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A Soul of Ash and Blood: Chapter 67


“You’re no fun,” Jericho muttered as Poppy stared up at me. “Have I told you that before?”

“A time or a dozen,” I said.

Poppy flinched.

She’d flinched because of me. I couldn’t let myself process that. Nor could I allow myself to see what I did in her eyes. I already knew what was there. Disbelief. Dawning understanding. Horror. Pain. Betrayal—

I looked away, my gaze skipping over the bloodied straw and bodies. “This mess needs to be cleaned up.”

Kieran shook his head, then rose. The sound of his bones shortening and cracking back into place only lasted seconds. Once more, he stood beside me in his mortal form. I looked for signs of his injury, seeing only a faint mark on his side. I raised a brow at the torn breeches. Usually, he made no attempt to make sure his clothing survived the transition. I imagined he’d done it for her. My jaw locked once more.

“This isn’t the only mess that needs to be cleaned up,” Kieran said, stretching his neck muscles.

I knew he wasn’t talking about her. He was talking about me. This mess I’d created—one gaining an audience. People were filling the shadows of the barn and behind me, drawn by the commotion.

I looked at Poppy. She’d sat back, her chest still rising too fast, too shallowly. “You and I need to talk.”

“Talk?” Poppy laughed, but it reminded me of crackling flames.

“I’m sure you have a lot of questions,” I said, softening my voice as I saw her grip on the dagger tighten.

She flinched again.

I inhaled sharply through my nose.

“Where…?” Poppy tried again. “Where are the other two guards?”

“Dead,” I admitted, watching her closely. “It was an unfortunate necessity.”

Poppy went silent. I kept an eye on that dagger. Needing to get her out of here before she did something that provoked the others to react, I took a step toward her.

“No.” Poppy launched to her feet. “Tell me what’s going on here.”

I stopped, forcing my voice even lower. “You know what’s going on here.”

Poppy opened her mouth. Her gaze darted to where Elijah stood beside Magda behind me. Soft footsteps sounded, and I knew at least Magda had left. She had a good heart and soul. She didn’t want to see this.

“Phillips was right,” Poppy said, her voice trembling.

“He was?” I handed the crossbow to Naill as he came up behind me.

“I do believe Phillips had begun to figure things out,” Kieran answered. “They were coming out of the room when I went up to check on her. She didn’t seem to believe whatever it was he’d told her, though.”

I saw it again in Poppy’s face—another moment of realization. The way her face paled, causing the scars to stand out more. How her chest rose sharply. The tremor that went through her.

I pressed my lips together as I felt that wall I’d fortified, that mess inside me, begin to crack. Elijah was right, I reminded myself. No one here could see any of that, not even Poppy.

“Well, he’s not going to be figuring anything out again,” Jericho drawled, gripping the bolt that held Phillips. He tore it free, letting the mortal fall. He nudged the man. “That’s for sure.”

One of these days, I was going to kill that fucker.

“You’re a Descenter,” Poppy rasped.

“A Descenter?” Elijah laughed. Because, of course, he would find that funny.

Jericho frowned at Poppy. “And here I said you were smart.”

Poppy ignored him. “You’re working against the Ascended.”

I nodded.

The breath she took sounded broken. “You…you know this…this thing that killed Rylan?”

“Thing?” Jericho drew back. “I’m insulted.”

“That sounds like your problem, not mine,” Poppy snapped, and I had to fight back a grin. That wouldn’t help anything. She faced me. “I thought the wolven were extinct.”

“There are many things that you thought to be true that are not,” I said. “However, while the wolven aren’t extinct, there aren’t many left.”

Poppy’s nostrils flared. “Did you know he killed Rylan?”

“I thought I could speed this up and grab you, but we know how that turned out,” Jericho chimed in.

Her attention shot to him. “Yes, I clearly remember how that turned out for you.”

Jericho’s snarl came from deep within him.

I stepped closer. “I knew he was going to create an opening.”

“For you…to become my personal Royal Guard?”

“I needed to get close to you.”

Poppy shuddered. “Well, you succeeded at that, didn’t you?”

That wall inside me shook. “What you’re thinking…?” I knew she was thinking about earlier tonight. Us. “You could not be further from the truth.”

“You have no idea what I’m thinking.” Poppy’s grip on the dagger was a white-knuckled one. “And all of this was…what? A trick? You were sent here to get close to me?”

