Awakened (Eternal Guardians Book 8) (6 page)

“Yes.” Skyla met Demetrius’s gaze. “Pandora has been the Siren testing island of choice for years. According to Athena, it’s the best possible place to separate the girls from the Sirens.”

Isadora’s eyes slid closed, and even though that darkness inside screamed to be released, Demetrius moved behind his mate and massaged her slim shoulders, hoping to alleviate at least a little of her stress.

“Each recruit is given seven labors,” Skyla went on, looking over the group. “Seven tests of their worthiness. After they complete a labor, they’re given a new one. Points are tallied by Athena. The recruits who complete the tasks the fastest receive more points. The top seventy-five percent of the finishers are moved on to stage two of training. The bottom twenty-five percent are not.”

“So there’s a chance she could be returned,” Theron said from the couch where he sat next to his mate, Casey. “If she doesn’t complete the tasks fast enough.”

“No.” Skyla sighed. “No, there’s no chance she’ll be sent back.”

“I don’t understand.” Isadora shifted beneath Demetrius’s hands. “If she can’t complete the labors in time, what happens to her?”

Skyla glanced toward her mate, the Argonaut Orpheus, perched on the edge of the desk at her side. With a frown, he reached for her hand. Skyla’s fingers curled around his. But she still didn’t answer.

“The bottom twenty-five percent are ejected from training,” Daphne said when Skyla couldn’t. “If they can’t cut it in training, Zeus doesn’t think they’re worthy of this world. They’re executed.”

Every muscle in Demetrius’s body went tight and rigid. In front of him, Isadora gasped and turned to press her forehead against his chest.

“That won’t happen to Elysia.” Orpheus’s gray eyes sharpened. “Elysia’s half-Argonaut. She’s been running with Max and Talisa in the forests of this realm as long as I can remember. That girl might not be a warrior, but she’s a survivor. She knows how to take care of herself. She’ll make it through the seven labors.”

Isadora looked up, and when Demetrius met her gaze, he saw the resolution in her eyes. And the hope.

He gave a little nod even though he didn’t feel any hope himself. Isadora closed her eyes briefly, then turned to look back at the group.

Inside Demetrius, that darkness bubbled right to the surface. If anything happened to his daughter, Zeus and the Sirens wouldn’t know what hit them. He’d make them pay for this with his dying breath.

“Orpheus is right.” Skyla nodded. “Elysia will make it off Pandora. I did.” She nodded toward the nymph at Ari’s side. “Daphne did. I have every confidence she’ll get through this and make it to Olympus.”

“So tell us about the second phase of training,” Casey said from the couch. “She’ll be on Olympus for that, correct? That’s what we’re all interested in. We can get to Olympus. We can’t get to Pandora.”

“Yes, the second phase takes place on Olympus. But if you’re thinking we can mount some kind of rescue, that’s not going to be easy.”

“During the first few years,” Daphne said, “the recruits are always with a trainer. Always. They’re never left alone. They’re not even allowed to run training missions in the human realm until the third phase, which, I’m sorry to say, won’t happen for Elysia for at least three and a half years. Even if you could come up with a rescue plan, you’ll never get to Elysia unnoticed. Someone is always watching. And even if you
get there unseen, and assuming she
get away from her trainers for a few moments to meet you, there’s no way to get her a message to tell her what you have planned. Not to mention she wouldn’t remember who you are even if you could warn her.”

“What do you mean she wouldn’t remember us?” Callia, the queen’s other half sister and the Argonaut Zander’s mate, wrinkled her brow.

“That’s the part I haven’t gotten to.” Skyla shifted uncomfortably against Theron’s desk. “All recruits’ memories are blocked until they make it through phases one and two of training. After that, when they’re in phase three and Zeus and Athena are convinced they’re dedicated to the Order, those memories are slowly returned.”

“Dear gods.” Isadora leaned back into Demetrius as if the world had just rocked out from under her. “She won’t remember any of us.”

Demetrius closed his hands around her upper arms, holding her tightly so she didn’t fall. But really he was using her to hold himself up, because the more he stood here listening to Skyla, the more he realized their chance of getting Elysia back anytime soon was slipping away.

“Our best chance for any kind of rescue is when she’s in the human realm,” Orpheus said beside Skyla. “Until then, I don’t see how we can even get to her.”

“That’s over three years away,” Zander said in disbelief, perched on the armrest of the couch next to Callia.

Three years…

Demetrius squeezed Isadora’s arms. Yes, their daughter was strong, but he wasn’t sure she could last three years. Elysia knew how to take care of herself, but she had a gentle heart. She wasn’t a warrior like the Argonauts. In a combat situation, Elysia’s first instinct wouldn’t be to kill but to protect.

Demetrius’s gaze drifted toward Theron’s daughter, leaning against the far wall, her marked forearms crossed over her chest, her jaw clenched, her muscles tensed and ready for a fight. Animosity swirled in the darkness inside. Talisa was the warrior, not Elysia. Talisa was the female Zeus should have chosen, and even she knew it. But Zeus never did what was expected, and Demetrius knew far too well that the reason the god had picked Elysia was to fuck with the monarchy. Zeus hated Isadora more than any other because she had the one thing he wanted most in the world: the Orb of Krónos. The four-chambered disk created by the Titan Prometheus that housed the classic elements—earth, air, water, and fire—and had the power to release the Titans from Tartarus.

That was Zeus’s ultimate goal. To take back the Orb so he could control all the worlds, not just the heavens. Only Isadora stood in his way. She possessed the Orb, and as soon as the Argonauts found the water element, she was going to destroy it so no one—mortal or immortal—could release the Titans and start the war to end all wars in the definitive quest for power.

“What about Nick?” Theron asked.

