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The War of Two Queens: Chapter 25


Limp, dark waves fell forward, shielding most of Casteel’s face. All I could see was his mouth—lips peeled back, and fangs bared.

His growl vibrated from a chest that shouldn’t have been so slender. The bones of his shoulders stood out as starkly as the twisted ones chaining him to the wall. Bonds I knew were made of the bones of long-dead deities. They hadn’t been used to keep him chained. They did nothing to him.

The intent was to stop someone like me from breaking them.

Shadowstone shackles encircled his ankles, wrists…and his throat. His throat. His actual, fucking throat. And his skin—good gods, not an inch wasn’t covered in thin, angry, red lines. Nowhere, from his collarbone to his breeches. The cloth along the calf of his right leg had been torn, revealing a jagged wound that looked too much like a Craven bite. The dirtied bandage on his left hand…

Gods.

I’d thought I had prepared myself, but I truly wasn’t ready. Seeing what had been done to him was a horrifying shock.

“Casteel,” I whispered, starting forward.

He launched to his feet, swiping out with curled fingers. I jerked to a stop, narrowly avoiding his reach as the chain at his neck snapped him back. His bare feet, dirty with dried blood, slipped over the damp stone. Somehow, he kept his balance. Fighting the bindings, the chains creaked as he threw his head back.

Oh, gods. His eyes…

I could only see a thin strip of gold.

My gift came alive, spilling out from me in a way that hadn’t happened in a long time. I connected to him, flinching as his emotions swamped me, coming in a dark, gnawing wave of painful hunger.

Bloodlust.

He’d fallen into bloodlust. I knew in that moment that he had no idea who I was. All he sensed was my blood. Possibly even the Primal essence in that blood. I wasn’t his Queen. His friend or wife. I wasn’t his heartmate. I was nothing but food. But what cut deep and to the quick was that I knew he had no idea who he was.

My chest rose and fell rapidly as I tried to catch my breath. I wanted to scream. To cry.

Most of all, I wanted to burn the realm.

Those nearly black eyes darted to the opening, his growl growing louder, deeper.

“I wouldn’t stand too close to him,” Callum advised. “He’s like a rabid animal.”

My head jerked to the Revenant. Millicent stood behind him. “I will make sure you die,” I promised. “And it will hurt.”

“You know,” he drawled, leaning against the stone as he crossed his arms and jerked his chin toward Casteel, “he said the same thing.”

“Then I’ll make sure he has the pleasure of witnessing it.”

Callum chuckled. “So giving of you.”

“You have no idea.” I turned from him before I discovered how a Revenant survived decapitation.

Casteel was still staring at the Revenant. His focus had zeroed in on Callum, even though I was much closer to him. The way he fixated on the Revenant gave me hope that he wasn’t completely lost.

That he was still in there, and I could reach him—remind him of who he was. Stop him before he became a thing instead of a person.

I sprang forward, clasping his arm. He swung his head to me, hissing. His skin was hot—too hot. And dry. Feverish. I stepped into him.

“Shit,” Millicent exclaimed from the hall.

Casteel was like a viper. He went straight for my throat. But I’d expected the move and caught him by the chin, holding his head back. The rough, short hairs on his jaw felt strange against my palm. He had lost some of his body mass, and I was strong, but his hunger gave him the strength of ten gods. My arm shook as I tapped into the essence, letting my gift roar to the surface.

Silvery-white light sparked across my vision and from my hands, washing over skin that shouldn’t be so dull and hot. I channeled every happy memory I could into the touch—memories of us in the cavern. When we stopped pretending. Us on our knees before Jasper, our rings clasped in our hands. The way he’d looked at me in that blue gown in Saion’s Cove. How he’d taken me in that garden, up against the wall. I funneled the energy into him, praying that healing his physical wounds would ease some of the pain of hunger, calming him enough for him to remember who he was. It would hopefully be a temporary fix, at least. Easing the knife’s edge of hunger so he could feed without doing real and painful damage. Because he would now if I let him. And that would hurt him. It would kill a part of him.

A spasm ran through Casteel’s body. He went painfully rigid for a heartbeat, no longer pushing against my touch. Then he jerked away so fast, he completely broke free of my hold. I stumbled, nearly falling as he pressed back against the wall. The silvery glow faded from my hands, from him as he stood there, head bowed and chest heaving. The numerous, impossible-to-count cuts down his arms, across his chest, and on his stomach had faded to faint, pink marks. The candlelight didn’t reach his lower body, and I couldn’t see the wound on his leg now, but I imagined that it too had begun to heal. His hand, though… My abilities couldn’t fix that.

