Chapter 28--Nature of the Human Beast--

By the time he had gotten home the other night, Angelique had been gone. So that was why she had seemed so reluctant to follow him on his quest to find his friend. Angelique had been planning on sneaking out again. Where had she gone? Perhaps, she had gone to seek information from her new friend. She had expressed that she didnít want him to meet the unknown figure. This was crap! His Guardian was in crucial danger and Angelique was out fraternizing with someone who could be an enemy.

She was gone again tonight. He wanted to find her but didnít even know where to begin looking. Kat was home tonight and would notice him if he tried to sneak off this time. He had yet to tell her about Lucianís disappearance. All he needed was his sister on the warpath. She would defy the Guardiansí orders and charge off into the fray, getting herself and Lucian killed in the process. Kat was not a master of timing or patience.

As if the commotion of Angeliqueís wanderings wasnít enough trouble for the boy, now his parents had seen fit to jump back into his life, especially Ciara. His aunt seemed to notice that her daughter had been acting strange from time to time. Knowing Ciara, she probably blamed it on him. Aunt Ciara did like to point out to his parents how he was always encouraging Angelique to get into trouble. She was mad at him for prying into her personal life. Nobody else in the house seemed to care about what had happened to Angelique during the early years of her life. So Ciara resented him for taking the initiative to help Angelique in her search for answers.

He had pondered the possibilities of asking Ciara for help. In his dream, he had seen that Ciaraís husband was someone who seemed dangerous. If Ciara had been with the man long enough to have his child, then she had to know something about him. Maybe she knew why the man seemed so determined to see Angelique wearing the Amethyst. It was definitely him that Ciara had been running from throughout her daughterís childhood. Ciara had to know something about this that the others did not.

Still, asking his aunt meant revealing Angeliqueís secret. Angelique had been so insistent about him not sharing her secret with anyone. Introducing her problems to Ciara would just drive her further away from him. Funny how they could be so close at the moment yet so far from each other. Her secret and newfound affection for him pulled them together, while her connection to Evangel and caginess about the man she had met forced them apart. He didnít need anything that could make the problem worse. That made speaking to Ciara impossible.

His familyís need for quality time with their son who was as they had put it "distraught" was annoying. They believed that he was nearing a mental breakdown of some kind. To tell the truth, they couldnít have been more right. Nonetheless, he did not want them to stick their noses into his business. They knew nothing about the Chimera, Keys, or Guardians. Everything they knew had been written in a book. A book that they had believed was nothing more than a fairy tale for the majority of their lives. What help could they give him?

It was better for them that they stay away from his problems. His father had almost been killed during his first encounter with the Chimera. He didnít want to see them get hurt. If he couldnít protect his friends or his cousin, he could at least protect his parents. In order to do so, he was willing to feed them any lie to make them get off his case. He told them just what they wanted to hear. Everything was fine and that he had friends whom would protect him from now on. Friends? Hah! Most of the Guardians saw him as a weak child. Well, thatís what he was, wasnít it?

After many nerve-wracking hours of conversation, he had finally managed to make them believe his lies. Though he was extremely inept at lying, his parents were too eager to hear his assurances to realize that he was making it all up. That was good. Now, he could get some quiet time to work on his newest plan. Testing the powers of the Cruce was not a family affair. He wasnít even willing to tell Kat about it, though he could sense that she knew he was keeping something from her. It wouldnít be long before she uncovered his secret. Kat was the best detective in the world when she set her mind to something.

Tyrell trudged over to his room and slid inside, locking the door behind him. This was the first time that he had ever thought to tap into the Cruceís true potential. Using it as the Divinity was one thing, he wasnít sure how it could be used in its untainted form. In his dream, Danae had been able to use it just by thinking about it. Perhaps, he could do the same.

Unclasping the necklace from his throat, he held the cross reverently in his hands. He didnít really know how to begin using the sorcery contained in the relic. But Tavores had told Danae that the Cruce would work for her when she had need of it. What was the deal? He needed it now. Finding Lucian was the most important thing to him right now. The Cruce had to sense this.

"How do I use you? I need you now. My Guardian is in immediate danger. I will not allow him to be hurt. Please work for me," he pleaded with the Cruce, tightening his grip on the jewel.

The Cruce began to glow slightly within the iridescent diamond in the center of the cross. His lips curved into an elated smile at the thought that he was actually managing to do something useful for once. He felt the intense rush of power as his eyes slowly closed and his head fell back.

Suddenly the power seemed to burn inside his chest and his eyes flew open in shock. The gem on the Cruce had turned into a dismal black. Instead of caressing him with its essence as he had often felt it do, it seemed to tear insubstantial claws through his conscience. The pain was more than anything he had ever experienced. It was almost like the Cruce was rejecting him. Was that even possible? He choked back a scream, afraid of alerting his family to his peril. It hurt, but he could stand it just this once. He couldnít allow any of them to know about the Cruce. It was far too dangerous.

What could he do? The Cruce wasnít responding to his ownership. It would destroy him if he allowed it to have its way much longer. Terrified, he launched the cross across the room, feeling a searing sensation across his palm as the relic tore away from his hand and rolled onto the floor. Tyrell swallowed massive gulps of air and cradled his throbbing hand near his stomach. The painful convulsions that had been assaulting his form had seemed to vanish with the release of his cross. Everything was normal again. Everything except for the fact that the item that he had been destined to wield had rejected him. How could he explain this to the Guardians?

As for the Guardians, he had failed to help them. Erik and Tashira were on constant watch of his actions and would not allow him to search for Lucian. Now, his one means of supporting their cause was gone. The Cruce would not help him. He could not reach its true power. What sort of Key was he? He had lost the right to use the cross and he had lost his treasured Guardian. What was going on? He just wanted to talk to someone that he could trust. Unfortunately, he was quickly running out of people who met that criterion.

The boy crawled over to his cross, which had returned to its normal state freed from the invocation, and set it in his lap, shaking his head in misery. "Iím sorry, Lucian. You and Dominic were wrong. I wasnít meant to be a Key."

*~*~*~*~*~*

Cold. Why was it so cold? Every part of his body seemed to be freezing. There was also a nagging pounding in the back of his head that seemed to make it hard to even open his eyes. All of his thoughts were scattered and disjointed like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. Nothing seemed to connect. He could barely even determine where he was. All he could pinpoint was that wherever he was at the moment, he was shivering with biting cold and severe pain.

This pain seemed to circulate through his entire body, becoming especially intense along his chest and back, though his arms and legs had their share of torment as well. He could also taste the metallic flow of blood in his mouth as well as smell it all around him. That couldnít be good. Did it mean that he was bleeding? He tried again to open his eyes, but the dizziness in his head prevented the action. What was the matter with him? He had never felt this exhausted in his life. Even his hands and feet felt numb. Giving a feeble attempt to restore their movement, he was horrified to realize that they were restrained behind him, the rope that tied them digging into open sores in his back, which he wasnít even aware of. The youth was willing to wager that his ankles were currently in the same condition.

