“I won’t,” I promised. At least, I hoped I didn’t. The draken named Nektas made that gravelly chuckling sound again. “I love you.”
“Prove it to me later.”
Drawing in a shallow breath, I nodded and then turned, following the King of Gods. He stood before the open doors, extending a hand toward the shadowy interior. Hoping I walked back out, I entered.
“Make sure they behave, Nektas,” the god requested.
I turned to see Casteel and the others rise while the draken thumped its tail off the diamond-strewn ground. The doors closed without sound, and I was suddenly alone with the King of Gods. Whatever idiotic bravery had invaded me earlier quickly vanished as Nyktos said nothing and simply stared at me. I did what I hadn’t allowed since I first saw him. I opened my senses, letting them stretch—
“I wouldn’t do that.”
I sucked in a startled breath.
“It would be very unwise.” Nyktos dipped his chin. His eyes burned a bright silver. “And very impolite.”
Air tightened in my throat as I wrangled my senses back in. My gaze quickly flicked around, looking for another exit without turning my back to him. There was nothing but black walls and sconces. But who was I kidding? I knew running would do no good.
Nyktos moved then, striding forward. I tensed, and a smile appeared. “Minding your manners now?”
“Yes,” I whispered.
He chuckled, and the sound…it was like the wind on a warm day. “Bravery is a fleeting beast, isn’t it? Always there to get you into trouble, but quick to disappear once you’re where you want to be.”
No truer words had ever been spoken.
The scent of sandalwood brushed over me as he passed. I turned, finally seeing the rest of the chamber. Two large doors were closed. Winding shadowstone staircases rose on either side.
“Sit,” he offered, gesturing to the two white chairs in the center of the chamber. A round table sat between them—a table made of bone. On top sat a bottle and two glasses.
My brow furrowed as I tore my gaze from the table and the chairs to the god. “You were expecting us.”
“No.” He sat in the chair and reached for the bottle. “I was expecting you.”
I stood there. “Then we didn’t wake you.”
“Oh, you woke me quite some time ago,” he replied, pouring what looked like red wine into a delicate, stemmed glass. “I wasn’t sure exactly why, but I’m beginning to understand.”
My thoughts spun. “Then why did you threaten to kill us?”
“Let’s make one thing clear, Queen of Flesh and Fire,” he said, and a shudder worked its way through me as he looked over at me. “I do not threaten death. I make death happen. I was simply curious to see what you and your chosen were made of.” He smiled slightly, pouring wine into the other glass. “Sit.”
I forced my legs to move. My boots made no sound as I walked across the floor. I sat stiffly as I told myself not to ask any of the thousand questions brewing. It was best that I get to the point and then get the hell out of there as fast as possible.
That was not what happened.
“Are any other gods awake? Your Consort?” I blurted out.
An eyebrow rose as he placed the bottle back on the table. “You know the answer to that. You saw one yourself.”
My breath caught. Aios had appeared while we’d been in the Skotos Mountains, stopping me from what would’ve been a very messy death.
“Some have stirred enough to be aware of the realm outside of others. Others have remained in a semi-lucid state. A few are still in the deepest sleep,” he answered. “My Consort sleeps now, but she does so fitfully.”
“How long have you been awake? The others?”
“Hard to say.” He slid the glass toward me. “It’s been on and off for centuries, but more frequent in the last two decades.”
I didn’t touch the glass. “And you know what has happened in Atlantia? Solis?”
“I am the King of Gods.” He leaned back, crossing a leg over the other. The repose and everything about him was relaxed. It rattled me because there was a thread of intensity under the looseness. “What do you think?”
My lips parted in disbelief. “Then you know about the Ascended—what they’ve done to people. To mortals. Your children. How have you not intervened? Why haven’t any of the gods stepped in to do something to stop them?” The moment my demands left my mouth, my entire body seized with dread. He was most certainly going to kill me now, shared blood or not.
But he smiled. “You are so much like her.” He laughed. “She will be thrilled to learn this.”
My shoulders tightened. “Who?”
“Do you know that most of the gods who sleep now were not the first gods?” Nyktos asked instead of answering, sipping his wine. “There were others known as the Primal. They were the ones who created the air we breathe, the land we reap, the seas that surround us, the realms and all in between.”
“No, I didn’t know that,” I admitted, thinking of what Jansen had said about Nyktos once being the God of Death and the Primal God of Common Men and Endings.
“Most do not. They were once great rulers and protectors of man. That did not last. Much like with the children of those who sleep now, they became tainted and twisted, corrupt and uncontrollable,” he told me, his gaze moving to his drink. “If you knew what they had become, the kind of wrath and evil they spread upon the lands and man, you would be haunted till the end of your days. We had to stop them. We did.” That one eyebrow, his right one, rose again. “But not before we ended the mortal lands as those who survived remembered, sending them into the Dark Ages that it took centuries and centuries for them to claw out of. I bet you didn’t know that either.”
I shook my head.
“You wouldn’t. The history of all that was before has been destroyed. Only a handful of structures survived,” he stated, swishing the red liquid in his glass. “Unthinkable sacrifices were made to ensure that their sickness could never infect the world again, but obviously, mortals were rightfully wary of the gods. We entered into a blood treaty with them, one that ensured that only gods born within the mortal realm could retain their powers there.” Quicksilver eyes lifted to mine once more. “None of the gods can enter the mortal realm without weakening greatly…and resorting to what is forbidden to ensure their strength. That is why we have not intervened. That is why my Consort sleeps fitfully, Poppy.”
I jerked at the sound of my nickname. All of that sounded like a reasonable explanation for why they hadn’t become involved, but something stood out to me. “How…how is a god born in the mortal realm?”
“Good question.” He smiled behind his wine glass. “They should not be.”
His smile kicked up a notch.
And then it occurred to me—what he had said about only a few Primal gods being among those who slept now. If what Jansen had claimed was true, and Nyktos was already a god before he became this… “Are you a Primal?”
“I am.” He stared at me. “And that means you have Primal blood in you. That is what fuels that bravery of yours. That is why you are so powerful.”