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A Kingdom of Flesh and Fire: Chapter 45

Dizzy, I lifted my head to see blood falling like rain from the crimson-hued cloud that stretched over the Temple and the cove.

It spattered the pristine white of the Temple floor, dampening my clothing and turning the white clothing of those who stood before me pink. It seemed to stun them as they cast their gazes to the sky.

“Tears of an angry god,” someone whispered.

 My gaze shifted to the blur of unfamiliar faces.

“It is an omen,” the Atlantian who had unsheathed his dagger announced. “They’re showing us that they know what must be done and what we will face.”

“Enough,” I said again.

“For Atlantia,” a woman said. She was closer. A mortal with Atlantian blood and crimson streaking her face. An Atlantian stood beside her, his lips peeled back to expose his fangs and the hatred in his snarl reminded me of a Craven. Of an Ascended.

“From blood and ash.” The Atlantian raised the dagger. “We will rise again, my brothers and sisters.”

The hum in my blood grew, the buzz in my skin intensified, stronger than what I’d felt before, and that ancient sense of knowledge rose deep from my pain. The cords I could see so clearly rippled out from me, connecting me to each and every one of them. It gathered all their burning hatred and scorching loathing, their acidic bitterness and thirst for vengeance after years, decades, centuries of pain inflicted upon them. And I took it.

I took it all inside me, letting it pour into every vein, every cell until it choked me, until I tasted the blood, until I drowned in it. Until I tasted death, and it was sweet.

“Enough!” I screamed as the connection to them—to all of them—crackled with energy. The cords that had always been invisible, lit up in silver, becoming visible to not only my eyes but theirs.

“Your eyes,” the Atlantian with the dagger gasped, staggering back.

Moonlight glow spilled out of me, seeping over the stone and rippling into the charged air as I stood. Thunder rolled endlessly, shaking the Temple and the nearby trees.

“Dear gods,” the Atlantian whispered, his dagger slipping from his fingers to fall soundlessly to the tile. “Forgive us.”

Too late.

The cords connecting me to all of them contracted as I threw out my arms. All the hate, the loathing, the bitterness and vengeance intensified, tripled, and then erupted from me, traveling through each of those cords, finding their way back home.

Lightning streaked overhead like a thousand screams as the group’s rancid emotions choked them.

Hair blew back from faces. Clothing pulled taut against bodies. Feet slid over stone, and they went down, one after another after another as if they were nothing more than fragile saplings caught in a windstorm.

I watched as their vileness continued feeding back to them.

I watched as they clutched at their heads, writhing and spasming, screaming and shrieking until the bones in their throats caved in under their contempt.

And then…nothing.

Silence in and outside of me. I was empty again—no hatred, no anger, no pain. Empty and cold.

I sucked in air, staggering as the silver cords connected to them sparked and fizzled out. The rain eased and then stopped, forming pinkish puddles across the floor.

Those on the stone didn’t move, they didn’t thrash and squirm. Red. There was so much red around them that ran in rivulets to the puddles, deepening the pinkish hue. They lay still, their bodies twisted and contorted as if they had been thrown about by the gods themselves. Eyes wide and mouths hanging open, hands clenched tightly around rocks or their crushed throats.

I felt nothing from them.

The bells tolled again, this time rapidly with no pauses between the gongs, and the Temple shuddered. Stone cracked behind me. The scent of blood and rich soil spilled into the air. A shadow fell over me, stretched across the floor like hundreds of bare bone fingers.

Slowly, I turned around, and my gaze crawled up thick, glistening bark and across the bare limbs of a massive tree. Tiny golden buds formed all over and blossomed, thousands unfurling to reveal blood-red leaves.

A Blood Forest tree stood, rooted where my blood had first fallen.

Movement snagged my gaze. My head jerked to the left, and whatever breath I managed to get into my lungs fled.

They were sleek shadows prowling up the wide steps, hesitating there, surveying the bodies on the stone floor.

Heads turned to one another. Pairs of keen, frosted eyes lifted to where I stood before the blood tree, breathing heavily. I tensed.

Behind them, larger ones pressed forward. Two. Three. Four. So many more. There were dozens. Maybe even a hundred. Perhaps more. Each one greater than the one before them, their fur glossy in the sunlight as the clouds overhead scattered, their eyes an incandescent blue I’d never seen before. Their ears perked and nostrils twitched as they scented the air—the blood.

As they scented me.

I recognized the shock of Delano’s white fur and then my heart twisted as I saw Kieran, his unnaturally bright eyes fixed on me, on the silvery light that still glowed around me.