He tried to move his side as his shirt brushed against a myriad of deep wounds that had somehow appeared on his chest. Stunned by the pain, he discontinued his actions and let out a soft groan. Evidently, he was in worse shape than he had assumed. Desperate to find out how he had gotten in such a state, he scoured through his drifting memories. It was harder than usual since even thinking seemed to be a chore for him now. His head just hurt too much to form any clear thoughts. Though the pain in his head was agonizing, it was nothing like the horrid sensations that swept across his form. Damn, it hurt. What the hell had happened to him?

As he searched his mind, he slowly began to unravel the events of the past two days. They replayed in his mind as though he was a common bystander watching them happen to someone else. He almost wished that it had been someone else as the memory of what had occurred chilled him far worse than the coldness of the room.

*~*~*~*~*~*

Some memories were a bit screwed up, but he could recall waking up in a room with his wrists fastened together and attached to something on the ceiling. The position of his head had prevented him from being able to see high enough to figure out what held him up. His leg had still been killing him even as it had been kept from touching the ground and his head felt like he might have some sort of concussion. What confused him even more had been the fact that his shoes had been discarded and his feet had been bare as they were suspended above the floor. All in all, it had been a pretty bad situation.

"Finally coming back to us, Hell Guardian?" drawled a throaty voice as he had looked up to see Lionelle standing a few feet from him with a brand new whip in his possession. It had appeared thicker and longer than his other weapon and was most likely rougher on the skin. Beautiful. Just what he needed.

"What do you want?" the Guardian had spat even as he had tested the bindings on his wrists to see if they would give in any way.

Lionelle had laughed then in an almost giddy way as though he anticipated some grand treat. "I want to play a game with you, Guardian. This is how it works. I ask you a question and you give me an answer. If itís an answer that I like, then we get along fine and nobody gets hurt. But if I find the answer unacceptable..." he had paused and cracked his whip in the air. "You can probably guess the rest."

"What if I donít want to play?"

"Looks like you donít have much of a choice. Should you choose to refuse my offer, I will be quite put out. I caution you, child, you would not like me very much when Iím in a bad mood."

His captive hadnít been able to resist the urge to poke fun at the statement as he had smirked at the Chimera. "Wow, you mean this is one of your good moods? Could have fooled me."

The whip had lashed out and drawn a shallow red line across his shirt, cutting through the thin layer of cloth and sinking into his flesh. He had forced back his whimper and continued to glower at his opponent. Lionelle had simply shaken his finger in a reproaching motion as he approached him.

"Mouthing off to me is not highly advised. That is why you are in this position in the first place. You tested your luck one time too often."

His words had seemed to awaken something in the back of the Guardianís memory. ĎWeíll see how long you live if you keep pulling stunts like this. One of these days, that impeccable luck of yours is going to run out and then what are you going to do?í Wasnít that what Dominic had prophesied? Who would have thought that the older boy would have been right? Oh well, he hadnít been able to think about that for too long, he had to stay focused. Lionelle seemed to have been holding some odd grudge against him and though he hadnít been certain what it was, he had been sure that he was about to reap its reward.

"You know, I just thought that youíd like to know that youíll be wasting your time in asking me any sort of questions. My loyalty to the Keys is unchangeable. You wonít learn a thing from me," he had asserted as he turned his head to the side.

"I was rather hoping youíd be difficult, Guardian. I have been looking forward to making you suffer for my humiliation a while back. But my boss insists that I give you a final warning. Either cooperate or face the same consequences that your young Key had to undergo," Lionelle had crooned, running his hands through the boy's hair and giving a tug to remove the band that held it up. Crimson strands had splayed out across his neck and shoulders, tickling the chilled skin.

"What did you do to the Key?" snarled the Guardian as the Chimera had dropped the hair band to the ground and leaned forward so that he was directly in the youth's face.

"Nothing compared to what I'm going to do to you if you keep this up."

"You don't scare me. The Guardians have taken you down plenty of times and I assure you that we would be delighted to do it again."

"Only one problem there. You're the only Guardian here so I suggest that we get down to business. Vincient doesn't like to be kept waiting," the older man had remarked, stepping back from the boy and swinging the top of his whip from side to side.

Having heard the Chimera mention that name, the Guardian had felt an inner lurch in his gut. Something about that name had seemed to send alarms screaming within his mind. Tavores had mentioned the name several times and he was certain that he had come across the name in his nightmares. But he had never met the man personally, so why had he been so terrified by the casual utterance of his name? Perhaps, these reactions had been partially Tavores' response. That stupid prince! How had he expected him to maintain his cool in a situation like that when he made him feel all icky just from hearing a lousy name? Why didn't Tavores ever know when it was more prudent to keep his fears to himself?

"Where is the Cruce?" Lionelle had asked as he began his interrogation.

"Don't know. Don't care. And I wouldn't tell you if I did," his adversary had replied in an indifferent tone.

He had winced as Lionelle's cruel weapon had torn through the air and slapped across his back several time. The shirt he had worn provided little protection and split easily under the assault. The boy had tried to clear his thoughts to get his mind off the flaring ache on his flesh only to come to the conclusion that it wasnít been working very well. He wasn't used to this sort of abuse. It had been much different than simple punches or kicks. This had been way more dangerous. Somehow, a sick part of him had joked that since it was dangerous, he should have been enjoying it. He had quickly shaken the thought away.

"Wrong answer," Lionelle had chastised with an enticed light to his golden eyes. Then he had cleaned the blood from his weapon with his fingertips and smiled at the younger figure. "Letís try another one, shall we? What do the Keys have to do with the Cruce?"

The Guardian had given a casual shrug of his shoulders and looked back at the man with an innocent visage. "Not sure about that myself. Itís a mystery like one of those spy novels."

"Iím not believing you."

"Why not Lio? Would I lie to you?"

A brutal slap in the face had been his response as it increased the present strain on his neck. If he hadnít acquired whiplash by then, he knew that he definitely was going to have it by the time Lionelle finished with him. He had groaned dramatically shot the Chimera an incensed glare. "What was the for? I just asked a simple question?"

"Nobody calls me Lio. Thatís complete disrespect," the man had corrected him brusquely.

"Oh, so then referring to you as a flaccid son of a bitch would also be considered...."

Pain raging down his back from the whip digging into his flesh had cut him off. Lionelle had then proceeded to flay the back of his shirt to shreds as the lash marred the yielding surface. As with before, the boy had held back his cries, his pride refusing to let the man know that he was hurting him severely. But the damage had not been limited to just his back as the whip had been able to snake over his shoulders and side from time to time and cause marks on his front torso. The marks had no longer been shallow, but had grown deep, quickly filling with a great deal of blood. His blood. Sickened by the sight, the youth had tried to raise his eyes above him.

