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The War of Two Queens: Chapter 29


Stalking toward the door, I shut down my emotions—that sense of right and wrong. I had to do it if I had any hope of finding Casteel and escaping.

I curled my fingers around the gold handle. Eather flooded my veins and sparked from my fingers. Thin wisps of shadows streaked the silvery aura. It was slightly unnerving to see. The energy washed over the metal, melting the lock. Opening the door, I stepped out into the hall.

A Royal Knight turned, eyes widening in surprise above the black gaiter covering the lower half of his face. I snapped forward, thrusting the dagger above the plates of armor and through the vulnerable base of his throat. I wrenched my arm, severing the vampry’s spinal column. The knight dropped as another reached for his sword.

My will formed in my mind and became reality. The black mantle draped over the knight’s shoulders whipped forward and lifted, wrapping itself around his face. I dipped under his outstretched sword as he staggered back. His muffled shout ended abruptly as I shoved the dagger into his side, between the armored plates. The bloodstone chiseled through cartilage and sank deep into the vampry’s heart.

The castle’s walls started to tremble as the thick iron doors began lowering on the main floor. Two more knights stepped out from the hall’s shallow alcoves, swords already drawn, and gaiters lowered to pool at their chins. “We have orders not to kill you,” one said, stepping forward. “But that does not mean we won’t hurt you.”

I didn’t even dignify that with a response as I prowled forward, vampry blood dripping from the tip of my dagger. My will stretched outside of me. Shadow-tinged aura spilled out. The knights lifted from the floor as if giant hands had grabbed them by their ankles, slamming them into the stone floor and then high above, against the ceiling. Stone and bone cracked, shattering beneath the armor.

Doors flung open at the end of the hall. A half-dozen knights rushed from the tower, halting as sharp screams of alarm echoed from distant parts of the castle. Some glanced behind them. Others bared their fangs, charging toward me.

All of them were in my way.

And time was precious.

I kept my emotions and thoughts locked down. I didn’t think about what I must do—what I would do. There would be time later to dwell on the carnage I was about to unleash—and already had.

The shadowy, silvery webbing raced across the floor, climbing the walls and ceiling. It fell upon the knights, seeping inside them and finding the joints in their bones, the fibers in their muscles and organs, vital even to vamprys. There was no chance for them to do anything with the swords they’d drawn, to shout out a warning to others. Or to even scream.

I tore them apart from the inside, not allowing myself to think about how similar it was to what Isbeth had done. They collapsed into themselves, falling to the floor in piles of limp armor and empty skin.

All but one.

A Revenant was among them, standing beyond the ruined bodies. I started forward, pulling the eather back in.

His dark laugh was muffled. “Harbinger.”

“Good evening.”

He charged me, and I dipped low, grabbing a fallen sword from the ground. A hand grasped my shoulder through the cloak as I twisted. The Revenant jumped back, expecting me to kick, but that wasn’t what I’d planned. I shot to my feet, spinning as I drew the sword through the air in a wide arc, bringing the blade across the Revenant’s gaiter-covered neck, severing the spine and the head.

As the Revenant fell, I really wished there was time to see exactly how they regrew their heads, but there wasn’t. I entered the stairway, leaving a hallway of death behind.

Racing down the wide, spiraling stairs of the turret, I started to count the seconds. Hopefully, my memory served me correctly, and this stairwell emptied near the kitchens and breezeways. If I were wrong, there would be a lot more space to travel…

And a lot more death.

On the third-floor landing, the door swung open, banging off the wall as Kieran walked through. Blood dotted his face and throat, but I picked up no sign of pain from him.

“You did that?” he demanded. “The mist?”

I nodded. “I didn’t know if it would work.”

He stared as I came down several more steps. “You summoned the mist, Poppy.”

“I know.”

“I know of only two things that can do that. The Craven,” he said, his eyes wide, “and the Primals.”

“Well, now you know of three things. Where’s Reaver?” I asked, knowing that the draken would’ve answered my will.

“Wherever those screams were coming from,” he answered, lifting the hood of his cloak.

Oh, dear.

“We need to talk about the whole mist thing later.” Kieran started down the stairs. “How much time do you think we have before we’re locked in?”

