He grated one word: “Come.”
One of Lanthe’s favorite mottos was the simplest—when in trouble, leave.
Seeing no other choice, she crossed to him. He lifted her into his arms, one looping around her waist, the other coiling around her neck.
Unbidden, memories of her childhood arose, when his expressions had been open, his words kind to her. When he’d nicknamed her and taught her to swim.
He’d been a fascinating mix of cocky and vulnerable; one minute he’d be flashing a teasing grin, the next his cheeks would heat with a blush. . . .
“Hold on to me, Melanthe.”
She could only nod and comply.
He booted bodies away, then took off in a limping sprint. She knew what he planned. To evade the ghouls just outside the mine, Thronos would run to the very edge, then leap into flight.
He’d taken her into the sky before—when she’d been a girl who’d trusted him utterly. Years later, she’d witnessed a Vrekener fly Sabine to a great height, just for the pleasure of dropping her to a cobblestone street below.
Sabine’s head had cracked open like an egg, but somehow Lanthe’s sorcery had wrenched her from the jaws of death.
Ever since then, Lanthe had had nightmares about flying.
Could Thronos even carry her? According to rumor, he suffered inconceivable pain whenever he flew, his twisted wings not working right on the best of days; surely they were exhausted from beheading scores of foes. The left one still bled from Carrow’s sword.
Tightening her arms around him, her metal claws digging into his skin, Lanthe squeezed her eyes shut—which only increased her awareness of him.
His heartbeat thundering as he ran.
The rippling of his surprisingly large muscles.
His breaths in her ear as he clutched her close, like a coveted treasure.
She had no warning before he shoved his legs down, swooping his great wings. Her stomach dropped when they shot into the sky.
As raindrops hit her uncovered skin like bullets, she peeked down; ghouls leapt for them, but Thronos had flown too high to be reached.
So high. The ground grew smaller . . . smaller . . .
“Ah, gods.” I’m going to vomit.
Free of the tunnel!
Thronos sucked in breaths of fresh air as he ascended. At last, they’d emerged from smoke and offal to clean rain and gusting ocean breezes.
Struggling to ignore the agony flying always brought him, he outlined his plan. Focus: survival, escape, then revenge.
On the other side of the island, he had the means to leave this place, but reaching that distant coast wouldn’t be easy, not with so many bloodthirsty foes in play.
There were winged Volar demons who would attack in the air as a pack. Sorceri could wield their powers from the ground. Even in this rain, fire demons could launch their flames, grenades that seared flesh away like acid. The mortals of the Order would likely send ground reinforcements—or air strikes.
Now Thronos would have to elude any threat, yet already his wings screamed with pain—both old and new. His bones grated on each other like cogs with no notches, the muscles knotted around the joints. He avoided flying whenever possible, but saw no way around it; the ground was a free-for-all.
All across the landscape, Vertas allies lay beheaded or wounded. Cerunnos slithered after fey; vampires took down members of the good demonarchies. The Pravus were wiping them all out.
Just as they had the mortals.
For all his life, Thronos had been a sword for right. But not tonight. No matter how badly he craved to fight alongside his allies, he wouldn’t jeopardize his catch.
It struck him again: By the gods, I have her.
He adjusted his grip, inhaling sharply from the feel of her against him. He hadn’t held her since they’d been innocent children. Despite his excruciating pain, his thoughts were anything but innocent.
Most of her curvaceous figure was on display in her shameless Sorceri garb. Aside from her gauntlets, she wore only a metal breastplate and a minuscule skirt configured of mesh and strips of leather. When he’d dragged her through the tunnel, it’d ridden up to reveal a shockingly small black thong and the flawless curves of her ass. . . .
Now the molded cups of her breastplate pressed against him. Her waist and hips were so damned womanly, eliciting lust.
This was the body he should have been enjoying for the last five hundred years. The body that should have given him offspring ten times over. Wrath welling.
“Take me down!” she suddenly screeched.
“You want down? I should open my arms—let you feel what it’s like to plummet!” As I learned from you.
