Yes, I totally was.
“We’re supposed to get the draken to help us?” I exclaimed. “Those who are basically able to take the form of a dragon?”
Casteel stared at me, nodding slowly. “I thought you realized that.”
“No!” I shouted, and Kieran’s brows flew up. “Yeah, I remember being told that, but I’ve also been told a lot of things since then, and…good gods, I’m going to get to see a draken?”
“Yes, my Queen.” Casteel sat on the arm of my chair. “You may get to see a draken.”
“I don’t know why you look so excited,” Kieran remarked. “The draken were a notoriously…unfriendly bloodline, with temperaments that would make yours look like a small, cuddly animal’s.”
I lifted my right hand and extended my middle finger. He smirked. “But I have the blood of Nyktos in me,” I pointed out.
“And they can also breathe fire.” Kieran tipped his glass at me. “So, let’s hope none of us pisses them off.”
The following morning, I stood in the foyer of the Temple of Nyktos beside Casteel, fiddling with the chest strap I’d found among Casteel’s weapons. I’d also helped myself to the iron dagger I’d found in the depths of the chest, and it was now secured to my harness. The bloodstone dagger was strapped to my thigh. Neither of us wore the crowns, having left them in the bedchamber. We stood with Kieran and his sister, Emil, and Delano. Naill was sitting this one out, opting to spend time with his father. As I watched Delano adjust the strap holding his swords to his sides, I hoped he’d found time to let Perry know that he had returned to the capital.
“Kieran and I are pretty confident that the tunnel that leads to the mountains is the one underneath,” Casteel said. “It’s a narrow one with nothing really exciting.”
By really exciting, I assumed he meant the lilac-filled cavern.
“You guys did really weird things as kids.” Vonetta stood between her brother and Emil, her arms crossed. Two short swords were secured at her hips. She’d swept her long braids back from her face, and they hung down her back. “Just thought I’d share that.”
“I didn’t even know there were tunnels.” Emil glanced at the jet-black floors.
“There are.” Hisa strode forward, two guards flanking her. “They’re accessed by the crypts.”
“Sorry.” Casteel gently squeezed the back of my neck. “The good news is that it’s nothing like what you were kept in.”
“It’s okay,” I told him, and it would be. It wasn’t like we’d be spending any amount of time in them.
Carrying a heavy ring of keys, Hisa continued toward a narrow door. Turning the key as she twisted the handle, the door creaked open.
Faint light lit our way down a staircase that made awful sounds under our weight. The temperature dropped at least five degrees with each step, and the familiar musky scent turned my stomach.
Hisa proceeded forward, passing several stone tombs. Casteel stuck close to me, his hand slipping to my shoulder. He was right. The crypt was clean and well-kept, flower garlands piled on the lids of the tombs.
“Are you sure about this?” Hisa had stopped in front of another door as she thumbed through the keys.
“We are,” I answered.
She nodded and then proceeded to unlock the second door. “These tunnels were once used to move goods from different areas of the city, and then they were solely used to transport the dead,” she told us, and Emil’s lip curled. “But they haven’t been accessed in several decades. I have no idea what kind of shape they’re in.
“It’s unlikely that there has been any type of collapse,” she continued. “But hopefully, the route you seek is still open.”
“From what I remember, it’s a pretty straight path with only a few turns.” Casteel picked up a torch. Delano stepped forward, striking flint against the top. Sparks gave way to fire. He handed the torch to Kieran. “It should only take an hour to reach the mountains.”
“And then?” I asked as he picked up another torch. Flames flared to life.
“That, I don’t know.” Casteel looked at Kieran. “We never went farther than the mountains.”
“The mountains are tall but not particularly wide through this area,” Hisa said, frowning. “We’re at the foothills here, so I imagine it would be a half-day’s journey. Farther north or south, it would probably take several days.”
“How far have you traveled into the mountains?” Vonetta asked, and I thought it was probably a good idea that we’d stuffed the bag strapped to Emil’s back with as much food as possible. Each of us carried our own canteens. It wasn’t a lot of water, but we would have to make it last.
“To where the mist mingles with the clouds in scouting missions. I know we reached the mist faster here than in other areas,” she answered. She glanced at the door. “If I had any idea what waited in that mist…” She trailed off with a shake of her head. “Please, be safe. All of you.” To Casteel and me, she added, “The people want to get to know their Queen and become reacquainted with their King.”
“And they will,” Casteel promised.
Hisa blew out a deep breath as she opened the door, and a void of darkness beckoned. “We will wait for your return.”
I watched the commander join the guards toward the entrance of the crypts. “Thank you all for doing this with us.”
Vonetta grinned. “It’s not like any of us would turn down an offer to see Iliseeum.”
“Only because none of us have any common sense,” Emil said.
“That, too.” Delano grinned.
“I, for one, am glad that I’m surrounded by those who have more loyalty and thirst for adventure than common sense,” Casteel remarked. “And now for the rules.”
“Yawn,” Vonetta tossed out.
I laughed. “Well, these rules will hopefully keep everyone alive. Casteel and I talked some things over this morning—”
“Is that what you two were doing?” Kieran asked.
“Yes,” I snapped, cheeks flushing because that wasn’t all we’d been doing. “Anyway, if anyone sees a hint of mist, back away and let me go first.”
“I didn’t exactly agree to this,” Casteel muttered.
“Yes. You did. The mist cleared for me in the Skotos Mountains. I would think it would do the same thing here,” I said. “That way, none of you will walk into it and suffocate to death.”
“Yeah, I want to avoid that,” Emil said.
“And if we encounter anything, I should probably hold off on using the eather,” I said, remembering what Kieran had said about the gods being able to sense when eather is used. “I don’t know what it will do in Iliseeum, if it will be any different or if the gods can sense it. I’m not sure that’s how we want to wake Nyktos.”
“How are we going to wake him?” Delano asked.
“Well,” I glanced at Casteel, “we thought we’d cross that bridge when we came to it.”