Finding safe ground, I nodded. “Telly had this symbol tattooed on his arm.” I pointed at the torch, careful not to touch him. “And so does Romvi—who, by the way, still hates my guts, in case you’re wondering. And I remembered in the section that talked about the Apollyon, it mentioned that Thanatos killed Solaris and the First. Maybe this Order business is still going on and they have something to do with what… what happened in the Catskills.”
The hand beside the book curled into a fist, but Aiden didn’t look up. “As far as I know the Order doesn’t exist anymore, but you never know.”
“Maybe this can tell us something? But I can’t read it.”
He smiled briefly. “Give me a few minutes. Reading this isn’t exactly easy.”
“Okay.” Beyond the crack in the door, the library was dark and silent. There was no way I was going out there. I pulled out a notebook and pen. “I’ll… pretend to study or something.”
Aiden chuckled. “You do that.”
I smiled as I started doodling on a blank page of notebook paper. It was hard, because his knee was still touching mine, and it may have been my imagination, but we seemed to be getting closer. His entire lower leg was against mine.
While Aiden read, I sketched a really bad version of the Apollo and Daphne statue outside. Several times, Aiden glanced over and made comments about the drawing. He offered to pay for art classes at one point. I punched him in the arm for that.
Giving up on my masterpiece, I checked to see what page he was on. As I stared at the symbol on each page, I felt a tightening in my throat. Instead of thinking about Telly or Romvi, I thought of the pure I’d killed in the Catskills. Leaning back in the chair, I rubbed my hands over my thighs. The feel of shoving a blade into a pure was much different than shoving one into a daimon, even a half daimon.
There were always choices, and once again, I’d made the wrong decision. Actually, I’d made a string of bad decisions over a short period of time, but that one kind of took the cake. I could’ve disarmed the pure-blood Guard. I could’ve done something other than what I had done. I’d killed him and still didn’t even know his name.
“Hey,” Aiden said softly. “Are you okay?”
“Yep.” I lifted my head, forcing a smile. “Find anything out yet?”
He was watching me intently. I could feel it, even after I returned to staring at my hands. “Just why the Order was established,” he said. “It appears that they were created by us—the pure-bloods—as an organization to keep the old ways alive and to protect the gods. And it looks like even a few chosen half-bloods were initiated into the Order.”
“Great.” I smoothed my hands over the table. “Do the gods need protection?”
“It doesn’t seem to be in the way you’d think, but more like protecting their existence from mortals and those who might be a threat to the gods.” Aiden turned back to the book, flipping several chapters ahead. “It does say the members are marked, which would explain the tattoo if they do belong to the Order. But there is something else.”
“What?” I glanced at him. “What is it?”
He took a deep breath and slid the book toward me. “We’ve all misread it. Understandable since it’s how it’s phrased. Look at this.”
Aiden was pointing at the section on the Apollyon. “‘The reaction from the gods, particularly the Order of Thanatos, was swift and righteous. Both Apollyons were executed without trial‘.”
I sat back, understanding sinking in. “It wasn’t Thanatos who killed them, but the Order of Thanatos.”
Aiden nodded as he turned back to the section on the Order. “That’s what it looks like.”
“But how? Both Solaris and the First would had been fully Awakened. The way Seth talks, once that happens we become indestructible.”
He shook his head. “The Order is very mystical, or at least, that’s how it reads in this section.” He tapped his finger on something that looked like chicken scratch to me. “The Order is said to be ‘the eyes and the hand of Thanatos.‘ There’s something here about the Order being gifted with ‘daggers dipped in the blood of the Titans.’”
“Daggers dipped in the blood of the Titans? Like, literally? Is the Apollyon somehow allergic to Titan blood?” I shook my head. “What I don’t get is, if the gods and the Apollyon can both use akasha, then why would the gods—Thanatos—need anyone else to kill the Apollyon? They could just use akasha.”
“I don’t know,” he said, looking at me. His eyes were gunmetal gray. “And I have a hard time believing that Seth wouldn’t know, either. Didn’t he tell you that, once you Awaken, the knowledge of the previous Apollyons will pass on to you?”
“Yeah, he did. Seth would have to know.” An uncomfortable feeling clawed for my attention as I rested my chin on my palm. If Seth knew everything that the previous Apollyons knew, then wouldn’t one of them, in all these years, have figured out that they were a product of a union between a pure and a half? And wouldn’t one of the Apollyons have to know about the Order, especially if the lives of Solaris and the First had passed to Seth during his Awakening?
“What is it?” Aiden asked quietly.
Anger stirred, poking at the cord. “I don’t think Seth is being completely honest with me.”
Aiden didn’t respond.
