“You won’t like what happens if you refuse me,” she said softly. “Don’t do this, Penellaphe. Give me what I want and end this.”
“How will giving you Atlantia end this?” I asked, genuinely curious. “Would it mean you will stop the Ascended from feeding on innocents? Will you stop the Rite? How will giving you Atlantia change what you did to them?”
Dark eyes met mine. “It won’t, but you’re not in a position to negotiate.” She shook her head. “I can’t believe you’re making me do this.”
“I’m not making you do anything.”
“But you are.” Queen Isbeth’s shoulders went back as her gaze remained fixed on mine. “Kill him.”
My entire body jerked as I reached out to grab Casteel because she had to be talking about him, but no guard or knight moved toward us. Neither did the Revenant. I scanned the room—
Casteel shouted. “No!”
I locked eyes with Ian. A knight had stalked up behind him, sword already unsheathed. The knight was fast, sweeping the blade through the air and then slicing it through tissue, muscle, and bone. Ending life.
Time slowed, and I couldn’t make sense of what I was seeing. That Ian was no longer whole. That there was so much red everywhere—on the ground, on me. That it was his body falling, and it was his head rolling across the floor. It didn’t make sense.
Neither did the way I saw the Handmaiden lift her hand, her lips parted on a shocked gasp. Or how Prince Malik jerked back a step, the smug impassivity slipping from his handsome face as the wall around his emotions cracked just enough for me to feel the pulse of disbelief echoing through him. I didn’t understand Tawny’s screams as she backed away, why Emil’s eyes were so wide, or how quickly the blood drained from Kieran’s face, and the silent scream that etched itself onto Vonetta’s features. I didn’t get why Naill had closed his eyes or why Casteel was wrapping his arm around my waist, trying to turn me away, but I couldn’t be moved. I wouldn’t be moved. Agony ripped into my heart and chewed its way through my skull. Images of Ian and I flashed over and over in my mind, every single memory of him rapidly taking form.
“I loved him. I loved him as if he were my own flesh and blood!” Isbeth screamed, and then she calmed. “Look at what you made me do.”
Everything stopped as the entirety of the kingdom seemed to close in on me. I lifted my gaze from Ian.
Casteel’s arms tightened around me. “You vindictive bitch,” he snarled.
Her dark eyes glistened with tears as she shuddered. “It’s not my fault.” She turned to me. “I warned you. You didn’t listen.”
And then…and then everything sped up.
What came out of my throat was a sound I’d never made before. My chest cracked open, and what poured out of it was pure, untapped rage. There was no thinking. There was no understanding. There would be no ultimatums. All that mattered was that she’d taken him from me—she’d killed him, and I let that ancient instinct take over. It knew what to do with all the rage and pain.
I threw out my arms, breaking Casteel’s hold as the wave of energy pulsed out of me and rolled through the chamber. Casteel skidded back as Kieran turned. Royal Guards and knights rushed forward. They slammed into Tawny, where she stood frozen, her mouth open as she stared at me. I lost sight of her in the crush of men and shields and drawn swords as they circled the Blood Queen. And I saw the flicker of surprise on Isbeth’s face just as the covered windows along the walls cracked and shattered. Intense silvery-white light crowded my vision and formed in my mind, a thick webbing that stretched out from me as I took a step forward. I took out the Royal Guards first, shattering their shields and swords, and in the next breath, them.
Casteel unsheathed his swords as guards spilled into the chamber, but there was no one between Isbeth and me. Drawing in the anger and fear throbbing around me, I pulled on my hatred, funneling it through the cords snapping and streaming toward her. I was going to tear apart the walls around her mind like I had wanted to do with Casteel’s father. I wouldn’t stop this time. I would peel apart her mind, one section at a time as I broke every single godsdamn bone in her body. The silvery-white light pulsed over her and—
She threw back her head and laughed. I lost control of my will as Casteel whipped around, staring up at the Blood Queen. “Did you not believe what I said, dear child?” She reached out, flicking a red-painted nail against the thrumming wall of power. The light flared and then collapsed into shimmery dust. “That has always been one of your greatest weaknesses, Penellaphe. Your doubt in what you see with your own eyes and what you know with your heart. If you had truly believed in what I said, you wouldn’t have dared such a reckless thing. You would know that we are gods, and you don’t fight a god like that.”
She lifted a hand. Icy-cold fingers gripped my throat, digging into my windpipe. I reached for the hands—hands that weren’t there. A razor-thin bit of air worked its way into my throat as my eyes widened and then…nothing. I stumbled back, scratching at my neck.
“Poppy!” Casteel shouted, dropping a sword as he grasped me around the waist. I stared up at him, my mouth moving but without air to give my words life. His head twisted toward the Blood Queen. “What are you doing to her?”
“Teaching her yet another valuable lesson—”
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Lyra shift, heard her clothing rip. It was so fast. She’d been mortal one moment, wolven the next, and…
Isbeth turned her head toward her.
Kieran shouted a warning, and then Lyra’s high-pitched yelp and thick, snapping and crunching sounds followed. I tried to turn my head but I couldn’t. The grip on my throat tightened.
“A lesson that will get worse if another single wolven who’s eyeing me like I’m dinner takes another step toward me. The same goes for the Atlantians,” she said, and I wheezed pitifully, damp sweat coating my skin. “I will snap her neck.”
“Stop!” Casteel yelled. “Stand down. Now!”
I dug at my throat, panic blossoming in my chest. I couldn’t breathe. Pain streaked down my throat as my nails drew blood.
“Let her go,” Casteel said, dropping his other sword as he clasped my wrist. “Damn it, let her go!”
“I don’t think I will. You see, she needs to understand the same lesson you were so resistant to,” Isbeth said. “She has no choice. She never has, and I can tell she still believes otherwise. Perhaps she is a perfect fit for you, and she’ll never learn. Your brother has been far more accommodating.”
My lungs burned as sharp, stabbing pinpricks attacked my hands and arms—my legs. Black dotted my vision. Pressure clamped down on my skull. Those icy fingers sank into my head, into my mind. Pain sliced through me—the kind that seized control of my entire body, and this—oh, gods, this was what I had planned to do to her but hadn’t been quick enough or known how. It felt like she was tearing me apart from the inside, scattering my brain. I jerked, straining against Casteel as I clasped the sides of my head. I twisted, only aware that I breathed because I could scream.