Dark skye, p.25
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       Dark Skye, p.25

         Part #15 of Immortals After Dark series by Kresley Cole
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Chapter 24

  Lanthe cracked open her lids to find Thronos staring down at her, a curious expression on his face. She couldn’t believe she’d passed out. The rhythm of his breaths had lulled her, just as flying with him on the island had done. “How long was I out?” Though still thirsty and hungry, she felt rested. “A couple of hours. ” “I’m better now. ” Her welts had faded to nothing. “I can walk. ” With clear reluctance, he set her on her feet, steadying her with his big hand covering her shoulder. She glanced around. They were in a dense forest, surrounded by trees so massive, they made redwoods look like saplings. They had to be moonrakers, a type often found on demon planes. Not only was the stone of this realm black, most of the foliage was onyx and silver. Even the smooth bark of the moonrakers was black. Though there was little sunlight—just a few rays stole through the canopy—enormous flowers grew in profusion, subtly scenting the air. She inspected one bloom. Its large dark petals were shiny and open. In the center was a silver pistil the size of a baseball bat. Its pollen sparkled like white-gold dust. Other weeping-willow-type plants swayed above them, their silver leaves glinting in the scattered spears of sun, like Thronos’s wing mosaics did. As a sorceress obsessed with metal, Lanthe found all these sights mesmerizing, yet her attention couldn’t stray from him for long. As in the temple, she turned from infinite wonders to face him, a towering Vrekener warlord—who couldn’t intrigue her more. “So, any new threats I should be concerned about?” He shook his head. “When was the last time you slept for more than an hour or two?” “Before I was captured three weeks ago. You?” He shrugged. “Weeks. ” “So what do we do now?” “I’ve been following this overgrown path deeper into the woods, toward the scent of water,” he told her. “There’s prey all around us. I could catch something, but I doubt you’d eat it. ” “Like the first time you tried to provide for me?” All these years later, he deadpanned, “The rabbit had it coming. ” A burst of laughter escaped her lips so quickly, so unexpectedly, she almost slapped her hands over her mouth. “Too soon?” Another joke! And more . . . “You do remember!” “Everything. ” He reached forward, tucking one of her braids behind her ear. Why was he being so nice to her? Had she beguiled him so swiftly? She’d been unconscious for part of the time! He canted his head at her, then continued walking, seeming deep in thought. Her brows drew together when her gold senses pinged again. They had outside of Inferno, but she’d thought the temple’s proximity had continued to set them off. Now she glanced all around for the source. Her gaze kept returning to Thronos. She’d bet her best headpiece that this Vrekener had gold on him. But how? Her eyes went wide. Could he have collected that medallion? If so, and if he gave it to her tonight . . . The Vrekener would get laid. No, no! No sex with Thronos. Bad Lanthe! Clearing her throat, she said, “Karat for your thoughts. ” When he hesitated, she asked, “Are you beating yourself up for what we saw?” “Not as much as I should be. ” “Question: Are people like you and me called offendmenters?” “Have your fun, sorceress,” he said without heat. “Always. So tonight, we steal a key and use a portal?” “That’s what we’d discussed. ” “But won’t angelic Thronos balk at thievery?” she asked in a playful tone. “I remember when I once asked you to steal for me. You were embarrassed for me, putting up your nose as you said, ‘I will never take what doesn’t belong to me. ’?” “You asked me to empty the coffers of Skye Hall!” “What’s your point?” He opened his mouth to explain, then must’ve realized she was kidding. Sort of. “If we unlock a portal, how can you trust me not to direct it to Rothkalina?” “You tried for Rothkalina last time and brought us to Pandemonia. I believe you’ll aim for the mortal plane. It’s a vastly bigger target. From there I can fly to the Skye. ” “Still bent on getting me to heaven? Look, I’m not saying I’d never go to your home. Of course, I’m not not saying that either. ” He raised his brows. “We can wed only there. I must claim you in a Bed of Troth, my lifelong bed. ” She knew of some factions that had the same tradition—basically the ones that weren’t forever scrambling for their very survival. When a male was born, a bed would be created that he would sleep in his entire life, eventually bringing his mate to it. “What does the bed have to do with marriage?” “That’s how Vrekeners marry. When I claim you in a Bed of Troth, we’ll be bound. ” “No ceremony with tons of people? No fabulous dress and gifts of gold? No celebrating with far too much sweet wine?” “We’ve no need for ceremony. In any case, my home is the only place where I know I can keep you safe. ” Har. “What would someone like me eat up there?” Vrekeners were omnivores, but they