But what hadn’t felt like a dream, what had felt real, was the woman I’d seen. The one with the long, silvery-blonde hair, who’d filled my mind when I was in the Chambers of Nyktos. She had appeared when I was no longer a body, without substance or thought, floating in the nothingness. She had looked like me a little. She had more freckles, her hair was different, and her eyes were odd—a fractured green and silver, reminding me of how the wolven’s eyes had looked when they came to me in the Chambers.
A bloody tear had slid down her cheek. That meant she had to be a god, but I knew of no female gods who were depicted with such hair or features. A weary frown pulled at my lips as I tried to sit up straighter. She had said something to me, too—something that had been a shock. I could almost hear her voice in my mind now, but just like with the dreams of the night at the inn, clarity frustratingly existed on the fringes of my consciousness.
Casteel shifted me so my head rested more fully against his chest. “Rest,” he urged in a soft voice. “I’ve got you. You can rest.”
It didn’t seem right for me to do so when no one else could, but I couldn’t fight the lure. It wasn’t the deepest of sleep. Things I wanted to forget followed me. I found myself back in the crypts, chained to the wall. Bile crept up my throat as I turned my head to the side.
I came face to face with one of the corpses, its empty eye sockets tunnels of nothingness as it shuddered.
Dust sifted through the air as its jaw loosened, and a raspy, dry voice came out of the lipless mouth. “You’re just like us.” Teeth fell from its jaws, crumbling apart as they did. “You will end up just like us.”
I pressed back as far as I could go, feeling the bindings tighten on my wrists and my legs. “This isn’t real—”
“You’re just like us,” another echoed as its head jerked toward me. “You’ll end up just like us.”
“No. No.” I struggled against the bindings, feeling the bones cut through my skin. “I’m not a monster. I’m not.”
“You’re not,” a soft voice intruded, coming from everywhere and nowhere as the corpses along the wall continued shuddering and moving, their bones rubbing and grinding together. The voice sounded like… Delano? “You are meyaah Liessa. Wake up.”
The thing beside me’s mouth fell open in a scream that started silently but turned into a long, keening howl—-
“Wake up. Poppy. You can wake up. I’ve got you.” Casteel. His arm was tight around me as he gathered me as close as he could to his chest while Setti’s powerful muscles moved under us. “You’re safe. No one is going to hurt you.” His mouth pressed against my temple, warm and comforting. “Never again.”
Heart thumping erratically, I dragged in deep breaths. Had I screamed? I blinked rapidly as I struggled to free my hands from where they were tucked between Casteel’s arms and the blanket. I managed to pull one free and hastily wipe at my cool cheeks as my eyes adjusted to the faint traces of pale sunlight and the dark, almost-black leaves above us. Swallowing hard, I glanced to where Naill rode, facing straight ahead, and then before us. The white wolven ran beside the fawn-colored one, turning his head to look back at us, his ears perked. For a brief second, our gazes connected, and I felt his concern. The buzz in my chest hummed as a singular pathway opened along the connection to the wolven’s emotions, a clearer cord that fed something other than feeling. A springy, featherlight sense that had nothing to do with relief. It was almost like a brand—an imprint of Delano, of who he was at his core—unique only to him.
The wolven broke eye contact as he loped over a boulder, moving ahead of Kieran. I let out a ragged breath.
“Poppy?” Casteel’s fingers brushed my chin and then the side of my neck. “Are you okay?” he asked, his voice low.
Pulling my gaze from Delano, I nodded. “I’m fine.”
His fingers stilled, and then he lowered his hand, picking up the strands. “What were you dreaming about?”
“The crypts,” I admitted, clearing my throat. “Did I…did I scream? Or speak?”
“No,” he said, and I silently thanked the gods. “You started to squirm around a bit. You were flinching.” He paused. “Want to talk about it?”
I shook my head.
He was silent for a few moments and then he said, “They felt you. Felt whatever you were dreaming. Both Kieran and Delano. They kept looking back here,” he told me as my gaze tracked back to the two wolven. They raced over the ground—ground that was no longer as mossy. “Delano started howling. That’s when I woke you.”
“I…do you think it’s the Primal thing?” I asked, wondering if I had really heard Delano’s voice. That didn’t make sense because he had answered what I’d said in my dream.
“The Primal notam? I imagine so.”
Leaning into Casteel, I looked up. The trees were thinning, and I could see patches of the sky now painted intense shades of pink and deep blue. “Have we crossed the Skotos?”
“We have,” he confirmed. The air wasn’t nearly as cold as it had been before I’d fallen asleep.
We rode on, the sky turning dark, and the land under us smoothing and leveling out. Casteel loosened the blanket around me as we broke free of the last of the trees, and the remaining wolven poured out from our sides, joining the group. I twisted at the waist and looked behind Casteel, but it was too dark to see the trees of Aios.
I didn’t even want to think what the people of Atlantia felt when they saw the trees change. My heart tripped over itself as I faced forward again, scanning the rocky and jagged terrain. I didn’t recognize the land, even though the air seemed to warm with each passing moment.
“Where are we?” I asked as I caught sight of the large silver wolven moving ahead. Jasper easily navigated the boulders, leaping from one to another as the other wolven followed.
“We came out a bit farther south of Saion’s Cove,” Casteel explained. “Closer to the sea, at the Cliffs of Ione. There’s an old Temple here.”
“You might’ve been able to see the Cliffs from the Chambers,” Naill advised as he slowed his horse when the terrain became more uneven. “But probably not the Temple.”
“This is where my father is waiting, and Alastir is being kept,” Casteel told me.
I sat straighter, catching the blanket before it fell and tangled around Setti’s legs. Tall cypress trees dotted the landscape, thickening in the distance. The air carried the distinctive scent of salt.
“We can stop here, or we can travel onward to Saion’s Cove,” Casteel said. “We can deal with Alastir now or later. It is up to you.”
I didn’t hesitate, even though dealing with Alastir meant facing Casteel’s father. “We deal with this now.”
Something akin to pride drifted from Casteel to me as his lips touched my cheek. “So strong.”
To our left, the sound of running water reached us. In the moonlight, water glistened from the face of the Skotos Mountains and rushed across the wide strip of land. The water tumbled and spilled off the cliffs, reaching the rocks below.