Dark skye, p.43
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       Dark Skye, p.43

         Part #15 of Immortals After Dark series by Kresley Cole
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Chapter 42

  Once the god had greeted Melanthe and Thronos, all the revelers stared. Though not as intently as Nereus himself had ogled Thronos’s mate! Out of the corner of her mouth, she said, “Just smile and wave, boys. Smile and wave. ” As she was speaking to a single male, Thronos figured this was another cultural reference he didn’t understand. The entire trek here, he’d worked to remain calm because he’d sensed that Melanthe was nearing her breaking point. Perhaps she had been, but no longer. Now she looked like a knight about to enter a fray: focused, confident, yet aware of the stakes. “Join me here,” Nereus called. At the far end of the table, he pointed to a pair of chairs just to the right of his throne. Why would he seat them in such a place of honor? The festivities ramped up once more, the music restarting. The nymphs’ song was strangely relaxing, but Thronos knew he needed to stay sharp. He assessed his environs. Exits: only the doorway and floor cutouts. Adversaries: unknown. So he’d consider every single being a potential enemy—except the harmless nymphs. Disadvantages: they were deep beneath the ocean, not exactly his preferred battleground. A week ago, he would have said this was his worst nightmare. Now he knew that losing his mate was. As he and Lanthe made their way down the length of the table, Thronos worked to limit his limp—in hostile situations, opponents always scouted for weaknesses. Though his arm and wing had been healed, his old injuries still plagued him. Other guests were already seated, some Loreans he’d never seen before. Most wore skimpy togas, their heads decorated with wreaths. Thronos counted himself lucky to be dressed in traditional Vrekener attire. At some sections of the table, water-filled tanks had been pulled up for the comfort of mercreatures. They drank heavily from shell goblets. Though the tanks were transparent, tentacles groped or . . . probed. That’s just not right. But Thronos showed no reaction. Farther down the table was even more lechery. Nymphs perched across knees or astraddle males, their hands busy beneath the glass tabletop. The way one nymph was writhing over a satyr’s furry lap, Thronos figured the male had to be inside her, concealed by her sea-foam skirt. Melanthe cast him a look from under her lashes, probably thinking he couldn’t handle the iniquity of these scenes. After Inferno, he was growing more accustomed. As he and Melanthe passed, revelers cast amorous glances at her. How could they not? None of the females here could hold a candle to his. She was a sensual sorceress, blessed with unmatched beauty. He hadn’t seen her dressed like this in ages. Her glossy braided hair shone in the hall’s light. Her eyes were sky blue behind her mask. He pictured her wearing these garments in the Territories. Compared to the bare-breasted Nereids strolling Sargasoe, Melanthe appeared almost demure. Thronos supposed everything was relative—a startling realization for an all-or-nothing thinker to have. Nereus told the crowd, “Everyone, partake heartily of libations, feast on rich foods, and fill my hall with merriment!” Melanthe murmured to Thronos, “Libations? Rich foods and merriment? In other words, this is your special kind of hell. ” She made him sound like a killjoy. She’d called him a killjoy. He could be merry if he wanted. If it was so bloody important to her . . . Yet with each new detail he registered in this hall, he became more certain that “feasting” would never be a favorite activity. He was used to action, used to searching for Melanthe. Now he merely wanted to begin a life with her. Once they’d seated themselves beside Nereus with formal greetings exchanged, the god snapped his fingers and two serving nymphs arrived. They poured wine for her and ale for Thronos, again showing a perplexing degree of interest in him. Earlier, he’d noted Melanthe’s displeasure over this. When he’d felt her delving, he’d shielded his thoughts, wanting her to wonder what he was thinking about for once. “My dear travelers, this is a time of celebration,” the sea god explained—to Melanthe’s breasts. “Though