- The Darkest Seduction
“Why didn’t you kill all the Lords, then?” Sienna asked. She knew he’d already considered that route. A being like him wouldn’t have been able to help himself. “Just to be safe.”
He moved two steps forward. Again the pictures danced into new locations. “The reason is here.” He stopped, as did the pictures. “Look.”
Frowning, Sienna obeyed. In this one, a young Cronus sat on a throne of solid gold, the Lords of the Underworld lined up behind him, expressions reverent and stances determined. They were clearly protecting him, guarding him with their very lives. So badly she wanted to reach out and trace her fingertips over Paris’s lips. How beautiful he was. How strong.
“This is my real future,” Cronus said. “Or rather, the one possibility I must ensure comes to pass.”
“The answer lies in the two warriors missing from this army.”
She gulped, studied every face. “Galen is missing. And…no one else.”
“Do you see the keeper of Wrath?”
“Of course. Aeron is right—”
“I do not speak of Aeron. He is no longer the demon’s keeper.”
“Me?” she squeaked.
“Yes. You are the key to this future, Sienna.”
Disbelief thrummed through her. “I don’t understand.” The angel had mentioned she would get her answers—and that she shouldn’t trust what she heard. Seemed like an eternity had passed since he’d issued the warning. She wasn’t sure what to believe, what to discard. “How am I the key?”
“Look closely at the bottom.”
She leaned over, gaze homing in on the portrait’s lower edge. Surrounded by a crowd of onlookers was a woman. Her profile was to Sienna, her skin freckled, her nose and cheeks and chin— Her eyes widened. Hers. Those features were hers. The woman’s hair was brown and wavy, just like hers, and black wings stretched from her robe. She stood beside a kneeling man who had his arms wrapped around her calves, holding on as if she were precious to him.
Galen, Sienna realized. He wasn’t missing from the painting after all.
“All those centuries ago, when my Eye spoke of my death, she also told me there was a way to save myself…or, to be precise, a woman who could help me do so. I looked for this woman around every corner. She never appeared, and I despaired.”
What came next was going to hurt, Sienna thought, straightening. Didn’t take a genius to figure that out.
“Eons passed, and I was imprisoned when the worthless Greeks conspired with my wife, whom they later betrayed. I knew I would escape, for that, too, had been foretold, though the Greeks were too foolish to believe. When I at last reclaimed my rightful place on the heavenly throne, I sought out the Lords, thinking to destroy them before they could destroy me.”
He paused, sighed. “But newly returned to power as I was, I did not like the idea of killing the Lords and freeing their demons, thereby having more enemies knocking at my door. More than that, I liked the idea of controlling Zeus’s warriors, of using the beings he created as my own personal errand boys as I searched for the one among them with the power to kill me.
“And oh, has that decision paid off. I have kept a close eye on their comings and goings and indeed, the Lords have proven surprisingly useful to me. That is why I know that the future you see before you in this painting, of me reigning in harmony with these warriors as my stalwart army, is already coming to pass.
“But still there is the matter of my predicted execution—and my predicted rescuer. Just when I had given up hope, you at last appeared, a woman who belonged to neither side of the war and yet also belonged to both sides. A woman who pledged her allegiance to Galen but whose interest had unmistakably been captured by Paris. A woman who had the power even in death to influence a warrior’s every thought and action.”
She could only shake her head.
“Oh, yes. He’s thought of you, only you, and that’s what brought you to my attention. I had never before noticed a human soul, but I had to know why he craved yours so very much. That’s when I discovered you were the one the Eye had foreseen. You look like the woman in the painting, and you have the same past as the woman I was told would save me. Both of those revelations can mean only one thing. You are to be my salvation.”
“I don’t care about your salvation,” she whispered.
“I know. But you care about Paris’s, and if Galen dies, so does he.” He waved his hand and another portrait appeared. In this one, Galen, Paris and a few other Lords lay in pieces on a blood-soaked floor. Her heart sank at the sight.
“And so we are back to your role as savior—mine, Paris’s, in the end it makes no difference, as either path leads you to Galen. You should thank me,” he went on. “I gave you Wrath. Made you strong enough to survive whatever the keeper of Hope chooses to do with you.” His gaze pierced her, a swirling black that increased the intensity of her dizziness. “Galen adores power, and you are to be his mate.”