Seconds stretched with the only sounds his ragged breathing and a muted, steady thump from above. Carriage wheels?

“Cas?”

He shuddered—his entire body and the chains moving. He lifted his head, and I saw that his face…it, too, was thinner. Like it had been in that first dream. The shadow of hair along his jaw and chin had darkened. Deeper hollows had formed under his cheeks and eyes.

But his eyes…they opened, and they were still that stunning shade of gold. “Poppy.”

 

 

Casteel

 

She stood before me, a bright flame that had beaten back the red haze of bloodlust. She was here. Real.

My Queen.

My soul.

My savior.

Poppy.

This was no dream. Not a hallucination like the ones that had plagued me in the last hours and days. Poppy had said that she would come for me, and now she was here.

I pushed off the wall. The bone chains rattled, pulling tautly. The band tightened around my throat, but Poppy was already moving. Before I could take my next breath, she was in my arms. Somehow, I ended up on my ass, but she was still in my arms. Warm. Solid. Soft. Holding me tightly. Pressing her cheek against mine. I was filthy. I must stink. The floor of the cell was rank. None of that stopped her from pressing a quick kiss to my cheek, brow, and the bridge of my nose.

I didn’t want any of this filth to touch her, but I couldn’t bring myself to separate from her. Her touch. The feel of her in my arms. The faint scent of jasmine that I breathed in.

Her gift had snagged me from the edge of nothingness and pulled me back, but it was her—simply her—who kept me from spinning to that brink again. I sank my fingers into her braid, my flesh coming alive at the sensation of those strands against my skin.

Poppy was…gods, she was grounding in a way only she could be. Her mere presence gathered all those fragmented shards that had broken off and floated away, piecing them back together once more.

I shook as she smoothed her fingers through my hair and then moved her hands to my cheeks. She stilled against the rough patches of hair and the dampness there.

“It’s okay,” she whispered thickly, sweeping away the wetness with her thumb and then her lips. “It’s okay. I’m here.”

I’m here.

I stiffened, my fingers clenching her braid. She truly was here. In this cell with me. And we weren’t alone. My eyes snapped open, and I searched the space for Kieran.

Golden Boy waited at the entrance with that fucking smirk on his face. The Handmaiden was with him. She wasn’t smirking. She stood with her arms crossed, silent and still. Beyond them, in the shadows, other guards watched. Knights with their faces covered in black.

My entire body went cold. This was no rescue.

I tightened my arm around Poppy’s waist, shifting us as best I could with the damn chains. I could only get her body halfway shielded by mine.

I turned my head, pressing my mouth to the space by her ear. “What happened?” I spoke low, not taking my eyes off the entrance for one damn second.

“They caught us outside Three Rivers.”

The kind of panic that had pierced my soul when I’d seen that bolt protruding from her chest slammed into me now, kicking my sluggish heart into a gallop.

And Poppy sensed it. I knew she did.

She kissed my cheek with warm, soft lips. “It’s okay,” she repeated, petting the nape of my neck. “Kieran and Reaver are with me. They’re safe.”

Reaver… It took me a moment to remember the draken, but the relief that came with knowing that she wasn’t alone with these vipers was short-lived. “Have they hurt you?”

“Does she look as if she has been harmed?” Callum interjected.

“Does it look like I’m talking to you?” I growled.

“I’m actually surprised to see you speaking at all,” the golden Rev replied. “Your Queen must be made of magic, considering that the last time I saw you, all you could do was foam at the mouth.”

Poppy’s head swiveled in the Rev’s direction. “I changed my mind. I will kill you the first chance I get.”

The Rev chuckled. “Not nearly as giving as I thought you were.”

“How about we make a deal?” I said to Poppy, easing my fingers from her braid. I drew them down the thick length of her hair. “Whoever gets to him first, gets the honor.”

“Deal,” she said.

“Threats are unnecessary,” came the voice I loathed most of all.

The Handmaiden stepped aside as the Blood Queen emerged from the shadows. My eyes narrowed at the sight of her, her body swathed in white. I pulled Poppy closer. I would’ve tucked her inside my damn body if I could have.

“And they are also pointless,” Isbeth continued. “None of you, not even my dear daughter, can kill my Revenants. Your draken remain with your armies—well, whatever is left of them.”

