- The Darkest Lie
A little irritated, perhaps, but not upset. Good. “No. Not happy.” Every muscle in his body released its vise-grip on bone. “No, thank you.”
“Does this mean you’ve forgiven me for not telling you how to find Aeron’s spirit?”
No. Never. Rather than admit that to the king, however, he remained silent. Better silence than punishment. Even he was smart enough to know that. But the question explained the king’s sudden patient benevolence.
“What I did,” Cronus said, a little stiff now, “I did for your own good.”
Making Gideon beg and then denying him what he begged for had been for his own good? Yeah. Right.
“You are an immortal, not a god, so your understanding is limited. One day, however, you will thank me.” As the words echoed between them, Cronus’s nose wrinkled in disgust. “I cannot believe I’m explaining myself to you. It’s sickening, really, the way I must baby you. Where is the fearsome warrior I was told to expect?”
Gideon barely stopped himself from rolling his eyes. Baby him? Ha! “You are not a—”
“Watch your tongue, Lies.” Eyes of the darkest obsidian sharpened. How odd. Usually those eyes were the purest gold. “Otherwise, you’ll lose it.”
He gave a rigid nod. Perhaps he wasn’t so smart, after all.
“Better.” Cronus clicked under his tongue, clearly satisfied his charge had been properly subdued. “Now, I ask again. And for the final time. Why did you summon me?”
To demand your wife’s head on a dinner platter. No need for silver, either. Any metal will do. Not that he could say such a thing aloud. “Just so you know, your wife…she’s a real prize.” He braced himself, expecting immediate punishment. Though he couldn’t stop himself from reaching for a dagger. Instinct allowed nothing less.
“If you prize garbage,” the king replied dryly, “then, yes. We agree.”
A truth, even spoken in so disparaging a tone. Lies spat in distaste.
Gideon returned the dagger to its sheath. Astonishingly, he and the king were on the same page. “This isn’t the thing. I don’t suspect she’s watching our every move. I don’t suspect she’s having us followed. And I don’t suspect she’s sending humans to kill us.”
“I know. I’ve known for a while.” Again truth. Cronus pinched the bridge of his nose, a man at the end of his rope—without a blade. “Damned female. She’s always been more trouble than she’s worth.”
“How can we encourage her?” To stop, he silently added, wishing like hell he could just say what he wanted. “She’s not causing all kinds of grief, and she’s not going to have us murdered before we can save your ass from Gal.” Or rather, his head from Galen.
Danika, Reyes’s woman and the All-Seeing Eye, could do more than peer into heaven and hell. She could predict the future. She claimed Galen was going to behead Cronus. Which was the only reason Cronus was helping the Lords.
No, not true. There was another reason, one Gideon had only recently learned. Cronus was possessed by a demon. By Greed. Like Scarlet, he’d been a prisoner of Tartarus and one of the lucky few chosen to host the “extra.”
Back and forth Cronus paced in front of him, the power he emitted intensifying, crackling the air. “After what happened to your cohort Aeron, I had amulets made. One for each of you. When worn, they will prevent her from watching you.”
Truth. And wasn’t that just a little bit of awesome? “Don’t give me.” Now, now, now.
The pacing continued without pause. “Only problem is, they will prevent all gods from watching you.”
Meaning himself. Bastard had to have his fingers in everything. “Here’s an unworthy news flash. The cons far outweigh the pros. So, don’t give me,” he repeated, holding out his hand and waving his fingers.
A portion of his impatience stemmed from a desire to be hidden from the Powers That Be. Finally. But mostly, he just wanted to return to Scarlet. He didn’t like being away from her, he realized.
Still the pacing continued, even gaining speed. “Wait just a minute. If I do this, I’ll need daily reports. And if a single day passes without someone telling me what’s going on down there, I will personally raid your fortress and remove the amulets from around your necks. After I remove your heads.”
Gideon didn’t point out that taking their heads would free their demons, possibly sending the crazed fiends on a ferocious rampage, something even Cronus would be cursed for doing. Which was why the king had let the warriors live when he’d first assumed control of the heavens. Even though he’d desperately wanted to destroy them.
And it was weird, thinking of the king of kings as being curseable. But, yes, it could be done. Apparently, Cronus wasn’t the most powerful god in town. That honor belonged to the mysterious being who had saved Aeron’s life. The being that had long ago defeated even death. The “One True Deity,” Olivia called him.
Although, there was a chance Cronus wouldn’t be punished for freeing the demons from their hosts, for they now knew a new pairing could be made. That’s what had happened to his friend Baden’s demon, Distrust. A new pairing.
