The journey to Spessa’s End was as hard and fast as Jasper had warned, much more brutal than when we’d crossed over from the Wastelands. Under the canopy of red leaves, we stopped only to take care of personal needs and allow Setti and the wolven to rest and eat.
I busied myself by seeking out each wolven I caught sight of and reading their imprints. Vonetta reminded me of her brother, woodsy. But instead of cedar, her imprint was like white oak—and vanilla. Her father reminded me of rich soil and cut grass—an earthy, minty feeling. Others were similar, reminding me of cold mountains and warm waters. I followed each of their imprints, repeating it over and over until all I needed to do was look at one of them to find their imprint. When I spoke to Vonetta through the cord the first time, I might’ve given her a small heart attack.
We crested the mountains as night fell, and the mist…it was different. Only thin vapors trailed along the moss-blanketed ground instead of the thick mist that obscured the trees and the steep drops.
“I think it’s you,” Casteel had said as Setti rushed on. “You said you thought the mist reacted to you before. You were right. It must’ve recognized your blood.”
In the darkness, I’d looked for Kieran, hoping he was close enough to hear that I had been right about the mist when we traveled through it the first time.
Because the mist didn’t slow us down, we were able to continue through the night, making it farther than we’d thought we would by the time gray light filtered through the leaves.
The muscles in my legs ached as we cleared the Skotos, following Vonetta as we traveled through the valley. I couldn’t imagine how any of the wolven or Setti were still able to keep going. I couldn’t even figure out how Casteel’s hold on me hadn’t slackened even once during the trip. His grip and the anxiety of knowing I would see my brother soon were the only things keeping me sitting upright.
We reached Spessa’s End several hours before nightfall. Riding through the heavily wooded area skirting the east wall, we entered the town through a hidden gate, unknown to anyone who may be camped outside the northern wall.
My stomach began to twist and roil with anxiety as the sun followed us across the courtyard, where Coulton ambled out of the stables, dragging a white handkerchief over his bald head. The older wolven gave us a grimace of a smile as he caught hold of Setti’s halter. “I wish I was seeing you two under better circumstances.”
“As do I,” Casteel agreed, and I spotted several Guardians garbed in black among others stationed on the wall. Those who were attempting to make a home at Spessa’s End were on the wall.
Shoving the handkerchief into his back pocket, Coulton offered his hand in assistance. I took it, noting the slight widening of the man’s nostrils. “Now I know why I felt that zap,” he said, squinting up at me. “Meyaah Liessa.”
“How did you know?” I asked as he helped me down. It wasn’t something we had gotten a chance to ask Vonetta.
“All of us felt something several days ago,” he explained as Casteel dismounted. “Hard to explain, but it was like this wave of awareness. None of us was sure exactly what it was, but now that I see you, I know. Makes sense,” he said as if the fact that I was a deity wasn’t remotely shocking or a big deal at all.
I kind of liked that. “By the way, you don’t have to call me that.”
“I know.” Coulton grinned, and I had a feeling he would continue calling me that. “Keeping our Prince in line?”
“I try.” I smiled at him as I walked to Setti’s head on legs weak from such a long journey.
The wolven chuckled as I stroked Setti’s nostrils. “I imagine it’s a full-time job.”
“I’m offended.” Casteel dragged a hand through his windblown hair as he squinted up at the wall. “How is everyone doing with the unexpected guests?”
“Nervous, but okay and prepared,” Coulton answered, and my fingers curled into Setti’s mane. “Once I get Setti taken care of, you all want some food sent to your rooms?”
“That would be good,” Casteel said, lifting the saddlebag over a shoulder as the weary wolven streamed across the courtyard, many of them panting, even Delano.
Concern blossomed as I watched Vonetta lower her belly to the ground, her fawn-colored fur identical to her brother’s. Jasper sat beside her as he scanned the courtyard, his large body hunched slightly. I searched for Kieran and found him nudging a smaller wolven with deep brown fur. Opening my senses, I focused on the wolven. The grittiness of exhaustion came back to me. I pushed past that as my chest hummed, finding the individual pathway. Through the cord, I felt the…warm, rolling waters. Lyra was the brown wolven. I shifted my attention to Kieran, searching until the phantom scent of cedar reached me. Having no idea if this would work, I followed the individual cord, pushing my thoughts through it. Are you all okay?
Kieran’s head jerked in my direction as Coulton began leading a tired Setti to the stables, where I hoped they showered him with carrots and fresh, green hay. A heartbeat passed, and then I felt the whisper of Kieran’s voice. We are tired but okay.
I shivered at the unnerving sensation of feeling his words. You all will rest, I sent back to him. It wasn’t a question, more a demand. I had a feeling they would all remain on guard with the Ascended near.
We will. His presence retreated briefly, and then I felt the brush of his thoughts against mine. Meyaah Liessa.
My eyes narrowed.
“Are you communicating with one of the wolven?” Casteel asked as he slid an arm around my shoulders, his gaze following mine to where Kieran playfully nipped at Lyra.
“I was.” I let him steer me toward the east corner of the Stygian Fortress. “I wanted to make sure they rested and didn’t patrol.”
He squeezed my shoulder as we walked under the covered breezeway, past several closed-off rooms. “I’m extremely envious of that ability.”
“You’re not worried that we could be talking about you without you knowing?” I teased as we neared the terrace at the end. It was as I remembered, the chaise lounge and low-to-the-floor chairs inviting.
“Why would I be?” Casteel opened the door, and the scent of lemon and vanilla greeted us. “I’m sure you only have amazing things to say.”
I laughed at that. “Your confidence is an extremely envious ability.”
He snorted as he closed the door behind us. “You should rest until food arrives.”
“I can’t rest.” I walked through the familiar sitting area, easily able to see Alastir seated there on the couch. I stopped at the entrance to the bedchamber, and for a moment, I was swept back to the night that felt like forever ago, when Casteel and I had finally stopped pretending. “I don’t think I can eat.”
“You should try.” Casteel was close behind me.
“You should try,” I murmured.
“I would, but I can’t unless you do,” he said. “But since neither of us is going to rest right now, we might as well talk about tonight.”
I faced him. He was in the process of tugging off his boots. “Okay. What do you want to talk about?”
He arched a brow as he placed his boots near one of the chairs. “We need to be careful of what is said to your brother. Obviously, there’s a damn good chance they know what your blood is, but they may not know how your gifts have changed. He shouldn’t be told. The less they know about us, the better. It gives us the upper hand.”