Dark skye, p.23
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       Dark Skye, p.23

         Part #15 of Immortals After Dark series by Kresley Cole
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Chapter 22

  Behind the crumbled stone was . . . an opening. A tunnel no more than five feet in height had been revealed. Despite his claustrophobia, Thronos clutched Melanthe with one arm, then swung his legs in, scrambling to get as far inside as possible. His horns hit the low ceiling, the jagged rock abrading the tops of his wings. “How are you doing with this tight spot?” she asked. “Not my favorite environment. ” He thought she muttered, “I figured swaying trees were. ” Meaning that night on the Order’s island. He winced to recall his behavior. But he’d believed she was different then— A dragon shoved its snout into the opening, its breath stirring up grit, making it difficult to see. Effectively trapping them. No other choice but forward! Red light spilled from some opening farther in; he made for it with haste, fearing the beast would fire on them. It reached in, pawing, disturbing rocks. Thronos covered Melanthe with his wings as the ceiling began to rain stone and sand. Piles of it heaped around Thronos’s legs as if from an upended hourglass. Panic threatened to take hold, but he fought it. They had to get out before the tunnel was choked, burying them alive. As Thronos slogged onward, his throat felt just as choked. The farther inside, the hotter the air was. That red glare grew as they neared. When he reached it at last and paused in the arched opening, he saw a larger cavern, filled with bubbling lava. A sole raised path bisected it, one that appeared to lead straight into hell. Kicking free of the piles of stone weighted around his legs, he launched himself off the edge. He glided down to the path, then set Melanthe on her feet. As he shook sand from his hair, he gazed back at the tunnel. Completely caved. Only one way to go. He turned back to the path. Ahead, more streams of lava wound along it. A metal bridge in the distance glowed red hot. “I think we’re in one of the armies’ lairs. ” “Then we need to find a way out, before anyone sees us. ” “I scent food cooking from one direction,” he said, “and corpse rot from the other. ” “So there’s a camp and a burial area? Let’s head toward the latter. It’d be less populated, less guarded. ” As they walked in silence, he kept his hand on her arm, in case he needed to shield her in a hurry. With each step away from that cave-in, his unease faded. “When you find yourself going through hell, keep going, right?” she asked, casting him a look from under her lashes. Again, he didn’t recognize the look, but he thought it was . . . flirtatious. He tried to focus, lest he get them captured or killed, but he couldn’t stop replaying their interaction under his wings—and how she’d run her finger down to his breeches. He’d been a heartbeat away from taking her hand and making her feel what she was doing to him. He’d imagined how he would groan her name as she outlined his shaft through the leather. He’d barely defeated the urge to lick sweat from her neck. Finding this realm’s portal had become even more important, because his sense of right and wrong seemed to be eroding. He could no longer trust himself to heed the laws of his people. He was the prince of the Vrekeners, a general of knights. Yet how easily she had him falling under her spell! He’d known she was using her wiles on him, but that hadn’t lessened the effect of her charms. Until he could return home, he needed to steel himself against her, a task that would be even more difficult after his discovery today. Sexual chemistry is addictive. Whenever he’d felt that electricity sparking between them, the pain from his old injuries had ebbed under the heat of excitement. . . . She cast him a quizzical look. “What are you thinking about?” “Chemistry,” he answered. Her lips curled, and she left him to his thoughts. All his life, he’d speculated how she would react to his scars. He’d been astonished to learn that she had no issues with him physically—merely issues with, well, everything else. Even she admitted that their chemistry crackled. From thousands of lofty perches, he’d gazed down upon Lorean wickedness. Watching an offendment was almost as bad as committing one, so he’d always turned away, but those glimpses had taught him much. He’d seen immortals addicted to intoxispells, begging to do anything for more. Thronos had never understood addiction before. Now he wondered what he wouldn’t do for more of this sizzling interplay with his mate. Might he stop insulting her? Perhaps he should go even further and court her. As a boy, he’d done so and found success. She’d liked to be given presents. Good thing he’d snagged that medallion from the temple. When they’d run from the dragon, Thronos had stretched out his talon for it. Now he had it hidden in his pocket. A stray thought flitted through his brain. How many gifts of jewelry have other males given her? To reward her for sex? His grip tightened around her arm, his horns aching to mark her again. Just because he had a goal of treating her better didn’t mean he could achieve it. Wrath still lived within him. . . . “Strange that we haven’t seen a soul,” she said, frowning at his grip. He eventually eased