Dark Skye Read online

Page 57

Chapter 56

  He must’ve damaged his head in the fall. He’s . . . different. ” “His wings were wasted by flame. ” “So how did the king come to be on that mountain?” As Thronos completed his nightly patrol of the outpost, he heard his people’s whispers, had been hearing them for a week. Some believed he’d traced to the mountain, as a demon might. Some believed he’d been ensorcelled with a protection spell—though Thronos had no idea what would make them think that. All of his subjects were wary about their king and their future, and he couldn’t blame them—he wasn’t confident in either of those things himself. My mind is not well. . . . He descended through a profuse bank of fog, splaying his wings. Since they’d regenerated, flying had become excruciating once more, such a change from the inexplicable reprieve he’d enjoyed. Gritting his teeth, he dropped to the landing of his elevated cabin, one of many in their outpost. Trees housed thousands more. Jasen was already there awaiting him. Each night the two of them met to discuss the day’s events. The male appeared as exhausted as he felt. Inside, Thronos took his place at his rough-hewn desk. “Any new developments today?” “None. ” Jasen sat on a simple wooden bench. “The people remain unsettled. They feel like we’re living on borrowed time. ” Thronos gazed out his sole window into the night; as usual he could see little past the blanket of mist that enveloped this forest. But eventually the humans would find them here. Their wards would not screen them forever. A horde of Vrekeners couldn’t live in the mortal world. Not all together. And our unity is our strength. “There is some talk of dividing our numbers, my liege. ” “That will not happen. ” Jasen looked relieved by Thronos’s unequivocal reaction. “But in one thing, many agree—they want revenge for what we’ve lost. Cadmus stirs the pot for war. ” Thronos had heard those rumblings as well. “Revenge against a revenge?” he asked. “Did Aristo’s actions not deserve reprisal?” Thronos was more conflicted about that than most. After all, it was his brother who’d brutalized Morgana’s ward. It was his brother who’d waged a silent and relentless predation on her subjects. “You’re saying we deserved this?” “No, I’m saying that everything isn’t black and white. I’m saying that revenge is a zero-sum game. Especially for immortals. If we start it, we’d better be prepared to play it for eternity. ” He exhaled. “Even if we come to decide on war, now is not the time. ” Thronos was in no shape to lead them. He’d been injured in the explosion, and had suffered some kind of damage to his mind—yet it wasn’t healing. He still had gaps in his memory, and his temper had grown short. He could remember a meadow in the Alps of the mortal realm, where he’d played as a boy—but he couldn’t recall what he’d been doing ten nights ago. When his thoughts wandered, they always turned to the demon plane of Pandemonia. He knew he’d been there for some reason, narrowly escaping with his life. There’d been dragons, hellhounds, and demon hordes. In his daydreams, Thronos mused on the realm’s paths, like The Long Way. He’d avoided it—as most would. Unless one was looking for something. . . . Thronos could remember with precise detail every glyph he’d read there—from Behold a temple unequaled to The pest that WAS—but he couldn’t determine how he’d traveled into the belly of a beast. Nor how he’d come to be in the lair of a sea god. Asides from all these gaps, Thronos felt like he’d forgotten something critical, and that memory churned so close to the surface—maddeningly—like a word on the tip of his tongue that refused to reveal itself. His chest ached with a loss so marked that he sometimes thought he’d go insane. He felt as if the glass shard that had so grievously wounded him in his boyhood had again lodged itself beside his heart, but he couldn’t remove it. When he was alone, his claws constantly found his chest and flayed his skin— “When will it be time?” Jasen asked. Thronos glanced up, nearly startled by the male’s presence. “For war?” Jasen prompted. “I understand you’re hesitant because of your queen. ” “I don’t have a queen,” Thronos grated, wondering if his knight had suffered head damage as well. “You said the same when I asked if she had survived the explosion. My liege, I’m a simple soldier—I don’t understand pretext as you do. Are we to behave as if she never existed? By your actions, it seems you want to forget she ever lived—but why?” Jasen scrubbed his hand over his face, looking genuinely upset, while Thronos was baffled—and angered—by this outburst. “We know she wasn’t involved in the attack,” Jasen continued. “A few even spied the queen at the lever. Only because of her did we have the alarm in the first place, and then she warned everyone. It could be argued that she saved our species. ” Thronos grasped for patience, saying slowly, “I don’t know what you’re talking about. I—have—no—queen. ” “Very well, my liege. ” Jasen sounded rocked with disappointment. “I won’t mention it again. ” “See that you don’t. See that no one does!” Thronos regretted his tone immediately. He knew he was on edge, his ire ever at the ready. Yet moments later, he could never recall what he’d been angered about. “As for Cadmus and his warmongering, no longer are we hidden and immune to harm. We live in an indefensible outpost. We must approach this coolly. Jasen, if we war, we risk not only defeat—but our very extinction. ” He was about to pinch his aching temples, but then lowered his hand. Eyes were on him. He needed to look like a competent leader. “Until we find a place to call home, we should focus on nothing but that. ” What if we took the long way home . . . ? Thronos cut off the idea before it even fully formed. Too far-fetched. “Have you considered seeking asylum with another faction?” Jasen asked. “One within our alliance?” “I’ve thought about asking Rydstrom the Good of the rage demonarchy for refuge in the Grave Realm. ” The badlands of Rothkalina, filled with outlaws and dragons. After Pandemonia, dragons no longer gave Thronos pause. This seemed to surprise Jasen. “I corresponded with him recently. ” Though Thronos didn’t remember about what, or even what had been said. All he remembered was that he’d come away with the idea that Rydstrom was irritating but honorable. “You’re speaking of colonization on a demon plane?” The vaguest memory arose. He could hear a muted voice, a female saying, We’re going to go found a Vrekener offshoot colony in a different realm. At the memory, Thronos fought the urge to take his head between his hands and squeeze till something cracked. My mind, my mind . . . “What do we do for now, my king?” With effort, Thronos kept his tone even. “We recover. We plan. ” Jasen opened his mouth, then closed it. Thronos knew what question the knight had been trying to pose all week—but he didn’t know how he’d answer. “My liege . . . will you tell me how you came to be on that mountain?” Jasen finally dared to ask. “Hundreds saw you simply appear. ” As Thronos had fallen, he’d desperately wanted to reach his people. Air had shrilled over him, his heartbeat booming in his damaged ears. Suddenly a wave of dizziness had overcome him, so fierce he’d had to close his eyes. When he’d opened them, he’d been standing amongst the others. I traced for the first time. Over the last week, he’d debated revealing his talent. If he had the ability, others would too. After his journeys, he’d begun to suspect their blood might be demonic. Hadn’t he recognized that strange script in Pandemonia, as if from a genetic memory? Hadn’t he felt at home in that plane’s harshness? Why was he still so drawn to its untamed and tumultuous lands? The ability to trace could be a priceless talent in any upcoming war. But his people had recently lost their king and then their kingdom; Thronos didn’t believe it was the time for them to learn of their demonic origins. After arriving at the outpost, he’d given himself just one night to explore his new talent. He’d envisioned the temple of gold. That dizziness had struck him; an instant later, he’d traced there. As he’d run his fingers over the bricks, the feel of that invisible shard in his chest had returned with a vengeance. When he’d flown over an eerily silent battle plateau and a river of lava, deeper went the glass. And then, arriving in the forest glade—the oasis where he’d rested between his trials—he’d been nearly debilitated by the pain in his chest. With a b