Kieran’s brows lifted. “Sent—”

I shut Kieran up with a look.

“You were sent by the Dark One,” Poppy stated.

She didn’t… Fuck. She had yet to realize that I was the so-called Dark One—or was, at the very least, refusing to acknowledge what was clearly in front of her. I couldn’t blame her for that, but I would do what I did best. I would exploit it. There was a good chance I could talk to her…sensibly if she didn’t let herself believe that the Dark One and I were one and the same.

“I came to Masadonia with one goal in mind,” I said. “And that was you.”

“How?” Poppy lifted her chin, swallowing. “Why?”

“You’d be surprised how many of those close to you support Atlantia, who want to see the kingdom restored,” I told her. “Many who paved the way for me.”

“Commander Jansen?” Poppy guessed.

“She is smart,” I said, smiling just a little because, godsdamn, she was fucking amazing. Even right now, faced with my betrayal. She held on to calm. She was figuring shit out. I was in awe of her. “Like I told you all.”

Poppy blinked rapidly. “Did you even work in the capital?” Her gaze flipped to Kieran. “The night at the…” She couldn’t finish, but I knew she was thinking about the Red Pearl. “You knew who I was from the beginning.”

“I was watching you as long as you were watching me,” I said quietly. “Even longer.”

A tremor, stronger than the ones before, ran through her. “You…you were planning this for a while.”

“For a very long time,” I confirmed.

“Hannes.” Her voice was thick, hoarse. “He didn’t die of a heart ailment, did he?”

“I do believe his heart did give out on him,” I said. “The poison he drank in his ale that night at the Red Pearl surely had something to do with it.”

“Did a certain woman there help him with his drink?” she demanded. “The same one that sent me upstairs?”

What woman was she speaking of? The one at the Red Pearl that she thought was a Seer?

“I feel like I’m missing vital pieces here,” Delano murmured under his breath.

“I’ll fill you in later,” Kieran commented.

Poppy’s trembling increased as she whispered, “Vikter?”

I shook my head. I was responsible, but I hadn’t ordered his death.

“Don’t lie to me!” Poppy screamed. “Did you know there’d be an attack on the Rite? Is that why you disappeared? Why you weren’t there when Vikter was killed?”

I could see the calm beginning to thin. I needed to get her out of here before it disappeared because if I knew anything about Poppy, she was like me when cornered. Dangerous. And too many were getting too close to her. Idiot Jericho. Rolf, who usually knew better. A half-Atlantian with a sword drawn. Delano.

“What I know is that you’re upset. I don’t blame you, but I’ve also seen what happens when you get really angry.” I lifted my hands, keeping them where she could see them. “There is a lot I need to tell—”

I saw it coming a second before she moved.

Poppy did what I feared. Cornered, she lashed out, and with that damn dagger, too. Her arm cocked back, and she hurled the blade right at my damn chest.

“Fuck,” I spat, spinning to the side as I reached out, catching the dagger before it found a new victim.

Naill whistled softly.

I spun back to her. Godsdamn, she was vicious.

And she was also clever.

Poppy had to know I would catch it, which meant…

Godsdamn it.

She dipped, snatching up Phillips’ fallen sword. I halted for half a second. That was all she needed. She twisted, swinging out with the sword. Not at me. At Jericho.

The wolven jumped back, but it caught him off guard, still obviously underestimating her. She sliced him right across the stomach.

almost laughed, except she’d spilled blood, and shit was about to get out of hand.

“Bitch,” Jericho snarled, smacking his remaining hand on his wound.

Poppy turned as several charged her. I shot forward, catching one of the half-Atlantians in the chest, shoving him back as Kieran snapped forward. A sword sliced through the air as Kieran caught Poppy around the waist, pulling her away from Rolf and another. I caught the wolven by the hem of his shirt, hauling him back.

“No,” I growled, thrusting him into the half-Atlantian. I turned only to see Kieran go down on his back.

Poppy kicked her head back into his face, causing him to yelp. His hold on her loosened.

Poppy tore free, scrambling for the sword. She got there before Delano. He wisely backed off as she rose. I saw her spin, her wild eyes connecting with mine.

She locked up.

I seized the moment. “That was very naughty.” I grabbed the sword, wrenching it from her grip. I needed to keep her attention—her anger—focused on me. If she went after another of them, I would have to kill every fucker in this barn. “You are so incredibly violent.” I dipped my chin and whispered what I knew would ensure she paid no mind to anyone else. “It still turns me on.”