“D-don’t drop me!” She was shaking against him. Her claws dug in deeper, tiny hooks in his flesh. More pain to put with the rest of it. “Is that your plan? To torture me before you kill me?”
Kill her? “If I wanted you dead, you would be so.”
She lifted her head from his chest. Her rain-dampened face was drawn, her plump bottom lip quivering. Amidst her panic, she seemed to be taking his measure, determining whether he was telling the truth. “But torture’s still on the table?”
When he sensed an air current and abruptly dipped to catch it, she cried, “Take me to the ground, or I’ll vomit!”
Thronos knew she would stop at nothing to get free. But to act as if she would be sick? She used to love it when he took her into the air, would laugh with delight. He’d flown with her often, back when he’d been addicted to the sound of her laughter.
“I can’t take this height, Thronos! I swear to gold.”
They were only a few hundred feet in the air. Yet her vow to gold gave him pause. She would consider it as sacred as a vow made to the Lore.
“Oh, gods.” A second later, she heaved, throwing up a concoction of gruel, water, and dirt on his shirt.
A growl sounded from his chest; hers heaved once more.
If his arms hadn’t been full, Thronos would have pinched his brow in disbelief. Not only did his fated, eternal mate have no wings, she now suffered from a fear of heights.
Yet another way the wicked sorceress was all wrong for him. In addition to the fact that she despised him as much as he despised her, Melanthe was a light-skirted liar and thief who’d proved malicious to the bone.
But she hadn’t always been that way. He remembered her as a sensitive girl—though already mischievous.
He spotted a grassy plateau, high above the ocean. No creatures in sight. He descended, landing without particular care.
When he released Melanthe, her right leg stepped left, then her left leg stepped right. He predicted her fall and readily allowed it. When she landed on her knees, she heaved again.
Exhaling with impatience, he used the time to wipe away her sick from his shirt and check himself for ghoul wounds.
From her spot on the ground, Melanthe said, “I thought Vrekeners were supposed to keep the Lore hush-hush from humans. If so, bang-up job you’re doing!”
Since memory, Vrekeners had been tasked with stamping out evil in the Lore—and with hiding its existence, punishing anyone who threatened the immortals’ secret.
Yet all the while, this human enclave had kept its acquisitive gaze on Loreans.
Getting captured by them had been as easy as Thronos had expected.
Melanthe eyed him. “If all the good immortals still have their collars, why don’t you?”
“The better question: How could you possibly have retained yours?”
Lanthe swiped the back of her forearm over her mouth. “I wondered that myself.”
Earlier, Lanthe, Carrow, Ruby, and two other Sorceri had been whiling away time in their cell, awaiting their turn at vivisection, when suddenly they’d felt a presence; a sorceress of colossal power had descended on this island, La Dorada the Queen of Evil.
That female had liberated all the evil beings, popping their collars off—members of the Pravus like Lanthe’s cellmate, Portia the Queen of Stone.
Portia had used her goddesslike control over rock of any kind to raise mountains up through the center of the prison. The force had crushed the thick metal cell walls like tin cans.
Her accomplice, Emberine the Queen of Flames, had lit the place up like an inferno. Immortals had flooded out, overpowering the Order’s various defenses.
Then . . . pande-fucking-monium.
Humans—and collared Loreans—had been gutted, drained of blood, infected by ghouls or Wendigos, raped to death by succubae, or eaten by any number of creatures.
The Queen of Evil, a freaking fellow Sorceri, had left Lanthe helpless in the midst of that chaos. Real solidarity there, Dorada. And yet she’d freed Thronos, a Vrekener? He was a “knight of reckoning,” the equivalent of a Lore sheriff.
Lanthe raised her face to the rain, collecting a mouthful to rinse. Then she turned to him. “Maybe you lost your collar because you’ve become evil over all these centuries.”
“Or maybe my mind was filled with evil imaginings.” Another flash of his fangs. “You have that effect on me.”
Lanthe worked her way to her feet, swaying dizzily. He’d dropped them onto a sliver of land, hundreds of feet above the ground. From this unsettling vantage, she scanned the night. Though a Sorceri’s night vision wasn’t as acute as most immortals’, she could see a good deal of the island, even in the darkness.