a foe breached our walls last month, he didn’t seek any of my offspring! Only wanted to settle a small debt. ” “Felicitations, Nereus,” Melanthe said warmly, raising her goblet. Nereus finally met her gaze. “And now I have new and interesting visitors at my table. My dinner guests have been so boring of late. ” He stroked his lengthy beard. “I have to execute them just to salvage the night!” Still smiling serenely, she asked Thronos: —Now do you understand the stakes?! We’ve come this far. I don’t want to die in Sargasoe. — —I’m rolling with it, aren’t I? Even though his gaze has scarcely left your chest. — Thronos’s wings tensed with the need to lash out against the male, his fangs and claws readying to rend flesh. As a demon’s might. But he bridled his rage. “A toast is in order!” When Nereus stood, Melanthe coughed, her wide eyes on the god. What was she looking at? Oh. Nereus was grossly endowed, so much so that when he’d stood, his member had swung like a pendulum beneath the thin fabric. Melanthe gawked. —It’s his very own kickstand! You could snuggle it like a body pillow. — Thronos clenched his jaw. —Got an eyeful?— —And then some! No one will believe me when I tell them about this. — “To our castaways,” Nereus said, with a grand gesture toward them. “May they find everything they seek in my domain. ” His tone made Thronos’s wings twitch, but when Melanthe elbowed him to raise his goblet, he played along. Yet he couldn’t shake the feeling of a threat. —Drink it. Nereus can make you if he wants to. — Scowling into the cup, Thronos took a drink, and found the ale . . . delectable. He’d downed the goblet’s contents before he’d realized it. At once, a Nereid crossed to him with a pitcher, shoving her breasts into his face as she poured. Naked breasts in his face, and all he could think was: I hope Melanthe is seeing this. Lanthe would soon have to walk a very fine line. She needed to intrigue and arouse Nereus, a debauched libertine. And she needed to do that without inflaming Thronos’s jealousy beyond his control. Easy as easy pie; except it wasn’t. When Nereus turned his full attention to her, she felt like footlights had just lit up. “Do you like your Sorceri wine? The vintner assures me it’s sweet enough to please a sorceress’s tongue. ” Lanthe took a sip. “Scrumptious! It’s not often that I get to enjoy it away from home. ” “How did you come to be upon Sargasoe’s coast?” “Oh, it’s such a long and boring tale. ” —Boring? The hell it was. — —Pipe down. I need to concentrate here. — —Then go on, weave your spell. I could almost pity the sea god. — She laid her hand over Nereus’s. “Instead, let’s talk about you. It’s not every day I get to meet a divinity. ” “What would you like to know, sorceress? Am I attracted to your charms? Absolutely. Next question. ” She grinned at Nereus, even as she sensed Thronos turning away, refusing to watch their interaction. “What enemy dared to descend on Sargasoe?” “A vampire,” Nereus answered. “You might know him—Lothaire the Enemy of Old. I’d been indebted to him, but no longer!” “I suspect half of the Lore is in his infamous book of debts. ” Unfortunately Rydstrom was; he and Sabine had been hunting the diabolical vamp over the last year, figuring a dead leech couldn’t collect. As of a few days ago, Lothaire had been an Order prisoner, obviously escaped now. In the past, Lanthe had considered the Enemy of Old to be one of the sexiest males in the Lore. But now . . . Her gaze slid over to Thronos. He didn’t even act like he was with her, just sipped from his goblet, glowering at his surroundings. —Easy with the booze, tiger. — —Just get this over with. — She turned back to Nereus, inwardly frowning as a thought occurred. The god had said his foe Lothaire had come last month. Between Pandemonia and the belly, how much time had she and Thronos lost? Sabine must be out of her head with worry! Nereus observed, “I wouldn’t have expected to see a sorceress and a Vrekener as traveling companions. ” “Cheap airfare,” she said with a wink. He smiled, revealing straight, white teeth. A nice smile. Fangs would make it better. “Yes, but I sense that you are a hedonist like myself. And the Vrekener is not. ” “Interestingly, he and I share a fated connection. ” —You. Are. Mine. — —Thronos, come on!— She reached for her wine again. Nereus waved her statement away. “I detect a great many things about you. You’re a sensual conno
