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The War of Two Queens: Chapter 9


I walked toward the receiving chamber, the dressing robe replaced by breeches and my sweater coat. It was the thick of the night, hours after the sixteen draken had been lifted onto hastily made pyres so Nithe, one of the remaining draken, could burn their bodies. I stood by the pyres until nothing remained but ash. Part of me felt as if I were still there.

Entering the room, I went to where Reaver sat, still in his mortal form, nude but for the blanket he’d wrapped around his waist as he sat on the floor, in a corner. Before I could speak, he said, “She smelled of Death.”

“Well, that’s because she was dead,” Kieran replied.

“No. You misunderstand. She smelled of the Death,” Reaver countered. “I thought I smelled it when we arrived here, on and off, but it was never strong. Not until tonight.”

His pupils had returned to normal as he watched me lower myself onto the ground before him, the heavy length of my braid falling over my shoulder. It wasn’t just the four of us. Those I trusted were with us, sitting or standing, drinking or motionless, still held tightly by shock. I swallowed the knot of sorrow gathering inside me—a mix of guilt and realization that I should’ve listened to Kieran. “What does that mean?”

“That was the essence of the Primal of Death. His stench. Oily. Dark. Suffocating,” Reaver said, and I looked to where Kieran stood a few feet from me. That was exactly what we’d both felt. “It doesn’t make sense.”

“You mean Rhain?” Vonetta asked from where she sat on one of the chairs, her knees pressed to her chest.

Reaver blinked. “What?”

“Rhain,” Emil started to explain, his hands on the back of Vonetta’s chair. “The God of Common Men and—”

“I know who Rhain is. I knew him before he was known as the god you recognize today,” he replied.

From the entry of the chamber, surprise flickered through Hisa, mirroring mine. “Who was the God of Death before him?” she asked.

“There was no God of Death before him. There was only the Primal of Death.”

I remembered what Nyktos had shared with me. “Did Rhain replace one of the Primals that Nyktos said had become tainted and corrupt?”

“In a way.” Reaver’s head tilted to the side as he looked at the ceiling, his eyes closing. “There was only one true Primal of Death, and that—the storm and the woman—felt like him.”

“Nyktos is both the Primal of Life and Death,” Kieran said.

“Wrong.”

Kieran knelt. “I’m not wrong.”

“You are.” Reaver lowered his chin, his eyes opening. “Nyktos was never the true Primal of Death. There was another before him. His name was Kolis.”

“Kolis?” Naill repeated, stepping around Emil. “I’ve never heard that name.”

“You wouldn’t have.”

“Erased history,” I murmured, looking over my shoulder at the others. “Remember what I told you about what Nyktos said? About the other Primals and the war that broke out between them and the gods?” I faced Reaver. “That’s why we wouldn’t know his name, right?”

Reaver nodded.

“I cannot be the only person who’s sitting here thinking that the name Kolis is awfully similar to Solis,” Vonetta remarked.

She wasn’t. It hadn’t passed me by either.

“What happened to this Kolis?” Perry spoke up. The Atlantian had been quiet the entire time as he stood with a somber Delano. “Or the other Primals?”

“Some of the Primals passed on to Arcadia, a place very much like the Vale but which can be entered without death,” Reaver said, and the confusion I felt from the others said they were as unfamiliar with Arcadia as I was.

“Some?” Perry prodded.

“Some,” Reaver repeated. “Others were ended. As in they died. Were no more. A figment of a forgotten past. Dead. No longer—”

“I get it,” I stopped him. “We all get it.”

“Glad to hear,” the draken retorted. “Kolis is as good as dead.”

I didn’t let his tone get to me. He’d just lost sixteen draken—some who had to be friends. Maybe even family. I knew so very little about Reaver—about any of the draken. And now, most of them were gone. A shiver slithered down my spine. “As good as dead isn’t dead, Reaver.”

“He’s been dealt with. Entombed long ago. None of us would be here if he hadn’t been,” he insisted. “And the only thing that could’ve released him is the Primal of Life. That would never happen. They…they were the kind of enemies that go beyond blood and bone.”

My heart rate settled a little. The last thing any of us needed to deal with was a randomly awakened Primal of Death.

