This was assuming her sporadic persuasion worked, but she was hopeful; after all, she’d been storing up a lot of it over the last three weeks.
Thronos pinned her gaze with his own frenzied one. “You’ll wear that collar for the rest of your immortal life. That you retain it is a stroke of fortune.”
She knew he was serious. Which meant she had to get away from him and find that hand. “You always wanted me biddable, didn’t you? Like Vrekener females?” Lanthe had heard they never laughed, drank, danced, or sang, and always wore drab, full-coverage clothing.
A world away from merry, hedonistic Sorceri females with their racy metal garments, brightly colored masks, and bold makeup.
And, horror of horrors—Vrekeners disdained the wearing of gold. For a gold-worshipping sorceress like Lanthe, this was blasphemy. “You always wished I’d been born meek and powerless.”
“You might as well have been powerless. Over these centuries, you could hardly use your abilities—even without the collar.”
Burn. Worse, he was right. Though persuasion was her root power—the one she’d been born with, akin to her soul—she’d almost extinguished it by healing her sister from repeated Vrekener attacks.
Each time the winged menace found them, Sabine would charge into danger. Each time, Lanthe would clean up the damage, commanding Sabine’s body to mend itself.
Lanthe’s ruined power was well-known. While Sorceri had stolen other abilities from her, there’d been no takers on her defective soul.
“Look at your glittering eyes. Sensitive about this, creature?”
She reminded herself that she had managed a few spurts of persuasion in emergency situations. On one night, the stars had aligned, and she’d rendered Omort—a nearly omnipotent sorcerer—temporarily powerless.
Long enough for the demon King Rydstrom the Good to fight and kill him. Without Lanthe’s help, Rydstrom never could have freed all the rage demons of Rothkalina from Omort’s oppression.
How badly she wished for everyone in the Lore to know about that! Then they’d respect her.
She narrowed her eyes, recalling another time she’d conjured persuasion. “I used my sorcery on you the last time we met.”
Thronos clearly didn’t like to be reminded of that. A year ago, he’d set a trap around one of her portals, lying in wait for her to return. When she’d come upon him and his knights, she’d eked out some sorcery—enough for her to get through the portal.
“If you recall, I resisted your commands!”
Just as she’d been sealing it, he’d managed to shove his boot through the door. Alas, the portal closure had severed his foot.
Because of him she’d failed to rescue her sister from a perilous situation, so naturally Lanthe had kicked his foot around her room, screaming at it.
She slitted her eyes up at him. “I vow to you I’ll get this collar off me, and when I do, I’ll demonstrate how powerful I’ve gotten!” The rain continued to pour; ghouls howled below. But Lanthe was too pissed to pay them any mind; she had eons of pain to vent. “I’ll command you to forget I ever lived!”
A muscle ticked in his clenched jaw, and those slashing scars on his cheeks whitened. “Never!”
“Why not, demon? Every day I wish I’d never been in that meadow when you flew over.”
He unfurled his wings to their terrifying full length, a span of over fifteen feet. “I’m no demon.”
“Uh-huh.” You keep telling yourself that. He looked to say more, so she cut him off. “Even if you manage to get me off this island, you can’t just keep me. I have friends who will come for me.” King Rydstrom—now Lanthe’s brother-in-law—was ferocious about Sabine’s and Lanthe’s protection, vowing to slay anyone who thought to harm either sister.
He understood that without Lanthe, his beloved wife Sabine wouldn’t have survived all those years, and he felt indebted to her. But Rydstrom and Sabine didn’t know the truth: Lanthe had caused the Vrekeners to descend on them in the first place—because she’d stupidly befriended Thronos, a fact that she’d never revealed to her sister.
“And what friends would those be?” Thronos grated.
“Perhaps you’ve heard of my brother-in-law Rydstrom, the ruler of Rothkalina, master of Castle Tornin?”
Rydstrom had alerted the king of the Air Territories—Thronos’s brother—of his protection. Any plot to harm either of the sisters would be considered an act of war against all rage demons. “Rydstrom is my protector.”