“Less than a minute.”

“We’d better hurry then,” Kieran said as a door flew open on the floor below, blown off its hinges.

My brows rose as Reaver entered the stairwell. His face and clothing weren’t sprinkled with blood. They were drenched in it as he looked up at us from the floor below.

Kieran sighed. “Well, I’m glad that wasn’t one of my shirts.”

The draken smiled, revealing blood-smeared teeth. “Sorry,” he replied as I sheathed the dagger. “I’m a messy eater.”

I decided that was something else I would think about later as we joined him, and Kieran hastily filled him in on the plans.

“About damn time we’re making a move,” Reaver said. “I was beginning to wonder if we were going to move in.”

I snorted at that.

“There’s going to be a lot of guards,” Kieran warned as we arrived at the main floor.

“I’ll handle it,” I said, not allowing myself to think about what that meant. If we didn’t get out of the castle before it locked down, I would have to blow through walls and people—walls that protected the mortals that served within Wayfair. Maybe the knights would simply step aside. Stranger things had happened.

“And if there are Revenants?” Kieran questioned.

“Then I’ll handle that,” Reaver answered as I pushed open the double doors.

A wide hallway greeted us, filled with the lingering scent of tonight’s supper. I turned to my left, relieved when I saw the darkness beyond the doors to the breezeways. The relief was short-lived. The heavy iron door had rocked into place, beginning to lower.

Kieran was right. Two-dozen or so knights packed the crimson-bannered hall. So did servants. They stood among the knights, clutching baskets and platters of empty dishes, their fear evident in their expressions and scratching against my shields. I wasn’t sure if it was the mist at the walls of the Rise, the knights, or…Reaver’s blood-drenched face. But there was no sign of any Revenants.

Where were they?

The knights knew immediately who we were, even with Kieran’s and my faces hidden. Any hope I had that they might step aside was quickly squashed as one of the knights lurched forward, grabbing a young servant boy. Dishes toppled from the tray, shattering on the floor as the knight jerked the boy back, folding a curved blade across the boy’s neck. Several other knights did the same, grabbing the no-longer-frozen servants. They hauled the panicked mortals forward, and it reminded me of yet another night—one that had taken place in New Haven.

My insides went cold.

“Take another step toward us—” a knight began, holding the trembling boy in place. Tears tracked the servant’s cheeks, but he made no sound. “And we’ll kill them. All of them. Then we’ll kill the wolven and whatever the hell that other thing is with you.”

“I’d be offended by that statement,” Reaver remarked, “if what was left of your souls wasn’t about to be ushered into the waiting Abyss.”

I inhaled deeply, and the essence of the Primal god joined with my will. The shadow-tinged, silver webbing attacked the weapons first, crushing the blades on daggers, knives, and swords.

Still no Revenants among them.

“The shadows are back,” Kieran noted under his breath.

“I know.” I went after the knights next, breaking them apart until nothing remained of them but crumpled heaps. Within a few heartbeats, only the servants stood before us. They did not move nor speak a word as we moved past them, but their fear…it had amplified and grown, crashing through my shields, and settling heavily in my chest.

The knowledge that I had frightened them, that they stared at me, believing me to be exactly what Isbeth had warned the people of—the Harbinger—weighed on me. That terror followed me out onto the mist-blanketed breezeways, into the heavily floral-scented air. The rose gardens were near. Heart thumping, I turned as an iron door rattled into place, sealing up those inside the castle. I stared at the doors. Many of the Ascended were in there. She was in there with all the death we had left behind.

“This way,” Kieran spoke, stepping out from the breezeway and into the thick mist.

My throat dried as the lights above went out, plunging the breezeway into darkness. I pulled my attention from Wayfair, and my thoughts from what I’d done inside.

Only Casteel mattered right now, and we still needed to get past the inner Rise and to one of the Temples.

We took off for the gate facing the city, running past the vine-covered walls of the garden—a place I’d spent many days in as a child. It beckoned like a nightmare now, but another haunt emerged before us. “I have no idea how long it will take for the mist to dissipate,” I warned them.

