Ares, god of war, is leading the other dying gods into battle. Which is just fine with Athena. She's ready to wage a war of her own, and she's never liked him anyway. If Athena is lucky, the winning gods will have their immortality restored. If not, at least she'll have killed the bloody lot of them, and she and Hermes can die in peace.
Cassandra Weaver is a weapon of fate. The girl who kills gods. But all she wants is for the god she loved and lost to return to life. If she can't have that, then the other gods will burn, starting with his murderer, Aphrodite.
The alliance between Cassandra and Athena is fragile. Cassandra suspects Athena lacks the will to truly kill her own family. And Athena fears that Cassandra's hate will get them all killed.
The war takes them across the globe, searching for lost gods, old enemies, and Achilles, the greatest warrior the world has ever seen. As the struggle escalates, Athena and Cassandra must find a way to work together. Because if they can't, fates far worse than death await.
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
By Kendare Blake
Tom Doherty AssociatesCopyright © 2015 Kendare Blake
All rights reserved.
SAND THROUGH HER FINGERS
The desert never changed. The same sun-dried sand, hard packed beneath Athena’s feet, and the same herds of saguaros strung out across the horizon, were programmed on repeat. And maybe that’s really how it was. Maybe it was the same five tumbleweeds, rolling through on the wind to fall off the edge and show up again back at the start.
Athena swallowed. Nothing in her throat today besides smooth working muscles. No quills, no itchy edges of feathers cutting into her windpipe to make her cough blood. Not today. Maybe tomorrow.
She wiped sweat from her brow. It was high noon in the desert. She’d timed the trip badly; she should’ve left when she could meet Demeter in the fading light of evening. But there was nothing to be done about it now. Her boots already tread lightly on Demeter’s skin, stretched out for miles, half-sunk into the sand. At any minute, Demeter’s wrinkled, blinking eye could show up between her feet. If she wasn’t careful, she might step on it.
It was the first time Athena had gone back to her aunt since finding her in the desert and learning about Cassandra. The girl was the key to everything, Demeter had said. And she had been. Three months had passed since they’d fought Hera, since Cassandra had laid hands on her and killed her. Since she’d turned Hera to stone. Three months since Hermes and Apollo had torn Poseidon apart in Seneca Lake. Since they’d laid Apollo to rest beneath the dirt.
Athena’s dark hair hung hot on her shoulders. Walking the desert the night before had practically turned her into an icicle, but under the sun she felt like a stick of softening butter. The plan had been to cover up the swirling tattoos on her wrists, to dress decently and avoid any of Demeter’s harlot jibes. But that wasn’t going to happen. She’d dropped her jacket shortly after hitting her aunt’s skin and hadn’t bothered to drag it along behind her.
“Back so soon?”
Athena spun at the sound of Demeter’s oddly disembodied voice, carried on the wind from all directions at once.
“What do you want this time?”
Athena didn’t answer. She scanned the wrinkled skin for the eye, broad and bleary. When she found it, she stood over the top and peered down. It swiveled over her body, blinking lashes longer than a camel’s.
“The goddess of battle returns,” Demeter said. “In torn jeans and barely a shirt.” The eye squinted. “The jewel in your nose is gone.”
“I took it out. You’re welcome.” Under her feet, the skin pulled and plumped: a set of pursed lips.
“If you’ve come to tell me your news, I’ve heard it. You found the girl.”
“The girl who kills gods,” said Athena.
The eye narrowed. “Does she? Does she really?”
“Don’t get excited,” Athena muttered. “I’m not going to drag her out to the middle of nowhere so she can take care of you. She’s a god killer, not a god euthanizer.”
“Careful, Gray Eyes. Don’t insult me. You at least die with some semblance of self. I’m a bare-skin rug. Vultures loose their bowels on my face, and I’m forced to snack on passing lizards.” Demeter took a breath. “Why’d you come all this way? Perhaps to gloat? To recount your victory? Tell me how my seaward brother died.”
