Dark skye, p.32
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       Dark Skye, p.32

         Part #15 of Immortals After Dark series by Kresley Cole
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Chapter 31

  The markers read: Pain confesses all. And Time cares naught. What did that mean? Enough with this bloody place! What would this zone have in store? The mention of pain didn’t worry him; he knew pain, could handle any physical agony. But what about Melanthe? The sun was beginning to rise, purple clouds in the background like a halo over her black hair. He’d just taken a step in her direction when he spied movement. He disbelieved his sight—not far behind her was a tank-sized beast with bloodred eyes, dripping fangs, and bony spikes protruding from its spine. A hellhound. “Freeze, Melanthe. ” She did. Eyes wide, she whispered, “Something’s behind me, isn’t it?” He gave a shallow nod. The beast’s soot-colored pelt was said to be dense enough to repel swords. And talons. But if Thronos could reach her and get them into the air . . . The hound lifted its snout. Catching their scent, it let out a chilling howl. When it charged them, Thronos lunged for her. He never reached Melanthe. Another beast collided with him from the side, a locomotive of force that nearly knocked him out of his boots. A second hound. Thronos crashed to the ground. When his vision cleared, he found one mammoth paw pinning him by the waist. He cast his wing up, talon slashing. The strike didn’t even disturb the beast’s dense fur. “Run, Lanthe!” She was already sprinting in his direction, as if a hound of hell pursued her—because it did. She ran with a feylike quickness. Melanthe was fast. It was faster. Thronos launched another strike of his wings, and another, buying time to glance over his shoulder, taking in every detail of their possible escape route. Behind him was an open field fringed with moonraker trees. To the west, a charred mountain peak loomed over the field. Atop it were dozens of dragons, jostling for territory. Their hive? They clawed the black stone for purchase and loosed great streams of fire. Rocks plummeted. A pair of dragons took off from that height, heading in the direction of the demon valley. Sparring in the air, they tore chunks of flesh from each other, scales raining down. Sunrise; feed on fallen. More dragons would follow. As Melanthe high-stepped past Thronos, she cried, “Stop playing with yours and kill it!” “Why didn’t I”—he jerked his body left to right to avoid snapping fangs—“think of that?!” If the beast’s pelt was impervious, it’d have only a few vulnerabilities. As swiftly as he could, Thronos whipped his wings up, talons crossing over the creature’s face. Before the hound could bite down on them, he gave a yell, dug in, then ripped his wings to the sides. His talons raked across the beast’s eyes, slicing through to the very bone of its eye sockets. Blood spurted. The beast yelped in pain, blindly stumbling toward the brush. A mistake. Dozens of huge reptilian-looking predators snatched the defenseless hound into the shadows. With a haphazard swoop of his wings, Thronos half-lunged to his feet, stumbling after Melanthe, pain coursing through his bad leg. He craned his head around. Where was she— He caught sight of her, eluding the hound on her tail. He stepped forward, nearly planting his foot in resin. “Watch for resin!” This pit was covered with silver reeds, almost indistinguishable from the rest of the ground. Risking the dragons, Thronos bounded into the air. He wouldn’t be able to reach her before the hound did. So he pulled his wings tight and dove, aiming for the beast itself. At the last second, he rolled to launch a shoulder into the hound’s flank, knocking it off its feet. While it shook away confusion, Thronos snared its meaty tail, pinning it between his arm and torso, digging his claws in. Gnashing his teeth, using all the strength he possessed, he hauled on the tail as he began to rotate. As if throwing a discus, he spun the beast. Again. And again. With a bellow, he released the thing, sending it flying through the air. When it landed against the mountain, stone fractured. Its limp body collapsed. Hounds dispatched, Thronos tensed to run for her; almost fell flat on his face. His feet were caught in mere inches of resin! He pulled with all his might. More of the dragons launched themselves from the peak, heading toward the plateau. The mountain shook with an earthquake’s force, boulders falling. Melanthe was about to run through a narrow ravine. From this distance, he could see a rockslide crashing toward her. “The rocks, Lanthe!” She spotted them herself, skidding to a stop. Whirling around, she headed back toward the field. Toward him. “Hurry!” The sky rained boulders. They pocked the clearing, shaking the ground with each impact. Thunk, thunk, thunk. She sidestepped, dodging an arrow-shaped boulder of charred stone. If it’d hit her . . . Her body would’ve been pulverized. He strained harder, working his wings to free his legs. She would have died. A