Fingers had sought out the back of his hair and yanked his head back down, forcing him to look into the hateful eyes of his captor. The grip on the strands had been so painful that it sent jolts of agony throughout his skull. He had gasped at the strange pain and stared back at Lionelle as he lowered the other hand to his shirt. Still keeping his iron hold on the youthís mane, Lionelle had ripped open the buttoned clothing, exposing unmarked flesh to the chill of the room. Again, the Guardian had been unable to contain his gasp as the nipping cold sank into his current injuries, caressing them with its vicious touch. But Lionelle had not stopped there. He had chosen to scrape a few of his claws against one of the more recent wounds, making the teenager almost pass out from the wretched sensation.

"Have we learned better to than to use that sort of language?" he had purred in false concern as he toyed with the injury some more.

Willing to do anything to make him stop hurting him, the boy had nodded faintly. Lionelle had scratched at the slash once more for good measure and then withdrawn his hand. Chuckling, he had patted his opponent on the head like a dog and released the wrenching grip he had on his hair. Thankful for the relief, the Guardian had taken in several grateful gulps of air and gazed at him in contempt.

"Thatís a good boy. Now that we have a proper understanding, letís give the questions another go since you didnít do so well on the first two. So where is the descendent of the Alistars? I know that the Keys were always their confidants. The Keys are here, so where are the Alistars?"

Now that he had been given his respite, his adversary had been ready to play with him some more. He had had no intention of giving the Chimera a solitary answer. He had been unsure about lying to the man since he had realized that he had the chance of seeing through his subterfuge. Though he had not thought that his rival was that intelligent, his experiences had taught him that one could never be too cautious. It was much wiser to ignore the question all together. There was no need to give the Chimera anything that was even close to the truth. Instead, he had decided to go with the response of a basic insult.

Taking a shaky breath, he had redirected his eyes to the Chimera. "Tell me Chimera, whatís it like to be nothing more than a pathetic servant who jumps at his masterís word and fights for an aspect that he cannot even understand? Is it fun? It must be. You and your kind take such pleasure in it," the boy had jested, knowing what his punishment was going to be for the slur.

It had been much worse than before as Lionelle had lost all patience with him and struck him over and over again. His chest had soon matched the tapestry of line-work on his back and he had soon been able to make out spatterings of his blood upon the floor. It had so hurt much worse than anything he had ever experienced throughout the entire span of his life so far. Desperate to stay calm, he had bitten into his lip and continued to press his teeth against it until blood had dribbled over his chin. Soon the pain in his chest had begun to dull all other feelings in his body, as it became just a giant throbbing mass. He had blinked repeatedly in efforts to stay conscious and tried to focus on the taste of copper in his mouth so that he hadnít been forced to think about the rest of the damage being done to his form.

Finally, after what seemed an eternity of lashes, Lionelle had pulled away from him and had sneered at him in fury. "Stubborn kid. I have other ways of dealing with you," he had snarled as he left the boy and walked over to the other side of the room. He had retrieved an item from the wall and looked it over as the Guardian squinted to determine what it was.

A flash of steel had danced across his dazed red eyes and he had gulped. That was Lupeís blade. At that instant, he had been truly afraid. He had no reason not to be. The blade had been the most deadly looking object that he had ever seen. Lionelle intended to use THAT on him? Had he gone out of his mind? Even the jagged edges of the dagger had been specially designed to mangle the sides of the flesh as the blade drove into it. A cut from that thing was going to hurt. Bad. That wasn't danger. That was insanity. The Guardian had thought that there was no way he would be able to withstand that sort of pain. He wasnít strong enough. Maybe Dominic would have been, but he was not.

No longer able to maintain his composure when faced with such a position, the Guardian had lost it and had begun to fight violently with his bindings. Even the feeling of his blood pooling at his hands and streaming down his arm from the way the edges of the cords had chafed his skin had been unable to abate his anxiety. He had struggled more frantically, feeling his arms growing sorer from too much strain. It had been no use. None of the wrappings had seemed to loosen and he considered begging for mercy. Anything to avoid having that dagger stuck into him.

Lionelle had chuckled at his efforts and had begun to approach him, the foreboding silver of the knife filling his captive with dread. "Aww, youíre not allowed to make yourself bleed. That deprives me of the pleasure," taunted the Chimera as he had set his whip on the ground and looked back at the youth. Before he had known it, the Guardian had started to hyperventilate and his surroundings had soon grown very blurry.

"Perhaps Lupeís method of...persuasion will have a better affect on your obedience. But I pride myself on being a good sport so I will give you one last chance before I have my fun. Are you going to tell me about the Cruce?" Lionelle had demanded as he waved the dagger in front of the otherís gaping eyes.

For the briefest moment, the Guardian had wanted to tell him. He had wanted to tell him anything he wanted to make him go away. That blade scared him. He hadnít wanted it to touch him. But he had known that he could never betray Tyrell. He needed him. Even though Tyrell had rejected him and could no longer see fit to trust him, he couldnít let anything happen to him. He was his Guardian. His charge needed to be protected. Not only that, the youngest boy was more than just his destiny; he was his friend. He meant something. There was no way that he could allow the Chimera to have any information that they could use against the Key. For Tyrell, he had to be able to take whatever was going to happen. He had promised him his eternal devotion. There had been no other choice in the matter.

Quelling his nerves in order to speak, he had regarded the man with determination. "Not damn likely," he had answered in a show of false confidence.

As soon as the words had left his mouth, he had felt the blade kiss his left cheek, forming a thin line that oozed blood over his face. Surprised that Lionelle had not chosen to strike at something more vital, he had foolishly allowed his hopes to rise. Then Lionelle had clamped his fingers around his right wrist, squeezing at the blood that already flowed there and raised the dagger into the air. His golden eyes had burned with rage as he led the weapon down on its descent. The Guardian had held his breath in fear and pressed his eyes tightly shut, not wanting to see what the dagger was about to do to his arm.

A scream had risen in his throat as he felt Lionelle stab the blade into his arm just below the wrist. Lionelle had then dragged the dagger down the length of his arm, making sure to avoid rupturing any essential veins. For some reason, Lionelle had wanted the cut to hurt more than be sincerely dangerous. As the dagger had worked its way through his flesh, tearing at him all around the blade, the boy had no longer been able to contain his cries. His piercing scream had ringed throughout the room as it had been accompanied by Lionelleís satisfied laughter.

After that, he hadnít been able to stop screaming and Lionelle jumped at the opportunity. Within seconds, Lionelle had yanked the dagger out of him and had removed his weapon of choice from the floor. Still laughing, he had beaten the youth mercilessly with the whip as his anguished yells only heightened his amusement. Not only had his lash graced the boyís chest this time; it had also reached to the upper part of his legs, cutting through the pants to rent the flesh underneath. Tears had threatened the corners of his eyes and he had been oblivious to their presence when they finally broke free. The Guardian had no longer been able to feel the whip as the abuse of his body had started to numb the pain. It had become hard to even breathe right. He had felt himself slipping into unconsciousness as his form yearned for rest. But Lionelle had not stopped hitting him until the youthís entire chest was streaked in blood as it coated the whole end of the whip. By that time, the relaxing promise of sleep had already begun to lull the Guardian into its gentle arms.

