I couldn’t…I couldn’t let myself go there.
The possibility that Isbeth had a draken locked away somewhere was something I would have to file away for the moment, right along with the knowledge of who my father was and the questions surrounding how he and Isbeth had come together. All I could focus on was what I knew now.
That my father was a victim of Isbeth’s, too.
And I thought of Malec, entombed beneath the Blood Forest. “If a god of Primal blood was entombed, what happens to them?”
“Entombed by the bones of the deities? They would simply waste away, day by day, year by year, but they would not die,” he answered. “They would just exist in a place between dying and death, alive but trapped.”
That was an even more horrifying outcome than the deities slowly starving to death, but that meant that Malec was still alive, and Isbeth still loved him.
Nektas’s skin had hardened into scales. “Are you ready, daughter of Ires, the son of Nyktos and his Consort?”
A tremble coursed through me. “Yes.”
“Then speak the words and receive what you’ve come for.”
My skin tingled, and my chest throbbed. Kieran’s hand closed around mine. He squeezed. A soft breeze came from nowhere, swirling across the diamonds. The scent of lilacs reached me, and then I heard her voice among my thoughts—heard the Consort speaking the words Nektas waited for. “I...I summon the flesh and fire of the gods, to protect me and those I care for. To ride at my side and stand guard at my back. I call upon the bloodline birthed of flesh and fire to awaken.”
Nektas turned his head to the side, the vibrant blue of his irises a stark contrast to the pitch-black of the vertical pupil.
The ground trembled and gave a low rumble. Kieran’s grip on my hand tightened as we took several steps back. Dirt and small diamonds spilled into the air around the base of the Temple. Chunks of crystal exploded out to the sides. Gleaming talons stretched out from the dust, sinking into the black stone. A large, leathery shape cut through the cloud of debris, arcing high as dozens of claws carved into the tower from all sides. They erupted from the earth below, pulling their scaled, winged bodies out of the soil. They climbed the sides of the tallest spire, one after another, their grayish-black tails whipping through the air. The first reached the top— its deep-purple-black scales glimmering under the sun as it shook the dirt from its body. Stretching out its long neck, frills of spikes opened around its head as its wide mouth dropped open, and a deafening roar rattled my bones.
Nektas faced me. “From this moment to the last moment, they are yours, Queen of Flesh and Fire.”
My breath caught, burning my throat as wisps of smoke wafted from the purple-black creature’s nostrils. It opened its jaws and let out another rumbling roar. Flames spilled from its mouth, a rolling tide of silvery-white flames. It launched from the obsidian tower, rocketing into the sky, its wings unfurling and sending a gust of wind over the ground. The others called out, their shrieks turning into keening calls. Awakened from their deep sleep, dozens of draken followed, leaping from the tower and taking flight, one after the other. They flew toward the Mountains of Nyktos and then, eventually, they would take flight for Solis.
“You need to wake soon. There are draken here,” I told Tawny. “Actual draken.”
She didn’t awaken, but the blackness in her veins had stopped spreading. Whatever the Healer Willa had brought with her had given Tawny was working. It was also changing her.
Her golden bronze curls were now bone-white. Somehow, the snowy hair made her all the more stunning.
“The draken are beautiful.” I smoothed back a curl. “If a bit…temperamental. They have been asleep for a very long time, so I suppose they’re allowed to be grumpy.”
“Grumpy?” Kieran snorted, surprising me. I hadn’t heard him come in. He’d been with Vonetta, spending time with their parents and their new sister. If he was here, I knew what that meant. “More like bitey.”
“You deserved it,” I reminded him as I fixed the blanket around Tawny. “He got too close to one while he was resting. Almost lost a hand.”
“More like an arm,” he muttered.
I looked over my shoulder. “I don’t think bitey is a word, by the way.”
“It’s not?” Kieran murmured, looking past me, to where Tawny lay. “She looks better.”
“She does.” I faced her. “It’s time?”
Giving her hand one last squeeze, I placed it on the bed. I rose and smoothed a hand over a similar outfit to the one I’d worn to Iliseeum. The bodice was of thicker fleece material, though. Colder weather had arrived in much of Solis.
“I’ll be back….” I leaned over, pressing my lips to her warm forehead. “I’ll just be back. I promise.”
It took less than half a day to travel to the northern-most point of Atlantia, to the wall which ran all the way to the Pillars of Atlantia outside of Saion’s Cove. There, I was reunited with Setti. I stroked his nose and scratched his ear. I hoped he took it easy with me. My horsemanship was seriously lacking, and he, well, there was a reason he was named after the God of War’s warhorse.
“Incoming,” Kieran murmured.
Over my shoulder, I saw Casteel’s father approaching, his chest and shoulders covered in gold and silver armor, a helmet tucked under his arm. My stomach tightened. I had only seen him once since I initially returned to Evaemon, and that was brief, a passing in the halls. He’d immediately returned to the northern part of the kingdom.
Wolven stirred from the grass, lifting their heads as he neared. Valyn bowed, and they went back to napping or daydreaming or whatever it was that they had been doing.
“You still plan to send your message?” Valyn asked, his gaze flickering to where the crown rested on my head. I didn’t know what made me decide to wear it, but it was there and it felt right.
I nodded. “It is what Casteel would do.” And I knew that was true.
Valyn made a sound of agreement, and several moments of silence passed. I took a deep breath. “I’ll get him back,” I promised. “We will get him back. I swear.”
Swallowing thickly, he nodded as he looked over at me. “I know you will.” He paused. “My son is a very lucky man to have found you and made himself yours.”
His words embraced my wounded heart, and the acceptance behind them choked me. It took me a moment to speak. “It is I who is lucky to have been found by your son and to have become his.”
Valyn reached over, cupping my cheek with his gloved hand. “And Eloana and I are even more lucky to have you as our daughter-in-law.”
Tears filled my eyes. I hadn’t cried, and I told myself I wouldn’t cry now. If I did, I wouldn’t stop. “Thank you.”
He nodded and then lowered his hand, his gaze fixed on the wall. “I have a favor to ask of you.”
I searched his profile as I opened my senses. I didn’t need to search long to feel the agony pounding through him. “What is it?”
Under the gold and steel armor, his shoulders tightened. “If you see my other son before I do, all that I ask is that you make his death as quick and painless as possible.”