Dark skye, p.6
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       Dark Skye, p.6
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         Part #15 of Immortals After Dark series by Kresley Cole
Chapter 5

  Numbed to the drizzle and cold, Lanthe was lulled into a kind of exhausted stupor as the flight went on and on and on. When they’d crossed over an expansive forest, the noises of the battles grew dimmer. She dared a glance back, could still see bursts of spectral light. Soon that melee would spread outward all over the entire island. Thronos had to know that. His face was tensely set—as if he were concentrating on blocking out his pain. There’d be no talking. Think about something else, Lanthe. Anything else. Yet now that she was his captive (temporarily), she found her mind mired in thoughts of him. A memory arose of their first day together, when he’d tried to feed her—his idea of courting. Unfortunately, he hadn’t known she was a vegetarian. “For you. ” Thronos proudly dropped a carcass of bloody meat at her feet. She burst into tears. “Why do you cry?” Despite all his confidence, he looked confounded—and pained, as if her tears tormented him. “You don’t like my gift?” “Th-that was my bunny!” One of the woodland creatures that she called friend. “It’s decent meat. And you’re starving. ” Her face heated. “I am not!” “Are too. You were scrounging for twigs, lamb. ” “They’re b-berries! I like to eat berries. ” The next morning, when curiosity had driven her back to the meadow, she’d found it littered with piles of berries. Thronos had been standing among them, with his fingers stained, his chin up, and that cocky look back on his face. Delighted, she’d leaned up and pecked his lips. His wings had snapped open, a reaction that had seemed to embarrass him. After that rocky start, they’d grown to be best friends, just as he’d promised. Later on, he’d asked her why her parents didn’t buy food. She couldn’t make him understand that her mother and father worshipped gold more than anything it could purchase. Not to mention that they’d deemed Lanthe old enough to begin stealing her own way through life— Thronos’s grip was loosening in midair! “Wait!” she cried. But he’d only repositioned her in the cradle of his arms. Apparently he was adjusting her for the duration—and wasn’t about to dump her like an armful of firewood. After a moment she relaxed slightly. Though she had recurring nightmares about Vrekeners sweeping down on her, she was now trapped directly under a pair of wings. Talk about immersion therapy. She stared up at them, spread in flight, wind whistling through his healing sword wound. As a girl, she’d been obsessed with his wings, touching them all the time. She’d been fascinated to discover the backs were covered with scales like those of a dragon. As if in a mosaic, Thronos’s black and silver scales had made slashing designs that resembled sharp feathers. During the day, the undersides were dark gray. At night, they turned black, stark against the electrical pathways that forked out along the bones. Each of those pulselines shone as bright as phosphorescence. One night when they’d secretly met, he’d spread his wings, showing her how the pulselines moved. It’d looked like he’d been surrounded by lightning wings. He’d demonstrated how he could use tricks of light to camouflage his wings so they’d be invisible in the dark. When he’d grown embarrassed by her wide-eyed stare, those pulselines had quickened, like a blush. “I never knew these were scales instead of feathers,” she told him. “I guess none of my kind have gotten a good look at the backs of Vrekener wings. ” He appeared troubled. “That’s because no Vrekeners ever retreat from Sorceri. ” Now Thronos’s wings were contorted in places. She’d always imagined the bones had been set badly, but up close, she could see that they’d mended true, in strong straight lines. Maybe the muscles had bunched, growing off-kilter? Biting her bottom lip, she dared to reach up and touch a pulseline. Its beat accelerated, and his grip tightened on her. The first time she’d ever voluntarily touched him as an adult. When he cast her a killing glance, he again resembled a reaper, every inch a “righteous reckoning. ” His silvered talons glinted, as ominous as a sword blade. “Why did you do that?” he demanded. “You used to like me to touch them. ” Voice brusque, he said, “You assume I remember that far back?” What if he didn’t? His mind might have been injured. For some reason, the idea of that made her chest ache. She remembered every second of those four months. Regardless of their history, she found herself thinking of them—of him—far too often. As they gained altitude to crest another mountain, her ears popped. Rain fell even harder, drops pelting her, winds buffeting them. She heard crashing waves. They’d reached the far coastline? She blinked against the rain, saw he was following the shore north. Or south. Who knew with her wretched directional skills? He looked as if he were trying to scent something. He flew them to a point, hovered, then returned down the coast, flying farther in the opposite direction. Again he repeated his pattern, clearly growing more