Dark Skye Read online

Page 31

Chapter 30

  For most of the night, Thronos had grappled against her sorcery. He didn’t know what shocked him more: the revelation about his brother, or that Melanthe had bespelled him—without hesitation. But her persuasion would be useless against demons, or the pest! If she perished, he would . . . He would what? Vrekeners simply didn’t go on without their mates. Ages ago, after he’d healed from the worst of his injuries, his own mother had found solace in suicide, unable to live without his father. Thronos’s brows drew tight. By that reasoning, so long as Melanthe’s life was in danger, then so too was his. At once, he felt her command fading. In minutes, he’d freed himself from her invisible bonds. His head swung upward. If he took to the air, he couldn’t see markers warning of danger zones. Chance I’ll have to take. He swooped his wings, shooting into the sky with his usual grinding pain. He hovered over the canopy, tracking her by her sorcery and her entrancing scent. While he trailed her, he replayed all the things she’d told him about Aristo. Over the centuries, Thronos and Aristo had grown apart, seeing little eye to eye. There wasn’t a Vrekener alive who reviled Sorceri more than Aristo. His brother’s voice echoed in his head: “They murdered my father and crippled my younger brother. Death to every last one of them!” Aristo had even threatened the Sorceri wards within the Air Territories, until he’d seen how unpopular a move that would be. Melanthe’s accusation was possible, logistically speaking. It’d taken Thronos years to heal, to learn how to walk and fly again. He’d been in his teens before he’d been able to travel long distances. Consumed with locating her, he’d had no interest in politics. Had he suspected things were amiss? In the last century or so, worrying accounts had made their way to him, but his mind had remained focused on the search, and he’d easily discounted them. Because they’d all concerned the King of the Skye. And now his mate had added her own account. Yes, Thronos had learned her tells. When she’d told him about Aristo, she’d been leaning forward aggressively, eyes wide. His wings hadn’t twitched. No wonder she was desperate to avoid his home. He had to convince her that he could keep her safe. He had no doubt of it; a Vrekener protecting his mate was stronger than any others of his kind. And no male would fight more savagely for his female. But once Thronos caught up to her tonight, what would stop her from commanding him again? What if she ordered him to forget her, as she’d threatened on the island? Before, he’d questioned if that mightn’t be a boon. Now the idea made his heart pound with dread, sweat beading on his forehead. The closer he got to the demon strongholds, the louder the skirmishes grew. In the sky over the plateau, Thronos saw more Volar demons locked in combat. So members of the same demonarchy had become enemies? If what Melanthe said was true, then those creatures were his demon brothers. Of course, if what she said was true, then the Volars would be preferable to Aristo. Thronos breathed deeply for her scent, seeking her sorcery. Her trail was confusing, seeming to lead to both encampments. The freshest was to Deep Place. With its maze. Thronos could fly over it, but would those Volars spot him? And if the maze was meant to keep out enemies, there would likely be air mines planted above it. He descended, hastening by foot to the labyrinth. The ruins were a riot of shapes—pillars, disks, remnants of arches and walls—creating misleading plays of light and an infinite number of hiding places. Threats could be anywhere. Everywhere. Would he find her mauled body in these ruins? Hear her screams as she was attacked by demons? His lungs burned; he increased his pace even more. At the entrance to the maze was a sign inscribed with those foreign glyphs. The markings seemed to vibrate, before growing legible to him. Behold Deep Place, lair of the Abysmals, possessors of the First Key, guardians of the Second Gate of Hell. Woe to all who enter the bowels of this realm. Exactly how deep was this den? Vrekeners hated all things deep. He charged forward anyway— His eyes widened. Melanthe! Apparently, she was just leaving, looking bored as she strolled from the labyrinth. Great. Killjoy had freed himself. He was dripping sweat, looking like he’d run or flown marathons to get to her. The unbidden thrill she felt to see him only worsened her already bad mood. He hurried toward her, but she kept walking, her portal plans on hold for tonight. Escaping hell wouldn’t be as simple as she’d envisioned. “Melanthe, wait!” Sadly, she wouldn’t be able to command him so easily after her sorcery outlays. She’d drained much of her power, though she hoped not in vain. Thronos caught up to her and reached for her arm, but her withering look made him drop his hand. “Are you safe?” he asked between breaths. “How did you get free? Did something attack you?” She was already looking past him, debating her next move. “Not in the strictest sense. What were you doing in there? Have you lost your mind, going into that lair alone?” She shrugged. “You just walked in?” He frowned. “Wait. You’ve got two keys. My gods, you’ve been to Deep Place and Inferno!” Around her neck, on either side of her priceless medallion, she’d strung two ancient-looking keys to a gate of hell—because she’d already stolen both treasures. Nearly identical, each key was the length of her little finger. At one end was a filigree bow; the other end was flat, notched, and engraved. Overall, they were as dainty and elegant as Pandemonia wasn’t. Bonus: they too were made of dragon gold. She now wore three pieces of priceless silisk gold. Lifting the keys had been the easy part. Hidden within each stronghold was its portal. Beside it? A key. She’d thought she would have to go all Italian Job for her mission, but the only security had been manual: hulking guards. Hulking guards who were now sleeping like little babies. With her talents, the keys might as well have been under the front doormat. “I stole these with ease,” she told Thronos. “Your ‘lacking’ mate is still a thieving sorceress, remember?” “So all these brutal demons have been locked in endless warfare, and you managed to do what armies couldn’t over an eternity?” He looked a little . . . awestruck. She brushed off one shoulder, then the other. “Just let me do like I do. ” Unfortunately, the portals had turned out to be trickier than she’d suspected. Each one was ensconced in stone, with etchings all around the opening. In Deep Place, clouds and vines were depicted, indicating a heaven plane. The one in Inferno was surrounded by dripping fangs, as if the opening were a ravenous mouth. Should be a no-brainer—I’ll take the heaven plane, Alex—but then, this was Pandemonia. Could be a trick or a test. Worse, they were old-school portals, basically huge vacuums, which meant she couldn’t dip a toe and then return. Worse still, she couldn’t steer them. Even though she had the keys, those portals were permanently pointed in one direction like subway tubes—and she had no idea where they led. “I can’t believe you’ve seized these. ” Thronos reached for her chain, raising the keys. He inspected the engraved ends, one depicting dripping fangs and one those vines. “Why do you remain here? Were you . . . had you been coming back for me?” The hopefulness in his tone tugged at something inside her. She snatched her keys back. “Nope. ” Scowl. “Then why are you still here?” “Because the portals are more complicated than I expected. ” Not because she hesitated to abandon Thronos on a hell plane. Not at all. “I don’t want to rush anything. ” She might be better off in the Zero-G Glade for another day. She might be better off waiting to create her own portal. She gazed past him. Dawn was finally breaking. Her crime-playtime was over for the day. In any case, before she made another foray into either camp, she should probably recharge. Remarkably, she hadn’t tapped out her persuasion, but a top-off wouldn’t go amiss. Without a word, she headed back toward the glade. “Where are we going?” he asked as they neared the brush. We? Optimist. “I just burgled the two most valuable possessions in this realm. ” She cast a wary glance over her shoulder. “Eventually those demons are going to want them back. I’m returning to the glade. ” “I’d fly you there, but the dragons will be out foraging soon,” he said. “I’ll guide you back. ” “Clearly, I don’t need your help. ” No sooner had she said that than they reached a junction where the path forked out three ways, engra