Poppy flinched, and the sight of that, the knowledge of the blow the Blood Queen had landed, nearly sent me straight to the edge again. Rage pooled in my empty gut.

“Fuck you,” I spat.

“Charming,” Isbeth replied.

As the Blood Queen and I locked stares, it occurred to me that they must not know that Poppy had brought a draken with her. Isbeth knew Kieran. She never would’ve met this Reaver. That alone should have raised suspicions…unless she had no knowledge that they could take mortal form—or she simply underestimated Poppy that much.

Very, very foolish of her.

I ducked my chin, hiding my smile against Poppy’s cheek.

She must’ve felt the rise of my lips because she turned her head back to mine, seeking the smile. Her mouth closed over mine in a kiss that wasn’t tentative or innocent. It was one of strength. Of love. And the taste of her mouth shook every part of me. I didn’t even know until then that only a kiss could do that.

Poppy lifted her head. “He needs to feed,” she said, hands clasping my cheeks. “And he needs food and fresh, clean water.” She paused as I tensed. Her gaze flicked to the hip bath, and her chest rose with a sharp inhale. “To drink.”

To drink.

Not to bathe.

She knew. Somehow, she’d figured it out. Or Kieran had told her. Probably Kieran, but still, she remembered.

“He has been given all those things,” the Blood Queen answered. “And as you can see, he has made no use of all that fresh water provided to him.”

Her eyes closed briefly. “He has only been given enough to survive. He needs food. Real food. And he needs—”

“Blood. Which he has also been provided. If he hadn’t, you wouldn’t be sitting in his lap right now. You’d be lying there with your throat torn open,” Isbeth stated.

What she’d said was blunt. Cruel. But it was the truth. What little they’d given me had pushed me to the edge. But without it? I would be gone.

Poppy moved her hand down, bringing her wrist close to my mouth. Even in the faint light, I saw the pale blue veins under her skin. My lips parted. Muscles tensed painfully—

“I did not give you permission to bleed for him.” The Blood Queen’s voice was closer, but I couldn’t look away from that vein.

“I don’t need your permission,” Poppy spat.

“I would have to disagree.”

Poppy’s head cut in her direction. “Try and stop me.”

There was a beat of silence. “And what? You bring this stone down on my head as you promised? If so, you will bring it down on all of us.”

“So be it,” Poppy hissed.

“She’ll do it,” I said, curling my right hand around her arm, forcing my eyes away from her wrist. “And I kind of want to see her do it.”

Isbeth’s lip curled. “You would want something so idiotic.”

I smiled at her.

“Whatever.” Isbeth threw up a hand. “Feed him and get it over with. This whole scene is tiresome.”

Poppy twisted back to me, folding her hand around the nape of my neck. “Feed.”

My gaze dropped to that vein again. I hesitated, even as my stomach clenched. Her blood…it was powerful, and she’d pulled me back from the edge before. But she needed her strength. I didn’t know if she had learned if she needed to feed or not, and I wasn’t about to ask that in our present company. I wouldn’t risk her well-being.

I lowered my mouth to her wrist, dropping a kiss to that vein as I braced myself against the surge of need and hunger that rose. I didn’t block the pain. I quieted it, knowing she would search for it. “I don’t need to feed.”

“Yes, you do.” Poppy dipped her head. “You need blood.”

“Your touch…it pulled me back. That was enough.” I lowered her wrist.

Her breath snagged. “Cas—”

I groaned, feeling the sound of my name in a way she would likely find highly inappropriate given the situation. “It’s better that I don’t.”

Poppy’s brows creased with frustration. “Then food. I want food brought in. Now.”

“Food will be brought to him,” Callum answered, and it took everything in me not to laugh. Stale bread? Moldy cheese. Yeah, food.

“Then go get it,” Poppy ordered. “Now.”

I fought another smile. Oh, how she fought for me. “My Queen,” I whispered, trailing my fingers along the curve of her jaw. “So demanding.”

“Yes. That she is,” the Blood Queen stated coolly. “She will also be leaving your embrace.”

“No.” She curled her arm around my shoulders. “I’m not leaving him. I will stay right here with him.”

“That was not a part of the deal. You promised that you would speak with me.”

“I promised to talk to you. I didn’t agree to do so in any certain location,” Poppy shot back.

“You have got to be kidding me,” Isbeth muttered. “You expect me to stay down here?”

“I don’t care what you do,” Poppy snapped.