“It’s not windy, so I imagine it will linger for a bit,” Kieran said. “Hopefully, long enough for us to find Cas and get to the gates.”

“I don’t think we’ll get that lucky,” Reaver said. “We would’ve if you’d used the mist for anything other than confusing people.”

“I didn’t want to harm anyone,” I told him.

“And that is why we have to rely on luck,” he replied.

Royal Knights stood at the gates between Wayfair Castle and the homes occupied by the wealthiest of Carsodonia. We slowed, knowing the mist only cloaked us momentarily.

We were free of the castle, but it would take the Blood Crown no amount of time to realize that we were missing, and that there was nothing in the unnatural mist. Then, the entire city would be full of knights and more.

I stepped ahead, but Kieran caught my hand. “If you keep using the essence, you’re going to weaken,” he reminded me. “And Cas will need to feed soon. You need to conserve your energy.”

My muscles locked tight as I fought the urge to tap into the eather and make quick work of what lay ahead. “You’re right.”

“I know.” He squeezed my hand. “But I appreciate you actually admitting it.”

“Shut up,” I muttered, slipping my dagger free. “Doesn’t mean I can’t fight.”

“No.” Kieran’s grip tightened once more, and then he let go. “It doesn’t.”

Anticipation tightened my muscles as the Royal Knights sensed us seconds before we left the darkness and neared the torch-lit gates.

Reaver launched out of the night, a blur of crimson and sun as he streaked across the fire-lit ground. He grabbed the closest knight…

I quickly learned exactly how he’d gotten so bloody, and I sort of wished I hadn’t.

He grabbed the front of the knight’s gaiter, yanking it down as he opened his mouth—his wide and gaping mouth full of teeth that no longer remotely resembled a mortal’s. His head snapped down, and he tore into the knight’s throat—into tissue and muscle. Tore straight through bone. Blood geysered as Reaver bit through the knight’s godsdamn spine. My mouth wanted to drop open, except I might’ve vomited if I had allowed it.

“Remind me to stop antagonizing him,” Kieran murmured.

“Uh-huh.”

Reaver tossed the knight aside and then sprang into the air, landing several feet ahead in a crouch as one of the knights stalked forward, face free of cloth and smirking. The scent of stale lilacs rose.

“Revenant,” I warned.

“Fun times are over,” the Revenant said, lifting a heavy broadsword.

“Wrong.” Reaver rose. “Fun times have just begun.” He exhaled.

I stumbled to the side, bumping into Kieran as a powerful stream of silver flames poured out of Reaver’s mouth. It hit the Revenant, and then he turned, striking two knights. They went up in flames. Screaming, they flailed about, managing to catch another knight on fire in the process.

Laughing, Reaver turned and caught a knight’s arm before he could make use of his sword. The draken twisted sharply, cracking bone. The knight’s howl of pain stopped abruptly as Reaver went for his throat.

He yanked his head back and turned to us, spitting out a mouthful of blood. “Are you two just going to stand there?”

“Maybe,” Kieran murmured as Reaver dropped the knight.

I came out of whatever stunned stupor I was in as several knights charged us. Everything was happening so fast, there was no time to determine who was and wasn’t a Revenant. I shot forward, grasping a knight’s sword arm. Twisting hard, I spun around, using his weight and momentum against him. The cloak whipped around my legs as I turned and flipped the knight onto his back.

Kieran was there suddenly, bringing a dagger down on the fallen knight’s arm, piercing straight through. Dipping down, I picked up the fallen bloodstone sword. Sheathing my dagger, I rose as a knight swung his sword straight for my head.

I met the blow, the impact jarring. The knight’s black cloth gaiter muffled his growl as I kicked out, catching him low—between the legs. He howled, losing his balance. I swung, bringing the sword across his throat. Blood sprayed my cheeks as Kieran let out a grunt of pain. Heart lurching, I whirled around.

A knight had pierced Kieran’s shoulder with his sword. He caught the knight’s arm, stopping him from thrusting the blade any deeper. I started toward them—

A stream of silvery flames rippled through the air, slamming into the knight. The man screamed, dropping the sword as he staggered away, swept up in the unnatural fire.

“Are you okay?” I asked, reaching for Kieran.

