Seth glanced over his shoulder at me as Leon opened the door. Darkness had already started to fall, but the shadow that crept over Seth’s face was no product of the night.
I tried to build up the wall around me.
And I failed.
I WAS EXHAUSTED BY THE TIME I DROPPED INTO THE seat furthest from Marcus’ desk. Those stairs had been a bitch, but I was grateful that I hadn’t been expected to walk to the adjoining island where Lucian lived. I didn’t believe I’d have made it. All I wanted to do was curl up and go to bed—go anywhere other than this brightly-lit room.
“Where is everyone?” Seth asked, standing behind me. His hands rested on the back of the chair, but his fingers, shielded by my hair, were pressed into my back. “I thought time was of the essence.”
Leon looked smug. “I must have mistaken the time.”
A tired smile tugged at my lips as I pulled my legs up, tucking them under me. Like I said, Leon was the King of Impeccable Timing. Maybe I’d get a nap before everyone showed up. I closed my eyes, scarcely paying attention to Leon and Seth trying to outsnark one another.
“Most training doesn’t occur in a dorm room,” Leon said. “Or have they drastically changed methods?”
Snark point two to Leon.
“The kind of training that we have to do is unconventional.” Seth paused and I knew he had that horrible smile on his face. The one I’d wanted to drop-kick off so many times. “Not that a Sentinel would fully understand the amount of effort that goes into preparing an Apollyon.”
Snark point three to Seth.
I yawned as I scooted down in the chair, resting my cheek on the back of the chair.
“Is something wrong, Alexandria?” Leon asked. “You look awfully pale.”
“She’s fine,” Seth answered. “Our training was rather… exhausting. You know, there’s a lot of moving around. Sweating, thrus—”
“Seth,” I snapped, reluctantly handing over snark points four, five, and six to him.
Thankfully, the doors to Marcus’ office opened and an entourage of people entered. First was my pure-blood uncle, the Dean of the Covenant in North Carolina. Behind him was my pure-blood stepfather Lucian, the Minister of the North Carolina Covenant. He was in his ridiculous white robes, his stark black hair hanging down his back, secured in a leather thong. He was a handsome man, but there was always a level of coldness and fakeness to him no matter how warm his words might be. He was flanked by four of his Guards, as if he expected a fleet of daimons to jump on him and suck out all his aether. I suppose, given the recent events, he couldn’t be too careful. And behind them were Guard Linard and Aiden.
I averted my eyes and prayed Seth actually kept his mouth shut.
Marcus glanced at me as he sat behind his desk, brows rising curiously. “Are we keeping you from a nap, Alexandria?”
No, how are you? or good to see you alive. Yeah, he loved me lots.
Leon retreated to the corner, folding his arms. “They were training,” he paused, “in her room.”
I wanted to die.
Marcus frowned, but Lucian—oh, dear Lucian—had a typical response. Sitting down in one of the chairs across from Marcus, he spread out his robes and laughed. “It is expected. They are young and drawn to one another. You cannot fault them for seeking privacy.”
I couldn’t help it. My eyes found Aiden. He stood beside Leon and Linard, his gaze flitting over the room, stopping and lingering on me before passing on. I let go of the breath I’d been holding and focused on my uncle.
Marcus’ eyes were like emerald jewels, just like my mother’s, but harder. “Fated or not, the rules of the Covenant still apply to them, Minister. And from what I’ve heard, Seth has a hard time remaining in his own room at your house during the night.”
This seriously couldn’t get any more embarrassing.
Seth leaned over the back of my chair and lowering his head. He whispered in my ear. “I think we’ve been found out.”
There was no way Aiden could’ve heard Seth, but anger rolled off him in waves, so much so that Seth tipped his head up, met Aiden’s stare, and smiled.
I’d had it. Sitting up straight, I knocked Seth’s arm off the back of my chair. “Is this why we’re having a meeting? Because, seriously, I could really use a nap instead.”
Marcus eyed me coolly. “Actually, we are here to discuss the events at the Council.”
Ice drenched my stomach. I tried to keep my face blank, but my eyes darted to Aiden. He didn’t look too concerned. In fact, he was still eyeballing Seth.
“There are several things that we have discovered regarding our trip,” Lucian said.
Marcus nodded, his fingers forming a steeple under his chin. “The daimon attack is one of them. I know that some have been able to plan attacks.”
My mother had been one of them. She’d been behind the attack on Lake Lure during the summer, the very first proof some daimons could form cohesive plans.
“But that type of large-scale attack is… it’s unheard of,” Marcus continued, glancing at me. “I know… I know your mother had insinuated that such was coming, but to pull something off of that kind of nature seems improbable.”
Aiden cocked his head to the side. “What are you saying?”
“I think they had help.”
My heart tripped up. “From the inside—from a half or a pure?”
Lucian huffed. “That is absurd.”
