The return, p.1
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       The Return, p.1

         Part #1 of Titan series by Jennifer L. Armentrout  



  FOR ALL YOU SETH FANS… ENJOY.

  “But these sons whom he begot himself great Heaven used to call Titans in reproach, for he said that they strained and did presumptuously a fearful deed, and that vengeance for it would come afterwards.” (ll. 207-210)

  The Theogony of Hesiod

  (translation by Hugh G. Evelyn-White)

  CHAPTER

  1

  THE MANSION was as silent as I wished the inside of my head could be. No noise—not even a ragged inhale of breath or a whispered word. Truly blissful.

  Peaceful.

  The scenery was a whole different story.

  From my vantage point at the top of the grand staircase, the opulent, open-floor design of the first level looked like a truck had backed up to the bronze double doors and dumped a load of SpaghettiOs all over the floor. Everything was splattered with red and gunk, like a fleet of cannons had shot an endless stream of beef ravioli against the walls and ceilings—lots of chunks of lots of different types of matter that usually belonged inside a body.

  I’d never look at a can of Chef Boyardee the same way again.

  However, there wasn’t a drop of blood on me. My black boots were shiny; the black tactical pants and Under Armour shirt, the standard uniform of a Sentinel, were free of the gore. I had skillz— major skillz.

  My gaze flickered over the room below. This had to be, by far, one of my best Remediations—as in, search out hideouts and destroy the traitors who over a year ago had supported Ares when he’d attempted to take over the mortal world.

  Their sorry asses didn’t have a chance in Hades.

  Good old, average mortals who’d gotten mixed up in the wrong thing lay dead among the offspring of the Olympians. But most of those who littered the floor below were pure-bloods. Their official name was Hematoi. I rolled my eyes. They were as pompous as their name suggested. They were the products of two demigods getting it on. Their blood was considered pure compared to their counterparts, the half-bloods, which was what happened when a pure and a mortal got together. By simple genetics, halfs were weaker than the pures. They had less aether in them, the substance that surrounded Olympus and was also the very life force that flowed in the blood of the gods and all their creations. The aether was what enabled us to sense each other. The pures had more aether in them than halfs, which was why pures could wield control over the elements, just like the gods, but the halfs couldn’t. Our society had been stratified for thousands of years, because the pures always held themselves higher than the halfs, virtually enslaving them up until a year ago, all because they genetically carried more aether.

  But in death, they were all the same, which was stinky, messy, and dead.

  My gaze shifted back to the gaping double doors. Sentinels were here. I could feel their wariness to enter the building, taste their anxiety on the tip of my tongue. A slight smile lifted the corners of my lips. They knew I was here. They could feel me, too, but I was something far different than them.

  I was a half-blood, but I was also the Apollyon, a child of a pure and a half, a union that had been forbidden for thousands of years because an Apollyon was more powerful than any pure or half could ever hope to be.

  And I always got to the traitors’ hideouts before they did, so the Sentinels were usually left with the cleanup, which I was sure absolutely thrilled them.

  The first to enter was a female half-blood dressed just as I was. Her black hair was pulled back in a neat little knot at the top of her head. She was older, probably in her mid-thirties. It was pretty rare for a Sentinel to live that long. Her dark skin paled as she stopped just inside the entrance. She clenched titanium daggers in her hands like she expected something vicious to pop out from under the bloody mess.

  The female Sentinel tipped her chin up, and the overhead light sliced across her broad cheekbones. She bore a jagged scar under her right eye, the skin lighter in tone. She saw me and froze.

  My smile widened.

  Behind her, another Sentinel rushed in, almost mowing her over. He saw me and whispered, “Seth.”

  He’d said my name like I was the monster under his bed, and I sort of liked that. Then another Sentinel and another rolled in. The fifth took one look at my interior design work and keeled over. Slamming his hands on his knees, he hurled up his dinner.

  Nice.

  Our society existed completely unknown to the average mortal and had operated under what was known as the Breed Order for thousands of years. The Order had been dismantled, which meant halfs were no longer forced to choose between becoming Sentinels—hunting down violent creatures, protecting pures, enforcing laws, and otherwise usually dying pretty damn quickly on the job—or servants, which was a job that really wasn’t a job, but more like slavery. Since then, many pampered pures had signed on to be Sentinels, making up for the loss of the halfs who’d pretty much said “screw this shit, I’m out.”

  This wasn’t necessarily a good thing.

  For example, the dumbass puking all over my blood-covered floor was a pure. When he straightened, his face a greenish hue, he backed away, shaking his head. “I can’t,” he gasped out. “I can’t do this.”

  Then he turned and hauled ass out the doors.

  I sighed. This was why we couldn’t have nice things.

