Dark Skye Read online

Page 17

Chapter 16

  When Lanthe woke again, night still clung to the realm, the battle ongoing. Perhaps both were endless here. Thronos was gone, probably out sourcing food. Since she didn’t eat meat, she had scant hope for her own breakfast. Would he remember the time he’d tried to hunt for her? She was surprised he’d left her alone, not that she could escape. She rose, testing her tongue—all healed!—and stretched her stiff muscles. If she felt this rough sleeping on the cold stone, she could only imagine how he’d felt. If he’d slept. Eager to wash the grit from her skin and hair, she crossed to the cave opening, removing her gauntlets and boots along the way. Rain poured, spattering the lava on either side of the entrance, producing steam tendrils. Sidling near the very edge, she commanded herself not to look down as she reached for warm rainwater. Most Lore species were fastidious. Yet she hadn’t had a shower in weeks, had been forced to bathe with freezing water from a sink. She drank from her cupped hands, rinsing her mouth of residual blood, then removed her underwear and breastplate to clean them and as much of her body as she could. While she washed, she reflected on all she’d learned in the last two days and came to a startling realization: I have nothing to hate Thronos for. At least from the past. He was innocent of the crimes she’d pegged him for. He hadn’t had a direct hand in Sabine’s deaths, had even taken pains to prevent them. She now believed he’d kept secret the location of the abbey. Did she wish he’d given her a heads-up that his father was going to attack that night? Absolutely. And she wished Thronos had kept a better leash on his men—on his brother—but she couldn’t have expected him to. In no universe would he not have trusted the word of another Vrekener. After last night, her chronic anxiety over surprise attacks had begun to fade at last. She now knew who her enemy was: Aristo. And where their next encounter would be: Skye Hell, if Thronos got his way. If Lanthe could be freed of that overriding anxiety, would her powers bloom? After unbraiding her hair, she smoothed water over it. Once she’d rinsed it clean, she painstakingly plaited it into braids around her face. The rest she left to curl down her back. She was glad of this time alone to digest everything that had happened—and to consider her burgeoning interest in Thronos. After she’d fallen back asleep, still heartsick at his memory, she’d had vivid dreams of him. In one, he’d kissed her in the rain. He’d grasped her face between his palms, brushing his thumbs along her cheekbones; then he’d set in, his pained groans rumbling along her lips as he’d taken her mouth with furious need—until they were sharing breaths, until he’d stoked her own desperation. Lanthe had never been kissed like that. Like the male would die if she didn’t part her lips and return it. In another, she’d traced her fingertips over every scar on his naked body, then followed her touches with her lips and tongue. He’d shuddered with sensitivity—but he’d bowed his rugged chest for more. . . . She exhaled a breath, determined not to think about him like that—or to even acknowledge that her nipples were stiffening in the sultry air. She arched her back, letting rain patter over her, cooling her breasts. She wished she could say these were the first sensual dreams she’d had of him. They weren’t, and over the year since their last encounter, these reveries had grown more numerous. She gazed out into the night. Surely Thronos would return soon. She dressed again, was reaching for her gauntlets— A sound behind her. She whirled around. The back wall of the cave was opening, directly where she’d sensed the gold. Thronos strode out, looking bored, while behind him was . . . Heaven. His mate had caught sight of the golden temple he’d found, and now looked like her legs were about to buckle. “Did I see correctly?” Ah, her tongue was working again. Soon he’d be treated to more of her lies. But she wasn’t a master deceiver, not like he’d expected. She had tells, and he was learning them. In his absence, she’d cleaned herself. Her skin was scrubbed, looking rosier, highlighting the blue of her eyes. Her raven hair was drying into glossy braids and big curls. He craved threading his fingers through that length. To see it streaming over his chest as he held her close. . . . Inward shake. Without those gauntlets, she appeared more delicate. Smaller somehow. He assessed the rest of her “garments” with a disapproving eye. When he got her to the Skye, he’d see to it that she dressed appropriately. “Thronos, is there gold behind that stone?” “Yes. A temple of it, built with gold bricks from floor to soaring ceiling. Even I found it wondrous to behold. ” She sounded like she’d muffled a whimper. When the heavy door began easing closed, she sprinted for it. The stone sealed shut before she could reach it. “Open this again!” Her tone was frantic. “Please!” He didn’t answer, dismissively striding to the cliff edge of the cave. Behind him, he could hear her digging around for an entry she’d never find. For once, he would ignore her. He stared out at the horizon, taking in the storms over the swamplands—the slow fade of lightning strikes backlighting purple clouds. So different from his home in the heavens. The Air Territories were a collection of floating islands, massive monoliths that hovered above the clouds. His realm was crowned forever by seamless skies—unbroken blue or star-filled black. Skye Hall was the royal seat, but every island had its own city, each laid out with precision. All the buildings were angular and uniform, with sun-bleached walls. His home was a testament to order, an anchor for steadfast Vrekeners. Unlike this plane. The scene before Thronos was chaotic. Yet he found it surprisingly . . . arresting. Was there some kind of appeal to this entire domain? His restlessness increased, that damned expectancy redoubling. He needed to get back to his anchor as soon as possible. “How did you open this, Thronos?” He’d read the instructions. Over this interminable night, Thronos had come to a conclusion: not reading the glyphs was cowardly; he was no coward. This language might not even be demonic in nature. It could be some kind of mystical tongue that only certain Loreans could read. Perhaps only the worthy. Like himself. And, he’d reasoned, reading would help him learn about this plane. So he’d started at the outer cave wall, making his way in. Some sections had degraded with age, but he’d been able to glean that this cave was the entry to an ancient temple for dragon worship—and ritual sacrifice. This hadn’t alarmed him. Dragons weren’t likely to roam war-torn Pandemonia; they’d gone extinct in most dimensions. Then he’d come upon instructions to enter the temple, and had easily opened the door. He’d found a scene that would prove to be his mate’s most fevered fantasy. Everyone knew Sorceri loved gold. Thronos had firsthand knowledge of just how much. He remembered a day when Melanthe hadn’t come to the meadow. She hadn’t felt well the day before, and he’d been worried. He’d flown to her home, stealing across the roof, trying to scent her room amidst the sorcery. He’d scrabbled down the side of the abbey to a window, peeking inside. . . . A black-haired woman with an immense gold headpiece and crazed blue eyes was rubbing coins against her masked face, murmuring, “Gold is life! It is perfection!” She began to speak to each piece, as if she’d met it at the market to gossip. Chills raced over him. He’d never seen a madwoman before, and he believed she was Melanthe’s own mother. Sorcery steeped the room as she chanted about gold: “Band it in armor over thy heart, and never will thy life’s blood part. Gild your hair and face and skin, and no man breathes that you can’t win. Never too much can a sorceress steal, those who defend she duly kills—” Her eyes suddenly met his. He jolted back, but she cried, “I seeeee you. Come, hawkling. Visit a sorceress in her lair. ” He swallowed, then eased over to crouch on the sill, ready for flight. Behind her were piles of gold coins and bars, more than anyone could spend in a lifetime. Melanthe’s family had wealth; why would they let her go hungry? “So you are the one who gives my Melanthe her new smiles,” the woman said. “She raises her gaze forever to the sky and floats when she walks—as if she’s still flying with you. ” He was forever gazing earthward, as if he could watch over her. “Earthward, then, Thronos Talos of Skye Hall?” The sorceress was reading his mind! “It won’t last. Melanthe will never be what you need her to be. Y