Home > Kiss of a Demon King (Immortals After Dark #7)

Kiss of a Demon King (Immortals After Dark #7)
Author: Kresley Cole

Prologue

Gray Waters Lunatic Asylum, London Fall 1872

Whenever you have a sorcerer betwixt your thighs, your powers tend to disappear," Sabine told her sister as she scanned the faces of the frenzied, caged humans. "It's merely a fact of life."

"Maybe in the past," Lanthe said as she dropped the unconscious guard she'd been toting by his belt. "Things are going to be different with this one." She busily tied the man's hands behind his back-instead of breaking his arms, which had the same result and didn't waste rope. "You still haven't seen her?"

Her-the sorceress they came to release from this place-if she agreed to convey her powers to Lanthe in exchange for her freedom.

Sabine slinked down the darkened corridor. "I can't tell when they huddle like this." She plucked a cell door off its hinges and tossed it away, her heels clicking as she entered the cage. Up close, she could tell the inhab­itants all looked very ... mortal.

Naturally, they cowered from her. Sabine knew the exotic picture she presented with her garments and face paint.

As though she'd donned a mask, her eyes were kohled black in a swath from the sides of her nose to her temples.

Her clothes were constructed more of strips of leather and chain metal than of cloth and thread. She wore a metal bustier and mesh gloves that ran the length of her arms, ending in forged fingertip claws. Situated among her hair's riotous braids was her elaborate headdress.

Typical garb of the Sorceri females. In fact, if one's apparel didn't weigh more than the wearer, then one was underdressed.

By the time Sabine was exiting the next cell down, Lanthe had finished with the knots "Any luck?"

Sabine tore free yet another cage door, peered at pale faces, then shook her head.

"Do I have time to check the smaller cells in the basement?" Lanthe asked.

"If we're back at the portal in twenty minutes we should be all right." Their portal back to their home of Rothkalina was a good ten minutes away through dank London streets.

Lanthe blew a jet-black plait from her forehead. "Watch the guard and keep the freed inmates inside this hall quiet."

Sabine's gaze flitted over the unconscious male sprawled on the squalid floor, and her lip curled in dis­gust. She could read the minds of humans, even when they were blacked out, and the contents of this one's were giving even Sabine pause.

"Very well. But hurry with the transfer," Sabine said. "Else we'll attract our foe."

Lanthe's blue eyes gazed upward out of habit. "They could be here at any second." She hastened to the stair­well once more.

Their lives had become a droning cycle: Steal a new power, flee enemies, have power stolen by a smooth-talking Sorceri male, steal a new power. . . . Sabine allowed it to continue.

Because she'd ruined Lanthe's innate ability.

When her sister was gone, Sabine muttered, "Look after the guard. Very well..."

Lifting the man by his collar and belt, she tossed him in front of the exit doors. Some of the denizens grew wild at the violence, howling, pulling their hair. The ones who'd been eyeing the main exit scuttled back.

Shush the humans, easy enough. She sauntered to the guard and stepped up onto his back, opening her arms wide. "Gather round, mad human persons. Gather! And I, a sorceress of dark and terrible powers, will reward you with a story."

Some quieted out of seeming curiosity, some in shock. "Hush now, mortals, and perhaps if you are good, quiet pets, I'll even show you a tale." The cries and yells she'd ignited were ebbing. "So sit, sit. Yes, come sit before me. Closer. But not you-you smell like urine and porridge. You, there, sit."

Once they'd all gathered before her, she crouched on the guard's back. She gave them a slow smile as she readied for her story, tugging up her skirt to fiddle with her garters, then adjusting her customary choker.

"Now, for this evening, you have two choices. You can hear the story of a mighty demon king with horns and eyes as black as obsidian. In ages past he was so honest and upstanding that he lost his crown to cun­ning evil. Or, we have the story of Sabine, an innocent young girl who was forever getting murdered." Who would one day be that demon's bride. . . .

"Th-the girl, please," one resident whispered. His face was indistinguishable through the curtain of his matted hair.

"An excellent choice, Hirsute Mortal." In a dramatic voice, she began, "Our tale features the intrepid hero­ine, Sabine, the Queen of Illusions-"

"Where's Illusions?" a young woman paused in gnaw­ing her own forearm to ask.

