“Early this morning, the Goddess of Many Futures showed me two possible outcomes for Legion,” Hades explained. “In one, she was abducted by Cronus. Which came as a surprise to me, considering Sienna had decapitated him.”
The explanation came with a ton of baggage to unpack. “What happened after the abduction? What happened in the second future?”
Hades drew his black brows together, his dark eyes like never-ending pits of fury. “First, tell me how Cronus survived his beheading.”
Do what’s needed. Get to Leila. He nodded to Fox.
She said, “After Cronus escaped Tartarus, he mystically cloned himself.” Tartarus, a prison for immortals. “The clone was programed to awaken upon his death, with a single mission. Find his soul in the afterlife.”
Made sense. Souls could leave the spirit realm, but only if they had a physical form to inhabit. Aeron was living proof it worked. The Most High—creator of Sent Ones, angels, and humans—gifted him with a new body after his beheading.
“You should have told us sooner.” Torin fronted on Galen, his hands balled, ready to swing.
Galen jutted his chin. “You can have a go at me after Aeron. Do me a solid and put a pause on your mantrum until Leilia is found.”
Once, Torin had been his closest friend. And okay, yeah, Galen had maybe kinda sorta had a man-crush on the guy. White hair, black brows, pale skin, and green eyes…strength and cunning…a sense of humor even more warped than his own…
Yeah, if ever Galen had gone for a male, it would have been this one. Over the centuries, Torin had always been the friend Galen missed most of all.
If he could go back …
No. He wouldn’t change a thing. If his past had been any different, he might not have become the man Leila needed. He would endure anything for her.
William buffed his nails, all casual sophistication. A deception. An inferno raged in his baby blues. “If you’re not coming up with ways to save Legion, do not speak. Yes, I’m talking to you, Torin. And Aeron. And everyone else. You do, and you’ll lose your tongue. I’m pressed for time. Got a group of nerds I vowed to kill if they failed to perform a few measly tasks.”
Whatever that meant.
Keeley jumped up and down, clapping. “Are you going to Hannibal Lecter them, like I suggested?”
Exasperated, William tossed up his arms. “Does no one listen when I issue a threat anymore?”
“I wasn’t finished. Did I sound like I was finished?” Hades held up his hand, palm out, and every other occupant went still and quiet. “The goddess showed me who to recruit for Legion’s search and rescue, as well as your arrival, and where we will find the girl.”
Galen darted around Torin, closing in on the H-bomb. Must proceed with caution. Considering the amount of power the underworld king wielded, and as weak as Galen currently was, he couldn’t afford to make a new enemy.
“Has Leila been hurt?” he demanded. “Do you know what’s being done to her? Tell me!”
“Tell me,” Aeron echoed, his voice broken at the edges.
Hades stroked the dark stubble on his stubborn jaw. “In one of the futures, she had bruises on her face, and a split lip. Whatever was done to her, she survived. In the other…she lost her head.”
Fear iced Legion on the inside, while frigid winds iced her on the outside. Full body shudders wracked her. Her teeth chattered, her stomach churned with a mix of broken glass and acid, her mind whirled with all the terrible things these men could do to her. But more than that, she worried over Galen.
Had he gotten help in time? Or had he…
No! She wouldn’t consider the alternative.
After Cronus and his army had dragged her out of the house, they’d taken her through a series of magical doorways. Not portals, not like Fox created, but smaller with a more turbulent pass-through experience; for just a second, as you stepped from one realm to another, rocks seemed to batter you.
Finally, they’d set up camp in a treacherous land with miles of snow broken up by the occasional ice mountain. Frost thickened the air. There was no sun, only a dark, angry sky thundering with displeasure.
The only source of light came from fire pits, where different animals roasted. Golden rays flickered here, there, chasing away shadows, but Legion wasn’t sure which was better. The darkness or the light.
Someone had tied her hands behind her back and secured one of her ankles to a wooden stake. The rope offered little range of motion. No one had hurt her—yet. No one had helped her either, or even given her a coat. She still wore her tank top and shorts, her feet “protected” only by a pair of thin socks and lightweight tennis shoes.