“You should. If you think I will allow you, my daughter, to stay down here, you are foolishly mistaken.”

“You are holding a King here,” Poppy exclaimed, her eyes flashing. “The man your daughter is married to.”

“Oh, now you recognize yourself as my daughter?” Isbeth laughed, and the sound was like falling ice. “You are testing my patience, Penellaphe.”

I knew what would happen. She wouldn’t strike out at Poppy. The Blood Queen would go after someone else, just to inflict the kind of hurt that never really healed. I wouldn’t allow that. And even though I didn’t want Poppy out of my sight or my arms, I didn’t want her down here in this hellish place either. I didn’t want these walls, the smells, and the godsforsaken cold to join the nightmares that already plagued her.

“You can’t stay down here,” I told her, dragging my thumb across her lip. “I don’t want that.”

“I do.”

“Poppy.” I held her gaze, hating the dampness I saw growing there. Hating it more than anything. “I can’t have you down here.”

Her lower lip trembled as she whispered, “I don’t want to leave you.”

“You won’t.” I kissed her forehead. “You never have. You never will.”

“My daughter is obviously still desperately worried about you,” Isbeth spoke, derision dripping like syrup from her words. “I assured her that you were alive and well—”

“Well?” Poppy repeated, and that one word caused every instinct I had to go on high alert. It was her voice. I’d never heard it sound like that before. As if it were made of shadows and smoke.

The normally chatty Handmaiden unfolded her arms, her stare fixing on Poppy.

Poppy turned her attention back to me. Her hands slipped to my cheeks and then my shoulders. In the waning candlelight, her gaze moved over my face and then lower—across the numerous, now-faded cuts. Her hand slid down my left arm, tugging until her fingers reached the edge of the bandage. Her chest stilled.

A ripple of static hit the air, drawing a hiss from the golden Rev. Slowly, her eyes lifted to mine, and I saw it—the glow behind her pupils. The power throbbed and then spread in thin streaks of silver across those beautiful green irises. The sight was fascinating. Stunning. That stubborn jaw of hers tightened. She didn’t blink, and I knew that look. Fuck. I’d been on the receiving end of it, right before she plunged a dagger into my chest.

I wished we were someplace else. Anywhere I could show her with my lips and tongue and every part of me just how incredibly intriguing that display of violent power was.

A shiver went through Poppy—a vibration that sent another ripple of energy through the cell as she looked over her shoulder. “You have him chained and starved,” she said, and that voice… Golden Boy straightened. The skin around Isbeth’s mouth puckered. They heard it, too. “You have hurt him and kept him in a place not fit for even a Craven. Yet you say he is well?”

“He would be in far better accommodations if he knew how to behave,” Isbeth remarked. “If he showed even one iota of respect.”

That really pissed me off, but Poppy’s skin now had a faint sheen. A soft glow as if she were lit from within. I’d seen it before. What I didn’t remember was what I saw sliding and swirling under her cheek now. Shadows. She had shadows in her flesh.

“Why would he, when dealing with someone so unworthy of respect?” Poppy questioned, and I blinked rapidly, swearing the temperature of the cell dropped by several degrees.

“Careful, daughter,” Isbeth warned. “I told you once before. I will only tolerate your disrespect to a point. You do not want to cross that line more than you already have.”

Poppy said nothing, and the shadows ceased their relentless churning under her skin. Everything about her became still once more, but I felt it under my hands and against me, building and ramping up. The thing under her flesh. Power. Pure, unfettered power. An ache settled in my upper jaw. Fuck. Her essence. I could feel it.

“You are so very powerful, daughter. I feel it pressing against my skin. It’s calling to everyone and everything in this chamber and beyond.” The Blood Queen bent slightly at the waist, her pale face expressionless. “You have grown in the short time since we last saw each other. But you still haven’t learned to quiet that temper of yours. If I were you, I would learn to do so quickly. Pull it back before it’s too late.”

There was no one in the entirety of the two kingdoms that I wanted to see dead more than the Blood Queen. No one. But Poppy needed to heed the warning. Isbeth was a cornered viper. She would strike when least expected, and she would do so in a way that would leave deep, unforgiving scars. She already had with Ian.

“Poppy,” I said quietly, and those fractured eyes latched on to mine. “Go.”

She shook her head fiercely, sending loose curls across her cheeks. “I can’t—”

“You will.” I couldn’t bear to see her strength cracking like this. Fuck. It hurt. But seeing her weather whatever blow the Blood Queen would deliver next if she continued disobeying her would kill me. “I love you, Poppy.”