it. “There’s nothing of value to guard. Plus, they’re probably still on the battlefield. ” After what felt like leagues, the trail forked, the two branches heading in opposite directions. “Which way to the corpse rot?” she asked him. He waved to the right, and they kept moving. As they neared the burial area, the stench became overwhelming. Another cavern opened up, larger than the initial one. It’d likely been chosen for its size because it was filled to the ceiling with a mountain of bones, decapitated bodies, and horned skulls. The mound had a creeping, rippling coat of rats. The skittering mass darted in and out of the remains, as if along paths. When Melanthe’s eyes went wide at the gruesome sight, he tugged her back. “There’s no exit. Let’s head the other way. ” “Are you trying to protect my innocent eyes?” This seemed to amuse her. “I was just nine when my parents’ heads dropped off their bed and rolled toward me like wayward toys. When I was eleven, I used a shard of my sister’s skull to scoop up her brain matter and put her back together again. I haven’t been innocent since my life became entangled with Vrekeners. ” If his knights truly had hunted the two Sorceri girls, the attacks would have been unending. A living hell. Vrekeners never abandon their hunt. “Not to mention Omort’s court,” she said. “I can never unsee the things I witnessed there. ” “I wish that I could have spared you that,” he said honestly. “You could have spared me some. Last year when you set that trap for me, I’d been in Louisiana to retrieve my sister, so she could take her dose of morsus. She was dying. Because of you, I had to flee, getting completely turned around in a strange city. I was lost and frantic. Because of you, I couldn’t rescue Sabine. When the portal door shut on your leg, I’m sure you were suitably pissed on your side. On my side, I kicked your leg around, cursing it. Until I heard Omort from the shadows—in my room—grating, ‘And you dare return without her. ’?” She visibly shuddered. “I’ve never been closer to death than I was then. Never. So thanks, Thronos. ” “I couldn’t have known that. ” One year ago, she’d almost been murdered by her brother. The idea of Melanthe dying while Thronos was helpless to protect her . . . Would he have sensed the loss, even across worlds? She regarded his face. “I’ve tried to live my life. And you jeopardized it. It’s a miracle that I’ve survived this long. Speaking of which . . . ” She crossed to the burial mound, reaching for something. She hauled a battered sword out from the bottom. A few bones and skulls tumbled down like a mini rock slide. She laid the sword flat over one of her shoulders. “You ready?” He nodded, and they set out once more, his thoughts in turmoil. Never been closer to death. Because of him. No, he couldn’t have predicted what his actions might bring about—because it’d never occurred to him that Melanthe was a prisoner of Omort. Had he assumed the worst about her in every instance? Back at the fork, they chose the other direction. The path began dividing regularly, some routes leading down, some up, connecting to landings or more caverns. Along the landings were recesses of differing sizes. “I can’t believe we’re in a subterranean demon den,” she murmured. She didn’t sound unnerved by this, more intrigued—as if the two of them were on a hell safari. His instinct continually urged him to take the higher path, but he didn’t think there’d be an entry point at t
he top of this lair, so he tried to keep them on one level. The noise and scents grew into a tumult as they neared the demon encampment, situated in one of those larger caverns. Cautiously they found a vantage on a raised landing, where he and Melanthe could take stock of most of the camp. It was occupied by dozens of different types of demons: fire, ice, pus, storm, shadow, pathos, and more. All appeared to be returning from that battle. Thronos found it strange that members of such varied demonarchies were working together. Was the other army as diverse? Here, warriors regenerated from injuries, some regrowing flesh, some entire limbs. Others ate, drank, or whored. Thirty or so harried demonesses serviced the males, with lines forming. And my mate thinks me related to these brutes? He ground his teeth at the thought, turning away from the iniquitous scenes. Melanthe, however, appeared quite comfortable with what she was witnessing. And she seemed to be listening for something. “Come, sorceress,” he muttered. “I scent an exit nearby. ” At last, a way out of this literal hellhole. She didn’t follow him. “Just a minute. I’ve been reading their minds, getting the lay of the land. ” He hesitated. “And?” “This war has been going on since before even the oldest demons were born, so thousands of years. Each night, the armies march out to do battle. They break each morning because the dragons fly from their hive to come scavenge the plateau. If the demons are returning now, I guess dawn happened while we were down here?” “It must have. Those dragons on the mount were probably waiting to feed on the fallen. ” As if they’d been trained. Crafty beasts. It was a wonder there were any bodies in that burial mound at all. “The dragons have been abnormally hostile of late,” Melanthe continued. “The demons fear the last female has died, leaving a pack of aggressive killer