Luke shouted as he spun on his Dirt Man, dispatching it, and then whirled back to where Olivia had been. He kept the saying the same word over and over again—the same word that was repeating itself in my head.
No. No. No. No.
Deacon rushed forward, but Aiden caught him around the waist. Tears streamed down the younger St. Delphi’s face as he struggled against Aiden’s hold. He was saying her name—screaming it, really.
My heart split open as my gaze returned to the spot. This wasn’t fair. Oh gods, it hurt. How could someone be there one second and be gone the next? It didn’t matter how many times people had died. I still couldn’t fathom the quick and unforgiving end of existence.
And there was nothing left of her. Not a speck of flesh or clothing. Not even a weapon remained. No body to bury or mourn.
I hit the scorched earth on my knees, slowly shaking my head back and forth. All around us, the fight raged on with Seth and Perses taking on the remaining automatons. Flames burst a few feet from me, but I didn’t flinch, and I didn’t move.
Olivia was gone.
Things were a blur after that. Seth and Perses destroyed the automatons, and when they returned, the Titan hadn’t given a damn that we’d lost someone.
That we had lost Olivia.
“We don’t have time for this. We must move on.”
I looked at him, searching for a fleck of sorrow, or compassion, or anything, but there was nothing. He stalked forward, walking right through the spot where Olivia had last stood.
Luke started toward the Titan, his hands curling into fists, but Aiden grabbed his arm, shaking his head as he all but dragged the half-blood to the Expedition.
“Get inside,” Aiden ordered.
His eyes were still trained on Perses, and he wasn’t budging.
“Luke,” Aiden warned.
It was Deacon who got through to him. “Come on. Get in with me. Please?”
Luke blinked, and anger, hurt, and dozen of other violent emotions still infused his cheeks, but he climbed into the back seat with Deacon.
I didn’t respond as Seth passed me. I turned, opening the passenger door.
I’m sorry, he said.
My breath caught as I hauled myself into the seat. I know.
No one spoke as the vehicles ground into gear, easing around the fissure in the road, with the exception of Aiden checking in with Solos. He shared what’d happened in a low voice. I sat unnaturally still, with my cheek pressed against the window, watching the trees as we continued up the mountain. My heart was heavy, and my eyes burned. Pain lanced my jaw from how tight I was clenching my teeth. I was barely holding it together, but I knew we had to forge on. We had to, but it didn’t seem right. I wanted to yell “STOP,” and I wanted to make everyone, included the Titan, acknowledge that we had lost someone important to us, someone who was too young to die.
A tear streaked down my cheek, and I squeezed my eyes shut as I pressed my hand against the pocket that held several small coins—the ones I’d brought in case…in case we had to bury someone. We couldn’t even bury Olivia, but she had the coins with her. She’d have them in the Underworld.
Olivia would get to be with Caleb now. He would find her, and she would be okay. Olivia was with Caleb now. I kept repeating that, because it helped to know that they would be reunited. They would be back together for eternity, and that was something to be happy about, because Olivia had never truly gotten over Caleb’s death. Knowing that still didn’t make this any easier to accept. At some point, Aiden reached over and found my hand. He squeezed.
I squeezed back.
We reached the heavily forested outskirts of the Catskills just before dusk. We parked the dusty Hummer in front of a sprawling house at the base of the mountains; Solos had directed us to the address, so we assumed it was full of allies. I stretched my tight muscles, then opened the door.
Behind us, Seth and Perses had already sprung free from their vehicle and were rounding ours. Up ahead, I could see a mass of Sentinels in front of the house, and there were several lights on inside. It seemed like more than what we’d left with, and sweet relief coursed through me. They had somehow made it around the automatons. Maybe they’d just been waiting for the Apollyon-Titan carpool.
“Ares has to know about this,” I said, hopping down and walking toward the stone fence separating the gravel road from the yard.
Seth fell in step beside me, folding his arms. “I’m sure he does, but this kind of warfare reminds him of his glory days.”
“He’s right.” Aiden hefted the bag of weapons onto his shoulder. “There’s no way two enemies would be stationed this close together in modern warfare, but this…” He waved his arm in the direction of the waiting Sentinels and Guards. “This is like trench warfare.”
In high school, before I’d returned to the Deity Island Covenant, I had read All Quiet on the Western Front. That was about all I knew about trench warfare, and that was enough for me to want to sneak into the Covenant and act like a nuclear missile.
I couldn’t bear to lose anyone else.
Perses strode ahead of us, tall and silent, and I watched him for a moment. He’d relished the skirmish that had cost Olivia her life. The Titan thrived on the bloodshed and death. I didn’t want to hate him, because it was what he was, but there was still no trace of remorse or sorrow for the lives lost.
Deacon stumbled past us, rubbing his red-rimmed eyes wearily. “I don’t want to see the inside of a car again for as long as I live.”
“I’ll remind you of that the next time you have to walk any real distance and start whining,” Luke replied, the words light but the look on his face grave.