preferred meat. “We have an entire island dedicated to growing crops. It’s the sole one that hovers below the clouds. ” “I’ve heard it’s austere up there. In Castle Tornin, I live in utter luxury, with all the mod-cons. ” “Don’t know what a mod-con is, Melanthe. ” She sighed. Of course he didn’t. “They’re things I couldn’t live without. ” Lanthe and Sabine had endured some lean early years and felt like they deserved to be spoiled. Now that Lanthe had gone from her castle tower, to Order prison, to roughing it—in hell—the greedy sorceress in her demanded a return to pampering. “If your realm is above the clouds, wouldn’t that put it higher than the tallest mortal mountain? Vrekeners might be used to altitude and temperature changes, but I would suffer. Other Sorceri must suffer. ” “Not at all. The same forces and wards that conceal the Territories and bind the islands together provide breathable air and warmth. ” “Forces and wards? Sounds like sorcery to me. I’ll bet sometime in your history, a Vrekener was chummy with one of us. ” “It’s possible,” he conceded. “We have machines in place to move and shape the islands, and engineers to run the machines, but we don’t know what the source of the power is. ” Interesting. She pictured sorcery-fueled steampunk contraptions. In another lifetime, she might have liked to see such a sight. But in this lifetime . . . “Just because I don’t want to go to the Skye doesn’t mean we couldn’t date each other. If you accompany me to Rothkalina, I could introduce you to nice dragons. ” “If I even consider it, then I’ll know you’re enchanting me,” he said. “Your sister would plot to murder me the second I stepped into that kingdom. You forget I’ve witnessed the manifestation of her powers. ” When Sabine had forced Thronos’s father to see his worst nightmare. Whatever she’d shown him had made the male claw at his eyes. “Your sister doesn’t seem to bear ill effects from her . . . deaths. ” “Not surprisingly, they left her deadened, blasé about tragedy. ” When Lanthe had accused her of not caring about anything, Sabine had replied, “That’s not true. I care about nothing very much. ” Lanthe added, “At least, she was blasé before Rydstrom came along. But she weaves illusions over her face, so you rarely know what she’s feeling anyway. ” “How many times has she died?” “Over a dozen. Not all by Vrekeners. ” When he raised his brows, she admitted, “Sorceri plotted against her. Humans executed her for being a witch. And so on. ” She paused a moment, then said, “What about your own sibling? Will your brother not plot to murder me?” Might as well dip a toe. “Aristo? I grant that he hates Sorceri. It’s the cause of much strife between us. ” “So he’s like your father, then?” “Yes. But if Aristo harmed you, his brother’s sole fated female, it would be like harming me. It would be like killing my future offspring. ” He held her gaze. “We hold mates sacred. ” Thronos will never believe me. Lanthe remembered Sabine lamenting that she couldn’t get Vertas warrior Rydstrom to trust her—just because she’d been a Pravus player who’d lied to him and tricked him into a dungeon imprisonment. Sabine had sighed, “How was I supposed to know to act like my word was good?” I hear you, sister. “Would Uncle Aristo accept those future offspring of yours?” Lanthe asked. “You made it clear that Sorceri blood would be a detriment to any child we had. ” “I was angry when I said that. I would not love a halfling any less. ” “But others might look down on them. ” Thronos’s face turned c
old and intent. “I will not tolerate the slightest disrespect to our children. ” Our children. “Aren’t you worried about the insanity tainting my line?” He scrubbed his hand over his face. “Again, I was angry when I mentioned that. ” “It was true. My mother wasn’t well. With me, you risk having crazed offspring. ” “I met her once. ” “What? When?” He told her of a brief encounter, when he’d seen Mother worshipping her gold. She’d called him hawkling. “Wait, Elisabet had known I was seeing you?” He nodded. “Your mother was harmless, Melanthe. Yet my father murdered the parents of my mate. ” Thronos’s eyes grew matte gray. “I looked up at him that night in the abbey and saw a stranger. I grieved his death, but gods I blamed him. I lost you because of him. ” He glanced up sharply, as if he hadn’t meant to say that much. “Why didn’t you tell me about my mother?” Clearing his throat, he said, “I wanted to. Never seemed like a good time. ” She could scarcely believe her mother had known that secret. Why hadn’t Elisabet feared an attack? Lanthe would have to get Sabine’s take on that. “Do halfling Sorceri have powers?” Thronos asked. “Usually, but Vrekeners have stolen so many powers that they’re not being reincarnated. Children are born without souls. ” His lips thinned, but the wheels were obviously turning. “How old were you when you discovered your persuasion?” “Really young. I told Sabine to close her mouth. She couldn’t open it for a week, not even to eat. She was starving but no one could figure out what had happened to her. You should know, these