Alex drew in a sharp breath. “It made you think of Ares. That this demigod could be Ares’s offspring?”
Even if I hadn’t seen him once before, I would’ve immediately recognized the god standing before us. He wasn’t just a god.
He was the god of gods.
I was not expecting to see Zeus today.
The last time I’d seen him, he wore only white linen pants and appeared to be in his mid to late forties. The only thing different about him now was that his shockingly white hair was a little longer, brushing his shoulders.
The glyphs on my skin were going crazy in response, and instinct locked up every muscle in my body. There could only be one reason why Zeus was here.
He wanted to throw down.
The moment Aiden realized who was standing before him, he dropped to one knee and bowed his head.
I, however, did not move, because fuck that shit.
Zeus stared at me, waiting for the same treatment. I smirked. His all-white eyes snapped electricity as his nostrils flared. “Your ego will be your downfall.”
“That’s quite ironic coming from you,” I retorted, folding my arms across my chest. “Then again, I guess it takes one to know one.”
Aiden’s audible inhale brought a smile to my lips.
The god’s lip curled and then he looked at Aiden. His expression actually softened. “Rise, my child.”
Rising to his full height, it didn’t look like Aiden took a single breath as he stared at Zeus. He was awestruck, staring upon a being only a very few people ever would. Because of that, I didn’t hold his reaction against him. As utterly useless as I thought Zeus was, he was an impressive sight to behold.
“You have done well today,” Zeus spoke, his voice deep and commanding, as if he was the very thunder in the sky during a storm. “It’s time for you to go home.”
Zeus snapped his fingers, and Aiden was simply gone.
There no more.
“I really hope you sent him back to the University,” I drawled, not taking my eyes off the god. “Because if not, there’s going to be a certain young lady you ordered killed that’s going to be really pissed.”
His lips thinned. “You speak of Alexandria, the true Apollyon? You think I enjoyed ending her mortal life? You would be wrong.”
“I don’t care if you liked it or not. You did it when you didn’t have to do it. Not like that. Not after what she sacrificed—”
“You speak to me of sacrifice? What do you know of sacrifice? She did. She understood what sacrifice meant and what had to be done. So far, all you know is to run when you cannot control yourself.”
That little personal remark struck home. The truth in his words stung like a damn road rash.
“Have you had to kill someone you love for the better of the world? Have you had to answer for any of your mistakes? Truly answer for them? What have you given up, Seth, to lead? You know nothing of sacrifice.”
Anger flowed through every pore, blanketing my skin, but I managed to keep my mouth shut. Because what could I say in response? Paying for my past sins had been temporary. In a way, it was almost like I’d been rewarded with my godhood. It was something that had worn on me every day since I became…this. Something I wasn’t sure how to process myself.
Zeus’s smile was faint, as if he knew the reason why I stayed quiet. And maybe he did. “We could not allow a God Killer to exist, but obviously, at the end of the day, her mortal death didn’t stop anything.” He stepped forward, and I unfolded my arms, tensing. “You still became the God Killer.”
“That I did.”
“Are you not afraid of me?” he asked after a moment. “You do know that I can kill you.”
I held his gaze. Only absolute power could destroy absolute power. In the whole world, there were only three of us. Zeus. Cronus. Me. “And you know that I can kill you, so there has to be a damn good reason why you’ve decided to make an appearance after all this time.”
Zeus sneered as lightning struck, heating the sky. “You would not win a fight against me, boy.”
“Are you here to test that theory?”
For a moment, I thought Zeus just might do that. Fury poured into every line of his face. The air crackled with power and the threat of violence became a tangible being, but he seemed to suck it all back in.
A tense moment passed. “You only stand before me because we need you to entomb the remaining Titans. That is why I allow you to live.”
“Allow me to live? That’s cute. You know what I don’t understand? Why you don’t entomb them yourselves—you and the remaining Olympians. You’ve done it once before.”
“It took everything we had to entomb them, and that was with Ares’s help,” he answered. “It is too much of a risk now. If one of us were to fall, all would be lost.”
“So, I guess the demigods are just disposable then?” My hands curled into fists as I thought of Josie. “They’re cannon fodder. Who cares about them, right? As long as they get the job done. After all, that was what they were created for.”
“They must do what is necessary as we must to ensure they do not fail.”
I had no idea what that meant, and I had no clue where this damn conversation was going. “Why are you here? Is it because we just killed a hydra? That really wasn’t our fault. Can’t have that running around the mortal realm. If that’s not why you’re here, can you get to the point?” I smirked. “Because I am seriously trying to keep cool right now, but you’re really pushing every one of my piss-me-off buttons.”
“Of course I am,” he retorted. “It would not be hard. You allow your emotions to rule every action. You always have, but that must be stopped.”
Impatience sprung to life. What I wanted to do was get back to Josie. We had plans for today. Pretty fucking important plans. So, I didn’t want to stand here and be lectured by a god who for the last how many thousand years stood on the sidelines and watched the world burn. “I feel like I’ve had this conversation before and—”
“This is your I-don’t-give-a fuck face? Yes, you’ve had this conversation before, but it has not sunk through that thick skull of yours.”
“Well, now that was just rude.”
“You are a god now. You are capable of changing the course of this world and every life that exists with one simple act—an act you may not even think twice of. That kind of power comes with—”
“Great responsibility. Yeah, I know. I saw Spiderman.”
His jaw throbbed with irritation. “That kind of power comes with great consequence. Something you need to see for yourself.”
Zeus blinked out of existence and reappeared directly in front of me, clamping a hand on my shoulder. In a heartbeat, we were no longer standing in the alley near the Hotel Cecil.
The world came into focus as I shrugged off Zeus’s grasp. I opened my mouth, about to demand to know where in the hell he’d taken me, but anything I was about to say died on the tip of my tongue as I looked around and saw…
All I saw was absolute, utter destruction.
Buildings crumbling and burning, sunken into the scorched ground. What must’ve been a beach at one time, and all the structures near it, had been razed, leaving nothing but splintered debris. The air smelled of burnt wire and sewage, and the echo of screams clawed their way into my brain, digging in deep.
Scattered among the rubble and burning piles were broken…bodies. Dozens of them. Maybe even hundreds. They were strewn across the ground, as if they’d been picked up and thrown. Arms and legs poked out from the ruins of houses and businesses. Bodies stuck in bent palm trees. Others floated in water that was in places it shouldn’t be.
I stumbled back a step. “Gods.”
Zeus said nothing as he stared out over the destruction.
Horror robbed the air from my lungs as I turned, seeing a city behind me. It was a fiery hellscape. “What is this?”
“This used to be Long Beach. It is no more.”
I stepped forward, but found I couldn’t move any further. I couldn’t make sense of it, all the death and destruction. The air reeked with it. And I had seen some shit. I’d been responsible for some shit, but this…this was absolute, unbridled devastation.