I caught Aiden’s stare and knew he was thinking the same thing I was. The corner of his lips tipped up, and I flushed.
“Seriously? Could you guys go longer than five minutes without making googly faces at one another?” Seth walked between us, scowling. “It’s distracting.”
Aiden smirked, and then opened his mouth. I cut him off before we got into another battle of wits that ended with me wanting to crawl under Prometheus’ skin. “How many of the Titans do you have down here?”
“All of the ones who want to cause problems.” Hades disappeared into another corridor, and I sighed, hurrying to catch up to him. “Very few are in Elysian Fields. Cronus and his cronies are all here.”
Cronus was the father of Zeus, Hades, and who knew how many other gods. A shudder snaked down my spine. Hades kept his own father imprisoned in a hell-tomb. The hallway was a tight fit. Luckily, we weren’t in it for very long. We entered another chamber, but this one was different.
We were in the tombs.
Twelve tombs, to be exact. I thought it was odd—the number. Twelve Olympians. Twelve entombed Titans. They were in some kind of capsule-like containers, embedded deep into the stone wall. A thick layer of reddish ice covered them, revealing only a humanoid shape beyond the barrier. But from the looks of it, Titans were tall.
“Do you know that I’m actually older than Zeus?” Hades asked as he placed the torch into a sconce in the wall. “As are Poseidon, Demeter, Hera, and so on? But because Cronus was a dick—and he was a huge dick—and our momma only saved Zeus, the world thinks Baby Brother was the first to be born.”
“Didn’t Cronus eat you guys?” Seth asked.
I made a face.
Hades laughed. “The whole ‘swallowing us’ crap was symbolic for hiding us. He held us in captivity until our baby brother set us free.” He walked along the iced-over tombs, and his eyes narrowed as he stopped in front of the tomb in the center. “Screw you, Dad.”
I past a look at Aiden, who slowly shook his head, but then Hades stepped to the left and let out a heavy sigh. “There was a time when Perses wasn’t so bad, and maybe the years have changed him, but I’m not holding my breath.” He turned to me. “Are you sure you want to do this, Love?”
My gaze crawled to the tomb in front of him, and my pulse picked up. “Like I’ve said, we really don’t have any other choices.”
Hades stared at me for a long moment and then turned back to the tomb. “You don’t.” He placed his hand on the center of the tomb. I wanted to step back, but I forced myself to stand where I was. I was pretty sure running through the tombs would only end up with me being lost, and then Seth would make fun of me for the rest of my life.
The ice shuddered, and a spiderweb of cracks formed underneath Hades’ palm, rapidly spreading across the front of the tomb. Seth and Aiden flanked me, and for once, both boys were quiet and not picking at each other.
Ice slipped away, shedding from the tomb, and hit the floor, making tiny sounds like a distant wind chime. Within seconds, the Titan was revealed.
Perses was tall—almost seven and a half feet, maybe more. And he was unnaturally still inside his tomb. Thick lashes fanned cheeks the color of supple brown leather. His skull was smooth, free of hair, and his features were angular and exotic—full lips, sharp cheekbones, and a well-defined brow. He was beautiful in the way all the godly creatures were: inhumanly perfect.
As still as the Titan was, he looked dead. Not even his chest moved, but an air of danger surrounded him nonetheless. I couldn’t imagine what it would be like once he was released.
Leather pants and a tunic stretched over broad, thick muscles. There were cuffs on his wrists, adorned with odd symbols I didn’t recognize.
“What is it with gods and leather?” I muttered.
Hades slid me a long look. “We make it look good.”
They did. Couldn’t argue that, but the gods’ hotness didn’t compensate for their overall creepiness and deranged thought processes.
“Last chance,” Hades said, looking over his shoulder at us.
There was a pause, and then Aiden said, “Do it.”
With a slight shake of his head, Hades turned back to the Titan and placed his hand on the center of its chest. A red glow radiated from the god’s palm and then washed over Perses. No words were spoken or rituals completed. It appeared that Hades alone had the special touch.
Hades stepped back and folded his arms. We didn’t have to wait long.
The Titan shuddered once and then opened his eyes. I tried to squelch the gasp but couldn’t. Unlike the Olympians, his eyes were pitch black. The whole eye—the exact opposite of the Olympians. And if I’d thought the gods’ eyes were messed up, it was nothing compared to the Titan’s.
Perses’ gaze landed on Hades and his lip curled up. “You’ve got to be kidding me.”
My brows shot up at the sound of the deep voice. So wasn’t expecting that to be the first thing for the Titan to say when he came out of the deep freeze.
Hades tilted his head to the side as a slow, lazy smile spread across his lips. “Hello, Perses, how was your nap?”
“It was great, asshole.”
The spine of the god stiffened. “I can see your attitude is the same as it was when we chained you into this tomb.”
