As he listened, the familiar sounds of violence and battle rang out around him, reminding him of the life he’d had to endure all these centuries past.
I don’t want to go back to that. Ever.
He wasn’t a coward. But he was tired of fighting for every little thing. Of being on guard with every creature he came into contact with, knowing they wouldn’t hesitate to strike out at him if given a chance.
Lydia had spoiled him with another world, and it was one he never wanted to leave.
Which meant he had to get rid of these ass**les so that they could …
Make a commitment to each other. That’s what Lydia had called it. And that was the life he wanted now. One with her in it.
That was the life, the only thing, he was willing to fight for.
Closing his eyes, he tapped into the powers that Noir had been stripping from him since puberty. They were stronger now than they’d been even an hour ago, and they still weren’t at full strength. It made him wonder what they’d be like at maximum capacity. They’d have to be impressive, given what he felt right now.
No wonder Noir had kept him under heel. At full strength, he would have the ability to give the bastard a good run for his money.
The jackals should have asked for a higher price when they sold him. Stupid bastards.
And with those powers, he was able to see everything going on inside the throne room.
Verlyn and Maahes were there and engaged in a bloody fight as they stood toe-to-toe. But they weren’t alone.
Far from it.
Solin, along with other Dream-Hunters and a Greek god he didn’t recognize, were fighting another group of their own kind. And as he watched and listened, he finally understood why everyone was after them.
Why the gods were after Lydia.
His stomach churned. Verlyn wasn’t here for just him.
There was someone even more important to everyone in that room. He looked back over his shoulder.
The same person who was everything to him.
In her jackal form, Lydia started to run past him, but he caught her against his chest and held her tight before she made a serious mistake.
Struggling against his hold to free herself, she flashed back to human. She crouched beside him to give him a nasty glare. "What are we waiting for?"
But it was a little late for that. What the hell? Not like he’d ever had any to begin with.
He inclined his head to the combatants inside. "The Phonoi and those bitches from my dreams are in there."
Lydia felt the blood drain from her face as she heard his news. The Phonoi? Here?
Why would they have come for Seth when he was Egyptian and Noir’s property?
As the Greek embodiment of Murder, Slaughter, and Killing, the Phonoi were the triplet goddesses Zeus sent in whenever he wanted someone killed.
But why kill Seth?
"Are you sure?"
Nodding, Seth’s jaw muscle worked furiously. He pinned her with a stare that made her stomach clench. "You’re the key, Lydia."
She drew back with a scowl. "The key to what?"
"The key to Olympus that they’re trying to find."
The man was nuts. "There’s no way. You’re wrong."
He stroked her cheek, looking at her as if he’d never seen her before. But that wasn’t what scared her. It was the light in the back of that icy blue gaze that sent a shiver over her because she didn’t know what it signified.
"Think about it, sšn. It’s the only thing that makes sense. Don’t you see? It’s why Solin was the only one who knew where the key was. Why the Greek Dream-Hunters came for me, demanding I give you to them. Why else would they want to kill you?"
Even though it made sense, she refused to believe it. She couldn’t. "I can’t be the key to Olympus. I know nothing about it. I’ve never been there. Never met Zeus or any of them. I…"
Lydia’s voice trailed off as a long-forgotten memory flashed through her mind. She saw her mother on that awful night that was forever branded in her heart. Smelled the fire and heard the screams and shouts of her family dying.
"Where is it? Give us the key and we’ll spare the rest of you."
She’d never seen who attacked them, but now she remembered the angry voices that had been right outside their small home.
Their attackers had been looking for a key that night, too. Her grandfather and uncles had gone to fight them while her mother grabbed her from bed and dressed her to run.
"Stay calm, Lydia. Don’t panic." Her mother had kissed her on the cheek. "I know you’re scared. So am I. But this is something you have to do alone. I can’t go with you. Now that they have my scent, they’ll be able to hunt you down and find you if I do."
Lydia had tried to speak, only to learn that she couldn’t. And that terrified her even more. Why couldn’t she make even a whisper?
Her mother’s hand had shaken as she stroked her hair to soothe her. "I did that so that you can never speak of this night to anyone. You understand? Trust no one … Now, I’m sending you to your father. He’ll guard you always. You are the key that men will kill to possess. Whatever you do, listen to what your father tells you. One day, you’ll understand."
Then her mother had tried to transport her to Greece.
Lydia hadn’t made it. Their enemies had killed her mother before she could finish the transport.
Instead of Greece, she’d landed in the desert. Alone. Terrified. Bereft. For days, she’d staggered through it until one man had come out of a sandstorm to save her.
She wouldn’t know he was her father until long after she’d grown up.
And then only because, as a young woman, she’d been desperate to learn something about the man she’d thought had abandoned her and her mother. Ready to confront him and give him nightmares until he begged for mercy, she had been shocked to her foundation to find Solin.
The man who’d raised her like a daughter because she was his daughter. A daughter he was terrified of claiming lest one of his enemies hurt her because of him.
She still remembered that night of discovery as if it were yesterday.
"I tried everything to make your mother love me. At first she thought I was a human and then when she found out I was a Dream-Hunter, she hated me.
"Even then, I didn’t give up hope. But in the end, I had to leave. She wouldn’t allow me to stay no matter what I said or did.
"I didn’t find out about you until your third birthday, and I promised her that I wouldn’t try to see you. She was afraid that if anyone learned I was your father, that they’d hurt you for it. And I knew she was right to be afraid, so I agreed to stay away from you."
All her mother had ever said to her and her grandfather was that Lydia’s father had been a god who’d seduced her. She’d never named Solin.
"I am the key," she breathed to Seth, facing the truth that scared her. As Seth had said, it all made sense now. "What are we going to do?"