Skirmishes were breaking out all over, and the Pravus were dominating. The island teemed with them. She didn’t remember this many Pravus in the cells. She’d bet that alliance was teleporting reinforcements here to pick off the helpless, collared Vertas.
Like me. A year ago, she and Sabine had switched sides, helping King Rydstrom the Good reclaim his kingdom of Rothkalina.
Prior to that, the sisters had been all Pravus, all the time. Once Lanthe got free of Thronos, maybe she could try to slide back to her former alliance, at least until Sabine came and saved her.
Her big sister must be worried sick over her weeks-long disappearance. Before leaving their home to hunt for a new boyfriend, Lanthe had left her a note that merely read: Out getting some strange, XOXO.
In fact, Lanthe was surprised Sabine hadn’t found her by now. She always had in the past. They’d never been separated for this long—
Her eyes widened. From this height, she’d spied Carrow, Ruby, and Carrow’s new vemon husband, Malkom Slaine. Though that vampire/demon was one of the deadliest, most fearsome beings in the Lore, he appeared to be shepherding them to safety.
Guess he decided against killing Carrow.
Lanthe’s heart leapt to see them safe, and she drew a breath to call for them, but Thronos slapped his calloused hand over her mouth.
She kicked back with her boots, struggling against him; he held her with minimal effort. He waited until Carrow was out of earshot before releasing Lanthe.
“They’re going to worry about me!” She strained to keep them in sight.
“Good. If the witch is foolish enough to care about someone like you, she deserves woe.”
Someone like me. “Speaking from experience?” She whirled around on him, eye level with his chest. The wet linen of his shirt clung to his muscles, draping over his pecs, showing hints of the scars beneath.
Why haven’t I ever noticed his muscles are so defined? Probably because each time she’d seen him, she’d been running for her life.
She craned her head up to peer at his face, at the raised scars there. All caused by me. A deep one twisted along his chiseled jawline, while four shorter ones slashed diagonally down his cheeks, like Celtic war paint.
Once a body became immortal, it was unchangeable for the most part. Though a Lorean like him could buy a glamour from the witches to camouflage those marks, he would always have them.
Despite his scars, females would still find him handsome. Very much so.
“What are you looking at?” he snapped, seeming disturbed by the perusal. But then, he seemed disturbed in general.
“My lifetime enemy.” She’d spent that long constantly fleeing Vrekeners. Now she was trapped with the object of her fears. Not exactly helping her Vrekener PTSD.
But she’d escape sooner or later; she always did.
And then he’d just come after her again, as he always did. “Well, you’ve got me, Thronos. Now what happens?”
She thought she saw a flicker of shock in his eyes, as if he could barely accept his success after so long.
“Now I’m going to get us off this island.”
“How? It’s thousands of miles from land, surrounded by shark-infested waters.” The humans had been prepared to prevent escape. Well, prepared for everything except a really piqued La Dorada. “You can’t fly that distance.”
Though he’d tried to hide it, she’d seen his pain from just a short jaunt—his face had grown drawn and waxen, his lips a thin line.
Considering that others of his kind could fly hundreds, if not thousands, of miles at a time, she wondered what his limit was. “Especially not with me in tow.”
He looked like he was biting down rage—as if just the sound of her voice was setting him off. “I have other means of escape.”
“Uh-huh. Listen, there’s a key to my torque down there.” Of sorts.
Each collar was locked and unlocked with the thumbprint of the warden, a troll named Fegley (not literally a troll). When Lanthe and company had stumbled across the trapped warden, Lanthe had cut off his hand for ease of use. But before Lanthe could free herself, Emberine had stolen the grubby thing and incinerated the rest of Fegley!
Which had forced Lanthe and her friends to hit the tunnels. . . .
“If you help me get this collar off,” she told Thronos, “I could create a portal to wherever you want.” Or she could command him to repeatedly stab himself in the dick. Then she’d run away as fast as she could manage—seeing as she would be laughing really hard.