Tipping my hips, I rolled Despair and sprang to my feet. Despair flopped on his back, legs flailing in the air. Pushing down the urge to vomit, I jumped on the seat of the chair. My weight sent the metal spokes down, piercing the protective plate of bone.
A second later the dog was nothing but a pile of shimmery, blue dust. Lifting my head, I whirled around. “One down…”
Hades let out a roar of fury that shook the shelves and sent overpriced items of every shape and size falling to the floor.
And then he vanished.
“Well, that was easy.” I flipped the blade, watching Solos dodge one of Death’s heads. “Did you see that? Hades totally just chicken—oh crap”
Shelves flew through the air, chairs and tables slid across the floor, flung aside by an unseen force. The floor shook under my feet as I backed up. That was about when I remembered that Hades could become invisible. Terror washed through me like a dark, oily wave of heat.
“No fair,” I said, and then whipped the sickle blade through what I hoped wasn’t empty space.
An invisible hand caught my arm and twisted. Crying out in pain and surprise, I dropped the sickle. Hades reappeared. “Sorry, luv, all is fair in war.”
A blinding light filled the store, followed by a popping sound. Then something zinged past my cheek. I caught a glimpse of silver before Hades released my arm and snatched an arrow out of the air.
“Artemis, that wasn’t very nice.” Hades snapped the arrow in two and tossed it aside. “You could take an eye out with one of those things.”
The soft feminine laugh that followed sounded like wind chimes. A few feet behind us, legs widespread and a silver bow in one hand, stood Artemis. Instead of the white chiffon many goddesses were known for, she wore straight-up combat boots and hot-pink camouflage pants. A white tank completed her badass ensemble.
She reached behind her, pulling another arrow from her quiver. “Back down, Hades.”
Hades’ lips thinned.
She placed the arrow on her bow. “You will not catch the next one, Hades. And you will not take her.”
I slowly backed away from the god smackdown-in-progress, having no idea why Artemis would come to my aid. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Death finally go down. I picked up my sickle blade.
Hades stepped forward, tile peeling and smoking under his boots. “Why are you intervening, Artemis? You know what will happen. All of us are at risk.”
“That is my twin’s lineage standing there and she belongs to us.” Artemis pulled the arrow back, tossing her waist-length blonde hair over her shoulder. “Which means she is my flesh and bone. So I will say it one more time just in case Persephone has befuddled that brain of yours—stand down’’
My mouth dropped opened. Apollo’s lineage? Oh no…oh, hell to the no…
“I do not care if she is the heir to the bloody throne, Artemis! We must prevent the First from gaining complete power!”
Artemis’ fingers twitched. “She is not to be harmed, Hades. That is it.”
An incredulous look settled over his darkly handsome face. “I would not harm her… not really. I could take her to the Underworld. It would not even hurt. Artemis, we cannot allow this threat to continue. Be reasonable.”
“And I cannot allow you to hurt her. It is not up for discussion.”
“So you would risk more destruction? Did you see what Poseidon did today? Or were you too busy hunting and playing with your consorts?”
Artemis smirked. “You really do not want to piss me off right now, Hades. Not when I have an arrow pointed between your eyes.”
He shook his head. “You know what Zeus will do if the First becomes the God Killer. You risk it all—the lives of our offspring and the mortals—and for what? Watered-down familial bonds?”
“We will risk it all for everything,” she responded quietly. “You know what the funny thing is about prophecies, uncle?”
“That they are always changing?” Hades sneered. “Or that they are nothing more than a load of rubbish?”
Any other time I would’ve clapped, but seeing that Hades wanted to kill me, I wasn’t about to celebrate our shared opinions when it came to the oracle.
Artemis cocked back her arm. “So be it.”
Fury rolled off Hades in swamping waves. Swallowing down rightful fear, I took a step back. I expected an all-out royal rumble between the two.
“I should never have allowed her soul to be released,” Hades spat. “Apollo promised me that it would never come to this.”
“There is still hope,” Artemis said.
Those words sparked something in me. There is still hope. Was there? I’d seen the look in Seth’s eyes, how far gone he’d been when he’d pulled the akasha from me and taken aim at the Council. Poseidon had leveled the Covenant, and there would be more that would go down. More innocent people would die. People that I loved would surely die—all to protect me.
I glanced back at the doors, seeing Aiden’s pale face beside Marcus’. I’d been created, like a pawn, to give Seth complete power. There was nothing that could be done about it. None of us could spend our lives hiding. It wouldn’t work. I would Awaken in little over a day. Seth would find me. And everything would be over.
Numbness crept through me as I turned back to the two gods and lowered the sickle. “Wait.” My voice came out barely a whisper, but everyone froze.
“No!” Deacon yelled, trying to get past Solos. “I know what she’s going to do! Alex, no!”