kinds of things happen with Sorceri kids. ” Instead of appearing horrified by the prospect, he confidently said, “We can handle it. ” It was then that she noticed how much steadier and calmer he’d grown since the island. She would bet steady was his default setting—unless he suspected that his mate had slept with her brother among her string of other men. Didn’t mean she wouldn’t call him on his bullshit. “Oh, come on, Thronos. What would you do with Sorceri young? If we had a teenage daughter and her skirt was short, I’d think it’d be even cuter if shorter. How would you react to that? And if she hadn’t stolen gold by the time she was twelve, I’d put her in counseling. ” “You’re exaggerating. ” “Not at all. We’d have you not knowing up from down. ” But this didn’t even bear discussion, because if she and Thronos ever did end up together and she got pregnant, the reality would prove far different: She’d happily go to tell him the good news, all fa la la. He’d ask her if he was the father. She’d behead him in a maniacal rage. . . . “While we’re on the subject, Vrekener, would you expect me to dress differently up there?” He raked his gaze over her. “Not behind closed doors. ” He must have realized how objectionable she found his words, because he added, “I’m sure you wouldn’t want to stand out as the least dressed female in the Territories. ” “You’ve just given me a title to aspire to. And besides, behind closed doors, I wouldn’t dress at all. ” His brows shot up. She tapped her chin. “Unless I was in the mood for leather or lace. ” “Leather. ” He swallowed. “Or lace. ” Then she frowned. “What’s this talk about having no roofs?” Seeming occupied with his own imaginings, he took a moment to answer. “We feel more comfortable with nothing except sky above us. ” “Yes, but can’t you hear couples having sex all the time?” He rubbed the back of his neck, as if the skin there had just heated. “We are quiet in matters like that. ” She stopped in her tracks. “What does that mean? Sometimes it can’t be controlled. ” “Vrekeners take pains not to get . . . overly excited. ” “I don’t understand. What about horny young newlyweds? And what about you, Thronos? I’ve discovered you hardly have ice in your veins. ” “Avoiding the truly licentious acts is supposed to help. ” Gazing to one side of her, he said, “I’ve seen males with bite marks on their arms, from where they’d muffled their reactions. That’s a common enough practice. ” She knew she looked gobsmacked, but this was just too wrong. “What’s the point if you’re not getting overly excited? I guess you’ve never heard the phrase ‘bellow to the rafters’?” Especially since they didn’t have rafters. At his blank look, she said, “When you throw back your head and roar with pleasure? Come on, roaring isn’t just for battle. ” Or for unleashing fury in a tempest. “In a sexual situation, that would indicate . . . a significant loss of control. ” She’d begun to recognize the expression he wore now, the one that said, This goes against everything I know. But, gods, tell me more. “If we had sex, ‘overly excited’ would only be the beginning,” she explained. “Next would come the point of no turning back, when we’re angry at our clothes for getting in the way and our hips move on their own and we can’t seem to kiss deeply enough and your fingers grip the curves of my ass and my nails dig into the muscles of yours. ” “And then?” he said hoarsely. “Then comes the really fun part of the program. ” She was getting caught up in this, savoring her virginal Vrekener’s reaction: utter enthrallment. “The panting, licking, rutting, keening, sucking, mindless, animalistic, about to explode/erupt/die with ecstasy part. ” A sharp breath escaped his lips. She loved the puh sound he made. “Next?” “The last part’s difficult to put into words. Better explained by example. Let’s just say that we would be anything but quiet. ” When he tried to speak, his roughened voice dropped an octave. He coughed into his fist, then finally managed: “I see. ” She expected him to make some comment about her sexual past, something along the lines of “How many men have you been rutting with? Did they all make you erupt with pleasure?” But he didn’t, so she asked, “What about flyovers?” “Huh? Oh. It’s bad etiquette to fly over another’s home. ” “I’ve heard that all the buildings look the same and all the walls are white, with no color to be seen. ” “They are uniform. ” “And there’s not a drop of wine in your realm? No gambling or carousing?” “Correct. ” He was describing a floating, whitewashed, sterilized, stifled, mirthless hell. She was surprised he’d acknowledged these things about his home, even as he knew how much she would dislike it. “What would you expect me to do all day?” “Perhaps selfless acts, helping others. Or even studious contemplation. ” He seemed to have found his footing again. “You could read about our culture, studying Vrekener history. ” She’d used to enjoy reading about history, but only if it wasn’t lame. “Would those pursuits be so bad?” Yes, yes, a thousand times yes. Which begged the question: How exactly did