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“YOUR KIND ISN’T welcome here,” the dark-haired man growled, pushing his thick glasses up his nose with his index finger. The kid with shaggy hair and the balding man stepped around him, Olympian Steele gripped tight in their hands. I couldn’t take my eyes off the glittering stakes.
Poseidon let out a string of curses that would shock any sailor. “Get behind me.” He held out a hand, ready to push me back if I didn’t comply. His trident appeared in his other hand with a flash of gold so bright in the darkness, I found myself blinking away sparkling dots. “And get ready to run.”
“Run?” I demanded. “Why can’t we teleport?” Poseidon could grant me authorization in a second.
“And leave your demigod as collateral? My vows prohibit that, thanks to you.”
I laced my voice with as much sarcasm as I could. “We could always go get him.”
Pink Dress attacked first, with all the grace of a zombie. She leapt forward, hacking and slashing at the air with the Olympian Steele before she even got within a foot of Poseidon. She was trying to miss. The flashing lights illuminated a wild struggle in her dark eyes. She was resisting the charm the best she could, but what hope could a mere mortal have over a divine force of will?
“And risk ’porting straight into a trap?”
Poseidon had a point. You couldn’t shield yourself while teleporting. We might be able to throw up a shield the second we arrived, but we’d be vulnerable for that second.
“We’re dealing with this now,” Poseidon declared.
I summoned my charm, gritting my teeth against the pain ripping through my stomach. Gah! What was this? The charm slid off the passengers like water. Swallowing hard, I stepped back, bumping into a barstool. Run? From humans?
Poseidon dodged an attack from Baldy, then seemed to remember me and threw himself between the two of us, trident whirling to block his Steele. “We’re going to talk about the bargain we just made later.”
“Talk all you want. Your promises are still binding.” I threw up a shield, power flaring to life within me. Gods, that hurt. Gritting my teeth, I ignored the gut-wrenching pain and pushed the shield at the charmed passengers just as Shaggy joined the fray, Steele shattering my shield in a second.
I froze. Fighting wasn’t in my skill set. Unlike Persephone, I’d never seen the point in spending my spare time learning self-defense or honing my powers so I’d be ready for a combat situation. My charm could quell gods. Why would I ever need anything more than that?
Poseidon shoved me to the side, intercepting the Steele with his trident. Baldy leapt to Shaggy’s aid, slashing at Poseidon, but Poseidon sent him flying into the bar, crashing into a wall of bottles with enough force to shatter them. Baldy hit the ground with a thud, alcohol and glass raining around him. The bartender, unperturbed, kept pouring drinks. What the hell? Everyone else danced or stood around in unconcerned clusters. Was the whole club charmed? Holy Hades, what kind of power were we dealing with?
Don’t just stand there. Do something. Taking a deep breath, I tuned out the pulsing music and concentrated. With effort, I picked out several more charmed passengers as well as a shield enveloping the entire bar. “Poseidon, break the shield!”
A wave of power swelled from Poseidon. The shield shattered. My stomach wrenched as I blanketed the room with charm in a desperate bid to gain control of the passengers before they panicked and fled. They could come in handy.
Gods! The effort of channeling my powers sent me doubling over in agony.
Gritting my teeth, I pushed past the pain, concentration breaking when another passenger lunged at me, knocking me to the floor. Rolling out of the way, I slid across shattered glass. The broken bottles sliced my skin. I leapt to my feet. The uncharmed passengers became aware of the fight in their midst, and rushed toward the door screaming. “Crap!” Pushing past the pain, I refocused my power on the crowd as the music shut off and fluorescent lights flickered on.
“Are you cut?” Poseidon spared me a glance, throwing up a shield to gain the half-second to determine whether or not I was all right.
“Not by Steele.” Taking a deep breath, I forced my charm to take hold of the other passengers. “Help me!”
The bar came to life as passengers threw themselves in between me and the Steele-wielding zombies.
