A Soul of Ash and Blood: Chapter 74

MY PRINCESS

Glasses and plates clinked, and laughter and conversation hummed while Poppy stared at the dining hall’s closed doors.

She was not pleased.

It could’ve been the argument before we left for supper, or Kieran’s knowing chuckle when she all but stomped out of the chamber. But what really bothered her was what she’d seen in the hall outside.

What everyone in the dining hall had seen.

My message.

My warning to others that I’d left hanging on the wall.

Poppy had been horrified and disturbed, especially when she realized Jericho still breathed, though what disturbed her wasn’t the fact that he lived. It was that he suffered.

The fucker had tried to murder her. Yet she felt bad for him. That was a level of basic decency many didn’t have when it came to someone who sought to harm them. I sure as fuck didn’t.

And I sure as fuck didn’t like that it made me wish I was that decent.

The things done to me had nearly killed that within me. What had been required of me and still was finished it off.

I shifted in my seat, sipping wine as others at the table talked. My gaze flicked to her plate. Kieran had offered her some of his beef. She’d accepted, but the meat remained untouched. He’d also placed a piece of roasted duck on her plate. I’d added some potato and broke off a hunk of cheese, her favorite. It all remained.

“Poppy,” I said softly.

She looked up at me as if coming out of a daze.

“Eat,” I said, voice low.

She speared a piece of meat, then moved on to the potatoes. I could tell she was forcing herself.

My grip on the glass tightened. I’d clearly shocked her. Maybe even made her afraid of me, so much so that it had dampened the fire inside her. An ache settled in the back of my throat. “You don’t agree with what I did to them?”

Poppy looked at me wordlessly.

I sat back, glass still in hand. “Or are you so shocked, you’re actually speechless?”

She swallowed, placing her fork down. “I wasn’t expecting that.”

“Can’t imagine you were.” I lifted the glass.

“How…?” Poppy cleared her throat. “How long will you leave them there?”

“Until I feel like it.”

“And Jericho?”

“Until I know for sure no one will dare to lift a hand against you again,” I answered, smirking as those seated at the table listened in.

“I don’t know your people very well,” Poppy said quietly. “But I would think that they have learned a lesson.”

Right now, I didn’t give a fuck what they thought. I took a drink. “What I did disturbs you.”

Poppy’s stare shifted from me to her plate. The non-answer was answer enough.

“Eat,” I insisted, lowering the wine. “I know you need to eat more than that.”

Her eyes narrowed, and I could practically see her tongue sharpening, but she didn’t unleash the swift verbal cut I knew she was capable of. Instead, I got an answer. One that surprised me.

“When I saw them, it horrified me. That was shocking, especially Mr. Tulis. What you did was surprising, but what disturbs me the most is that I—” Poppy drew in a deep breath. “I don’t feel all that bad. Those people laughed when Jericho talked about cutting my hand off. Cheered when I bled and screamed and offered other options for pieces for Jericho to carve and keep,” she continued in the silence as those around us listened. “I’d never even met most of them before, and they were happy to see me ripped apart. So, I don’t feel sympathy.”

“They don’t deserve it,” I assured her.

“Agreed,” Kieran murmured.

Poppy’s chin lifted. “But they’re still mortal—or Atlantian. They still deserve dignity in death.”

I eyed her. “They didn’t believe you deserved any dignity.”

“They were wrong, but that doesn’t make this right,” she countered.

I searched the beautiful lines of her face. Poppy was vicious, but she was still decent. “Eat.”

“You’re obsessed with ensuring that I eat,” she snapped.

There was that fire. I grinned. “Eat, and I’ll tell you our plans.”

That got her eating.

I took a drink to hide my smile. I waited until she’d made some progress before sharing, “We’re leaving in the morning.”

“Tomorrow?” Poppy’s voice pitched.

I nodded. “As I said, we’ll be going home.”

She took a long drink. “But Atlantia is not my home.”

“But it is,” I reminded her. “At least, partly.”

“What does that mean?” Delano asked from where he sat across from her.

“It means it’s something I should’ve figured out sooner. So many things now make sense when they didn’t before. Why they made you the Maiden, how you survived a Craven attack. Your gifts,” I said, lowering my voice so only those immediately around could hear. “You’re not mortal, Poppy. At least, not completely.”

Delano’s blue eyes sharpened. “Are you suggesting that she’s…?”

“Part Atlantian?” I finished for him, eyes on Poppy. Her hand trembled slightly as she took another drink. “Yes.”

“That’s impossible,” she whispered.

“Are you sure?” Delano asked, but then his attention cut to Poppy—to what she thought she hid behind her hair. He jerked back in his seat.

“One hundred percent,” I said.

“How?” Poppy demanded.

I grinned, looking at the same spot on her Delano had been. I raised my brows.

Her gaze swung to Delano and then moved to Kieran.

“It’s rare, but it happens,” Kieran stated, running his thumb over the rim of his chalice. “A mortal crosses paths with an Atlantian. Nature takes its course, and nine months later, a mortal child is born. But every so often, a child of both kingdoms is born. Mortal and Atlantian.”

“No. You have to be mistaken.” Poppy twisted toward me. “My mother and father were mortal—”

“How can you be sure?” I asked. “You thought I was mortal.”

“But my brother,” she said. “He’s an Ascended now.”

“That’s a good question,” Delano remarked.

And it was, which meant I had to point out something I honestly, truly, did not want to, but there was no way around it. “Only if we’re working off the assumption that he is your full, blooded brother.”

“Or that he even has Ascended,” Naill murmured as Poppy drew back, face paling. I knew her mind went to the worst-case scenario there. The glass she held started to slip.

I reached out, catching it. I placed it down and then folded my hand over hers, drawing it to the table. “Your brother is alive.”

“How can you be sure?” she whispered.

“I’ve had eyes on him for months, Poppy,” I told her. “He hasn’t been seen during the day, and I can only imagine that means he is an Ascended.”

Elijah cursed. Another spat on the floor. Poppy’s eyes closed, but only briefly. This was a lot to take in, but she was strong. Likely more so than many of us in the hall.

“Why would they keep me alive if they knew?” she asked.

My lips thinned. “Why do they keep my brother?”

She jolted. “I can’t do that. Right? I mean, I don’t have…the, uh, parts for it.”

“Parts?” Kieran coughed. “What have you been filling her head with?”

I shot him a bland look. “Teeth. I do believe she means these.” Curling my upper lip, I ran my tongue over one fang. “They don’t need that. They just need your blood for them to complete the Ascension.”

Poppy shuddered as she slowly shook her head.

“I’m curious, Cas. Why must we go home?” Kieran asked, even though he already knew the answer. “When we will be going farther away from where your brother is held.” He raised his voice on purpose.

“It is the only place we can go,” I replied, eyes fixed on Poppy. “Did you know that an Atlantian can only marry if both halves are standing in the soil of their land? It’s the only way for them to become whole.”

The entire hall went as quiet as a tomb as those bright, beautiful green eyes fastened on mine. I could see it dawning on her. Poppy’s lips parted.

And I knew that what I was about to do would stoke the fire in her to a violent inferno. My lips started to curve up in anticipation, and yes, there was definitely something very wrong with me.

I lifted our joined hands and spoke loud enough for the entire dining hall to hear. “We go home to marry, my Princess.”

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