  The female Sentinel had more balls than any of the males with her. She moved closer, stepping over a leg that used to belong to the guy by the—no, his leg was by the stairs. I didn’t know where that first one had come from. Her mouth opened as if she was going to speak, and I couldn’t wait to hear what she had to say, but then the air in the room shifted, filling with electricity and a ripple of power. Ancient glyphs bled out on my skin, swirling and forming wards of protection all along my flesh.

  A column of shimmery blue light pierced the cathedral ceiling, shooting down to the floor a few feet from the female Sentinel. As the light faded, a god was revealed.

  The Sentinels hastily backed off. A few even dropped to their knees, unmindful of the mess on the floor. I, on the other hand, raised my right hand and scratched my brow with my middle finger.

  My least favorite person in the whole mortal realm, Olympus, and Tartarus smirked as he crossed his arms over his chest. He tilted his self-important, pretentious, woefully and generally unhelpful head back and eyed me with eyes that were pure white— no pupils, no irises. Freaky shit right there.

  “I sensed a disturbance in the force,” he said.

  I narrowed my eyes as I blew out an aggravated breath. “Did you seriously just quote Star Wars?”

  Apollo, the god of the sun and other annoyingly important things that made killing him virtually impossible unless one wanted to end the world, shrugged a shoulder. “Maybe I did.”

  I’d been having a good night. Ate filet and lobster for dinner. Killed some people. Scared some pures and halfs. Planned on making another visit to the all-girls’ college I’d discovered about three months ago. Those girls could cheer up any dude. But now he was here. Everything was going to go down the shitty pipe from this point.

  Irritation pricked at my skin, causing the glyphs to agitate restlessly across it. Apollo and I had a history—a very bad history. He couldn’t kill me. I wasn’t sure how any of the Olympian gods could kill me, but I knew they would, eventually. Just not yet— they still needed me. “What do you want?”

  He tilted his head to the side. “One of these days you will speak to me with respect, Apollyon.”

  “One of these days you will realize I don’t respect you.”

  The Sentinels in the room stared at me like I’d just pulled down my pants and shaken my junk in their faces.

  A tight smile appeared on the god’s lips, a hide-your-kids-and-loved-ones kind of smile, but since I had neither of those things, I wasn’t intimidated. “We need to chat.”

  Before I could respond, he snapped his fingers, and I was suddenly standing outside the mansion, my booted feet in the sand, the smell of salt overwhelming my senses, and the rolling ocean at my back.

  A growl of anger rose in my throat. “I hate it when you do that.”

  The smile on his face increased. “I know.”

  I absolutely loathed it, and the bastard did it every chance he got—usually about every five minutes whenever I was in his presence and mostly without any purpose. Sometimes he would just pop me from room to room for the hell of it. The last year or so of my life had been a real test of my short patience.

  “What do we need to talk about?” I ground out, folding my arms to keep myself from hitting him with a blast of akasha, the fifth and most powerful element only the gods and the Apollyon could wield. It wouldn’t kill him, but sure as hell would sting like a bitch.

  Apollo shifted his gaze to the dark ocean. “Do you have to always be so messy?”

  My brows rose. “Huh?”

  “Back there,” he said, jerking his chin to where the lights from the mansion twinkled in the distance. “Do you always have to be so messy when you dispatch those who betrayed us?”

  “Do I have to? No.”

  “Then why?” He looked at me.

  Killing them the way I did was unnecessary. I could just blast them into nothing, make it quick, neat, and painless, but that’s not how I rolled. Maybe in the beginning I’d been less…violent, but not anymore. Not when my sole purpose of existence was carrying out the gods’ dirty work. Because every time I saw one of their faces, I thought of my own major screw-ups, and they were plentiful, and that made me think of— I cut that thought off. I was so not going down that road tonight without a bottle of whiskey.

  “You all turned me into the Terminator. What did you expect?” I shrugged. “Is this what you wanted to talk to me about? My method of carrying out your orders? I’d think you’d have better things to do than pop up just to bitch at me because I made a mess.”

  “It’s not just making a mess, Seth, and you know that. It’s you.”

  A muscle began to thump along my jaw. I got what he was saying. “It’s what I am now. So deal with it.” I started to turn away. “If that’s it, I’m out. There are these girls I want—”

  “That’s not why I’m here.”

  Closing my eyes, I swallowed a stream of curses. Of course not. I pivoted back to him. “What?”

  Apollo didn’t answer immediately. “Remember Perses?”

  “Uh. No. I’ve forgotten all about the seven-foot Titan I helped free from Tartarus. Totally slipped my mind.” My voice dripped sarcasm, and the flare of static crackling out from his all-white eyes showed that he noted it. That made me ridiculously happy. “Did you guys catch him?”

  “Not quite.”

  I rolled my eyes. “Big surprise there.”

  Freeing Perses had been a last-ditch effort in the fight against Ares. The Titan was probably the only thing the God of War had feared, and the decision to roll out the red carpet to the mortal realm had been risky. Perses had been promised an eternity in the Elysian Fields for his help—if he behaved. Obviously, he had not behaved, and the moment Ares had been taken out, the Titan had disappeared—off to do whatever ancient gods did after they’d been asleep for a few millennia.

