“Travel to Iliseeum? To wake Nyktos?” a mortal Elder exclaimed. “I mean no offense by saying this, but are you two out of your minds? Wake the King of Gods? And I truly mean no offense,” he quickly repeated when Casteel’s gaze fixed on him. “But we will be having another coronation before you even leave to meet with the Blood Crown.”
“Well, that was highly encouraging,” Casteel murmured, and I cracked a grin.
“The resting place of the gods is well protected, either by Primal magic or guards,” Lord Ambrose stated, his brows raised. “I imagine the King of Gods is surrounded by both.”
“Yes, but Pennelaphe is of his bloodline,” Willa noted. “What is guarding him should be able to sense that.” She paused. “Hopefully.”
The hopefully part was really reassuring.
“Or he could become extraordinarily angered by such an intrusion and kill any who dare to wake him,” another Elder pointed out.
“There is that.” Willa lifted her drink.
“Do you need to travel to Iliseeum?” Casteel’s father asked. “We do not know if you will need Nyktos’s guards. It may be an unnecessary risk.”
“Or it could be what forces the Blood Crown’s hand,” Eloana countered.
Casteel’s fingers continued moving along the nape of my neck as his gaze shifted to mine. “What do you think, my Queen? The plan isn’t set in stone.”
It wasn’t, but I believed my brother. Whatever these Revenants were, we needed all the help we could get.
“He’s slept long enough, hasn’t he?” I said, and approval flashed in those amber eyes despite the insanity of what we were considering. “We will wake him.”
“How would you even begin to locate his resting place?” asked Lady Josahlynn.
That was a good question. I started to look at Casteel, but Willa spoke. “I imagine he slumbers in his Temple. It shouldn’t be hard to find, as it looks like the palace and the Temple of Nyktos here, but larger.”
Well, I supposed Malec had been correct in his belief that his renovations were more in line with the Temples in Iliseeum.
Casteel raised a brow as he leaned into me and murmured, “Now we know where to find him.”
I nodded, wondering how Willa knew. Had she been to Iliseeum? Then again, she had sent me to Casteel’s room without his knowledge. The Atlantians didn’t believe in prophecies, but they did believe in Seers.
“You’re willing to do this—all of this?” Ambrose asked with a shake of his head. “Because of what an Ascended said? When we know you cannot trust an Ascended?”
Willa rolled her eyes with a delicate snort. “Anyone who has lived long enough and can look past their own asses knows that not even the vamprys are inherently evil.”
Mutters of derision rose from other Elders. Glancing at Casteel, I saw a slight frown tug at his lips as I leaned forward. “You mean those who have managed to control their bloodlust?”
“Those who have managed have been few and far between,” Gregori countered. “At this point, they are more legend than reality.”
“Legend or not, when they are first turned, vamprys are consumed by bloodlust. That is correct.” Willa’s eyes met mine with a look that made me think of my Ascension. “And it can take time for them to find their way out of that, but it is who they are in their hearts and souls that determines whether or not they can be trusted.”
My breath caught. Could that be why a part of Ian remained? Because he had been a good person before his Ascension? If so, then there was hope for Tawny and how many others?
“That is an extremely optimistic and naïve outlook on the Ascended,” Gregori asserted.
Willa looked at the Elder. “I’d rather be optimistic than bigoted and close-minded, but I am never naïve. I have more than a thousand years on you,” she said softly, and I blinked. “Consider that before you speak so ignorantly, and maybe you will save yourself future embarrassment.”
I…I really liked Willa.
And it had nothing to do with her diary.
She held Gregori’s stare until he looked away, a muscle flexing in his jaw. Then she turned to Casteel and me. “You have my support, even if you do not require it. You also have my advice. I’ve never been to Iliseeum. Obviously,” she told us, finishing off her glass of whiskey. “But I know those who have.”
A thought I really didn’t want to entertain entered my mind. Malec apparently knew what the Temples in Iliseeum looked like, and my father had a lot of mistresses.
And Willa had had a lot of partners.
What if she’d written about him in— Nope, I stopped myself from going there. I did not want to think about that.
Willa’s gaze met mine and then Casteel’s. “Whatever you do, do not enter Dalos, the City of the Gods. You will know it when you see it. If you enter, you will never return.”
After Willa’s unsettling warning, the Elders gave their reluctant support of our plans to travel to Iliseeum and then meet with the Blood Crown. The cautious backing mostly came from those concerned about our safety, but I could sense a few simply didn’t agree with any of that.
Those who thought war was inevitable.
Lord Ambrose and Lord Gregori were two of them.
But I didn’t think they truly wanted war. It was just that they couldn’t see a way around it, and I hoped we proved them wrong.
The meeting was adjourned, and there was one thing left to do. We were to greet the public, along with the Elders and Casteel’s parents. Their presence would be a show of support and approval.
And then Casteel and I would be alone. Of course, we still needed to speak with Kieran, but we would have to process everything, and maybe even live a little before we embarked on our journey to Iliseeum.
I lingered as everyone filed out of the room, making their way back toward the Temple of Nyktos. I wanted to speak to Willa, who had taken her time rising from the table.
Or she simply knew I wanted to speak with her.
Either way, I had many questions and only a handful of minutes to speak to her with only Vonetta waiting by the door.
“May I ask you a question?” I said.
Willa looked over at me, her golden-brown eyes alight with the same strange, knowing glint that had been present when I first met her. “You are the Queen. You can ask whatever you like.”
I didn’t think being Queen gave me carte blanche for questions—which I had many I wanted to ask. “Why were you at the Red Pearl?” I asked.
“I have a wandering soul that has a thirst for exploration,” she answered, and based on her diary, I could agree with that.
“But isn’t it dangerous for you?”
Her laugh was throaty. “The best kind of adventures always carry a hint of danger, as I’m sure you know,” she said, and my cheeks warmed. “And it had been many years since I’d been to Masadonia. I had the strangest urge to travel there.”
Her strange urge roused my suspicions about exactly what she was. “Why did you send me to the room Casteel was in?”
Her red lips curved upward in a slight smile. “It simply…felt right to do so.”