Apollo stared at me as he slowly shook his head. “There was so much more you could’ve asked for, Alex.”
My brows knitted. “Like what? What could be more important than that?”
His gaze held mine, and suddenly I knew what he meant. I could’ve asked for his protection, because once I took care of Ares, it would be open season on my arse. I knew Apollo would already do what he could to ensure that I walked away, but it seemed useless to waste this opportunity on something that Apollo might not be able to stop.
The god nodded curtly. “Okay. Once everything has settled, we will change the laws and the Elixir will be no more. You have my word, no matter the outcome.”
No matter the outcome. Meaning if Ares kicks our asses into the next generation. I wanted Apollo to do it now, because I had the patience of a hyena, but I could understand why he couldn’t. The last thing we needed was more half-bloods, thousands of them, coming off the effects of the Elixir in the middle of this mess.
My gaze traveled across the room, skipping over the shocked expressions of Luke and Olivia. I think, in that moment, they realized the same thing Solos must have by the look in his wide eyes. After all this was said and done, they would have something they’d never had before.
Complete and utter control of their future.
Olivia hugged me so hard I thought my lungs would deflate. She held on, her lithe form trembling. It was a good hug, reminding me of the ones my mother used to give me. “The whole evil-twin god thing is so messed up. I’m sorry, but I’m glad they’re out,” she said, and then in a lower, hoarser voice, she added, “Thank you.”
I knew why she was thanking me—for the deal. I squeezed her back and then leaned away. I kept my voice low. “So what are you going to do?”
“After this craziness with Ares?” When I nodded, a far-off look crept into her pretty eyes. She dropped her arms, shaking her heard. “You know, I don’t know. I never thought about it, but now I do have something to think about, and it’s…”
“Amazing,” Luke said, dropping a quick kiss on my cheek. “I think I’m going to enroll in college.”
Both Olivia and I stared at him.
“What?” A flush spread across his cheeks. “I actually like school.”
“Freak,” I muttered.
Hades was growing impatient. Surly bastard. I said goodbye, giving my uncle a stiff and somewhat awkward hug. Tension and elation warred in the room. The agreement made with Apollo, who was actually going to remain here instead of popping back to Olympus, was obviously a big deal, but what the three of us were about to embark on could quickly become dangerous.
Perses could kill us all and make a run for it.
Continuing that line of thought wasn’t what I wanted to be focus on as I made my way over to where Hades stood between Aiden and Seth. My eyes bounced between the two guys. Then again, I wasn’t so sure that Perses was going to be the problem.
Aiden and Seth were sizing each other up like they were ready for a caged death match.
Sidling up to Aiden, I elbowed him in the side.
He glanced down at me, eyes the color of the ocean during a storm. “I’m proud of you.”
Oh, the swelling in my chest could’ve lifted me right up to the ceiling. I smiled up at him, smiled so widely my cheeks ached.
“I would’ve used that favor more intelligently, Love.” Hades smirked. “There was so much you could’ve asked for.”
Aaand Hades burst my bubble with a quickness I should have expected. “Thanks for your input,” I muttered.
“You’re welcome,” he replied. “Is everyone ready for our little field trip?”
With Apollo’s seal of approval, Seth was given his toys back, so all of us, even Seth, were decked out in our Covenant daggers and Glocks. Our eyes locked for a moment. There was something in his amber gaze that unsettled me.
Aiden reached down, threading his fingers through mine. “We’re ready.”
Without any warning, the floor dropped out from under us.
* * *
“Holy daimon babies!” I gasped, stumbling back as the world righted itself once more. “Good gods…”
Aiden patted his hands over his chest as if checking to make sure he was all there. Seth looked a little out of it. None of us had been prepared for that method of traveling.
The god of the Underworld watched us. Amusement bled into the air around him. “It’s easier that way, don’t you think?”
I smoothed my hand over my hair, relieved to find it still attached to my head. When the floor had moved under us, it had felt like we’d fallen a million feet. “Did you just…just teleport us?”
“Something like that.” Hades turned, putting his hands on his hips. Tipping his head back, he let out a loud, ear-piercing whistle, causing me to jump.
“So this is the Underworld?” Seth turned, taking in his surroundings.
Forcing myself to get over the fact that I wasn’t exactly sure how Hades had managed to teleport us, and the whole science behind that concept, I looked around. I recognized where we were.
“Thank the gods it’s not the Vale of Mourning, huh?” Aiden said.
I nodded. That vast, depressing stretch of the Underworld was not a place I wanted to visit again. We were just outside the Vale, several feet from the congested road that led to the Plain of Judgment.
Seth watched the recently departed making slow progress with a troubled look. A lot of the deceased were Sentinels, their black uniforms in various stages of distress. Seeing them…well, I had to think it was a painful reminder of what he’d been a part of.
