In that moment, she regretted not bringing Galen. They could have done this together, could have fought side by side. They could have protected each other. She’d just…she’d wanted to prove she could do this on her own.
“I asked you a question. Do not make me ask again,” Cronus spat, backhanding her.
Pain exploded through her head, and blood filled her mouth, coating her tongue with the taste of old pennies. He wore spiked rings. At least he hadn’t stabbed her. Two short swords were strapped to his back. He even had garrote wire wrapped around his wrist, and two daggers sheathed at his waist. Also a dagger at each ankle.
Galen liked to weapon-up in a similar manner. Had the clone copied him?
Here goes. She spit out the blood and did her best to make her voice weak. “I needed to speak with you. You hurt Galen so bad…so bad. He hasn’t recovered. If I give you what you want, will you leave him alone? Please.” Too much? “You don’t have to search my memories. I’ll tell you everything I remember. Just leave Galen alone, okay?”
Cronus smiled with cold calculation, the very reaction she’d craved. “What’s to stop me from taking what I want, hmm?”
“Honor? Integrity? Actually, you can’t read my thoughts.” False Hope had taught her well. How to use the power of suggestion. How temptation and greed could be roused in men, immortals and mortals alike. How to build someone up…then tear them down. “I have shields now. Good ones.” Truth. She’d worked with Keeley. But she had no desire to use those shields.
The king drummed his fingers together, and she knew she was close to hooking him. “If I want in, you won’t be able to keep me out.”
“You’re wrong?” She posed the words as a question rather than a statement. Pretending to be afraid, she stood, as if she meant to run. The guards stationed at her sides pushed her back down with enough force to rattle her brain against her skull. For that, they’ll die with their king. “I can keep you out. And I will. Unless you agree to my deal.”
Don’t agree, Cronus. Come on. Force your way in…
He slid to the edge of the throne and leaned toward her, his eyes narrowed. Well and truly hooked now.
Triumph flared, reminding her of the glory days, when torture had been the only item on her To Do list. Shouldn’t smile.
“Look at me,” he commanded, placing his hands on her temples.
“Not until you agree to my terms.”
“Look,” he grated.
Again, she pretended to be afraid. Slowly, she slid her gaze to his. As soon as their eyes met, fingers began to crawl through her mind, sorting through her thoughts. She offered no resistance, her memories his for the taking. And take he did.
“You have no shields,” he murmured, smug. Triumphant.
Her insincere cries for mercy only encouraged him. When he found what he was looking for—the Palace of Infinite Horrors—she almost laughed. She gave him full access to the memories—and all the emotions that came with them. The fear. The humiliation. The degradation. The pain. The helplessness. The desire to die.
He jerked his hands away from her, severing contact. Too little, too late. Powerful emotions couldn’t be wished away. With a groan, he pulled at hanks of his hair.
“Enjoy the memories with my compliments,” she said, and rammed her fist into his nose.
Cartilage snapped and blood spurted, his next groan replaced by a bellow. She wasted no time, clasping the hilts of his daggers and stabbing him in the throat. A quick jab, jab, jab. More blood. Warm wet splattered over her face and hands, but she didn’t slow. She hacked through skin, muscle, and tendon until his head held on by a single thread of tissue—then she cut that, too.
As head and body disconnected, she realized she’d done it. She’d won! And yet… the victory left her hollow, because Galen wasn’t here to share it with her.
Her earlier realization solidified. Yes, a thousand times yes, she should have talked with him, should have told him all her thoughts and plans. She’d given the man her heart and her body. Why had she denied him this?
Never again, she vowed.
Murmurs rose behind her, the guards rallying, preparing to do battle with the one who’d slain their king.
They choose to die, then. Very well.
She turned—and caught sight of Galen. He wasn’t alone. He’d brought Aeron, Gwen, Sabin, Fox, and William, too. Armed for war, the group rushed through a portal. They took in the scene with a swift visual sweep then positioned their body in front of Cronus’s soldiers, blocking her.
When a guard raised his sword, Galen tsked and said, “Trust me. You don’t want to do that.”
Happiness swelled within Legion. He’d come for her!
“Galen, look!” She swooped down, tangled her fingers through Cronus’s hair, and lifted the severed head high in the air. “Look what I did!”
He blew her a kiss laced with relief, amusement, and joy, a heady combination. “I’m so proud of you, sugar.”
To her astonishment, the chained Sent Ones awakened a second later, their eyes popping open. In unison, they stepped apart, splitting down the middle to reveal a third clone of Cronus. Oh… crap. He wore a white toga, and just as many weapons as his predecessor. Unlike the Sent Ones, he wasn’t chained.
“Another one?” Aeron bellowed.
“I’ve got to get a clone of myself,” William remarked, not the least bit fazed. “Finally! I would have my perfect mate.”
Legion stomped her foot, aggravated. Why wouldn’t the Titan just die already?
New Cronus—NC—opened his eyes, and scanned the temple. “Attack!”
The guards sprang into action, swinging swords and spears at her friends. Knowing they could take care of themselves, she chucked the severed head at NC, nailing him in the face. He staggered backward.
In her periphery, she noticed Fox had stopped fighting the guards. Someone made a play for her throat, but Galen fended him off. Fox continued to stare at the Sent Ones, her gaze solid black. Black lines appeared beneath the surface of her skin, too, branching over her cheeks, down her neck. Like poison. At the same time, the ends of h
er hair caught fire, yet never burned.
That’s new. Thanks to Distrust?
The Sent Ones remained as still as statues, but rage boiled in their eyes. Steam might have wafted from their nostrils.
Oh, yeah. Cronus had definitely used magic to hobble the warriors.
“I can keep Cronus inside the temple,” William called, his voice strained as he gutted three soldiers, one after the other, “but only temporarily. Whoever wants the honors needs to kill him quick.”
Legion returned her gaze to Galen, who swung his sword, removing a soldier’s head. He nodded at her. “Do it, sugar,” he said, trusting her to take care of the big bad.
Shell-shocked but utterly mesmerized, Galen killed the Titan king’s guards one after the other by rote, watching as Leila went on the offensive, attacking the newest version of Cronus.
Magnificent creature. Blood splattered her skin. She was dressed to kill in black leather, displaying a skill and viciousness he admired. She used the daggers, her fists, legs and elbows, every part of her body a weapon. Whenever necessary, she ducked or dove out of the way.
Having just awakened from a however long slumber, Cronus 3.0 had slower reflexes. He fought back, of course, even landing blows, but he took a lot more hits than he landed.
“Hurt my man? Hit me?” Leila flung the accusations at him. “I. Always. Repay.” She punctuated each word with a brutal jab of the dagger. First, his heart. Then, a kidney. Then, his liver.
Still the Titan continued fighting, unsheathing his short swords. He wielded the blades with tremendous skill. Once…twice…a dozen times, Galen had to stop himself from closing the distance and ending the battle. Hurt my woman, and suffer.
He managed to resist the temptation, grounded by pride. Leila projected zero fear as she blocked. No, she was the epitome of fury, determination—and joy.
Cronus didn’t know it, but he’d lost the war the second Leila found her confidence.
“Can’t…hold…” William grated. He stood with his arms outstretched, his features strained as he powered the invisible barrier around the temple, preventing Cronus from flashing away.