"Afraid of me now, Guardian?" the golden-haired man had questioned as the teenagerís eyes began to close.

Shuddering, the boy had spit in his face. "LetÖmeÖgo," he had whimpered although he had meant for the plea to come out as more of a threat. His voice had no longer possessed the ability to register any obvious indication of anger.

Enraged by his words, Lionelle had hit him in the face once more. Blood had spilled over his lips and he had coughed on it raggedly, feeling the rawness that had threatened to constrain his voice. He had attempted to nod off again when the man had noticed and had shaken him hard enough to jar his skull. Wracked by the overwhelming pain in his body and now his head, the Guardian had felt sick and queasy. He had lowered his head and dropped his eyes from the other figure.

The Chimera had suddenly discontinued his abuse as he had noticed something dangling from the boyís throat, swinging just above the array of bruises and lash marks. It had been strange that Lionelle had not noticed it before then. He must have been too busy beating him within an inch of his life to care about some tiny piece of jewelry that adorned his neck. Still, the Guardian had been glad that Lionelle had not noticed his charm up to this point. Had the Chimera have taken it, he might have lost the trembling grasp that he still had on sanity.

"I thought we took away your amulet. Whatís this?" Lionelle had asked as the youth fought with himself not to answer. He had figured that showing any interest in the trinket would just make Lionelle want to take it from him. Perhaps, if he pretended like it didnít matter, Lionelle would ignore it. Taking this course, the Guardian had forced his breathing to remain normal as Lionelle eyed the ring on its chain. Then Lionelle had reared back his hand to snatch the ring when the sound of the door creaking open had stopped him.

Eyes widening, he had jumped back from the boy and glanced back at the figure that had entered the room. Since his senses had been dulled by the torture, the Guardian had been unable to make out any distinctive features of the newcomer. All he had been able to guess was that the intruder was superior to Lionelle in power due to the Chimeraís immediate reaction to his arrival. To tell the truth, he hadnít cared who had entered at the moment. As long as he distracted Lionelle from inflicting any more damage on his body, the newcomer could have been the devil himself and he would have been happy.

"Dear Lionelle, how is the Hell Guardian responding to your questioning?" the figure had asked in a soothing voice that had seemed almost deceitful.

"Heís still trying to be loyal. But heís still a child; he canít take much more of this. Heíll give us what we need."

"We shall see," mused the newcomer as he had walked over to the Guardian. A hand had touched his face in a tender stroke as the boy felt his mind wail at the action. Fingers had held his chin in their soft embrace. "You Guardians are stronger than I had imagined. I must give you that. I had figured that you would already be broken by the time I checked on my Chimera," the figure had praised as the youth averted his eyes and struggled on his breath.

Somehow the personís touch had sent his mind into panic. His heart had thrashed inside him with such intensity that he had been slightly afraid that it was going to burst. What had been Tavoresí problem that time? He hadnít appreciated being touched either, but at least he hadnít gone into cardiac arrest about it. Tavores needed to learn how to chill once in a while. The way he had made him feel had been like he had to get away from the newcomer right away. He was dangerous. Why had Tavores kept telling him that? He had enough real pain to worry about. Stressing about a stupid touch was ridiculous.

"You donít want to look at me? I am hurt. I want to see the boy who would still continue to defy my Chimera after what he has put you through. I hear that eyes are the windows to the soul. Let me see whatís behind yours."

As if the words had been the request of a god, the Guardian had not been able to ignore them. Something in the back of his mind had insisted that he obey. It had almost been like he was accustomed to bowing down to the whims of this voice. The sound of its demands had been impossible to refuse. He had to obey. That had been the only prevalent thought in his mind at the time. It had been like a basic truth of life. Under the spell of the voice, he had tentatively lifted his eyes to the figure. They had been met with the swirling abyss of black that radiated from the otherís orbs.

"Impressive. Beautiful, much like yourself, Guardian. In all my years, I have never seen such amazing eyes. Red like spilled blood. They suit you. And such defiance and pride behind them. They remind me of the eyes of another. The one who had the honor of being called my most prized possession. You and him are very much alike. Precious boy, wonít you humor my hopeless Lionelle and tell us about the Cruce?"

Cursing to himself, the Guardian had weakly pulled away from the figure and changed his observation to the floor. The person had redirected his attention to Lionelle and laughed in what had appeared to be good nature. He had tossed him an enchanting smile as he left the boyís side.

"This one has a strong will and a fiery spirit just like my old pet. He could make a valuable ally. It has been such a long time since I have come across a creature that could rival the splendor of my late creation. Try not to break him too badly, Lionelle. I wish to see him again sometime," the person had advised as Lionelle retorted with a roll of his eyes.

His departing footsteps had told the youth that he had left the room and that he had once again been left in the hands of the sinister Chimera. He had heard Lionelle amble back over to him as the man gazed into his eyes for a moment. Lionelle had then jerked away with a derisive snort as he pushed against his chest.

"I donít see what makes you so special. So you have red eyes. They seem really ugly to me." The teenager had refrained from commenting; hoping that it would have encouraged the man to leave him alone. He hadnít wanted to make the Chimera any angrier with him. The previous results of his wrath still sent sparks of pain down his form and he had just wanted to sleep. He hadnít wanted to fight anymore.

Lionelle had circled around his bound captive, tapping his finger against his jaw in meditation. After a few minutes, he had paused and fiercely swept the tears from the boyís skin with one of his claws. The edge of the nail had grazed the flesh under his eye, causing a welt to appear though it had fortunately withheld on forming blood. "Well, the boss has certainly taken a shining to you. You should consider yourself very lucky. He wants me to take it easier on you. So I tell you what Iím going to do. Just to show you that Iím really a nice guy deep down, Iím going to let you rest for a while. When you wake up, weíll have another go at those pesky questions. Agreed?" proposed Lionelle as the Guardian had cringed from the sensation near his eye.

Before he had even been able to move his head to acknowledge the bargain, Lionelle slammed the hilt of his whip into the back of his head. The pain had lessened as he allowed his head to tip forward with a small moan. He hadnít been all that upset with the Chimera for striking him. Lionelle had given him the one thing that he had been praying for since the last whipping. He had presented him with the opportunity to pass out. The Guardian had been grateful. His eyes closed as he had allowed the arms of unconsciousness to enfold him.

*~*~*~*~*~*

Now that he was returning back to the world of the living, he realized that he didnít want to be awake. It hurt a lot more. The rest had granted him an escape from the pain and now it was beginning to fade. He didnít want it to fade. Feeling was bad. It just meant remembering what had happened. He didnít want to feel anything and he definitely wanted to forget what had happened to him. Everything felt so strange. He just wanted to go back to sleep.