The sound of pounding hooves drew my attention from the First, and I turned. “Holy gods…”
I jerked back, bouncing off of Aiden’s chest. An arm circled my waist, steadying me. Good gods in Olympia, the horses were the size of elephants. Four of them. Their coats were as dark and shiny as midnight oil, their manes glossy and groomed. They looked like extremely large horses with the exception of the all-white pupils behind their black-leather eye shields. “I don’t remember them being this big.”
Seth neared one, head cocked to the side. The horse whinnied. “They’re like the Hummer of the horse world.”
I almost laughed, but then I noticed the saddles on each of them. I glanced at Hades as he ran a large hand down one of the horses’ manes. “These are bigger than what you saw last time. They are from my personal stable.” He grabbed the saddle and swung himself up with astonishing ease. “It is not a quick journey to Tartarus. We will ride them there.”
Glancing at one of the horses near me, I hesitated. “Why didn’t you just pop us into Tartarus?”
“Tartarus is an ever-changing landscape, adapting to its…newest arrivals.” He shrugged. “I would hate to pop my newest acquisition into a lake of fire.”
My eyes narrowed.
Hades smirked at me as he wrapped a meaty hand around the reins. “We don’t have all day. There’s a mean game of Mario Kart waiting for me when I get back.”
Resisting the urge to run up to Hades and knock him out of the saddle, I wheeled around. Seth had already found his horse and was in the saddle, looking very proud of himself. Then Aiden was on his, swinging a leg over the horse, which left me staring at the last one, the one that reminded me of a T-Rex.
It sniffed at me.
“You might want to get used to these magnificent creatures.” Hades’ smile was cold and pleased as he looked at Aiden.
An ache hit me in my chest at the reminder of Aiden’s deal. I turned, ready to lay into him for agreeing, but drew up short. I was face-to-face with a massive horse head.
Walking up, I awkwardly patted its nose. “Nice horsey.”
Its lip curled up, revealing oddly sharp teeth. Did horses have sharp teeth? Or just Underworld horses? My gaze traveled over the massive chest and leather saddle. How in the hell was I supposed to get on this thing? The stirrup was so far off the ground I was going to need a stepladder to access it.
“You put your foot in the stirrup,” Seth said, tipping his chin down.
“I know,” I snapped. But I didn’t move any closer. The horse turned its elegant head back away from me and snorted. “I’ve never ridden a horse before.”
Heat crept into my cheeks. Honestly, I was sort of afraid of horses. Normal ones could break your bones. These could eat you.
Aiden guided his horse toward where I stood, smiling slightly as he looked down. “Come on.”
I stared at him.
The slight smile spread, revealing a dimple in his right cheek. “There’s room for both of us up here. Ride with me.”
Okay. I was scared of horses, and that made me a wuss, but I thought about all those romance novels my mom used to read with the hero astride a horse, and then there was Aiden, larger than life astride a horse, and that was…well, that was hot.
“I really don’t care if you ride alone or with Loverboy here, but can we move this along?” Hades tightened his hand on the reins, turning the horses. “I am not known for my patience.”
I shot him a scathing look, which was ignored. Crossing the distance between Aiden and me, I reached up, putting my hand in his. With astonishing ease, he hauled me up into the saddle in front of him. After a few seconds of awkward fumbling, I was seated on the horse, clenching the edge of the saddle.
Well aware that both Hades and Seth were staring at us, I remained stiff as Aiden snaked an arm around my waist and tugged me back between his thighs. His heat immediately seeped into my tense muscles.
“How cute,” Seth drawled.
“Shut up,” Aiden said, and then much lower, directly in my ear, “This is the greatest idea I’ve ever had.”
We started off then, galloping along the crowded road. It took a little while to get used to the jarring motion of the horse and even longer to get familiar with the stagnant, sweet-scented air blowing in my face. About a half an hour in, four guards suddenly flanked us, their faces pale and somber. I tried desperately not to picture Aiden becoming one of Hades’ henchmen, but I couldn’t help but wonder why Hades had even asked for Aiden. It wasn’t like there was any shortage of people who had some kind of penance to pay, and wasn’t that what these guards were doing? Working off their sins in the afterlife? Or was it something else?
I knew it was punishment. Hades knew we’d snuck into the Underworld to see Solaris, and he obviously wasn’t happy about that. In a twist of irony, our journey had been rather pointless now. Seth wanted me to become the God Killer, and he knew how to make the transfer. We’d ended up not needing Solaris.
The barren landscape turned lush as we neared the crossroads. The bare, brown ground gave way to thick, bright-green grass. The congestion of those recently deceased grew as the spired tips of Hades’ stone palace finally came into view.
And so did Tartarus.
The eerie red glow off in the distance was hard to ignore. So was the very faint, almost untraceable scent of sulfur. I couldn’t believe we were actually going there willingly.