real death. He’d heard of Sorceri ended by illness and by stab wounds, for gods’ sakes. She was almost back to this clearing. She ran under one of those gigantic trees for cover, nimbly skipping over its roots. Then she—stopped. Her upper body jolted forward before she righted her balance. Their eyes met. “Melanthe?” She peered down, frowned. She . . . no. She couldn’t be caught in a pit. “I’m coming for you!” Every muscle in his body strained. Though the quakes had stopped, the onrush of boulders continued. He could hear their deafening descent down the side of the mountain. A monolith the size of a garbage truck was heading for Melanthe’s tree. She gazed up in horror, hunching down. “No, no!” He thrashed, kicking, sweat pouring into his eyes, wings heaving. Damn it! The backdraft was cooling the resin, only solidifying its hold. High in the tree, a giant limb caught the boulder. He and Melanthe shared a look of relief. Until they heard the first crack of wood above her. The limb was about to give way. She started struggling in a frenzy. He’d never get to her in time! He flared his claws to sever his legs, slashing at his skin. When the top tree limb snapped, the boulder landed on the next one down. It was already bowing . . . He bit back yells as he cut, hacking through his calf muscle, baring the bone. Gripping his bloody leg in two fists, he wrenched his hands in different directions. The bone wouldn’t break! She murmured, “Thronos?” Across this distance, he heard her distinctly, felt the timbre of pure fear in her voice. She had to know a boulder that big would kill her. “I’m coming!” Even as his talon gouged chunks of flesh from his other leg, the process was taking too much time, too much! Three failed tries to break one leg! Craaaack. His bone snapped just as a tree limb did. A leg free! But the boulder was plummeting like a juggernaut, crushing one limb after another until it caught on the one directly over Lanthe, not twenty feet above her head. A final defense. Could he reach her in time, and have the strength to pull her from her own pit? She’d gone still, as if she feared making too much movement. “Start cutting!” he yelled as he set to his other leg, balancing even as he swung his razor-sharp claws. She didn’t answer. Never slowing his gruesome task, he glanced at her. She was holding up her bare hands, with their tiny pink fingernails. No gauntlets. Tears began trailing down her cheeks. The last tree limb was about to go; splinters fluttered over her, dusting her braids. “Tell my sister I love her”—she swiped at her eyes—“and f-for what it’s worth, those months in the meadow . . . I was happy. Happiest. ” “No, NO!” He was free of the pit! Using wings, hands, and what was left of his legs, he sped toward her. Their eyes met again, tears pouring from hers. She raised her chin and gave him a pilot’s salute. The wood broke. The boulder crashed down. One second Melanthe was standing there. The next she’d disappeared, crushed. Dead. He bellowed, “NOOOOOOO!” She couldn’t be gone! When he reached the boulder, he thought he could scent blood and . . . ground bone. Because there was nothing left of her. With a strangled yell, he dug his claws into the stone; using his wings for propulsion, he shoved with all the strength he had left. Moved it not one inch. She’s dead. Another desperate shove. Not a godsdamned inch. She was dead. He felt it. Knew it. He roared with agony. He had five centuries’ worth of hate to give that stone—his new enemy. Another shove. Another. And another. And another. He rammed his horns into it until blood poured down into his eyes. In the midst of this frenzy, memories of her flashed through his mind. Of him telling her they would be wed when they grew older . . . “Would that make me a princes
s of heaven?” she asked with a chuckle. “Would we have much gold up there?” “You’ll have me—and you like me far better than gold!” He tickled her, chasing her around the meadow while she squealed with laughter. Of the first time he’d taken her flying . . . She peeked up from his chest, her eyes wide, as blue as the sky they crossed. “Thronos, this . . . this . . . let’s never go back down!” Of them as children caught in the rain, on the very day his father had later raided the abbey. Thronos took her in his arms, and she leaned against him. When the drops grew heavier, he spread his wings over his head, creating a shelter. “I’ve always room for you too. ” She nestled against him. As they watched the rain fall, she sighed, “I love you, Thronos. ” His heart felt too big for his chest, and he had to swallow past the lump in his throat to answer her. He’d squandered the treasure he’d been given. His claws and horns were gone, but he hadn’t budged the stone. Blood from his hands and head painted his enemy. That stone . . . not a godsdamned inch. Unmovable. So too would he be. Tears blinded him when he realized the stone would be her grave marker. Thronos closed his eyes and took comfort in knowing that they would share it.
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