Malik’s jaw hardened as the Handmaiden went to join the Queen. It was brief, and I wasn’t even sure if his reaction had anything to do with the summoning or not. The Handmaiden sheathed her swords along her thighs and stood perfectly still beside the Queen.
“A Revenant is an amazing thing.” Queen Ileana angled her body toward the Handmaiden. “A very old thing that fell out of favor all the way back when the gods walked among man,” she said, picking up the young woman’s braid and draping it over her shoulder. “They are faster than most Atlantians could hope to be. Perhaps even faster than a wolven. They are incredibly strong, even those vertically challenged as this one beside me.”
The young woman had said that she was many things when I’d questioned if she was a Handmaiden. She was also a Revenant, and we’d seen just how fast and strong she was.
And she didn’t look even remotely pleased at her height being referenced.
“They are exceptionally trained fighters, born with inherent skill. They are good for one thing.” The Queen smiled as she drew a thumb across the red-painted mask. “And that is killing.”
The Revenant’s strange eyes remained open, fixed on some point beyond us.
“Any mortal can become skilled at killing, can they not?” Queen Ileana asked. “But a Revenant isn’t really mortal. They are something else entirely.”
Queen Ileana nodded at a nearby knight. He strode forward, unsheathing a long-bladed knife. I stiffened as a sudden rush of desperation burned through me, leaving behind the choking smoke of hopelessness. It came from her—the Revenant—even as she stood there, expressionless, her gaze vacant. She didn’t want—
Malik jerked as if he were about to take a step forward but stopped himself a second before the knight thrust the knife into the female’s chest—into her heart.
Tawny cried out, smacking her hand over her mouth as I stepped back out of shock, bumping into Casteel. His eyes were wide as he watched the knight yank the knife free. Ian had turned his head away as the knight stepped aside. The lace of the Handmaiden’s tunic quickly became wet as she stumbled to the side and then went down on one knee.
Blood trickled out of her mouth as she stretched her neck back. “Ouch,” she rasped and then toppled to her side.
“She’s a fighter, too,” the Queen commented as a pool of red rapidly spread out from under her prone body. She looked up at Vonetta. “You. Check to see if she lives for me?”
Vonetta glanced at us and then started forward. She knelt and pressed her fingers against the side of the young woman’s neck. Swallowing, she shook her head as she pulled her hand back. “There’s no pulse, and I…I can smell it. Death.”
I had a feeling they weren’t talking about the same kind of scent they picked up from me.
Vonetta rose and quickly rejoined Emil and the others. “She’s dead.”
“Good gods,” Kieran uttered, staring at the young woman on the floor. Her blood filled the crevices between the tiles, stretching toward us. “What was the point in that?”
“Patience,” Ileana said, taking a sip.
Casteel’s hand flattened against my back as my gaze darted from the Revenant to the Queen and then to Malik, whose gaze hadn’t once left the still body.
“What is…?” I forced out a ragged breath. “What is wrong with you?” I asked of the Queen as I stared at the woman, at the blood spreading under her hand—
A finger twitched.
I gasped, and Casteel leaned forward, his eyes narrowed. Another finger spasmed, and then the arm. A second passed, and her entire body moved, her back bowing as her mouth opened. Dragging in deep, gulping breaths, she pressed her hand over where the wound should be, where her heart had been pierced. She sat up, blinking, and then rose to her feet and looked at us with those lifeless eyes.
“Ta-da,” the Queen exclaimed with a snap of her fingers.
Kieran drew back. “What in the actual fuck?”
“The actual fuck you’re asking about is a Revenant,” the Queen replied. “They cannot easily be killed. You can stab them with bloodstone or any stone. Cut their throats. Set them on fire. Slice their limbs from their body, and let them bleed out, and they will come back whole.” She smiled almost warmly at the Revenant. “They always come back.”
They always come back.
I shuddered as I stared at the young woman, unable to process how that was even possible, because it wasn’t the same as healing someone or even snatching them from the grasp of death. I didn’t think my touch could… regrow severed limbs.
“What about their heads?” Casteel asked. “Do they regrow one of them?”
The Queen’s smile grew as she nodded.
“Impossible,” breathed Delano.
“Do you want me to show you?” she offered.
“No,” I said quickly, the Revenant’s desperation still an echo in my soul. “That won’t be necessary.”
The Queen actually looked a little disappointed as Emil rubbed his palm against the center of his chest. “That is…that is an abomination to the gods.”
The Revenant said nothing, but the Queen did. “To some, they are.”
And I thought of what Nyktos had said. He was right. They were an abomination of life and death.
“How?” I forced out. “How are they created?”
“They aren’t simply created. They are born, the third sons and daughters of two mortal parents. Not all carry this…trait, but those who do remain unremarkable unless discovered,” she said, and a sickening knowledge rolled through me. The children given to the Rite. This is what became of some of them. “The blood of a King or one destined is needed to ensure that they reach their full potential, but apparently…” She looked over at Prince Malik. “I don’t have that anymore.”
Malik smiled apologetically.
“And, well, the rest isn’t all that important,” she stated. “I have many of them, enough to become an army that you have no hope of ever defeating.”
Ian…he hadn’t been exaggerating. How could one fight an army that would just continuously rise after falling? Could Nyktos’s guards even defeat them?
“So…” Queen Ileana drew the word out. “This is what you would go to war against.” Her dark eyes settled on me. “The War of Two Kings never ended,” she said. “There has just been a strained truce. That is all. And now you must see how hopeless it would be to believe that you could fight against Solis.”
“Then why haven’t you just seized Atlantia?” Casteel demanded.
“Half of my armies would die or become lost crossing the Skotos. Even the Revenants wouldn’t fare well in the mist,” she stated. “Besides, I do not want the Atlantian people to hate me. I want their respect. Their loyalty. Not their loathing.”
“Well,” Casteel started. “That ship has already sailed.”
“Feelings can be changed,” she said dismissively. “Especially when their Queen is the daughter of the Queen of Solis.”
“My mother?” I laughed hoarsely. “I thought you were my grandmother.”
“I don’t know why that silly bitch told you that,” she replied. “Duchess Teerman was loyal but not exactly the most intelligent.”