Dark Skye Read online
Melanthe whispered, “Something’s behind me, isn’t it?” Thronos’s eyes shot wide open. She stood before him on the path, frozen, her black hair haloed by purple clouds. With not a mark upon her. He was unwounded as well. “What is this, sorceress?” he rasped. “Real?” Of course not; he must be delirious, still sitting in his own blood, his back against the gravestone, dreaming this. But what if . . . “Do you have no memory of what’s just occurred?” “We were fighting, as usual,” Melanthe snapped under her breath. “Focus, Thronos—what’s behind me?!” That same hound howled and charged; with a screech, she took off past Thronos. “Melanthe, watch for resin!” What the hell is happening? I am in hell. No, maybe a benevolent god was giving him a second chance to save her! On that thought, he did a swift about-face, readying for the side attack. He knew what was coming. The second hound leapt; Thronos evaded as his wings lashed out, blinding the beast. One down. He’d taken the hound out earlier this time. The events would be different; he could snag Melanthe before the other beast got too close. He took to the sky, planning to scoop her into his arms. The hound pursuing Melanthe must have heard Thronos’s wings swooping; it veered from him— Suddenly its body crumpled. Its front paw was stuck in resin! See how you like it, beast! The pair of sparring dragons launched from the peak then, sending the mountain quaking. As Thronos closed in on Melanthe, the two creatures spotted him in the air and plunged for him. New threats. If hell conspired to keep him from saving his mate . . . I’ll defeat hell. The dragons spewed fire, but he evaded the crisscrossing streams. He dove under them, heading for the camouflage of the ground. Thronos landed, dropping to his hands and one knee, beginning to sprint as if from a starting line. He chanced a glance behind him. As he’d hoped, the pair had abandoned their hunt, continuing on to the plateau for a guaranteed meal. But more followed, so he stayed on the ground. With the hound taken care of, he had more time— His third stride was his last. His feet were caught again. Another godsdamned pit! He’d done exactly as the hound had! “Oh, come on!” he yelled, grappling to free himself. “Melanthe! Don’t run, if you move another inch, you will die!” She couldn’t hear him, was about to enter that ravine. With the boulders falling! She skidded to a stop, then whirled around to sprint for the field. “Don’t go under that tree!” He gritted his teeth, pulling with all his might. She sidestepped, dodging that first arrow-shaped boulder, the charred one from before. “Don’t head for the tree!” She was heading for the tree! “There’s a pit between the roots!” Still not hearing him, she skipped over the roots. Then . . . too late. Her upper body jolted forward before she righted her balance. She murmured, “Thronos?” Even from this distance, he could hear her distinctly, felt the timbre of pure fear in her voice. Their eyes didn’t meet this time; he was too busy hacking at his legs. Break the bones in one go or she dies. “Just hold on! I’m coming for you!” Every muscle in his body strained. He could already hear the gravestone’s descent. Thrashing, kicking, sweat burning his eyes. The gravestone snapped the limb high atop the tree. Thronos’s bone cracked—earlier than before! I can do this, I can reach her! With one leg freed, he dared a look. “I’m coming!” The next limb down was bowing. She knew a boulder that big would kill her. She struggled wildly. “Just hold on!” He bit back yells as he cut, hacking through the bloody calf muscle of his other leg. Taking too much time, too much! The boulder plummeted like a juggernaut, crushing one limb after another until it caught on the one directly over Lanthe, not twenty feet above her head. A final defense. “Thronos?” She’d gone still, as if she feared making too much movement. “I’m not letting you go! I’m coming for you! We’re not done, Melanthe. ” “I wish things had been different,” she said, voice thick with tears. “They will be! Fight, Lanthe!” Their eyes met again. “Tell my sister I love her. ” Chin raised, Lanthe gave him a salute. Second leg free! The tree limb was about to go. He took to the air, diving for her; she kept her gaze on him, as if for courage. Craaaack. The boulder crashed down. He collided with it. An instant too late. “NOOOOOOO!” He dug his claws into the stone; using his wings for propulsion, he shoved with all the strength he had left. Ruined my second chance! He directed his five hundred years of hate—at himself. I am the enemy. He’d had three fleeting nights with his mate, and he’d taken every opportunity to frighten her, to shame her, to hurt her. As if hundreds of years fleeing his kind hadn’t been enough pain. I squandered what I was given, never comprehending the treasure. She’s dead. Another shove. Another. And another. And another. He gave an agonized roar, clawing at the stone in a frenzy. As he rammed his horns into it, madness threatened, his thoughts taking flight in odd directions. He recalled the end of that encounter he’d had with her mother. . . . “Melanthe will never be what you need her to be. You can’t break my daughter, and that’s the only way she’d love you. ” Thronos sputtered, “I-I don’t want to break her!” Melanthe was perfect as she was! “Then you’ll have to break yourself, hawkling. ” Perfect, if only? Melanthe would be perfect. If only she were alive. As blood poured into his eyes, he closed them. Please, gods, give me just one more chance. “Something’s behind me, isn’t it?” Thronos’s eyes shot open. Melanthe was before him, heartbreakingly beautiful, not a mark upon her. The sun was starting to rise, purple clouds in the background like a halo over her black hair. The hound’s howl marked the beginning. Hell conspired. Minutes later, the boulder was poised to fall above Lanthe. Thronos was missing a wing and a leg. Slashes and puncture wounds covered him. The reptilian predators in the brush that had snatched the first hellhound had come for him this time. Shouldn’t have ignored that direction. Won’t next time. What if he didn’t get a next time? What if three was the limit? He prayed to any gods listening: I will do this until I get it right. I will do this for eternity if I have to, but I will save her. . . .