“No.” A gasp, a plea.
Merciless, he continued. “Because of your demon, you will know those who lie to him, who befriend him when they truly hate him, and you will stop them before they are able to harm him.”
First sleep with him, and now protect him? “No! I hate him.”
“I did not say you had to love him to carry out your task. Merely think of the alternative if you do not carry it out. Paris dies.”
No. No, no, no. “What happened to learning Galen’s secrets and betraying him?” Fury sparked to life. “What happened to finding my sister? And why would you want me to stop others from harming him if he’s the man destined to kill you?”
Red flashed within the black of his eyes, scarlet pools of his own fury. “Let us say that I have my reasons, and my plans. So listen and listen well. There are but a few possible futures for me and thus, the world. The first is that I reign as king for eternity. The second, I am killed, which means my wife is killed. If we are both lost, chaos will become king and the Lords will die.” He twirled his finger and the portraits began their dance anew.
A new frame stopped beside her and she looked it over, her mouth going dry. Angels, so many angels, bloody tears raining down wings of white and gold. Men and women wearing togas fought each angelic warrior savagely.
And there on the ground at their feet were the Lords, bloody, broken…lifeless. She wanted to cry, to collapse.
“To answer your other question,” Cronus continued, “I do wish to know Galen’s secrets. I do wish for you to betray him. For this to occur, I need you to protect him, as well. As I said, I have my reasons and my plans, and by rights I should punish you for daring to question their logic.”
All she could think about was Paris’s death. Paris, dying. Paris, dead. Paris, gone forever.
Cronus added, “Before you think that my faithless wife had the right idea when she conspired to lock me away, before you think to put in place any plot that would result in finding a way for my wife alone to reign—” his voice went low, harsh “—know that if Rhea rules, your sister’s killer will control the fate of your world.”
Her head spun with even more disbelief, fury and dread. Cronus had just said…had just claimed… “But you told me she was alive,” Sienna croaked.
Was. Not “is.” Was. “And now?” Another croak.
Wrath chose that moment to get his slam on, and this time, he snarled. Something is wrong. I don’t like this.
His voice jolted her. He’d spoken to her before, of course, but usually he limited himself to words like punish, kill, heaven and hell.
Is he lying? As Zacharel had implied. Please, tell me he’s lying.
I don’t know. I don’t know anything right now.
A whimper slipped from her.
“I have done my research. Skye became a Hunter,” Cronus said. “Perhaps for the same reason you did—to right the wrong of her abduction. You could have met her, talked to her, and never have known it, for she was a child when you saw her last. Nor would she have known you. She eventually got out, but she was married to a Hunter. She was trying to get him out, as well. She…died with him.”
“No.” This was too much to take in. She couldn’t process it all.
“And when Rhea learned that you, my winged savior, were searching for the girl, she had her…” His gaze skittered away. “Rhea had her killed.”
Wrath released another snarl. Something is wrong.
“You’re lying. You have to be lying.” Sienna’s knees shook and she barely managed to remain upright. That she could have been so close to Skye and not even realized it…that now she would never have another chance… “Prove it. Prove she’s…that she’s…gone.” A lump of grief congealed in her throat. Her eyes burned, tears bubbling at the backs.
The air in front of her shimmered, crystallized, and then, as if she were looking through a magical peephole, she saw a bedroom, a black-haired girl sprawled on the floor, her throat slit, her body resting beside a man who’d clearly met a similar fate. A lake of crimson pooled around them, thick and black at the edges.
Sienna fought down her instinctive revulsion—how many gruesome images of those she cared for would she be forced to endure this day?—and pushed herself to think back. To the best of her recollection, she had not interacted with this girl during her time with the Hunters, but then, there were hundreds, if not thousands, of Hunter compounds and cells, and she’d never had access to the database of members.
“That’s not her,” she said with a violent shake of her head. “My Skye had blond hair.”
“So does this girl. You know the black is not her natural color. Her lashes prove this.”
Sienna made herself look closer. Long brown lashes framed dulled brown eyes.
Enna, when you grow up and get married, will you still love me? Brown lashes fluttering innocently as Skye awaited her answer.