I took a drink then, swallowing a mouthful of the sweet wine. “Does that mean my mother could’ve been mortal?”
“Your mother could’ve been from any blood, and you would be who you are today, regardless. Unexpected, but…welcomed nonetheless,” he said, and before I had a chance to even process what that could mean, what that could signify, he continued. “But that’s not what you came to talk to me about, is it? And I bet you have a lot of questions.” One side of his lips tipped up as a somewhat…fond look crept into his otherwise cold features. “Is your brother who you want him to be? Is the mother who you remember yours?” His eyes drilled into mine as goosebumps spread across my skin. “Are your dreams a reality or your imagination? Who truly killed the ones you called Mother and Father? But you don’t have long to ask those questions. You have time for only one. These lands are not meant for your friends, nor your lover. If they stay much longer, they will not be able to leave.”
I stiffened. “None of us has entered Dalos.”
“It doesn’t matter. You came to ask for my aid? There is nothing I can do for you.”
“I don’t need your aid,” I clarified, placing my glass on the table. Gods knew how many questions I wanted to ask about Ian, about my parents and the memories, but this trip wasn’t about me. It was about those waiting outside and all those I had yet to meet. “I need the aid of your guards.”
Nyktos’s brow rose. “You know who my guards are.”
“Now I do,” I mumbled under my breath. His head tilted, and I cleared my throat. “You’re aware of what the Ascended are doing, right? They’re using Atlantians to make more of them, and they’re feeding upon innocent mortals. We need to stop them. I’ve learned that the Ascended have created something that I was told only your guards can help us stop. Something called a Revenant.”
The change that swept over the god was instant and final. The façade of ease vanished. Streaks of white bled across his irises, luminous and crackling. Everything about him hardened, and every instinct in me went on high-alert.
“What?” I ventured. “Do you know what the Revenants are?”
A muscle ticked in his jaw. “An abomination of life and of death.” He stood abruptly, eyes settling to a pearly shade of steel. “What you face is a greater evil that should not be, and I…I am sorry that you will see what is to come.”
Well, that didn’t bode well at all.
“You need to leave, Queen.” The doors behind me swung open.
I stood. “But your guards—”
“You were born of flesh with the fire of the gods in your blood. You are a Bringer of Life and a Bringer of Death,” Nyktos interrupted. “You are the Queen of Flesh and Fire, due more than one Crown, one kingdom. What you seek, you already have. You always had the power in you.”
You always had the power in you.
The words echoed through me as I roamed the halls of the Evaemon Palace several days later, trying to learn where all the many halls led and the purpose of all the rooms while Casteel spent time with his father and mother in the brightly lit family room.
An unrelenting malaise nipped at my heels, following my steps just as Arden, the silver-and-white wolven, and Hisa and another Crown Guard did. Except they were far quieter than my thoughts.
I couldn’t shake the feeling that my friends’ lives had been risked. And for what? To learn that whatever these Revenants were, was a greater evil than we knew? Which, by the way, meant that was all we knew. No one, not even Casteel’s parents, could hazard a guess as to what a Revenant could be and how it would warrant such a warning.
I traveled the back hall of the west wing where the staff offices were located, as were the laundry and the kitchens. Warmth crowded the area, along with the aromas of fresh linen and roasted meat as I admitted that the trip to Iliseeum hadn’t been a complete and utter waste. I had learned that Nyktos was a Primal god, something Valyn vaguely remembered hearing his grandfather mention once. And until now, he’d believed that his grandfather had been speaking of the gods we’d always known. Discovering that I had Primal blood explained why my abilities were so powerful. It also meant that the mother I remembered—the one Alastir had claimed was a Handmaiden—could very well have been my real mother. And, once again, I was back to the possibility that Ian could be my half-brother. That we shared the same mother but different fathers. Discovering that was huge and important to me, but only to me. It wasn’t what we’d gone for.
Which was to gain the aid of Nyktos’s guards—the draken.
At least, I’d gotten to see one, so there was that. Sighing, I tucked a strand of hair behind my ear. I’d left the crown in the bedchamber, and I wished I’d left my brain there, as well, where Casteel had managed to pull my thoughts from the trip to Iliseeum multiple times in the ensuing days.
Since we’d returned, Casteel and I had barely had any time alone. There were meetings with the Council. Time spent with Eloana and Valyn, where I was taught the different laws of the kingdom at a head-spinning speed. Sessions held where the people of Atlantia could approach us to ask for aid or offer their services for various needs throughout the kingdom. Dinners had been late, and we mostly spent them with Kieran, strategizing the best way to enter Oak Ambler without being seen. Entering Castle Redrock wouldn’t be a problem. Slipping into the city’s Rise unseen would be, and it hadn’t been until the prior night that Kieran had come up with a plan.
I had yet to venture off the palace grounds, but it was just Casteel and me at night. We spent the time talking. I learned more about his brother and what it had been like growing up in Atlantia as the second son his father once expected to lead the Atlantian armies.
“That is how you became so skilled at fighting,” I’d said as we lay together in bed, facing one another.
He’d nodded. “Malik trained alongside me for years, but when it came time for him to learn to rule, it became time for me to learn how to lead an army and kill.”
“And to defend,” I’d amended softly, tracing small circles on his chest. “You learned how to defend your people and those you care about.”
“Did you want to be that?” I’d asked. “A commander?”
“The commander,” he’d corrected with a teasing kiss. “It was the only skill I really knew, and I wanted to be able to serve my brother when he took the throne someday. I didn’t really question it.”
He’d fallen quiet for few minutes and then laughed. “Actually, that is not entirely true. I was fascinated with the science behind farming as a child—how the farmers grew to learn what time of year was best to plant certain crops, how they set up their irrigation systems. And there was something about seeing all that hard work come to fruition when it came time to harvest.”
Part of me hadn’t expected that, but then I thought of what he’d claimed his father did when I spoke with him in the Red Pearl. I’d grinned as I kissed him, and he then proved that fighting hadn’t been the only skill he’d learned.