males. It’s only a matter of time before they attack the demons. Oh, oh, this just in . . . We’re in a lair called Inferno. It’s protected by that moat of lava outside and is home to the Infernals. They fight the Deep Place warriors, also known as the Abysmals. Deep Place is equally difficult to breach. There’s only one entrance, and you have to navigate a maze of ruins to reach it. ” “What are they fighting over?” “Portals. The Infernals have the First Gate of Hell and the Second Key. But the Abysmals have the Second Gate and the First Key. In other words, they each have a gate of hell and a key that doesn’t work on their own portal. Each side fights to protect its portal and to seize the other’s key. Both armies are desperate to leave, but none can teleport here. They have no idea how the keys and portals got mixed up. Some believe the eternal war is a punishment for something. ” “A portal is within this lair? With your power, could you use it without a key?” She shook her head. “If it’s locked, it’s been barred for a reason. Against anyone. ” “So we could take a key from here to use with the Abysmals’ portal?” And if they managed to make it out of Inferno alive, would he drag her into Deep Place as well? He didn’t know enough about the dangers in Pandemonia to leave Melanthe in hiding, which meant she would have to accompany him to yet another demon lair—without any advance scouting. Who knew what he could be leading her into? The only other option would be to spend several more days in hell. Away from his home, his anchor. Will I even recognize myself? Not to mention that he could never wait that long to claim Melanthe. “We search for the key, then. We’ll find it. I’ll kill any demon that gets in our way. ” “Hold on there, tiger. When was the last time you ate? Or slept? We’re coming off a prison stay, remember. We should at least find food and water. Maybe spend the day recuperating. We can return when they go back to the battlefield. ” He couldn’t argue with her logic. “Very well. ” He steered her toward the exit he’d scented. Across a narrow rock bridge, he spied the opening. Murky rays of sunlight wavered through it. They were just about to traverse the bridge when a Volar demon swooped into the area directly below, beginning to remove pieces of his armor. Thronos and Melanthe flattened themselves against the wall of an alcove. They wouldn’t be able to reach the exit without being seen by that Volar. Thronos could take him, but not before the male raised the alarm. —Look, Thronos, your long-lost brother. — More telepathy? Yet she’d sounded almost impish, so he could forgive the intrusion, as well as the slight. When she found a flat length of stone in the dim alcove and took a seat, he cautiously joined her. From the shadows, he surveyed the Volar. Its kind had features in common with Vrekeners, he supposed. Their wings were similarly shaped with glowing pulselines, and their claws were the same. But the Volar only had two horns, and its wings were all black. The demon paced the area, seeming to await someone. Moments later, a small demoness of indeterminate subspecies rushed in. They ran to each other and began kissing. Thronos turned his head away, but Melanthe leaned forward with eagerness. —An assignation! Oh, darn, Thronos. We’re stuck here until they get finished. — “They aren’t about to . . . here?” She grinned. “Turn from them, Melanthe. ” Watching an offendment . . . —You’ve never watched?— “It isn’t done!” At Thronos’s low words, the Volar turned sharply, scanning the shadows. Thronos held his breath until the Volar’s mate drew the male’s attention back to her. —I might as well read his mind too. — Thronos wanted to tell her to ignore them, to think of something else, but he couldn’t risk the sound. —This Volar is the leader of the Infernals and is fresh from the battlefield. He thanks the gods for his mate, stolen during a raid on the Abysmals. If not for her, he’d meet a dragon’s fire. — Though that was all well and good, Thronos needed pertinent information. He couldn’t believe he was about to do this, but . . . he lowered his shields against Melanthe, which drew her attention. Then he thought the words: —Can you hear me?— She smiled softly. —I like talking to you this way. — —Can you find out from him where the key is?— —That’s pretty much the last thing he’s thinking about right now!— She fanned herself. The Volar and the demoness began to kiss even more passionately, making Melanthe sigh. When the male murmured in Demonish, she translated. —He told her that he loves her, and he couldn’t withstand this hell without her. And she says she feels the same way! They’re desperate for each other. — —She’s no warrior. She must have been a camp follower. — A prostitute. —So? She’s with him now. — —But he knows many others have seen his mate. They’ve touched her and pleasured her. — —Do you think that matters to him?