And her feelings for him were so strong, they’d even started coloring how she viewed Vrekeners.

Lanthe could still call them lame—but if anyone else did, she’d shut that down.

Sabine, when you read the rest of this letter, please keep an open mind. I’m not brainwashed, and I never will be. Just as you’re bringing change to Rothkalina, I plan to here. Once all the dust settles, you can give me queenly pointers!

When Lanthe felt a vibration of power, she frowned, laying the quill down. She sensed sorcery—not hers.

She leapt to her feet. Something was approaching, a threat to the people here. She raced for the assembly hall.

Where was everyone? Was it dinnertime already?

Lanthe hastened toward the vibration, out the front doorway of the Hall. A portal was opening, right before her eyes.

On the freaking steps of Skye Hall.

Her jaw dropped when Sabine emerged. “Ai-bee?” Her sister was in full war regalia, with a broad gold headdress atop her flame-red tresses. A metal breastplate served as her top, and a jade mask adorned her face.

Sabine was a jolt of color in this monochrome realm.

“What are you doing here?”

“I’m rescuing you,” Sabine said blithely as she traipsed onto Vrekener land. “Look at your necklace—is that red gold? To die for! It almost makes up for that dress.”

“As I feared, the Vrekeners brainwashed you, just like so many Sorceri before you. But I vow I will get you back. When we return to Rothkalina, I’m enrolling you in cult deprogramming.”

“You’re not hearing me. I want to stay with Thronos.”

As if Lanthe hadn’t spoken, Sabine said, “The stress of all you’ve been through isn’t helping. I know about the Order, about your fight to stay alive. About your capture and imprisonment here.”

“I’m not imprisoned! Why would I still have my sorcery if I were a prisoner?” Nothing. “How did you find the Skye, Sabine?” Can others?

“The same way that Dacian vampire did: with a one-of-a-kind scry crystal. It’s been tucked away in hidden Dacia for ages. Anyway, the leech let us borrow it. And then we used a portal power similar to yours.”

With a wave of her hand, Sabine used her sorcery to make Lanthe’s necklace invisible. “I wouldn’t want that to be taken from you. She’ll think I merely gave you a glamour.”

“She . . . ?” Lanthe trailed off, swallowing with fear when Morgana emerged from the threshold, also in war regalia.

Her pale blond hair was interwoven throughout her gold headdress. Her irises were the color of a bottomless pit. Sorcery of differing colors swirled around her. Lanthe had never perceived so much of it in one being—Morgana was overflowing with reclaimed powers, laden with them.

The queen glared at her enemy’s domain with a vicious eye.

Lanthe held up her unlit hands, a gesture of yielding for Sorceri. “Now, let’s just talk about this, Morgana. Can we do that?” Lanthe glanced around; the people were all gathered in the bastion, which meant no targets at hand for Morgana to smite. For now.

But this also meant Thronos would return soon. . . .

“We shall talk,” Sabine said. “Back at Rothkalina. Come, Lanthe, we’re on a bit of a clock here.”

“Tick tock,” Morgana sneered. “I’ve seen more than enough.”

When Lanthe vowed, “There’s no way I’m leaving here,” Sabine clamped her arm in her gauntlet, turning her toward the portal. On the other side, visible through the threshold, was Lanthe’s tower room.

“Behold, sister, your room in Rothkalina.” As if speaking to a baby, she asked, “Do you remember your room? All your fabulous clothes, luxuries, servants, and self-help books are just beyond this threshold. Your TV and vault of gold await you. That is where you belong.”

Lanthe fought to throw off her grip. “I belong here. What can I do to make you believe I’m not brainwashed! I’m not going anywhere—”

“Nooo!” Thronos had caught sight of them from above. “Don’t touch her!” His wings snapped close to his body as he dove for them.

“Stay away!” Lanthe screamed. He was the embodiment of physical power, Morgana of mystical. Despite all the strength in his mighty body, and all his battle-hardened centuries, Thronos couldn’t match that queen. “She will kill you!”

He didn’t even slow; the rage in his eyes . . .

Morgana raised one hand. As if a giant fist had seized him in the air, he was brought up short, held in place—though he grappled to reach Lanthe.

“Don’t hurt him!” She started drawing on her own power.

Morgana squinted at her as if she were an insect in need of a good crushing. “Careful, little girl, I’ll snatch that persuasion from you before you could ever wield it against me.” She turned her attention back to Thronos in the air. With another wave of her hand, the queen began lowering him in front of her for a better look.

Lanthe turned to Sabine. —Ai-bee, please, please help us! I love Thronos.—

Behind her mask, Sabine rolled her eyes. —You cannot be serious.—

—I’ve loved him since I was nine. I have so much to tell you, but if Morgana kills him, she’ll be killing me!—

—I don’t believe your brainwashed babble. It makes no sense!—

—What if there’s even a chance it’s true? Imagine if Morgana was about to murder Rydstrom. Imagine how you’d feel. This is HAPPENING to me, right now.—

—How could you possibly love one of . . . them?— Sabine flicked her hand in Thronos’s direction.

Lanthe wanted to strangle her. —If I’m brainwashed, you can always kill him later. For now, HELP US!—

When Morgana brought Thronos to the ground, to his knees, he grated, “Release my mate, and begone from these lands.” Gnashing his teeth, he fought her sorcery enough to stand.

Morgana appeared surprised by his strength. But when Thronos again tried to reach Lanthe, the queen redoubled her hold, halting him in place. “This one had the audacity to abduct one of my subjects.” Prismatic wisps of sorcery coiled around her. “Actions against Sorceri will now have swift and severe consequences.”

The queen merely ignored her.

—Fine. My gods.— Sabine’s insouciance never faded as she said, “Morgana, though this is tiresome even to bring up . . .”

