Hettiah had been Omort’s half sister and consort—a pale, evil imitation of his unrequited desire: Sabine. Lanthe had battled Hettiah and narrowly prevailed.
In answer, she shrugged.
“You did!” He looked overjoyed. “Then the other rumor must be true. You ensorcelled Omort!”
She’d wanted everyone to know about the part she’d played and respect her. Now she wished her involvement had been kept secret.
Because Felix appeared to be on another power hunt.
For her very soul.
He could tell her she’d always loved him, that he’d given her all he’d promised over these years—and she would believe him. . . .
Captive of the Sorceri.
This would have galled Thronos had he not been confident of his impending freedom. He’d seize it soon enough.
No, he was more enraged that Melanthe had fled him—though he hadn’t expected anything different. Long ago, when he’d seen her turn away and run, he’d thought his world had ended. He’d thought he had no reason to live.
Now? He lived for vengeance. He would attack these foes—punishing whoever had battered her face—then recapture his mate.
He swung his gaze around toward the sorcerer, adding another target for punishment: Felix, the male who’d spoken to Melanthe.
An ex-lover, no doubt. How many of them populated this island?
The blond male wasn’t nearly as tall or muscular as Thronos and wore ostentatious gold armor. His manners were practiced, his skin unscarred. So that was the type of male his mate preferred.
The opposite of me.
At the thought, fury surged through Thronos. He shoved against the slabs holding him, but there was no budging them. Portia, that sorceress of stone, was too powerful, and he was weakened from regeneration. His bones had mended, but he’d only reformed the barest covering across his right wing.
He’d been no match for the twenty fire demons who’d descended upon him.
Once healed, he’d strike. For now, he kept his mouth shut and listened, trying to glean information—such as why Melanthe would have ensorcelled Omort. Probably a rank power grab. Sometimes, Omort, Sorceri paranoia is warranted.
“If you can’t trust me,” Melanthe told Portia, “then what do you propose?”
The sorceress of fire, Emberine, tittered. “We’ve been deprived of color for so long—let’s do something bright.”
What did that mean?
“Be done with this, ladies,” Felix said. When a fleeting ray of sunlight reflected off his gilded armor, every Sorceri gaze was magnetically drawn to it, including Melanthe’s.
Most Vrekeners believed the Sorceri’s claims of gold worship were just a disguise for rampant greed—as if the Sorceri would care how others viewed them. But Thronos knew they genuinely revered all metals, especially gold. The element was talismanic to them. Even at nine, Melanthe had been obsessed with it. Her mother as well . . .
Portia said, “You rush our fun, Felix?”
“I’m keen to renew my attentions to the Queen of Persuasion.”
The hell that would be happening. Surprisingly, Melanthe’s expression matched Thronos’s thoughts.
Emberine gave an exaggerated frown. “I’m afraid our friend Lanthe is already smitten—with the demon angel.”
Melanthe’s blackened eyes widened. “He and his knights have hunted my sister and me, killing Sabine over and over, forcing me to burn through my persuasion to save her life.”
Again, she repeated her claims? Though he’d told her about his knights’ vows?
Emberine tsked at Thronos. “Naughty knights oughtn’t to have brained Sabine in front of young Lanthe.”
Melanthe turned to him, her face tight with rage. “Yet that one doesn’t believe me!”
This one . . . is starting to. At least about attacks actually happening. Maybe some kind of offshoot group had targeted the sisters.
In a contemplative tone, Portia asked, “Do you think it’s possible that our handsome prince doesn’t know what his kinsmen do to our kind when they’re drunken and frustrated?”
Vrekeners never imbibe, he thought automatically, though he knew that wasn’t true. He had but once in his life, yet his brother secretly carried a golden flask, one stolen from a sorcerer he’d defeated.
Aristo loved few things better than warring with Sorceri. Just as their father had. It was a source of contention between the brothers.
