They were the gods—all of them—watching over the city or standing guard.
I couldn’t even begin to imagine how those statues had been built to that size and raised onto the mountain. Or even how those torches were lit—how they remained burning.
“Beautiful, isn’t it?” Casteel didn’t need to ask. It was the most beautiful city I’d ever seen. “Nearly all of the buildings you see before you were built by the deities.”
Gods, that had to mean they were thousands of years old. How anything lasted that long was beyond me. How a city could be so stunning and intimidating was also beyond my realm of understanding.
White-winged birds flew overhead as we crossed the bridge, soaring over the wolven who prowled in front of us. I glanced at the large wheels in the water, wondering if that was how they fed electricity to the city. Carsodonia used a similar technique, but not on such a grand scale. Ahead, I could see sails of small ships in the canal.
“I have so many questions,” I whispered.
“Not a single person is surprised to hear that,” Kieran remarked, and Delano chuckled.
“But I can’t even formulate words at the moment,” I admitted, clearing my throat.
Casteel drew Setti closer as he looked over at me. “Are you…crying?”
“No,” I lied, blinking the tears from my eyes. “Maybe? I don’t even know why. It’s just…I’ve never seen anything like this.”
A bell tolled, startling me and sending birds flying from the belfry as it rang in a quick succession of three—which was different than the bells that tolled in Saion’s Cove to tell the time.
“They’re just alerting the city to our arrival,” Casteel reassured me, and I nodded.
Emil looked back at us, his gaze finding Casteel over my shoulder. He nodded, guiding his horse to the front. Nudging his mount on, he galloped ahead, passing through the structure at the end of the bridge.
“Where is he going?” I asked.
“Ahead to the palace to let them know we’ve arrived,” Casteel informed me. “We’re going to take a far more discreet path. There will be people, but nothing like the route Emil is taking.”
Needless to say, I was grateful for that. My senses were already overwhelmed, and I really didn’t want to greet the citizens of Evaemon as a blubbering mess.
The wolven remained with us, along with Naill. Soldiers among the Guardians waited in the shadows of the entry building, bowing at their waists as we passed. My heart thumped heavily as we turned to the east, entering an empty road outside the long colonnades I’d spotted at the mouth of the bridge.
“What are these buildings used for?” I asked.
“They house the machinery that converts the water into electricity,” Casteel explained, keeping Setti close. “You’ll see several of these throughout the city.”
“That’s amazing,” I murmured as, across the street, where doors slowly opened from sandstone buildings, curious faces appeared.
“And boringly complicated,” Naill stated from behind us.
“But you could recite each piece of equipment and what the purpose of it is,” Kieran replied.
“True.” Naill smiled when I glanced over my shoulder at him. “My father is one of many who oversees the mills.”
“Oversees?” Casteel snorted. “More like he’s the heart of the mills. His father is mostly responsible for keeping these ancient wheels working so that everyone has access to everything electricity can provide.”
“Your father must be very smart,” I said, my gaze flicking over the faces that appeared in the windows. There were no hostile looks or feelings. Most seemed more focused on the mass of wolven converging on the street.
“That he is,” Naill answered, his pride as warm as the sun.
About a half-dozen wolven, along with Delano, had fallen back. I reached out to him in concern, finding the springy freshness of his imprint.
All is well, he assured me after a moment, his response tentative as if he were still getting used to communicating this way. We’re just making sure you and the Prince are protected from all fronts.
Were they worried about the Unseen or something else? I focused on the road we traveled. Eventually, we passed under the bridge that led to the east, a district of Evaemon that Casteel had said was called the Vineyards.
“Wine,” he explained as we rode near the bank of the main canal. Ships with white and gold sails were docked at the numerous piers. People hustled on and off vessels, carrying crates. “The district gets its name from the vineyards.”
The other district was called The Splendor for its cache of museums, art, and some of the oldest buildings in all of Atlantia. I couldn’t wait to explore the enclave, but that would have to wait.
We traveled along the thicket of glossy blood trees, climbing the rolling pasture hills. My breathing became short as the trees thinned out, and smooth, jet-colored stone became visible through them.
“Why is the palace so different from the rest of the buildings in Atlantia?” I asked, forcing my grip to remain loose on Storm’s reins.
“It didn’t always look like this. Malec renovated it when he took the throne,” Casteel explained, and I felt my stomach dip. “He said that it was to honor Nyktos, claiming it was more in line with the Temples in Iliseeum, from what I recall.”
I thought that over. “Do you think he traveled to Iliseeum?”
“I don’t know, but it’s possible.” The cooler breeze lifted the wavy strands of Casteel’s hair. “Otherwise, how would he know what the Temples looked like there?”
“Good point,” I murmured. “Priestess Analia once told me that the Temples in Solis were the oldest buildings, there long before the Ascended ruled.”
“For once, that bitch spoke the truth,” Casteel replied, and there wasn’t a single thing about what he called her that offended me. Analia was a bitch. “Those Temples are made of shadowstone, a material that was mined in the Shadowlands and transported over to this realm ages ago by the gods, depositing some of it in the Elysium Peaks.”
I hadn’t known that.
Then again, I hadn’t realized the Shadowlands even existed until recently. But it was just odd to me that the Ascended would change so much of the true history of the gods, and yet leave the Temples as they were. Maybe that was a line they wouldn’t cross.
Either way, thoughts of shadowstone and ancient Temples fell to the wayside as we cleared the trees, and the back of the palace came into view.
We could see down into the city from our vantage point, homes and businesses staggered over the hills and valleys and in between the canals. The Evaemon Palace was built into the hillside, the gleaming black structure a formidable sight with numerous windows lining the towers and along the lower floors. But something immediately stood out.
No walls surrounded the palace, none along the back nor the front courtyard that led to the Temple. Several ebony pillars connected a catwalk from the palace to the Temple and surrounded most of the palace, now patrolled by Guards of the Crown. It struck me then that there hadn’t been any walls around the estate in Saion’s Cove, either.
Several Crown Guards, adorned in white and gold, stood under the archway and by doors a shade darker than the mare I sat astride as we rode through.