“Go,” Poseidon shouted, trident swinging in a wild arc. Pink Dress ducked around the blow, slashing at Poseidon, but got intercepted by a crew member acting under the influence of my charm. I ran, Poseidon on my heels. The crowd split in front of me, forming a narrow hallway that closed in behind us. A living shield.
Scattered within the crowd, I could pick out the passengers who weren’t under my control waiting for us to get close enough to strike. “Red dress! Glasses! Waitress behind the table!” I shouted warnings to Poseidon as soon as I picked out the passengers who would attack, glancing back to gauge his success.
Poseidon’s trident flashed. Now I understood why Demeter and Hades had been so determined to get him on their side against Zeus. Poseidon wasn’t just powerful. He fought in a way most gods were too complacent to even consider. I couldn’t tell where his powers stopped and his physical prowess began. Green lightning erupted from the trident, followed by a punch, a kick, a shield inverted around a passenger to restrain them. He seemed to be everywhere at once until they tried to strike back, and then he was nowhere.
“You’re incredible!” I hadn’t meant to speak out loud, and, by rights, I shouldn’t be audible over the fight, but somehow, Poseidon still heard and shot me a grin.
“You sound surprised. I thought that was common knowledge.” His grin faded. “Watch out!”
I ducked as another charmed passenger broke through the crowd, slashing at the place where I’d been with the shimmering stake. Poseidon was there in a flash. The passenger went flying into the wall as limp as a rag doll.
We broke free of the bar and dashed through a hallway decorated to resemble the night sky. If anyone thought it odd we ran like our lives depended on it, I didn’t notice. “Where are we going?” I cried.
Right. I veered toward the atrium as the hall opened up into a lobby full of gift shops, tables, and photographers posing random passengers in front of pretty backdrops. The charmed passengers followed right on our heels. “This way!” I rushed across the atrium and up the curved, golden staircase.
I screamed as a hand closed around my ankle and yanked me down the steps. For a second, all I could focus on was the stake centimeters from my face. The weapon didn’t move. My gaze shifted up the arm of the passenger carrying the Steele. His face contorted in a grimace of agony. With a violent jerk, he was flung off of me, and slammed into the wall propelled by an invisible force.
“What?” Leaping to my feet, I found Poseidon. He had one arm up as he cast and recast a shield to keep the passengers at bay almost as fast as they slashed through it, and the other, stretched toward the man, trident extended. “How did you do that?” Telekinesis was not in our skill set.
“Salt water.” Poseidon panted, the strain from casting a new shield every time Steele broke through evident on his face. “Run!”
I scrambled up the steps, my mind reeling. There were whispers, rumors, that the original six were capable of manipulating the human body via built-in fail-safes. A control for each god. Water for Poseidon, trace minerals from the earth for Demeter, and the four aspects of the soul for the rest. But I’d only heard rumors. Precious little information about human creation passed down the bloodlines.
And no one could say for certain whether those same controls were built into us. Forget that for now. How have you not been cut? I’d been knocked over, pushed, and outright missed a statistically improbable number of times not to have sustained a single injury from the Olympian Daggers.
This fight didn’t make sense. I’d been on this ship surrounded by these people for the last day and a half. Why hadn’t someone taken me out then?
Maybe I’m not the target.
What if I was just in the way? Had they addressed both of us, or just Poseidon at the beginning of the fight? He’d stayed behind a shield almost the entire time he’d been on board. Maybe they’d attacked like this because taking down his shield would be noticeable no matter what they did. If you can’t go for surprise, go for strength?
I burst through the exterior door and slammed into the railing, gasping for breath.
“Stay against the rail.” Poseidon slid to halt in front of me.
“Here?” I took a nervous look around. The bit of deck we occupied reminded me of a sidewalk. The narrow strip of white wooden planks and painted metal rails ran parallel to the main lobby, separated by windows and glass doors. The charmed passengers stood in the open doorway, hacking at Poseidon’s shield. Soft Caribbean music and laughter came from the pool farther down the deck. I glanced at the exterior steps, wondering if we should run up one more deck.