He had been so close to Olivia, closer than me. An ache pierced my chest as I stepped through the narrow opening in the stone wall. The only thing I could console myself with was that I knew—I knew—she was with Caleb. She was with the boy she had loved so fiercely, had never stopped loving.
I was still holding onto that thought like it was a life jacket.
Solos jogged across the clearing, slowing down as he passed Perses. He cast the Titan a look before continuing toward us. He stopped in front of Luke, placing his hand on the half-blood’s shoulder.
“I’m sorry,” he said, and those two words carried so much weight.
Luke nodded and said something in a low voice before he walked past. Deacon’s hand went to his lower back, and a small smile tugged at my lips when Luke moved closer to him as they followed Perses.
Aiden clasped Solos’ hand as we met him. “How are things here?”
“Better than what you had to face,” Solos replied. “I should’ve—”
“There’s nothing you could’ve done,” I interrupted, shifting my weight. I wanted a pillow—STAT. “It seems like there are more Sentinels here than there were with us.”
“There are.” His eyes gleamed with excitement. “Come on. I’m sure you guys could use something to eat. I’ll explain on the way.”
My stomach rumbled in response, and Aiden sent me a quick grin. I was too tired to be embarrassed. “So what’s going on?”
“Our advance scouts met up with a group of about fifty Sentinels outside of the city. They’re from the New York Covenant and were out scouting beyond the line of the automatons. They showed us a way around. We had a minor run-in with a few automatons, but we didn’t lose any numbers.”
They were lives, not numbers.
He knows that. Seth’s voice startled me. I hadn’t realized I’d projected those thoughts anywhere. But looking at them that way helps keep the mind clear.
I guess, I responded without much conviction.
“They brought us back here. There’s at least a hundred more. They’ve been here since Ares took over. They made it out after he did.” Purpose filled his voice. “They know the set-up inside, where Ares has been holing up, how many he has beyond the walls, and so on.”
All of that was valuable knowledge, necessary knowledge, and that was what Aiden was telling Solos, and then they were talking about more important stuff. But all I could think was that, if there were Sentinels here that had gotten out after Ares took over, was my father among them? Solos wouldn’t know if he was, but Seth and Laadan had said that that my father had stayed behind with the servants.
“Are there servants here?” I asked, interrupting them.
Solos glanced back at me. “Yes. There are quite a few. Most of them aren’t under the effects of the Elixir anymore.”
My heart tripped up in my chest, and my wide eyes met Aiden’s. There was a reluctant hope in his gaze. I knew he wanted my father to be somewhere among those up ahead or in the house, but he was wary of that fragile dream and the crushing disappointment that was sure to come if he wasn’t.
He was behind the walls when I was last here. Seth’s words were as heavy as Solos’ apology. He could’ve made it out since then, but…
But Ares knew that my father was there. I sighed. It was stupid to hope, wasn’t it?
“Never,” Seth said out loud.
Aiden glanced back, brows furrowed, but then he turned back to Solos.
Stones sat in my stomach. Man, that disappointment wasn’t far behind. I tried to shake it off, because we had such huge things to accomplish. We would have to move on Ares quickly, probably by the following nightfall, but I wanted to see my dad. I needed him to know that I knew who he was.
If things went south fast, I wanted to see him before I…
I didn’t allow myself to finish that thought. I had to trust that Apollo would find a way to stop the Olympians from snuffing me out once I became the God Killer. He’d said he would take care of me. He’d sworn, and supposedly gods kept their promises.
Except in Solos’ case, and just about every other story I could think of.
As we crossed the lawn, the Sentinels that had been gawking at Perses did the same as Seth and I neared. Several muttered curses when they laid eyes on the First, their gazes cold and unfriendly.
“Friends of yours?” I asked, watching one of them rest his hand on his gun.
Seth gave a lopsided shrug. “I’m sure we may have exchanged a few words before…”
“Before you pulled your head out of your ass?”
A laugh burst from him. “Exactly.”
“You should sleep well tonight.”
He stepped around a bag full of what looked like rifles. “I doubt any of us will really be sleeping.”
I recognized some of the faces from the University, but there were a lot of strangers in the crowd, and many of them were my age. Young. I didn’t feel young, not anymore, but I guessed technically I still was, and so were they.
Solos introduced us to the Sentinels who were in charge of the group from inside the Covenant. They looked battered but hopeful as they saw with their own eyes what Solos must’ve been telling them.
The Apollyons were unified, and we’d brought a Titan with us.
It sounded kind of badass, but then again, we were going up against Ares.
We headed into the house, which was really a mansion. Someone said it’d once belonged to a mortal in the government, but they had abandoned it when Ares brought in the mortal troops. Food was given to us, and I tried to eat quietly while Aiden conversed with the different Sentinels. I didn’t see where Luke and Deacon had roamed off to, but I hoped, wherever they were, Luke was doing okay.