At the memory of his torture, all the rebellion vanished from his being. He was sick of fighting. There was nothing that he could do to get himself out of this situation. He was alone and lost. Admitting that took a lot out of him, but there wasnít much left to give in the first place. Almost all of his unbending will had been torn away from him by Lionelleís ministrations. He didnít want to have to wake up again. That would mean acknowledging that he was hurt and helpless. Those were two things he would rather not think about.

He shivered again from the tattered condition of his attire and made an attempt to force himself back to sleep. What was the point in regaining consciousness? Even if he was awake, what did he think he could do with the injuries that plagued him? Their lancing down his body assured him that he wouldnít be able to get very far. Besides, his left leg was, for the most part, shot. There was no way he could support himself on it. Whatever chance it had at recovering had been ruined by the repeated strokes on the upper part of it. He would be no match for any of the Chimera if he tried to take them on in order to free himself from wherever he was being held. Add to that the fact that breaking the bonds on his wrists was impossible due to the numbness in his arms. Boy, he really was worthless as a Guardian. Both Erik and Dominic had been right.

<What are you waiting for, Lucian? The Chimera is gone. We need to get out of here!> informed a self-righteous voice from his mind. Tavores! That unfeeling bastard was still trying to reach him. Why wouldnít he just go away? Couldnít he tell that he was too tired to deal with this?

"Please just go away," Lucian entreated, his own voice almost frightening him within the suffocating silence of the area.

<Are you crazy? Theyíre going to kill you. Get up!>

"Yes. Yes, I am crazy. Happy? Now, shut up," muttered the boy, having lost his natural talent for spiteful retorts.

<I donít care if you belong in an asylum. You are not going to destroy my second chance with your stubbornness! Get your ass up!> ordered Tavores, becoming more urgent in his commands.

"Want me up? You make me get up."

<I canít do that in your condition. Your mind is all messed up. In order for me to help, you have to personally denounce control.>

"Not happening."

<Do you want to die? Have you grown that insane? At least try! Do it for the ones who care for you. For Shira and Kathy,> pleaded the prince, trying to force Lucianís body to respond.

Lucian gave a raspy sigh and tried once again to roll onto his side. The pain was indescribable. He hissed and fell back where he had lain, tears forming behind his eyelids. This was pointless! Didnít Tavores see that? He was too hurt to get up. "I canít! Damn it, Tavores. I would. But I canít! It hurts too much. Please leave me alone. Iím asking nicely for once. Please donít try to force me anymore. I tried. It didnít work. Game over. Accept it," he sobbed as he could sense Tavores throwing a conniption fit inside his brain.

<GAME OVER? There is no way in hell that Iím going to let you quit like this! You are a Guardian. Just bite down on something and get up! Weíre wasting time!>

"Go to hell!"

<Been there, done that. Lame. Find a better insult. But in the meantime, try again!> Tavores snapped as Lucian searched his brain for a way to tone down the princeís voice projections. It wasnít working. Tavores was about as hard to get rid off as the pain flowing through him. This was making him terribly upset. He had given it his best shot and he had lost. What else could he do? What did the prince expect of him? He was still a human and a young boy at that. Tavores couldnít expect him to recover from his injuries like some sort of immortal. Maybe Tavores was good at dealing with hours of torture, but it wasnít one of his specialties. Tavores would just have to face the facts. His reincarnation was not as invincible as he had been. He was capable of getting hurt and right now, he was hurting fairly badly.

"How about no?"

<Asshole! Weak little child! Are you not the destined protector of the Cruce and the Keys? Do something!>

"I said get off my case! Iím not a damn machine! I have my limits. Sorry to say but I think I may have reached them. Why donít you try acting like the noble you claim to be and show a little compassion," muttered Lucian in a detached tone.

<I am being compassionate. I donít want you to get killed.>

"You mean you donít want us to get killed. Thatís not compassion. Thatís selfishness. Youíre going to have to try harder than that."

<We have no time for this. Either force yourself to your feet or grant me control,> the prince said, delivering an ultimatum to the other youth.

"Dominating jerk," taunted the boy as he heard the door open. Tavoresí voice retreated to the back of his mind, leaving him alone as usual. Tavores was such a big coward when it came to real trouble.

Abandoned once more, Lucian listened in trepidation to the heavy footsteps as they padded across the floor of the room like a cat swaying in preparation for a pounce. Only this feline was hungry for more than just death, he wanted to see blood and suffering. Such was Lionelleís element. Lucian tried to still his breathing so his intruder would think him asleep. He remembered what Lionelle said about renewing the questioning once he woke up. The thought of having to shy away from Lionelleís demands and receiving more injuries because of it unnerved him. He froze on the ground and prayed to the fates, that he had mocked so many times before, that Lionelle would leave.

To his consternation, Fate had something else in mind for him. As he should have guessed. He was her eternal plaything.

"Alright, Guardian. Youíve slept long enough. Time to get back to work," Lionelle barked as he neared the sleeping youth. He tapped Lucian with his foot and made a noise of disapproval with his teeth. "You donít fool me, boy. I know youíre awake. Up!"

Though he had no desire to listen to the man, Lucian did want to prevent the Chimera from hurting him further. But he couldnít risk opening his eyes. He didnít want to play these mind games with Lionelle anymore. Protecting the Keys was easier if he didnít have to hear the questions. Out of better ideas, he went with the plan of faking sleep some more.

"Youíre trying my patience! Wake up!" the Chimera roared as he kicked the boy hard in the ribs. Lucian yelled and squirmed backward to avoid another strike.

"Get away from me!" screamed the youth in fury, prying open his eyes and searing the other figure with their light. He knew he didnít sound the least bit intimidating, but he had to do something to show himself that he was still in control of the situation. Spurred on by his new rush of defiance, he spit in Lionelleís face for the second time that day.

That had been a dumb move as Lionelle soon pointed out to him. He lunged at Lucian and flipped him onto his back as he snatched at his tied hands. With a quick action, he yanked them from behind the Guardian and held them above him head. The taunt position of his arms drove Lucian half-mad with pain and he struggled against Lionelle, bucking and twisting his body from side to side like a drowning fish. Lionelle proceeded to knock him upside the head with his fist several times in order to daze the boy.

But Lucianís blood was too heated to surrender to the blows. "Stupid lion-poser! Get the hell off me! Get off!"

Lionelle continued to hold the violent teenager as he reached into his boot with one hand and pulled out Lupeís dagger. The serrated edges of the one side were still seeped in the otherís blood. Seeing the accursed weapon again, Lucian froze in fear. Lionelle smiled at the stricken look on his adversaryís face and brought the blade over to Lucianís right arm. He brushed the dagger along the jagged furrow that had produced a thin layer of scar tissue in its attempts to heal. Tiny specks of blood appeared as the new skin was grazed by the blade.

"...donítÖ." whispered the Guardian before he had a chance to stop himself. He didnít want Lionelle to cut him again. It had hurt too much the first time. He didnít want a repeat of that sort of experience. Of course, he knew it was just his wishful thinking that made him believe that Lionelle would actually stop just because he told him to. Lionelle wanted to see him in agony.

