Casteel’s stare met mine, and it took a lot for me to nod. “You sure?” he asked, his voice low.
“I am,” I confirmed, even as I wanted to shout in frustration.
His father’s chest rose. “Thank you. I think we all need this extra time,” he said, and tiny balls of unease took root. Alastir had said that Casteel’s parents weren’t involved, but there was a reason he wanted to delay this conversation—why he wanted his wife present. “I believe it would be extremely wise for us to keep this from anyone not present at the ruins,” he advised. In other words, no one needed to know that Casteel had Ascended me. “And that all who were there, be sworn to secrecy.”
“Agreed,” Casteel stated.
“But you sense something different about me, right?” I looked between the two. “Wouldn’t any who can sense that know?”
“They will only know that you are neither vampry nor mortal. What they feel will not tell them what occurred,” he explained, and that was definitely a comfort to know. But what about the trees of Aios? That must have alerted the people of Atlantia that something had happened. “Am I free to go, then?” he asked of his son, and I couldn’t determine if that was a serious question or not.
Casteel nodded. Kieran and the others tracked the King as he walked toward us, stopping a few feet away as he stared at his son. Neither of them spoke. I wasn’t naïve enough to believe that no damage had been done to their relationship, even though I wished that wasn’t the case. I only hoped it was repairable.
King Valyn’s gaze shifted to mine. “I am sorry for what was done to you when you arrived and what has happened since. This is not who Atlantia is. Neither Eloana nor I would have allowed something like this to happen if we’d known what Alastir had planned,” he told me as empathy pushed through the walls he’d built, reaching me. “And I also know that my apology does very little to change or rectify what has happened—what could have been the outcome of such treachery and evil. And that is what Alastir and those who conspired with him have committed.”
I nodded. “It’s…” I stopped myself before telling him it was okay. Because it wasn’t—none of this was. So, all I could do was nod once more.
King Valyn turned to his son. “I can only assume what you plan to do with Alastir and the others who are held below, but I want your assurance that he will not survive the night. If he does, he will be executed in the morning,” he told Casteel. “And while the crown still sits upon my head, it is an order I will personally ensure is carried out.”
While I was glad he didn’t demand leniency for Alastir, the part about the crown sent a wave of anxiety through me. I knew what he meant without him having to say it more clearly. He didn’t expect to bear the weight of the crown for much longer.
“He will not survive the night,” Casteel assured him. “None of them will.”
King Valyn nodded and then hesitated for a moment. “Come to us when you are both ready. We will be waiting.”
I watched Casteel’s father make his way around us, the wolven clearing a path for him.
“Wait. Please.” Aware of Casteel’s stare, I turned to where his father stopped before the door. He looked back at me. “You were at the ruins in the Wastelands. Thank you for helping Casteel—for helping me,” I said, hoping I wasn’t proven a fool later for thanking him. “Thank you.”
King Valyn’s head tilted to the side. “You don’t have to thank me. You’re family now. Of course, I would help you.”
Kieran sat beside me in his wolven form as I stood between the cypresses, under the splintered beams of moonlight. The cliff’s edge overlooked Saion Cove’s now-dark waters, reflecting the deep blues and blacks of the night sky. From here, I could see the city lights glittering like stars coming to rest beyond the trees and valleys. It all looked like a beautiful canvas, almost unreal. It reminded me a little of Carsodonia, but even in the middle of the night, the bay would be full of ships, transporting people and goods in and out. But it was peaceful here, with the sound of the waterfalls and distant calls of nightbirds, and I was shocked and relieved to feel the same as I had when I stood in the Chambers of Nyktos.
I still felt like I was home.
Was it my bloodline—the eather in it—recognizing the land, the air, and the sea? Was my heritage that powerful? Because I honestly hadn’t believed I would feel that after the attack.
A warm breeze sent a tangled strand of hair across my face. I caught it, tucking it back as the same current caught the edges of the cloak I wore, lifting them. Would my parents—at least the one who carried Atlantian blood in them—have felt this way upon seeing Atlantia? If they had made it. My chest clenched with sorrow and anger, and it took everything in me to push it down and not let it take over. If I allowed that, the nasty ball of emotion that had settled in my chest would work its way free, and I…I couldn’t allow that to happen. Not now.
Weight pressed against my leg and hip, and I looked down to find that Kieran had leaned into me. Like I often did with Delano, the urge to pet or scratch his head was hard to ignore. He’d stayed outside with me after Casteel had led me onto a stone pavilion behind the Temple of Saion and then went underground with a few others to retrieve Alastir from the crypts.
It wasn’t the same one they’d kept me in, but Casteel had asked me to stay aboveground. I imagined he did that because he didn’t want me to be surrounded by the dead again, to be reminded of my time spent with them. His foresight was another thing I was eternally grateful for.
I turned back to the sea as I dredged up the hope I’d felt when I realized that there was a chance that Ian was like me. If he was, then he could come here. He would love it. I already knew it after only seeing what little I had. He would feel the peace, too. And when he saw the sea, as clear as it was during the day, and as dark as it was at night? I couldn’t wait to discover what stories he’d be inspired to tell. A smile tugged at my lips.
Kieran stood, ears perking as he heard the footsteps several moments before me. Maybe I was stronger, but it appeared I hadn’t developed the nifty hearing abilities of the Atlantians—because, of course not.
I looked over my shoulder. Emil approached slowly, aware that Kieran wasn’t the only wolven among the trees.
“It is time?” I asked.
Emil nodded as he stopped several feet from me. “When Alastir saw that Cas was alone, he believed you to be dead. We didn’t correct that assumption. Cas thought that the belief would make Alastir more inclined to speak, to incriminate any others who may be involved. But the bastard isn’t saying much.”
“But he is saying something?”
Emil’s jaw hardened. “Nothing that needs repeating.”
“Let me guess? He said that he was only doing what he needed to do to protect Atlantia and that I was a threat?” I surmised, and the Atlantian’s gaze turned steely. “And I imagine he was also incredibly polite and apologetic as he said those things.”
“Sounds about right,” Emil sneered, and I wasn’t surprised or disappointed. What else could Alastir truly say? Admit that there hadn’t been anyone else there that night at the inn? It wouldn’t matter if he did. There was nothing any of us needed to hear from him. At least, nothing I wanted. “Which is also why I think Casteel allowed him to believe you’re dead. I think he’s already amused by the look that will most likely settle upon Alastir’s face when he realizes that he failed. Come.” Emil started to turn. “Cas will summon us when he wants us to make our presence known.”