Home > Pleasure of a Dark Prince (Immortals After Dark #9)(13)

Pleasure of a Dark Prince (Immortals After Dark #9)(13)
Author: Kresley Cole

When they finally broke apart, Lachlain was choked up, clearing his throat. "Right, then."

Garreth stared down at his beer, muttering, "Got something in my eye." Turning to go, he said, "Take care of our queen."

"You just be careful." The two brothers had always been protective of each other, so Lachlain was uneasy that Garreth had no one to watch his back. "And stay out of trouble." Garreth was a hell of a fighter, but on occasion, he needed a wingman.

Over his shoulder, Garreth said, "Doona worry. Mark my words, I'll have her back in two weeks."


One year later, the Northlands

Possibly the mountains of Thrymheim Hold,

but probably not

"Is this a bad time?" Nïx asked cheerily.

"You are fully aware that this is a damned bad time," Lucia said. "Currently I'm suspended from a mountain ledge, four thousand feet in the air." She hung on to a rock cleft with the tips of her fingers - of one hand. The other she'd used to click on her sat-phone earpiece.

Sometimes Lucia wished satellite phones didn't work everywhere on earth.

"You sound awful," Nïx observed. "Have you been taking your Flintstones?"

Lucia's muscles burned. She hadn't slept in days. The games, it seemed, would not end. And Lucia was in a grueling fourth-quarter situation - with a team mate lost. "Nïx, did you call for a reason?"

"Are you any closer to finding Thrymheim?"

Lucia had relinquished her lofty goal of locating a dieumort and killing Cruach - now she'd be satisfied if she could merely keep him jailed for another five hundred years.

She needed Skathi, or more accurately, she needed one of Skathi's arrows, but Lucia couldn't even locate the goddess. "If it's not at the top of this peak, then this range is a bust."

Lucia had been so sure this was Godsbellow Mountain. Now she grew increasingly doubtful. She vaguely remembered an ever-ascending path to the peak. She could find no path. So she was climbing. "Don't suppose you'll finally tell me where the temple is?"

"I thought if a Skathian was pure of heart, she could always find her way back to the goddess."

Pure of heart? Not in the least. Though Lucia and MacRieve had never shared more than those two nights together, she couldn't stop thinking about him, lusting for him. Whenever she touched herself, it was his body she fantasized about. "I'll find my way back, Nïx. One way or another." Push on, Lucia! What choice did she have? She leapt for another handhold.

"Well, actually, that's why I'm calling. Now, I know your to-do list is varied and important. Finding Skathi, preparing for your five-hundred-yearly confrontation with the revolting Cruach, the epitome of pure evil, et cetera."

Speak of the devil - literally. Though the Broken Bloody One was a hideous abomination, he could disguise himself with a face so beautiful... it made me weep.

The modern idea of Satan originated from him.

He was the being she would be forced to confront. And soon. She always knew when.... That night so long ago when she'd been about to depart Thrymheim as a new Skathian, Lucia had asked the goddess, "What do you want me to do?"

"Just before he rises, you'll go to his lair, and shoot him in the heart with the arrow I've given you. Every five hundred years, I'll provide you with another."

Return to his lair? Never. "How will I know when Cruach will rise?" So I'll know when to run.

Skathi's face had been impassive. "When the nightmares begin."

The first time Cruach had risen under Lucia's watch, she'd been plagued by nightly visions so harrowing, she'd been driven to face her worst fear.

Now, just as before, her nightmares were becoming more frequent, more punishing, which meant time was running out....

"Yeah, Nïx, I'm a little swamped right now."

"And on top of everything you have to evade your Lykae."

"I'm not evading him." I'm totally evading him. "And he's not my Lykae." Had those two passionate interludes been enough to blind Lucia to the sanctuary at Thrymheim? No, no way - she still had her abilities.

"After all you've done to MacRieve, I'd be running, too."

And all I continue doing to him. His pursuit had been relentless, so she'd protected herself - and her chastity - often in ruthless ways.

