The Guardian

Chapter 13


Terrified, Lydia started to open the door to tear this place down until she found Seth, but Jaden grabbed her just before she committed suicide.
"Don't be stupid," he snarled in her ear as he held her still with his hand on her upper arm. "They'll tear you apart-and enjoy every minute of it. And what good would that do any of us? Believe me, I don't want to scrape bloody chunks of you off the floor and ceiling. Or get your remains smeared on the bottom of my shoes."
She curled her lip in distaste at what he described. That was basically the last thing she wanted, too.
Releasing her arm, he nudged her aside so that she'd be hidden by the door before he opened it.
She bit her lip as he left her alone in his room. He was right. What she'd almost done would have been the worst sort of stupid.
Thank the gods, he'd stopped her. But she couldn't think straight after hearing that news. Seth couldn't be dead.
Tears choked her as an image of him lying in pieces haunted her.
Why do I care?
She had no idea. And yet there was no denying the pain crushing her chest at the thought of him ...
I have to know what happened.
Putting her ear to the door, she tried as hard as she could, but she couldn't hear anything else outside. No clue about what had happened or what was going on. Come on ... someone tell me something.
Time ticked by so slowly that it nauseated her. She was about to go insane before Jaden finally returned. He manifested in the room, right in front of her.
"Well?" she asked hopefully.
He hesitated and her heart stopped beating as she braced herself for the worst. The longer he delayed, the more her pain built until she had no idea how she was able to hold back her sobs.
"He's not dead," he said finally.
For that mean pause alone, she could have kicked him as she let out one audible sob at the good news. The relief from those three words was staggering. And for that, she was so grateful, she could almost kiss him.
Seth wasn't dead.
Oh thank you, gods, thank you!
"Where is he?" she asked Jaden.
He swallowed audibly. "I don't think you want me to answer that." The note in his voice returned her terror tenfold.
What could have happened? Did Noir have him caged like they'd done to Solin? Her mind ran wild with horrific possibilities as she remembered all the images and stories Jaden had told her about this place and what went on here.
"Jaden," she chided. "C'mon. After everything else you've told me? I have to know where he is."
"It's that bad, Lydia. You're better off staying here for now."
Her heart pounding, she heard Noir cursing outside the door as he tried to open it. "Jaden! You worthless piece of shit, get out here. Now!"
Jaden vanished.
She pressed her ear to the door again, desperate for any nugget of a detail. She had to know something or she'd go mad.
"You yelled?" Jaden sneered contemptuously in a tone she was surprised didn't get him backhanded.
"Can you get that bastard dog down?"
"I can try. I'm not sure he'll be in one piece when I do, though. Hope that's okay with you?"
Was he serious?
What had they done to Seth now? She covered her mouth with her hand as horror for him consumed her.
"You better succeed, maggot. I need his power. Do you understand? You let him die and you'll take his place."
"Good luck with that."
This time, she heard the blow that sent Jaden slamming into the door that separated them.
"Bring him back alive. I need him."
She heard Jaden push himself up. "Then why did you send him out there alone?"
She heard the sound of another vicious slap.
"You better remember who you are now, worm. You're not my equal."
Jaden's voice was scarce more than a feral growl. "You're right, Noir. Free or enslaved, I'll always be superior to you."
"You better be glad I need you to fetch my dog. Otherwise you would pay for that."
"Yeah, fuck you very much, too."
Something hard struck the door, making her jump. But whether it was Jaden or Noir's fist, she wasn't sure.
"Don't let him get to you, babe." It was Azura's voice she heard this time. "We will have the key soon and then no one will stop us."
"I know I shouldn't let that smug little prick get to me, but I can't help it. He was always so arrogant."
"I know, brother. But let it go. We defeated, defanged, and emasculated Jaden a long time ago. All he can do now is raise your blood pressure ... Your pet will be returned to you shortly, and it'll heal as it always does."
Lydia grimaced at the way the bitch spoke about Seth like he wasn't human. Well, okay he wasn't fully, but he wasn't an animal or an object, either.
Damn them.
You better be glad I don't have my powers, puta. If she did, they'd be having a round right about now.
Azura laughed. "Then we can share another bite of it and we'll go after Zeus and his crew. Step by step, we will make it to the Malachai and then we'll be where we should be. Rulers of the world."
They walked away.
Flicking her nails at that door, Lydia was grateful they were gone before they sensed or discovered her. Or worse, she ripped the door open and did something stupid.
