Too late. The male had already struck. He slit Sabine’s throat, blood painting the walls as her small body fell.
Lanthe’s daze burned away. She scrambled to her feet, shrieking, “Ai-bee?” She ran for her sister, kneeling beside her. “No, no, no, Ai-bee, don’t die, don’t die, don’t die!” Lanthe’s own sorcery was manifesting itself. The air grew warm, as electric as the lightning surrounding them.
Sabine is leaving me. Because of Thronos and these men. My entire family taken from me in one night. A clarity such as she’d never known swept over her.
My family dies; the Vrekeners pay.
No longer would she hesitate to use her power. No mercy—for any of them.
She commanded the soldiers, “Do not move! You stab yourself! Fight each other—to the death!”
The room was thick with whorls of sorcery, and the abbey quaked all around them, the ancient rock walls groaning. A fracture forked along one of the stained-glass windows. In an earsplitting rush, it shattered.
She turned to her betrayer, the boy she’d thought she loved. The boy who’d led these fiends straight to her home.
He was wending his way around bodies to reach her, now that the adult who’d guarded him was dead.
Voice breaking, she sobbed, “I trusted you. Sabine was everything to me.” Then, louder, she commanded him: “Jump through the window”—the one hundreds of feet above the valley floor—“and do not use your wings on the way down!”
His silver eyes pleaded for her not to do this thing, so she turned back to her sister’s body, refusing to watch.
He never made a sound all the way down.
“Live, Ai-bee!” Lanthe screamed, but Sabine’s glassy gaze was sightless, her chest still of breath. “HEAL!” she commanded, using all the power she possessed. The room quaked harder, jostling furniture. Mother’s head hit the floor and rolled, Father’s right behind hers. “Don’t leave me! LIVE!”
More sorcery, more, more, MORE . . .
Sabine’s eyes fluttered open—they were bright, lucid. “Wh-what happened?”
While Lanthe was utterly emptied of sorcery, Sabine bounded to her feet, appearing rested.
I brought her back. She’s all I have now.
They fled from the abbey into the night. Yet in the valley, Lanthe trailed behind Sabine. She looked back over her shoulder, saw Thronos on the ground, clinging to life.
His body lay broken, limbs and wings twisted, skin flayed.
Somehow he raised his hand off the ground to reach for her with yearning in his eyes. . . .
Now, hundreds of years later, Thronos raised his hand off the ground to reach for her once more.
Just as she’d done that night, Lanthe turned from him and ran.
Hoping to find Carrow and her crew, Lanthe headed for low ground. In the steady rain, she sprinted over uneven terrain. Though her lungs began to burn, she kept up a punishing pace, slowing only to hide when she sensed other immortals.
All the while, she tried not to think about Thronos. So why did she keep seeing his scars, his misery?
She refused to feel guilt about leaving him behind earlier, much less for making him jump as a boy.
If Thronos hadn’t betrayed her, then that Vrekener leader—who was his father, the king—wouldn’t have murdered her parents. Over the years, Sabine wouldn’t have needed so much of Lanthe’s sorcery to repeatedly cheat death.
Lanthe could be one of the most feared Sorceri alive—instead of a power-on-the-fritz punch line. Hell, even Thronos had ridiculed her!
To be the Queen of Persuasion was to be the queen of nothing.
And in the Lore, perceived weakness was considered an invitation for enemy species to attack.
Sabine had recently voiced a new theory about Lanthe’s persuasion: since Vrekeners tracked Sorceri by their power outlays, perhaps she feared drawing them down on her, and her fear was causing performance issues. Maybe her ability was intact, but her anxiety over the winged menace undermined it—even in Rothkalina, where they were sure no Vrekeners would ever come.
Lanthe didn’t figure her Vrekener PTSD was helping things.
At least her portal ability still worked. If she could lose this collar, she could walk straight into Castle Tornin’s court.
The only problem? If conditions weren’t ideal—such as not having adequate time to concentrate—she had little control over where her threshold opened. And most other planes were not quite so welcoming as this one. Worse, she could only create a portal every five or six days. So if she screwed up with a destination, she couldn’t do a quick fix.