But she'd never shot him, not since their initial meeting. She knew he wouldn't even try to dodge the arrow for fear of what it'd do to her.

Nïx said, "Regin bragged to the entire coven that you two had him trapped in a river canyon in logging country with an eighteen-wheeler full of trees parked on the rise above him. You shot the fastenings with arrows and a pile of logs rolled over him." Nïx chuckled. "If that wasn't enough, you and Regin then threw the eighteen-wheeler on top of him!"

It was all true. He'd been nipping at their heels for days. "Just tell me how Reege's doing." Since Lucia had been forced to leave her behind - after only their first four weeks on the lam.

"Badly. She's acting out, getting high, picking fights with beings bigger than she is. She's furious that you 'abandoned' her 'like last year's wardrobe.' Especially when she was sleeping off an intoxispell hangover."

Lucia had the text messages from screen name Reg-Rad to prove all of the above. Months of emotional rollercoaster-y texts.

Nïx continued, "She teamed up briefly with Kaderin the Coldhearted for the Talisman's Hie, but Kad booted her. I've been assigning her busy work, inviting old nemeses to New Orleans to try to kill her and such. But nothing keeps her down. She has been taking her Flintstones, incidentally. We all eagerly await the time when you can finally return to deal with her."

Lucia climbed higher, leaping for a taunting overhang. Got it. "You know why I've been forced to travel all over the world." For months, Lucia had dreamed of a dieumort arrow, envisioning a gold and flawless one like Skathi's - but imbued with the Banemen's power, the one-time power to kill a nightmare incarnate. She'd failed to locate it.

And now that she'd decided to settle for one of Skathi's arrows, had planned to return and grovel to the goddess, Lucia couldn't locate her either.

She was running out of time, and every step of the way MacRieve had hunted her, no matter how far-flung her destinations had become. She also suspected he'd been protecting her. Even now. Even after all she'd done to him.

She'd seen him in a village in the Northlands just two nights ago. What would he do to her if he caught her? She wondered this constantly.

"Nïx, is this why you called? About Regin?" Lucia asked. "I can try to talk to her."

"Actually, I called because there's this pesky little apocalypse brewing. I need your help."

Sweat dripped into Lucia's eyes. She irritably wiped it away, gazing up at the peak above her with yearning. Deep down, you know it isn't Thrymheim, Lucia. "Why me?" There were dozens of other Valkyrie as strong as or stronger than Lucia. "Why not Cara or Annika?"

Nïx answered, "You're the Valkyrie's greatest hunter."

"Yes, I know this," Lucia said, immodest as ever. "But what's the mission?"

"What's what mission?" Nïx said softly, then with growing enthusiasm, "Am I to go on a mission?"

"Nïx, the apocalypse! Come on, snap out of it!"

Silence for a long moment. "Oh, I remember," she sniffed huffily, as if Lucia had broken her sunshine. "Yes, I have all your deets right here - where you need to be and what you need to do. All the specifics already foreseen. Basically you have to be on a particular boat in the Amazon jungle by three sharp tomorrow afternoon."

"The Amazon? That's thousands of miles from where I am. Besides, I'm a hunter - not an explorer. Find someone else," she grated as she maneuvered another dozen feet higher. Her fingertips were on fire.

"Ah, but would anyone be as qualified as you? You see, the source of this apocalypse is... Cruach."

Lucia felt like her stomach dropped the four thousand feet to the ground.

"Yes, I thought you'd want to take care of this one," Nïx said in a thoughtful tone. "Since he's your husband."


Iquitos, Amazonia

Fifteen hours later...

Lucia sprinted from the heli pad through the remote river-port town, her senses bombarded by scents and sounds: the smell of hot peppers and green bananas in the market stands; the incessant horns from motorcycle rickshaws; street vendors hawking their wares, unaffected by the on-and-off drizzle of rain.

Though already exhausted from the last few weeks and wiped out from the constant travel over the last day, Lucia adjusted her backpack and travel bowcase to run even faster.

The time was a quarter after three.

