How could he have been okay with that? Did the means really justify the end for him? I’d experienced way too much at Ares’ hands to hope that Seth had changed. It seemed more believable that his anger was associated with me not submitting to Ares more than anything else.
Another random thought formed. The prophesy of Grandma Piperi, oracle extraordinaire, came back like a cold sore. You will kill the ones you love.
Part of me did love Seth—pre-jackass, of course. He was a part of me. We were yin and yin, and Seth had been there for me for a lot. I’d never forget that, but I was no longer so blinded by how he used to be that I couldn’t see what needed to be done. If I couldn’t get the power of the God Killer to transfer to me, I would kill him.
Or go down trying.
But that prophecy didn’t mean just my loved ones would die by my hand. Kain, a half-blood Guard who’d helped Aiden train me, had been turned by my mom in an attempt to reach me and died by Seth’s hand. Caleb had been murdered by a daimon because I’d been so emo over Aiden and we’d snuck out to get food and drinks, even knowing that there could be daimons on campus. And my mom had been turned into a daimon—her true death—because of me. Then I had killed her. Even though I couldn’t claim to love Lea, I’d respected her a great deal toward the end, and her death was also linked to me.
And more people I loved would die.
I crossed my arms, ignoring the way my bones cracked from the movement. “The University isn’t safe with me here.”
Aiden whirled toward me, his eyes narrowing into thin slits, but before he could speak, Marcus stepped in. “There is no other place safer, Alexandria. At least here, we have Sentinels and—”
“Sentinels and Guards are nothing if Ares finds a way in. And let’s say he doesn’t—we still have Seth to worry about.”
“We can’t leave here.” Luke leaned forward, dropping his arms onto his knees. “Not until we’ve rallied the troops and you’ve fully recovered—”
“I’m fine!” My voice cracked on the last word, a humiliating lie detector.
Luke raised a brow.
“Whatever,” I said. “I need to leave.”
“You. Are. Not. Leaving.”
Everyone in the room turned to Aiden, including me. His words hung in the air, and challenge seeped out every pore. “I have to,” I said.
“No.” Stalking forward, his powerful muscles rippled under the black shirt he wore. The black shirt of a Sentinel, and gods, he was a Sentinel through and through at that moment. “We already had this discussion. All of us know the risks, Alex.”
Challenge accepted. “But that was before Ares went all god badass on us.”
His eyes turned a furious shade of silver as he stared down at me. “Nothing has changed.”
“Everything has changed!”
“The technicalities have, maybe, but nothing else.”
I stared at him, dumbfounded. “It was one thing when we thought it was Hephaestus or Hermes, but it’s Ares. In case you don’t remember, he’s the mother-fu—”
“I know who he is,” Aiden gritted out.
“Children,” Marcus admonished.
We shot him mutual death glares.
Marcus ignored it. “Aiden is right, Alex.”
Of course he took Aiden’s side.
“We all know what we’re getting into.” He gestured at his battered face. “Trust me, we all know, and like we said before, we are in this together.”
“What about them?” I totally remembered when everyone had stood up and announced that they had my back. And one of them was dead now. I gestured at the back of the room. “What about every person at the University—the students, and all the people who came here for the safety it once offered? Are they willing to take that risk?”
A Sentinel next to the young one who’d been with Dominic they day we’d arrived here stepped forward and said, “If I may speak?”
Aiden sent him a look that a wiser person would’ve run from.
Apparently this Sentinel wasn’t used to running. Then again, none of them were.
“What is your name?” Diana asked.
“Valerian,” he answered, and I pegged him to be in his late twenties. A half-blood, of course.
“Like the root?” Deacon asked.
Luke rolled his eyes.
The man nodded. “Most people call me Val.”
“What do you have to say, Val?” Diana spoke again.
“Everyone here has been affected by what is happening. I can’t name one person who hasn’t lost a friend or a loved one. Not to mention we lost our Dean and our friends when Ares attacked. I can’t speak for everyone, but you will find that the vast majority of those who reside here are willing to do just about anything to see an end to this.”
Then they all were idiots.
I shook my head as I turned around. None of the Sentinels or Guards here could stand against Seth, let alone gods knew what else Ares could throw our way.
Aiden caught hold of my arm in a firm but gentle grasp, as if, even in his anger, he was aware that my body was still healing. “Stop being so stubborn, Alex.”
“You’re the one who’s being pigheaded,” I shot back, and I tried to pull free, but Aiden held on, a warning flaring in his eyes. “I’m trying to protect them.”
“I know.” His voice lost a fraction of its edge. “And that’s the only reason I’m not throwing you over my shoulder and locking you in a room somewhere.”
My eyes narrowed. “I’d like to see you try.”
“Is that a challenge?” he asked.