“I have no fear of him. Just as I had no fear of your previous protector. Omort the Deathless.”
She could only imagine what Thronos had heard about Omort. Once he’d stolen Rydstrom’s crown, Omort had instituted a reign of terror in Rothkalina. Though she and Sabine had resided with their brother—half brother—in the seized Castle Tornin, that didn’t mean they’d shared Omort’s sickening behavior.
They would’ve escaped, but he’d had lethal controls in place, forever forcing them to return to him.
She remembered telling Sabine, “I’ll scream if he beheads another oracle.” He’d butchered hundreds of them, peeling their heads from their necks with his bare hands.
“What can we do?” Sabine had said, sounding as blasé as ever. “Take it up with management?”
Anyone who contradicted Omort was slaughtered. Or worse.
Lanthe had a brief impulse to explain to Thronos what things had really been like with Omort. To explain that she’d lived in Castle Tornin under two kings—and now thanked gold for her new life under Rydstrom’s reign. But then she recalled that she wouldn’t be around Thronos long enough to waste the effort. Not that the Vrekener would believe her anyway.
So she returned to intimidation. “If you don’t fear Rydstrom, then maybe you’ll fear Nïx the Ever-Knowing.” The three-thousand-year-old Valkyrie was a soothsayer, rumored to be on her way toward full-blown goddesshood. Though Nïx was insane—seeing the future and past more clearly than the present—she was steering the entire freaking Accession, that great immortal killing time.
“Nïx, then?” he scoffed.
Okay, so maybe she and Lanthe weren’t tight, per se (they’d scarcely spoken). But Nïx had been in on the plot to kill Omort, had aided Sabine, Lanthe, and Rydstrom. Rydstrom considered her a good friend. “Yes, the Valkyrie is one of my best friends.”
“With so much practice, sorceress, I thought you’d be more skilled at deception.” He drew his lips back from his fangs. “Who do you think told me how to find you?”
Lanthe rocked on her feet—either from shock or because the ground was moving again. “She wouldn’t.” Lanthe should’ve known better than to trust a Valkyrie!
“She would and she did. Along with some advice concerning you.”
His answer: a smirk.
“Then you did let yourself get caught by the Order?” He had to have—how else could mortals have captured a male who could fly?
But then, how the hell had they taken half of these beings? She’d probably been their easiest catch. When Lanthe had left Tornin, heading to the mortal realm to find a lover after her long sex drought, a woman on the street had offered her discount gold; Lanthe had followed like a slavering dog—right into a trap.
“That’s a big risk, based on a mad Valkyrie’s word,” Lanthe said.
He raked his gaze over her. “My reward is commensurate. As will be my revenge.”
Squeezing her temples, Lanthe began to pace the small expanse of land, steering clear of the edges, while keeping away from Thronos’s imposing presence. She’d spent ages bolting at the sight of him; now this proximity was messing with her mind.
Unrelenting Vrekener attacks had affected Lanthe and Sabine in different ways. While Sabine had been left deadened to fear, Lanthe had grown chronically nervous, always expecting another surprise strike. Now her every instinct for survival was on high alert just from his nearness—
The plateau suddenly split open like halves of a log chopped in two. She screamed as a gorge yawned between her and Thronos.
When the motion stilled and she could clear her vision, she saw they were on opposite sides of a brand-new chasm.
Those rising mountains were making all the earth around them shed away, like chunks from glaciers. “You’re going to get me killed up here!” she yelled, but Thronos was already in flight.
The ground disappeared beneath her feet; before she could fall, he snatched her close as he took to the air once more.
“Ah, gods. This is happening. This is actually happening.” She buried her face against his chest. I hate this, I hate this. . . .
“Your fear of flying inconveniences me. When did this develop, sorceress?”
“When one of your knights took Sabine high into the air—then dropped her. She was fourteen.” At the memory of Sabine’s head exploding, Lanthe heaved again.