frustrated. “Even if your senses are as keen as a Lykae’s, you can’t scent through pouring rain. ” “Silence. ” He dove to circle a tree at the very edge of the storm-tossed peak. The tree swayed in the winds, the top like the deck of a pitching ship. Yet the bastard tossed her onto a thrashing limb! She clawed her gauntlets across the wood, scrabbling for a hold. If she fell, she’d tumble down the mountain, her body dashed to pieces. Apparently he’d forgotten how susceptible to injury Sorceri were! Or maybe he hadn’t forgotten. Once she’d steadied herself, she eased around to crawl along the limb, the wood slick beneath her hands and knees. Kneeling before the trunk, she stabbed her gauntlet claws into it, then peered up, blinking against the downpour. No leaves screened her from the gale. Above, bare limbs spread out like veins, as if they were stretching for the sky’s arteries of lightning. Thronos stood at the very top, easily balanced, rising to his full height to ride the movement. A hand shielded his gaze from the horizontal rain. As she put out a prayer to the gods that he got struck up there, her teeth began chattering. She soon shook until her head bobbed, and not just because of her fear of heights. She hadn’t had more than an hour or two of sleep at a time for three weeks, and had rarely eaten the gruel they’d been served. Right now, she should be tucked in bed in her warm tower at Tornin, watching DVDs on her solar-powered TV and enjoying sumptuous foods and sweet Sorceri wine—while waited on hand and foot. Instead, she was trapped with her worst nightmare, strangling with the need to kill him. A burst of hysterical laughter left her lips. Lanthe and Thronos, sitting in a tree, k-i-l-l-i-n-g. . . . Damn it, why the hell hadn’t Sabine found her? Maybe the double-dealing Nïx had steered her wrong—while giving Thronos detailed directions to find Lanthe. If Sabine found out he had her sister, she would unleash hell. That night so long ago, when Thronos had led others to the abbey, Sabine had noted the way he’d stared at Lanthe: “The young Vrekener looked at you with absolute yearning. His people must have somehow discovered you are his fated mate. They attacked our family to secure you for the hawkling’s future, to groom you. To break you. As they do with so many other Sorceri children. ” Which Lanthe had supposed was true. But she’d remained silent, and to this day, Sabine had no idea of her sister’s connection to Thronos. What was he planning for Lanthe once he’d gotten her off the island? Did he expect to have sex with her? She recalled the way he’d kissed her in the mine. Oh, yeah. He expected it. She heard a swoop of wings as he returned to stand behind her. She chanced a look over her shoulder, hating how he was totally in his element. As the tempest raged all around them, flashes of lightning illuminated his horns, wings, and fangs. A true demon. She remembered calling him one when they were young. He’d been horror-struck, hadn’t come back to the meadow for three days. Later she’d realized he’d flown home with the question: “Mom, Dad, am I a demon?” When he’d finally returned to Lanthe, he’d been quick to present all the information he’d gathered about how Vrekeners were completely, utterly, without a doubt different from savage demons. Vrekeners couldn’t teleport like demons, their eyes didn’t grow black with emotion, and males didn’t mark their females upon claiming. While demon horns had a function in that species’ mating rituals (Thronos had blushed at that), Vrekener horns were only for menacing show, to terrify wrongdoers. Their wings were for swift capt
ure of prey, to stamp out evil as quickly as possible—because evil could spread. She’d rested her chin in her hand and asked in a saucy tone, “And your fangs? Do they stamp out evil too?” He’d looked troubled for the rest of the day. . . . Seeing him in this lightning, his species was plain to her—just as it was to many others in the Lore. When Loreans called Vrekeners demonic angels, it wasn’t because they resembled demons. She recalled Sabine and Rydstrom debating Vrekener origins. Rydstrom had said, “They are sanctimonious, maniacal, and deluded. My kind claims no affinity with theirs. ” Now Lanthe blinked, and Thronos was gone. As thunder rocked the night, he moved from limb to limb, an eerie predator. He alighted on one above her. From there he could have spread his wings, blocking the worst of the storm for her, but he was content to watch her suffer. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d felt this helpless, this powerless. The key to her collar was on the other side of the island. Thronos had separated her from her only shot at getting this thing off her neck. Not that she could simply walk up to Emberine and Portia and ask for it back. But Lanthe could’ve planned a sneak attack, anything. Her portal power sure would come in handy right now. He moved to a nearby limb, hanging from his arms to bring their faces inches apart. “I told you that I’d have you soon. ” “You also told me you knew a way off this island. But you can’t find it, can you?” “We’ll reach it in the morn. ” “Uh-huh. ” Bully for us. When she turned away, he vaulted to the other side, leaning in once more. “In the tunnel, you let go of the witch’s hand so she could protect her young. Why would someone like you be moved to help her?” Again with the someone like you? “Why should I tell you anything? You won’t believe a word I say. ” “Lies do spill so readily from those red lips. But I learn much from the very untruths you speak. ” She dared to loosen one gauntlet to give him a vulgar hand gesture. “Learn this, demon. ” Between gritted teeth, he said, “Call me that again, harlot. ” She detested that word! With all the countless immortal and mortal languages, why was there no male equivalent? A gust of wind drilled rain against her, sending her into a fit of coughing. His voice a harsh grate, he said, “A male shouldn’t be heartened to see his mate’s misery. But this pleases me well. ” “Mate? I’ll die first. ” He brought one of his wings closer to her, easing that talon to her face. The silver length was rounded, smooth as ivory on the outside of the curve—but she’d witnessed how sharp the tip was. “I could have killed you so easily, so many times. ” He ran the back of the talon across her throat, letting the threat hang between them. “Instead, you sent your knights to do it!” “These lies again?” Did Lanthe ever lie? Of course. In the noble pursuit of gold, she pulled out all the stops. She also lied to avoid trouble. Those outside her new family might get an earful now and again. But few things irritated her more than disbelief when she was actually telling the truth. “You foul Sorceri pride yourselves on falsehoods!” Foul Sorceri . . . Someone like you. “I’m so sick of you! You’d think after five hundred years that you could take a hint. I will never want you like you want me!” “WANT?” His claw-tipped hand slashed the tree, his fury bubbling over—as if she’d hit an exposed nerve. “Do not ever mistake my interest in you! Fate has saddled me with you, cursing me with a female I find lacking in all ways!” His voice continued rising with every word. “Instinct compels me to pursue you, to protect you. Otherwise I’d take your head myself! I want you like a man with a badly set limb wants his bone rebroken. It’s a bitter necessity. You are the bitterest necessity. ” His words didn’t hurt Lanthe. She’d been scorned by men before. Why would she care what a scarred, maddened Vrekener thought of her? She didn’t care at all. He mattered not at all. When she just blinked up at him, he seemed to rein in his fury. “What either of us wants is immaterial. I’ve taken you because that’s what fate decreed. You’re mine by the laws of the Lore, the laws I uphold. ” “And you always follow the laws? You act like Vrekeners are so righteous? I’ve seen more evil in your kind than in most Sorceri I’ve met. ” “Now I know you lie! You resided with Omort!” With each Accession, a warrior for ultimate good, or ultimate evil, was born. Lanthe’s half brother had been that warrior a few Accessions ago, bringing evil to the Lore for centuries. After her mother, Elisabet, had given birth to him, she’d been cast out in shame by the noble family of Deie Sorceri. By the time Lanthe and Sabine’s father had come into the picture, Elisabet had been . . . troubled. This Accession, twin girls had been born for ultimate good, daughters of Rydstrom’s brother, Cadeon, and Cadeon’s Valkyrie wife, Holly. Lanthe was a doting auntie to them. “You remained with Omort,” Thronos grated, “during his reign of child sacrifices, orgies, and incest. ” Omort had hosted orgies and made a willing concubine of his half sister Hettiah, who’d died the same day he had. Toward the end of his reign, when Omort had demanded sacrifices, he’d yelled, “Something young!” Until that one fantastical day when Lanthe had challenged Omort, she’d been helpless to stop him. She would be haunted forever by the things she’d seen him do. Take it up with management. “I did remain with him,” Lanthe admitted. “For ages. ” “Then what evils do you think Vrekeners have perpetrated to measure up to that fiend’s?” “Torture, murder, thievery. Even you know your kind steals Sorceri powers. ” The fire scythe his father had wielded wasn’t good only for parent beheadings; it also drained powers from its victims, a process Sorceri derisively termed neutering. It was rumored that some “benevolent” Vrekener had ordered the knights to siphon sorcery, instead of taking lives. Yet in the last century, the knights had begun doing both—so that those abilities could never be reincarnated. . . . “We harvest and store them, preventing them from being used for evil. ” “To us, a root power is like a soul. You’re stealing souls!” “Sorceri steal each other’s powers, like cannibals feeding! How many have you stolen?” She didn’t answer, was guilty as charged. She’d had no choice, since hers kept getting poached by smooth-talking Sorceri males. How many times had she fallen for one’s seduction, only to discover he’d used sex to lower her guard? But she never stole from decent-minded Sorceri, the ones who only wanted to be left alone to drink, fornicate, gamble, and worship any gold they’d swindled, swiped, or conjured. “Yet you had to steal, didn’t you?” Thronos bit out. Fat drops of