Dark Skye Read online

Page 25

Chapter 24

  Lanthe cracked open her lids to find Thronos staring down at her, a curious expression on his face. She couldn’t believe she’d passed out. The rhythm of his breaths had lulled her, just as flying with him on the island had done. “How long was I out?” Though still thirsty and hungry, she felt rested. “A couple of hours. ” “I’m better now. ” Her welts had faded to nothing. “I can walk. ” With clear reluctance, he set her on her feet, steadying her with his big hand covering her shoulder. She glanced around. They were in a dense forest, surrounded by trees so massive, they made redwoods look like saplings. They had to be moonrakers, a type often found on demon planes. Not only was the stone of this realm black, most of the foliage was onyx and silver. Even the smooth bark of the moonrakers was black. Though there was little sunlight—just a few rays stole through the canopy—enormous flowers grew in profusion, subtly scenting the air. She inspected one bloom. Its large dark petals were shiny and open. In the center was a silver pistil the size of a baseball bat. Its pollen sparkled like white-gold dust. Other weeping-willow-type plants swayed above them, their silver leaves glinting in the scattered spears of sun, like Thronos’s wing mosaics did. As a sorceress obsessed with metal, Lanthe found all these sights mesmerizing, yet her attention couldn’t stray from him for long. As in the temple, she turned from infinite wonders to face him, a towering Vrekener warlord—who couldn’t intrigue her more. “So, any new threats I should be concerned about?” He shook his head. “When was the last time you slept for more than an hour or two?” “Before I was captured three weeks ago. You?” He shrugged. “Weeks. ” “So what do we do now?” “I’ve been following this overgrown path deeper into the woods, toward the scent of water,” he told her. “There’s prey all around us. I could catch something, but I doubt you’d eat it. ” “Like the first time you tried to provide for me?” All these years later, he deadpanned, “The rabbit had it coming. ” A burst of laughter escaped her lips so quickly, so unexpectedly, she almost slapped her hands over her mouth. “Too soon?” Another joke! And more . . . “You do remember!” “Everything. ” He reached forward, tucking one of her braids behind her ear. Why was he being so nice to her? Had she beguiled him so swiftly? She’d been unconscious for part of the time! He canted his head at her, then continued walking, seeming deep in thought. Her brows drew together when her gold senses pinged again. They had outside of Inferno, but she’d thought the temple’s proximity had continued to set them off. Now she glanced all around for the source. Her gaze kept returning to Thronos. She’d bet her best headpiece that this Vrekener had gold on him. But how? Her eyes went wide. Could he have collected that medallion? If so, and if he gave it to her tonight . . . The Vrekener would get laid. No, no! No sex with Thronos. Bad Lanthe! Clearing her throat, she said, “Karat for your thoughts. ” When he hesitated, she asked, “Are you beating yourself up for what we saw?” “Not as much as I should be. ” “Question: Are people like you and me called offendmenters?” “Have your fun, sorceress,” he said without heat. “Always. So tonight, we steal a key and use a portal?” “That’s what we’d discussed. ” “But won’t angelic Thronos balk at thievery?” she asked in a playful tone. “I remember when I once asked you to steal for me. You were embarrassed for me, putting up your nose as you said, ‘I will never take what doesn’t belong to me. ’?” “You asked me to empty the coffers of Skye Hall!” “What’s your point?” He opened his mouth to explain, then must’ve realized she was kidding. Sort of. “If we unlock a portal, how can you trust me not to direct it to Rothkalina?” “You tried for Rothkalina last time and brought us to Pandemonia. I believe you’ll aim for the mortal plane. It’s a vastly bigger target. From there I can fly to the Skye. ” “Still bent on getting me to heaven? Look, I’m not saying I’d never go to your home. Of course, I’m not not saying that either. ” He raised his brows. “We can wed only there. I must claim you in a Bed of Troth, my lifelong bed. ” She knew of some factions that had the same tradition—basically the ones that weren’t forever scrambling for their very survival. When a male was born, a bed would be created that he would sleep in his entire life, eventually bringing his mate to it. “What does the bed have to do with marriage?” “That’s how Vrekeners marry. When I claim you in a Bed of Troth, we’ll be bound. ” “No ceremony with tons of people? No fabulous dress and gifts of gold? No celebrating with far too much sweet wine?” “We’ve no need for ceremony. In any case, my home is the only place where I know I can keep you safe. ” Har. “What would someone like me eat up there?” Vrekeners were omnivores, but they preferred meat. “We have an entire island dedicated to growing crops. It’s the sole one that hovers below the clouds. ” “I’ve heard it’s austere up there. In Castle Tornin, I live in utter luxury, with all the mod-cons. ” “Don’t know what a mod-con is, Melanthe. ” She sighed. Of course he didn’t. “They’re things I couldn’t live without. ” Lanthe and Sabine had endured some lean early years and felt like they deserved to be spoiled. Now that Lanthe had gone from her castle tower, to Order prison, to roughing it—in hell—the greedy sorceress in her demanded a return to pampering. “If your realm is above the clouds, wouldn’t that put it higher than the tallest mortal mountain? Vrekeners might be used to altitude and temperature changes, but I would suffer. Other Sorceri must suffer. ” “Not at all. The same forces and wards that conceal the Territories and bind the islands together provide breathable air and warmth. ” “Forces and wards? Sounds like sorcery to me. I’ll bet sometime in your history, a Vrekener was chummy with one of us. ” “It’s possible,” he conceded. “We have machines in place to move and shape the islands, and engineers to run the machines, but we don’t know what the source of the power is. ” Interesting. She pictured sorcery-fueled steampunk contraptions. In another lifetime, she might have liked to see such a sight. But in this lifetime . . . “Just because I don’t want to go to the Skye doesn’t mean we couldn’t date each other. If you accompany me to Rothkalina, I could introduce you to nice dragons. ” “If I even consider it, then I’ll know you’re enchanting me,” he said. “Your sister would plot to murder me the second I stepped into that kingdom. You forget I’ve witnessed the manifestation of her powers. ” When Sabine had forced Thronos’s father to see his worst nightmare. Whatever she’d shown him had made the male claw at his eyes. “Your sister doesn’t seem to bear ill effects from her . . . deaths. ” “Not surprisingly, they left her deadened, blasé about tragedy. ” When Lanthe had accused her of not caring about anything, Sabine had replied, “That’s not true. I care about nothing very much. ” Lanthe added, “At least, she was blasé before Rydstrom came along. But she weaves illusions over her face, so you rarely know what she’s feeling anyway. ” “How many times has she died?” “Over a dozen. Not all by Vrekeners. ” When he raised his brows, she admitted, “Sorceri plotted against her. Humans executed her for being a witch. And so on. ” She paused a moment, then said, “What about your own sibling? Will your brother not plot to murder me?” Might as well dip a toe. “Aristo? I grant that he hates Sorceri. It’s the cause of much strife between us. ” “So he’s like your father, then?” “Yes. But if Aristo harmed you, his brother’s sole fated female, it would be like harming me. It would be like killing my future offspring. ” He held her gaze. “We hold mates sacred. ” Thronos will never believe me. Lanthe remembered Sabine lamenting that she couldn’t get Vertas warrior Rydstrom to trust her—just because she’d been a Pravus player who’d lied to him and tricked him into a dungeon imprisonment. Sabine had sighed, “How was I supposed to know to act like my word was good?” I hear you, sister. “Would Uncle Aristo accept those future offspring of yours?” Lanthe asked. “You made it clear that Sorceri blood would be a detriment to any child we had. ” “I was angry when I said that. I would not love a halfling any less. ” “But others might look down on them. ” Thronos’s face turned c