"This is for taking that high and mighty tone with me a minute ago," growled Lionelle as he pressed harder on the scar, breaking it open, as he sliced through Lucianís arm once more.

Lost in a red haze of anguish, the boy let loose another one of his broken screams. He couldnít take this. Why was this happening to him? Had destiny finally decided to remove him from its plans? Was he that useless to his cause? All he had done was have a fight with the Key. He was still a Guardian! Wasnít he?

"Are you ready to talk to me this time?" the Chimera posed, removing the dagger as the screams died from the room.

He was! He was! Talking meant mercy. Lionelle would stop hurting him if he talked. It couldnít be that bad. Was it so much to ask for an escape? Just because it placed the Keys in danger didnít mean...What was he saying? Talking didnít mean mercy, it meant suffering for his friends. The Chimera would hurt Tyrell and Kat if they ever got a hold of the Cruce. They would surely kill them. What did his pain matter if it could help his charges? This was his fate. One wasnít supposed to argue with stuff that had been preordained.

"N-no!" he stammered with as much courage as he could work into his tone. "I w-wonít tell...you...a damn thing!"

"Still want to be a tough-ass, donít you? Have it your way."

Lucian still vainly tried to force Lionelle off him as the man changed the position of the dagger so that it hovered just below the Guardianís ribs. The boy jerked his side to the right, but it wasnít quick enough as the blade sank into him. Strangely, the sheer brutality of the action stole his voice and he could do nothing but gasp weakly while Lionelle slid it out of his flesh in torturous slow motion and dropped it beside him. He ran his fingers over the scars on Lucianís chest, occasionally applying more pressure on the more sensitive ones.

"Do you still think you can win?" taunted the man.

Catching his breath, Lucian forced a cocky smirk at his opponent and fought to keep his voice steady. "I donít...have to...win. Even if we...stalemate...you still lose."

Another blow tossed back his head, making it hard to see the one who was beating him. "The only reason youíre not dead yet is because Vincient is interested in you. But Iím sure he would understand if there was an...accident."

His way of putting extra emphasis on the last word sent Lucian into a panic. Lionelle was through with torturing him. He was just going to kill him. That had been the stalemate he had been alluding to in his previous statement, but he hadnít actually pondered the event of Lionelle going through with it. It would insure that the Keys were safe. But as much as Lucian toyed with death, the very real possibility of meeting it face to face horrified him. There could be no more games once life was finished. It would be worse than nothing. It would be boring.

Inside his head, he could hear Tavores pressing him on to fight back. He was trying. Couldnít Tavores tell? He was giving it everything he had. But nothing was working. Lionelle was just too strong for him and his body had been weakened greatly from all the abuse. What else did he have to give?

Lionelle loomed over him and seemed to search him for a moment. Then, he shot his hands out and closed them around Lucianís throat. He didnít squeeze though and appeared to be waiting for something. Maybe he was considering what his master would do to him if he found at that he had destroyed something he had taken such a fancy toward. Lucian used his hesitation and bucked wildly, tugging at the cords on his wrist and straining to lift his trapped legs high enough to knee Lionelle.

Ignoring him, Lionelle began to tighten his hold. "No more games, Guardian. Tell me what I want to know."

"Fuck...you!" choked Lucian as he could feel his fragile strength slipping away from him.

"Thatís it! If you donít talk, Iím going to crush your throat!" the Chimera warned as he moved his fingers to make good on his threat. His grip stopped the air from reaching the youthís lungs and he coughed and choked in the otherís hands. After a few seconds, he stopped fighting as the true futility of it all dawned on him.

There was nothing he could do. At least this way, the Keys would be all right. He couldnít tell the Chimera anything if he was dead. Besides, his pain would be gone in a little while. Why fight against that? It was release. That was what he wanted. He wasnít really wanted in this realm anyway. He never had been. From childhood, he had been rejected. Shouldnít that have told him something? It was like he had told Tyrell. He had been damned since birth. This world didnít need him.

As for Tashira, she would be better off on her own. All he did was force her to follow him into peril. Tashira had never refused his wishes. She would follow him into the very depths of hell if he asked her. Such a soul deserved someone else to care of her. Someone who wouldnít lead her astray. For that was what he had always done. Led her astray. She would be better off without him. They all would.

<Stop thinking like that! You have to survive, Lucian! The Keys need you!> wailed Tavores as Lucian began to submit to the strangulation.

<They have Shira. They have Erik. Hell, they even still have Nick. My absence wonít hurt them.> Lucian sent his thoughts back to his other self, wanting the prince to shut up. Couldnít he even let him die in peace?

<NO! This is not going to happen. Fight Lucian! Fight!>

<Sorry. Canít.>

<I said fight, damn you! Prove to me that youíre more than just the airhead little prick I think you are. Fight!> the prince continued to holler. <You canít die! Not now. Vincient will become strong again. Heíll hurt others just as he hurt me. We canít let that happen. You must fight.>

<Iím tired, Taves. Be a good boy and piss off,> his reincarnation snapped even as everything began to fade from the room.

<See, you still have some spirit left. Put it to good use. Use it against the Chimera.>

<Itís...not...worth...it.>

Lucian sent his final message to Tavores and prepared to accept his fate at the hands of the Chimera. The tranquillity of the moment reached him and he could almost feel all his agony dulling under the touch of death. It felt good. As much as he couldnít stomach the thought of giving up, he had to confess that it honestly felt good.

*~*~*~*~*~*

Realizing that Lucian was serious about surrendering to death, Tavores leapt into action. Lucian would not destroy them like this. Not if he had anything to say about it. If he had to force Lucian to fight, then by hell, he would.

<Never! I will never let you quit like this. I went through hell and back to reclaim this body and Iíll be damned if Iím going to let you throw all that away!> he swore as he focused all his power on forcing his way back into control.

It was crazy. Lucianís mind was clouded and it was near impossible to break into the barriers that surrounded it. But he was an entity on a mission. He would not be denied. Gathering all his supernatural strength, he managed to smash through the blockades and place himself back in the action.

Finally back in control, he was alarmed to discover how severely frail Lucianís body had become. Lucian had always kept in shape and the lethargy that clung to his current form was disconcerting. Tavores knew that he would have to work really hard to spur some life into the youthís being. Fortunately, being an immortal did have its advantages. One of the better ones being that an immortalís strength could be transmitted to another for a small measure of time. It might just be enough to save both his and Lucianís life.

Transfusing his ethereal energy into Lucianís arms, he clenched his teeth and snapped the bonds holding them together. His eyes sprang open and he caught the slack-jawed expression on Lionelleís face as he called upon his demon form. Not allowing it to take over him completely, he stopped with the claws as he flicked them out and slashed them across the Chimeraís face. In shock, Lionelle stumbled backward. Tavores groped for the dagger on the ground and used it to free his ankles with a quick swipe.

