The Guardian (Page 7)

The Guardian (Dark-Hunter #21)(7)
Author: Sherrilyn Kenyon

"I understand, my lord."

"I don’t think you do, slave. But you’re about to."

Chapter 5

Solin shook in uncontrollable fear and rage. Yes, he was in excruciating pain, but that didn’t matter to him as he entered the home of his enemies.

Olympus.

The hall of the Oneroi, to be precise. He hadn’t been here in so long, he’d all but forgotten what it looked like. Nothing shy of major desperation had him here now.

Only for Lydia would he do this. And for her, he would do absolutely anything. No questions asked. All she had to do was call and he would come to her, no matter the consequences.

His heart pounding, he entered the chambers that he was banned from.

Madoc, the eldest leader of the Oneroi, looked up with a fierce frown that quickly melted into a mask of total disbelief. Like every full-blooded Dream-Hunter in existence, Madoc held an exceptional beauty that made it hard for humans to look at him in the flesh. His short hair was jet-black and his blue eyes practically glowed.

He rose to his feet. Resting his fists on the conference table, he leaned forward in an obvious sign of aggression. As if that would ever intimate him. "Solin?" His tone was low and hushed, as if Madoc thought he might be hallucinating.

Solin kept his face stoic. There was no need to alienate Madoc quite yet. "Yes, hell froze over." It would have had to for him to be here asking Madoc for any kind of favor.

Madoc arched a condescending brow. "Why are you here?"

Because the gods knew that while they’d formed a truce years ago in Greece, they had never been friends. Neither of them trusted the other.

They’d fought each other too many centuries for that.

Solin stood on the opposite side of the table and duplicated Madoc’s stance. "We have a problem."

That only amused him. Madoc snorted a rude denial. "We?"

Solin was about to knock the smug look right off Madoc’s features. But he didn’t need his fists to do it. His words would be much more effective for once. "Remember the key to Olympus?" All of them had come after Solin for it.

For centuries.

They had tried everything to find and destroy it while Solin had protected it with every ounce of his strength.

That key held the only thing that could kill the Olympian gods and destroy their entire existence. The blood of the three races that Zeus, Apollo, and the Fates had wrongfully condemned and punished.

Blood that was mixed with that of an Atlantean goddess who had cursed them when they killed her only son and then trapped her in the Atlantean hell realm. The goddess of absolute destruction, Apollymi, had promised them the day of retribution when the beast of the past would come and confront them all for their numerous transgressions.

"Unless you send Apollo to me, and that bitch Artemis, it will bring forth my justice and avenge my innocent son whom Apollo butchered like an animal …

"A combination of all you have sought so desperately to destroy, it will survive against all odds. And its blood mixture will be your poison.

"And on that day when it comes for you, my laughter will ring in the Hall of Zeus, and every Greek god will feel my wrath as they die in utter agony.

"He sah te, akram justia!"

All hail the queen’s justice.

For over eleven thousand years, it had been the horror story used to frighten all of them. And it was the real reason why the Fates refused to allow the Were-Hunters to choose their own mates. Why they wouldn’t allow a Were-Hunter to mate with any but their chosen one …

But destiny refused to be denied forever.

And even the best-laid plans eventually led the architect straight to hell.

He sah te, akram justia …

Madoc’s entire face turned as white as his shirt the minute he realized what was coming next. "You mean the key you swore to us you’d destroyed? What of it?"

"I’m sure it won’t come as a surprise to you now to learn that I lied. The key wasn’t destroyed."

Madoc cursed. "What happened to it?"

A new pain tore through Solin as his fear overwhelmed his fury. If he told the truth, they would kill Lydia.

If he didn’t, Seth would kill her.

The sword of Damocles hung directly over him now. But the one truth he knew for a fact was that he couldn’t negotiate or bargain with Seth. He’d been trying for that and the bastard was steadfast on destroying them.

Don’t betray me again, Madoc. Above all, the Greeks were his family. Madoc could be rational at times, and like Solin, he’d been captured and tortured by Noir himself.

In the end, no argument trumped the one bitter truth that Solin kept coming back to.

The gods he’d fought against for centuries were his only hope for saving Lydia’s life.

His only hope.

Solin took a deep breath and braced himself for Madoc’s answer. "I want you to swear by the River Styx that you won’t destroy the key when I tell you how to find it. That you will stand with me, brother, to protect it."

Madoc laughed bitterly. "You know I can’t do that."

"You have no choice in this."

Madoc scoffed at him. "I-"

"If you don’t swear," he snarled, cutting him off, "all of you will die. And I do mean all of you. There won’t be a single Greek god left."

A tic started in Madoc’s jaw. "I won’t be held hostage by you, and you know how Zeus is when confronted."

Solin shrugged with a nonchalance he definitely didn’t feel. "Then you will die painfully … just like D’Alerian and M’Ordant." They, along with Madoc, had been the ruling council for the Oneroi for centuries.

Until Noir had turned the evil Oneroi against their brethren. He’d almost succeeded in destroying every one of the Dream-Hunters.

Almost.

And they were still recovering from his attack. Madoc was one of the few prisoners Noir had taken who’d survived. He, Delphine, who had been instrumental in saving them, and Zeth, one of the evil Oneroi Noir had turned, were now the leaders. And while Delphine led them, in this, he knew Madoc was his best hope.

As for D’Alerian, he’d been the Dream-Hunter Noir had tortured and killed to find out that Solin had been the one who hid the key in the world of man. Bloody bastard for not keeping his mouth shut. And in the end what had it gotten him?

A slow and painful death.

Madoc pushed himself upright and crossed his arms over his chest. Annoyed, he let out one feral breath. "Fine. I swear on the River Styx that I won’t destroy the key. Now where is it?"