— Thronos knew this was dangerous ground, but answered honestly. —I can’t see how it wouldn’t. — —It wouldn’t because he obviously knows a very real truth. The honor doesn’t go to the first male she bedded; it goes to the last male, the one she’ll spend eternity with. Him. He probably walks around this place feeling ten feet tall, superior to all. — Thronos had never thought of it that way. —I’ll be the last male you ever bed. — —That remains to be seen. — She turned to him with a frown. —You know, up in heaven, I’m sure things make sense and everyone acts as they’re expected to and surprises are few. But outside of heaven, life can be confusing and heartbreaking and dire. So most of us take pleasure where we can find it. — She pinned him with her gaze. —And we don’t judge anyone who does the same. — Could Thronos ever take pleasure where he found it? For a moment, he considered how easy life would be if he were a mere demon. That Volar could mate his female whenever he felt the urge for release. He didn’t have to worry about laws or expectations or the Tales of Troth. As a demon, Thronos would be able to forgive Melanthe her profligacy, because he would be in no position to judge. As soon as he led her from Inferno, he could find a place to take his demon’s due. The idea of claiming her this very day, without repercussions, was so seductive that he nearly groaned with want. His shaft ached for her, his horns as well. Part of him wondered, Why fight something I need so badly? His mate was in need too. Her season was upon her, and he had a driving instinct to pleasure her. A groan drew her attention back to the pair. He kept his eyes on her. —They’re so in love. — Yearning emanated from her. She’d said gold was “as beautiful as love. ” Did she want love for herself? His mate w
as such a contradiction. She was hardened to violence and death. But he’d also seen her joy in the temple and now her longing. As a girl, she’d been thoughtful and gentle. Her eyes had usually been lit with merriment, especially when she’d teased him, making him laugh despite himself. Each day, he’d gone from the dour Skye to that meadow, to levity and play. They’d settled in so easily together. Merry, gentle, thoughtful. Could she possibly have retained those traits after all she’d been through? Before he considered his words, he asked: —Have you been in love?— —I’ve never known romantic love. — This surprised him. With not a single one of the males she’d been with? —Why?— With a raised brow, she replied: —I haven’t found my future husband yet. — —You do not know how wrong you are about that. — —Hmm. — What kind of answer was that? Vexing female! The two below began making unrestrained sounds of passion. This too struck him as odd since Vrekeners were . . . discreet when mating. As Melanthe watched, her lids grew heavier. What was affecting her like this? Cursing his weakness, he stole a glance. The demoness had her legs and arms wrapped around the Volar, while he kneaded her ass beneath her long skirts. This was the same position Thronos and Melanthe had repeatedly taken! Was she imagining Thronos cupping and kneading her? The Volar took his female’s lips with a deep kiss, then eased them to the ground so that she was astride him. As Lanthe had been astride me, her sleek thighs flexing around my waist. The Volar fumbled with something beneath the demoness’s skirt, then with his own breeches. Lifting the female up, he slowly lowered her, growling with pleasure. At that, Melanthe inched forward even more, placing her hand flat on the bench of rock. It was small-boned and pale. Not the one that bore scars. He moved his own hand closer. —Tell me how many you’ve done this with. — Ever since she’d refused to say a number earlier, his imagination had gone wild. —This? They’re making love, so my answer is never. — Before he could argue, she said: —There’s a difference between sex and making love. — He’d heard this said, of course. But he had experience with neither. Though he was desperately curious as to what she considered the difference to be, he didn’t want to highlight his own ignorance of such matters. When the Volar spoke, Melanthe translated again. —He said he’s been thinking about her all night, wanting only to return to her. — With a grin, she added: —He said he’ll be tender with her for as long as he can. — And then what? Thronos refused to ask her, just said: —Females like tender. — Not an embarrassing question; merely an observation. —Hmm. Sometimes. — Enigmatic sorceress! She arched her brows at him. —I would let my partner know exactly what I desired every step of the way. He’d never have to worry on that score. — Did she mean him or males in general? One of the reasons he hated her past was that he had no experience of his own. If she compared him to other lovers, how could he acquit himself well? Yet if she told him exactly what she wanted . . . —When you tell me what you desire, I’ll give it to you. Anything. — Had she inched her hand closer to his? —What about offendments? Some of the acts I might crave have nothing to do with procreation. — With comments like this, she set his mind afire! —I will hear of these acts now. — She slid him a mysterious smile that put him into a lather as much as her words had. Since Thronos had captured her, Lanthe had seen entirely new facets of him—and each one confused her more. The warlord in pain, roaring in a lightning storm. The domineering demon in the temple. The protector who’d saved her from dragons. Now she could sense the conflict within him. His sexual curiosity and long-denied urges goaded him to learn about her own desires—and to watch others’, though he believed it forbidden. How shocking these sights must be to him! —I think my angel’s a budding voyeur. — —You lead me down a dark path, sorceress. — Thronos looked astounded that he was actually watching, but helplessly intrigued. —You’ve really never seen others in the throes?