Baden was dead, and Distrust now resided inside a Hunter female. A female Gideon wasn’t sure he’d be able to kill, even if she had a dagger pressed to his throat. Not that he minded killing women. He’d done it before. Under Sabin’s leadership, it was kind of mandatory to treat females as equals. In all things, even war. What bothered him was that a part of Baden swam inside that woman’s body.
How could he play a role in his good friend’s second defeat?
“Lies! Are you listening to me? I asked if you understood.”
Wait. What? Gideon pulled himself from the dark mire of his thoughts. “Please don’t repeat yourself.”
Red suffused the god’s cheeks, and the color wasn’t from embarrassment. No, it was fury that decorated his expression. “I will not repeat myself. You will either give me the daily reports I demanded, or you will not receive those amulets. Do you—” black eyes blazed “—understand?”
The reports, the amulets. Of course. Was the temper tantrum really necessary?
“No, I don’t understand.”
Finally Cronus stilled, nostrils flaring as he tempered his breathing. His golden gaze locked on Gideon. Gold again, he realized. Why the continual change?
“Very well.” Cronus held out his hand, empty palm up. Azure lights sparked, pinpricks that dotted the endless expanse of white, before something began to crystallize against his skin. Two somethings, actually.
Gideon leaned forward for a closer look. He saw two silver chains, both with a butterfly dangling from the center. Studded throughout those jagged wings were small rubies, sapphires, a piece of onyx, ivory and even an opal. Each jewel or stone seemed alive, swirling with an inner fire he usually saw only in his dreams.
Pretty, but… “I’m gonna look so manly.” The words were out before he could stop them.
A growl escaped the king, far more menacing than any that had come before. “Is that a complaint, Lies? Because I can—”
“Yes, yes. No apologies. I don’t want them.” He snatched the necklaces before they could be taken away and anchored one around his neck. The metal was hot—hot enough to blister his skin—but he didn’t remove it. The other he stuffed into his pocket. Somehow, he would trick Scarlet into wearing it. “What about my enemies?” My friends.
“I’ll visit the fortress and hand them out.”
Truth. How accommodating the usually morose god was being. There had to be a reason, one that didn’t bode well for Gideon. Still. He’d take what he could get. “No, thanks,” he said again.
“If that’s all—”
“Don’t wait.” The king had given him an opening, intentionally or not, and he jumped on it. “Scarlet didn’t tell me that we were wed and I wasn’t wondering if—”
“Scarlet?” The gold once again disappeared from his eyes, the obsidian like a living entity. “Rhea’s daughter?”
Gideon blinked. She was Rhea’s daughter? She was a fucking royal princess? Did that mean… “Are you not her father?” he croaked out. That might explain their matching black gazes.
“No!” So much disgust poured from that single word, Gideon could have drowned in it. “Never speak such a blasphemy again or I will unleash a torrent of suffering the likes of which you’ve never known.”
Why the disgust? Why the warning? She was a beautiful, intelligent, brave female, damn it, and the bastard should be proud to call her daughter. Gideon’s hands fisted, even as he told himself he wasn’t angry. He was relieved that Cronus wasn’t his father-in-law. Possible father-in-law, he hastily added.
Sabin’s wife was Galen’s daughter, and Gideon had seen the problems that little family connection had caused. No, thanks.
“Her father was mortal, and her mother is a whore,” Cronus continued, the disgust far from waning. “That’s who’s in your vehicle? Seems I haven’t been paying enough attention to you lately, Lies. I knew you had the girl in your dungeon, but had not realized you had taken her out. Without my permission. I should punish you.” Again, truth. Careful.
She’s not mine, his demon suddenly piped up. A warning to the king. One Cronus couldn’t hear, thankfully.
Not now. Don’t push. “No apologies, Great One.” That he wasn’t bombarded with pain for the “great one” comment shocked him. Cronus had to know he meant the words as an insult. “As I wasn’t saying, she didn’t tell me that we’re wed. Something I remember. I didn’t want to trick her into thinking I was softening toward her so that she would tell me more. And I didn’t plan to return her to the dungeon once I had those answers.”
“Wed? You and Scarlet?” Cronus frowned, head tilting to the side as he pondered. “Everyone knew she was interested in you the first moment she saw you, but there was no hint that the two of you were seeing each other. Much less willing to wed each other.” She’d always been interested in him? Suddenly he wanted to puff out his chest and bang on it like a damned gorilla. She liked the look of him, and always had. Despite her purported adoration of blonds. Thank the gods.