Breakneck flights had gotten her out of the North-lands, then even more connections had followed to get to South America and into Iquitos.

She'd logged seven thousand miles in the last day.

Weary to her bones, she again cursed the instigator of this disaster - Nucking Futs Nïx.

She couldn't have seen a freaking apocalypse sooner? To give Lucia time to buy a damned mosquito net, and maybe an Amazon river guidebook!

Lucia was almost to the water - not difficult, since Iquitos was encircled by the Amazon and two other tributaries. The sun peeked through lowering clouds, spawning a vibrant rainbow that seemed to end on the far banks of the Amazon.

Soon, a red clay shore came into view. Just at the water's edge, a neighborhood of thatch-roofed houses floated on balsa platforms. A few large riverboats were lined up beside them, beached on the muddy banks.

As she ran headlong, she recalled the rest of that fateful conversation with the soothsayer:

"Nïx, how can Cruach bring about an apocalypse?"

"Apparently, he's no longer your personal domestic problem. It's foretold that he'll start a plague of human sacrifices."

Cruach's other name was To Him We Sacrifice. He had the power to infect beings, engendering a mad need to kill whomever the victim loved most. "A plague?"

"Before, he could only afflict one with his madness by direct contact and only once he escaped his lair. But soon his influence could potentially be spread like a disease, passed from one person to another."

"How? Black magic, the help of another god - "

"The countdown has begun. Ticktock, ticktock."

"What do you want me to do?"

"Go to the docks. I've got you booked on a ship called the Contessa. For weeks, you'll travel into the jungle, to the deepest, darkest part of the Amazon where no other boats dare to go. Find the Rio Labyrinto - a mystically hidden tributary. Have you heard of it?"

Lucia had exhaled a stunned breath. "Yeah. No one comes back when they go looking for it. Not even immortals."

"Are ya feelin' lucky, punk?"


"What's there to help me fight Cruach? A weapon? An ally? Don't suppose I'll find a dieumort there."

"Now what's a dieumort?"

"Never mind! Nïx, what's down there?"

"Call me when you arrive on time - otherwise all this could be moot - then I'll reveal the rest to you. Unless, of course, I forget." Which was entirely likely.

Lucia had known Nïx wouldn't divulge more logistics. She divvied information like a miser parting with gold coins. Lucia had learned, like all other Valkyrie, to go on a little faith - and forbearance - with Nïx. "At least tell me what the stakes are," Lucia had demanded impatiently. "What happens if I fail?"

"The end of life as we know it."

"Nothing else you'd like to impart?"

"Everything you'll need will be aboard the Contessa". A blare of static-like noise crackled. "Oh, and beware of the barão da borracha and the guardião."

Lucia knew some Portuguese. "Beware of the rubber baron and the guardian?"

More static sounds. "Can't hear... call back... good luck..."

"Nïx, I know you're faking the static." She could picture her sister blowing into her fist directly at the receiver. The static abruptly stopped. "Why?"

"It seemed less rude than the alternative."

"What's that?"


Lucia slowed, her eyes widening when she spied a wave of riverboats leaving. Was she too late?

She asked fishermen returning from the day's runs to direct her to the Contessa. They all laughed in answer. Once she finally happened upon it, beached on a section of trash-ridden shore, she realized why.

The Contessa - such a bold and noble name - was a relic. With its three stories and latticed railings, it looked like an old river cruiser from the rubber-boom days. But it was in no way preserved - rotting holes dappled the wood just above the waterline, and the windshield in the pilothouse was fractured from one edge to the other. Any visible metal was corroded, oozing rust down the faded hull like runnels of blood.

The roof on the third-story observation deck was... thatched.

She scrunched her face. Departure at three sharp? Nothing concerning this vessel could be classified as sharp. Nïx, you little rotter. Why would her sister have booked her on this ship?

No, Lucia didn't have to accept this - she could get another ride. She stepped back to survey the only other boats still beached. Any that remained looked to have been abandoned in haste. The closest one still had tablecloths and utensils on its soaked outdoor tables.

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