  I bet it involved getting laid. A lot.

  “Your sarcasm and general assholeness are not necessary,” Apollo remarked casually.

  I grinned at him. “I don’t think ‘assholeness’ is a word.”

  “It is if I say it is.” Apollo drew in a deep breath, a sure sign his temper was reaching its knock-Seth-into-the-nearby-ocean point. “Perses has managed to do the unthinkable.”

  There were a lot of things I’d consider unthinkable, like say half of what the gods did every day. “You’re going to have to narrow that down.”

  He blinked and when his eyes reopened, they were more normal. Not completely normal, but he now had pupils and irises. His eyes were an intense, denim blue when they met my amber-colored ones. “He’s freed more Titans.”

  “That’s not —wait. What?”

  “He’s freed more Titans, Seth.”

  Now he had my full attention. “All of them?”

  “Seven of them,” Apollo confirmed. “Including Cronus.”

  Holy shitstorm in Hades—that was not something I’d expected. I took a step back, dropping my hands to my hips as I mulled that development over. “How in the fuck is that even possible? Was Hades sleeping on the job or something?”

  “Yes, Seth, he took a nap and Perses snuck in the back door and let them out. Then they skipped through the Vale of Mourning, stopped to have a pic-a-nic and then decided to leave the Underworld all slow-like, and all the while Hades was chillin’ and doing nothing.”

  That sounded probable.

  “No,” he snapped, blue eyes flaring brightly. “Hades wasn’t sleeping on the job. None of us were, you little punk ass.”

  I arched a brow. “Well, that was unnecessary.”

  Apollo ignored that. “Use your brain for once, Seth. You’re a smart guy. I know you are. And you knew damn well that when Ares was taken out there would be ripple effects.”

  “Yeah. I might remember that.”

  He stepped a good foot back from me, and I knew it was to stop himself from attempting to pummel me into next week. “We knew there’d be side effects. It was a risk we had to take—just like freeing Perses. But when Ares died, all of us were weakened in one way or another. We did not realize that one of the biggest chinks in our armor would be the wards entombing the Titans. How Perses realized that and made it into Tartarus to free them is unknown and really doesn’t matter at this point. Some of them are free. So are some souls—shades. And not just any ordinary souls, but ancient souls who supported the Titans when they ruled.”

  Dumbfounded, I stared at the god. “So, you’re telling me that not one of you considered that this might happen?”

  He returned my stare with a glare.

  I coughed out a dry, humorless laugh. “This is great, Apollo. We have Titans roaming around?”

  “They are somewhere. Where? We have no idea. They are blocked from our viewing.” Apollo reached up, scrubbing a hand through his blond hair. “They are plotting to overthrow us.”

  “You think? I mean, I’m sure they’re still pissed about being overthrown by Zeus and the douche-canoe crew in the first place.” I wanted to laugh again, but none of this shit was funny. If I cared about much of anything, I’d probably be more concerned than I was annoyed. “So you guys want me to hunt them down or something?”

  That had to be the reason why he was here. As twisted as it was, I was pleased by this request. Dealing out Remediations was getting boring, and locating the Titans would most likely end in me ceasing to exist on this level. As powerful and awesome as I was, I couldn’t take down a bunch of Titans without ending up dead. All that meant was that I’d be dying sooner than I expected.

  Oh, well.

  Due to the deal I’d made over a year ago that put my ass on the eternal chopping block in place of my second-least-favorite person’s ass, there was a giant ticking clock counting down above my head. When the gods no longer thought I was useful to them, they’d find a way to end me. Then my eternity as a servant to Hades began. But the deal…yeah, it had been worth it. Not for him, but I’d owed it to her.

  Apollo watched me closely, intently. “No.”

  My eyes narrowed. “No to what?”

  “I’m not sending you after them. Not yet,” he said, surprising me into silence—a rarity. “I have another task for you. You need to leave for southern Virginia immediately. I’d snap your sunshine-and-rainbows ass there, but now that you’ve annoyed me, you’ll drive the twenty or so hours to get there.”

  Okay. That was irritating, but I kind of liked road trips, so whatever. “What’s in southern Virginia?”

  “Radford University.”

  I waited.

  I waited some more, and then sighed. “Okay. You want me to enroll in college?” I asked, and Apollo tipped back his head and laughed so loudly, he actually whooped. I frowned. “What the hell is so funny about that idea?”

  “You. College. Using your head. That’s what’s funny.”

  I was seconds away from blasting him with akasha.

  The smile slipped off Apollo’s face. “There is someone important there you must protect at all costs, Seth.”

  My lips curled into a smirk. Sending me to be a guard—how cliché. “Well, that’s very little detail.”

 
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