“But will it be enough for them to give up power? To stop feeding and turning others?”
Telling her that I hoped so probably wouldn’t come across as very reassuring. “If any Ascended hope to live, they will.”
“Including the Queen and King?” she questioned. “Will they live and retain power?”
“No. They will not, no matter if they agree,” I said, studying her profile. I didn’t know if she knew of my past with the Queen of Solis. “Ileana raised me for many years. It was she who changed my bandages and held me when I had nightmares. She was the closest thing I had to a mother then, and I cared for her very much,” I shared, forcing my hands to relax. “It has been hard to reconcile the Queen I knew and the monster she obviously is. I don’t know if I ever will, but I don’t need to reconcile who she was to me with who she truly is to know that she nor King Jalara can live. Not after what they did to Casteel—to Malik, my brother, and everyone else.”
“And to you?”
Queen Eloana watched me quietly for several heartbeats. “You mean that.”
What she said wasn’t a question, but I answered anyway. “I do.”
Her gaze swept over my face, touching briefly on the scars. “My son said you were brave and strong. I see that is no exaggeration.”
Hearing that from Casteel’s mother meant a lot, but knowing how much strength and grit were inside her made it mean even more. There was a good chance that I might do something silly like run around the garden…or hug her.
I managed to remain seated and keep my arms to myself.
“What my son failed to mention though, is that you’re also incredibly logical,” she added.
A laugh burst from me. I couldn’t help it, and it was loud enough that Kieran looked over his shoulder at us with a questioning raise of his brows. “I’m sorry,” I said, smothering a giggle. “It’s just that Casteel would argue that logic isn’t one of my strong suits.”
There was a faint curve of her lips. “That doesn’t surprise me. Most men wouldn’t know logic if it smacked them in the face.”
This time, my laugh was a lot softer, partly due to her response and Kieran’s reactive frown.
“But because you do appear to be logical, even when emotions are involved, I feel that I can be blunt,” she continued, and my humor shriveled up. “And that I can admit that I did have yet another agenda for speaking with you privately. My husband wants to go to war with the Ascended—with Solis. There are many who wish the same.”
“The…the Council of Elders?”
A shadow flickered across her face. “Most of them want to see Solis destroyed. The Lords and Ladies of Atlantia? Very many of them, as well. It’s more than just what has been done to our sons. It is what has been done over and over to Atlantia. They want blood.”
Casteel had said as much. “I can understand that.”
“You said inside that you wanted to bring death and destruction to Solis,” she pointed out, and I shivered despite the warmth. “Valyn was probably pleased to hear that he may have a supporter in you, but I don’t believe you understand what that truly means or what has already begun.”
I flattened my hands in my lap. “What has already begun?”
“Casteel hasn’t been home to see that we’ve been training our armies daily outside of Evaemon, nor does he know that we have already moved a sizable unit to the northern foothills of the Skotos Mountains,” she told me, and I sensed Kieran’s cool surprise even from where he stood. “I’m sure he’s being told this now or will be shortly, but we are already on the line of war. And if we cross it, we will go after every Ascended. There will be no chances for them to prove they can control their bloodlust, that they can rule without tyranny and oppression.” Her steady gaze held mine as I stiffened. “Your brother? Ian? Your friend you spoke of? If either proves to be what you hope, they will still be destroyed along with the rest. All will be killed.”
I inhaled sharply. “But—”
“We gave them a chance before,” Queen Eloana interrupted as she reached out, touching one of the roses. “The entire kingdom of Atlantia did. We allowed the vamprys to grow and flourish, believing that it would be the best for all, as long as they could control themselves. We were foolish to believe that. That choice—that optimism—will not be made again by the generation who already lived through that heartbreaking failure.”
Every part of me focused on her words as anger hummed in my chest. “And you? Do you want to make war?”
“Very few men don’t want to make war, while nearly every woman wants to end it. Most would believe the former causes the most bloodshed,” she said, running a finger over the ruby petal. “They’d be wrong. The latter is always the bloodiest, and always requires a great sacrifice. But, sometimes, no matter how many measures one takes, or how much they are willing to compromise, war cannot always be prevented.”
I stilled—every part of me going quiet. What she said was so similar to the voice—that strange, smoky voice—I had heard when we neared the city limits of Saion’s Cove. It had to be a coincidence because that voice had not been hers. “But what measures has Atlantia taken to compromise since the end of the last war?”
“Some would say allowing Solis to exist would be the greatest compromise we ever offered,” she returned.
“I would say that doesn’t sound like a compromise at all,” I stated. “It sounds like Atlantia basically closed their borders and spent centuries preparing for war, biding their time instead of trying to negotiate with Solis, despite the failures of the past. Meanwhile, the Ascended continued to grow, to kill, and to terrorize. So, no, that doesn’t sound like a compromise. It sounds like complicity to me. And trust me, I would know since I was complicit for years. The only difference is that I didn’t know the truth—and that is a poor excuse when all I had to do was open my eyes to what was really happening. However, those within Atlantia always knew the truth and did nothing, allowing the Ascended to take root.”
A sense of wariness radiated from Kieran as Queen Eloana left the blossom alone and looked at me. But if my words angered or upset the Queen, I truly did not care at the moment. She had basically just told me that my brother would be killed—that it didn’t matter if any of the Ascended were capable of change. And yes, I had my doubts, but that didn’t mean they couldn’t. And the innocent people who would die were sure as hell worth at least trying.
“Brave,” the Queen murmured. “You are very brave.”
I shook my head. “I don’t know if it’s bravery or not. I know that Atlantia’s involvement would’ve been complicated, but neither Casteel nor I want war.”
“But you said—”
“I said I wanted to see the Ascended destroyed,” I cut in. “And I do. I want to see the Blood Crown destroyed, but that does not mean I want an all-out war. I may not have been alive during the last war, but I know the innocent will suffer the most—the people of Solis and the Atlantians. Maybe those within Atlantia cannot feel sympathy for those in Solis, but they are not the enemy here. They are also victims.”