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Page 51

Chapter 50

  My brother is dead. These males would kneel before only one male in this domain or any other. Their king. Thronos said one word: “Aristo?” Jasen answered, “He has recently passed on, my liege. I apologize for not saying something earlier, but I couldn’t reveal any details out of the assembly. And there is . . . much to be explained. ” —I’m sorry, Thronos. — Melanthe looked as shocked as he felt. Working to make his tone even, Thronos said, “Be seated. ” He led her to a chair, taking the one beside her. “How did he die?” “He was murdered,” Jasen said. “By the king of the Deathly Ones demonarchy. ” Murdered? “There is no king of that demonarchy,” Melanthe said. “I’m friends with Bettina, their princess. She’s half Sorceri. As of a few weeks ago, she was unwed. ” Jasen told her, “We understand that the male who wed their princess is a Dacian vampire who won her in a recent tournament. ” Thronos cast her a questioning glance. —Dacians actually exist? I thought they were a myth. — —I’ve always believed they did. Thronos, I fear we’ve been gone for longer than we thought. — —As do I. — Aloud, he asked the others, “What reason had this king to murder another?” “There are those who say the act was purportedly carried out in retaliation for some perceived violence done to his Bride. ” Thronos frowned at Jasen. “Perceived violence?” Compared to Melanthe’s straight-from-the hip talk, this deferential speak grated. With regret on her face, she told him, “A few months ago, Bettina was attacked by four Vrekeners. Though she’s a young, ninety-five-pound waif who’s never harmed anyone, they broke every bone in her body. Then they doused her with spirits, about to burn her alive. She was rescued just in time. ” He recalled Melanthe telling him that she and Sabine weren’t the only ones brutalized. Thronos expected denials from the knights. Any second the warrior males would staunchly reject the idea that a Vrekener could be capable of such a craven act. The silence that reigned gave Thronos chills. All eyes turned to Jasen to continue. Thronos supposed the male had assumed the role of leader in the absence of a king, which was surprising. Thronos would’ve expected Cadmus, their general knight of war, to lead. Yet Cadmus sat quietly, as if biding his time. Jasen said, “The vampire took your brother and three of his knights. ” “From where?” Around the table, eyes darted. “From here. The male traced to Skye Hall. ” A leech had located this kingdom. “How is that possible? A vampire can only trace to a place he’s previously been. And what about our wards?” “We have no idea how he did it—or if he’ll lead more vampires or demons back here. We’ve posted extra sentries. ” Hidden guards. So that was who’d watched Thronos last night. “We’re ready to take more action. My liege, this has understandably sent shockwaves through the populace. ” All Thronos had wanted to do was wed Lanthe and come to an understanding with Aristo, or to endeavor to. Now . . . I am king. The last of his line. He could scarcely process that his brother was dead—and that the welfare of all these people rested on his shoulders. “Why would the vampire target my brother so specifically?” Jasen said, “There might . . . there’s a chance King Aristo was one of the four who inflicted those injuries upon Princess Bettina, not understanding who she was. ” His brother might have tortured a tiny young sorceress, intending to burn her alive. Aristo’s voice sounded in his head: “Death to every last one of them!” Though Thronos felt like he couldn’t get enough air, he fought to keep his expression neutral. “My liege, there’s more. The vampire stole your brother’s fire scythe. ” “This is a grievous loss, but there are three others. ” And Thronos didn’t intend for the knights to use the scythes for sorcery harvesting in the future. Because my word will be law. “The vampire turned it over to Morgana. She perverted its purpose, using it to loose the powers from the vault. She has reclaimed them all. ” “She emptied the vault?” What else could she do with a scythe? Jasen nodded. “She sent some of the powers out into the ether to reach their original possessors. We know this because a few of the Sorceri