Rage beat through him, harder than fists of iron. Whatever he had to do, he would find out.
With a roar, he ripped off his necklace and tossed it aside. “Cronus,” he shouted to the treetops. “Cronus! I command your presence.”
It was the truth, but he couldn’t stop the words. Didn’t want to stop the words. Immediately, his demon screamed and pain slammed into his chest. Pain that doubled him over. Pain that spread through every inch of him, turning his blood to acid and his bones to bubbling liquid.
Pain he deserved.
Soon he couldn’t move, could barely speak. But over and over, he called, “Cronus. Cronus. Come to me. I need you.”
An eternity seemed to pass, the rain finally dying, though the moon never broke through the clouds and the sun never appeared. Where was Scarlet? Had she made it someplace safe to await the coming morning? Probably. The girl was resourceful. Well able to take care of herself. Look at everything she had survived.
She was stronger than he was, that was for sure.
Gods, no wonder she was done with him. She had to hate him. Did hate him. The emotion had drenched her final goodbye. He didn’t blame her, either. Just then, he hated himself. He’d left his own child to die. His own child.
He should be beheaded.
The tears stared flowing again, and he squeezed his eyelids shut. Darling Steel, saddled with horns and fangs, even scales. The ever-fastidious gods and goddesses had probably made him feel ashamed of those features. Features Gideon would have loved and fawned over. Cherished.
Scarlet had been right about something else, too. At one time, Gideon had liked and respected Zeus. The former god king might have been selfish and power-hungry, but in his way, he’d been good to Gideon. Until the Pandora’s box fiasco. After that, the Greeks had ignored Gideon and his friends, and as time passed, Gideon had found contentment with his new life.
Not his wife and child, though. They never had. Zeus had never been good to them, and for that, Zeus would suffer.
I will destroy the bastard. Once, Gideon had done everything in his power to protect his king. And how had he been repaid? His greatest treasures were taken from him. I will avenge my son. My wife.
Pandora’s box be damned. Vengeance came first. Now. Always.
“Tsk, tsk,” a male voice suddenly said, the quiet sound exploding through Gideon’s head.
He pried open his eyelids.
Cronus crouched in front of him, disappointment shadowing his ever-more-youthful features. “You are a fool, letting yourself decline like this. And for what? A single moment of truth?” He sighed. “Why did you summon me? Again. I just spoke to Lucien and received my daily update. I do not require another.”
“Zeus,” Gideon gritted out. “I want him.”
Another bout of truth. Another bout of pain, fresh and searing.
Cronus blinked in surprise. “Why?”
“I want him,” Gideon repeated, panting. He would not discuss Steel with Cronus. If the god were to remember the boy, were to bad-mouth him in any way, Gideon would be out for his blood, as well, and right now he needed the king as an ally.
“No.” Unwavering, certain. “You cannot have him.”
Gideon clenched his jaw as his gaze fogged over. Fight this. “He’s your enemy. Let me slay him for you.” He was so used to speaking deceitfully, he should have stumbled over the truth. At the very least, he should have had to think about what to say. Yet he didn’t. The truth flowed from him, already a part of him. Zeus would die by his hand.
“Why would you want to?” Cronus asked, genuinely curious.
“The fact that he’s breathing offends me.”
Lies whimpered. More, please more. Stop, please stop.
The king’s expression hardened. “Only after he has endured thousands of years of confinement will he be allowed the sweet taste of death. If even then. And I will be the one to deliver it. Now, is that all you wished to discuss with me?”
If Cronus wouldn’t help him willingly, the king would just have to help him unintentionally. All Gideon needed was passage into Olympus. Or whatever Cronus was calling the place. From there, he could hike into Tartarus. He’d spent centuries doing so and still knew the way.
That was one thing he hadn’t forgotten.
“I want to go to the heavens.” Amid his demon’s renewed screams, he gritted his teeth. Gods, the pain. Any more, and he would finally pass out. Just a little longer, and then you can sleep. “Let me recuperate there, so that the Hunters won’t find me in this condition and hurt me.”
Finally, a lie. That didn’t ease his suffering; it was too late for that, but Lies did sigh with a kernel of relief.
“A boon, then? From me to you.”
Gideon nodded as best he was able.
“If I do this, you know you will owe me.”
Another nod. “I’ll do…anything you…want.” For Steel. And for Scarlet. And maybe, while he was sneaking his way into the prison and removing Zeus’s head, he could figure out what the fuck had happened to his memories.