Solin swallowed as another wave of pain ripped through him. He blamed himself for this. He should have known what would happen. But it was too late now to focus on what should have and could have been done.

They had to fight and fight hard.

"It’s currently in the hands of Noir’s guardian."

Chapter 6

Lydia paused as the demon reappeared in the room with her. Even though he stood as proud and fierce as he always did, she saw the shame and self-loathing in his icy blue eyes before he blinked and averted his gaze, then slowly limped to his desk.

As he sat down in the ornately carved chair, she started to ask him if he was all right, but didn’t want to wound his pride any worse than it already appeared to be. There was no need to ask that when she could already tell he was embarrassed and upset.

And it was painfully obvious that he wasn’t all right. He was hurting and she didn’t mean the physical pain of his injuries. An air of hopeless despair, and utter grief and sadness clung to him. She’d never seen anything like it. Not even in nightmares.

Without a word, he carefully wiped at the fresh blood trickling from the corner of his nose and swollen mouth. There was more blood from his ear, running down his neck in a bright red stripe that matched his makeup. The fact that he ignored it completely told her just how often this happened to him. He no longer reacted to it.

For some reason she couldn’t name, that image of him sitting there, looking so lost and yet fierce, touched a part of her heart and made her ache for him as if it were her own pain.

He wore a mask of tough, unshakable power and yet …

She didn’t see the demon’s painted-on face right now. She only saw the man who hid himself behind it. And even though they were enemies, she wanted to soothe that side of him.

Maybe, just maybe, if she could reach it, he might help her and Solin. The gods knew he had no reason to side with Noir. Not when the bastard abused him so.

There was a flesh and blood man inside his soul. One in eternal pain. And having been wounded and orphaned in a world that was suspicious of and angry at her kind, and hateful beyond belief, she understood the need to draw inward and hide. The proclivity to strike out and hurt them before they hurt her.

It was a survivor’s instinct. A fighter’s way.

But for Solin and his love, she wouldn’t have been any better or kinder than the demon was. There was no telling what she would have become ultimately.

One person could make such a difference in someone’s life. Either good or bad. With their actions and words, a single individual had the power to save or destroy another.

She’d been so lucky. Solin had appeared when she needed him and taken away her pain. He’d taught her to laugh again and to love, even when her past told her to keep her heart closed.

But the demon …

He didn’t have a Solin to hold him and tell him that everything would be all right. That he would kill anyone who harmed him, and protect him no matter the threat. A Solin who promised him that in time the pain of the past would fade to a dull ache and that he would learn to love and laugh again.

Solin had been her greatest gift.

Instead, too many had attacked this demon and tried to destroy him, and they had failed.

Perhaps it was time someone tried another tactic besides violence. One he might not be able to defend against.

She crossed halfway to where he sat, afraid to get too close lest he put his defenses in place and repel her. "What’s your name?"

Licking at the cut on his lip, he furrowed his brow as he finally turned his attention to her. "Excuse me?"

So the beast had manners after all. It was refreshing to see them.

"Your name. What is it?"

Seth sat in silence as he pondered how to answer what should be a simple thing. No one other than Azura’s servant, Jaden, had used his given name since he’d left the human realm.

To his face-whenever he wasn’t pinned down and unable to strike back-the demons called him Guardian or Master. Noir and Azura only called him by insults or Slave, so much so that he wasn’t even sure if they knew his name.

Bastard was probably the most common or least offensive epitaph he bore.

Still …

Why would she want to know his name when no one else ever had? Not even Jaden had asked. He’d merely plucked it out of Seth’s head, without his permission, the first time they met.

Honestly, he wasn’t sure if he wanted to hear it on her lips. A part of him was even afraid of that small intimacy and what it might do to him. No good could come of her calling him by name.

None.

"Why do you want to know it?"

Lydia sighed wearily. "You are ever suspicious of everything. Are you really that afraid of me? What in the name of Olympus could I, as small as I am, do to you?"

She could weaken him, and here, in this hell where he was forced to live, that could get him hurt a lot worse. To care about anything or anyone …

Those were the most lethal of weapons. It was exactly why he was holding her.

To weaken and control Solin.

I will never be such a fool. Not for anyone or anything.

He’d come into this world alone and alone he would forever remain.

"I’m not afraid of you, woman," he sneered. "I fear nothing." How could he? His entire life was nightmare after nightmare. If he feared something, it was used against him.

So any fear he might have once held had been purged centuries ago.

Now …

He was empty at best and furious at worst. Those were the only two emotions he had. The only two he was capable of understanding anymore.

Her topaz eyes filled with sadness, she shook her head. "Exchanging names is what people do when they meet."

"Yes, but I’m not a…" he stopped just short of saying "person." They had long ago stripped that last bit of dignity out of him. He didn’t know what he was anymore. Not really. But she didn’t need to know that either.

"You’re not what?" she asked after a minute.

"Human."

Lydia sensed that that wasn’t what he’d started to say. "But you do have a name, don’t you?"

He nodded. "You may call me Master."

Fire burned bright in her eyes as she curled her lip derisively. "I call no man Master. Ever. And that includes you, for the record, buster. So get over yourself. Gah! I can’t believe the nerve of you."

Those words angered him. "Are you mocking me?"

Lydia seethed at his ridiculous question. "Aren’t you mocking me?"

He actually managed to appear stunned by that. Several other emotions she couldn’t identify flickered over his features as more blood trickled from his nose. Absently, he wiped it away before he spoke again. "How so?"

She closed the distance between them, wanting to strangle him for it. Was he really that dense? "Telling me to call you Master? What kind of bullshit is that? No one owns me and they damn sure don’t control me."