A huge risk. Yet so was staying on this island.
Damn it, what had Thronos been thinking to try to capture her? If he’d succeeded, Rydstrom would have traced an army of rage demons to the Air Territories. Well, Rydstrom would if someone could finally find that domain in the heavens, one that was mystically concealed and moved throughout the year.
The only reason the Sorceri had never struck back against Vrekener aggression was because they couldn’t find the Skye, or capture any of its inhabitants.
Maybe that was what made Thronos so daring—he knew there’d never be recourse against his kind.
Lanthe was so caught up with thoughts of him, she heard the log whooshing toward her face too late.
Her last thought before she blacked out: One more thing to blame him for. . . .
Lanthe dreamed of a voice. Only a voice. It belonged to a female, pleasantly cadenced.
“You’ll move through worlds,” the female murmured, as if imparting a secret to Lanthe. “In one realm, hurt. In one realm, leave. In one realm, cleave. In one realm, shine.”
“I don’t understand,” Lanthe said in her dream. The voice sounded familiar, but after an immortal’s lifetime of acquaintances, she couldn’t place it.
“Just think of your upcoming journey as the Four Realms of Samhain Past.”
“That doesn’t even make sense.” Lanthe’s frustration level was rising. “What are you talking about?”
“Whisper, whisper, whisper.”
“Oh, come on! Now you’re just whispering whisper!”
“Be my spark,” the voice said, “and send worlds aflame. Now, wake, before it’s too late. . . .”
“Ow, OWWWW.” Lanthe came to by degrees, groaning from the pain in her face. “Who the hell hit me?” she croaked, wondering how long she’d been out.
And where was the woman? Had that truly been a dream? It’d seemed so real!
As Lanthe sat up, blinking around her, she pinched her broken nose. With a wince, she tweaked it back in place. Overcast daylight crept through spindly conifer needles, disorienting her. When her vision cleared, her face fell.
Pravus. In number. Oh, shit.
There were all kinds surrounding her: vampires, centaurs, demons, Invidia—demigods of discord—and Libitinae, winged castrators. They’d gathered in a clearing in the forest, within an encampment of rock—enormous square slabs had been stacked upright like Stonehenge, part deux. Only one person could effect that.
Lanthe craned her head around. Sure enough, Portia sat upon a stone throne, gazing at Lanthe on the ground. The sorceress’s eyes were bright behind her jade-green mask, the spikes of her pale yellow hair jutting as boldly as the mountains she’d created.
Beside her, the smoldering Emberine, Queen of Flames, had draped herself over the rock throne’s armrest, as a consort would. Apparently they were presiding over their new capital of This-Is-So-Fucked Island.
Some said Portia and Ember were sisters, while others said lovers. After spending a week in the same cell with them, Lanthe was leaning toward lovers.
She’d wanted to get closer to the key, but not like this. She gazed past them toward the outer edge of the clearing. More stones formed floating cells, caging a wood nymph, a fox shifter, an animus demon.
His capture didn’t surprise her, considering the sheer number of the fire demons. Plus he’d been injured. She could almost pity him—a prince of Vrekeners imprisoned by Sorceri.
They would torture him to learn the location of his home. Afterward, they would . . . keep him—as a plaything, ensorcelled to do their every bidding.
She knew well the kinds of acts they’d force him to do. What they’d force him to be.
Why did that make her bristle?
His gaze was focused on Lanthe, and he looked frenzied to reach her. One of his wings was back to nearly normal, still gnarled. The one that’d been shredded had bits of flesh trying to grow.
“It took you long enough to wake,” Portia told her. “Exactly how weak are you?”
Lanthe made it to her feet, brushing leaves off herself. Why would the great Portia care? Lanthe had a sinking suspicion: maybe the fire demons hadn’t been targeting Thronos at all.
Despite her power, Portia never would’ve captured her in the past. Sabine’s reprisal was too feared. Now? Just because the sisters had helped assassinate Omort, the Pravus leader, Lanthe was fair game for Sorceri?