She screamed, jabbing her elbow right into my chin.

“Dammit,” I said, laughing as pain—which I deserved—went down my spine. “Doesn’t change what I just said.”

Poppy whirled to the door.

Elijah blocked the entrance, tsking under his breath as he shook his head.

Stepping back, she turned to her left, where Kieran stood. He blinked slowly. She twisted and took off.

I caught her before she made it two steps, spinning her around. Her legs tangled with mine, tripping us. We went down, her first. I twisted with a second to spare, hitting the floor hard on my back.

“You’re welcome,” I grunted.

Shrieking like a cave cat, she brought the heel of her foot down on my shin. Pain radiated up my leg, forcing the air out of my lungs as she twisted, straining against my arms until I was afraid she would hurt herself. I let go just enough. She turned in my hold, straddling me—

I grinned at her. “I’m liking where this is headed.”

Poppy punched me in the cheek fucking hard, knocking my head back against the straw. She cocked that arm back again.

I caught her wrist, yanking her down so she couldn’t get the leverage needed for that other hand. “You hit like you’re angry with me.”

She shifted, thrusting her knee between my legs, and while I’d let her get a couple of good hits in, that was a hell no.

I blocked her with my thigh. “That would’ve done some damage.”

“Good,” she spat, her braid hanging over her shoulder and that strand of hair in her face. I’d move it out of the way for her, but she’d likely take that moment to claw my eyes out, or worse, go after someone else.

“Now, now.” I kept my voice low, knowing that only Kieran was possibly close enough to hear. “You’d be disappointed later if I couldn’t use it.”

Her lips parted as she stared down at me, disbelief filling her eyes. “I would rather cut it from your body.”

I lifted my head from the straw and whispered, “Liar.”

Perhaps I’d gone too far in my attempt to keep her focused on me because the rage that poured from her reminded me of the sound she’d made when she turned on Mazeen.


That kind of anger gave a person unbelievable strength. She reared back, breaking my hold. Then, jumping to her feet above me, she lifted her foot. I caught it before she could stomp on my throat, pulling her leg down so she didn’t run. If she did, she would likely engage another.

Poppy hit the floor beside me, and not even one breath later, I felt her fist hitting my side with enough force to crack my ribs.

“Damn,” Kieran drawled.

“Should we intervene?” Delano asked as she moved to punch me again. I blocked her with my arm.

“No.” Elijah laughed. The fucker. “This is the best thing I’ve seen in a while. Who would’ve thought the Maiden could throw down?”

“This is why you don’t mix business with pleasure,” Kieran commented.

“Is that the case?” Elijah whistled. I knew damn well he already suspected that, but he was a bastard. “My money is on her then.”

“Traitors,” I gasped as I knocked Poppy’s hands aside as she started grabbing for my head, likely trying to snap my neck. Honestly, I would’ve let her just to see if she could do it, but this had to end before she hurt herself.

Or me.

I moved faster than she could stop, coming over her and forcing her onto her back. She went for my face this time. I caught her wrists. “Stop it.”

Poppy was not ready to stop.

She lifted her hips, trying to throw me. She then pushed with her upper body, but I kept her pinned and scanned the front of her shirt. The material was dark, but it looked darker at the waist.

“Get off me!” she screamed.

“Stop it,” I said. “Poppy. Stop—”

“I hate you!” She tore one hand free, shocking me with her strength. She was strong—stronger than even I realized. Then she—

Her fist snapped my head back again. Stinging pain erupted across my mouth.

“I hate you!” she shouted as I caught her hand once more.

I pressed it back to the ground, lips peeling back as blood trickled from my mouth. “Stop it!”

Poppy stopped.


Only her chest rose as she stared up at me.

“That’s why you never really smiled,” she whispered.

At first, I didn’t realize what she meant, and then I knew she’d seen what I’d barely managed to hide from her this entire time. My fangs.

Poppy shuddered beneath me, her arms going limp. “You’re a monster.”

I stilled above her, the pain of her words, the truth of them, stabbing deep, but I shut it off. I felt nothing. I was nothing as I said, “You finally see me for what I am.”

Poppy’s lips trembled, her eyes glistening. She pressed her mouth shut, holding back tears. The desire to comfort her, the want to see how she was injured, threatened to shatter the hold I had on myself. The fight was out of her. I needed that.

But it wasn’t what I wanted.

Still, it was what I deserved.


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