Ugh! One day those two would get their comeuppance. She only hoped she was there to see it happen.
But her relief at their departure didn't last.
After a few minutes, Jaden returned to his room without Seth. Something that made her panic all over again, especially since he was absolutely coated in blood that didn't appear to be his. Literally, from his forehead to his shoes. He looked like Carrie minus the painted-on prom dress.
Why wasn't Seth with him?
"Where is he?" she asked, terrified of the answer.
His face pale, Jaden was actually shaking as he made his way to his table and reached for an opaque, green decanter without answering her or even looking in her direction.
This had to be bad.
And as he poured his drink into a jewel-encrusted gold cup, Lydia frowned at the thickness of the liquid and the color. If she didn't know better, she'd swear it was blood.
After he knocked back all the contents of his cup, he finally looked at her. "You don't want to see him right now. Trust me."
"Don't be ridiculous. I have to go to him." He would be alone with no one to tend his wounds, and that was the last thing he needed.
Jaden crossed the room and placed his hands on her shoulders. His eerie eyes burned her with their intensity, anger, and disgust. "Lydia, listen to me," he growled between clenched teeth. "They almost cut him in half. Do you understand? I..." he winced as if he couldn't bear whatever flashed through his mind. When he met her gaze again, she swore she saw tears in his eyes. "Long ago I was one of the most revered warlords ever born, with a lot of field experience of god-war and massacre proportions. I fought and survived battles that would make Quentin Tarantino's movies look like a 1950s Disney musical, and I've never, ever seen anything so gruesome. Do you hear me?"
Those words hit her like blows.
He couldn't be serious. Surely not ...
Her own tears cut warm trails down her cheeks as she imagined what he'd found. What was left of Seth ...
Releasing her, Jaden raked a trembling hand through his hair and winced. "It's ... it's sick what they did to him. I didn't think anyone could be crueler than Noir. I stand corrected."
He snarled something in a language she'd never heard before. "I should never have let him go alone. I knew better. It's my fucking fault. All of this." He lowered his head and fisted his hands in his hair. "How could I have been so stupid? So selfish? Gah, I'm such a fucking idiot."
She wasn't sure if he was talking about his guilt over Seth or something else. But it was obvious, his past was every bit as brutal and traumatizing as Seth's.
Reaching out, she placed a comforting hand on Jaden's shoulder. "You did what Seth asked."
Jaden shook his head and this time there definitely were tears in his eyes, and her own flowed in response to seeing a man this strong hurt so much. "I just wanted five minutes of not having Azura and Noir breathing down my neck. Five minutes." His gaze tore into hers with the hatred that he bore for himself. "I condemned an innocent child into an eternity of hell for that five minutes. I'm worse than they are."
"No, Jaden. You're not. You think they have given his pain any consideration at all?"
He curled his lip as he shrugged her touch away. "Don't patronize me and tell what I am and what I'm not. I see myself for what I've become and I've never deluded myself or tried to spin my actions into something they're not. I know the beast in me and live with it every day."
And he hated it. He didn't say it because he didn't have to.
She knew there was no way to comfort him and even if there was, he wouldn't let her. He was too bent on flogging himself for his past mistakes.
Meanwhile, there was another man here who needed help. One who had somehow become important to her. If she couldn't help Jaden, the least she could do was go to him.
"Where is Seth?"
Jaden hesitated before he answered. "His room."
"Take me to him."
"I really don't think you need or want to see this."
She glared up at his peculiar eyes. "If you don't take me to him, right now, this second, I'll walk out that door and find him myself."
He growled low in his throat as he glared his anger at her. "And you would, too. You stubborn fool. Just remember, it was that kind of blatant stupidity that trapped me here. You should listen once in a while when someone warns you."
Lydia thought about that. He was right. She'd always been prone to leap and then think about the consequences on her way down the cliff, into the swirling ocean. Solin had dogged her hard over that her entire life. But she wasn't going to change today.
"He needs us."
Jaden shook his head. "Fine, but don't say I didn't warn you."
Before she could blink, they were in Seth's room, which was still bathed with that eerie blue glow. She took a second to get her bearings in the dark silence that heightened the sound of her own heart beating. The jackal in her smelled his blood, not that she couldn't see it plainly enough.
How did he have any left inside his body?
Completely naked, Seth lay on the bed so still, he didn't seem real or alive. With his head turned away from her, his straightened auburn hair spilled over the black pillow.
Bracing herself for the worst, she walked across the room slowly.
