SentinelBy: Jennifer L. Armentrout
FEELING CAME BACK IN MY FEET FIRST, AND THEN MY legs. A pins-and-needles tingling rushed over my skin, causing my fingers to spasm. The sweetness of the nectar still coated the inside of my throat. My body ached as if I’d just completed a triathlon and come in dead last.
Or like I’d had my ass kicked and gotten patched up by a god.
Movement beside me brought the whole side of my body closer to a hard warmth, and I thought I heard my name called, but it sounded like it was on the other side of the world from me.
I was moving at the speed of a three-legged turtle, so it took a while to blink my eyes open, and even then it was just a thin crack. When my eyes adjusted to the dim lighting, I recognized the buttercup-colored walls and all the titanium trim of the dorm rooms at the University in South Dakota, the same room Aiden and I had done a whole lot of not sleeping in right before Dominic had brought us news of Deity Island survivors. Things…things were different then; it already felt like years ago.
A terrible heaviness settled like a stone in my chest, pressing all the way down to my spine. Dominic was now dead. So were the Dean of the University and his Guards. It had been a trick played out by Ares, who’d been masquerading as Instructor Romvi. Our enemy had been among us the entire time. My dislike of that man had been epic before I’d discovered who he really was, but now? Every fiber of my Apollyon being loathed him. But my hatred of Romvi/Ares/Asshat wasn’t important. So many people were dead, and Ares knew where I was. What was stopping him from coming back for round two? And what was stopping him from killing more people?
I heard my name once more, and now it seemed louder and closer. Turning to the sound, I willed my eyes to open. When had my eyes closed again? I was like a newborn kitten or something. Daimons across the nation shuddered in fear. Gods, I was lame.
My heart skipped a whole beat, and then sped up in recognition. Ah, I knew that voice. My heart and my soul knew that voice.
“Alex, open your eyes. Come on, baby, open those eyes.”
I really wanted to, because for him I’d do anything. Fight a horde of half-blood daimons? There. Tangle with ticked-off furies? Sign me up. Break a dozen or so rules for one forbidden kiss? Done. Open my eyes? Apparently that was asking too much.
A warm, strong hand curved along my cheek; the touch was so different than my mother’s, but equally powerful and heartbreakingly tender. My breath caught in my throat.
His thumb traced the curve of my jaw in such a lovingly familiar way that I wanted to weep. I should weep, actually, because I couldn’t fathom what he’d gone through when Ares and I had been locked in that room. Come to think of it, I should’ve cried when I saw my mom. I’d felt the tears, but they hadn’t fallen.
“It’s okay,” he said in a voice gruff with exhaustion and emotion. “Apollo said it could take some time. I’ll wait for however long it takes. I’ll wait forever, if I have to.”
Those words pulled my heart all over the place, twisting it into mushy knots. I didn’t want to make him wait for another second, let alone forever. I wanted—no, needed—to see him. To tell him that I was okay, because I was okay, wasn’t I? All right, maybe I didn’t fall into the “okay” category, but I wanted to relieve the harsh edge of stress in his voice. I wanted to make him better because I couldn’t make my mom better, and I knew I couldn’t make myself better.
There was a part of me that felt vastly empty.
That was it. I felt dead inside.
Frustration coursed like acid in my blood. My fingers fisted in the soft sheets as I dragged in a deep breath. He stilled beside me, like he held his breath and waited, then let out a ragged exhale.
My heart plummeted.
Gods, all I needed to do was open my eyes, not walk a tight rope.
That frustration quickly flipped to anger—a soul-deep kind of rage that tasted of hot bitterness. My heart rate picked up, and that’s when I realized it was there—the cord. It had been absent in Olympus, but it was back. I hadn’t felt it at first because I’d only been acknowledging the ache in my muscles and bones, but the cord connecting me and the First buzzed like a million yellow jackets, steadily increasing until I swore I could see it in my mind, an amber-colored cord tangling with a blue one.