Portia faced Melanthe once more. “Such an infamously hostile past between you and the Vrekener. Your sister beheaded his father, and you personally crippled him, even though you’re his mate.” How indifferently the sorceress spoke of tragedies! “Then Vrekeners hunted you. Which was why your reactions over the last week perplexed us.”
Melanthe’s head swung up, confusion in her eyes. Instead of demanding to know what that sorceress was talking about, she snapped, “Let’s just get to this—”
“Shall we tell you, Felix?” Emberine asked coyly. “Every time the Vrekener was even mentioned, Lanthe’s cheeks would heat, her eyes turning metallic.”
Thronos stilled. Could it be true?
“That emotion was hate,” Melanthe spat, but he got the impression that her feelings were far more complicated than that.
He had no delusions about his own feelings. Like a stream carving a groove through rock, her actions had forever transformed him. He would always despise her.
Portia said, “Then you won’t mind if we skin him? Crush him under the weight of a mountain?”
Melanthe gave a snort of disbelief. “Be—my—guest. And do save me a seat.”
Or perhaps she hated as deeply as he did.
Emberine stroked the backs of her metal claws across Portia’s bared thigh as she addressed Melanthe: “You gave him his wounds before he could regenerate. Did he find you as a boy then?”
Of not even twelve.
“It’s known that a Vrekener will never stray from a mate.” Emberine laughed as she said, “Tell us, Lanthe, is the mighty warlord a virgin? Is the angel pure as driven snow? Or was the demon in him an early starter?”
Thronos set his jaw. Not—a—demon.
Melanthe didn’t answer. At least she refused to join in their ridicule.
Emberine’s gaze roved over him, desire plain on her face. “I must initiate him!”
He could remain silent no longer. “Try it, slattern. Free me, and try it.”
They tittered at that. “Oh, Portia, I know I could get him to stray!”
Best of luck. You think I haven’t endeavored to? He glanced in Melanthe’s direction. How would she feel about him being with another?
Though her face was blank, her eyes shimmered.
“We can’t waste time on that, Ember.” Portia seemed . . . jealous? “We move on with our plans.”
With another laugh, Emberine sprinted to Melanthe, faster than Thronos’s eyes could follow. In a heartbeat’s time, she’d crossed the clearing, stopping behind Melanthe to position a blade at her slender throat, hovering above that collar.
“No!” Thronos bellowed, his instinct screaming for him to protect his mate.
The metal was simmering red from Emberine’s hold. It would slice through Melanthe’s flesh. She swallowed, wincing from the heat.
Portia rose, riding a cloud of pebbles toward the two females, readying a severed hand for the torque removal.
Felix—the as-good-as-dead sorcerer—followed, seeming amused by the proceedings.
Emberine told Melanthe, “You’re about to do precisely as we say, or you’ll die. But before Portia releases your powers, we’re going to ensure that you can’t call out any persuasive commands.” She gripped Melanthe’s cheeks. “Now, stick out your tongue like a good little queen.”
Lanthe’s thoughts were in turmoil.
Encountering Felix again after all these years was throwing her. Not to mention seeing Ember’s lust for Thronos. The fire queen’s need to seduce him had affected Lanthe in surprising ways, ways she’d have to think about later.
For now, she was a mite busy preparing for an amputation. Sweat dripped down her forehead and neck, pooling against her damned collar.
“Lose your tongue, and gain your freedom,” Ember sneered.
Thronos bellowed at that, his wings flaring inside his cage. As if he cared about Lanthe. He acted this way because of uncontrollable instincts—despite hating everything about her.
Was Thronos that much different from Felix? Two males wanted something from her; yet neither cared about her. They only saw what she could give them, how they could use her.
“Be quick about it,” Felix said, earning a scathing look from Lanthe. “The sooner Mel’s tongue goes, the sooner it regenerates.” Flashing white teeth, he quipped, “I know just how she’s going to want to break in her new one.”
Lanthe shuddered. He could make her believe she loved every minute of her violation.
“Open wide!” Ember cried. “Don’t worry—the blade’s not quite hot enough to cauterize.”