Tears sprang to my eyes as I took in his horrified expression. “I can’t… I can’t let what happened back there happen again.”
Deacon struggled against Solos, his eyes burning a fierce silver, like his brother, so much like him. “I don’t care. It’ll kill…” He swallowed, shaking his head. “You can’t do this, Alex.”
It would kill Aiden.
Hades clapped his hands together. “See. Even she understands.”
My heart cracked.
Artemis’ eyes widened. “Alexandria, please, I understand that the mortal part of you demands that you become a martyr, but you really need to shut up.”
“People are going to continue to die. And Seth will find me.” I pressed the button on the handle, and the blades collapsed. “I saw him. He’s…” I couldn’t finish. Saying that Seth was lost was too final and, in a way, it broke my heart.
Hades turned those eyes to me. They snapped with electricity. For a moment, I missed Apollo. At least he toned down those eyes around me, making them seem normal. Hades would do no such thing. “You are doing the right thing,” he cooed softly. “And I promise you, you will not feel a thing.” He held out his hand to me. “It will be easy, luv.”
The crack in my chest spread, and I blinked back tears. This wasn’t fair, but it was right. It would hurt Aiden—and Marcus and my friends—but it would also protect them. One day I hoped they’d understand. Over the pounding of my blood, I heard Solos yell for me. Slowly, I raised my hand.
“That is it,” Hades whispered. “Take my hand.”
Our fingers were only inches apart. I could feel their strange mix of heat and bone-chilling cold. I forced my mind empty. I couldn’t afford to think about what I was doing because I’d chicken out.
“Hades,” Artemis called out.
He turned slightly. “Stay—”
Artemis released the arrow and it struck where she’d intended—smack dab between Hades’ eyes. Then he just poofed—like Grandma Piperi had poofed in the garden the day she’d given me her last prophecy. The overwhelming scent of damp walls and caverns vanished, and the arrow clattered onto the linoleum.
I clamped my hand over my mouth to stop my scream. “Is… did you kill him?”
“No.” Artemis scoffed. “I just put him out of commission for a while.” She lowered the bow and flicked her wrist. The front doors swung open. Marcus and Aiden rushed in, coming to a halt when they spied Artemis. Neither of the pures seemed to know what to do.
Artemis replaced the arrow back in her quiver and gave Aiden a sexy little grin. “They just keep getting yummier,” she purred.
Too stunned to get jealous, I stared at her. “Why? He was right. I’m too much of a risk. I understand that.”
Artemis focused on me with all-white eyes. “My brother has not risked the wrath of Zeus to protect you, for you to just throw your life away.”
I tried to ignore the cyclone of fury building behind me. Dealing with Aiden was not something I was looking forward to. “I don’t get it. No one can hide me forever. Seth will find me, and then what? He’ll become the God Killer and another god is going to freak out and wipe out an entire city.”
Artemis glided toward me, her elegant movements completely at odds with her combat-princess attire. “Or you will turn the tables on the First and all those who think they can overthrow the gods.”
“What do you mean?” Marcus spoke, flushing a bright red when Artemis turned to him. He bowed deeply and then straightened. “How can Alexandria turn the tables? If Seth so much as lays a finger on her once she Awakens, he will become the God Killer.”
“Not necessarily,” she replied evenly.
I blinked rapidly. “Care to explain that?”
Artemis smiled. Impossibly, she became more beautiful… and creepier. “It is true that my brother… holds affection for you, but you are a valuable asset to us. Some wish to see you dead, it is true. Hades will be back… eventually, as will the remaining furies. But you will Awaken soon and you are strong—stronger than you realize.”
All my normal smartass responses would probably earn me an arrow in the head, so I had no idea what to say.
She stopped in front of me. When she reached out and clasped my chin with smooth, cold fingers, I wanted to flinch away. She tipped my head back. “You have a reckless sort of passion about you. It guides you. Some would see it as a weakness.”
“It’s not?” I whispered, unable to look away.
“No.” She studied me as if she could see into me, through me. “You have the eyes of a warrior.” Her hand dropped and she took a step back. “Prophecies always change, Alexandria. Nothing in our world is set in stone. And power never flows just one way. The key is finding a way to reverse it.”
Then she just disappeared.
I touched my chin. The skin tingled. Slowly, I turned to Aiden. “You should’ve seen those dogs.”
Aiden grabbed both my arms, his eyes like liquid silver. I could tell he wanted to shake me. He’d seen through the glass what I’d tried to do and Artemis had pretty much thrown me under the bus. As he stared at me, it was like he’d forgotten everyone else in the store, that my uncle was there, his brother, and Solos. He was that angry.
“Don’t you ever think about doing something so stupid again.”
I looked away. “I’m sorry—”
“I understand that you thought you were doing the right thing,” he said through clenched teeth. “But you weren’t, Alex. Sacrificing yourself was not the right thing to do. Do you understand me?”