Lydia started to speak, but Carson motioned her to silence. "She is Ma’at," he whispered. "The Egyptian goddess of justice."
Menyara turned Seth’s face toward her, then frowned as she smoothed down his left eyebrow. "Where did he come from?"
"He serves Noir," Carson answered.
"Is he a demon, then?"
Lydia cleared her throat, testing to see if Carson would let her answer yet.
He nodded at her to continue.
"He’s not a demon. He’s an Egyptian demigod. Noir bought him when he was a boy, just coming into his powers, and enslaved him."
Menyara winced as if the mere thought caused her pain. "His mother was human?"
By the way she asked the question, Lydia could tell Menyara knew the answer, but wanted it confirmed before she spoke it out loud. It was almost as if she feared by saying it first, it would somehow make it true even if it wasn’t.
Lydia licked her lips before she answered. "Set."
Menyara spoke rapidly under her breath in a language Lydia had never heard before. But it sounded like she was cursing someone. She hoped it was Set and not Seth.
After a few seconds of her anger, she calmed down, then closed her eyes and hovered her hand over Seth’s heart.
Seth’s eyes immediately flew open as he sucked his breath in sharply and arched his back. It was as if someone had a hook in his chest and was trying to lift him from the bed. He panted in pain as every muscle in his body tensed and bulged.
"Stop it!" Lydia snarled. "You’re hurting him." She rushed for Menyara, but Carson caught her.
Still, Menyara chanted in that lyrical language, not caring how much agony she caused Seth.
He groaned and cursed as if he were being tortured all over again.
Shrieking at them, Lydia wanted to stop her, but Carson wouldn’t let her. "Damn you, let me go!" She tried using her powers on both of them, but somehow they deflected them, making her feel weaker than she ever had before.
How could she not be able to stop this? How could they hurt him more? Couldn’t the goddess see he’d been through enough already?
Suddenly, light streaked out of Seth’s wounds. One by one, they began knitting themselves closed. The bruises and cuts on his face and hands slowly faded.
Lydia froze as she watched it.
When the last one was healed, he fell back flat on the bed where he lay panting. At first, he stared up at the ceiling as if waiting to feel pain again. Then he turned his head toward her and she saw the relief that filled his beautiful blue eyes. Eyes that were no longer haunted by his battle with physical pain.
It was the first time she’d seen him without any injuries or marks. Only the tattoo showed on him now.
She smiled in amazement. While she’d known he was unbelievably handsome, she’d never quite imagined the exact beauty he would hold once he was whole.
He was stunning. His coloring so unusual and exotic. And those curls … They made him irresistible.
"You need a shave, hon," she teased, walking over to him so that she could playfully scrape her fingers against the auburn whiskers that darkened his cheeks. Even they didn’t mar his looks. They only made him appear more rugged.
And if they were alone right now, she’d be nibbling her way down that angular jawline until she tongue-bathed him all over.
"What happened?" he asked in a low whisper as he reached up to finger his lips and eye that had been so damaged by Noir’s cruelty. "Why don’t I hurt anymore? Where did it all go?"
Those words brought home the fact that this was probably the only time since Noir had bought him that he hadn’t been in excruciating agony.
Lydia indicated Menyara with a tilt of her head. "She healed you."
Frowning, he turned his head. The moment he focused on Menyara’s features, he curled his lips in disgust.
Whoa … that was not the reaction she’d expected. By the look on Menyara’s face, it was evident she was expecting something a little kinder too.
"What are you doing here?" he growled at her.
Menyara’s gaze turned dark with sadness. "Shh, child," she said soothingly. "I won’t hurt you."
His cold expression showed every bit of his denial. "Your presence here offends me."
Menyara winced. She reached out to touch him, then stopped herself as if she feared how he might react to it. "What was done to you by your father was so wrong, and for that I apologize even though I know no amount of apology will ever take away the pain of what he did. I weep for that, too. But I am not my brother and I would never deny my kin."
The pain and accusation in his eyes was tangible. "You didn’t come when I called for you and I screamed for all to have mercy on me until my throat bled."
"I didn’t hear you, or I would have come."
"I don’t believe you. You are a goddess. One of order and justice. When I called for you, your silence judged me unworthy, and you left me to suffer unspeakable horrors."
Lydia wasn’t sure if she believed Ma’at either. But either way, it didn’t matter. No apology or anything else would ever be able to undo the hell they’d all damned him to.
Menyara swallowed as if she heard Lydia’s thoughts. "You look so much like my brother." She held her hand out toward his face as if she imagined she was cupping his cheek. But she didn’t make contact with him. "It’s been so very long since I last saw his face. In spite of what you think, Set wasn’t always bad or evil and I did not judge you. While your father was born of darkness, he also fought against it every night by our father’s side, making sure that Ra would rise and drive the evil back for another day … Like you with Noir … You have the better part of his nature."
"Don’t you dare defend him to me. Ever."
Menyara nodded sadly, then looked at Lydia. "The two of you must go. It’s why I’ve healed him. Your enemies won’t let you rest. Not until Seth’s powers are fully regained."
Lydia frowned. After what Menyara had just done for Seth … "Can’t you give them back?"
"Unfortunately, I’m not the one who has them. They have to leave Noir and return to Seth and there’s nothing any of us can do to rush that happening." Taking a step closer to the bed, she reached out, this time intending to touch Seth, but he grabbed her wrist before she could make contact.
"Don’t touch me."
Menyara’s eyes misted as she dropped her hand. "Noir has already sent out his hounds to find you. It won’t take them long to catch your scent here. They will sense it just as I did. I’ve healed your body, but-"
"You’ll forgive me if I don’t thank you."
