Dark Skye Read online

Page 23

Chapter 22

  Behind the crumbled stone was . . . an opening. A tunnel no more than five feet in height had been revealed. Despite his claustrophobia, Thronos clutched Melanthe with one arm, then swung his legs in, scrambling to get as far inside as possible. His horns hit the low ceiling, the jagged rock abrading the tops of his wings. “How are you doing with this tight spot?” she asked. “Not my favorite environment. ” He thought she muttered, “I figured swaying trees were. ” Meaning that night on the Order’s island. He winced to recall his behavior. But he’d believed she was different then— A dragon shoved its snout into the opening, its breath stirring up grit, making it difficult to see. Effectively trapping them. No other choice but forward! Red light spilled from some opening farther in; he made for it with haste, fearing the beast would fire on them. It reached in, pawing, disturbing rocks. Thronos covered Melanthe with his wings as the ceiling began to rain stone and sand. Piles of it heaped around Thronos’s legs as if from an upended hourglass. Panic threatened to take hold, but he fought it. They had to get out before the tunnel was choked, burying them alive. As Thronos slogged onward, his throat felt just as choked. The farther inside, the hotter the air was. That red glare grew as they neared. When he reached it at last and paused in the arched opening, he saw a larger cavern, filled with bubbling lava. A sole raised path bisected it, one that appeared to lead straight into hell. Kicking free of the piles of stone weighted around his legs, he launched himself off the edge. He glided down to the path, then set Melanthe on her feet. As he shook sand from his hair, he gazed back at the tunnel. Completely caved. Only one way to go. He turned back to the path. Ahead, more streams of lava wound along it. A metal bridge in the distance glowed red hot. “I think we’re in one of the armies’ lairs. ” “Then we need to find a way out, before anyone sees us. ” “I scent food cooking from one direction,” he said, “and corpse rot from the other. ” “So there’s a camp and a burial area? Let’s head toward the latter. It’d be less populated, less guarded. ” As they walked in silence, he kept his hand on her arm, in case he needed to shield her in a hurry. With each step away from that cave-in, his unease faded. “When you find yourself going through hell, keep going, right?” she asked, casting him a look from under her lashes. Again, he didn’t recognize the look, but he thought it was . . . flirtatious. He tried to focus, lest he get them captured or killed, but he couldn’t stop replaying their interaction under his wings—and how she’d run her finger down to his breeches. He’d been a heartbeat away from taking her hand and making her feel what she was doing to him. He’d imagined how he would groan her name as she outlined his shaft through the leather. He’d barely defeated the urge to lick sweat from her neck. Finding this realm’s portal had become even more important, because his sense of right and wrong seemed to be eroding. He could no longer trust himself to heed the laws of his people. He was the prince of the Vrekeners, a general of knights. Yet how easily she had him falling under her spell! He’d known she was using her wiles on him, but that hadn’t lessened the effect of her charms. Until he could return home, he needed to steel himself against her, a task that would be even more difficult after his discovery today. Sexual chemistry is addictive. Whenever he’d felt that electricity sparking between them, the pain from his old injuries had ebbed under the heat of excitement. . . . She cast him a quizzical look. “What are you thinking about?” “Chemistry,” he answered. Her lips curled, and she left him to his thoughts. All his life, he’d speculated how she would react to his scars. He’d been astonished to learn that she had no issues with him physically—merely issues with, well, everything else. Even she admitted that their chemistry crackled. From thousands of lofty perches, he’d gazed down upon Lorean wickedness. Watching an offendment was almost as bad as committing one, so he’d always turned away, but those glimpses had taught him much. He’d seen immortals addicted to intoxispells, begging to do anything for more. Thronos had never understood addiction before. Now he wondered what he wouldn’t do for more of this sizzling interplay with his mate. Might he stop insulting her? Perhaps he should go even further and court her. As a boy, he’d done so and found success. She’d liked to be given presents. Good thing he’d snagged that medallion from the temple. When they’d run from the dragon, Thronos had stretched out his talon for it. Now he had it hidden in his pocket. A stray thought flitted through his brain. How many gifts of jewelry have other males given her? To reward her for sex? His grip tightened around her arm, his horns aching to mark her again. Just because he had a goal of treating her better didn’t mean he could achieve it. Wrath still lived within him. . . . “Strange that we haven’t seen a soul,” she said, frowning at his grip. He eventually eased it. “There’s nothing of value to guard. Plus, they’re probably still on the battlefield. ” After what felt like leagues, the trail forked, the two branches heading in opposite directions. “Which way to the corpse rot?” she asked him. He waved to the right, and they kept moving. As they neared the burial area, the stench became overwhelming. Another cavern opened up, larger than the initial one. It’d likely been chosen for its size because it was filled to the ceiling with a mountain of bones, decapitated bodies, and horned skulls. The mound had a creeping, rippling coat of rats. The skittering mass darted in and out of the remains, as if along paths. When Melanthe’s eyes went wide at the gruesome sight, he tugged her back. “There’s no exit. Let’s head the other way. ” “Are you trying to protect my innocent eyes?” This seemed to amuse her. “I was just nine when my parents’ heads dropped off their bed and rolled toward me like wayward toys. When I was eleven, I used a shard of my sister’s skull to scoop up her brain matter and put her back together again. I haven’t been innocent since my life became entangled with Vrekeners. ” If his knights truly had hunted the two Sorceri girls, the attacks would have been unending. A living hell. Vrekeners never abandon their hunt. “Not to mention Omort’s court,” she said. “I can never unsee the things I witnessed there. ” “I wish that I could have spared you that,” he said honestly. “You could have spared me some. Last year when you set that trap for me, I’d been in Louisiana to retrieve my sister, so she could take her dose of morsus. She was dying. Because of you, I had to flee, getting completely turned around in a strange city. I was lost and frantic. Because of you, I couldn’t rescue Sabine. When the portal door shut on your leg, I’m sure you were suitably pissed on your side. On my side, I kicked your leg around, cursing it. Until I heard Omort from the shadows—in my room—grating, ‘And you dare return without her. ’?” She visibly shuddered. “I’ve never been closer to death than I was then. Never. So thanks, Thronos. ” “I couldn’t have known that. ” One year ago, she’d almost been murdered by her brother. The idea of Melanthe dying while Thronos was helpless to protect her . . . Would he have sensed the loss, even across worlds? She regarded his face. “I’ve tried to live my life. And you jeopardized it. It’s a miracle that I’ve survived this long. Speaking of which . . . ” She crossed to the burial mound, reaching for something. She hauled a battered sword out from the bottom. A few bones and skulls tumbled down like a mini rock slide. She laid the sword flat over one of her shoulders. “You ready?” He nodded, and they set out once more, his thoughts in turmoil. Never been closer to death. Because of him. No, he couldn’t have predicted what his actions might bring about—because it’d never occurred to him that Melanthe was a prisoner of Omort. Had he assumed the worst about her in every instance? Back at the fork, they chose the other direction. The path began dividing regularly, some routes leading down, some up, connecting to landings or more caverns. Along the landings were recesses of differing sizes. “I can’t believe we’re in a subterranean demon den,” she murmured. She didn’t sound unnerved by this, more intrigued—as if the two of them were on a hell safari. His instinct continually urged him to take the higher path, but he didn’t think there’d be an entry point at t