“What lies are you telling now? No Vrekeners attacked your sister.”
She fell silent. Was he lying? Or did he truly not know his knights had hunted her and Sabine? As prince of the Air Territories, Thronos was the Lord General of Knights, in command of their staunchest warriors.
Did some of those men have their own secret agenda?
If Thronos forced her back to his home of Skye Hall, then what was to stop those knights from pitching her over the side?
When he slowed, she cried against his shirt, “Yes, not so fast!”
He turned in place, inhaling sharply.
Curiosity demanded that Lanthe raise her head. “Oh, my gold.”
That new mountain jutted from the center of the prison, sloughing off the structures. Each chunk of concrete that fell was swept up to circle the peak like a tornado. Portia’s work. How much she must be enjoying this!
Ember’s towering flames wreathed the entire thing. The sorceress’s fires burned so strong, they grew in the rain, heating the drops to steam.
They were two of the most powerful Sorceri ever born. Their abilities were in a league even with Sabine’s illusions.
Part of Lanthe couldn’t help but marvel, as she might at a work of art.
“Offendments,” Thronos hissed near her ear. The Vrekener word for wrongdoing. “This is the work of your people. Your . . . ilk. And you wonder why Vrekeners were entrusted to battle the Sorceri?”
The mortals’ former prison was now a picture of hell.
Thronos didn’t regret the defeat of the Order—he’d found these humans contemptible—but now a greater evil reigned. As he watched the flames climb higher, the show of Sorceri might called to him.
To vanquish it.
For now, their actions would serve as a timely reminder of what he was dealing with. Melanthe’s sorcery wasn’t awing, but hers was more insidious. Everything about her was. Already she was trying to sow dissension, lying about Vrekener attacks.
He turned away from the spectacle and swept forward, gritting his teeth against the pain.
“I hate this, I hate this, I hate this,” she chanted, her face tucked back against his chest.
He hated it too. The only Vrekener in history who despised flying—and it was because of his own mate.
During those four childhood months he’d spent with Melanthe, he’d once encountered a crazed sorceress who’d told him, “Melanthe will never be what you need her to be.”
At the time, Thronos had thought that he and Melanthe would prove her and everyone else wrong.
How naïve he’d been.
His mate couldn’t be more unsuitable for him. In addition to all their history—and all her offendments—Melanthe was a Sorceri, a species that confounded him with their counterintuitive ways.
They covered up their faces with masks, calling it ornamentation—instead of concealment. They didn’t trust their own kind, had no unity. They loved to revel with other Loreans, but if they possessed something of value, they would hole up in faraway keeps like hibernating dragons. They could be brave when facing a violent enemy, yet debilitated by their fear of losing one of their precious powers.
Though Melanthe’s sinister persuasion wasn’t lost, it was contained—a step in the right direction.
She wanted that torque off? It would ring her neck for eternity!
“Where are we going now?” She was no longer shaking. Her body shuddered in his arms.
He forecasted more sorceress vomit directly. “I told you. I have means to leave the island.”
Thronos had information others didn’t. His cell in the prison had been near a guard station, and he’d heard them talking about the Order’s escape plans in case of an emergency.
There were rumors of a ship on the far side of the island.
All the members of the Order were dead. No mortal would’ve lived to take Thronos’s ship. And even if other Loreans happened to hear of it, they wouldn’t be able to cross the mountainous terrain of the inner island before he could.
He didn’t expect the berth to be visible from the air—the Order had been clever with cloaking their structures—but Thronos would be able to scent the craft’s engines. Once the rain stopped pouring.
He would use the vessel to get himself and Melanthe close enough for him to fly back to the Skye. There, when he was thinking more clearly, he would decide her fate.
She’d asked if he planned to kill her. Never. But that didn’t mean he should honor her by making her his wife and princess.
Maybe if he could eventually teach her right from wrong, he would use her—his mate and therefore his sole option—to continue his line. He felt a duty to reproduce since his family had been winnowed down. Even now, he was his brother King Aristo’s heir.