isseur, are you not?” She paused over the rim of her goblet. “From one hedonist to another,” he continued, “I find it refreshing when women know their way around the bedroom. A humanoid female who happens to be a connoisseur of males is a most coveted creature in nautical realms. ” “Not so much in other realms. ” In a bemused tone, Nereus asked, “Why is sex the only endeavor where a male hopes his partner is a rank novice?” Lanthe couldn’t stop the grin that spread over her face. “Why indeed?” Nereus gazed at her smiling lips for long moments, then leaned in with a get-down-to-business look. “You want to get to know me, but I want us to get to know each other. ” He might as well have cracked his knuckles. “So tell me, what is the favorite pastime of a sorceress like yourself?” “Drinking wine and watching TV. ” She illustrated the first with a deep draw from her glass. “Admirable. And how would you react if you developed gills?” he asked, as if he was ticking off a mental list of questions. “I’d wonder how to accessorize them. ” “Your stance on sharing males?” “Generally not a fan. ” The dick was speed-date interviewing her! “I’m high-maintenance, usually more than one male can handle. ” Thronos snorted. He might as well have said, “Preach. ” “In five years, where do you see yourself?” Nereus asked. “With more than a dozen spawn? Or fewer?” “Absolutely fewer than a dozen. ” “Pets in the bed. Yay or nay?” “Depends on the pet. ” “For instance, a pod of Nereids. ” —Yes, Melanthe, tell us. How would you feel?— —Gold preserve me. — “Do I get a pass?” Nereus hesitated, then let her off the hook on that one. “If you could meet any Lorean, alive or dead, who would it be?” Finally a question that wasn’t laden with skeevy undertones. In all honesty, she would have liked a chance to talk to her mother. She wished she could tell Elisabet that she now understood how difficult it must’ve proved to be the vessel of an Accession, to be banished from her Deie Sorceri family, to leave her home and all she’d known. To beget a child like Omort. Lanthe now knew Elisabet had done the best she could. Their father, too. But Lanthe could never answer honestly. So she glibly said, “Naturally, it would be you, Nereus. ” If the god noticed that her mood had changed, he didn’t indicate it. Yet she felt Thronos’s penetrating eyes on her. “Flattering sorceress,” Nereus fake-chided, but she could tell he was pleased. The questions resumed. “What’s your favorite art and music, across all planes and worlds?” She felt herself relaxing. This was an easy subject for her. “For art, I enjoy the Helvitan masters. The way those vampires use ground bloodroot on a canvas of cured flesh is nothing short of inspiring. For music, I like a mortal genre called top one hundred. Or, of course, classical Draiksulian. Those fey know how to compose a jaunty tune. I noticed earlier that your Nereids were playing thirteenth-century sirenades. Lovely. ” “They were indeed! I hadn’t thought anyone would notice. ” He narrowed his green eyes. “You are clearly well educated. How are you at trivia?” Sometimes she would play trivia games with Sabine, Rydstrom, Cadeon, and Holly, going from third wheel to fifth wheel. “I guess I’m not too bad. When I was young, I’d often read to pass the time. ” “Then answer this: Who was the leader of the Three-Century Rebellion in the Quondam realm?” She’d expected a trick question from a trickster god. “Actually, that rebellion was in the Quandimi realm. The leader was Bagatur the Battlecrafter. ” Nereus gave a robust laugh, his oiled chest rumbling. “I thought I would stump you. ” “My sister and I studied ruthless leaders to pick up pointers. We were convinced we would rule the worlds in one great co-queendom. ” Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Thronos cast her a quizzical look. —You know a great many things. — —Maybe I earned my idle pastime of TV viewing? I’m not an empty-headed bimbo. Which is why I didn’t take kindly to your suggestion that I study Vrekener history and spend time in contemplation. — —Fair enough. — Nereus too was impressed with her knowledge. “I find you to be quite learned about art and culture and the ways of the world. I’ve made my decision. ” His hand landed on her knee. “With your beauty and sexual prowess, you would be ideal for spawning. ” He had been interviewing her. She glanced down, saw Thronos’s arm muscles bulging as he clenched his fists. —You said you’d roll with this!