"I will indeed." She stepped back and whispered under her breath.
An instant later, a tall, extremely muscular man appeared by her side. His short hair was dark brown with blond highlights, and there was something about it that reminded Lydia of a lion’s mane. His green eyes were a perfect match to Menyara’s, making her wonder if they weren’t related as well. His skin tone was much closer in color to Seth’s.
Dressed in a pair of jeans and a dark blue T-shirt, he stood as if ready to tear someone’s, anyone’s, head off.
"Maahes," Menyara said sweetly, in a tone that made his name sound like Me-uhs, "this is my nephew, Seth. I want you to watch over him until his powers return."
Maahes brought his right hand up to his left shoulder and bowed his head reverently to her. "I will guard him with my life, my lady."
Seth sneered at them. "I am the High Guardian of Azmodea. The last thing I need is someone watching over me. Trust me, I know how to fight."
Menyara sighed. "That is the same arrogance that cost your father his life."
"I’m not my father."
"No, you’re not. But you are my family, even if you deny it. And now that I’ve found you, I have no intention of seeing you hurt if I can help it." She pulled the necklace from around her neck and kissed it. She held her hand out toward Seth. The necklace vanished from her fingertips, only to reappear around his neck.
He scowled at it before he tried to snatch it off. The chain wouldn’t break.
"The kiss of Ra cannot be removed by violence. Only by love. It will protect whoever wears it from any physical harm."
Seth ground his teeth at her words, hating her for them. It was too little, much too late. His aunt Ma’at was one of many gods he despised. "Where was your kindness when I needed it?"
She glanced away, but he didn’t miss the guilt in her eyes. She knew he was right. "Sadly it wasn’t there for you. And for that I am very sorry. But things change. People change. There aren’t many of us left anymore. And I’m tired of losing the people I love. Of burying my family."
Ma’at looked at the god of war who stood next to her … another relative Seth had no use for and no desire to be near. "Travel with Maahes. If not for your safety, then for Lydia’s. He can protect her should, Ra forbid, you fall. And unlike you, he’s familiar with this world. He’ll know best where and how to hide her from harm."
Seth started to argue, but she was right. He knew exactly what Noir would do to Lydia if he caught up to them. And he was woefully ignorant of the human realm. Everything had changed so much since the last time he’d walked it as a boy. There was absolutely nothing in this room that was familiar. Not even the peculiar bed he lay on.
Reluctantly, he nodded.
His aunt smiled in satisfaction. "May Ra be between you and harm in all the empty places where you must walk." And with that, she vanished and left them.
Seth looked down at his undamaged body, amazed by it. Nothing, absolutely nothing hurt. Nothing throbbed. Nothing pinched. It was incredible. He honestly couldn’t remember the last time he’d seen it this way. The last time he’d felt no physical pain whatsoever.
So used to pain as a constant companion, he kept waiting for it to kick in.
But it didn’t.
Unable to comprehend why Ma’at would be kind to him now, after all these centuries, he conjured his armor to cover him, then scooted off the bed. Thank the gods he finally had enough power to at least clothe himself.
Lydia stopped him as he started for the door. She pressed her lips together into an adorable smile that did make one part of him hot and aching again. She swept his body with a bemused gaze, but he’d much rather have her sweep it with another part of her body. "Sweetie … honey … sugar-pie, you can’t walk around like that. There’s not a Ren Faire in town. And people will notice."
There she went with her foreign terms again. "A what?"
"Exactly." She put her hands on his chest and his armor turned into a strange short-sleeved black shirt and a pair of very uncomfortable blue pants like Maahes wore.
Holding his arms out, he looked down at it in disgust. "What is this?"
"T-shirt and jeans. It’s what modern man wears."
"But I feel nak*d in it."
"You’ll get used to it."
He wasn’t sure he wanted to. It offered no protection whatsoever. "Where do I put a sword?"
"You don’t," she said with a hint of laughter in her voice. "That will get you arrested."
He was completely perplexed by her words. "People have no weaponry here? How do they protect themselves from roaming animals and barbarians?"
"We do have weapons, we just don’t carry them out into public, and while some of my past dates would lead anyone to believe barbarians are still alive and well, and thriving, the real thing is something of the far distant past."
Maahes laughed at them. "Good gods, boy, how long has it been since you were in the human realm?"
Seth had to think about it for a minute. "When Neferkare was pharaoh."
Maahes arched a brow. "Which Neferkare?"
"There was more than one?"
Maahes snorted, then laughed. "Damn … you’re old. Not compared to me, but … you are definitely long in the tooth, and setting you loose in the current world after all this time should be entertaining as hell." He laughed until he coughed.
When he realized no one else was amused, he sobered.
Lydia gave Maahes a chiding glare. "How long ago was that?"
Carson answered, "Second Dynasty."
And that meant absolutely nothing to her.
When she deepened her scowl, Maahes clarified the description, "Around 2686 BC."
She gaped at Seth, unable to comprehend how long Noir had kept him. How long he’d been tortured.
That was over forty-five hundred years. Forty. Five. Hundred. Years. She could barely get her mind wrapped around it. And she’d stupidly thought herself to be old. She was an infant in comparison. Good thing she’d never thrown that in his face.
"Dang, you’re old." She’d been right. Seth did predate Rome.
By a lot.
"How long?" Seth asked.
Suddenly she felt bad for being even the least bit amused. "You really don’t know?"
"You’ve been to Azmodea. You know it’s always hard to tell the days apart, and then during my confinement … I honestly have no idea."
Even Maahes sobered as he realized the horror of Seth’s existence. "It’s been over forty-five hundred years since Neferkare was pharaoh."