here received theirs. ” Melanthe asked, “Where are they?” “They fled. As far as we can tell, one of them reclaimed a teleportation ability. The rest left with him. ” Fled. So they had been as miserable as Melanthe had said, escaping at the first opportunity. Thronos gazed at her. —You were right. About everything. — Lanthe didn’t necessarily want to be right, now that she’d signed on for life above the clouds. Nor was she pleased about being queen of the Vrekeners. Queen of any other faction? Sure, why not! But these people? Another male rose to speak, another knight. Melanthe didn’t like the looks of him. He was waxy-skinned with light hair and eyes. He had one of the beefier builds among the males. Where the other Vrekeners struck her as still-waters-run-deep types, this guy seemed smarmy—like some of the Sorceri courtiers she’d known. “My liege, four factions of the Lore have declared war on us. If we count the Sorceri’s age-old declaration, that brings the total to five. ” Just weeks ago, Lanthe would’ve been heartened by this development. Now she was part of the us. Even when Thronos was faced with this news, his shoulders remained squared. And she wanted to kiss him for it. “Tell me, Cadmus. ” “The rage demons, the House of Witches, the Dacians, and not unexpectedly the Deathly Ones. ” Though conveying distressing news, Cadmus sounded almost thrilled. Did war turn him on? Thronos’s eyes narrowed. “What do we know about these enemies?” “Not as much as we’d like, my liege,” Jasen answered. Lanthe supposed that Vrekener wasn’t too bad. Compared to Cadmus, Jasen struck her as a levelheaded font of reason. “The Dacians live in a secreted realm, but they have very recently begun opening up communications with outside factions. Their newly crowned king is Lothaire, the Enemy of Old. ” Lothaire? Like a bad penny! Thronos turned to her. “You know him. ” “I do. If we can deliver a missive to him, I will try to establish a dialogue. ” Thronos told her, “We have a station on the ground, with messengers awaiting. ” “Good. I don’t know why he would declare war. It seems random. ” Jasen answered, “The new king of the Deathly Ones is a Dacian royal. We believe Lothaire is backing his relative. ” “I expected the rage demons to declare war,” Thronos said. Because of me. “Now it becomes clear why the Deathly Ones and the Dacians have. But what of the House of Witches? Are they not in the Vertas alliance? The House has always maintained an uneasy truce with the Vrekeners, no matter how closely their faction is related to the Sorceri. ” Historically, witches and Sorceri hadn’t been chummy. Unlike Lanthe and Carrow. Cadmus shrugged. “We don’t know why they call us enemy. ” Lanthe did. She’d bet Carrow had survived the island and was still trying to get Lanthe’s back. I knew I liked that witch. Cadmus said, “It’s my recommendation that we strike back against the vampire who stole into our kingdom, sending Vrekener might to crush the Deathly Ones. If the Dacians want a war, we can give them a reckoning. ” Thronos intoned, “You’re quick to want war for a kingdom in flux. ” Cadmus’s lips thinned. “King Aristo was given no death rites—because the vampire made a gift of your brother’s head to the princess in that sick demon tournament,” he said, again seeming to relish delivering the gruesome news. Lanthe squeezed Thronos’s hand. He had to be freaking inside, but he appeared undaunted. Turning to Cadmus, she said, “You want to crush the Deathly Ones? Those demons garner strength with each kill they make. In other words, they get more powerful as a war drags on. Plus, their kingdom is specifically warded against Vrekeners. As for the Dacians, they’re fairly much supervampires, with unearthly might and cunning. Lothaire alone is millennia old. ” And immortals grew stronger with age. “The Sorceri seek to war with us,” Cadmus said, addressing Thronos as if Lanthe hadn’t even spoken. “Yet now we have one of them as queen? How can we be sure where her loyalties lie?” Oh, it’s on. “My loyalties lie with Thronos,” Lanthe declared. “I’ll do everything within my power to protect him and his interests. ” —By the way, Cadmus is an asshole. — —We are in agreement. — “So the sorceress says now. ” Blue light began to swirl around her j