I shook my head in utter disbelief. “Your claim of being my mother is such a ridiculous lie, I cannot believe you would even think that I would entertain such a statement.”
“Oh, please do not tell me that you still believe Coralena is your mother. That treacherous bitch did not carry you for nine months and then spend hours screaming in pain to bring you into this world,” she spat, climbing the wide, short steps that circled the entire chamber and led to the alcove of the curtained windows.
“Neither did you,” I growled.
“Is that so?” she replied.
“You’re a vampry.” Casteel’s hand pressed against my lower back. “You cannot have children.”
“She is not a vampry,” Ian said, looking at me. His features were drawn. “And she speaks the truth. She is your mother.”
“Coralena was Ian’s mother. Leopold was his father,” Queen Ileana said, placing her empty glass on a marble podium. It was then when I realized that there were no more servants in the room. “And Cora was my most favorite Handmaiden—my most trusted. I had her care for you so that none of those who sought to gain what I had could use you, my child, against me—and many would be foolish enough to try. I trusted her, and she betrayed me. She and her worthless husband thought they could steal you away. Apparently, she discovered my intention to marry you to Prince Malik, finally bringing the two kingdoms together, and she didn’t approve of it.”
My heart thudded as she spoke. “Coralena survived the attack, by the way. She was a Revenant, after all.” She smoothed her hands over the ruby chains at her waist. “However, she did not survive my wrath.”
I shuddered, and Casteel curled his arm around my waist.
“I didn’t want to do it. That hurt me more than you will ever believe. She was like a daughter to me, and she betrayed me.” The Queen drew in a deep breath and then motioned the knight away from the curtained window. “I am not a vampry. Nor is Ileana my name—my first name that is.” She curled her fingers around the edges of the curtain, and I reached down, gripping Casteel’s arm. “The first name I was born with is one you’ve probably heard. It was Isbeth.”
The shock that echoed through the room was contagious.
“Yes, that Isbeth,” she continued, dragging her hand down the length of the curtain. “I was King Malec’s lover—his confidante, his friend, and his…his everything. And your mother…” She looked over her shoulder at Casteel, her grip on the curtain tightening. “She took that away. She poisoned me with belladonna. Can you believe that? Tacky.” Her lip curled. “If Malec hadn’t found me in time, I wouldn’t be standing here, but he did. He just…knew something was wrong.” She pressed her hand against her chest as she held us all in suspended silence. “We were heartmates. He would have done anything for me.”
Queen Ileana—no, if what she was saying was true, Queen Isbeth tipped her head back. “He gave me his blood, unsure of what would happen. He was just desperate and refused to allow me to die.”
I thought of Casteel—what he’d done to save me.
“But he didn’t make me into a vampry. I wasn’t the first. You see, deities aren’t like Atlantians. Their blood is far more powerful than that.”
I looked at Casteel. “Is that true?”
“It is,” his brother answered. “When deities Ascend a mortal, they do not become a vampry. They become something without the pesky limitations the Ascended have.”
Casteel let out a harsh breath, and I knew he was thinking the same as I was. That his parents had to know this entire time that Queen Ileana was…that she was Isbeth.
Just then, the Blood Queen tore down the curtain, letting bright sunlight flow in through the window. The knights scattered back from where the sunlight crept across the floor. Ian moved quickly, avoiding contact, but she…
She stood in the flood of sunlight, the crown and the jewels at her throat, wrists, and waist twinkling. She did not begin screaming in pain, twisting in agony or decaying.
Just like nothing had happened when I walked into the sunlight.
I stared at her, my chest rising and falling. “What…what are you?”
“I’ve been many things in my life. A daughter. A friend. A whore. A mistress.”
“That’s a hell of a list to be proud of,” Casteel growled as I saw Naill grip the back of a chair as he shook his head. “The mistress of King Malec. Congratulations.”
“Malec?” She smirked at him as the guards shifted in closer, replacing the knights who now stood in the shadowy alcoves. “I was his mistress. I loved him. I still do. That is no lie. And then your mother had to go and ruin him. But, no. I am no longer the mistress of any man—mortal or god.”
“God?” I coughed out. “Malec was—”
“A god,” Isbeth cut me off. “He was Nyktos’s son, and Nyktos is no normal god. He is a Primal, something far older and more powerful,” she said, and I knew that part to be true. “Any that carry his blood would be a god. But Eloana never knew that, did she? I did. I knew exactly who and what he was. A deity cannot make a vampry, and neither can a god.”
Casteel’s hand slipped away from me. “You lie.”
“Why would I lie about that?” She shook her head as she followed the trail of light to the steps. “Malec was a god.”
“Why would he pretend to be a deity if he was a god?” Casteel demanded.
“Because he grew tired of being held in Iliseeum while the children, generations removed, were allowed to explore beyond the Mountains of Nyktos, and he could do just that. Nyktos’s children were born in the mortal realm, just as his Consort was.”
I jolted, remembering what Nyktos had said about the Primals’ powers in the realm beyond Iliseeum. Only those born within the realm could retain their powers here.
I spared a brief glance at Casteel as she said, “Come now, you do know your own history? I lived it, Casteel. How do you think Malec managed to kill the other deities? Seize power like he did? A deity couldn’t have done that, not even one descended from Nyktos. And there were no deities of that line. There has only ever been the two sons.”
A long moment of silence passed, one where I could feel the chains of disbelief loosening and falling away as we stared at the Blood Queen, who clearly was not a vampry.
“Did my mother know what he really was?” Casteel forced out.
“That is at least one lie she didn’t tell. And as I said, I am not a vampry, and I am not a deity.” Her gaze focused back on me. “Because a god Ascended me, I became one.”
“That is not how that works,” Casteel growled, and while I didn’t know much about the gods, I had to believe he was right. One couldn’t just be made into a god.
She raised a brow. “It’s not?”
Vonetta and Lyra inched toward Casteel and me, just as Naill and the others were also doing—and had been attempting for several minutes. Their loathing and fear matched that of Delano and Kieran, and that said something. If she truly was a god, wouldn’t they be drawn to her like they were to me?