“I am no fool.” The man reached up, unhooking the chain from his shoulder. “You, the one foretold in the bones, should’ve never survived that night in Lockswood.”
Tiny bumps raced across my skin as my entire body seized in shock. It had nothing to do with the so-called prophecy. Lockswood. I hadn’t heard anyone speak the name of the small village in years. Not even Alastir had said it.
But it was clear that Alastir had shared what he had taken part in all those years ago with this man. “Who are you?”
“I am no one. I am everyone.” He rose slowly. “And you will be the Queen of nothing. Kill her.”
The things before us moved as one, rushing forward. The growl that came from Kieran’s very mortal throat should’ve sent them running, but it didn’t. Several surrounded us. Using a curse that would’ve turned Vikter’s seasoned ears red, I dipped under the wide swing of an attacker. A stale floral scent hit the air as Kieran’s arm swept out, dragging the sharpened edge of his blade through the throat of two of the things.
“Good gods,” Kieran exclaimed as I popped up behind the things in Descenter masks and kicked out, slamming the heel of my foot into the back of a kneecap. The thing made no sound as his leg gave out. I twisted at the same instant, shoving my dagger into the chest of another. That stale scent increased as an oily, black substance sprayed out over my hand.
That was definitely not blood.
I gasped as I pulled the dagger free. The thing staggered and then broke apart—shattering into a fine dusting of dirt and black oil that gleamed purple in the light. The Royal Knights had done something similar upon being stabbed with bloodstone, but the knights’ skin and bodies had cracked first. These things just exploded in a geyser of purple yuck that smelled like stale lilacs.
As the other creature started to regain his footing, I spun, wrapping my arm around his masked head. I jerked back and thrust the dagger into the weak spot at the base of his skull. I let go, jumping back before the thing erupted.
“What are these things?” I yelled, backing away from the oily stain the two had left behind.
“I have no idea.” Kieran took out another as his lip curled in disgust. “Just kill them.”
“Oh, well, I was thinking about keeping one.” Cold, clammy fingers grazed my arm as I whirled around. “You know, as a—”
“If you say pet, I’m going to think you’re more demented than Cas.”
“I was going to say friend.”
Kieran looked over at me, brows arched. “That’s even worse.”
I snapped forward, grabbing the edge of a mask. I yanked hard. Rope snapped. The mask slipped free—
“Oh, my gods!” I shrieked as I staggered back.
The thing didn’t have a face.
Not really. There was no nose. No mouth. Just thin, black slits where eyes should’ve been. Everything else was smooth, thin, pale flesh.
I would never unsee this.
“Take it back! Here.” I flung the bronze mask back at the thing. The metal bounced off its chest and hit the ground. It cocked its head to the side.
“What?” Kieran shifted toward me. “Holy shit, it’s a—I think it’s a Gyrm.”
“Something that does not belong here.”
“That’s not helpful.” I pointed at it with my dagger. “It has no face!”
“I can see that.”
“How does it even breathe?”
“Now”—he grunted as one of the things jumped on his back. Bending, he flipped it over—“is not the time for questions, Poppy.”
Good point, but still, how did it breathe with no mouth or nose?
The Gyrm thing came at me, and I forced myself past being creeped out. I needed to focus because the one who apparently had a mouth and could speak, knew about Lockswood. I would have to freak out about these things later. I met its attack, shoving my blade deep into the creature’s chest. I wasn’t as quick as before, and black liquid sprayed the front of Casteel’s shirt.
Whirling around, I spotted the male on the wall. I stalked forward, ignoring the sharp stones under my bare feet.
Another Gyrm shot toward me, and I braced myself. He lifted his sword, but I struck first, jamming my dagger up under the edge of his mask. I jerked back as he fell, his body fracturing into nothing within seconds. I turned to see Kieran jerk his blade through the neck of another. Purple goo sprayed out as his gaze found mine.
“Your eyes,” he uttered, dragging the back of his hand over his face. “They’re glowing quite brightly.”
The hum in my chest was a whisper in my blood as I turned back to the wall. The man was still there, and the energy building inside me felt like it had at the Chambers of Nyktos. My heart tripped over itself as another masked creature appeared in the bright light. I tightened my grip on the dagger, resisting the pull of that vibration. I didn’t want to do that again. Not until I fully understood it and knew I could stop it.
A damp hand clamped around my arm. Letting all those early mornings and afternoons spent with Vikter take hold, I twisted inward and swept out with my leg. The Gyrm hadn’t expected the move, or maybe I had simply moved faster than it could react to. I took his legs out from under him and then brought the dagger down, a direct hit to the chest. Springing to my feet, I turned to find another.
The creature lifted his sword, and I snapped forward, blocking its blow as I shoved the dagger deep into its chest. Yanking the blade free, I darted to the side as it fell apart. I lifted my gaze to the tall form that had replaced the one who’d now fallen—
I drew back a step. Casteel’s father stood there, his own cream-colored shirt splattered with purplish-red liquid. How many of these things were roaming about? Surprise radiated from him in waves as his wide gaze swept over me, and that was about when I remembered that I wore nothing but Casteel’s shirt—his now-ruined shirt.
Could I not meet Casteel’s family under normal circumstances?
“Hello,” I murmured, straightening.
King Valyn’s brows lifted, and then he lurched toward me, his sword rising. My heart stuttered as panic seized me. I froze in horrified disbelief. He was going to—
Grabbing my arm as he thrust out with his sword, he yanked me to the side. Air punched out of my lungs as I stumbled, finding a masked Gyrm impaled on the King’s sword.
“T-thank you,” I stuttered as the thing shattered.
Amber eyes flashed to mine. “Did you think my strike was meant for you?” he asked.
“I…” Good gods, I really had.
Casteel prowled out of the shadows then, drops of the purplish blood dotting the striking lines and angles of his face. He wasn’t alone. Several guards flanked him. His gaze zeroed in on me, searching for signs of any new injury or wound. There were none, but if there had been, I knew he would’ve found them. He stalked right to me, his sword slick with whatever existed in those creatures lowered at his side. His star-bright eyes snagged mine and held. My breath caught as he curled his arm around my waist, drawing me hard against his chest. The heat of his body quickly seeped through our shirts. It was like no one else was in the garden as he lowered his mouth to mine—surely not his father, because the kiss was fierce and deep, making my heart race.