Demetrius looked toward the leader of the Argonauts. Nick was Demetrius’s half brother, the leader of the Misos race—half human, half Argoleans—who lived within their realm. But by a twist of fate, Nick was also a god.

Hope leapt inside Demetrius. In the chaos since Elysia’s abduction, he’d overlooked their biggest weapon. A god who was nearly as powerful as Zeus himself.

“Nick might be a help to us in three years,” Orpheus said, “but the minute he steps foot on Olympus, all the gods will know. They have a twisted god sense like an alarm. I guarantee if Zeus even sniffs Nick anywhere close, the king of the gods will lock Elysia down so tight, we’ll never find her. No, our best bet for any kind of rescue is to wait until she’s in the human realm.”

That hope fizzled and died.

“I know three years sounds like a long time,” Skyla said. “But it will pass quickly. And it’s but a blip in Elysia’s lifespan.”

Skyla was right. Three years was nothing for Elysia. Argoleans, being descendants of the original seven Greek heroes, were blessed with long lives—at least five hundred years. Argonauts, and those of the royal family, lived longer. Closer to eight hundred years. But Demetrius still wanted his daughter back now…not
three years from now

“She will be repeatedly tested over the next three years,” Skyla went on. “But she’ll make it. I agree with Orpheus. I think we focus on a plan to bring her home when she’s in phase three and is running training missions in the human realm. It’s the safest choice all around.”

Murmurs echoed across the room as each Argonaut spoke softly with those around them. Demetrius looked down at his mate, who turned sad and worried eyes up at him. He saw the logic, understood it, but all he could think about was Elysia trapped on Pandora, fighting for her life.

“What about seduction?” Max asked loudly from the back of the room.

Demetrius’s head came up, and a whisper of foreboding rushed down his spine. Voices in the room quieted.

“You didn’t mention that as one of the training segments,” Max said as all eyes turned his way. “But we all know that’s part of the whole Siren gig, isn’t it? Forced sexual training to turn an innocent female into a hardened seductress? If we wait three years to go after her, Elysia won’t be the female she is now. Not even close.”

Demetrius’s lungs squeezed so tight, it felt as if the hands of the Fates were crushing them into dust. He’d forgotten about the seduction piece. He’d been so afraid for Elysia’s safety, he hadn’t stopped to think about just what kind of training she’d be subjected to.

“Seduction is only one facet of the training,” Daphne said uneasily. “And she could get lucky. My trainer was…gentle.”

Demetrius’s gaze shot toward Skyla. The former Siren let go of Orpheus’s hand and crossed her arms over her chest again. But this time, her focus dropped to the floor, and her trainer, Demetrius deciphered, hadn’t been so nice.

The darkness swirled faster inside.

Isadora stiffened beneath Demetrius’s hands. “Maybe you’d better tell us what’s involved in this…seduction training.”

Skyla’s worried eyes met the queen’s. “Are you sure you want to know?”

Isadora swallowed hard. “Yes.”

Skyla glanced at Demetrius. And when he saw the apology in her green irises, he curled his fingers in the sleeves of Isadora’s blouse and only just held back from flashing straight to Olympus to kick some immortal ass.

“It’s intensive.” Skyla sighed. “And Max’s guess was right. It will change Elysia. In ways none of you can imagine.”

amon couldn’t stop staring.

Peeking between shuttered eyelids, he watched as the Siren recruit pulled a skewer from the fire and touched the sizzling meat on the end of the stick. She winced and jerked her hand back, then blew on her fingers to ease the burn.

He should already be back on Olympus. His wounds were healing. Even though things hadn’t gone as planned, he’d done what he’d been sent here to do—to play the victim so the recruit could rescue him.

Color him shocked. In all his years playing this part for Athena’s recruits, he’d only ever
as a victim. After being chased by that manticore, tumbling down the hillside, and passing out at the bottom of the ravine, though, he’d seriously been one. Lucky for him, the recruit hadn’t just been in the area, she’d gotten him to the safety of this cave, torn off part of her skirt, and fastened a bandage to his wounds. Then she’d gone back out into the wild, found herbs known for their healing properties, come back, built a fire, and cooked up a brew that she’d applied to his wounds to aid his recovery. And as if all
wasn’t heroic enough, she’d gone back out into the dark where all those monsters lurked, found and killed a rabbit, brought it back here, and cooked it so they had something to eat.

Who the heck was this chick? He’d never come across a recruit so levelheaded and selfless. Nowhere in labor five was the recruit expected to heal or feed him. She just had to rescue him. So why in Hades was she bothering to take care of him? Didn’t she know she’d already done what Athena wanted her to do? Every other recruit he’d ever encountered cared only about completing the seven labors and getting off this hellhole of an island.

Knowing he couldn’t just come out and ask that—especially when he was still pretending to be injured—he feigned sleep as he watched her blow on the skewer of meat and carefully pull a piece off the stick, pop it into her mouth, and slowly chew.

Damn, but he could see why Zeus had marked her for the Sirens. The female was gorgeous—long silky hair the color of melted chocolate,
mesmerizing coffee-colored eyes, high cheekbones, and a regal nose. She was slim—more athletic than curvy—and her breasts were small and firm in the miniscule halter top the Sirens had dressed her in before dropping her here, but he liked that about her. She wasn’t altered like the Sirens. Not yet, at least. If she made it to the third phase of Siren training, though, she would be.

Zeus took pleasure in remaking each of his Sirens into the most seductive form he could imagine—small waist, big tits, long legs, firm ass—a form of magical plastic surgery that took a recruit from competent warrior to deadly seductress. And he did it for a reason. Because Sirens—by definition—were the very creatures males—mortal or immortal—could not deny. They used their sexuality as a weapon, and when they had a male exactly where they wanted him, then they were at their most deadly.

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