Seth had no answer for that as a thousand thoughts went through his head all at once. And all of them had the same outcome.
Watching Lydia die.
Now that Verlyn had been called out, he wouldn’t stop until he had them both locked in Azmodea, and while they could run for a while, they would be pursued constantly until they made a mistake.
And then they’d both be in Azmodea. Sooner or later. No matter how hard they tried. There was no way to run forever.
Honestly, he didn’t care about himself. His own life had no meaning or value to him. It never had. But hers …
She was everything. For her, he would fight.
For her, he would die.
And now that they knew who and what she was, the Greeks would never stop hunting her. Not until she was dead and posed no threat to them.
Neither would Noir. If Seth knew nothing else about the gods, he knew that much.
And the more he chased his thoughts, the more he kept coming back to the only solution that made sense. But that solution made him ill.
You can’t. Noir will kill you.
If only. But Noir wouldn’t kill him. He’d only make him wish he was dead.
Bracing himself for what he had to do to free her of this, he offered her a grim smile. "I have an idea."
* * *
The moment Seth entered the throne room with Lydia in his arms, all the fighting stopped. One by one, the others turned to gape at him.
He held his head high while inside he was so cold and aching that he wasn’t sure how he could move.
I had to do this. There was no other way.
But knowing that didn’t make it easier to bear. Like his father, he was a god of tragedy and sorrow. Ever condemned to destroy whatever it was he might love.
Condemned to never know love at all.
Seth kept his gaze on the Greek gods as he took Lydia toward the Phonoi and Solin, who’d been fighting each other. It was so quiet now, he could hear the blood rushing through his veins.
With his jaw slack, Maahes lowered his sizzling lightning bolts. Fury blazed in the god’s eyes, but Seth was too numb right now to care what the ancient god thought about him. "What have you done, boy?"
Seth didn’t answer as he walked past Maahes and placed Lydia on the ground at Solin’s feet. "I told you I’d kill her if you didn’t return. I just kept my word."
With a cry born of ultimate grief, Solin drove a short sword straight through Seth’s side.
Grimacing in pain, Seth shoved him back, then wrenched the sword out. He faced the Phonoi and Dream-Hunters around him, then dropped the weapon on the ground. "All of you can stop fighting now. She’s dead."
The Phonoi moved to check.
Seth struggled to keep his composure. But in his mind, all he could see was the look on Lydia’s face when he’d stabbed her and apologized for it. The fear and accusation in her topaz eyes had torn him apart.
"Why?" she’d breathed, her eyes filled with the pain he’d given her as she placed her hand to his cheek. He still had her bloody handprint there.
Unable to answer for the agony that shredded whatever remained of his battered soul, he’d merely held her against him, choking on his grief as he watched the fire fade from her eyes. And when she’d gone limp in his arms and her hand had fallen away from his skin for the last time, he swore he’d died with her.
He’d never hated himself more.
Not that it mattered. Lydia was gone.
Now they would leave her in peace.
The Phonoi glared at him in unison as they verified her death to the others.
When Solin went to attack him again, Verlyn grabbed him to keep him from hurting Seth. Solin struggled against him, calling Seth every name he could think of and inventing a number of insults Seth had never heard before.
But Seth ignored him.
Besides, there was no insult Solin threw at him that he hadn’t already thrown at himself, and worse.
The Phonoi approached him as a single unit. "Thank you for your service."
Seth’s breath caught as he heard the gratitude in their voices. He’d finally had someone thank him, and what had it been for?
Killing the only thing he’d ever loved.
But still he said nothing as they faded out of the room.
The other Greek gods who’d been fighting by Solin’s side to save her, stared at him as if he were the dirt they stood on.
Seth met their condemnation every bit as stoically.
Closing the distance between them, Verlyn grabbed him by the hair and snatched his head back while he immobilized Seth’s limbs so that he couldn’t fight or flee.
But why run now?
Grimacing in pain, Seth kept his gaze on Lydia’s body as they faded from the room.
I love you, Lydia. Please forgive me.
With the blink of an eye, Seth was back where he’d started.
Well, more precisely, he was in Noir’s study, where the dark lord rose to his feet to confront him.
Verlyn shoved him forward, then returned to wherever it was he stayed when he wasn’t serving Noir.
Heartbroken, and more tired that he’d ever been before, Seth faced his master, knowing he’d screwed himself straight to the wall this time. There would never be another moment of peace in his life. Not another moment free of misery.
It was what he deserved.
"On your knees, dog," Noir growled at him.
Seth shook his head. He wasn’t about to bow down to anyone.
Noir curled his lip. "Ever defiant. Did I not tell you what I’d do if you failed to bring me the key?"
"Did you think I was bluffing?" Noir grabbed him by the throat and dissolved his armor.
There was no need to respond. There was nothing Noir could do to him now that would compete with the agony of living without Lydia.
In fact, he hoped the physical pain would be able to distract him from the misery in his heart. Because right now, that burned more than any injury he’d ever sustained.
"I’m going to enjoy this," Noir snarled at him.
Seth laughed bitterly and then did what he did best.
He pissed off his master. "Go ahead. Do your worst."
* * *
"I’m so sorry."
Solin ignored Delphine as he cradled his daughter’s body against his chest and wept. His soul screamed out that she, the only thing in his life that had ever meant a damn to him, was now gone, and he felt so incredibly lost.
In a life marked by scarring pain and soul-searing agony, nothing compared to what he felt right now. Nothing.
All he could do was see images of Lydia as a child, reaching out to him. Remember the frustration they’d both had as they struggled to learn sign language so that she could talk to humans. The frustrations they’d had when she’d started dating, and he’d disapproved of every man she’d brought home.