— Their hands on the bench were inching closer together. —Never. I’ve turned away every time. — His little finger brushed hers, and even that small contact shot currents into her skin. —Then why look now?— —Because I see myself as him and you as her. Because I ache for what I almost took in that temple. — The demoness moaned loudly. The Volar’s claws dug into the rocky ground. Lanthe swallowed. —What had you planned to do to me?— —For the first time in my adult life, there was no plan, only impulses. — Thronos’s hand suddenly covered hers. His was hot, rough with callouses. She glanced up at him. Thick dark hair tumbled over his forehead, almost reaching his vivid eyes. Their color was the same as the ore that had spilled from the mountain. Molten silver lit by fire. His shirt clung to his broad shoulders and brawny chest. His normally clenched jaw was relaxed, the grim line of his lips softened, allowing her a glimpse of his true mien: masculine, compelling, sigh-worthy. Her heart thudded. Irresistible warlord. His face was flushed with excitement, as if he’d just discovered flirting. Oh, wait. He probably had. —What would you have allowed me in the temple, Melanthe?— She felt like she was punch-drunk, losing any inhibitions she might have had with this male. By the way he stared at her eyes, she knew they were metallic, colored with her desire. —I honestly don’t know. — He scowled when she pulled her hand away. —If I based my decision on physical attraction alone, then . . . — She turned her hand palm up and parted her fingers for his. A breath left him. His hand shot to hers, fingers entwining. They fit . . . perfectly. —You would have received me? Parted your thighs for me?— He pressed the heel of his palm into hers, tightening his grip so sensually. She bit her bottom lip. —It’s not based just on physical attraction, is it?— How could the mere contact of their hands make her this aroused? Her nipples stiffened, her sex growing wet. Averting her gaze from his, she turned toward the couple. The Volar cast his demoness a look of open adoration. Gripping her breasts, he bucked his hips, bouncing the thrilled female. Did Thronos realize he’d begun rubbing the palm of his hand against Lanthe’s in time with the Volar’s thrusts? Their palms were hot with friction, and Thronos’s every movement sent pleasure rippling through her body. She exhaled a tremulous breath. Could he make her come like this? A completely new meaning for the term hand job. . . . She would catch him staring at her as she watched; then she’d gaze up at him as his flickering eyes took in the scene. Since they were communicating telepathically, it was easy to slip into his thoughts. He was reluctantly enjoying this spying because she obviously did, but also because it was a wicked secret between them—something they were doing together. He wanted more secrets between them. She hid a grin when she caught another of his thoughts. He was wondering how much more his swollen shaft could pain him: There has to be a limit. Oh, there was! Would they discover it together? When the demoness took the Volar’s horns in hand, Thronos sounded like he’d stifled a groan. —You did that to me earlier. — —Would you like me to do it again?— Hesitation. Then: —I can’t lie. I’d want that very much. Your soft palms on me, handling me. — Even out of the corner of her eye, she saw his engorged member pulse in his breeches. Her sex clenched in reaction. When the Volar ripped down the demoness’s peasant blouse to suckle a breast, Lanthe’s lids went heavy, her own breasts swelling in the molded cups of her top. Thronos moved his hand on hers faster. —I would do that to you at every opportunity. I’d kill to do it now. — She turned to him, found his spellbinding eyes filled with promise. Somehow he was beguiling her. The virgin was seducing the seductress! If he had this power over her and made a move to claim her, how could she resist him? During this time, that could spell disaster! Pregnant with Thronos Talos’s babe? The idea was too insane even to contemplate. When the demoness cried out, she and Thronos both turned to the couple. The Volar had positioned his female on her hands and knees, lifting her skirts. He’d taken her tenderly for as long as he’d been able to, but now his demon nature was clearly at the fore. With one animalistic shove, he entered her from behind, eliciting a lusty moan. After each thrust, he used his wings to d
raw his body back so he could plunge forward again. And again. —I could take you thus. — She barely bit back a whimper. —If you ever looked at me like he looks at her, I’d consider it. — Though the two below were groaning and moaning in abandon, their pace hitting its crescendo, Lanthe faced Thronos. She felt light-headed with arousal, desiring him more than she’d ever thought possible. —I’ve got to kiss you, Melanthe. — Irresistible. Was she nodding? At least here, they couldn’t do anything more than kiss. Things couldn’t get out of hand. Our first real kiss. His lips were inches from hers. . . . A yell in Demonish sounded. She gasped. A pair of armored sentries had spotted them.
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