Still, she regretted nothing. Her brother had had it coming. “Did you have to attack me, Portia? You know I would’ve come willingly.” I never would’ve come willingly.
“We fortuitously found you on the ground, unconscious.”
Then who hit me?
Ember added, “As if someone had left you on our doorstep, like a cat with a savaged mouse.”
Lanthe cast a worried look at Ember. Both females were diabolical. But while Portia at least listened to reason, Ember was akin to the flames she wielded—volatile.
“What did I miss?” a male voice asked.
Lanthe turned to see a sorcerer in full gold regalia striding into the clearing, a man she’d hoped never to see again.
“Has my Melanthe arisen?” Felix the Duplicitor asked, his striking face lit with a smile, his gold gleaming seductively. His Sorceri ability enabled him to make anyone believe any lie he told. She would know.
Her face heated as she remembered his fervent vows to her. When he’d promised her a future together—with gold, his protection, gold, children, and more gold—light-skirted Lanthe had been a lock.
In the throes, she’d ceded her clairsentience and battle sorcery. She hadn’t possessed her portal power yet, and he hadn’t wanted her tainted soul.
Portia turned to him. “Your pet’s only just woken.”
His pet? Lanthe ground her teeth.
He turned the full wattage of his smile on Lanthe. “It’s been an age, Mel.”
After sex, when Lanthe had asked him about a wedding date, he’d released her from his spell, chucking her chin, and remarked, “Though you tempt me sorely, there’ll be no wedding for us, dear. But wasn’t the sex enough of a reward?”
No, Felix. No, it was not. She’d slunk away, burning with humiliation, dreading how to tell Sabine that she’d lost even more powers. I’m such an idiot, she’d railed at herself, such a dupe!
“You look as ravishing as ever,” he said now, but he hadn’t used his power, so she was free to disbelieve him.
Ravishing? Her recently broken nose was swollen like a balloon, and she probably had two glaring black eyes. “And you’re the same duplicitous male you always were, Felix.” Sorceri weren’t a forthright species to begin with; needless to say, Felix was a favorite among them. “Looking no worse for wear from your prison stay.” That gold armor really was to die for.
“I’ve only recently arrived. Had a vampire friend trace me to this island for the ‘sport.’ ”
Just as Lanthe had suspected.
“I’d found it yawn-worthy—until I heard about your capture.”
His interest put her even more on edge.
Portia said, “You have something we want, Melanthe.”
Why now? They’d had her, Carrow, and Ruby in their sights earlier when they were all escaping the prison. Yet they’d spared the trio, merely stealing the hand that Lanthe had harvested from Fegley—the grubby one that now hung from Portia’s gold belt.
The key to Lanthe’s freedom. “I’m all ears.”
“With so many helpless Vertas trapped here, we’ve decided to eradicate them, bringing more Pravus to the island. To get a jump on the Accession.”
Every few centuries the Accession rolled around, a supernatural force that fueled conflicts between factions, drawing them into battles, culling immortal numbers. Accessions could last decades or longer. Some said this one had already started with the renewed vampire clashes a few years ago.
“We’ve had our allies teleport more soldiers here,” Portia continued, “but what we need is an army of reinforcements.”
Lanthe could read the writing on the wall. “You want me to create a threshold.” Ensuring the doom of all the Vertas here?
Like Carrow and Ruby.
Think fast, Lanthe. Portia would have to remove her collar. If Lanthe could manage persuasion, she could command them to release her.
“Bravo, Melanthe,” Portia said. “We want a door to the centauri lands so thousands of them can march directly here.”
“They already have a portal.” Most dimensions had at least one—but the quality varied.
“It’s being utilized for a new top-secret offensive,” Portia said, eyes flickering at the thought of carnage.
Who were the centaurs targeting? “Well, Portia, I can’t do anything with my current accessory.” She yanked on her torque. “So . . .”
“But we can’t trust you.” Ember flipped her long red and black locks over her shoulder. “Not after your actions in Rothkalina last year.”
“Mel, did you really behead Hettiah?” Felix’s tone was admiring.