“Very well.” Slowly Cronus grinned with satisfaction. “You may stay in the heavens until you have recovered. No longer, no shorter. And in return, I may call upon you at any time with my request for payment, and you must heed that request above all else.”
“Yes.” Another truth, more pain, more hissing.
The deal was struck.
As Gideon closed his eyes, the ground beneath him disappeared. After centuries of banishment, he would finally return to the heavens.
“THAT STUPID, stupid man. That pig. That jerk. That raging asshat!”
As Scarlet stomped through the forest, slapping tree trunks along the way, she called Gideon every vile name she could think of.“That shithead. That brainless caveman. That…father.”
She stilled, panting, sweating, palms stinging. He hadn’t known he was a father. She’d thrown the information at him, then left him to deal with it on his own. And too well did she know how impossible it was to deal on one’s own.
For months after Steel’s death, she’d done nothing but cry. She’d stopped eating, had even stopped speaking. Maybe, if she’d had someone there to care for her, to pick up the shattered pieces of her soul, she would have recuperated sooner.
Much as she hated—no, hate was too strong a word just then. And she didn’t know why. Still. Much as she disliked Gideon, she didn’t want him wallowing. He was in the middle of a war. He couldn’t afford to wallow.
One more night with him, Scarlet thought, hating herself. And it wasn’t too strong a word when directed at herself. She turned around and stalked back to Gideon’s camp. She’d heard him shouting to Cronus, the god king who had despised her all her life because she was the evidence of his wife’s betrayal. Evidence his peers could see.
Had Gideon thought to ask him for confirmation about Steel, like her word and pain weren’t good enough? Or had he been seeking vengeance against Zeus, as she once had?
If that was the case, she would have to stop him. The former sovereign suffered more locked away, his power taken from him, the knowledge that his greatest rival was controlling his throne a constant in his mind, than he ever would have suffered if she’d killed him.
Too quick. Too easy.
Still. She couldn’t leave Gideon alone. So she would stay with him for what remained of the night, comfort him as best she was able. Not that he deserved it, but hell, she’d always been a giver. But after this, she was done with him. For real this time.
Only, when she broke through the final wall of leaves, she saw that he’d already left the camp. So soon? She hadn’t heard him take a single step. Where the hell had he gone?
Scarlet spun, searching for any sign of him. All she found was a bag. Scowling, she stalked to it. Along the way, something hard, hot and thin hooked around her bare toe, and she stopped.
Her scowl became a frown of confusion and then irritation as she bent down and lifted…his butterfly necklace. Why had he left it? Because he was done with her and didn’t want to match her anymore?
She popped her jaw, removed her own necklace—how stupid she’d been to wear it—and clenched them both tightly in her fist. Metal crunched against metal.
“Rotten scum.” She drew in a deep breath and caught a whiff of godly majesty. It was like a cloying perfume, pungent enough to sting the nostrils. She’d endured that scent most of her life, and had been ecstatic to finally escape it when she’d left Tartarus.
Cronus had been here, she realized. Son of a bitch! Where had the king taken Gideon? Had the god hurt him or helped him?
She had to know. And there was only one way to find out…
“Mother!” she shouted. Gods. She’d sworn never to do this again. Leaving Gideon helpless to Cronus’s cruel whims was not an option, however. And yeah, maybe the two got along and Gideon was happy right now. She’d still do everything in her power to separate them.
Without a doubt, Cronus would try to poison Gideon against her. That shouldn’t have mattered since she planned to take off tomorrow, but some part of her couldn’t accept such an outcome.
Several minutes passed, but nothing happened.
“Gonna play difficult, are you?” she muttered. “Fine. So can I.”
First, though, she would prepare. Surely Gideon had a few weapons in that bag. She closed the rest of the distance and pulled the zipper. Inside she found T-shirts, jeans, sweatpants and yep, weapons. A semiautomatic, a few blades and an axe. Most surprising? An unopened packet of Skittles.
Scarlet quickly changed into a T-shirt and sweats. The sweats she had to roll at the waist and ankles, but at least they stayed on. Then she stashed the weapons all over her body. The necklaces she stuffed into one of the blade sheaths.
Now. Time to try again.
“Mother! Answer me or I swear I’ll find a way back into the heavens. I’ll move in with you. I’ll be your constant companion. You won’t be able to see anyone without my presence. You won’t be able to do anything without me by your side. Do you hear me? This is your last chance, Mother, before—”