When Sabine patted the divan beside her, Lanthe nearly tripped on her feet to join her there. “You haven’t read it?”
“No. Rydstrom has, and he suggested we read it together.”
Lanthe saw Thronos’s handwriting and seal, and tears welled. She didn’t trust her voice, so she circled her hand in the air, come on, come on.
Ever dramatic, Sabine took her time unfolding it. “I wonder how your Vrekener will respond. Rydstrom’s letter to him was by no means gentle, so I can only imagine what this rebuttal will contain.” Finally Sabine held up the letter, and together they read:
My first reaction when I received your message was anger. Who the hell are you to advise me on how to treat my beloved wife? To make her happy?
Beloved wife? Lanthe’s tears spilled down her face, making Sabine roll her eyes. They read on. . . .
I think you and Queen Sabine have a mistaken impression of Melanthe’s life in the Territories.
She roams the kingdom freely, fully empowered—because I trust her implicitly. She wears whatever garments she chooses and worships gold, of which I plan to provide her ever more.
She doesn’t do these things because I allow her to, or because she demands to—this is simply the way things are in our life.
We co-rule our kingdom. Our marriage is a partnership.
“Thronos truly understands about the gold?”
“He m-met Mother when he was a boy. He understands the importance.”
Sabine didn’t look surprised, but then she’d long since woven an illusion over her face.
However, upon further reflection over your letter, I realize that my only response to you can be gratitude. Melanthe is not only my wife and queen, she is my most treasured friend. You helped free her from the tyranny of Omort, and you’ve pledged your protection since.
Because of this, I am deeply in your debt. I wish for no war between us.
If you can agree to terms, I propose a meeting that would include you with your wife, and me with mine.
Melanthe has been against this course, fearing that you or Sabine will take her from me against her will.
I look upon my powerful queen even now as I write this, and confidently dare you to try.
Lanthe choked back her next sob. If he hadn’t written of her being a powerful queen, she’d probably be curled up in a ball, her tears wetting the divan upholstery.
“That was . . . big of him.” Sabine folded the letter. “Perhaps we Sorceri oughtn’t to have blown up his kingdom?”
Lanthe whirled around and punched her sister in the tit. Regrettably, Sabine was wearing a metal breastplate.
As Lanthe shook out her hand, Sabine snapped, “You should’ve told me about your history with the Vrekener!”
“I didn’t know what to make of it back then! For so long, it only brought pain. I was embarrassed. It seemed like all I ever did was confess my poor judgment to you.”
“Can you not understand what it looked like to me? I thought you’d finally been caught by a fiend. I was just trying to protect you.”
“I don’t need your protection anymore! I don’t need your worry! Sabine, I stole keys to the gates of hell and convinced demon hordes that I was a goddess.” She held up her necklace, the red gold nearly mesmerizing Sabine. “I somehow made a portal under duress in the belly of a beast! Thronos and I prevailed over a deity.”
“I can’t simply stop worrying about you or stop protecting you. Short of your commanding me not to, it will never happen.”
“Then fine, don’t stop. But support me in this.” She took her sister’s face in her hands. “For me, Thronos is all the gold in the world. He’s my next heartbeat.”
Sabine was bewildered, and let her sister see it. “Well. Way to sum up your feelings.” At length, she exhaled with defeat. “All right, then, consider me . . . supportive—if you’ll forgive me, and stop being cross. I can’t stand having discord between us.” She opened her arms. “You know I only want what’s best for you.”
Lanthe hugged her for long moments—she’d hated the discord too.
Sabine was teary when they broke away. “You know, the Queen of Zephyr is a very disagreeable sorceress. In the future, if you’d like to spend some quality sister time together, we could ambush her and steal her power of flight. In case Thronos wants a flying wife, or whatever.”
Lanthe smiled through her own tears. “QT with my big sis? I’d really like that.”
“Also, if you’re out of leads, you could renew my search for the Hag in the Basement.” After Omort had died, Hag had delivered those antidotes for the morsus, then fled Tornin. “She’s rumored to be working for King Lothaire in Dacia. Wrap your head around that for a moment, will you?”
“We sought her—only to find her partner in crime, Lothaire, and his hateful book of debts. No longer. It’s rumored that he gave the book to La Dorada for some reason.”
Then Rydstrom owed the Queen of Evil a blood debt? That didn’t bode well. And he and Sabine already had a lot on their plate.
Because the mysterious Well of Souls was . . . stirring.
“Hag’s a great idea,” Lanthe said. “I’ll send a dispatch to Dacia right away.”
“There’s one more idea. Cadeon came up with it. . . . If Thronos truly is a demon, it might be possible for you to summon him.”
A female who slept with a demon of certain breeds could summon him at any time—if she knew the rites and possessed the esoteric ingredients. The demon would uncontrollably teleport back to her.
Lanthe had contemplated this—was preparing for it—but had decided to save the idea until she’d exhausted all others.
Despite the amount of gold she’d offered Loa the Commercenary, the priestess couldn’t get the ingredients to Lanthe for another three weeks.
In any case, the situation with Thronos was . . . tricky. He wasn’t going to remember Lanthe when he saw her. As far as he’d know, she might be an enemy sorceress. Plus, she wasn’t sure whether he’d ever fully accepted he was a demon.
Being involuntarily demon-summoned by an unknown Sorceri would have to spook him.
“Of course, some breeds are immune,” Sabine continued, “and I can’t imagine anyone having tried it on a Vrekener.”
“Tell Cadeon thank you from me. But it’s my last-ditch option—since I have Thronos’s memory issues to consider.”
Sabine narrowed her gaze. “You’ve got another plan up your gauntlet. You never used to keep secrets from me.” She snapped her fingers. “Oh, wait. You did for five hundred years.”