He caught my hand. “I’m fine. Barely a flesh wound.”

I opened my senses to him, feeling the hot, stinging pain. It may be just a small wound, but it was hurting him. “I can heal it—”

“Later,” he insisted. “We need to find Cas. That’s the only thing that matters.” He cocked his head toward Reaver. “Thanks, man.”

“Whatever,” the draken replied, stalking forward. “I don’t want the Liessa to be upset.”

The tension around Kieran’s mouth loosened into a half-grin as he followed the draken, his hand still wrapped firmly around mine.

“Casteel isn’t the only one that matters,” I told him as we hurried along under the canopy of jacaranda trees. “So do you, Kieran.”

The heavily blossomed branches and the mist were too thick for the moonlight to penetrate, but I felt his stare as I channeled energy into him. As the three of us passed the stately manors that had gone completely dark and quiet as tombs, I healed his wound. Only when I could no longer feel his pain did I pull my hand free. He held on for a moment and then let go.

We came upon the final interior wall and gate, the section guarded by Rise Guards. Only half a dozen were on the ground as most traveled the battlements on the outer Rise surrounding the city.

An arrow zinged through the mist, fired from ground level. Reaver’s hand snapped out, catching the shaft of the projectile. He turned his head toward the guards, his blue eyes luminous as his pupils became thin, black slits.

“Seriously?” Reaver held the arrow before him and blew out a breath—a smoky breath that sparked and then quickly ignited. A narrow trail of silver flames parted the mist, obliterating the projectile. “Who’s next?”

The guards scrambled into the fog, dropping their weapons and leaving their horses behind.

“Clever mortals,” Reaver remarked.

“Now, why couldn’t the knights have done that?” I asked.

“Because we don’t threaten the mortals’ food source.” The draken prowled forward, eyeing the guards who had shrunk against the wall as if they were attempting to become one with it. “I’m watching you. All of you. Keep being clever and you’ll survive this night.”

None of them moved as Kieran eyed the horses. “We should stay on foot,” I advised as we entered the road skirting the walled fort known as Eastfall. “Everyone will be heading inside. The horses will draw attention as the mist starts to fade.”

“Good call.” Kieran kept a watchful eye on the walled fort. “Where should we go?”

I scanned the mist-covered road ahead. “If Carsodonia is anything like Oak Ambler, there has to be an entrance to the tunnel system.”

“Agreed,” Kieran said. “Do you know which one is closest?”

“I think the Temple of Nyktos is. We should start there.”

“The Shadow Temple,” Reaver said, looking up.

I glanced at Reaver. “The what?”

“That’s what the Temple was originally known as when this kingdom was called Lasania. The Sun represented the Primal of Life, and the Shadow represented the Primal of Death,” he said.

I had no idea that those Temples were that old. Then again, I couldn’t remember if my parents had ever taken Ian and me to them before we left Carsodonia. I hadn’t been allowed to enter either place of worship when under the Blood Queen’s guardianship.

I’d never been allowed to leave the castle grounds.

“The one you called the Shadow Temple,” I asked, “is it in the area of the Garden District ne—?”

“Sits at the edge of a neighborhood known as the Luxe,” Reaver finished for me.

I shot him a frown. “Yeah.”

Reaver cleared a bit of the blood from his face with a swipe of his forearm. “I think I remember how to get there.”

“How familiar are you with Carsodonia?” I’d lived here for years and a much shorter time ago than Reaver. When he spoke of Lasania and Iliseeum, he’d made it sound as if he hadn’t been in either very long.

“Familiar enough to remember the way,” he replied, and that was all he said, leaving just how familiar he was a mystery. We picked up our pace and steered clear of Eastfall. The dormitories were silent. Those training there had most likely been sent to the wall or beyond to deal with what they believed was a Craven attack.

I tossed the sword aside as we reached the outskirts of the Luxe—a neighborhood I remembered being known for its lavish rooftop gatherings and hidden dens I wasn’t supposed to know about. Reaver led us straight into one of the vine-covered passageways that Ian used to talk about. He’d been allowed to leave Wayfair and explore them when we were younger, so I only ever heard of the trellised tunnels that snaked throughout the entirety of the Garden District, leading to anywhere you wanted to go.