“Barely chained me,” he sneered. The Titan raked our little group with a passing look and then swung his head back toward us. The violent curl of his lips slipped away as his eyes narrowed. “I’m awakened to find an asshole, a child of a demigod, and two Apollyons before me? I must admit, I am curious.”
I was surprised by how well Hades was handling the insults being flung his way.
“We need your help,” I forced myself to say. “That’s why you’ve been awakened.”
One dark eyebrow rose into a perfect arch. “You need my help?” The Titan tipped his head back and laughed so deeply I thought I felt the ground under my feet tremble. Laughing was good, though. At least he wasn’t trying to kill us. “My help? I cannot imagine what ludicrous situation you’ve all have gotten yourself in if the Olympians are coming to a Titan for help.”
“Well, you see…” I cleared my throat and gave him the quick and dirty version of events. The whole time he stared at me until I felt like my insides were spread across my clothing. “We know you can prepare us and you can—”
“Cause Ares to lose some of his confidence? Make him uneasy?” Perses’ chuckle echoed throughout the cavern. “You need me as the psychological ace up your sleeve.”
“Basically,” Aiden replied evenly.
The Titan didn’t even look at him. “Ares must really be making a mess of things if Zeus has given permission to release me.”
“It is bad. He has the mortals on the brink of an all-out war. The gods have practically torn the world apart. Innocent people are dying…” I trailed off as a look of boredom crept into his expression. “You don’t care about any of that. Okay. That’s cool. We don’t need you to care.”
“That’s a good thing, child, because I don’t care.”
I took a deep breath. What if Perses refused? Would he really willingly go back to being an oddly-colored ice cube? “We need you to help us defeat Ares. You know, the god of war.”
Perses huffed. “He is not the true god of war. I am.”
“That’s not what he’s saying,” Seth added, picking up where I was heading with this.
“He says no one, past or present, can defeat him,” Aiden threw in. “Maybe that’s the truth.”
I forced a casual shrug. “If you don’t want to fight him or—”
“If you say I’m afraid, you obviously do not value your life, Apollyon.” Perses took a step forward, and ice slipped down my spine. “It has nothing to do with fear.”
“I don’t think it does.” My gaze bounced to Hades, who was being oh-so helpful through all of this. “But don’t you want the chance to go toe-to-toe with Ares again?”
A muscle popped in his jaw. “The only reason any of us were enslaved was because I was tricked.” He growled low in his throat as he spared a brief glance at the quiet god. “Ares is no match against me. He never was and never will be.”
“Then you could prove it. You don’t have to care about any of us to prove it,” I said, close to begging. “If you help us, Hades will not put you back here. He’ll release you into Elysian Fields.”
Perses stared at me for a long moment and then turned to Hades. “Is that true?”
“I don’t like it. Frankly, I think you should be in Prometheus’ place.”
The Titan’s eyes narrowed. “That is not an answer.”
Hades folded thick arms across his chest. “If you do as you are told and don’t cause any problems, you will be released into Elysian Fields. If not, we will chain your ass to a rock and strip your skin from your body, one tiny section at a time.”
“Is that so?” He raised a brow. “Seems like to me you’ll have your hands full with Ares and won’t have time to spend an eternity torturing me.”
Hades stepped up, unfolding his arms. “You forget Ares has no power in my realm unless I grant it, and he cannot enter without my permission. Ares can rip the mortal world apart, but if you betray us, we will take the time to track you down, and I will spend eternity getting my jollies off on your suffering.”
“Poor Persephone.” Perses stared down his nose at the god. “It must be hard on her if that’s what gets you off.”
I wrinkled my nose.
“If her name drips from your forked tongue one more time, I will rip it out,” Hades promised, his voice deadly low.
Was his tongue really forked?
Perses’ lips curled up on one side. “What? You don’t like me talking about your wife?” He looked over at us. “Is abduction as a means of marriage still all the rage these days?”
“Uh…no,” I said, shaking my head. “It’s really frowned upon.”
Hades’ cheeks deepened in color. “You’re really pushing me.”
“I haven’t even begun to push.”
Aiden sighed and said under his breath, “Well, this conversation has really digressed.”
“Yeah,” I muttered, crossing my arms as I watched the two try to out-snark each other.
This is going smoothly. Seth’s voice filtered through my thoughts.
I kept my eyes on the Titan. He’s not that…bad. I mean, all things considered, right?
His answering chuckle tugged at my lips. I sort of like him.
“So, let me make sure I understand this clearly.” Perses was apparently done antagonizing Hades. “I help you prepare for war and lead the charge against Ares, and I will be returned to Elysian Fields in one piece? I must clarify that. You Olympians can be oh so tricky.”
“Yes,” I said, shifting my weight when his heavy gaze landed on me. “In one piece, happy and whole.” I frowned. He didn’t look like the happy type. “Or in whatever mood you prefer.”