He looked up to see Lionelle lunging back at him. Without even blinking, he drew back the blade and whipped it across Lionelleís left eye, sending him flying to the floor from the change in momentum. Tavores then took the dagger and used his supreme strength to shatter it against the wall, leaving only broken chunks of silver. He then took advantage of Lionelleís condition and scrambled out of the room.

Outside he found the place to be a simple building, easy enough to navigate. Probably another one of their temporary stays, but not their main center. It was difficult to run on a leg that felt that it might be broken and he wished that he could use his wings. But it would be troublesome to spread them in this area and would probably just cause more inconveniences. He would just have to devote an extra amount of his power to keeping the leg sturdy.

Lucky for him, leaving the building seemed to pose no problem since all of the others were apparently busy elsewhere. It was when he exited the area that he found the thing that would present some difficulties. Spanning across the perimeter of the place was an enormous field and at the end was an impressive barbed-wire fence. Well, they certainly had prepared for company.

Panting raggedly, Tavores raced through the field, limping badly as the boost that he had given to his weakened body began to wear off. It was not easy to produce that much energy and keep it going for such a long time. Now the pain was excruciating, but he couldnít let that stop him. He had to get away from here. He had to make sure that he survived. Tavores refused to let his second chance at life slip away from him. Even if it was Lucianís life and not his own, he still felt as if he played some part in it. He would not let himself be defeated now, no matter how exhausted Lucian was feeling.

Refusing to look behind himself, he charged forward, barely missing crashing into the metal fence that was guarding his path. It was covered with sharp rust and broken pieces of wire. Wincing slightly, he took a deep breath and then began to make the agonizing climb up the fence. The jagged edges of metal tore into his bare feet and unprotected skin, forcing him to bite back his cries, as he reached the top. Half-smiling with triumph, he grabbed the top spikes of the fence with his right hand and then leapt down to the other side.

As he collapsed onto his hands and knees, he felt a sudden flash of hot lead graze his shoulder-bone. He grabbed the injury with his hand and quickly jerked his head to the side only to see Lionelle sporting a fairly large handgun while holding his other hand to his still bleeding eye. Where had he gotten the weapon and how had he gotten here so fast? He must have used some sort of shortcut after he recovered from the attack. Shit! Growling in disgust, he scrambled to his feet and began to sprint out of the clearing and toward the nearest tree. In the distance, he heard the man behind him cursing while laughing cruelly as he fired more shots at the wounded Guardian. Tavores groaned in pain, realizing that he couldnít keep this up for much longer, especially with the ever-present nuisance of his previous injuries. He was going to lose.

*~*~*~*~*~*

Wolf bounded though the clearing, clutching Erikís gun in his jaws. It had taken him a good two hours to find it beneath as the dirt that he had piled on top of it a month ago. He wasnít planning on using it. It was just that Erik had said it would give him answers. All he wanted to do was have it around him just in case she was right. Moreover, the Hell Guardian seemed like he had more prowess with a gun than he did, maybe he could use it in helping them take care of whichever Chimera had caught him. It would make things easier if they both could fight and Wolf doubted whether the youth would be in any condition to use his power even after he gave him back the ruby amulet, which currently rested against his own relic. It had been the only suitable way of carrying it as Wolf.

For a while there, he had thought about going after the Hell Guardian as the human, but had then decided against it. That would just lead to awkward reactions from the both of them. He wanted to get this done with quick. There was no time for pleasantries. All he had to do was find his quarry, deal with whatever was giving him trouble, and then drag him back to Tashira. Easy right? Still, since his departure from the other wolves, something in him had been telling him that it was going to be far more complicated than that.

That little voice had been right. It was complicated. He wasnít entirely sure how he was supposed to find the missing Guardian and was limited to using his instincts and partially relying on the sun amulet to act as a honing beacon. His instincts would lead him to the boy while the amulet would lead him to the Chimera. Tashira had said that he was with the Chimera. So finding them would be a good help.

After a while, the gem did seem to be getting hotter and glowing more profusely on his furry chest so he guessed that he must be close to a Chimera. He increased his pace and continued to run in the direction that his instincts were showing him. He still couldnít believe he was doing this after telling the Ambrose twins that he no longer wanted to be part of their team. Everything had been just fine in the wild over the past month. Well, not exactly fine. He never had been able to stop thinking about what he had given up. But at least, he knew that he wasnít able to hurt anyone where he was. It was safer for everyone.

But what Tashira had told him had upset him. After seeing what the Chimera had tried to do to Tyrell, Wolf knew that being with them wasnít a good place to be. He doubted if the Hell Guardian could stand much torture before breaking down and revealing to the Chimera information regarding Tyrell and the Cruce. It was true that he wanted to believe that the boy would stay true to protect his charges, but facts were that the Hell Guardian was still just a child. Not only that, almost anyone would cower under the abuse that he had seen done to Tyrell. If he did talk it would not only be jeopardizing the Keysí lives, it would be practically delivering both them and the Cruce to the enemy on a silver platter. He had to find the younger boy and get him out of there before he could say anything.

As his powerful legs tore across the ground, he heard the loud firing of a gun along with a demonic laugh. Jerking his head up, he pricked his ears to see if he could pick up anything else that could relate to the Hell Guardianís location. The amulet on his fur singed the hairs with its raging heat. Wolf whimpered and tried to swipe at it with his front paw. There was definitely a Chimera nearby.

Running closer toward the source of the sounds, he heard a maddened roar. "You damn kid, you blinded me with that little move and now Iím going to get you for it! Forget magic. Iím going to take care of you the old-fashioned way. Come on back here, you still havenít told me enough about your little Keys."

Wolf recoiled in fury. He recognized that savage voice. It belonged to the leader of the Chimera, the one called Lionelle. But what was that he had just said? Whoever he was talking to hadnít said enough? Lucian? Hell Guardian. He quickly corrected himself. If Lionelle was talking about the red-haired youth, then that meant that he had betrayed Tyrell and the Keys.

"Why do you continue to run, pathetic Guardian? Do you really think that you can get that far?" Lionelle continued to taunt from a distance.

A great sickness surged up inside Wolfís throat. The Hell Guardian had placed Tyrell in danger. His ex-partner, the one who he had almost considered a friend, had endangered the safety of their charges. He had given the Chimera information. Such an offense was punishable by only one thing. As much as he hated to do it, he couldnít allow the younger Guardian to imperil the Keys any further. He would have to kill the boy that he had grown to care for so much. Aiden had insisted that he protect his charges and he was resolved to do just that. If the Hell Guardian stood in his way, then so be it.

Yet, another voice still piped up inside his head. What if Lionelle was just trying to trick him? What if the Guardian hadnít really said anything? He could just be assuming the worst from the Chimeraís words. Was it wise to resort to such fatal actions just because of an odd-sounding taunt? Did he honestly doubt the younger boy so much that he would think that he had betrayed them? What could make him think something like that? In all the time that they had spent together, the Hell Guardian had gone out of his way to defend his charges. He had even placed himself in danger to save him. Would that type of person give in to torture?