— She sipped from her goblet to buy time. Thronos drained his. —If you’d been alone, would you have received Nereus?— —Anatomically, I would have concerns. — So how should she lead Nereus off this spawning path? Bait and switch? Whom could she throw under the bus? It came to her in a flash. “My dear Nereus, while I’m humbled that you would think of me for such an honor, I fear I can’t betray my queen. ” Morgana was a big girl. She could handle an infatuated god. “I don’t understand. ” Lanthe peeled his hand from her knee. “Surely you know of Morgana’s interest in you? She constantly rhapsodizes about your prodigious . . . intellect. ” “I was not aware of this. ” “For me to cross the Queen of Sorceri in this would be a fatal mistake. ” Actually, crossing her in anything would prove fatal. Morgana was a queen in two senses. Just as Lanthe was the Queen of Persuasion, with a persuasive ability greater than that of any other, Morgana—the Queen of Sorceri—possessed the ability to control her subjects and their powers absolutely. Plus, she was also the regent of the Sorceri. “Is Morgana so fearsome, then?” Nereus asked. “We are all fairly much helpless before her. ” Well, except for her arch-nemesis La Dorada—who, incidentally, had risen for this Accession. “Taking something Morgana wants would be a treasonous act. ” He stroked his beard. “I will have to think on that. ” Had Lanthe done enough to deflect him? An army of Nereids began serving the main course: lobster still in the shell, with sea vegetables as an accompaniment. “This looks amazing!” Lanthe said, though she would never touch the lobster. “Enjoy, my winsome sorceress. ” When Nereus rose, she jerked her gaze upward before she got another eyeful. “Allow me to circulate so that my other guests don’t accuse you of monopolizing me. I’m not the only one who considers smiting a solution to social blunders. ” “Of course. Take your time. ” She waved bye-bye, then turned her attention to Thronos, who was presently slouched in his chair, wings slack, regarding everything with a gimlet eye. Probably pondering how to kill a god. “When Nereus gets back, I’m going to ask him about the portal. ” Thronos’s knuckles were white on his goblet when he drank. Under her breath, she said, “I don’t have a choice in this. I refuse to die here, and I refuse to be trapped as some spawner beneath the ocean. I’m doing the best I can in a honey/vinegar situation. ” “I know this!” Thronos exhaled, then said in a lower tone, “I know. And that was clever to throw Morgana into the mix. ” “Let’s just hope it works. ” Appearing to shake away the worst of his ire, Thronos raised his goblet before her. “Taste this ale. ” He seemed almost buzzed. “It’s delicious. ” She took a sip from his cup, then handed it back with a grimace. “Are you crazy?” “What?” He downed a large gulp. “That’s demon brew. ” Loved by demons and hated by most others in the Lore. He swallowed loudly, nearly choking on the liquid. He must know that this drink left one steadily tipsy, until abrupt drunkenness hit like a sledgehammer. “Why would they serve me demon brew?” he demanded. Lanthe gave him a bless your heart look. He bit out a harsh laugh. “So the evidence continues to mount? And Nïx wants to know if it matters that we might be demons. ” “How much have you had, Thronos?” “Three or so goblets. ” “Three? You’re going to be tanked. ” Though she’d only had a little more than a goblet of wine, she would taper off, just in case. He gazed at her mouth, his lids heavier. “My impending drunkenness should please you, no?” “You’ve misunderstood me. I don’t care if you drink or not; I just don’t want you to tell me not to. But tonight, I’ll take it easy, so one of us is on guard. ” A Nereid squeezed between them to fill his goblet. The female all but pressed her voluptuous breasts in his face, before traipsing off. Even though he was buzzed, he kept his mind blocked. As her glare followed the Nereid, Lanthe told him, “If she shoved her breasts