Excellent-these were going to be narrative inter­rupters. "It's not a place. A 'queen' is someone who is better at a particular mystickal skill than anyone else."

Sabine could cast chimeras that were indistinguish­able from reality, manipulating anything that could be seen, heard, or imagined. She could reach inside a being's mind and deliver scenes from their wildest dreams-or worst nightmares. No one was her equal.

"Now the ridiculously beautiful and clever Sabine had just turned twelve, and she adored her soon-to-grow light-skirted sister, Melanthe, aged nine. Sabine had loved little Lanthe with her whole heart since the first time the girl had cried for her Ai-bee' over their own mother. The two sisters were born of the Sorceri, a dwindling and forgotten race. Not very exciting story fodder, you might think. Compared to a vampire or even a Valkyrie," she sniffed. "Ah, but listen on and see . . ."

She raised her hand to weave an illusion, drawing from within herself and from her surroundings-the mad energy of the inmates, the lightning-strewn night beyond the asylum.

When she blew against her opened palm, a scene was projected onto the wall beside her. Gasps sounded, a few stray whimpers.

"The first time young Sabine died was on an eve much like this, in a decrepit structure that trembled from thunder. Only instead of a rat-infested asylum, it was an abbey, built into the peak of a mountain, high in the Alps. The dead of winter was upon the land."

The next scene she cast showed Sabine and Lanthe hastening down a murky stairway in their nightgowns and coats. Even as they rushed, they hunched their heads at each new batting of wings outside. Lanthe silently cried.

"Sabine was filled with anger at herself for not listen­ing to her instinct and taking Melanthe away from their parents, from the danger they attracted with their for­bidden sorcery. But Sabine had been reluctant because the two girls-though born of immortals and both gifted with powers-were still children, which meant they could be killed and wounded as easily as mortals, their injuries as lasting. Yet now Sabine had no choice but to leave. She sensed her parents were already dead, and suspected the killers were loose somewhere in the shadowy abbey. The Vrekeners had come for them-"

"What's a Vrekener?"

Sabine inhaled deeply as she gazed at the ceiling. Mustn't murder audience, mustn't murder . . . "Winged avengers of old, demonic angels," she finally answered. "A dwindling race as well. But since memory, in our lit­tle corner of the Lore, they had slaughtered evil Sorceri wherever they could find them, and had been hunting Sabine's family for all of her life. For no other reason than because her parents were indeed quite evil."

With a flick of her hand, Sabine changed the scene, showing the two girls stumbling into their parents' room. By bolts of lightning flashing through soaring stained glass windows, they saw the bodies of their par­ents, curled together in sleep.

The headless bodies, freshly decapitated.

In the image, Sabine turned away and vomited. With a strangled scream, Lanthe collapsed.

Another illusion showed Vrekeners emerging from the shadows of the chamber, led by one who wielded a scythe with a blade forged not of metal but of black fire.

Flashes of their huge ghostly wings appeared, and the double rows of horns on their heads gleamed. They were so towering that she had to crane her neck up to meet eyes across the room. All but for one. He was a mere boy, younger even than Sabine. His gaze was transfixed on little Lanthe, curled unconscious on the floor-one of the adults had to hold him back from her.

Sabine and Lanthe's situation grew clearer to her. This band of Vrekeners hadn't stalked them only for punitive reasons.

"The leader tried to convince Sabine to come peace­ably with them," she told her audience. "That he would

put the sisters upon the path of goodness. But Sabine knew what the Vrekeners did to Sorceri girl children, and it was a fate worse than death. So she fought them." Sabine began the last illusion, letting it play to the end ...

Her entire body shook as she began to weave her spells around her enemies. She made the Vrekener soldiers believe they were trapped in a cavern, ensnared underground where they couldn't fly-their worst fear.

For the leader, she held up her palms, a gesture of supplication directed to his mind. Once linked, she greedily tugged free his nightmares, which she then offered up in a display before him, forcing him to relive whatever would hurt him most.

These scenes made him sink to his knees, and when he dropped his scythe to claw at his eyes, she snatched his weapon from him. Sabine didn't hesitate to swing it.

