“But that wasn’t all you did,” Casteel said, reaching over and clasping a hand on the wolven’s shoulder. “You made sure we got here safely and kept watch. You did everything we needed and more. I owe you.”
Kieran lifted his hand from the back of my head and clasped Casteel’s forearm as his pale gaze met my husband’s amber one. “I did all that I could,” he reiterated.
Seeing them together caused another swell of emotion. I remembered what had been said in the Chambers of Nyktos about the bonds breaking. An ache started up in my chest as I disentangled myself from Kieran and glanced between them. “Is the bond really broken?” I asked. “Between you two?”
Casteel stared at Kieran, and a long moment passed. “It is.”
The ache in my chest grew. “What does that mean? Really?”
Kieran glanced at me. “That conversation can wait—”
“The conversation can happen now.” I crossed my arms. “Alastir and Jansen said some stuff while I was in the crypts,” I told them, inwardly cringing as I felt twin bursts of anger against my skin. “I don’t know how much of it was true, but neither really explained how me being a descendant of a deity….” I sucked in a sharp breath as I thought of who Alastir had claimed was part of my heritage. Did Casteel already know that? “I don’t understand how that supersedes something that has been around for ages. I’m not a deity.”
“I don’t think we know what you are exactly,” Casteel stated.
“I’m not a deity,” I protested.
“The fact that you are here and not a vampry means that nothing is off the table,” Kieran added. I was so taking that off the table. “But either way, you are a descendant of the gods. You are the only living one. You have—”
“If I hear I have the blood of a god inside me one more time, I might scream,” I warned.
“Okay, then.” Kieran scratched his face as he rose and then sat on the other side of me. There was a faint days-worth of scruff on his jaw. “Because of the blood you carry, the kiyou were given mortal form. Not to serve the elemental bloodlines, but to serve the children of the gods. If the deities hadn’t…” He trailed off with a shake of his head. “When the gods gave the kiyou mortal form, we were bonded to them and their children on an instinctual level that is passed down generation after generation. And that instinctive bond recognizes you.”
I understood what he was saying on a technical level, but fundamentally, it was utterly insane to me. “That’s just… I’m just Poppy, blood of the gods or not—”
“You’re not just Poppy, and that has nothing to do with you not becoming a vampry,” Casteel placed a hand on my shoulder. “And I mean it, Princess. I can’t say for sure that you’re not some sort of deity. What I saw you do? What I’ve seen and heard that you have done? You’re unlike any of us, and I still can’t believe I didn’t put it together when I first saw that light around you.”
“How did you not know?” I looked up at Kieran. “If my blood really is that potent, how did no wolven know what I was?”
“I think we did, Poppy,” Kieran answered. “But just like Casteel, we didn’t connect what we were seeing or feeling when we were around you.”
Understanding crept into me. “That’s why you said I smelled like something dead—”
“I said you smelled of death,” Kieran corrected with a sigh. “Not that you smelled like something dead. Death is power, the old kind.”
“Death is power?” I repeated, not entirely sure at first how that made sense. But then it occurred to me. “Death and life are two sides of the same coin. Nyktos is…”
“He’s the God of Life and Death.” Kieran’s gaze flicked to Casteel. “And this explains why you thought her blood tasted old.”
“Ancient,” Casteel murmured, and I started to frown. “Her blood tastes ancient.”
I really didn’t want them to continue discussing what my blood tasted like. “Delano thought he heard me calling him when I was imprisoned in that room in New Haven—”
“For your safety,” Casteel tacked on.
I ignored his comment, still annoyed at being kept in that room. “I was feeling rather…emotional at the time. Is that what the summoning thing is? Were you reacting to my emotions?”
Kieran nodded. “In a way, yes. It’s similar to the bond we have with the Atlantians. Extreme emotion was often an alert that the one we were bonded to was threatened. We could sense that emotion.”
I thought about that. “There were shocks of static whenever some wolven touched me,” I murmured. The signs had been there, but like Casteel’s mother had said, why would anyone suspect this when the last of the deities had died out ages ago? It seemed to have even confused Alastir—the extent of my…powers. But how could I not have other amazing abilities if I was indeed a descendant of the King of Gods?
Well, killing people by turning their emotions back on them would probably count as an amazing ability—a scary one—but why couldn’t I morph into something like a dragon?
That would be incredible.
“Am I really descended from Nyktos? Alastir said I was, but since Nyktos is the father of the gods—”
“That is the figure of speech,” Casteel corrected. “Nyktos isn’t the actual father of the gods. He is the King of them. Alastir spoke the truth, or at least he spoke what he believed to be true,” he said, his jaw hardening.
I exhaled heavily. “Why could I even do what I did in the Chambers? What changed? The Culling?” I asked, referencing the process the Atlantians went through when they no longer aged like mortals and began to develop heightened senses, along with undergoing numerous physical changes. It was why Casteel believed that the Ascended had waited until now to have me go through my Ascension. My blood would be of more use to them now, capable of making more Ascended.
Had the Ascended known about the blood I carried? Had Queen Ileana known the entire time? Alastir had been in contact with the Ascended. I believed that. Would my blood even work now that I had…?
I had nearly died.
And maybe I had a little. I remembered floating toward a silvery light, without body or thought. And I knew if I made my way to it, not even Casteel would be able to reach me.
“I think so,” Casteel said as the warmth of his body pressed against my side, drawing me from my thoughts. “I think being on Atlantian land combined with the blood I’ve given you played a role in strengthening the blood in you.”
“And I guess what happened at the Chambers of Nyktos just tipped it all over the edge?” I leaned into Casteel. “Waking this…thing up inside me?”
“What is in you is not a thing, Poppy.” Casteel looked down at me. “It is a power. Magic. It is the eather waking up inside you, becoming a part of you.”
“I’m not sure that makes me feel any better.”
A lopsided grin appeared. “It would if you stopped thinking of your ancestry as a thing. But considering everything that has happened, you really haven’t had any time to come to terms with any of this.”