The distant sound of a shrill scream shattered the eerie silence of the city. The kind only one creature could make.

Craven.

“Gods,” I whispered. “The mist. It must have beckoned the Craven from the Blood Forest. I didn’t…”

I hadn’t thought of that.

“Luck is on our side then,” Kieran said from behind me as we followed Reaver through a tunnel heavy with sweet pea blossoms. “This will keep them occupied.”

“Agreed,” Reaver chimed in.

They were right. But where the Craven were, death awaited. I clamped my jaw shut. I hadn’t wanted that, but death…

She was an old friend, as Casteel had once said.

“Don’t think about it.” Kieran’s hand curved over my shoulder. “We’re doing what we have to.”

It was almost impossible not to think about the consequences. What if the Craven managed to get over the Rise here like they had tried before in Masadonia? The Rise had never failed, but as far as I knew, a Primal mist had never swamped Carsodonia before, either.

Reaver’s steps slowed as we cleared the sweetly scented passageway, and I saw that not even the Primal mist dared to cloak Nyktos’ Temple. It was the only thing visible.

The Temple sat in the foothills of the Cliffs of Sorrow and behind a thick stone wall that encircled the entire structure. The street was empty as we crossed it and passed through the open gate, trekking across a courtyard constructed of shadowstone. I couldn’t suppress a shudder as I looked up at the twisting spires that stretched nearly as high as the cliffs, the slender turrets, and sleek, pitch-black walls. At night, the polished shadowstone seemed to lure the stars from the sky, capturing them in the obsidian stone. The entire Temple glittered as if a hundred candles had been lit and placed throughout.

We climbed the wide steps, crossing between two thick pillars. The doors were open wide, leading to a long, narrow corridor.

“If this Temple is anything like the one in Oak Ambler, the underground entrance would likely be behind the main chamber,” Kieran said.

“There could be Priests and Priestesses,” I reminded them as we strode forward.

“How should we handle them?” Kieran asked.

“Burn them?”

I shot Reaver a look. “If they don’t stand in the way, then leave them be.”

“Boring,” he replied.

“They could warn others that we’re here,” Kieran pointed out. “We don’t have to kill them, but we will need to keep them silent.”

I nodded as we walked toward the cella—the main chamber of the Temple. Moonlight streamed in through the glass ceiling, streaking the jet floors in soft light. No Priests or Priestesses could be seen. Only a few dozen of the hundreds of candelabras staggered along the walls were lit. There were no pews or benches for worshipers to gather. There was just the dais and what sat upon the raised platform.

I’d never seen such a throne before.

Carved from shadowstone, it was larger than the thrones in both Evaemon and here. Massive. Moonlight caressed the chair, glinting off the back carved to resemble a crescent moon—just like the throne had been in Wayfair.

“Did Nyktos ever sit upon this throne?” I whispered.

“Only for a brief time.” Reaver strode forward.

I crossed into the cella. “Why is there only one—?”

The unlit candles roared to life, casting bright, silvery-white light throughout the cella. Hair rose on the nape of my neck and under my hood as I looked around.

Kieran halted behind me. “That was…odd.”

“It’s her.” Reaver continued on, heading for the right side of the dais.

“Me?”

“You carry the blood of the Primal in you,” he said. “And you’re in the Primal’s Temple. It’s reacting to your presence. The essence left here.”

All of that sounded silly, except there was an energy to the cella, one that coated the very air I breathed and crackled over my skin. The eather in my chest hummed.

“You’re so very special.” Kieran gave me a half-grin as we edged around the dais.

“Very,” Reaver said dryly.

I glared at the draken’s back. “Neither of you sound like you think that at all.”

So special,” Kieran added.

I rolled my eyes as we passed a colonnade. I saw several doors, all closed. Ten of them in all. Frustration burned through me as I scanned the area. “You wouldn’t happen to know which door we should try, would you?”

“No.” Reaver stopped. “That spell? You think it will work from here?”

