"Face me, armorer!" he roared.

Only the winds answered. With a disheartened exhalation, Malkom turned back toward his lair, eventually snagging a bird for his dinner on his way. Again he recognized that the supply of game was dwindling. Though he possessed unnatural speed, he found it increasingly difficult to sustain himself here.

Snap. The bird's neck cracked in Malkom's fist, and even over the howling winds, he detected the sound. With an easy yank, he severed the head from the body, then lifted the gushing neck over his mouth to sate his vampire need for blood. Back within his home, he'd cook the meat to feed the demon within -

He lowered his arm, his ears twitching. His heightened senses perceived a brief portal opening, a disturbance in the plane below his mountain home. Directly before the forest lay a circle of five boulders, marking a notorious portal's location.

He rose to investigate, tensing to trace to the circle. Nothing. Even after all this time, he still forgot that he could no longer teleport. Not since the Scarb a ritual.

No matter. He was fast, could be down in the forest in minutes.

The opening of the portal meant one of two possibilities.

More mortals had been dispatched to the wastelands to capture him. If he'd ever learned how to laugh, he would've now. Whenever they invaded his territory, he'd dismembered every soldier who'd dared set foot on his mountain, piling the mangled body pieces in a gruesome display at the closed threshold.

When the soldiers beseeched him for mercy or screamed their prayers, they always spoke Anglish, the vampires' language, which only sealed their fates.

Though Malkom recognized the tongue, he no longer comprehended it, hadn't spoken it in centuries - but hearing it enraged him.

The other possibility? The portal was being used to dispose of more Lore creatures, exiled criminals.

If so, they'd never know they were about to be judged once more. He sneered, knowing it was an ugly sight. By me.

Chapter 5

Carrow landed so hard atop a pile of old skeletons that her breath was knocked from her lungs and the porous bones were pulverized beneath her.

She lay for precious seconds, enduring that panicky feeling of suffocation. Waiting...

Once her lungs reset, she sucked in a breath, then immediately began coughing. Though the wind gusted, the air was acrid.

Hauling herself to her feet, she kicked a couple of femurs out of her way and peered around. So this is hell.

All around the matching circle of boulders lay a wasteland such as she'd never imagined. Above her spanned a brown sky, swirling with dust and fumes. Behind her, a rocky desert stretched to the horizon. Glowing stones that seemed to have cores of lava dotted the land.

To her right and left, deep chasms crisscrossed the land like scars, wafting plumes of sulfurous smoke. Before her stood what resembled a forest, but the trees were petrified, their color matching that of the scorched bones scattered all over the ground. Nothing green grew here. Everything was just a gradation of brown, dirty white, or ash.

Miles and miles in the distance, far past the forest, was a single immense mountain with three distinct peaks.

His mountain. Her destination.

Unfortunately, every inch of this place sounded inhabited. In the desert, creatures resembling giant centipedes dipped and tunneled, shifting dunes in a perilous instant.

On either side, the chasms teemed with unseen scrabbling creatures. And even over the wind, she could hear that the forest beyond was crawling with life - not a good thing on a hell plane.

So how was she supposed to get through the creatures to reach the mountain?

Although Fegley's words gave her pause - he'll cut off your head and mount it on a pike - she had no choice but to seek out Slaine. Finding him might take her the entire six days.

From those nearby gorges, shadowy figures began to crawl up. Ghouls?

Not them! They were like zombies, mindless walking pathogens bent on increasing their numbers. Contagious through their bites and scratches, the ghouls needed to infect others.

Surroundings? Sand centipede monsters behind her; creepy, inhabited woods ahead; ghouls flanking her.

When they began skulking closer, she had no choice but to hasten straight for the murky forest, glancing over her shoulder as she ran.

While the ghouls were resilient, able to lope along after prey for dozens of miles at the same pace, Carrow's own strength and endurance were better than a human's, but not like a Valkyrie's or a Fury's. So how to lose them ... ?

Just as the thought arose, they began slowing. In fact, once she'd breached the forest, the ghouls halted. Past the line of trees, she turned back. They were prowling at the very edge, wary. Something within had them spooked.

But sooner or later, they'd come for her. Deciding that nothing could be worse than the troop of zombies on her heels, she plunged ahead.

Picking her way over rocks and stone tree trunks, she increased her pace when she could. Her lungs burned, her muscles screaming....

Right when she'd begun to suspect she'd gained a safe distance, she spied more shapes moving amid the trees. A new threat. Numerous eyes glowed back at her from the shadows, beings surrounding her. They were sentient males - she could perceive their emotions.

And the predominant one was lust.

When they closed in, forcing her to stop, she saw there were at least a dozen of them in various shapes and sizes. They were all humanlike, but each had horns and upper and lower sets of fangs. Which meantdemons.

She turned in place, drawing a harried breath to speak, wondering if they'd understand English. She knew natives likely wouldn't.

But before she could say a word, the smallest one brandished a spear in her direction. He blinked his eyes so rapidly, Carrow dimly wondered if the world looked like an old-timey film to him. "Is she one of the mortals, Asmodel?" he asked in English. Non-natives. They were probably exiled criminals.

Like the others, he was dressed in tattered clothes, indicating they'd been here for a while.

The largest one, this Asmodel, said, "Smells like an immortal to me." With the back of his hand, he swiped a line of ropy drool from his mouth. "First female I've seen in the wastelands. Ever."

No females were here? So these were hard-up exiled criminals? Beauty. Putting on a bold front, she said, "I am an immortal, a powerful member of the House of Witches." But she was tottering on her feet, sooty and bedraggled. Scarcely looking like a high-powered witch.

A demon with green skin asked, "Then why have you not smote us?"

Even with her tor"ue deactivated, right now she was ano-powered witch. Need some happiness here, guys. "An excellent idea, demon." Brazen it out, Carrow. "Though if you allow me to pass, I might consider sparing your lives. Otherwise, I'm debating whether to turn your viscera into nests of vipers or your bones to sand."

Kresley Cole Books | Vampires Books | Immortals After Dark Series Books
Source: www.StudyNovels.com