Athena crossed her arms. Victory, Demeter called it. When they’d lost Apollo. He died a mortal, and they buried him under a mortal’s name in a Kincade cemetery when he should’ve had a temple. But yes. It felt like a victory.
“I was sent to ask whether you know what became of Aphrodite,” Athena said.
“Sent? Who could send you?”
“Cassandra sent me.”
Demeter sighed, and the skin dropped Athena four inches. She wondered how the lungs were laid out over the acres. It would make for an interesting dissection, if any ballsy scientists ever happened across the corpse.
“The girl wants revenge,” Demeter said.
“Wouldn’t you?” Athena asked. Cassandra swallowed rage and tears like candy. Her guts would soon burst with it. “The pain burns her like fire. Aphrodite’s blood will put it out.”
“Will it? I think you know better.”
Maybe she did. But it was what Cassandra wanted, and Athena owed her that.
“What about your fight?” Demeter asked. “Your battle?”
“What of it? We found the weapon. We won the day. But we’re no closer to answers. We’re still dying.”
“What did you think would happen, Gray Eyes? That you’d destroy Hera and the feathers would dissolve in your blood? That Hermes would plump like a fattened cow? That I would spring up out of this dirt, soft and supple and woman-shaped?” Demeter’s eye closed, wearily or sadly or both. “Everyone wishes for answers, Athena. But sometimes the answer is that things just end.”
“Is that the answer here?”
“I don’t know. But I know you don’t think so. If you did, you would wander off and let yourself be torn apart by wolves. You’d dye more harlot colors into your hair.”
Athena snorted. She could be killed. They’d proven the impossible possible. But it wasn’t as easy as Demeter made it sound. Her bones would break those poor wolves’ teeth. A death like that would take months.
And she wasn’t ready. Who would have thought, after so much time, that she wouldn’t be ready.
“The point is,” said Demeter, “that you stay. Why?”
Odysseus flashed behind Athena’s eyes. His voice whispered in her ears. And Hermes, too. Her beautiful brother. Thinner and thinner.
“There are things, I guess, that I still need to take care of.”
Demeter drew in a rippling breath. “You are tired. Sit, child. Rest.”
Athena cleared her throat. “No, thank you.”
“Hermes says…” She hesitated and rolled her eyes. “Hermes said that when he sat on you he could feel your pulse through his butt.”
Demeter laughed, hard enough to knock Athena off-balance. Her feet skidded apart, and she put her arms out to steady herself. Startled birds flew from wherever they’d been hiding moments before, squawking their worry at the shifting dirt.
“I wish you’d brought him,” Demeter said, quieting. “I miss his impudence.”
Athena smiled. Having finally reached her aunt she was no longer all that tired. Wind cooled the sweat on her shoulders and neck. The quest neared its end. Soon she could go home.
“Aphrodite,” she said. “What do you know?”
“Nothing.” Demeter recoiled innocently, stretching herself so thin that Athena could feel desert pebbles beneath her toes. “Without Hera to direct her path, Aphrodite will hide. So fast and so well that you’ll never find her.”
“We will find her.”
“Why do you ask if you aren’t going to listen?” Demeter snapped. “Why are you talking about a mortal girl’s revenge? Why are you fighting her fight, instead of yours?”
Athena looked away, across the sand. At first it was grief. The loss of a loved brother. And then it was guilt, too many days spent staring at Cassandra, at the shell of a girl Apollo left behind. She’d made a promise to look after them all. Cassandra, Andie, and Henry. Apollo had made her promise.
“I don’t know what it is,” she said softly. “I never … understood time before. It didn’t mean anything. I could never make a mistake. I don’t know how mortals do this. How they only live once.”
“You doubt your instincts.”
“Why shouldn’t I? Things just end. Isn’t that what you said?”
Demeter wriggled in the dirt. “I might be wrong. You beat Hera, but it wasn’t Hera who caused this. Whatever really did, you may be able to fight.” The eye bulged, scrutinizing. “Tell me. What you’re thinking.”
