When Casteel’s mouth left mine, my breath came out in short pants. He pressed his forehead against mine, holding me tightly. His voice was rich and smoky as he asked, “How many of them did you kill?”
“A few,” I answered, curling my free hand into the front of his shirt.
His lips brushed my ear. “A few?”
“A decent amount,” I amended.
Casteel kissed my cheek. “That’s my girl.”
A throat cleared, and I suspected it had come from Casteel’s father. My cheeks heated and then caught fire as Kieran said, “You have no one to blame but yourself for Cas’s inability to remember that he isn’t alone.”
King Valyn chuckled roughly. “Good point.”
Casteel kissed the center of my forehead. “You okay?”
I smiled faintly at that, but it quickly faded. I wiggled free of Casteel’s embrace and turned to the wall, scanning the entire length of it.
Dammit, the wall was empty.
“He’s gone,” I bit out.
“Who?” Casteel asked.
Frustration burned through me. “There was a man with these things. He knew about Lockswood.”
“Lockswood?” Casteel’s father echoed.
“It’s near Niel Valley in Solis.” I twisted toward Casteel. He’d gone unnaturally still, and I could sense his throbbing anger. “The inn my parents stopped at for the night—the one the Craven attacked—was in the village of Lockswood. Where my parents died. Alastir obviously told this Descenter about that night.”
“That was no Descenter,” King Valyn remarked, and both Casteel and I turned to him. He bent, picking up one of the masks that had fallen from the creature. “And those things wearing these masks? Gods, not only do they not belong here, the masks they were wearing have nothing to do with the Descenters.”
Confused, I looked at Casteel. He frowned as he glanced down at what his father held. “The Descenters wore those masks in Solis to hide their identities,” he stated.
“But they weren’t the first,” his father stated. “The Unseen were.”
“The Unseen?” I repeated.
“You’re fucking kidding me, right?” Casteel demanded. “I was under the impression that the Unseen were either disbanded or had died out long before the War of Two Kings.”
“That’s what we all thought,” King Valyn said. “Until lately.”
“What exactly are the Unseen?” I asked.
The King glanced over his shoulder, and it was then that I noticed a woman. She was tall and muscular, her skin a light brown with golden undertones, her hair jet-black in the floodlight, pulled back in a tight, singular braid much neater than the one I usually wore. She was dressed in white like the Crown Guards, but golden scrollwork crossed the center of her chest. She held a sword in one hand, and the hilt of another was visible from her back. A silent command passed between her and the King, and then she nodded. Turning, she sheathed her sword and then let out a low whistle.
Several guards drifted out of the trees’ shadows, and from the spaces the floodlights didn’t penetrate.
“Search the premises,” she ordered. “Make sure no one is here that does not belong.”
I watched the guards hurry off, splitting up and heading in different directions, passing Jasper as he prowled toward us in his wolven form. Whoever this woman was, she held a place of command. Within moments, she was the only guard remaining.
The King turned to us—to me. “Would you like to head inside?” he offered. “It appears you were caught unprepared for battle and visitors.”
Mindful of the dagger I held, I crossed my arms over my chest. “Putting on more appropriate clothing won’t change the fact that you’ve already seen me in nothing more than a shirt,” I said, surprising myself. I wasn’t at all used to so much exposed skin, but then again, I’d just faced down a bunch of creatures who had no face. My legs being visible didn’t even make the top fifty things I was currently concerned about. “I’m fine if you are. I would like to hear about whatever the Unseen are.”
Amusement radiated from both King Valyn and his son. A familiar half-grin appeared on the King’s face, and damn if there wasn’t a hint of dimples. “I am fine,” he said, handing the mask to the female guard. He sheathed his sword. “This is Hisa Fa’Mar. She is one of my most trusted. Commander of the Crown Guard.”
The woman drifted forward, and I knew the moment I saw her that she was an Atlantian, possibly even an elemental. She bowed slightly at the waist, first at the Prince and then to me.
“I do not believe we have met before,” Casteel said.
“No. We have not.” Her smile was quick as golden eyes shifted to me. “You are quite skilled at combat. I saw you briefly,” she added. “You have been trained?”
“I have. I wasn’t supposed to be, but I didn’t want to be helpless like I was the night a group of Craven attacked an inn my parents and I were at,” I explained, when the crisp, fresh taste of curiosity reached me, conscious that King Valyn was listening intently. “One of my personal guards trained me so I could defend myself. He did it in secret at great risk to his career and possibly even his life, but Vikter was brave like that.”
“Was?” King Valyn asked quietly.
The knot of heartache lodged in my throat like it always did when I thought of Vikter. “He was killed by the Descenters in the Rite attack. A lot of people died that night—innocent people.”
“I’m sorry to hear that.” Empathy flowed from him. “And to know that those who support Atlantia were the cause.”
“Thank you,” I murmured.
He stared at me for a long moment and then said, “The Unseen were an ancient brotherhood that originated at least a thousand years ago or so, after several generations of Atlantians were born, and other bloodlines took root. Roughly around the time the…” He drew in a deep breath. “Around the time the deities began to interact more with the mortals who lived in lands far from Atlantia’s original borders. The ancients began fearing that the Atlantians and the other bloodlines were not entirely supportive of their decisions regarding mortals.”
“And what kind of decisions were they making?” I asked, half-afraid of the answer based on what I’d already been told.
“The deities wanted to bring all the lands, the seas, and the islands together under one kingdom,” King Valyn said. That didn’t sound all that bad—for a brief moment. “It didn’t matter that some of those lands already had rulers. They believed they could improve the lives of others as they did with the lands just beyond the Skotos Mountains that had already been occupied by mortals. Many Atlantians and other bloodlines didn’t agree with them, believing it was best to keep focus and energy on Atlantian lives. The deities feared there would be an uprising, so they created the Unseen to serve as a…network of spies and soldiers, designed to crush any type of rebellion before it started. That was done by keeping the Unseen members’ identities hidden. That way, they could move undetected among the people of Atlantia like spies. And when it came time for them to be seen and heard, they wore masks carved to resemble the wolven.”