I set the pillow aside. “What is it?”
“I don’t know. I thought I heard something.” He rose, his attention focused on the closed doors as he reached inside his boot and pulled out a narrow, long-bladed dagger. “Stay here.”
Stay here? My nose wrinkled as I scrambled across the bed, nearly taking out the platter of leftover meat and cheese. Snatching the wolven dagger, I slipped it free from its sheath as I stood.
“And, of course, you are not staying put,” Kieran muttered, opening one of the double doors.
“Nope.” I followed behind him.
Kieran stepped out onto the veranda. The only light came from what spilled over from the bedchamber and a small lantern above a wide outdoor daybed. His gaze focused on the wall several yards away as he walked forward, brushing aside a sheer curtain.
I scanned the trees and the wall beyond them, barely making out the heavy vines draped over the stone in the moonlight. “What?”
“Sage was patrolling this section of the wall. She’s a wolven,” he explained. “I don’t see her at all.”
A shout came from our left, near the stables. I twisted at the waist, stepping off the patio onto stone that was still warm from baking in the sun all day.
Kieran caught my arm. “Don’t you dare.”
I pulled against his hold, my gaze swinging up to him in surprise. I couldn’t believe he was stopping me. “Something is happening. Casteel is—”
“Cas will be fine,” he snapped, hauling me into the enclosed patio once more. “I know you can fight. You’re a badass, Poppy. But not only will Casteel have my head if something happens to you, you are also our Queen.”
I sucked in a sharp breath. “I am no one’s Queen. I am just Poppy.”
“Whether you claim the throne or not, you are still our Liessa.”
“So you expect me to hide, then? Is that what being a Queen means to the wolven?” I glared up at him, feeling the acidic burn of his anger, and the heavier press of his concern. It was a new experience to feel anything other than wry amusement from Kieran. “Then what kind of Queen would that make me?”
His jaw hardened. “The kind that stays alive.”
“And the kind not worthy of those willing to defend her,” I snapped, struggling to remind myself that his reluctance came from a place of worry. “Now let go of my arm.”
I stopped considering all his possible good intentions. “Or I will make you.”
Kieran’s pale gaze burned brightly as he lowered his head so we were nearly eye-to-eye. “You are already worthy of those who protect you,” he bit out. “Which is infuriating.”
I tugged on my arm again. “I’m a little confused.”
“If you weren’t so brave, my life and Casteel’s would be a hell of a lot easier,” he muttered, releasing my arm. “Do not get yourself killed.”
“How about you try not to get yourself killed, huh?” I retorted, and his brows furrowed as he stared at me. “By the way, you and I are going to discuss this later.”
“Can’t wait,” Kieran muttered.
Another shout reached us before I could respond. I spun toward the sound. It was closer, quickly followed by a rumbling growl.
Without warning, lights flared across the wall, startling me. I stepped back, bumping into Kieran. His hand landed on my shoulder, steadying me as bright beams of lights cut through the trees and blossom-heavy bushes.
A shadow peeled away from a tree and stepped into a funnel of light. My entire body flashed cold. A pale, bare-chested man stood before us, his face hidden behind the familiar mask of a Descenter.
Alastir’s parting words stung my skin. You think this ends with me? I had hoped it had, but the man across from us was proof that what Alastir had been involved in hadn’t ended with his death.
“Hell,” Kieran muttered under his breath as at least a dozen more drifted from behind trees and bushes in the courtyard.
“I’m guessing these aren’t friendly Descenters?” I asked.
The Descenter closest to us unstrapped a dagger from his hip.
“I’m going to go with no,” I answered my own question, my pulse kicking up as I stared at the blade. “And I’m also going to assume that they no longer have any intention of not outright killing me.”
“That’s not going to happen,” Kieran promised.
“No. It won’t.” My grip tightened on the wolven dagger as I scanned them. From what I could tell, they all appeared to be male. They had to be part of the brotherhood Alastir had spoken of, but that couldn’t mean that all Descenters were involved. Although, if any in Atlantia looked upon me as the Maiden, a tool of the Ascended, it would be them.
I allowed my senses to stretch out, and what came back to me was…cold emptiness. “I…I don’t feel anything,” I whispered, focusing on the one with the dark blade. Unnerved, I realized I still sensed nothing. “It’s like with the Ascended.”
“They are not Ascended,” Kieran said, his nostrils flaring as he scented the air.
There was something…off about the men standing in the beams of light. Something that had nothing to do with my inability to read their emotions. Shivers broke out across my flesh as I stared at them. It was their skin. It appeared paper-thin and too pale as if not a drop of blood remained in their veins. My stomach squeezed tightly. “Are they…? They aren’t Atlantians, are they? Or any other bloodline?”
“No,” Kieran growled. “I have no idea what these things are.”
I swallowed hard as instinct demanded that I put as much distance between myself and these things as I could. The Craven always provoked the same reaction, but I didn’t run from them, and I wouldn’t run now.
Kieran’s chin dipped. “I have no idea what in the hell any of you are, but whatever you are planning, I strongly advise against it.”
Movement along the wall caught my attention. Another masked man was crouched there, his skin carrying a pink undertone. He wasn’t the shade of death. I reached out with my senses, tasting…something dry and oaky, like whiskey—almost nutty. Determination. The one on the wall was different. He was alive, for starters. My eyes narrowed on an ivory and gray-brown chain draped over his chest. Anger rushed through me like a swarm of hornets. If there had been any doubt about what they wanted, it was erased now. Those bindings would not touch my skin again.
“You have no idea what you guard, wolven,” the masked male spoke, his deep voice muffled from behind the mask. “What you seek to protect.”
“I know exactly who I protect,” Kieran stated.
“You don’t, but you will,” the man replied. “We just want the Maiden.”
“I am not the Maiden.” I welcomed the burn of my rage. It smothered the ache of grief over the fact that others were of like mind with Alastir. I pushed it aside before the sadness could settle inside me.
“Would you rather be called the Blessed One? The Chosen?” he countered. “Or would you prefer to be addressed as the Harbinger? The Bringer of Death and Destruction?”
I stiffened. I had heard those titles before, but I’d forgotten. Jansen had called Nyktos something similar. The hum in my chest vibrated. “If you truly believe that is what I am, then you’re a fool to stand there and threaten me.”