rain pummeled them, batting against his wings. “Since yours were continually robbed?” She hadn’t known he was aware of that. No one would want her worst enemy to know she’d been a dupe. “Was that how you got caught by the mortals?” He canted his head in that foreboding way. “Were you away from Rothkalina seeking another power?” “I don’t think you really want to know the answer to that question. ” “Tell me, or I’ll toss you down the mountain myself. ” He reached forward, his fingers making a cage over her throat, his expression promising pain. He was a monster, a world away from the boy he’d been when he fed her and held her—and she’d sighed words she could never take back. Oh, well, he’d asked for it. “I was seeking something else entirely. After losing a wager with my sister, I had to go without sex for a year. I was on the hunt for a new lover when I got nabbed. ” He gave a curt yell, lifting her by her jaw. She dug her gauntlets into his forearms, but he didn’t seem to feel them. “Wh-what are you doing?” In the bobbing tree, he held her body aloft, so her gaze was level with his. Mother of gold, he was going to toss her! She couldn’t stifle a whimper of fear. His head rushed toward her body. She braced for a vicious strike of his horns. Instead of hitting her, he rubbed the base of one over her shoulder and neck, marking her with his scent. As if by doing so, he could pry her out of some faceless male’s arms. The behavior was blatantly demonic. When he finally pulled back, his eyes gleamed with rage. “You crippled me. For centuries, you cuckolded me over and over again. The pain you gave me in the past wasn’t enough for you? You wish to deliver more?” Right now? Desperately! She wanted to claw his eyes out, to rake her gauntlets down his scarred face! “Because you dese
rve it!” He flung her back down to the limb. “Look what you wrought, Melanthe!” As she scrambled toward the trunk, he ripped open the front of his shirt, revealing scars she hadn’t seen before, marks jagging along his rigid torso. He pounded a fist over the center of his chest, over the raised scar there. “Does this one look like it was deep? Half an inch closer, and it would have pierced my heart!” She blinked against the rain, against tears that seemed determined to fall. But not out of pity, out of impotent fury. “Every second I fly is hellish! Because of you!” “I’d do it all over again!” He threw back his head and gave a roar up to the lightning-strewn sky. When he leveled his gaze on her, she shrank under the savagery she saw there. “Gods damn you, sorceress! You have no reason to hate me as I do you!” “No reason?” she sputtered. “Do you know what it’s like to feel panic whenever a cloud passes over the sun? To hunch down, gasping for breath, pulse racing? You and your scarred face are the star of every nightmare I’ve ever had!” Melanthe’s eyes blazed with hostility. He stared into them as lightning reflected across those blue depths. He was his mate’s bogeyman? Fitting. She was his bane. Melanthe is misery. He shook his head hard, ignoring the weird ache in his horns, preventing himself from rubbing them over her again. He could barely reason, his thoughts a snarl in his mind. Control. If he couldn’t maintain it, then she would wind up dead. Which would end his plans for continuing his line. Without that, and without the chase, what reason would he have to live? Lose control, lose your mate. Yet keeping her alive didn’t mean he had to prevent her suffering. So why had he experienced the impulse to shelter her with his body? He needed to remind himself of all he’d lost. Of all his agony. He’d implied to her that he didn’t remember their childhood time together. In fact, he recalled every moment with a blistering, crystal clarity. Earlier, when she’d stroked his wing with her eyes full of wonder, it’d brought him right back to the first time she’d touched him. . . . Biting her bottom lip, she tentatively reached in, tracing a pulseline. His wings had flared uncontrollably, embarrassing him, making the back of his neck heat. “There,” she murmured with a grin. “You’re not so scary, then. What’s it like to fly?” He took her hand. “I could show you. ” And Thronos remembered those agonizing days after his fall, when he’d fought not to succumb to his injuries. He’d heard his mother’s voice saying, “Don’t you understand what she’s done to you?” He must have been calling for Melanthe. “What her kind have taken from us? Your father is gone. ” Then, lower: “And so too will I be. ” He remembered attempting to fly once more; his atrophied wings had been unable to support him. The humiliation had burned worse than the unbearable pain. He’d ignored the whispers when his people had dubbed him their “tragic prince,” forever cursed to desire the wicked sorceress who’d nearly murdered him. He’d told himself it would all be worth it—once he had Melanthe again. Bile rose in his throat as he remembered seeing her as a woman for the first time. He shook away the memory—lest I murder her. For centuries, he’d vowed she would be worth all his pain. He craned his head up at the trunk of this tree. Never forget. . . .
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