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A Soul of Ash and Blood: Chapter 47

PRESENT VIII

“That strange feeling I’d felt when we were beneath the willow?” I said to Poppy, brushing my lips over the crown of her head, just like I had then. “The sensation of rightness? It was a part of my soul recognizing yours. Heartmate. That’s what I felt falling into place. I had no idea that was what I was feeling then.”

“And you didn’t want to believe it,” Kieran remarked. He sat cross-legged between Poppy and Delano, rooting through a small bowl of almonds. “When I told you she was your heartmate.”

“Who would believe it?” I countered.

He pinned me with a dry look. “Anyone who saw you two together.”

I huffed out a laugh, shaking my head. “It was just hard to believe. Heartmates are rare.”

Kieran’s gaze shifted to Poppy. “Yeah, but she’s rare.”

I glanced down at her. “Understatement of a lifetime.” I brushed aside the strand of hair that kept finding its way onto her face. “What she allowed herself under the willow? It was brave. I know it wouldn’t seem that way to us, but it was.”

“No. I get it.” Kieran popped an almond into his mouth, chewing softly for several moments. “I didn’t really know her then, but I knew enough about the society the Ascended had created and what was expected of her—what she was forbidden.”

I nodded slowly.

“By the way, I had my suspicions even then.” He threw an almond, and I caught it. “I knew something was up.”

“Because of the Duke?” I tossed the nut into my mouth.

Kieran chuckled, shaking his head as he offered Delano a handful of almonds. “Before that.”

I arched a brow as Delano took the nuts, somehow managing not to bite Kieran’s hand off in the process.

“After the Red Pearl, when you didn’t want to talk about her. I knew then.” Kieran leaned down, placing the bowl on the floor. “You were already protective of her.”

I had been, and it seemed a little ridiculous even now, but that was the thing about heartmates. It didn’t mean that any other love was less than. Fuck, I knew others who loved each other just as strongly as Poppy and I loved one another. Heartmates were just a whole other breed. An emotion that was stronger and more secure, creating an undeniable pull. It hadn’t mattered that I didn’t know Poppy then. We were two pieces that fit together, and our souls had recognized that, even if neither of us had.

And it made me think of my brother. What he claimed. What I knew had to be true for him to stay in Carsodonia and not attempt to escape any number of times. But Millicent? I exhaled a long breath. Could she even have a heartmate? I supposed it wasn’t impossible, but… “What the fuck is Millicent?”

Kieran’s brow rose. “That was random.”

It was. But it was a legitimate question. “I mean, she’s not exactly a Revenant, right? She’s still Ires’s daughter. That would make her a god.”

“But not,” Kieran said, his dark brows furrowing. “Because she didn’t Ascend. Your blood wasn’t…” He frowned. “Good enough.”

“Thanks.”

A brief smile appeared as he straightened the hem of Poppy’s nightgown. “We still don’t for sure know how Revenants are even made. Or how the hell that Callum fuck has managed to stay alive so long.” He leaned back, patting Delano as the wolven gave a low growl. “But I bet Millicent knows.”

“Yeah.” Head tipped back, I stared at the ceiling as I ran my thumb in slow circles across Poppy’s shoulder. “The night of the Rite…”

“Things got out of hand,” Kieran finished.

Out of hand? It was both a success and a disaster.

“What happened that night wasn’t what you planned,” Kieran stated. “You didn’t order the Descenters to attack the Rite—to attack mortals. They were just supposed to set a few dozen or so fires and take out some Ascended and their enablers. That was all.”

“I know.” My jaw worked. “But I’m still responsible. They found their own power and strength to fight back. That’s what I wanted, and they did it in my name. I have to own that. We all do.”

Kieran went silent, but I knew he understood.

I drew my teeth over my lower lip. “I had to kill some of them. Men who risked everything for me—for Atlantia and freedom. It made me sick.”

“It made us all sick,” Kieran said quietly. He, too, had to end some Descenters’ lives.

“But it had to be done.” The circles I drew on Poppy’s skin calmed me. “My father would say that just because one starts out on the right side of history doesn’t mean they remain there,” I said, knowing the same could be said about me at any point. But what happened that night had been different. I thought of the two Ladies in Wait who had fluttered about the atrium like hummingbirds. Dafina and Loren. They hadn’t deserved to die. Many of the Lords and Ladies in Wait had no idea what the Ascended truly were, but the beaten-down, broken people of Masadonia couldn’t tell the difference between those who didn’t know better and those who enabled their oppressors.

“My father would also say that the deaths of innocents are an unfortunate consequence of the fight against tyranny,” I said. “And he would be genuine. Not dismissive or dispassionate like someone who’s never lifted a sword in battle. He knows the cost of each life lost. It was why he pulled the Atlantian forces back at the end of the last war.” I squinted. “But what I know? What I’ve learned? The line between right and wrong is a thin one that is often crossed without intention or knowledge. Most of us live with one foot planted on each side.

“That night?” My thumb stilled as I took in how Poppy’s lips were parted and the still lashes fanning her cheeks. “Few found themselves on the right side.” I pressed a kiss to her brow. “Gods know, I didn’t.”


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