She shook. “I love you.”

Tightening my arm around her, I hauled her close and kissed her. Our tongues tangled. Our hearts. I committed the feel and taste of her to memory to drown in them later. She was breathing just as hard as I was when our lips finally parted.

“From the first moment I saw you smile… And heard you laugh? Gods,” I rasped, and she shuddered, her beautiful eyes closing. “From the first time I saw you nock an arrow and fire without hesitation? Handle a dagger and fight beside another? Fight me? I was in awe. I’m never not in awe of you. I’m always utterly mesmerized. I’ll never stop being that. Always and forever.”

 

 

Poppy

 

Always and forever.

Those two words were the only things that allowed me to keep my temper in check as they escorted me back through the winding, endless network of tunnels. Barely. The trembling the rage had caused had ceased, but the anger hadn’t lessened. How Casteel had been treated would haunt every breath I took, as would his choice not to feed.

Not a single part of me believed that my gift had been enough to stave off his hunger. I’d felt it. The gnawing ache was far worse than what I’d experienced or what I’d felt from him in New Haven.

He’d made the choice because he didn’t want to potentially weaken me.

Gods, I didn’t deserve him.

We stopped, and they removed the blindfold once we reached the vast hall beneath Wayfair.

The Blood Queen stood directly in front of me. I couldn’t believe she’d allowed me to see Casteel like that.

But I remembered that she was a coldhearted bitch.

“You’re angry with me,” she stated as Millicent stepped to the side. Callum remained to my right, far too close for comfort. “With how you believe Casteel has been treated.”

“I saw with my own eyes how he’s been treated.”

“It could’ve been easier for him,” she said, the ruby crown glittering as she tilted her head. “He made it harder for himself, especially when he killed one of my Handmaidens.”

My gaze flicked to where they stood silently. They each had the pale blue eyes of a Revenant, but not all had in the bedchamber—and neither had Coralena. “My mother had brown eyes, yet you said she was a Revenant.”

“She was not your mother. She was Ian’s, but not yours.” Tension bracketed her mouth. “And she did not have brown eyes. Hers were just like the others.”

“I remember them—”

“She hid them, Penellaphe. With magic. Magic I lent her.” Just like she’d lent the essence to Vessa. “And I did so, only because when you were little, her eyes scared you.”

Surprise rolled through me. Using the Primal essence for such a thing had never crossed my mind. “Why…why would her eyes scare me?”

“That, I cannot answer.”

I’d buried the memories of the Handmaidens so deeply that it had taken Alastir speaking of them to trigger any recollection. Had I somehow been able to sense what they were and that had caused my fear?

“I didn’t want to hurt Casteel,” Isbeth announced, jerking me from my thoughts. “Doing so only serves to drive the wedge between us further. But you left me with no choice. You killed the King, Penellaphe. If I did nothing, it would’ve been a sign of weakness to the Royals.”

The breath I exhaled felt like fire in my throat. Her words collided with my guilt. “What I did may have guided your actions, but it was still your hand. You’re not absolved of responsibility, Isbeth. Just like how what happened to your son doesn’t justify all you’ve done since.”

Her nostrils flared as she stared at me. “If I kill Casteel, you would do worse than I ever could’ve imagined. And if that day ever comes, judge me then for my actions.”

The wave of fury that swept through me was only cooled by the realization that she spoke the truth. That empty, cold part of me stirred. I didn’t know what I would do, but it would be horrific, and I knew that.

That was why I’d made Kieran make that promise.

I looked away, shaking my head. “Will you send food to Casteel? Fresh food?” I took a shaky breath. “Please.”

“Do you think you deserve that?” Callum asked. “Better yet, do you really think he does?”

Spinning around, I’d already grasped the dagger at his hip by the time he registered that I’d moved. I slammed the blade deep into his chest and into his heart.

A flicker of shock widened his eyes as he looked down at the hilt of the dagger.

“I wasn’t speaking to you,” I snarled, letting go of the blade.

“Dammit,” he muttered, blood trickling from the corner of his mouth. He toppled over like a pile of bricks, hitting the floor. The back of his head met the stone with a satisfyingly loud crack.

Millicent choked on what sounded like a laugh.

“You just stabbed my Revenant.” Isbeth sighed.

“He’ll be fine, won’t he?” I faced her. “Will you please send fresh food and water to Casteel?”

