I heard her startled gasp before I saw her. “Seth.”
Josie came into view a heartbeat before she threw herself on me. Folding my arms around her as I stumbled back a second, I buried my face in the crook of her neck and breathed deeply. Her smell. It was the lotion she used. Winterberries? Whatever it was, I loved it and right then I needed it to erase the scent of death. A shudder rolled through me.
“Hey,” she whispered, curling her hands through my hair. “You okay?”
Tightening my hold on her, I cleared my throat. “Yeah. I’m perfect now.”
She kissed the space just below my ear as she pulled back. Gently, she guided my head up. Then her eyes widened. “Why are you covered in dirt—wait, is that blood?” She leaned back. “Are you hurt?”
“No, babe. I’m not hurt. I’m—what the hell?” The rest of the room came into view. We weren’t alone. “What in the hell are you doing here?”
Colin whatever the hell his last name was sat on the couch in our room. Had to give it to the guy. He didn’t run out of the room in response. There was only a slight widening of his nostrils.
But man, I didn’t like that guy.
“Something happened while you were gone,” Josie answered, guiding my gaze back to hers. “A girl—a half—was killed. We were all together when she was found in the lobby.”
“Her neck was broken,” Colin added. “Alex and Aiden are with Marcus and some of the Guards. You just missed Luke.”
“He left to go find Deacon.” Josie stepped to the side, threading her arm around mine. “Deacon’s giving Cora a tour.”
“Cora came out of her room?”
Shit, what else happened while I was gone? “I’m guessing it was a pure who did it?”
Colin exhaled roughly. “Looks to be.”
Shit. Shoving the hair that had escaped the leather tie back from my face, I shook my head. These fucking pure-bloods. “Did you know her?”
“No. She was a new student. Started summer classes,” Colin answered, a muscle flexing along his jaw. “Completely screwed up. Gains her freedom. Comes here where she should be safe, and then she’s fucking murdered because she has less aether in her blood? Gods.”
There were a lot of things wrong in our world, but this was one of the worst. “No idea who did it?”
“I don’t think so. Apparently the cameras in the lobby were destroyed and no one noticed it, so there’s no video to check.” Josie glanced at my torn shirt and pressed her lips together. “She was just…dumped there, right by the furies. At their feet, actually.”
My brows lifted. That sounded almost like someone was taunting the gods.
“But there was something with her body,” Colin spoke up. “There was a mask—a bronze one. Typical Greek mask, but there was a symbol carved into it.”
Josie’s arm tightened around mine, and I had a bad feeling about this. “What kind of symbol?”
Colin took a deep breath, and I prepared for whatever fuckery was about to come out of his mouth. “It was Ares’s symbol.”
I really had no idea how Seth would take the news of Ares’s symbol being carved on a mask left with the body of a dead half-blood. And we hadn’t even told him what Deacon and Luke suspected about the yet to be retrieved demigod.
And I still had no idea why he was covered in dirt…and blood, but I could only focus on one issue at a time.
Seth stared at Colin with such intensity that for a second I feared he might cause the poor guy to spontaneously combust.
“Are you sure?” Seth asked, finally speaking in a voice that was unnervingly flat.
Colin nodded. “I know what the symbols look like. That was definitely Ares.”
A muscle along Seth’s jaw thrummed. “Ares is dead.”
“I know—we know that.” I squeezed his arm. “What we don’t know is why his symbol would be on this mask.”
Seth slipped free from my grasp. Walking to the small fridge in the dinette area, he grabbed a water. The back of him didn’t look any cleaner than the front. “Do you know why Ares’s symbol would be on that mask?” Colin asked, and I whipped toward him. “You spent time with him. I figure…”
Colin trailed off as I shot him a look of warning. He sat back, propping one ankle on his knee as he lifted his hands.
With his back to us, Seth took a long drink, finishing the bottle of water off in record time. “I did spend time with him. Not a lot, but enough.”
I tensed. Part of me wanted to tell him he didn’t have to go into this. His time spent with Ares was a dark shadow on Seth. It wasn’t a place I wanted him to go to, but I stayed quiet, because if Seth possibly knew why Ares’s symbol was on this creepy as hell mask, he needed to talk.
“Ares wanted…destruction. It wasn’t something I realized at first. To be honest, back then, I’m not sure if I would’ve cared or not. He wanted to see the mortal world burn, thinking by causing men to kill one another, it would be easier for him to take over Olympus.” Seth turned and leaned against the counter. “It was a shit plan, obviously, but we already know that.”
My fingers found their way to the ends of my hair. I started twisting the strands.
Seth tipped his head back. “In the beginning, I fell for Ares’s bullshit. That he wanted equality when it came to the halfs and pures. After all, that was how he got some of the halfs to side with him, but once he set things in motion, it became clear he viewed them the same way he did mortals. Less than. The pures who got close to him saw that. Many of the old-school leaders agreed. Council members. Some of them agreed so they wouldn’t be killed and others, well, they agreed because of decades of their own prejudices.”
He stretched his neck from left to right. “If Ares had won, he wouldn’t have just stopped with the mortals. He would’ve slaughtered the halfs, even those who helped him achieve victory. Those deaths would’ve given him the greatest pleasure, to watch their faith and trust turn to fear and hopelessness.”
Sickened, I sat on the couch. I had no idea what to say. Seth didn’t talk a lot about Ares, and I knew this couldn’t be easy. I wanted to go to him, but I sensed that right now he needed his space.
On the other hand, Colin knew what to say. “What a twisted fuck.”
I thought that summed things up quite nicely.
A smirk twisted Seth’s perfect lips as he met Colin’s gaze. “You don’t even know the half of it.”
Colin swallowed. “So, you think that whoever left that mask supported Ares?”
“I took out a lot of people who sided with Ares,” he replied dispassionately, and my heart squeezed. “Obviously, I wasn’t able to get all of them. Some of them are still out there.”
“So, it’s possible? That whoever is doing this could’ve been a supporter of Ares?” I asked.
Seth folded his arms. “Could be.”
“This isn’t an isolated event,” I pointed out, letting go of my hair as I twisted toward Colin. “Right? There have been multiple attacks.”
“There have.” Colin nodded. “A lot of them are resistant to change. Shit. Many of their families have lost all their servants and have to do their own shit now. No more free labor, so a lot of them are angry. But angry enough to kill? I don’t know. There could be more behind this.”
Seth was quiet for a moment, and then he said, “It’s entirely possible that one of his supporters is somehow goading these younger pures into this, or that some pissed off pure-blood is cherry-picking Ares’s beliefs to back what they’re doing.”
“Either way, we need to find out who is responsible here and stop them.” I saw the girl’s face in my head and I remembered everything else that had happened. “This has to stop. It’s not okay. It’s not something we can look away from and pretend it doesn’t involve us.”
Seth was still for a moment and then he nodded in agreement.
“Shit,” Colin repeated, and then he stood. “I need to find Marcus and fill him in. I’ll see you guys later.” Colin nodded at me and then Seth, who had no response other than to open the door before Colin had reached it.