I wasn’t sure. I’d wanted to use it once we were underground, but Lord Sven had said that the spell would remain in place until the missing object—or person—was found. Plus, the last thing we needed was to start randomly opening doors and potentially coming face-to-face with the Priests and Priestesses that had to be here somewhere. We would have to try it and hope for the best.

“I can do it here.” I reached for the satchel, hoping that I was right about there being access to the tunnels beneath the Temples. “I just need—”

Reaver spun suddenly, at the same moment Kieran did. They’d heard the silent steps before I did. I turned, reaching for the dagger as a hooded figure appeared in the shadows between the columns. He blended in so well, I almost didn’t see him at first.

Kieran lifted his sword, and my heart kicked in my chest. That figure, the height and the shape and the voice.

“No need to use that sword,” the hooded figure advised, the voice sending a jolt of recognition through me. Malik. But it was something else…

“We’re going to have to agree to disagree on that,” Kieran growled.

“I can’t blame you for thinking that.” Hands rose, lifting the hood back. Bright amber eyes flickered over the three of us. “I saw you all making a rather hasty exit from Wayfair and running into the mist—leaving quite the mess behind.”

Kieran’s chin had lowered, his hold on the sword steady. “Is that so?”

Malik nodded, keeping his hands visible and at his sides. “Thought I should give you all a follow. I’m the only one. For now. It won’t be long before your absence is noted.” He paused. “I know why you’re here.”

“Congratulations,” Kieran snapped. “All that means is you’re an inconvenience I’m only a little conflicted about handling.”

The Prince’s gaze shifted to mine. “You asked me earlier if I knew how to get to Cas. I do,” he said, and my senses stretched out to him. There were no shields. Nutty resolve gathered in my throat. “That’s why I’m here. I’ll take you to him, and then you all need to get the hell out of the city.”

“Yeah,” Reaver drawled as Kieran glanced at me. “How convenient of you to show up and be so helpful.”

“Not convenience. Just a huge-ass risk.” Malik’s gaze didn’t leave me. “You can sense my emotions. You can tell I’m not here to trick you.”

“What I can feel doesn’t determine if you’re lying. Especially if you’re purposely hiding your emotions under the guise of another.”

“I’m not.” He stepped forward, stopping when Kieran lifted the sword higher, pointing it at Malik’s chest. A muscle throbbed in his temple. “I aided Cas after she sent that gift to you. Did my best to get rid of the infection his body couldn’t fight. Whether any of you want to believe it or not, I don’t want my brother here. I don’t want him anywhere near here. You need to trust me on that.”

“Trust you?” Kieran’s laugh was harsh.

“We don’t have time for this,” Reaver argued. “Either kill him or make sure he can’t betray us.”

Malik’s eyes flared brightly. “It’s her. You’re right. I’m here because of her.”

I tasted tangy, almost bitter anguish again. It was powerful, but what cut through it was sweet, reminding me of chocolate and berries.

I inhaled sharply. “Millicent.”

Kieran frowned. “The Handmaiden?”

He nodded. “Nearly everything—” Malik’s voice roughened. “Nearly everything I’ve done is for her. She’s my heartmate.”

My mouth dropped open. I hadn’t been expecting that.

“What in the actual fuck?” Kieran muttered, his sword lowering an inch. “The Handmaiden? The Revenant? The really weird, possibly insane—”

“Careful.” Malik’s head cut sharply toward Kieran as anger pulsed through him. “Remember when I said you shouldn’t get involved with Elashya? That doing so would end only in heartache?”

“Yeah, I remember.” Kieran’s skin seemed to thin. “I told you if you brought that up again, I’d rip your fucking throat out.”

“Exactly.” Malik’s smile was loose, but the acidic burn I felt promised violence. “I still love you like a brother. You probably don’t believe that, but make no mistake, if you say one more negative thing about Millicent, I’ll rip your fucking throat out.”

My brows rose.

“This is all heartwarming and shit,” Reaver hissed, “but we seriously do not have time for this.”

“You stayed because of her,” I said.

Malik shuddered. “I’ve done many unimaginable things for her. Things she will never have any knowledge of.”

Making up my mind, I stepped forward. “I believe you. That doesn’t mean I trust you. Show us where Casteel is. But if you betray us, I will kill you myself.”


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