Night had begun to fall, and although it was the middle of May, cool air brushed my cheeks and made me grateful for the long-sleeved shirt Aiden had dug up.
I strode past the main building and looked up, sucking in a gulp of air when I got a good look at the top floor. The window facing the courtyard had been boarded up. My gaze fell to the marble pathway below. It was cracked.
Shuddering, I hurried around the wrought-iron face separating the courtyard from the walkways. Like the one that had been on Deity Island, flowers and trees from all around the globe blossomed here, despite the climate. The clean scent of roses and the sweeter scent of peonies mixed with the heavier scents of grapes and olive trees.
Stopping near the entrance, I stared up at a marble replica of Zeus. With his curly hair and beard, he looked more like a mountain man than the all-powerful god he was.
Couldn’t he have stepped in at some point, put the smackdown on Ares, and ended all of this? Surely Zeus could find a way to get around Seth and take out Lucian. But even if Zeus did, that still left Seth for him to deal with…and me.
Further into the courtyard, a statue of Apollo glowed, lit by a small lamp at its base. His face was turned toward the sky.
“Where are you?” I asked.
Once Apollo had blown his cover as Leon, he wasn’t able to stay in the mortal realm for long periods of time without weakening. I wondered if it was the same for Ares, and if so, did he hang out in Olympus with the other gods or did he have a hidey hole somewhere?
Turning from the statue, I started back down the path, because it wasn’t like the hunk of rock was going to answer any of my questions. Passing several smaller buildings that looked like miniature Greek temples, I skirted the Council building. Busts of the Olympian twelve were carved into the four sides of the building, which closely resembled an ancient temple. Like always, a measure of dread knotted in my stomach as I hurried past.
Council buildings had never held good memories for me.
Beyond the Council building, I looked back. Dorms rose into the sky behind the main academic buildings. The University really was its own city, but other than the patrolling Guards, I hadn’t seen a student yet.
It was probably a good thing they were keeping the students in their rooms. The last thing anyone needed was a bunch of pures running amuck, feeding off hysteria.
Gods, I sounded like an old fart.
I felt like an old fart.
Coming to the end of the pathway, the marble walls in front of me rose into the night. Spotlights situated every few feet atop the walls cast light throughout the campus. In the shadows of the twenty-foot monstrosity surrounding the University, Guards and Sentinels were stationed where sections of the wall had taken some damage.
I sat down on a bench and stretched my legs out, working the healing muscles and tissue as I watched the men. Even from where I sat, I could tell that they were all half-bloods. Every damn one of them, and I couldn’t help but think of my father. I’d given up hope that he was here because Laadan would’ve found him by now. He could still be at the New York Covenant in the Catskills. He could be anywhere, or he could be dead.
Rubbing my hands down my face, I told myself not to think that, but man, I was so rocking a Negative Nancy vibe like there was no tomorrow. Or maybe I was just being a Realistic Rachel? How could he have survived? How could Ares not know that my father had been at the Catskills? Surely he would use my father against me if he could.
And what would he have chosen for his life if he’d had a choice to be something other than a Sentinel, Guard, or servant? What would any of these men out by the walls have chosen? Did any of them ever think about that?
I had, at one point in my life, when I’d been living among mortals, way before I knew what I was or had even heard that stupid prophecy. I’d wanted to work at a zoo. Not the biggest aspiration for one to have in life, but I loved animals and because all creatures could be controlled by compulsion—therefore pure-blooded daimons—I’d never had a pet. The few times I’d visited a zoo, the workers had always seemed to enjoy their jobs, and I wanted that. I wanted to be happy with what I was doing with my life. I used to think becoming a Sentinel would fulfill that need.
Funny thing was, when I’d been living among mortals, all I’d really wanted was to be back at the Covenant among my own kind. Now I wasn’t so sure I wanted to be a Sentinel if I survived this.
Glancing down, I put my hands on my stomach, like a pregnant woman did. The cord buzzed along, a constant open connection. I closed my eyes and focused, like I had the night before I went toe-to-toe with Ares. Gods knew I probably looked as much an idiot now as I did then.
There was no answer—nothing on the other side. Like the cord went out into space and just ended.
Footsteps crunched over the gravel, and I didn’t need to look behind me to know who it was.
Aiden had been following me the whole time.
The footsteps stopped behind the bench.
“I’m not going to run off,” I said, and I wasn’t planning to.
There was a pause. “I know.”
A few seconds later, he came around the bench and sat beside me, his hands resting on his thighs. Neither of us spoke for what felt like forever. He was the one to break the silence first.
“I’m sorry for yelling at you back there.”
I choked on a laugh as I slid him a glance. “No, you’re not.”
One side of his lips tipped up, but it wasn’t a real smile that showed off those dimples. I hadn’t seen one of those since I’d woken up this afternoon. “Okay,” he conceded. “I’m not sorry for what I said, but I am sorry for raising my voice.”