“I wouldn’t slay that one if I were you.” Sabine peered at her gauntlets, rapping the claws with boredom. “Why wouldn’t you take him as prisoner?”

Morgana’s eyes sparked ominously, glinting like obsidian. “Do you comprehend how long I’ve waited for this?” She squeezed her fist harder until Thronos labored to breathe. “My ward was brutalized by his brother. This Talos will pay as well!”

Lanthe tried to get between Morgana and him, but the queen’s magic was an impenetrable leash from her to her prey. “Please, Morgana! Thronos was disgusted by what happened to Bettina. He’s already in talks with her. Just speak with her! But for now, spare him. Please!”

At once, the air blurred around Morgana’s body. Above her headpiece, her blond braids wavered like a gorgon’s serpents. “Spare him?” she bit out. “SPARE him? Are you jesting with me? You and your sister have been running from him and his brother for ages! Now that your queen is in a position to mete out justice, you cower from what must be done?”

Before Lanthe could say anything, Morgana cut her off. “Do you know how many powers I pulled from the Vrekener vault? Do you know how many attacks those powers represented? How many of my subjects were victimized?” Voice rising with every word, she yelled, “The fact that I don’t torture every godsforsaken Vrekener individually is my GIFT to them!” Sorcery whipped about her, coils electrified by her rage. “Thronos Talos will be punished!”

Sabine said, “I believe that’s about to happen, no? In moments.”

Lanthe’s dread intensified even more. “What does that mean?”

Ignoring her, Morgana raked her fathomless gaze over Thronos. Though his skin reddened from lack of oxygen, he still struggled against her power.

But Morgana was just too strong. “I believe this being loves you, Melanthe.” The queen smiled, as if in anticipation—one of the most bloodcurdling sights Lanthe had beheld. “What a weakness he’s delivered to us. If I spare his life, he’ll suffer a worse fate.” Morgana could be diabolical, seemed to love devising twisted punishments for those who crossed her.

“Please, my queen—” Lanthe’s words were cut off when she felt Morgana pulling on her persuasion. “What are you doing?”

“Controlling your sorcery. Your root power should be the one that curses him.”

Lanthe’s blue light started to emanate from Morgana’s hands. “Thronos, brother of Aristo, heed my voice and obey my commands. You will forget Melanthe.”

He stole enough air to bellow, “Never!” Muscles all over his body rippled with strain as he fought the order.

Lanthe cried, “Morgana, I’m begging you!” She couldn’t fight the queen now, but at least Thronos would live. In the future, Lanthe could reverse this! —Thronos, I’ll return for you! I’ll make you remember me. Just stay alive!—

Morgana commanded him, “Forget her, forget her, forget her! All memories of Melanthe are gone!”

Thronos’s eyes met Lanthe’s just as blue sorcery exploded out from Morgana, striking him like a bolt.

It was already too late; once he’d recovered from that strike, he gazed blankly at her. Zero recognition.

She swallowed past the lump in her throat. If the queen forced her from the Territories, Lanthe would create another portal right back here and fix everything. But that didn’t mean it wasn’t killing her to see Thronos like this.

Morgana wasn’t finished with him. “Your love for her will remain. The yearning you would feel to be parted from her will endure. Yet you won’t understand the never-ending ache, won’t comprehend the source of your misery. Should anyone speak to you of your queen, you’ll react with anger, then forget the conversation. And, Thronos, should you live past the next two minutes, you’ll forget we were ever here.”

Lanthe swung her head around on Morgana. “What happens in two minutes?”

The queen looked like revenge personified as she said, “The mighty shall fall.”

Tick tock? Mother of gold . . . “What have you done?” Somehow, Morgana was going to bring the Territories down.

“With access to their power vault, I turned their infuriating defenses against them. Their magics will destroy all that was long guarded and shrouded. Tick tock goes the clock.”

Sabine began shoving Lanthe toward the portal. —This is a done thing. I have to protect you.—

Lanthe broke away from Sabine and lunged for the security lever just inside the doors of Skye Hall. The alarm roared to life, blaring across the Territories.

From the bastion, Vrekeners shot upward in a flood, wings spread as they evacuated according to plan.

At once, the late-day sky turned to night. The air grew chill.

Across all islands, they soared. Except for Thronos, who was still trapped by Morgana.

With her chin lifted, Lanthe turned to face her queen, to accept her wrath.

Morgana seemed to boil with fury, the very ground shaking beneath her. The rainbow colors of her powers merged to . . . black. Raising a hand, she hissed, “Ill-advised, sorceress.”

When Sabine lunged in front of Lanthe, Morgana hesitated, then seemed to rein in the worst of her rage. “I’d punish you for this—and them for fleeing—but I haven’t the time.” With another wave of her hand, Lanthe was propelled toward the portal.

As Lanthe clung to the edge of the invisible threshold, she screamed, “Thronos, leave this place!”

Though Morgana’s hold on him had eased—he could breathe once more—he continued to stare at the spot where she’d been standing.

But her persuasion had been drained from Morgana’s catastrophic use of it.

Sabine peeled her fingers away. “We’re running out of time, Lanthe!”

“Leave, Thronos!” With her grip loosened, Lanthe was sent careening into her room. “Please, GO!” she sobbed as the threshold closed behind them. . . .

He blinked again and again. Why was he standing on the steps of Skye Hall, staring at nothing? He shook his head hard.

Vrekeners had surged upward from the islands, flying in the direction of the outpost. Why was he not moving with them? He wondered if this was another drill, until he heard explosions coming from the outer islands.

One blast after another detonated along the lines of the monoliths. Fires erupted, overrunning the islands in blue and white flames—an unnatural fire.

Burning rock shot upward—and downward, cascading toward the gulf far below them.