“Seth! Please, stop.” Josie pulled on my arm, her voice cracking with anguish.
I grasped her hand, holding on. “If I do this, you will make damn sure that Josie wants for nothing. That she will be safe and our child will be safe.”
“I will ensure it myself,” Zeus spoke.
“Seth!” Josie darted in front of me, clasping my cheeks. She forced my gaze to hers. “You do not need to do this. Don’t you understand me? This is not how this—”
“This is what I have to do, psychí mou.” I lightly gripped her wrists, pulling her hands from my face. “It’s the only way to end this.”
Tears glimmered in her eyes. “It cannot be the only way.”
“Josie,” Apollo called out.
She stiffened and then slowly turned to face her father. She didn’t speak as her chest rose and fell sharply.
“If he does not do this, there will be nothing but destruction and death. Millions will die, and that is before Cronus forces Seth’s hand. The Titans will come for you, and Seth will kill Cronus.” Apollo rose from his throne. “Tens of millions will then die as his death rocks the earth from its very core. I have foreseen it.”
A long, tense moment passed, and then Josie said, “Now? Now you dare to speak to me?”
Energy crackled dangerously, and the rush of power wasn’t coming from me. It was all Josie.
Artemis shifted in her throne as a look of unease settled into her expression.
“I am sorry,” Apollo said.
Josie sucked in air as she tried to step forward, but I held her wrist. “You knew?” she demanded. “Did you know this all along? From the very beginning? You knew how this would end?”
Apollo looked away.
I thought for a moment Josie might explode, but she seemed to rein it all in. “I hate you.”
I pulled Josie back against my chest as Apollo sat down. I turned her to me, but she yanked herself free. Stepping back, she wrapped her arms around her chest. She stared at the floor of the temple, breathing raggedly.
Drawing in a ragged breath, I dragged my gaze to Zeus. “I will make the sacrifice.”
“Then so be it.”
Josie’s muffled cry faded as a male appeared before the gods. I’d never seen him before. He was young. Possibly a teenager. His eyes were…well, he didn’t have eyes. Where they should’ve been, there was nothing but sunken-in skin. He held an open case, and resting inside was an icicle-shaped dagger. The wickedly sharp point was a different color, as if it had been dipped in something.
“The dagger is an ancient one,” Athena said, her voice cautious. “Fashioned from Thanatos’s sword, it is deadly.”
“You will have until sundown to complete the sacrifice.” Zeus rose from his throne and stepped off the dais. “We will know when it is done.”
My eyes burned, but it wasn’t because of what I was going to do to myself, but what I knew it was going to do to Josie.
Zeus picked up the dagger and offered it to me, handle first. As I took it, he leaned in and whispered for only me to hear, “Your son will think of you with great pride.”
It was like being stuck in a waking nightmare. Everything was a blur and at the same time startlingly sharp and clear. I was vaguely aware of Seth coming toward me and wrapping his arm around my shoulders and pulling me against him. I didn’t fight him this time, and when I took my next breath we were no longer in the Pantheon, but we were back in the dorm room we shared.
Seth let go and stepped back from me. I watched him place the dagger on the bed.
He didn’t take his eyes off me. “Josie—”
“Why?” I whispered, his face blurring as a rush of raw tears blinded me. I was so pissed off at him, so furious, and at the same time I was horrified. I was shocked, and none of this—none of this seemed real.
“This is not what I want,” he said. “Gods, Josie, this is not how I thought today was going to go.”
“You didn’t?” I laughed, and it sounded broken. Wiping at my cheeks, I walked to the bed and sat down. “This isn’t right.”
Seth came to me and knelt on the floor. He looked up at me, but I could barely look at him, because if I did, I would completely break down. “You can’t do this.”
“I have to,” he said, holding my hands. “It’s the only way.”
I lowered my head. “How can you be sure of that?”
A long moment passed before he answered. “It’s crazy, but I know this…this is right. This is what my entire life has been leading to—”
“You honestly believe your entire life has been leading up to the moment where you can sacrifice yourself?”
“Yes and no.” He placed his hand on my cheek, guiding my head up. “My life really didn’t have much meaning until I met you. I always hated the idea of fate, but it feels like this is fate. It makes sense.”
Hands shaking, I clutched my knees. “It doesn’t make any sense, Seth.”
His sharp intake of breath cut through me. “Babe…”
“No. It doesn’t make sense. At all,” I said, gripping my knees until my nails bit into my skin. It took several tries for me to say it, and when I did it was barely a whisper. “We were supposed to have forever.”
Seth closed his eyes.
“We were going to defeat the Titans and then we were going to come back here. We were going to pick a room for our child and we were going to do normal things, like shop for baby stuff, and let Deacon throw us a baby shower. We were going to be together.” My voice cracked. “And you were going to be there when I had our child. You’d be there. You wouldn’t be dead.”
Seth’s fingers slipped from my cheeks as he rose. Turning, he dragged his hand through his hair.
“There…there has to be another way,” I insisted. “This has to be some kind of twisted test that we have to figure out.” I stood, my knees shaking. “Maybe that’s all this is. Some kind of sick test and we can figure this out, right? We—”
“It is a test, Josie.” He faced me, his sculptured face painfully open. My breath caught at the finality in his expression, and I shook my head, already knowing what he was going to say. “There is no other way. Apollo was right. If I don’t stop this now, it will end with me killing Cronus.”
“So, what?” I demanded. “Then we kill him—”
“I know you do not want that, not when millions will die.”
“Then kill Zeus! That’s still on the table. We kill Zeus and then we take his head to Cronus.”
“No.” He caught my shoulders, holding me still. “That is not who I am anymore.”
Panic clawed through me. “If I had to kill—”
“I want my child to grow up knowing I made the right choice. I want my child to think of me and be filled with pride,” he said, drawing me to him. “I want our child to look up to me. Killing Zeus isn’t going to do that. Neither is killing Cronus.”
“I won’t let you do this, Seth. I can’t.”
“You have to. I know you don’t want me to. And that you don’t want to hear this.” He grasped my face, tilting my head back. “But there is no other way.”
I couldn’t stop the tears as I grasped the collar of Seth’s shirt and pressed against him. His arms circled me, holding on to me just as fiercely as I gripped him. “Do you want to die?” I whispered. “Is that it?”
“Gods, no. All I’ve ever wanted to do is be good enough for you—for our child.” Seth smoothed his hand down my hair, cupping the back of my neck. He pressed his lips against my damp cheek. “And if I have to give up my life to make sure you and our child have a long one in a better world, then I will gladly do it.”
“You are good enough, Seth. You already are.”
“I will be,” he said quietly.
Crying out, I pushed him away. “That’s not right! You can’t be okay with this.” I backed away from him, keeping my hands up as if I could ward off what he was saying. “You’re just going to give up?”