Hot blood sprayed across her face as his head tumbled to her feet. Once she swiped the sleeve of her gown over her eyes, she saw that her illusions were fading, the Vrekeners able to see where they truly were once more. Lanthe had woken and screamed for Sabine ; to watch out.

Then time ... stopped.

Or seemed to. Sounds dimmed, and everyone in the room slowed, all staring at Sabine, at the blood arcing from her jugular as she collapsed. One of these males had slashed her throat from behind, and all the world went red.

"Abie?" Lanthe shrieked, charging for her, dropping to her knees beside her. "No, no, no, Abie, don't die, don't die, don't die!" The air around them heated and blurred.

Whereas Sabine had her illusions, Lanthe's innate sorcery was called persuasion. She could order any being to do as she pleased, but she rarely gave commands- they often ended in tragedy.

Yet when the males rounded on her, Lanthe's eyes began to glitter, sparkling like metal. The terrible power she'd feared to use she now wielded over them, without mercy. "Do not move . . . Stab yourself. . . Fight each other to the death."

The room was heavy with sorcery, and the abbey began groaning all around them. One of the stained glass windows shattered. Lanthe told the boy to jump through it-and not to use his wings on the way down. Eyes wild with confusion, he obeyed, the thick glass slashing over his skin. He never yelled as he plummeted to the valley floor.

When all were killed, Lanthe knelt beside Abie again.

"Live, Abie! Heal!" Gods, Lanthe was pushing, trying to command her. But it was too late. Sabine's heart no longer beat. Her eyes were blank with death.

"Don't leave me!" Lanthe screamed, pushing harder, harder . . . The furniture began to shake, their parents' bed rattling... More shifting ... a thud as a head rolled to the floor. Then a second one.

The power was unimaginable. And some­how, Sabine felt her body restoring itself. She blinked open her eyes, alive and even stronger than before.

"They ran from that place, out into the world, and never looked back," she told her enthralled audience. "All that Sabine would have from that night was the scar around her neck, a tale to tell, and the blood ven­detta of a Vrekener boy who'd somehow survived his fall...."

Lost in thought, Sabine absently realized that the guard had awakened and was squirming under her boot heels. She reached down and snapped his neck before she got so caught up with the story that she forgot to doit.

One woman clapped her hands in glee. Another breathed, "God bless 'n keep you, miss."

Sabine might as well be an agent of fate for these people on this eve. Not an agent for good, nor for bad. Just serving fate-which could be either.

After all, the next guard hired might be worse to them.

"What about the second time she died?" a brazen female asked. Her head was shaved bald.

"She was fighting to defend Melanthe and herself from yet another Vrekener attack. They captured Sabine, then flew her to a height, dropping her to a cobblestone street. Yet her sister was there once more to heal her broken body, to snatch her from the arms of death."

As if it had happened yesterday, Sabine could still recall the sound of her skull cracking. That one had been so close. . . .

"The third time, they chased her into a raging river. The poor girl couldn't swim, and she drowned-"

"Then take it, you bitch!" a woman shrieked from downstairs, interrupting the flow of the story once more. Ah, the Queen of Silent Tongues was yielding to

Lanthe.

Sabine's skin prickled as the air began to sizzle with power. The sorceress jailed downstairs was surrendering her root ability. Lanthe would be able to talk telepathi-cally to whomever she addressed, within a certain dis-tance.

"No, don't fret," Sabine told her antsy humans. "Have you read any of the halfpenny novels, the ones with bank robberies? That's all my accomplice is doing now. Except she's stealing something equivalent"-she made her voice dramatic-"to your soul!"

At that one woman began crying, which pleased Sabine because it reminded her why she so rarely took humans as pets.

"Who killed her the next time?" Brazen Mortal asked. "Vrekeners?"

"No. It was other Sorceri bent on stealing her goddesslike power. They poisoned her." The Sorceri so adore their poisons, she thought bitterly. But then she frowned at the memories. "It did things to the young girl's mind, this repeated dying. Like an arrowhead forged in fire, she was made sharp and deadly from con­stant pressure and blows. And she began to covet life as no other before her. Whenever she felt hers was in danger, a mindless fury swept through her, the need to lash out undeniable."

   
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