“I’m saving up my sorcery till tomorrow, so I can create a portal all the way to Pandemonia.” She’d attempted it yesterday and had accidentally opened a rift back to the belly of the beast. She’d slammed the portal door in an instant, but her room had still smelled like gastric acid.
Surely if Lanthe rested her threshold muscle, she could reach that demon plane. “I think he’ll be there.”
“How? Does he have a portal . . . Ah! You think he can trace! That’s why you’re so confident he lives.”
Lanthe shrugged. Nïx had mentioned it in faux Feveris: You’d be able to trace—big deal. Thinking back, Lanthe realized the Valkyrie might have been saying that in earnest.
Tracing was a big deal. It could save a demon’s life.
Even if Nïx had said nothing, Lanthe would believe. “Sabine, you’d have to know Thronos like I do—he always beats the odds. He wasn’t supposed to survive his fall as a boy. He did. He wasn’t supposed to fly again. He does. He was never supposed to catch me or win my heart. How could I ever bet against him?”
“I think his subconscious will take him back there. Or his demonic blood will, or vestiges of our history. Pandemonia is where Thronos and I made a fresh start.” Melanthe, let’s begin with a kiss. “There’s a glade we rested in, where we had our first real connection.” Or reconnection.
“Then Rydstrom and I will accompany you,” Sabine said. “I’m very interested in that realm’s dragons. We have an extraordinary female here who needs her own stable of males; she’s basically a basilisk rock star—”
“I’m going alone. If Thronos sees two Sorceri and a rage demon, it’ll put him on guard. And even with no memory of me, he might remember you as Morgana’s henchwoman.”
“Pandemonia’s really not that bad once you know the zones. Some parts were even hauntingly beautiful. The dragons can be a problem, but I’ll figure it out.” Lanthe didn’t expect to arrive there on the same day he did. Which was why she’d packed a bag—and a tent.
She wasn’t leaving hell without her man. Melanthe, of the Deie Sorceri—late of the lavish Castle Tornin—was going to . . . camp out.
“Say he lives, Lanthe. Say he can trace. Then say he goes to Pandemonia. If you can somehow find him, how will you handle him? He might be so enraged at Sorceri that he’ll kill you first and ask questions later.”
“You won’t be able to undo Morgana’s curse with a wave of your hand. You’ll have to be fully empowered. She amped up the voltage of your sorcery to astronomical levels.”
“I’ll figure it out.” Lanthe’s persuasion had been strengthening once more, but would it be enough?
“Are you sure you should restore his memory?” At Lanthe’s glare, Sabine said, “Based on what you told me, he had some issues with how you’ve lived your life. Why not let him be blissfully ignorant? You two could meet and date, as if it’s the first time.”
“He changed; those issues are resolved. And even if I had no problem lying to him—which I do—I have to let him know that we were together.”
“So he doesn’t fall over in shock when I have a halfling in a few months.” The witch Mariketa had been the one to sense it, telling her: “You do know you’re totes preggo, right?”
Lanthe’s biological clock had cried, That’s right, bitches, remember my name!
Her first reaction had been a muttered “Fuck,” à la Thronos. But with each passing hour, she’d had time to grow accustomed to the idea. She was now officially elated—or she would be.
As soon as she located her kid’s father.
“Amusing, sister.” When Sabine saw that she wasn’t joking, she gasped, “Mother of gold.”
He must’ve damaged his head in the fall. He’s . . . different.”
“So how did the king come to be on that mountain?”
As Thronos completed his nightly patrol of the outpost, he heard his people’s whispers, had been hearing them for a week.
Some believed he’d traced to the mountain, as a demon might. Some believed he’d been ensorcelled with a protection spell—though Thronos had no idea what would make them think that.
All of his subjects were wary about their king and their future, and he couldn’t blame them—he wasn’t confident in either of those things himself.
My mind is not well. . . .
He descended through a profuse bank of fog, splaying his wings. Since they’d regenerated, flying had become excruciating once more, such a change from the inexplicable reprieve he’d enjoyed.
Gritting his teeth, he dropped to the landing of his elevated cabin, one of many in their outpost. Trees housed thousands more.
Jasen was already there awaiting him. Each night the two of them met to discuss the day’s events. The male appeared as exhausted as he felt.
Inside, Thronos took his place at his rough-hewn desk. “Any new developments today?”
“None.” Jasen sat on a simple wooden bench. “The people remain unsettled. They feel like we’re living on borrowed time.”
Thronos gazed out his sole window into the night; as usual he could see little past the blanket of mist that enveloped this forest.
But eventually the humans would find them here. Their wards would not screen them forever. A horde of Vrekeners couldn’t live in the mortal world. Not all together.
And our unity is our strength.
“There is some talk of dividing our numbers, my liege.”
Jasen looked relieved by Thronos’s unequivocal reaction. “But in one thing, many agree—they want revenge for what we’ve lost. Cadmus stirs the pot for war.”
Thronos had heard those rumblings as well. “Revenge against a revenge?” he asked. “Did Aristo’s actions not deserve reprisal?” Thronos was more conflicted about that than most. After all, it was his brother who’d brutalized Morgana’s ward. It was his brother who’d waged a silent and relentless predation on her subjects.
“No, I’m saying that everything isn’t black and white. I’m saying that revenge is a zero-sum game. Especially for immortals. If we start it, we’d better be prepared to play it for eternity.” He exhaled. “Even if we come to decide on war, now is not the time.”
Thronos was in no shape to lead them. He’d been injured in the explosion, and had suffered some kind of damage to his mind—yet it wasn’t healing. He still had gaps in his memory, and his temper had grown short.