My flesh sparked.
Silvery-white embers erupted over my skin, and out of the corner of my eye, I saw Casteel step back, and the wolven retreat. “Get ‘em, girl.”
I smiled as wispy, crackling cords stretched out from me. Someone gasped, likely an Unseen as glistening spiderwebs of light stretched out from me, crawling across the ground in a network of radiant veins. Several Unseen whirled, started to run, but they wouldn’t make it. I would ensure that.
In my mind, I saw the webs of light falling upon the Unseen and Gyrms, their bodies breaking and crumbling, their weapons dropping and falling to the ground. I focused on that image as I took all the hate and fear and nothingness I held in my chest and fed it back through the many cords.
The rush of power swept over the trees, rattling the leaves until several fell. The webs of light lifted and then dropped over the Unseen and the Gyrms, those standing in the road, the ones running toward us, and even those who’d fled.
Bones cracked like thunder, arms and legs snapping and backs twisting. Bodies of inhuman creatures collapsed into themselves, shattering and sifting like dirt. One after another, they either broke or crumbled until they were just things on the ground, and then I pictured the remains turning to ash to match the piles of dirt.
After all, it seemed unsanitary to leave the bodies behind.
Silvery-white flames erupted over the still, twisted things on the ground, swallowing them and fading until all that remained was ash. The silvery webbing thrummed as the ancient, raw power pulsed through me.
Static crackled through the air as I turned my head to where Casteel stood on the bank of the road, his chin lifted and hair tousled. What I felt from him wasn’t acidic or empty. It was warm and sultry, spicy and sweet.
“That was incredibly hot,” he remarked.
A husky, echoing laugh left me. His comment—as twisted and wrong as it was—helped me pull all that power back inside. I pictured the shimmering web fading, and when it did, I shut down my senses, and the silvery-white glow faded from my skin.
I stared at what was left of the attackers, searching for any sign of remorse, but all I found was a sense of sadness for a life wasted. These people, the members of the Unseen, could’ve chosen anything for themselves, and they had chosen this—actions based on one-sided beliefs of bloodlines and a fake prophecy.
“You okay?” Delano’s soft question intruded on my thoughts.
I looked over at him and nodded. “You?”
His pale eyes searched mine. “Yes.”
“Gods.” Emil’s lip curled as he dragged a hand over his face, wiping away the greasy blood as he stared down at the ashes and piles of oily dirt. “What did they really hope to accomplish?”
It was clear to me what they wanted.
Seeking out Casteel, my gaze locked with his. His eyes, like vibrant chips of glacial topaz, held mine. “They don’t want me to take the Crown,” I said. “They failed. So will anyone else who thinks they can stop me.”
A razor-thin smile appeared on Casteel’s face. “Damn straight.”
“It could’ve been someone in the inn at Tadous,” Emil said as we rode on, watchful for more attacks. He and Naill were now in front of us, which I found…strangely amusing. They rode in a manner to protect me—Casteel and I—and I thought that perhaps I should be riding in front of them. “Or it could’ve been someone who saw Arden on his way to Evaemon and assumed he was bringing word to the capital of our arrival.”
I hoped that Arden had made it to the palace safely.
“Hey,” Casteel said quietly. I looked over to where he rode beside me, noticing then that Kieran and Delano had spread out a bit, giving us space. “What you did back there? You did the right thing.”
“I know.” And I did. “We could’ve kept fighting them, but someone would’ve gotten hurt, and I wasn’t going to allow that.”
“You’re amazing,” he replied, and I laughed softly. “I mean that, Poppy. Actually, you may be a deity, but you looked like a goddess.”
“Well, thank you.” I smiled at him. “I’m just glad that I did and could control it.”
“Same.” One side of his lip curved up. “That kind of ability will come in handy down the road.”
I thought of the Blood Queen.
Yes, it would.
A moment passed. “Those Unseen? They don’t represent Atlantia. What they think or want is not who the kingdom is.”
Our gazes met. “I know.” And that was…well, I wasn’t sure if that was true or not. I’d met many Atlantians who’d been welcoming, friendly even. I’d met some who’d been wary and reserved. But there had been at least two dozen Unseen among the Gyrms. How many were out there? How many people could they have infected with their beliefs that I would destroy Atlantia?
I didn’t know. But like before, I tucked those concerns away because, like I’d said back in the woods, they weren’t going to stop me.
They wouldn’t stop Casteel.
We rode on, and somewhere around midday, I knew that we were nearing the capital when we crested a hill, and large, broad trees appeared, each full of crimson leaves. Blood trees dotted the landscape and lined the wide, paved road leading into Evaemon—trees I now knew represented the blood of the gods and not evil or something to be afraid of.
The blood trees spread out on either side of the road. I sat straighter as Evaemon came into view.
My lips parted as my eyes widened.
Towering, ivory-hued structures with whirling, sharp spires stretched into the sky, flanking stone bridges that rose on tall pillars above a wide, crescent-shaped canal of water as blue as the sky. I could see three bridges, one to the east and one to the west, which led to islands that were nearly the size of Saion’s Cove, full of soaring buildings that scraped the sky. Each bridge connected to dome-shaped structures that bore suns carved from stone, which rose above the belfries, and the bridge we rode across led to the heart of Evaemon.
Square, squat buildings with colonnades as wide as a city block gave way to gray and ivory buildings built far closer together than they had been at the Cove, but they rose higher into the sky, forming elegant towers and spires. Like Saion’s Cove, there were patches of green wherever you looked, strips surrounding the graceful, sweeping structures, or covering the roofs of smaller, shorter buildings. Throughout the city, Temples shimmered, reflecting the afternoon sun. My throat dried as my gaze settled on the west end of the city, where a massive structure made of shiny black stone sat upon a raised hill, the wings of the building ending in circular porticos. Numerous domed-glass ceilings and spires shone brightly in the sun as the center wing flowed into a Temple constructed of the same midnight stone as the ones in Solis. Kneeling along the Temple’s steeple were stone soldiers, their sable heads bowed as they held shields to their chests and swords stretched out, the stone blades streaks of black against the sky.
Stunned, I dragged my gaze from what I could only imagine was the palace and looked out over Evaemon. My nostrils burned, along with my eyes, as I soaked in what I had once believed had fallen.
Where Saion’s Cove was nearly the size of Solis’s capital, Evaemon was triple the size, stretching on as far as I could see to the west and to the east, where specks of white grazed in open pastures. Past the heavily wooded area that followed the Mountains of Nyktos, and in the face of that mountain, were eleven statues taller than the Atheneum in Masadonia. Each figure held a lit torch in his or her outstretched arm, the flames burning as bright as the setting sun. When I asked who the eleventh statue was, I learned that it was Nyktos’s Constort.