Frustrated, he forced the doubts from him. The Hell Guardian may have been loyal once, but he was a danger now. He hadnít been able to hold out against the Chimera and had forsaken his calling. Aiden would agree with him. The boy had to be taken care of properly.

Also, when he was gone, Wolf knew that he would be able to return to his old way of life without any more regrets. If he could just think of the Hell Guardian as having been a traitor, then he would no longer be able to see him in that friendly light. One was not supposed to care for a traitor. He would be able to finally forget about the younger teenager and could blanket himself in his solitude once more. There would be no more pining about what could have been. The freedom that he longed for would be his at last.

But at what price?

Struggling to maintain his balance despite the feeling of faint that was crawling over him, Wolf dropped the gun to the ground and threw back his head in a mournful howl. The thick black fur surrounding him shrank until it was just his normal messy mane as his body returned to his fragile human shape. Ignoring the final nagging thought, he tried to think of how he would get rid of his old partner. Using Guardian power against him just seemed wrong somehow. He didnít know why. It wasnít like he was supposed to care about how the Hell Guardian felt about it. But it still didnít seem right. He needed something more impersonal. Something quick. Something that took the severity away from the equation. Something like...a gun.

Clenching his fist to remind his of his purpose, he shot out a hand and snatched the weapon up from the ground. Whatever answers it was going to provide him with were about to be revealed. He leapt to his feet and brought his eyes to the place the shooting was coming from. To his dismay, he couldnít keep them from shaking as he stared at the area.

"Iím sorry, Tashira. I canít keep my promise to you," Dominic whispered to the air as he sped of in the direction of the noises. "My promise to Aiden comes first."

*~*~*~*~*~*

"Youíre one fast son of a bitch, kid. But letís see how fast you can run on a broken leg!" snarled Lionelle as he fired another shot in the Tavoresí direction.

Instantly, Tavores felt the bullet slam into his left lower thigh near his kneecap, barely bypassing the bone. Shocked by the blow, Tavores swooned on his feet and stumbled gracelessly to his knees. Waves of pain shot up his thigh as the leg crashed into the ground and Tavores felt the hard ground rush up to meet him.

"Gotcha!"

The manís voice sounded dull in his ears as he shook himself out of his daze and attempted to rise to his feet, ignoring the pounding ache in his head. As he tried to steady himself on his feet, his footing slipped in the sudden slick liquid that had seemed to cover the ground. Biting his lip, he tried again only to be forced to his side by the quick rush of pain that overwhelmed his entire body. He screamed despite himself and crumpled against the grass, allowing the soft blades to caress his throbbing form. Tavores cursed silently as he glanced down at his left leg and knew immediately that he wouldnít be walking on it for quite a while. He also knew that all attempts to use his power to rejuvenate the limb had just become null. That last shot had amplified the present injury and it was as good as useless now.

As he shifted his gaze, he realized to his horror that the wetness that he had previously slipped in was actually his own blood. It was dripping steadily to the ground from the myriad of bruises and lacerations caused during his interrogation; with his previous injuries further complicating matters. The red-haired youth winced as he gingerly touched the huge gaping wound on his right arm. Blood welled up from the slash and spread through his fingers. More of the crimson fluid also trickled down from the piercing in his side. He tried to move the side only to have waves of pain sent shooting through his burning chest and back.

Tavores knew he that couldnít force Lucian to rise to his feet again. He was trapped. Lucian had no more strength left to fight. He hissed under his breath and turned his head to face the man who was slowly approaching him, tapping his gun against his hip.

"Well, well, I must say boy, you sure put up a good fight for a while there. But honestly, did you really think you could escape with injuries like those? Even if you managed to reach some sort of sanctuary, how long do you think you could survive?" mocked Lionelle as he kneeled down, yanked his bloody hand away from his sightless eye, and then sank his clawed fingers into Tavoresí injured leg. Grinning like a cat playing with a helpless rodent, the golden-haired man pulled the boy toward him as Tavores fought to get away, scraping at the ground with his fingernails. He couldnít give up now, not when he was this close.

Lionelle squeezed on the hold he had on Tavoresí limb, almost paralyzing the boy with pain. Tavores moaned in misery as Lionelle tugged him back to him and slapped the gun against his head. The impact of the gun on his skull caused Tavores to momentarily black out and when his eyes snapped back open, he realized that the man now had the gun digging into his temple. He stopped struggling, not wanting to give Lionelle a reason to shoot him, as if he could actually prevent that from happening. Lionelle sensed his captiveís surrender and tore his other hand down Tavoresí scarred back; ripping open wounds that were still attempting to heal despite their repeated abuse. Agonized, Tavores howled again, eyes closed so as to hold back the tears that threatened to pour from them.

"Why do you continue to fight? Youíll just make the pain worse," patronized Lionelle in a soothing voice as he slashed at the marked flesh once more.

"Itís better than just lying down and dying like some coward!" Tavores snapped as he pried open his eyes to flash them at the Chimera with a dangerous gleam.

"Oh, youíre going to die alright, Hell Guardian. I was thinking of letting you live and just torturing you until you gave us something useful, but then you just had to go and ruin my eye. I donít care what Vincient says, Iím going to kill you this time."

Tavores was crushed. After everything he did, he was still going to lose his second chance. He had tried so hard, so damn hard and it didnít matter. He even felt bad for the broken boy whose body he now possessed. Lucian didnít deserve this. No matter how much he detested his reincarnation, he knew that Lucian should not have to lose his life in such a pathetic manner.

The boy trembled slightly and then slowly turned his eyes, still managing to glare at the man with contempt. "It doesnít matter what you do, youíll still never find out about the Cruce. Youíre going to lose!"

"Defiant to the end, I see. Too bad, I so wanted to see you suffer so more. But I guess this will do the trick just fine. Either way, youíll still be dead. So ends the life of a foolish Guardian. Not in a blaze of glory, but in a simple shot to the skull," gloated the older man pulling back the trigger. Tavores sucked in a quick breath and squeezed his eyes shut, not wanting to see another life stolen from him.

*BANG*

*~*~*~*~*~*

Comments: Once again, I have run into the "I write too much and have to split chapters" bit. Hence cliffhanger. Accident, I assure you. As for Tyeís situation, there is a little bit of a trick to working the Cruce. It will become clear later. On other topics, Luce is very very disturbed at this point as would be expected. Vincient has popped up yet again. His conversation with Luce will appear again later. Itís one of the most important things in this chapter. Umm, I know beating up Luce is wrong but have to provide incentive for what happens at the end of this chapter. And we all know that Nicky is really trying to lie to himself here. Sucks at it, doesnít he? Best of all, Tavoresí bitching paid off for once. He needs hugs.

Next chapter: A death, some fighting, revelations and some very messed-up journeys into Nickyís head. That boy takes having issues to a whole new level.

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