Alastir eyed me silently for a moment. “Come now, Penellaphe. Do you really think the Ascended have no idea that they had the descendant of Nyktos in their grips for nearly nineteen years? Longer?”
My breath caught. He was talking about Ian. “I was told Ian Ascended.”
“I would have no knowledge of that.”
“But you think Queen Ileana and King Jalara knew that we’re Nyktos’s descendants?” When he said nothing, I fought the urge to launch myself at him. “What does that knowledge change anyway?”
“They could use you to make more vamprys,” he agreed. “Or, they know what you’re capable of. They know what was written about you, and they plan to use you against Atlantia.”
My stomach hollowed. The idea of being handed over to the Ascended was terrifying enough. But to be used against Atlantia—against Casteel? “Then let me ask you again, how is that not Atlantia’s problem if they…?” I jerked back against the wall, my eyes widening.
“Wait a minute. You said very few people knew what Malec could do—that my gifts were like his. They could’ve guessed that Ian and I had god’s blood in us, but how would they know our lineage?” I leaned forward as far as I could. “You’re working with the Ascended, aren’t you?”
His lips thinned. “Some Ascended were alive when Malec ruled.”
“By the time Jalara fought the Atlantians at Pompay, Malec no longer sat on the throne,” I said. “Not only that, but he was able to keep the vast majority of the Atlantians in the dark about his abilities—about who he descended from. But some random Ascended knew? One who managed to survive the war? Because it sure as hell wasn’t Jalara or Ileana. They came from the Vodina Isles, where I’m willing to bet they Ascended.” My lip curled in disgust. “You claim you’re a true Protector of Atlantia, but you’ve plotted with its enemies. The people who held both of your Princes captive? The people—”
“This has nothing to do with my daughter,” he said, and I pressed my lips together. “Everything I have done, I have done for the Crown and for the kingdom.”
The Crown? A horrible coldness spread in my chest as my mind reeled from one discovery after another. I opened my mouth and then closed it before asking the question I wasn’t sure I wanted to know the answer to.
“What?” Alastir asked. “There’s no need to play the quiet one now. We both know that’s not who you are.”
My shoulders tightened as I lifted my gaze to his. “Did Casteel’s parents know you were going to do this?” They’d fought back in the Temple, but that could’ve been an act. “Did they know?”
Alastir studied me. “Does it matter?”
It did. “Yes.”
“They do not know about this,” he said. “They may have speculated that our…brotherhood had risen once more, but they had no hand in this. They won’t like what I’ve been a part of, but I believe they will come to see the necessity of it.” He inhaled deeply through his nose, tilting his head back. “And if they don’t, then they too will be treated as a threat.”
My eyes widened once more. “You…you’re staging a coup.”
His gaze shot back to mine. “No. I am saving Atlantia.”
“You’re saving Atlantia by working with the Ascended, putting the people of the kingdom in even more danger, and overthrowing or doing something worse to the Crown if they disagree with your actions? That is a coup. That is also treasonous.”
“Only if you’ve sworn allegiance to the heads the crown sits upon,” he countered. “And I don’t think it will come to that. Eloana and Valyn both know that protecting Atlantia may mean engaging in some most unsavory deeds.”
“And you think Casteel will go along with this?” I demanded. “That after you hand me over to the Ascended, he’ll just give up and move on? That he’ll marry your great-niece after your daughter—” I cut myself off before exposing what Shea had really done. Withholding that wasn’t for his sake. Gods, no. The desire to see his face when he learned the truth of what his daughter had done savagely burned through me, but I stopped out of respect for Casteel—for what he’d had to do.
Alastir stared at me, his jaw tight. “You would’ve been good for Casteel, but you never would’ve been my daughter.”
“Damn straight,” I said, my nails digging into my palms. It took me several moments to trust myself before I spoke again. “Casteel chose me. He’s not going to turn around and marry your great-niece or another family member you can drag out before him. All you’re doing is causing him to risk his life and the future of Atlantia. Because he will come for me.”
Pale eyes met mine. “I don’t think it will come to that.”
“You’re delusional if you believe that.”
“It’s not that I believe he’ll give up on you,” he said. “I just don’t think he’ll get the chance to stage a rescue attempt.”
My entire body locked up. “If you hurt him—”
“You will do nothing, Penellaphe. You’re not in a position to do anything,” he pointed out, and I swallowed a scream of rage and frustration. “But I have no plans to harm the Prince. And I pray to the gods that it doesn’t come to that.”
“Then what…?” It occurred to me then. “You think the Ascended will kill me?”
Alastir said nothing.
“You are delusional.” I tipped my head back against the wall. “The Ascended need me. They need Atlantian blood.”
“Tell me, Penellaphe, what will you do when you’re in their hands? The moment you are free of the bones. You’ll attack them, won’t you? You’ll kill as many of them as you can to get free and return to our Prince.”
He was right.
I would kill any and all who stood between Casteel and me because we deserved to be together. We deserved a future, a chance to explore each other’s secrets. To love one another. We deserved to simply…live. I would do anything to ensure that.
Alastir continued watching me. “And what do you think is the only thing the Ascended value above power? Survival. They will not have these bones to hold you. And if they believe they can’t control you, think that you’re too much of a risk, they will end you. But before that happens, I imagine you will take many down with you.”
Sickened, I forced my hands to relax. “Kill two birds with one stone?”
“Even if you’re successful, your plan will still fail. You think Casteel won’t know that you and every other so-called Protector handed me over to them? That the wolven won’t know?”
“There is still a risk of an uprising,” he admitted. “But it is a small one. You see, we will lead them to believe that you escaped your captivity and fell into the Ascended’s hands. They will never know that we gave you to them. They will turn their anger on the Ascended, where it should have always been. Every Ascended will be killed, and any who support them will fall beside them. Atlantia will take back what belongs to us. We will become a great kingdom again.”