Lanthe swallowed again. All the Pravus allies closed in on the scene, the promise of gore exciting them. Seeing them like this, she could almost understand why one species would feel the need to police them.
Unless someone swoops in to save the day, I’m about to lose my tongue. Though it’d grow back, tongues were supersensitive; mother of gold, this was going to hurt.
A toll I’ll pay to get free.
She glanced over at Thronos. He was thrashing against the immovable stone. When she stuck out her tongue and Ember pinched the tip with her gauntlet claws, he grew crazed, ramming his horns into the rock until blood dripped down his face.
She tensed, readying for the pain.
Felix murmured, “Be over in a minute, Mel.” Soothing words, even as he avidly watched—
She screamed, blood spewing. Cheers and laughter broke out.
Agony assailed her; black dots swarmed her vision as she choked on blood. When her legs grew weak, Ember held her up by the collar. With her other hand, she raised Lanthe’s severed tongue for all to see. Then she tossed it into the crowd.
Stay conscious, stay conscious.
Portia ran Fegley’s hand over Lanthe’s face before she used the thumb to remove the torque.
Freed, Lanthe dropped to her knees, digging into the ground. She spat up mouthful after mouthful of blood, crimson streams splattering over her gauntleted hands.
Colorful enough, you bitches?!
“The threshold, Lanthe,” Portia said in a casual tone. “Directly to the centauri capital, if you please.”
Lanthe gave them a shaky nod, as if she was about to get right on this. She began manifesting her sorcery, and the pleasure of it counteracted her pain. After her enforced hiatus, she was brimming with power!
When she caught Thronos’s gaze once more, she smirked around pouring blood. Like him, these Sorceri continued to underestimate her.
She had a secret ability, one she’d been sure not to reveal in their cell. Because at heart, she was a sneaky, suspicious sorceress.
Even her new friend Carrow hadn’t known Lanthe could communicate telepathically, a power stolen more than a century ago.
Lanthe’s persuasive commands didn’t have to be uttered by her; they merely had to be heard by her victims.
She raised her bloody gauntlets, iridescent blue light and heat blurring the air all around her. They’d think it was for the portal.
She would utilize the command that came in so handy whenever Auntie Lanthe babysat Cadeon and Holly’s twins. She mentally ordered: —Pravus, SLEEP.— She watched as their legs grew unsteady, lids heavy, expressions baffled. —SLEEP. And forget I was ever here.— Bodies collapsed one by one. Portia and her platform of pebbles dropped to the ground, motionless.
Ember yelled, “Portia!”
—You are exhausted, must sleep NOW.—
Ember fell unconscious beside her lover’s slumbering form.
All the Pravus were out.
The sorcery expenditure and continued blood loss had debilitated Lanthe, but she was in no way safe. Because for some inexplicable reason, she’d excluded Thronos from her commands.
Without Portia’s force against the stone cage, he was able to lift the top slab. His scars and limp had always made Lanthe discount his strength. When he tossed the slab away like a piece of tile, she promised herself she never would again.
If he captured her once more, she’d be right back where she started from, minus a tongue. Just because she hadn’t necessarily wanted him to be a Sorceri plaything didn’t mean she wanted to be his!
So dizzy. Need a portal. She could crawl through it—away from him, from this treacherous island. She had a moment’s worry for Carrow and Ruby, but they had been in the care of that lethal vemon. Surely, he’d protect them.
Lanthe spat more blood. Did she have the power to open a rift? She had just used her persuasion, and so many things could go wrong with a portal opening.
The last one she’d created had been to Oblivion, one of the demon hell planes. But she’d only had to reopen a portal that was already in place.
Easy as easy pie.
Now, in her exhaustion and haste, she might point a door back there. Or what if she portaled herself to somewhere even deadlier? Like a plane with mustard gas instead of oxygen, or a completely aquatic bubble realm?
Even worse than instant death, some planes could change a person forever.
Thronos limped toward her, his gray eyes intent, his expression determined. Behind him more centaurs galloped into the clearing, taking in their fallen comrades.