he plan to get her to stay there? Once her power was replenished, no one could hold her. She skated away from that subject. “Thronos, if there’s a splinter group up there with its own agenda, then what’s to prevent someone”—your brother—“from attacking me now?” She expected him to deny, to bluster. Instead, he said, “If someone disobeyed my order and tried to hurt you, or your sister, he will pay. ” “Anyone? Absolutely anyone?” Curt nod. “I give you my vow,” he said, having no idea of the bind he’d just gotten himself into. And this was why Lanthe rarely kept her promises. “You’re starting to believe me?” “I’ve learned your tells. I know when you speak untruthfully. ” Her eyes darted. That could prove disastrous! Damn it, what were her tells? If he noticed her distress, he let it go. “There’s water ahead. But I also scent resin pits. ” Seconds later, he pointed out a shallow depression filled with some kind of amber-colored gel. “Resin will trap you like an immortal-strength tar. Step where I step. ” In a pit farther ahead was a dead animal, an unidentifiable reptilian beast that had gotten its legs caught. Predators had eaten its guts. Lanthe shivered. What if an immortal like her got trapped? Those predators would chomp on her, but she might live through the ordeal—only to regenerate for subsequent feedings. Potentially for eternity. Being an immortal had its downsides. “I’ve been pondering something,” Thronos said. “How did Rydstrom forgive Sabine?” Ah, so the Vrekener was moving his mind toward a pardon for Lanthe? With his new tenuous trust of her, he was starting to look for more between them. He probably figured he could shed some of his anger if he absolved her. One problem: Lanthe didn’t see her sexual history as so
mething that needed absolution. Especially not from him. Did she wish Thronos hadn’t found her with Marco? Sure. Did she want Thronos’s forgiveness for sleeping with that vampire? Hell. No. “Why do you ask?” “Rumor holds that Sabine trapped him to use as a sex slave, tormenting him until he agreed to wed her. Then he made a slave of her. ” She blinked at him. “Like those are bad things?” At his look of astonishment, she said, “They enjoyed tons of bondage, some master/sub stuff, a real-live dungeon with shackles, role and cosplay. Spankings and repeated orgasm denial. You know, typical BDSM. But don’t worry, they were doing it before it became cool. ” “BD what?” Thronos’s expression was priceless—part confusion over the lingo, part horror, part helpless fascination. She’d bet this angel had an untapped wicked streak. “Look, it’s not for us to understand. It worked for them. ” The whole truth was much more involved. Sabine had wanted to overthrow Omort, seizing the kingdom for her and Lanthe to rule, while gaining control of the mysterious, demonic Well of Souls in Castle Tornin. No one had ever expected Sabine to fall for Rydstrom—least of all Sabine. Thronos helped Lanthe over a resin pit. “Answer the question. ” “Fine. Rydstrom was able to forgive her because he got a like revenge. Everything she did to him, he did to her. ” “The parallel would be for me to bed scores of other women. Which is impossible. ” “Then lucky for me I’m not looking for your forgiveness. I’m happy to have experience and to know my own mind. ” He appeared to be grinding his molars to dust, but he didn’t make any slut-shaming comments. “Look, my sister went to Rydstrom a virgin. In a hundred years or so, do you think she’ll imagine what it’s like to know another male? Maybe she will, maybe she won’t. But do you think Rydstrom will worry that she’s imagining it?” She continued, “All those virgin females out there will always have to wonder. I won’t. I am informed. I’ve done my due diligence, and now I’m ready to settle in for the long haul of eternity. ” “That is something to consider, I suppose. ” Then his brows drew together. “By that logic, in a hundred years you’ll wonder if I’m thinking about other females. ” In a throaty voice, she said, “Thronos, understand me: if I ever decided to bed you, there would be no doubt. You’d be completely undone, absolutely taken, forever mine. If you were ever inside me, you would be broken down at a molecular level—altered irretrievably. ” His expression told her he very much wanted to be altered irretrievably. “You guarantee this because of your . . . experience?” When she merely shrugged, she expected him to launch into a tirade about her past. Again, he held off. Yet she didn’t think this was because he’d had a change of heart. He might not be calling her a harlot, but he still had to think of her as one. Lanthe had a theory about his turnaround. Before, he’d seen her as a sexual object for other males; after Inferno, he now viewed her as a sexual object for himself to enjoy—and, sadly, she believed he’d learned his first lesson as a potential sexual partner: Act like an asshole and you won’t get any. Which meant he was biding his time and biting his tongue until he could get what he wanted. Just like every other male she’d been with.
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