp inhale or how broken it sounded, or the way Seth turned his back, like he couldn’t bear to look at me. “They were inside me this whole time?”
“Since you fought Ares,” Apollo confirmed. “I’m sorry. If I could’ve come sooner, I would’ve known.”
Staring at the god, I had a hard time accepting what he said. I got it. I believed it, but to think another god—gods—were inside my head and my body, tinkering around, messing with me and being with me the whole time floored me. A floodgate broke, and the balloon in my chest burst. Rage flooded me, burning like lava through my veins. It tasted like blood and acid.
The room tinted amber.
Seth whirled around. “Uh, guys…”
The hair lifted off my shoulders and neck. Aiden called my name, but I was beyond hearing. I was beyond listening.
I lost my shit, right then and there.
I don’t remember leaving the dean’s office, but must have, and I assume no one tried to stop me. I needed to be alone. I needed space.
I made it to a room down the hall.
I stood inside, the door swinging shut behind me, my chest rising and falling rapidly. I was feeling too much—anger, hurt, loss, hate, love, and everything else that had been muted while Ares’ sons had been camped out inside my body. All the emotions at once were a poison in my blood. The lid on the bottle inside me had been completely unscrewed. Emotions broke the surface in a rush, and it felt like I had been drowning this whole time.
A burst of power left me.
The heavy oak desk in the corner, as well as a line of chairs and small tables, lifted into the air. They rose to the ceiling. My fingers curled in, nails digging into my palms. Wood creaked and groaned, then splintered. The furniture shattered like dry, brittle bones.