“That’s what Nyktos meant,” I said, swallowing. “I never needed his permission.”
“For what?” Naill asked.
“To use his guards,” I said, knowing that’s what the Handmaiden had meant by the fire of the gods. “To summon the draken.”
I stalked through the palace halls in Evaemon, the dust from the road and blood still staining my breeches and tunic. I headed for the sun-drenched atrium in the center, followed by Kieran and his sister still in their wolven forms. Naill and Hisa followed, their hands on their swords. Delano was with Tawny, having taken her to one of the rooms above mine. Healers and Elders were being summoned.
Crown Guards bowed stiffly as we passed, the heels of my boots clicking off the tile floor as sharply as the wolven’s claws.
Vonetta was one giant ball of stress. I didn’t know if she was more worried that I would obliterate Casteel’s mother or if it was the plans we’d discussed on the way back to Evaemon. I, on the other hand, was strangely calm. I wasn’t worried about what I was about to say to Eloana or what I would carry out next. I felt only determination and anger, so much anger, it seeped out of my bones and coated my skin, but I was calm. I didn’t know one could feel such wrath and yet feel such silence.
The doors to the family room were open, and the scent of coffee and freshly baked bread stretched out to me, turning my stomach instead of inciting my hunger.
Eloana wasn’t alone.
She sat across from Lord Sven and Lord Gregori. Several Crown Guards stood in the back of the room, but my focus was on her.
His mother looked at me, and then her gaze flicked behind me, searching for what she would not find. And she knew. The moment she didn’t see Casteel, her agony was sharp and pungent. A hand fluttered against her breast as she reached for the empty space beside her, seeming to realize then that her husband wasn’t there.
The two Elders stood hastily. “Your Majesty,” Sven said, bowing. Concern rippled from him as he glanced at the wolven siblings. “Are you okay, Your Majesty?”
No. I wasn’t. I wouldn’t be okay until Casteel was by my side, and the Blood Crown was nothing but a pile of ashes. But my sorrow and fear gave way to anger as I stared at Casteel’s mother. I latched on to it, letting it wrap around the hum in my chest, filling the hollowness of where my heart beat.
And that anger tasted of power and death, a lot like it had when I walked toward Oak Ambler, but I was in control this time.
“You knew.” I stared at his mother. “You knew what she was and what she wasn’t.”
Blood drained rapidly from Eloana’s face as she jerked back. “Penellaphe—”
“Where is the King?” Gregori demanded, stepping forward.
The wolven let out a low rumble of warning as my head snapped toward him. Words fell from my lips like poison-dipped daggers. “Where is the King, Your Majesty?” I corrected softly in a tone eerily similar to the one Casteel had used when he was but a second away from relieving someone of their heart.
Gregori stiffened. “Where is the King, Your Majesty,” he repeated, his irritation acid on my tongue and his dislike of me hot against my skin.
My head tilted to the side as everything came to a head. Something happened then, tearing open from deep within. It had rattled with all the lies and then had shaken loose when Casteel had saved my life. It had cracked open when I stood before Nyktos and told him that he would not hurt my friends. The locks that held it back had been blown to pieces when I saw Ian fall and then awoke to find that Casteel had been taken. It was a whole new awakening.
I wasn’t the Maiden.
I wasn’t a Princess or even a Queen.
I was a god.
And I was so over this.
“You don’t like me, do you?” I queried softly.
An icy splash of shock rolled through him, but he quickly masked it. His chin lifted. “I think you know the answer to that.”
“I do. And you know what?” I asked, my skin humming as the air charged around me. A silvery-white glow seeped from my skin, crowding the sides of my vision as Sven inched away from Gregori. “In the entirety of the two kingdoms, I couldn’t give a fuck if you or any other member of the Council likes me. It does not change that I am your Queen, and your tone and the manner in which you address me is highly inappropriate.” I watched pink seep into the man’s cheeks, and I smiled tightly. “Not just because I’m your Queen, but because I am the grandchild of Nyktos, and you speak to a god with such disrespect.”
Eloana sucked in a sharp breath as I let the restless vibration from within the center of my chest come to the surface. Silvery-white light spilled across the room, reflecting off the walls and turning the glass to shimmering diamonds. Sven tripped over the corner of the striped carpet, catching himself on the edge of a chair. The furniture and windows rattled as I took a step forward. Silver dripped from my fingertips, forming webs of iridescent light that fell to the floor, disappearing into the stone, and that beautiful light could give life. It could also take it.
Hisa was the first to move, dropping to a knee, one hand pressed over her heart, the other flattened to the floor. The other guards followed, as did Sven. Gregori remained standing, his eyes wide.
“Try me,” I whispered, and those two words echoed throughout the room.
A tremor coursed through Gregori as he slowly lowered himself to one knee, bowing his head. “I’m sorry,” he uttered, placing a hand to his chest and the other to the floor. “Please forgive me.”
In the hidden, darkest corners of my being, the urge to lash out was a tempting force. To unleash all the sorrow and anger I felt, and let it flay open Gregori’s skin and rip out each bone. I could—with just a thought, a single will. He would be no more, and he would be the last to speak to me in such a way.
Isbeth would do it.
But I wasn’t her.
I reined in the eather, and pulled the power deep within me. The radiance retreated, seeping back into my skin. “Leave,” I ordered the Elder. “Now.”
He rose, stumbling around me and the wolven. I heard Naill’s soft snicker as the Elder rushed past him. My gaze flicked to Sven. “You should leave, too,” I said. “And the guards. Leave.”
Sven nodded, exiting the room with far more grace than his predecessor. A few of the Crown Guards lingered, obviously still loyal to Eloana—or afraid for her. I turned to where I saw that she had lowered herself to the floor.
I fought a cruel smile, stopping it from reaching my lips as she looked up at me. “I do not believe you want many to hear what I have to say.”
The skin around the corners of her eyes puckered as she closed them. “Listen to your Queen,” she whispered hoarsely. “Leave.”
Vonetta and Kieran tracked the guards’ progress. It wasn’t until Naill and Hisa had closed the door that I said, “You may rise.”
Eloana rose, collapsing onto the settee, her glistening amber eyes fixed on me as I strode forward, gripping the back of a chair. The legs scraped against the floor as I dragged it so it was before her.
Slowly, I lowered myself to the chair, my eyes meeting hers as Kieran and Vonetta moved so they crouched on either side of me. Naill and Hisa remained at the door. “Ask me whose blood stains my clothing.”