His breathing was so shallow, she could barely see his chest moving. His skin had a deathly ashen pallor to it and was covered with a fine sheen of sweat. Sweat that made the swallow on his neck glisten, reminding her of how he'd gotten that tattoo.
She choked back a sob over the pain of his life, wishing she could make him forget it.
He lay with his long legs stretched out and one arm draped over his chest, just above ...
She froze in horror. "Oh my God," she breathed as she finally saw what Jaden had warned her about.
Never in her entire life had she seen a wound so foul. It looked as if a sword had gone through his stomach, just above his hip and below his bottom rib, stopping only when it hit his spine.
How could he still be alive? How? It defied any kind of logical explanation and she couldn't imagine how excruciating it had to be.
Worse, he was still conscious. Against all odds and all reason. His eyes were mere slits, but they glowed with his agony as he turned his head to look at her.
His breathing became ragged as he gave her that familiar scowl that was redundant with his face paint.
How could he stand it and not scream? How? But then she knew.
He was used to pain.
It was all he knew.
She wanted to scream for him over what they'd done. There was no sense in this. Damn them all for it. Why wasn't someone tending him? Doing something to alleviate his pain?
But then she knew the answer to that, too.
No one cared. No one except her.
Taking his bleeding hand into hers, she knelt on the floor beside him. The last thing she wanted was to jar the bed in any way and cause him more pain. "What happened?"
His grip was weak as he swallowed. He didn't answer her question. With his gaze locked on hers, he spoke to Jaden, who stood just to her left. "I'm returning her powers to her. I need you to send her out of here, back to her own world."
Lydia shook her head in denial. "I won't leave with you like this."
His glared intensified. "You have to, and you need to go now."
"No. I-"
"Listen to me, Lydia." He tensed and grimaced as if pain tore through him. For several seconds he panted from the weight of it. Then his tight grip relaxed and he opened his eyes again. "I wasn't attacked. I-I was tortured."
It took several heartbeats before she understood what he was saying. But it made no sense. "Why?"
He broke out into another round of sweat as if talking was straining him too much. "The Greek gods are looking for you. Not to take you home. They've been sent here to kill you."
Her jaw fell under the assault of disbelief that hit her hard. "What?"
"He's telling the truth," Jaden said from behind her. "I found him bolted to the Wall. It looked like they'd spent all night, trying to force him to take them to you."
Seth coughed up blood, something that made the rest of his body bleed even more. Tears of pain gathered in his blue eyes. "I told them nothing. But they know that you're in this realm. It's why they breached my room. Somehow they could tell you were in here." He had to pause to catch his breath. "Jaden had you shielded last night in his room so they couldn't locate you."
His words stunned her. None of it made any sense. "Why would they want to kill me?" What had she ever done to them? She'd purposefully stayed away from the Greek gods.
"They wouldn't say. But you have to go and hide from them. They won't stop until you're dead." He lifted her hand to his bloody lips and kissed her knuckles. The moment his lips touched her skin, she felt a rush go through her as he restored all of her powers.
When he released her hand, the blood was gone from her skin. "Go."
When she didn't leave, he glanced past her to Jaden. "Get her out of here."
Jaden nodded, then pulled her toward a corner, out of Seth's line of vision. Before they left, he leaned in to whisper in her ear. "You should know something."
"He could have stopped his torture at any time by telling them where to find you. The only reason it stopped was that his morning relief saw that it was Greek gods and not Thorn's people attacking him and called for reinforcements. Otherwise, he'd still be bolted to that Wall ... protecting you."
With his blood and flesh.
Her heart shattered as she heard those words. Seth didn't believe in protecting anyone except himself. How many times had he said that? Yet there he lay, torn apart because of her.
How could she leave him to this?
"Can you do something to heal him?"
Jaden shook his head. "I don't have those powers."
And neither did she. Nor did she know anyone with them.
"What's going to happen to him after I leave?"
Jaden fell silent as he considered it. "He'll eventually heal. The pain will be unbearable until he does, but ... he'll live. However, if Noir finds out he was tortured and not attacked by Thorn's people, and why he was interrogated by Greeks ... his punishment will be a lot worse than this. By keeping you here, he's brought enemies into Noir's home. That's not something the King Asshole and Queen Whore take lightly."
She couldn't imagine anything worse. Her stomach heaved at the thought.
And in that moment, she knew what she had to do.
No matter what it cost her.
"How do I get him out of here?"