Claws clicked on stone as they came forward, stepping over the fallen, heads down low, slowly moving around me, circling me, making room…

Good gods.

The color of steel, the wolven was double the size of any I’d seen, nearly as tall as me. Maybe even taller, and it stalked forward, paws the size of two of my hands.

It was Jasper. During the battle at Spessa’s End, I hadn’t realized how large he was.

The silver wolven stopped in front of me, meeting my wide-eyed stare with those unnerving, glowing eyes, and I knew if I ran or reached for the fallen dagger to protect myself, I wouldn’t make it an inch.

A shivery sense of awareness drew my gaze from Jasper, from the wolven, and beyond the statue of Nyktos.

Casteel came up the steps, his dark hair wet and windblown as if he’d run faster than the wind could travel. Faint traces of red streaked his face as he stalked forward, features stark and chin dipped low.

It struck me then, sort of dumbly, that Casteel looked like some kind of god standing there. In black, with his swords strapped to his sides, and the near brutal hardness that had settled into the striking planes and angles of his features, he reminded me of the god Theon.

Jasper turned to the Prince. The other wolven stopped circling me. Casteel’s chest rose and fell heavily as he stepped around a body, stopping only when Jasper let out a low rumble of warning.

He drew up short, taking in me, the wolven, the bodies, and the lit torches. His eyes widened a fraction as something akin to understanding flickered across his face.

“My gods,” he uttered. Golden eyes met and held mine as Casteel crossed his arms, withdrawing his swords.

Air lodged in my throat as pressure clamped down on my chest, squeezing my heart.

Casteel hadn’t arrived alone.

Others were climbing the steps. Naill. Emil. Alastir. Familiar faces. Nameless ones. My senses flickered to life in me, sensing…sensing fear and awe and so many different emotions that I was afraid it would all overwhelm me again, and I would…

I didn’t even know what I’d done.

Growls rumbled from the other wolven as two more crested the top of the stairs, followed by several dressed as the ones sprawled across the ground, their golden swords drawn. I should be concerned by them, but it was the two who had entered before them that captured my attention.

 A tall, blond man, broad of shoulder and dressed in a white tunic stained from the blood rain, whose cut jaw, straight nose, and high cheekbones were painfully familiar. He drew up short, his hand going to the sword at his side.

“Impossible,” breathed the woman who stood beside him, her hair a glossy onyx tucked back in a loose knot at the nape of her neck. The shape of her eyes and her mouth was also familiar, and she was beautiful, absolutely as breathtaking as the disbelief that poured from her.

Even if it weren’t for the similarities, the crowns of twisted, bleached bone would’ve told me who they were.

Queen Eloana’s hand pressed to the bodice of her simple, sleeveless lavender gown—a gown stained by the rain that had fallen. “Hawke…”

The silvery glow around me pulled back and faded, seeping into my skin as my entire body shuddered.

“What have you done?” she asked, her eyes as vibrant as her son’s as she stepped forward. “What have you brought back?”

“It’s not too late,” Alastir spoke, startling me. “It’s not, Eloana—”

“Yes.” Her gaze swept back to me, to where the wolven surrounded me and then to her son.

My gaze swiveled back to Casteel. He stood right there, no more than a dozen feet or so from me, but it seemed like an impossible distance, an impassible gulf.

He stood right there.



The Prince of Atlantia.

The Dark One.

My husband.

My heartmate.

Casteel lowered to one knee, crossing the swords over his chest as he bowed his head between the vee of the deadly sharp blades. A stuttered heartbeat passed, and he lifted his chin just enough that he saw me.

The wolven sank onto their haunches, heads bowed, but their lips peeling back in snarls as those behind the King and Queen quietly advanced.

“Yes, it is,” his mother spoke again, reaching up and curling her fingers around the twisted bones.

Queen Eloana removed her crown, and with wide eyes, I watched her place it on the Temple floor, at the feet of the statue of Nyktos.

With a whoosh of air, flames roared from the stone torch of Nyktos, flickering and dancing in the wind. The other torches followed suit, fire sparking to life, and the bones of the crown shimmered, the bleached whiteness of them cracking, slipping away and turning to ash, revealing the gilded bones underneath.

“Lower your swords,” she commanded, her chin lifting even as she lowered to one knee, even as a potent, helpless sort of rage drenched the space around her, one that carried the stench of a long-buried fear come to fruition. “And bow before the…before the last descendent of the most ancient ones, she who carries the blood of the King of the Gods within her. Bow before your new Queen.”


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