“Here.” Poseidon’s shield broke and I felt the power ricochet back to him. “Can you break the charm?”
I hesitated. I’d never succeeded in freeing Persephone from Zeus’s charm, no matter how hard I’d tried. And I’d tried hard. “I have some theories.”
Poseidon nodded. “Try then. I’d rather not have to kill anyone.”
“Really?” It wasn’t as if I thought Poseidon enjoyed death and violence. Much. But I didn’t expect him to care one way or another whether the people attacking us lived or died.
Poseidon shrugged. “I don’t want to give Hades any excuse to come to my realm.”
Right. Gods had to respond to divine causes of death. It figured that’s what Poseidon would worry about right now. The sea god turned to the door. “I’ll buy you as much time as I can. You may want to duck.”
I dropped to my knees, my hands going over my head as a wall of water rushed above me, whipping around the deck as the charmed passengers poured through the doorway.
Go inside, nothing to see here. My stomach twisted as I let the command blanket the ship, fueling the order with every bit of power I could manage. Get to your room and stay there until morning.
The effort of maintaining hold of so many passengers twisted my stomach into painful knots. Oh, gods, this hurts. Water roared around me, disrupting my concentration. Squeezing my eyes shut, I waited until I sensed the passengers under my control begin to retreat across the ship. I imagined doors closing, and gave them a few seconds to get settled, making sure to imprint a strong desire in their minds to stay put until sunup before releasing them from my charm. Even out of my control, they would most likely obey the subconscious command.
I narrowed my focus to the passengers under foreign control heading toward this deck.
How many were there in total? I gave up counting at thirty and shifted my attention to the eight fighting Poseidon.
I could sense the charm holding them, but something about the power signature seemed off. Charm was like a thread of power extending from god to man. A thread. But the charm holding the humans hostage wasn’t a solitary thread but many, woven together like a rope.
“There’s more than one controller,” I blurted, realization hitting me like a tidal wave.
“What?” Poseidon shouted.
My answer got swallowed in the roar of the water. Baldy lunged at Poseidon, but got whipped away by the current. The water animated and whirled around Poseidon, suspended in the air like the arms of an octopus, lashing out every time one of the passengers got too close. But he wouldn’t be able to keep up the fight forever. I gritted my teeth and focused on gathering more power.
We weren’t dealing with another deity like me or a super-charged Titan. This was something else entirely. What did Zeus say? “You think you saved the world by killing me, but you’ve doomed it. What’s coming is worse. And Hades, they’re armed.”
They’re armed. Plural. We were dealing with a group. An army, even.
I kept my eyes closed, tuning out the screams, grunts, and occasional flashes of green lightning to separate each power signature I found connected to one of the charmed passengers. The threads of power were braided together in an intricate chain of charm.
But the woman in the pink dress did fight the foreign control. Maybe she wasn’t the only one. I opened my eyes for a second. The jerky movements of the passengers confirmed my theory. Gritting my teeth against the gut-wrenching pain that came with using my powers so close to Poseidon, I focused on a single thread of charm, ignoring the rest of the rope for now.
The individual threads were weak.
“Aphrodite,” Poseidon snapped. “Any time now!”
More passengers joined the battle. I hadn’t opened my eyes to check, but I could sense them. How many? Ten? Twelve? “I’m trying!” I focused on channeling my power through the gaps between threads of charm. Sweat bathed my face. Using my powers shouldn’t hurt this much.
Almost. I pushed at the gaps, pouring more and more power into the effort. The charm snapped and my eyes flew open. “Got it!” I called triumphantly. “I’ve—” I broke off with a gasp. The passengers hung suspended in a wall of water before Poseidon. Their mouths open, faces frozen in contorted expressions of pain as they’d desperately tried to drag air into their lungs but failed, finding only water. Their dead eyes burned with accusation.
“No.” Poseidon stepped backward and the water crashed to the deck, bringing the bodies to the ground with a sick sounding thunk, Olympian Steele still clutched tight in their dead fingers. “You didn’t.”