The Guardian



"Was hell good for you?"
Seth looked up from beneath the strands of his blood-soaked auburn hair, to snarl at the sound of a voice he hadn't heard in centuries.
Primal god.
Lord of all things dark and deadly.
Rank bastard.
He would have responded to the stupid question, but his mouth had been bolted shut by the demons who'd been torturing him for the last ...
Ah hell, who could count that high? And why would anyone want to when every single heartbeat drove home a pain so foul he no longer remembered living without it? Indeed, over the centuries, pain had become its own source of pleasure.
Yeah, I'm even more fucked up than Noir.
With the bolt in place, he hadn't been able to speak since he'd been thrown in here. Not that he would. He'd never give any of them the satisfaction of hearing him beg or cry out. Only one person had ever made him do that and, even after a millennium, his adoptive father's mocking condemnation still echoed in his ears.
Screw them. He wasn't a child now, and he'd die before he ever humiliated himself again by asking for something he knew he'd never receive.
But he would have insulted Noir if he'd been able to. As it was, all he could do was glare his hatred at the ancient being and wish he possessed his full powers so that he could rain down utter misery on all of them.
Almost seven feet in height, Noir made the demons around them tremble in fear. His immaculate black suit and crisp white shirt looked out of place in the cold dark room-a room with walls that were splattered and stained with Seth's blood.
Noir reached up and patted him on the cheek like he was a dutiful puppy. "Mmm. I have to say hell doesn't appear to agree with you. I've seen you look at least a little better than this sorry state."
"Fuck you," Seth said, but his words were indistinguishable. The bolt kept him from moving his mouth or tongue. All it did was shoot an excruciating jolt of pain through him.
Like he needed that.
Noir arched his black brow. "Thank you? I can't imagine why you'd be thanking me for this misery. You are a sick bastard, aren't you?"
Seth ground his teeth. The playful light in Noir's black eyes told him that the pig only said it to piss him off.
It worked. Not that Noir had to make the effort. The mere fact that ... Seth couldn't think of an insult bad enough. That Noir lived was enough to grate his last nerve.
Noir glanced around at the others. "Leave us."
Could that tone be any more commanding?
Oh yeah, wait. We were talking about Noir. Of course it could.
And the ancient god didn't have to say it twice. The demons immediately vanished, terrified that Noir's wrath would deliver to them the same "hospitality" he'd shown Seth. After all, Seth had once been Noir's most beloved pet-one he'd lavished with gifts in between the abuse.
The dark god had never been able to stand the demons who served him.
Hell, I'd run, too, if I could.
Seth envied them that freedom as his naked body hung lankly from the ceiling, with his hands shackled over his head. He'd been in this position for so long that his wrist bones protruded through the open cuts the manacles had worn through his flesh.
He was sure it had to hurt, but that pain blended in nicely with all the others so that he couldn't tell where one ache began and another throb ended. Who knew torture could have benefits?
Once they were alone, Noir returned to stand in front of him with a snarl that was as impressive as it was cold. "I have a proposition for you. Are you interested?"
Not even a little. He'd had his fill of bargains. No one could ever be trusted to hold up their end of them. Let Noir go roast his nuts in a fiery hellhole somewhere.
The gods knew, in this place, Noir wouldn't have far to go to find one.
Seth looked away.
Noir tsked. "You know you have no choice except to obey me, slave. I own you."
And that ate on him even more than the flesh-devouring vermin the demons had salted his wounds with. Damn you all. His own family had sold him to Noir when he'd been nothing more than a child. It was something no one ever allowed him to forget.
As if he could.
Noir buried his hand in Seth's hair and yanked his head back. That action caused the bolt to dig deeper into his throat and tongue.
The sudden pain of it made his eyes water in protest as his old wounds were reopened and blood poured into his mouth.
Maybe this time I'll drown from it. But he knew the sad truth. He was immortal. Death would never save him from this misery, any more than it had spared him from the rest of his violent past.
His only way out was Noir's ever missing mercy.
Noir tightened his fist against Seth's skull, wrenching his hair even more. "I have need of your special services."
I have need of your rank heart in my fist.
The bastard smiled as if he could hear that thought. "If you fail me this time, I can assure you that your next stint here will make this one seem like paradise. Do you understand?"
Seth refused to respond.
Noir snatched a handful of hair out as he released him. Pain seared his scalp, causing the vermin in his body to bite even more ferociously as they scrambled toward the fresh blood.
Seth's breathing turned ragged as he locked his jaw even tighter to keep from groaning out in utter relentless agony. He squeezed his eyes shut and fought the wave of unconsciousness that threatened to take him under. They only made it worse on him when he passed out.
Don't do it, asshole. Focus ...
Damn you, stay awake!
He gripped his restraints as his vision swam.
Noir gave him an acidic smile that didn't reach his eyes. "You will do me proud and get what I require, or..."
He didn't finish the threat. He didn't have to.
They both were more than aware that Seth would do anything to keep from returning to this sorry state of existence. In spite of all his bravado, he knew the bitter truth.
He'd been broken by their cruelty.
And he would never be the same.
There was nothing left inside him except a hatred so profound, so deep, he could taste it. That bitter hatred mixed with the steel of the bolt, and blood-it was all he'd had for nourishment these centuries past.
Noir's smile turned genuine. "I knew you'd come around eventually." He snapped his fingers.
The manacles on Seth's hands broke free. He fell from the ceiling to land on his legs. But centuries of abuse and nonuse kept them from supporting his weight.
He crumpled to the ground where he lay so weak, he couldn't even lift his head. No part of his body worked anymore. It'd been too long since he last used his muscles.
Noir kicked him in the stomach hard enough to turn him over, onto his back. Curling his lip, he raked Seth with a sneer. "You're disgusting, you pathetic dog. Get cleaned up." Then he vanished into the darkness.
Seth lay on the floor, his mouth still bolted closed. Blinking hard, he stared at his blood on the walls around him. The shadows there seemed to make the bloodstains dance. And in the flickering, he saw the outline of his naked, ravaged body.
All this because he'd once made a bargain with the only person he'd ever called friend.
I will never again be so stupid.
Because no one had helped him. Not once. Not in all this time. Not a single entity had come to offer him any kind of compassion or solace ... not even an apology.
A sip of water ...
It, too, was a lesson he would remember.
Whatever Noir asked of him, he would do. Without question. Without mercy. Anything to keep from returning here and being hurt anymore.
Just one minute of peace ... please. Was that really too much to ask?
His resolve set, he braced himself for the new onslaught of pain and slowly pushed himself up on trembling limbs as he felt his god powers finally returning. With every heartbeat he grew stronger. Still, they wouldn't go to full strength.
Noir had never allowed that. Either he or Azura would drain Seth whenever his powers became too strong.
But he had enough that he could finally clothe himself and stand upright, even if it was on unsteady feet. And when the demons returned, he gave them the payback they deserved.
They begged him for clemency. But he had none left. Not after they'd ruthlessly violated every part of him to the point he couldn't remember a time when his body hadn't throbbed from their torture. Minute by minute, for countless centuries, they had brutally stolen any lingering shred of humanity he might have once possessed.
Nothing would ever take that away and he would never, ever again trust another soul. No matter what. May the gods help whoever Noir wanted him to go after.
For he would take no pity on them whatsoever.