any closer to your ear, I believe you could’ve heard the ocean. ” “Compared to the belly of the beast, this situation is a vast improvement,” he said nonchalantly. She turned her glare on him. “Because the belly of the beast lacked topless nymphs? Talk to management. ” “You’re jealous. ” He leaned in closer, the electricity between them sparking. “I knew I was growing on you. ” With a crooked grin, he said, “After all, you loved hallucinated sex acts with me. ” Had she ever! She sipped her wine to cover her reaction to him. When she licked her lip, Thronos muttered, “Lucky lip. ” Lanthe’s fine line had just gotten finer. The brew would hit Thronos soon. “You need to eat something. ” She pointed to his platter of lobster. “A full stomach might forestall some of the effects. ” He had to be starving, but he was clearly at a loss. “Crustaceans are not something I’ve much experience with. What I wouldn’t give for a nice haunch of venison. ” He looked around as if to see how others were handling their lobsters. The mercreatures ate the entire thing, including the shell, probably throwing up that part later. He turned back to her. “I’ve got nothing. ” With a look of commiseration, she started on the salad of seaweed, sea lettuce, and kelp. She found it surprisingly tasty. Once Nereus returned, Thronos turned surly straightaway. The god noticed. “You show no interest in my lovely nymphs?” “Melanthe is my mate,” Thronos said with unmistakable pride. “I have interest in only one female. ” Nereus’s gaze was shrewd. “Ah, but does the interest run both ways? Well, sorceress? Are you as besotted with the Vrekener as he is with you?” I might be falling for him. But the next step in their relationship was her accompanying him to Skye Hall, an all-in scenario. Going with him to heaven would be the craziest thing she’d ever done. Yet as she peered over at him, she realized that wasn’t true. Letting this one go might be. How proud Thronos had sounded when he’d said, “Melanthe is my mate,” declaring interest only in her. For years, she’d imagined what it would be like having a male to prize her and hold her hand in public. To take her to court events. Instead of into the shadows for whispered assignations. Thronos would never wince at his watch, claiming, “Got a really early morning tomorrow, sweet. ” He would never, ever blaze. The situation with him—with their families and factions—was anything but ideal. Yet Thronos, the man, was getting there. “We’re taking it day by day,” she finally told the god, earning a black look from Thronos. “So, let’s get back to you. ” Resting her chin on her hand, she gazed at Nereus with—seemingly—utter absorption. “Won’t you tell me about the Marianas Trench siege? That was supposed to have been a doozy!” She planned to go in for the kill soon. Would Nereus let them leave immediately? Or make them wait till after the feast? She wanted to get Thronos out of here as soon as possible, before the brew hit him. “I remember that one,” Nereus began. “I was only a millennium or two in age. . . . ” Once he’d recounted the tale, she sighed, “The stuff of legend. Nereus, your hospitality has been as fabulous as your spectacular realm. I can’t wait to tell my fellow Sorceri all about you, as well as my friends among the witches and Valkyrie. The Vertas alliance will know of your generosity. . . . ” She trailed off, frowning at a nearby wine pourer. The nymph was giving Thronos another assessing glance. No, not assessing. Something darker. Lanthe gazed around, saw other nymphs with the same expression. They looked . . . proprietary. As if they already owned him. —Stop drinking, Thronos. We might be in trouble. — —This ale is hitting me hard, Melanthe. — Even telepathically, his words were slurred. When fogginess overtook her as well, she knew it wasn’t only the demon brew affecting him. —I need you to fight it. — At once, she scented blood. He was digging his claws into his palms. But it was a losing proposition. She swung her head around at Nereus, and almost toppled out of her chair. “What are you doing?” she snapped, her words sounding far away. The Nereids weren’t the only ones looking proprietary. As her head lolled, she heard Thronos murmur aloud, “Lanthe?” Black dots swirled at the edges of her vision. The last thing she saw was Nereus throwing back his head to give a loud laugh. And then nothing.
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