“I wish you’d stop saying that.”
I stood a little too fast, and my knees backhanded me in the form of sharp bursts of pain. “But it is okay.”
My back was to him, but I could feel the frown in his voice. “Everything is not okay, Alex. I’m pretty sure the world is coming down around us. It’s all right for things not to be okay.”
I placed one foot in front of the other as if walking a balance beam, but my equilibrium hadn’t caught up with the healing, and after three steps I could’ve easily passed as a drunk.
“It doesn’t mean you’re weak if you admit that things are pretty screwed up right now,” he continued.
I stood still. “This isn’t a very motivating speech.”
Aiden laughed dryly. “It’s not meant to be. More like a dose of reality.”
“I think I’ve had enough doses of that recently.”
He let out a heavy sigh. “You don’t have to be okay with what happened to you, Alex. No one expects that. I sure as hell don’t.”
Turning around slowly, I opened my mouth to tell him that was the last thing I wanted to talk about, but that wasn’t what came out. “If I’m not okay with that, then what am I supposed to be?”
His eyes met mine. “Angry.”
Oh, there was a whole lot of that.
“You can be upset—scared—and you can rage that it wasn’t fair, because it wasn’t. A lot of this stuff hasn’t been fair for you, but especially this. Nothing about it was right, and you’ve got to let yourself experience those emotions.”
“I am.” Kind of. Strange thing was that I felt all of those things, but it wasn’t enough. Like a cap on a bottle unscrewed just enough to let a little bit of air in.
A sad look crossed his face as he shook his head. “You’re not. And you’ve got to let it out, Alex, or it will rot you from the inside.”
My chest rose sharply. I was already rotten on the inside. “I’m trying.”
“I know.” Aiden leaned forward, his eyes never leaving mine. “I’m sorry I doubted you this morning.”
He raised a hand. “Hear me out, okay? The last thing you needed when you woke up after something like that was to have me react that way. I know that didn’t help.”
It wasn’t the choir-singing, romantic reunion I imagined, but I also understood. “My eyes…”
“That’s not a good enough reason for how I acted.”
“It’s not that big of a deal, Aiden, but I forgive you.”
Aiden stared at me a moment longer and then sat back. His gaze drifted over my face and then to the sheared locks. I wanted to hide. “Come here,” he said gently.
The coldness seeped into my chest, and I stayed in place, but the words burst out of me as if my mouth had been hijacked by inner Alex. “I look like Frankenstein.”
“I look like Frankenstein with a beauty-school-dropout haircut.”
Our eyes locked again. “You’ve never been more beautiful to me than you are right now.”
“You need your eyes checked.”
He smiled a little. “And you need your head examined.”
I bit down on my lip.
“Come here,” he said again, raising his hand.
This time, I didn’t think about the numbness and the coldness in my chest. I pushed past them and forced my legs forward. In three uneven steps, my fingers curled around his.
Aiden tugged me into his lap, fitting me against his chest so I could hear his heart thunder in his chest. His arms swept around me, holding me in place. A breath shuddered through him, and gods, I loved it when he held me like this.
His lips brushed my forehead. “Agapi mou.”
I smiled against his chest, and in the dark, I could almost pretend that everything was normal. And in that moment, I needed that. I really did.
* * *
Just as the sun began to crest the horizon, thousands of students, hundreds of staff members, and those who had sought refuge converged on the cemetery that rested beyond the dorms, nestled against the fortress-like wall surrounding the back of the Covenant.
The cemetery was a lot like the one on Deity Island. Statues of the gods oversaw the massive mausoleums and graves, and hyacinths bloomed year-round. To me, those flowers had always served as a twisted reminder of what could happen if you were favored by a god.
I wondered if there’d be a flower named after me one day. Alexandrias had a nice ring to it. Hopefully they would be beautiful, like a dense spike of vibrant red flowers, and not look like something you’d find growing up from a crack in the pavement.
In death, a half and a pure were treated as equals, and like my mom had once said, it was the only time the two races would rest side by side. But things were still segregated amongst the living, even when there was no greater time than now for halfs and pures to come together as one.
Pures took center stage, situated in front of the funeral pyres. It didn’t seem to matter that only one of the linen-wrapped bodies had belonged to a pure, and the other three bodies belonged to halfs. Ritual and law decreed that pures got first-row seating, and so they did. Behind the pure-blooded Council members, students, pure Guards and Sentinels, and civilians, stood the half-bloods. I knew they could barely see the pyres or hear the memorial speech being given by Diana and another Head Minister.
Our group stood off to the left of the masses, there but separate. We had followed the somber procession through the campus just before dawn, and the eight of us had moved as a collective group to the side, as if we all agreed without words that we would be a part of this but would not separate into the class structure.