“Yes, but only because you asked nicely.” The Blood Queen flicked a glance at Callum. “Get him out of here.”

A Royal Knight stepped forward.

“Not you.” The Blood Queen threw a glare in Millicent’s direction. “Since you find this so amusing, you can be the one who cleans it up.”

“Yes, my Queen.” Millicent stepped forward and gave such an elaborate bow it could only be a mockery.

The Blood Queen’s lips pressed together in a thin line as she watched the Handmaiden. The interaction between the two was…different.

Isbeth turned her attention back to me, her head tilted. The light cut across her face, revealing a thin strip of slightly deeper-colored skin at her hairline. Powder. She wore some sort of powder to make her skin paler. To help her blend in with the Ascended.

“How have you kept your identity a secret from every Ascended?” I asked.

A brow arched. “Don’t forget that vamprys were once mortal, Penellaphe. And while they have left many of those trappings behind, they still see only what they want to see. Because looking too closely at things often makes one uncomfortable. Unsure. Not even vamprys enjoy living like that. So, like those mortals upstairs,” she said, tilting her chin up, “and in all of Solis, they’d rather be oblivious to what is right in front of them than feel doubt or fear.”

There was some truth to her words. I, myself, hadn’t pried too deeply. It was terrifying to start peeling back the layers, but others had the courage. “And what happens to the Ascended who do look closely?”

“They are dealt with,” she answered. “Just as anyone else would be.”

In other words, they were killed, as would be any Descenter. Disgust crowded my breath. “Why lie, though? You could pretend to be a god to the people.”

The Blood Queen smiled. “Why would I need to, when they already believe I am the closest thing to one?”

“But you’re not. So, why? Do you fear that they would see you as you are? Nothing more than a false god?”

Her smile didn’t waver. “Mortals are easily influenced. They can be convinced of anything by nearly anyone. Take from them, then give them something or someone to blame, and even the most righteous will fall prey to that. I’d rather have them believe that all Ascended are godlike. That way, there are many instead of a few that they will not question. One person cannot rule a kingdom and keep the masses in line,” she shared. “You should know that, Penellaphe.”

“I know you shouldn’t need to keep anyone in line or rule with lies.”

Isbeth laughed softly. “That is a very optimistic way of looking at things, my child.”

The patronizing tone struck every nerve in my body. “Your rule is built on nothing but lies. You told the people in the Great Hall that the cities to the north and east had fallen. Do you really think they will not learn the truth?”

“The truth doesn’t matter.”

“How can you believe that?” I shook my head. “The truth matters, and it will be known. I took those cities without killing innocents. Those who called those places home still do. They either know I’m not this Harbinger, or they will soon learn that—”

“And you think that will happen here? In Masadonia? Pensdurth?” Her eyes searched mine. “That you will be successful in this campaign when you, yourself, are lying?”

My hands curled into fists. “How am I lying?”

“You are the Harbinger,” she said. “You just don’t want to believe it.”

Anger pulsed through me, quickly followed by a surge of apprehension. I looked at the long shadowy corridor, inhaling deeply. The musty scent was familiar, wiggling an old memory free.

I crept through the silent halls, where only the Royal Ascended traveled when the sun rose, drawn by what I’d seen the last time I’d snuck where the Queen told me I should not go. But I liked it down here. Ian didn’t, but no one looked at me strangely here.

Click. Click. Click.

Soft light seeped from the opening of the chamber as I pressed against a cold pillar, peeking around the corner. A cage sat in the middle of the chamber that looked nothing like the rest of Wayfair. The floor, walls, and even the ceiling were a shiny black, just like the Temple of Nyktos. Strange letters had been etched into the black stone, the symbols shaped nothing like those I’d learned in my lessons. I reached one hand into the chamber, pressing my fingers against the rough carvings as I leaned around the pillar.

I shouldn’t be down here. The Queen would be very mad, but I couldn’t stop thinking about what prowled restlessly behind bleached-white bars, caged and…helpless. That was what I’d felt from the large, gray cave cat when I’d first seen it with Ian. Helplessness. That was what I’d felt when I could no longer hold on to Momma’s slippery arm. But my gift didn’t work on animals. The Queen and Priestess Janeah had said so.

The clicking of the animal’s claws ceased. Ears twitched as the wild cat’s big head turned to where I peeked around the corner. Bright green eyes locked on to mine, piercing the veil that covered half my face—

“Your eyes are your father’s.”


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