Images flickered in Athena’s mind: she saw Demeter rise up from the earth and shake herself off, no longer a flat expanse of skin but a woman, with brown hair waving to her waist and deep dark eyes. She saw Hermes with muscle returned to his arms, a beautiful curve in his cheek when he smiled. She saw Apollo, Aidan, bright and perfect as ever, with Cassandra by his side.
She thought and she dreamed. Of wrongs put right. Things restored that would never be. Impossibility hovered like a light in her chest and made her want. To be a hero. To feel alive. As alive as she’d felt that day on the road above Seneca Lake, when she’d charged Hera with iron in her fist.
“We won,” she said quietly. “Hera and I both sought the oracle, but I found her first. The other side was stronger, and everything went wrong. Our side was scattered and made terrible choices, but we won anyway. We left Hera and Poseidon dead, and Aphrodite running for cover. And now I have the girl who kills gods. And I have Odysseus, who can lead me to the other weapon.”
She had Hermes, and capable soldiers in Henry and Andie. And she had herself. Goddess of battle.
“You have much,” Demeter agreed.
“I don’t want to put them through any more,” Athena said, and that was true. Hermes, Odysseus, and Cassandra had been through enough. But she couldn’t deny the urge that grew daily in her gut. She couldn’t deny the exhilaration she’d felt when Hera had fallen on the road.
“Going through is the only way to the other side,” Demeter said.
“The people I’ve endangered … I would see them safe. I dragged them with me before,” she said, and paused thoughtfully. “But always in the right direction.”
“Stop trying to make me say it for you,” Demeter said. “Spit it out.”
“I’m going to wage one more war.”
“Because we’re supposed to fight, and we’re supposed to win.”
“Ah,” said Demeter. “There it is.”
“Yes. There it is. I’m going to hunt down every rogue god and monster. I’ll tear their heads from their shoulders. Cassandra will turn them to dust. One last rush of heroes on the battlefield. It’ll be glorious. Something for the books.”
“And if you win, you’ll regain your immortality?”
“Even if we don’t, at least we’ll be the last to die.”
“You’re so sure,” said Demeter.
“I am, Aunt,” said Athena. She looked up at Aidan’s sun, blazing high and hot in the sky. “I well and truly believe the Fates favor us.”
“The Fates favor you,” Demeter said quietly. “And so. What is your first step?”
“The first step,” Athena said. She’d begun pacing back and forth across her aunt without realizing it. “Try to find Artemis. Save her from the beasts in the jungle and gain another soldier.”
“That’s not the true first step,” said Demeter. “When Hera came after you, she sought two things. Two weapons. You only control one.”
“The other can’t be controlled.”
“Then he must be eliminated.”
“Yes,” Athena said. “I need Achilles kept out of the other side’s hands permanently. The trick will be convincing Odysseus to give him up. And once Achilles is gone … there’ll be nothing they can do against me.”
The eye blinked slowly. For something so sickly and close to death, it was clear as a mirror.
“Go, then, and try your tricks,” Demeter said. “None of this will really be over, anyway. Not until you are dead.”
Copyright © 2014 by Kendare Blake
Excerpted from Mortal Gods by Kendare Blake. Copyright © 2015 Kendare Blake. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Prologue: Blood and Ivory,
1. Sand Through Her Fingers,
2. Sun and Stone,
4. In the Caverns of the Earth,
5. Gods Flung to the Far Corners,
6. Civilian Relations,
7. Running Red,
8. Stranger Forests,
9. The Dogs of War,
10. Out of the Past,
11. The Wounded and the Dying,
12. Murderous Hands,
13. Killer of Men,
16. The Days of Heroes,
17. Never Look a Gift Wolf in the Mouth,
19. Moirae in the Mountain,
20. Blood and Smoke,
22. The Space that Gods Inhabit,
23. Trip to the Underworld,
24. Corpse Royalty,
25. All the Hours that Remain,
26. In Wait,
Tor Books by Kendare Blake,
About the Author,