Again and again she wondered how this had happened. How had she become a second-time captive? Terrified of drawing attention to herself. Bound by the whims of an unscrupulous king. Helpless.
No, not helpless. Not helpless ever again! Especially not now, when Galen needed her. Galen, who had spent hours with her, reminding her of the combat skills she already possessed.
Fear is an anchor. Cut the anchor and soar.
Yeah, she’d go with Plan B. She scanned the camp. No one seemed to pay her any heed. Men bustled about, erecting tents and building more fires. No sign of Cronus. Legion turned her focus to the ground, searching for a possible weapon. Glittering icicles…more glittering icicles…there! A sharp one. She stretched out her leg, hooked the hunk of ice between her feet and dragged it closer.
After contorting this way and that, she was able to clasp the piece to saw at the rope. She had agreed to leave with Cronus, but she hadn’t agreed to stay put.
A shadow fell over her, and she tensed, her gaze zooming up. Cronus! His muscular frame eclipsed the firelight. “Time for us to get to work,” he said, crouching down so they were eye to eye. “I must warn you. My predecessor had a conscience. I do not. The true king needed to guarantee I would do whatever proved necessary to complete my mission.”
Mission? Still sawing, as stealthily as possible. “What secrets do you think I possess?”
He reached out to sift a lock of her hair between his fingers. “Once, you lived in hell. Now you are a demon-human hybrid, who spent time in Lucifer’s Palace of Infinite Horrors. You are the only person I know to escape and live.”
A barbed lump grew in her throat as she recoiled. The Palace of Infinite Horrors—the site of her torture.
“Whatever you know about the layout of the palace, I will find out,” Cronus continued, unconcerned by her emotional turmoil. “Even details you might not realize you possess.”
“I know nothing. I was”—she shuddered—“blindfolded a lot.”
“Doesn’t matter. The mind is a labyrinth of knowledge collected by your senses. Or a puzzle, with different pieces scattered about. I have only to fit them together. But. To extract the information I seek, I must establish a mystical link between us.”
Link… In other words, he must invade her mind. Rape her mind. “No!” She shook her head. “No, no, no.” A thousand times no. “I won’t let you do this.”
“I do not need your permission.” His tone was sharp enough to cut glass. “The more you resist, the more damage I’ll do. Don’t worry. You’ll hurt, but you’ll survive. Though you’ll wish otherwise. And if you wipe your memory, I’ll return to Galen and finish the job I started.”
Bluff! “You think I’d care? If I wipe my memory, I won’t remember him.”
He studied her more intently. “Do it, then. Wipe your memory.”
Argh! Sawing, sawing.
Satisfaction oozed from the bastard. “Let us begin.”
Sawing faster. The rope loosened just a bit, but not enough. Come on, come on. Fight!
He gripped her chin and commanded, “Look into my eyes.”
She squeezed her eyelids tightly closed, still sawing.
He tightened his grip, and she cried out. Or tried to. Someone knelt behind her, wrapped a beefy arm around her neck, and
constricted her airway. Though her chest burned, she resisted.
“Open your eyes,” Cronus said, cajoling, “and I’ll let you breathe. Won’t that be nice? Filling your lungs. Think how good it will feel.”
A finger brushed her knee, and her eyelids popped open automatically, without permission from her brain. Wait. Not a finger. Sips? Yes! The raccoon was here, in this frozen wasteland.
Had Galen and Fox come to her rescue?
Hope bloomed. Unless lack of oxygen had made her hallucinate? Need to breathe.
“Come now,” Cronus said. “Peer into my eyes, Legion.”
No. Never. But there was something about his voice…
Against her will, she slid her gaze to his…Look away, look away. Too late. His irises swirled hypnotically, snagging her as surely as a net. The hold on her throat loosened, and she inhaled deeply. Total relaxation poured over her, as warm as bath water, the frigid winds vanishing from her awareness. Cold, throbbing feet? No longer. Icy blood? No, oh no. Lava flowed through her veins.