Normal for a bunch of halfs and pures celebrating a birthday.
Okay. It wasn’t normal at all, but it was just my kind of abnormal.
Huddled around the table, we laughed as we shared cake and grape soda. Lea perked up a little, nibbling on the frosting. The boys continued to give me crap about not Awakening yet, which Aiden tried to put a stop to. It was cute watching him try not to be overly defensive or protective of me. Not like I needed him to, though I think it was just second nature to him. He was the same with Deacon… when Deacon wasn’t wielding a six-inch knife.
Toward the end of the birthday celebration, there was a distinctive pop! from the rec room. We all twisted around. I prayed the rune worked on the house, because there was definitely a god here.
Apollo strolled into the kitchen. The first thing I noticed was that his eyes were blue and not that creepy white. “How is my birthday girl?”
For some reason, I blushed to the roots of my hair. “Doing good, grandpa.”
He smirked as he slid into the seat beside me, easily prying the knife from Deacon’s fingers. “I do not look nearly old enough to be what I am to you.”
That was true. He looked like he was in his mid-twenties, which made it all the freakier. “So when were you going to tell me that you spawned me?”
“I did not spawn you. I spawned a demigod centuries ago who eventually spawned your mother.”
“Can you guys stop saying ‘spawn’?” asked Luke.
Apollo shrugged as he carved off an edge of the cake. He handed the knife back to an oddly subdued Deacon. “I did not find it necessary to tell you. It is not like I am going to be bouncing little Alex babies on my knee.”
The soda caught in my throat, and I almost spit it back up. Someone chuckled, and it sounded like Luke. “Yeah, that’s not going to happen.”
“My sister should have kept that to herself.” He took a bite of the cake, made a face, and then pushed his plate away. “Our familial tie is not what is important here.”
“You know what, guys?” Solos clapped his hands on Deacon and Luke’s shoulders. “I bet I can take you both at air hockey and make you call me mama.”
Luke snorted. “Not likely.”
Solos dragged the boys from the room, but Lea sat back in the chair and folded her arms. Her eyes dared anyone to tell her to leave. Now that was the Lea I was familiar with.
“Do you remember when you went to Marcus after Grandma Piperi passed on?” Apollo reached for the bottle of soda.
“Yes.” I handed him a cup, wondering where he was going with this. “Kind of hard to forget that day.”
“Humph.” He sniffed the top of the bottle, shrugged and then poured himself a small amount. “Well, then you should also realize that there is another oracle.”
I glanced at Marcus. He arched a brow as he leaned against the counter. “What does this oracle have to do with this?” he asked.
I thought of Kari. “But didn’t she pass on, too?” After a few strange looks, I explained. “I met her in the Underworld. She said she knew what was going to happen.”
Apollo nodded. “She had a few visions before her… departure. Probably had something to do with your own untimely visit to the Underworld. See, the thing about oracles is that they… own their visions. What they see is not seen by others and I can only see what the oracle tells me.” He lifted the plastic cup, took a tentative sip, and immediately made a face. Guess grape soda wasn’t his thing.
“It is part of how it all works—why we need an oracle at all, instead of me just knowing the future,” he continued, looking up at me. “Did she say anything to you while you were there?”
I shook my head. “Just that she knew she would meet me and… and that she knew how it ended. And knowing how it ends doesn’t really tell me what to do.”
Apollo grimaced. “Figures the dead oracle would know. And Hades is not about to let me go down and talk to her now, not after the thing with my sister. Prophecies are always changing. Nothing is set in stone.”
“Artemis said that.” Aiden sat beside Lea. “Has the prophecy changed?”
My patience was running thin. “So what’s going on, Apollo? Artemis said there was still hope and she mentioned something about the prophecy. Can you just, I don’t know, get to the point?”
“The new oracle has not had any visions, so the last is tied to the dead one. So all we have to work off of is what we know.” His lips quirked into a half-smile. “Some of us believe that you will be able to stop Seth. The prophecy—”
“I know what the prophecy says—one to save and one to destroy. I get that, but what I don’t get is why any of you would risk Seth going all Godzilla on you guys. Eliminating me does eliminate the problem.” I ignored Aiden’s dangerous look as I stood. “There’s something more to this. You know something else.”
“And you know the prophecy says there can only be one of you. There is no way around that.” Apollo leaned back, letting his arms drop over the back of his chair. “Do you really think all of this was Lucian’s idea? That he knew about you without anyone telling him? That he has gained as much support as he has based on his charm alone?”
I started pacing. “I wouldn’t give Lucian that much credit.”