Someone in the back of the common area cleared his throat. “So I’m assuming these two have some sort of past?”
Deacon choked on his laugh as he plopped down on the sofa. “That would be an affirmative.”
Aiden’s gaze slid to his brother, and he took a long, nice, deep breath.
“Wow.” Deacon elbowed Luke. “This would be awkward if it weren’t so entertaining. It’s like watching our parents—”
“Shut up, Deacon,” both Aiden and I snapped at the same time.
“See!” Deacon grinned. “They’re like peas and carrots.”
Luke turned to him slowly. “Did you just quote Forrest Gump?”
He shrugged. “Maybe I did.”
And just like that, some of the tension seeped out of Aiden…and me, too. He let go of my arm but was like Velcro on my hip. “Sometimes I worry for you, Deacon,” he said, his lips curving up on one side.
“I ain’t who you should be worrying about.” Deacon jerked his chin at me. “Little Miss ‘I Gotta Be A Martyr’ over there is the one you should be concerned with.”
I made a face, but everyone in the room, even the bulk of Sentinels in the back, stared back at me with determined expressions. There would be no convincing them otherwise. I knew I wouldn’t be leaving here alone, and I really didn’t want to. Honestly, the thought of facing Ares or even Seth alone scared the bejebus out of me.
And I would need an army—a really big one. Hopefully, the Sentinel who’d spoken up was right that the vast majority of people here wanted to make a stand, because we were going to need them.
Letting out a long breath, I looked up at Aiden. “Okay.”
“Okay, what?” he prompted.
He was so going to make me say it. “I will stay here.”
Dear gods… “And I accept everyone’s help and whatever.”
“Good.” He bent down, swiftly kissing me on the cheek. “You finally see the light.”
I flushed and then really turned beet red when half of the room—half bloods so unaccustomed to seeing a pure and a half together—stared at us open-mouthed. Even though they’d suspected there was something between us, seeing the proof had to be shocking.
In the lull of conversation, I caught a bit of what was on the news. A full-scale war had broken out in the Middle East. Entire towns had been leveled. One of the sides had access to nuclear weapons and was threatening to use them. The U.N. was calling for global intervention, and the U.S. and U.K. were sending thousands of troops overseas.
I had a real bad feeling about this.
“It’s Ares,” Solos said, speaking for the first time since this whole meeting of the minds began.
I turned toward him and was reminded that my scars were nothing compared to the jagged mark covering his handsome face. “Do we know for sure?”
Marcus nodded. “His presence in the mortal realm causes discord, especially when he’s not masking what he is.”
“And we saw something very in-ter-resting on the tellie yesterday,” Deacon added.
“Yep,” Luke chimed in. “One of the commanders of the attacking army was sporting a very fashionable arm band with a Greek shield on it. I have no idea what Ares hopes to gain by starting a war.”
It seemed obvious to me. “He just…loves war. He feeds on it like the gods used to feed on mortals’ beliefs in them. And if there’s a huge war that splits a bulk of the world, he can swoop in and subjugate mankind.”
“Very true,” Diana said softly. “Ares’ love for war and discord is well-known. He grows stronger in times of great strife.”
“That’s exactly what we need.” Aiden folded his arms. “Ares growing stronger.”
Moving a few steps over, I leaned against an air hockey table. It was hard seeing one and not thinking of Caleb. “Ares wants to rule. He thinks it’s time for the gods to reclaim the mortal realm as their own, and I wouldn’t be surprised if there are other gods supporting him.” Namely Hermes, but other than Marcus and Aiden, they didn’t know Hermes had helped Seth contact me.
There was a round of artistic uses of four letter words from those in the back, ones that would’ve brought a smile to my face at one point in the past.
“Well, at least we know what Ares wants. He’s looking for a war,” Aiden said, addressing the room like the leader he was and I so obviously hadn’t quite learned to be. “And we’re going to give him one.”
As a group, we decided we would hold a meeting the day after tomorrow for anyone on campus who wished to join what Deacon had named the “Army of Awesomeness”. Diana and Marcus, who apparently had jointly taken over the day-to-day operation of the campus after the dean’s death, picked the Council’s coliseum as the location of the meeting. All twelve of the University’s council members, plus a handful from other locations, were on campus, and Diana swore they would have no problems with us making use of what was considered one of the most sacred buildings on campus.
I had a hard time believing it.
But the day before that wouldn’t be about recruitment for the A.O.A. or battle strategies. That day would be the day the dead were given their rightful burial.
After the meeting had ended, I quickly skedaddled out of the common area and headed outside, needing the fresh air. The oxygen in my lungs felt stale, my brain full of holes. Once the anger had faded, all that was left were the dull ache of my healing body and the odd numbness in my core.