“I do not think that is entirely out of the question,” Leon said, eyes narrowing upon the Minister.
“No half or pure would willingly assist a daimon.” Lucian folded his hands.
“It may not be willingly, Minister. The pure or half may’ve been coerced,” Marcus continued, and where I should’ve felt relief, something ugly still sat inside me. What if someone had actually let them in past the gates?
No. No way could that have happened. If Marcus’ suspicions were right, it had to be under duress.
Marcus glanced at me. “It’s something we need to keep in mind for Alexandria’s safety. The daimons were there for her. They could try it again. Capture a half or pure Guard or Sentinel, have them lead the daimons right to her. It is something to be aware of.”
I grew very still and I imagined so did Seth and Aiden. The daimons hadn’t been after me. It’d been a lie that we told so that I could leave the Catskills immediately after… after I’d killed the pure-blood Guard.
“I agree.” Aiden’s voice was remarkably even. “They could make another attempt.”
“Speaking of her safety,” Lucian twisted in his seat toward me. “Minister Telly’s intentions were painfully clear, and if I’d been aware of what he’d planned, I never would have agreed to the Council session. My utmost priority is to see that you remain safe, Alexandria.”
I shifted uncomfortably. Growing up, Lucian hadn’t even pretended to care about me. But since I’d returned to the Covenant at the end of May, he’d acted like I was his long-lost daughter. He didn’t fool me. If I weren’t the second coming of the Apollyon, he wouldn’t be sitting here right now. Who was I kidding? I’d probably have been eaten by daimons in Atlanta.
His eyes met mine. I’d never liked his eyes. They were an unnatural black—the color of obsidian and cold. Up close, there didn’t seem to be any pupils. “I’m afraid that Minister Telly may have been behind the compulsion and the unsavory act of giving you that drink.”
I suspected as much, but to hear him say it left me queasy. As the Head of all the Ministers, Telly exerted a lot of control. If it hadn’t been for Minister Diana Elders’ vote, I would’ve been cast into slavery.
“Do you think he will attempt something else?” Aiden’s deep, melodic voice was hard not to respond to.
Lucian shook his head. “I would like to say no, but I fear that he will attempt something again. The best we can do at this point is to ensure that Alexandria stays out of trouble and does not give the Head Minister any excuse to place her into servitude.”
Several pairs of eyes landed on me. I smothered another yawn and tipped my chin up. “I’ll try not to do anything crazy.”
Marcus arched a brow. “That would be a nice change.”
I glared at him, rubbing my left palm over my bent knee. The skin still felt weird and tingly.
“Isn’t there a more proactive method?” Seth asked, leaning on my chair. “I think we all can agree that Telly will try something again. He doesn’t want Alex to Awaken. He’s afraid of us.”
“Afraid of you,” I muttered, then yawned again.
Seth tipped my chair back in response, causing me to grasp the arms. He grinned at me, which was so at odds with his next words. “He almost had Alex. He was one vote shy of servitude. Who says he won’t build some trumped-up charge against her and sway their votes in his favor?”
“Diana will never compromise her position to serve Telly’s wishes,” Marcus said.
“Whoa. On a first name basis?” I said.
Marcus ignored my comment. “What do you suggest, Seth?”
Seth pushed off the back of my chair and moved to stand beside me. “How about removing him from his position? Then he has no power.”
Lucian watched Seth with an approving look in his eyes and I’d swear Seth beamed. Almost like he’d brought home his report card with all A’s on it and was about to get a pat on the head. Weird. Weird and extraordinarily creepy.
“Are you suggesting a political coup? That we rebel against the Head Minister?” Marcus turned his disbelief on Lucian. “And you have no response to this?”
“I would never want to stoop to something so distasteful, but Head Minister Telly is rooted in the old ways. You know that he wants nothing more than to see us regress as a society,” Lucian replied smoothly. “He will go to great extremes to protect his beliefs.”
“What are his beliefs, exactly?” I asked. The leather made unattractive squishing noises as I sank back in the seat.
“Telly would love to see us no longer intermingling with mortals. If he had his way, we’d do nothing but dedicate ourselves to worshipping the gods.” Lucian smoothed a pale hand over his robes. “He feels it is the Council’s duty to protect Olympus instead of leading our kind into the future and stepping into our rightful place.”
“And he sees us as a threat to the gods,” Seth said, crossing his arms. “He knows he can’t come after me, but Alex is vulnerable until she Awakens. Something has to be done about him.”
I made a face. “I’m not vulnerable.”
“But you are,” Aiden’s eyes were gunmetal gray when they settled on me. “If Head Minister Telly truly fears that Seth will be a threat down the road, then he will seek to take you out of the equation. He has the power to do so.”
“I understand that, but Seth isn’t going to go crazy on the Council. He’s not going to try to take over the world once I Awaken.” I glanced at him. “Right?”