“Good. Because he has had help, I am sure of it,” Apollo said. “Which means stopping Seth from becoming the God Killer does not fix the overall problem. The god behind this will just find another way to push Olympus to the brink of all-out war, and if that happens, it will spill into the mortal realm. What you saw Poseidon do? That will be nothing in comparison to what can happen.”
“That’s just great.” I was going to wear a path in the kitchen floor at the rate I was going. “Do you have an idea of who this god is?”
“There are many of us who like to cause discord and chaos for the fun of it.”
“Hermes,” Marcus said. All eyes turned to him. He raised his brows expectantly. “Hermes is known for creating mayhem and mischief—chaos.” No one said anything. Marcus shook his head. “Didn’t any of you pay attention in your Greek Legends class?”
“Getting Lucian to turn on the Council and the gods isn’t mischief,” Aiden said. “And why would Hermes want to do that? Isn’t he putting himself at risk from Seth?”
“Not if Hermes controls Lucian.” I stopped. A sick feeling crawled down my spine. “Lucian controls Seth… completely. He’d be safe.”
“Hermes has always been Zeus’ personal joke and punching bag.” Apollo stood and moved around the table. At the bay window, he grew pensive. “And as of late, Hermes has been… missing. I was unaware of this, because I was here so much. You see, we all come and go, never staying away from Olympus for too long.”
Marcus tensed. “Do you think it’s possible that Hermes has been around us?”
He looked over his shoulder at us. Strands of blond hair fell forward, shielding half his face. “Like I said before, if the other god made sure we did not cross paths, it is possible. Keep in mind, it may not be Hermes. It could be any of us. Whoever it is will need to be stopped.”
I stared at him, wondering how Apollo expected any of us to stop a god. Only Seth would be able to and he wasn’t playing for our team right now.
“How can she stop him?” Lea asked, her voice hoarse. “How can she stop Seth? Isn’t that the point of all of this?”
Apollo gave her a little smile. “That is the point. Alexandria would have to kill him once she Awakens.”
I COULDN’T HAVE HEARD HIM RIGHT. THERE WAS NO way. “What?”
Apollo turned back to the window. “You would have to kill him, Alexandria. As an Apollyon, you will be able to.”
The idea of killing Seth horrified and sickened me. There was no way I could do that. I ran my hand over my face, feeling nauseous. “I can’t do that.”
“You can’t?” Lea stared, her eyes glistening in the light. “He killed my sister, Alex! He killed those Council members.”
“I know, but it’s… it’s not his fault. Lucian has warped his mind.” And he’d hesitated before he took out the Council. I’d seen that. For a moment, the Seth I knew didn’t want to do it, but afterward… he’d looked thrilled. “It wasn’t his fault.”
And it sounded like I was trying to convince myself.
Lea’s lips thinned. “That doesn’t make what he did okay.”
“I know that, but…” But I couldn’t kill Seth. I sat in the chair heavily, staring at the remains of Spider-man. “There has to be another way.”
“I know a part of you cares for him,” Apollo said quietly. “You were… built to feel that way. A part of him is you and vice versa, but it is the only way.”
I met his eyes for a long second, and then Apollo looked away. A shadow passed over his face. A strange, almost-bad taste sprang up in the back of my mouth. “Is there another way, Apollo?”
“Does it matter?” Lea slammed her hands down on the table, causing me to jump. “He needs to die, Alex.”
“Lea,” Marcus said gently.
“No! I’m not going to shut up about this!” She shot to her feet, coming alive. “I know it doesn’t seem fair, Alex. But Seth killed those people—my sister. And that wasn’t fair.”
My throat closed up. Lea had a point. There was no arguing that, but she hadn’t seen what I’d seen… and she didn’t know Seth. Then again, maybe I didn’t even know him.
“And it sucks,” Lea continued. Her hands balled into fists that shook. “I even thought Seth was hot, but that was up until he incinerated my sister. You like him. That’s great. You’re a part of him. Awesome. But he killed people, Alex.”
“I understand that, Lea.” I looked around the room, my gaze settling on Aiden. “Everyone keeps saying there’s hope. Maybe we can save him. And Artemis mentioned something about power going both ways. Maybe there is something to that.”
Pain flickered in his silver eyes, and then I remembered his words and my own realization. Sometimes you have to know when to let hope go.
She sucked in a sharp breath as she clearly struggled to rein her anger and sorrow back in. “You loved your mom, right? You loved her even after she became a daimon.”
“Lea,” Aiden cut in sharply.
“But you knew she needed to… needed to be stopped,” she rushed on before Aiden could shut her up. “You loved her, but you did the right thing. How is this any different?”
I recoiled from the table. Her words were like a punch in the stomach, because they were true. How was this any different? I had done the right thing with my mom, so why was it so hard for me to understand why this needed to be done now?
“I think that’s enough for today,” Marcus interjected.