Dark Skye Read online

Page 42

Chapter 41

  The Sthenos had bound and blindfolded their captives, making the descent from towering cliff to sea level even more perilous for Lanthe. She wanted to tell them that she could never, ever find her way back to Nereus’s keep. But they hadn’t exactly been chatty. —What is this god like?— Thronos asked her on their unending trek along a beach. Lanthe supposed the Vrekener was getting over his telepathy hang-up. —Nereus is a party-hearty trickster, like a cross between Pan and Loki. He’s notorious for his games and manipulations. — —What happens if we’re “entertainment”?— —Probably something that’ll make you want to take a boiling shower and scrub your skin with steel wool. Let’s just put it this way: I don’t think I’ll be able to twerk my way out of this. — —Don’t know what twerk means, Melanthe. — Sigh. —I’ve heard that Sargasoe is a hidden realm on the human plane. — Like Skye Hall. —The goal should be to get Nereus to transport us from here. — Without sacrificing too much of themselves . . . —Do you think you can ensorcel him?— —If he can shield the Sthenos from my power, there’s not a chance. And he’d likely kill me for trying. — Thronos fell silent, seeming lost in his own thoughts. Though Lanthe’s skin was gradually healing during their long walk, she was drained from keeping up with the fast Sthenos. Their lower halves were fat snake coils, kind of like Cerunnos, except Sthenos gorgons were all females. Plus they had hypnotically wavering snakes for hair. Oh, and brass hands and claws. Whenever Lanthe tripped in the shifting sands, her Stheno personal guard would heft her up, those claws digging into her arm. After the belly of the beast, this was nothing. Right? Wrong. A blast of ocean wind buffeted her. When Lanthe tottered and got clawed yet again, she snapped, “Watch the claws, bitch!” —Melanthe?— She could all but see Thronos raising his eyebrows. Just because he was cool and collected didn’t mean she had to be. He’d had his tantrum—his mantrum—on the Order’s island, and it was now her turn. —I have no more fucks to give. Okay, Vrekener?— She’d hit her limit. She was sick of portaling, sick of getting captured, sick of being food or potential food. —We’re going to escape once more. Worry not. — —Why are you so calm?— He was quiet for long moments. —It’s my nature. What you saw those first nights and days was not . . . me. — She’d figured calm was his default setting. So to all his other attractive attributes, she could add not psycho. Finally, their entourage slowed, entering some kind of echoing space. A sea cave? They descended for what must be miles. When pressure made her ears pop repeatedly, she realized they were deep beneath the ocean. No flying for Thronos, even if he got free. She felt sympathy for him. His fear of depths was like her fear of heights. She couldn’t imagine how difficult this must be for him. Probably as difficult as she would find the Skye. Still, she asked: —You okay with this?— —It’s temporary. — In other words, he wasn’t, but he would handle it. In Pandemonia, she’d told him about crazy stuff going down with Sorceri kids, and he’d confidently said, “We can handle it. ” We. She and Thronos did work well together. Gods, she did not need to conclude that the Vrekener would be a good father. Her biological clock cried, The best. None better! Suddenly Lanthe heard gears whirring, cogs clicking, as if a gate was opening. They entered a warm, damp area, and the gears whirred once more. Behind them, a seal closed with a hiss. The scent of brine pervaded everything. Off went the blindfolds. Thronos swung his head around to face her, as if he’d been hungry for a single look. —I’m okay. Still standing. — When he gave a grim nod of encouragement, she dragged her gaze from him to survey Sargasoe, the legendary lair of Nereus. This hall had been carved from rock with glittering coral-pink and blue striations. A sheen of water poured down all the walls, but it seemed to be by design. The area was lit with . . . sconces—basically raised glass bowls where luminescent jellyfish shuttled in circles. Rippling reflections abounded, as they did underwater, making the walls seem to sway. “Forward,” the leader commanded, the Sthenos slithering behind them. As Lanthe and Thronos trudged deeper, huge sections of the stone floor would shift and retract, revealing the sea. The construction of this place was spectacular. Mirrors abounded. Shadows and light danced for dominance. Glowing eyes peeked out from darkened passageways. This totally looked like the lair of a capricious deity notorious for his games. She also sensed a permanent portal down here. How to get Nereus to let them use it? Their group eventually entered what must be an underwater gallery of sorts. There were enormous rounded windows at intervals, the way paintings might line a museum wall. When Lanthe passed the first, her eyes went wide. Ships were piled up, as if in a junkyard. She turned to Thronos. —Are you seeing this?— —It makes sense that a sea god’s home would have a vortex. — A mystical magnet. —We’re in an abyss; everything sinks to this level. — At the next window, she squinted out into the dark, seeing gems the size of footballs scattered all over the sand. Schools of mercreature sentries glided by. They were humanoids to a degree, but instead of legs, the mermaids sported fishtails, the mermen collections of tentacles. The next window revealed a submarine with Russian lettering on its hull, and what looked like part of an aircraft carrier. This was too wild! For all the suffering Lanthe had borne just to reach Sargasoe, she was excited to behold such an exotic place. But what was in store? Nïx’s prediction echoed in her mind: In one realm, hurt. In one realm, leave. In one realm, cleave. In one realm, shine. So was Lanthe supposed to cleave here? She bit her lip, glancing at Thronos. Cleave was a word with several meanings, one of which was to separate. She’d already sensed a portal. What if Nereus offered two different rides: one to the Skye and one to Rothkalina? Was she ready to part from Thronos? Despite all her blustering and denials earlier, the thought made her chest ache. If only a relationship between them didn’t pose so many insurmountable odds. When they passed a mirror, she turned away, not wanting to see her reflection. Yet suddenly all the injuries over her body began mending. The restraints around her wrists disappeared, and she felt as fresh as if she’d recently bathed. With a gasp, she peered down at herself. She now wore a black leather skirt, mesh hose, and leather boots. Her top was a halter woven of gold and silver strands—with denser weaves of metal over the front to conceal her breasts. Sleek metal gauntlets covered her hands and forearms, and she detected a mask over her face. Sorceri formal dress! Her hands flew to her necklace. Still there! She whirled around to the mirror. Her mask was sapphire blue, accentuating her eyes. Her hair had been twined around a substantial gold headpiece, with wild braids framing her face. No more bob cut in the back—long locks had grown out, left to curl down her back. She felt more like a sorceress—less like food. She was starting to enjoy Sargasoe’s amenities! She turned to Thronos, and her lips parted. The Vrekener was . . . drop-dead gorgeous. His recent injuries had disappeared, and he was dressed in new clothes. Leather breeches and boots. A wide leather belt to highlight his narrow hips. A crisp, white lawn shirt molded over his muscles and wing stems as if tailored. Which she supposed it had been, by a divine hand. She was entranced by her tall, built, devilish, demon lover. Or would-be lover. He had the physical attributes to attract any female—but Lanthe also admired how he stood so proud and stalwart, ready to do battle once more. She and Thronos continued to be challenged; they continued to overcome, protecting each other. Maybe he was right; maybe they were the Vrekener/Sorceri couple who could beat those odds. “Is this real?” he asked, gazing back at their guards. “Between the loops and Feveris, I’m unsure. ” She was used to magics like these, Thronos not so much. “I think it is. ” “Follow the sounds to the feast,” the Stheno leader said, using her trident to point down the corridor. “Do not entertain ideas of escape. For your kind, there is only one way out of Sargasoe. ” When the cadre turned to slither away, a thought occurred to Lanthe. “Wait! Where are my clothes from before? There was a lock of hair—” “Your offering has been received,” the leader said, her head snakes wavering. “It’s the reason