“That is all?”
She nodded as she approached me. “One’s instinct should always be trusted.”
“You’re a changeling, aren’t you?” When she nodded, I asked, “So, your instinct is far more…accurate than others?”
A soft laugh left her. “Some would say that. Some would even say that instinctual accuracy has led me to become one of the greatest Seers Atlantia has ever known.”
A Seer. I knew it!
“When I saw you in the Red Pearl, I knew you wore a mask. Not the one that hid your identity, but one you were forced to wear for many years beneath the veil. One you didn’t know you even wore. I saw you, and I knew you were the Maiden.” Willa’s eyes searched mine as tiny bumps rose all over my skin. “I knew you were a second daughter, one who shared the blood of the gods.” Her gaze flicked over my shoulder to the door. “And I knew he was seeking the same thing that led you to the Red Pearl that night.”
My brows knitted. “He was there to discuss his plans.”
Thick curls swayed as she shook her head. “That was one of the reasons, but deep inside, he was searching for the same as you.” She paused. “To live.”
Air lodged in my throat.
“Can I share something with you?” Willa leaned in, touching my arm. A faint charge of energy danced over my skin. “You weren’t the only one seeking sanctuary that night. He was in need of shelter—one that could bear the weight of his desires, his love, and his pain. And he found it. He may have given you freedom, but you have given him more than you could ever know.”
Emotion clogged my throat, stealing whatever words I had to speak.
“Don’t forget that,” she said.
“I won’t,” I managed.
“Penellaphe,” Eloana called from the doorway. “Are you ready?”
Inhaling deeply, I nodded. “I am,” I replied and then lowered my voice. “Thank you for answering my questions.”
She inclined her head. “Always. And if you become…curious enough to ask those other questions I’m sure are brewing in your head, I’ll be more than happy to answer them or refer you to a certain…chapter.”
“T-thank you,” I stuttered out and then started to turn.
“Your Majesty,” Willa stopped me, and when I faced her, her smile was gone. “A Seer cannot always know things about another, nor can most close their eyes and look past the now into tomorrow and the days that come after. I cannot,” she told me, and those tiny bumps returned. “Atlantians can be superstitious, even if they don’t believe in prophecies. Do you know why they don’t?”
My skin chilled. “No.”
“Because we believe that the days yet to be seen are not foretold. That even what the gods may have in store for us is not written in stone,” Willa said, the golden flecks in her eyes burning brightly. “But what is written in bone is different, and what is not believed should not be ignored.”
Heart thumping and aware that Eloana was waiting, I stepped in closer to Willa. “Are you speaking of the prophecy the Unseen believe in?”
Willa touched my arm once more, and that same charge of energy swirled over my skin. “Your namesake was so wise, she could see beyond the day before her, but what she saw is not what they believe. You are not the great conspirator, but one of two who will stand between what has awakened and the retribution it seeks to reap against man and god.”
Willa’s words haunted my steps through the palace and the Temple of Nyktos. While the logical part of me wanted to rebel at the idea of any part of the prophecy being true, I felt some measure of relief hearing her say that I wasn’t the great conspirator the Unseen believed me to be.
But if what she spoke was true—and how could it not be when she knew so much else—she had to be speaking of the Blood Crown and Casteel and me. I imagined the Ascended sought retribution for a lot, but what could’ve awakened? All I could think of was Malec. Obviously, for me to be here, he had to have risen.
The low murmur of voices drew me from my thoughts as we passed the statue of Nyktos and his silver-white flames. Hisa stood at the doors. The Elders had already stepped outside onto the balcony, joined by Willa. Casteel’s parents waited with the commander.
Eloana had asked if Casteel or I wanted to change before we greeted the people of Evaemon. While there had been a brief moment where I’d pictured myself in a pretty gown, I’d declined, only taking enough time to tame the strands of hair that had slipped free from my braid. It was unlikely that the people would see me in anything other than what I wore today—or things like it—for some time, and it seemed rather pointless to present myself in another fashion.
Besides, it only delayed us speaking with Kieran, and me talking with Casteel about what Willa had shared. So, we stood there as we had been when we first rode into Atlantia earlier.
It had truly been a long day.
“You two ready?” Valyn asked.
Casteel glanced at me, and I nodded. “We are.”
I looked to my side, where Vonetta remained in her wolven form, and Kieran stood in his mortal one. The remaining wolven, including Delano, flanked us. Naill and Emil were among them. I refocused on Casteel’s parents. “Will you introduce us?”
Eloana shook her head. “We will stand beside you, but the eldest member of the Council will introduce you and Casteel.”
Remembering who the oldest Elder was, I said, “Willa?”
Valyn nodded as he eyed his son, who grinned. “I feel like I’m missing something,” Valyn murmured.
“You’re not,” I said when Casteel opened his mouth, having no idea how no one in Atlantia appeared to know about Willa’s journal. “I promise.”
Casteel shot me a look, which I ignored.
“This won’t take very long,” Eloana said, a thread of weariness in her voice. It had been a long day for them, too. “And then you two can retire…or do whatever you please.”
“A bed would be nice,” Casteel said, and I really hoped he didn’t elaborate on that thought.
“Will you two remain in the palace?” I asked. “I hope you will.”
“As do I,” Casteel agreed.
Valyn looked at Eloana before nodding. “We plan to stay—at least until you have returned from Iliseeum and your meeting with the Blood Crown. We figured you would want us as your surrogates until then.”
“They will handle minor issues that arise during the time we’re absent,” Casteel explained quickly. “Usually, the advisor, or in rare cases the Council, steps in.”
Eloana’s gaze moved between us, and I knew it was time. Hisa and another guard stepped forward, each grasping the handle of a door. Kieran’s gaze met mine and then Casteel’s. He grinned as he joined Emil and Naill.
My heart started pounding as the doors began to inch open. The sound of the crowd grew louder as the last of the sunlight shone through the ceiling and seeped through the opening in the doors.
The balcony was rounded and long enough that each of the Elders stood to the left and right, against the black, stone railing. Willa had been waiting toward the back of the balcony, but now she walked forward, her curls a blue-black in the faint sunlight. She spoke, and a hush traveled throughout the crowd. I couldn’t be sure what she said because my blood thumped in my ears, and my chest hummed. All I was aware of was that Casteel’s parents had moved to stand on either side of us, and the utter surrealness of Miss Willa—the Miss Willa—about to introduce us to the kingdom as King and Queen.