I drew in a deep breath. “I don’t understand why he would lie about this. Maybe… maybe he just never put two and two together.” That sounded lame even to me, but my brain had a hard time accepting that Seth could be hiding something like this. Why would he?
A few moments passed before Aiden spoke. “Alex, if the Order does exist today, then they could be behind the attacks in the Catskills. And if they are the eyes and hand of Thanatos, they’ve pegged you as a threat.”
I thought about what the furie had said before she’d tried to rip my head off—that I was a threat and it wasn’t anything personal. But trying to kill me was very personal. “Do you think the furies were there because of the daimon attack, or because… of me?”
“They didn’t react until the daimon attack.”
Rubbing my temples, I closed my eyes. This was all giving me a headache. “There are just so many things that don’t add up—the Order, the furies, Seth. Why did they go after me instead of him?”
Aiden closed the book. “I need to tell Marcus about this. If the Order is still alive and well, then this is serious. And if Telly is a member, then we need to be careful.”
I nodded, prying my eyes open. I could feel his gaze on me again. “Okay.”
“And I don’t want you going to Romvi’s class anymore,” he continued. “I’ll talk to Marcus and I’m sure he’ll agree with that.”
“That shouldn’t be hard. Tomorrow is the last day of classes before break, so I’ll skip.” I shivered. “Do you think the ‘eyes of Thanatos’ part is something literal? And daggers actually dipped in real honest-to-gods Titan blood?”
“Knowing the gods, I’d go with ayes.” There was a pause, and Aiden reached over, capturing my chin with the tips of his fingers. He slowly turned my head toward him. “What are you not telling me, Alex?”
A frisson of heat shot through me. “Nothing,” I whispered, and tried to turn my head, but he kept me still.
“You know you can tell me anything, right? And I know there is something you’re keeping from me.”
Seth’s warning to keep the Apollyon marks quiet was overwhelmed by the desire to tell someone what was happening. And who better to tell than Aiden? He was the one person in this world that I trusted, especially considering how much he’d risked to keep me safe. Seth wouldn’t be happy if he knew, but then again, I wasn’t particularly happy with Seth at the moment.
“It’s happening,” I said finally.
Aiden’s eyes searched mine. “What’s happening?”
“This—the freaky stuff.” I lifted my hands, palms up. His gaze dropped without releasing my chin, and when his eyes met mine again, they were questioning. “I’ve started getting the marks of the Apollyon. You can’t see them, but they’re there, on both of my palms. And there’s one on my stomach.”
He seemed taken aback by this, releasing my chin but not moving away. “When did this start happening?”
I looked away. “The first happened while we were in the Catskills. Seth and I were training one day and I got mad. Somehow, I blew up a rock and then the next thing I know there was this cord coming from Seth and I got a rune.”
“Why didn’t you tell me?”
“Well, we really weren’t getting along then and you were busy. And Seth asked me not to say anything until we knew what was going on.” Sighing, I told him about the rest of the times and how I’d seen my own cord. Displeasure rolled off Aiden by the time I finished telling him. “It happens when we’re… touching sometimes. Seth thinks that, if I get the fourth mark on the back of my neck, then I’ll Awaken. Maybe ahead of schedule, and he’s all thrilled by that prospect.”
“Alex,” he breathed unsteadily.
“Yeah, I know. I’m a huge freak even by Apollyon standards.” I laughed. “I don’t want the fourth mark. You know, I’d kind of like to ride out the rest of being seventeen and not be the Apollyon. But Seth is all like, ‘this would be the best thing ever’.”
“Best thing for who?” he asked quietly. “You or Seth?”
I laughed again, but my weird humor dried up when I recalled how I suspected Seth of doing the rune things on purpose.
“Seth says it would be best for me because I’d be stronger, but I think he’s… I think he’s jonesing for a power boost. Reminds me of Super Mario Brothers power up or something, because I can feel it—akasha—going from me to…” My mouth dropped open. “Son of a bitch.”
“What?” Aiden frowned.
My stomach rolled. “The second time I got a mark, I was exhausted for days.” I sat up straighter, staring at Aiden as it clicked into place. “Remember the night we all met in Marcus’ office? Another rune had appeared right before then and that time had been different than any other time.” I felt heat crawl over my cheeks as I remembered how much I’d been down with the whole thing while it was happening. “Anyway, I was really tired and just off after that for days.”
Aiden nodded. “I remember. You were pretty crabby.”
My crabbiness had led to the sensory deprivation room… and Aiden’s whispered fear. “Well, you didn’t get it as bad as Seth. I threw a sub at him.”
He was trying to fight a smile, but his eyes lightened. “He probably deserved it.”
“He did, but gods, is that what’s going to happen when I Awaken?” Dread traced icy fingers over my skin. “He’s going to drain me. I don’t even think he realizes that.”