“Wait.” Reaver’s brows knitted and then smoothed as his head jerked toward me. “Holy shit, I should’ve caught on to this. Admittedly, I don’t always pay attention. You all talk a lot and do so in circles.”

I started to frown when I heard what sounded like a choked laugh coming from Hisa.

“You spoke of these…creations your enemy has. Ones that can survive any injury?” Reaver asked.

“Yes.” Kieran placed a hand on the floor.

“Do they come back to life?”

Kieran tilted his head. “What else does survive any injury mean?”

“Not the same as returning to life,” Reaver shot back.

“Yes, they come back to life,” I jumped in.

“Are they called Revenants?”

“They are.” I looked around the room. “I’m sure I’ve said that before when you were around. More than once.”

“Like I said, I don’t always pay attention,” he admitted. “Let me guess. They’re the third sons and daughters.”

“Yes.” Emil drew out the word. “That would be correct. You know what these things are?”

“Revenants were Kolis’s pet project. His crowning achievement,” Reaver said. “He used magic to create them—the kind that only worked on them.”

Vonetta straightened as I thought of the ledgers. “Why only them?”

“Because the third sons and daughters carry embers of eather in them.”

“I don’t understand,” Kieran said. “And I don’t think I’m the only one who doesn’t.”

“Everything in every realm descends from a Primal—well, besides the draken. We come from nothing. We just are and have always been,” Reaver said, and I had no idea what to make of that—any of it.

“And mortals descend from a Primal and a draken,” I finished for him.

“From Eythos, the first Primal of Life—also known as your great-grandfather.” He pointed at me, and my eyes went wide. “What? Did you think Nyktos was hatched from an egg? He wasn’t.”

I hadn’t thought that. I just hadn’t realized there was another before him.

“Anyway, Eythos had a habit of creating things. Some would say it was out of curiosity and a thirst for learning, but I imagine it came from boredom. Who really knows? He’s been dead for a very long time. Anyway, he was close to Nektas, even before we were given mortal forms. One day, for whatever reason—and I’m still going with boredom—they decided to create a new species. Eythos lent his flesh, and Nektas gave his fire. The result was the very first mortal. Of course, they ended up creating more, and those, and the ones spawned by them, are, for the most part, ordinary. But what Eythos and Nektas did meant that an ember of essence exists in all mortals. It’s…dormant, for the most part.”

Reaver leaned forward. “Except for in the third sons and daughters. The ember is not always dormant then. Why? I don’t know. Perhaps it’s just a pure-numbers game that, after so many births, the ember would be stronger. Who knows? It doesn’t matter.”

Perry appeared as if it mattered a lot to him.

“Either way, those mortals often have unique talents, much like your gift of sensing emotions. It wouldn’t be as strong as yours. Most wouldn’t even realize they were different. They’re not immortal. They don’t need to feed. They live and die like mortals.”

My assumptions on what I had seen in the ledgers were correct. “The Ascended copied the Rite, then.”

Reaver nodded, and a ripple of surprise was felt throughout. “At one time, it was an honored tradition for the third sons and daughters to enter Iliseeum to serve the gods. And because the ember was strong in them, they could be Ascended if they chose, thus earning their immortality.”

“They had a choice?” Naill asked.

“Eythos always gave a choice,” Reaver said. “But Kolis took those third sons and daughters and made them into something neither dead nor alive—something else entirely. It was his essence—his magic as your friend would say.” He nodded in Perry’s direction. “I was young then when all of this came to a head. When what Kolis had done was discovered, and the war unfolded, I was hidden among other younglings. He was dealt with, but now… Now, someone has learned how to harness his essence.”

“Isbeth,” I said, anger pumping hotly through my veins. “Both the Duke and Vessa knew about the prophecy, and Vessa said she served the True Crown—the Ascended. Isbeth must have shared the knowledge with her—knowledge she could’ve only gained from one person.”

“Malec,” Kieran surmised with a growl.

Reaver closed his eyes. “For him to share such secrets…it is a betrayal of the highest order. For he has given this Blood Queen the power to kill my brethren.” The angles of his features sharpened. “Just like she most likely killed Jade.”

I stiffened. “She may not be gone, Reaver. My mother—” I closed my eyes, correcting myself. “Coralena was the Handmaiden who tried to bring me to Atlantia when I was a child. She was a Revenant, but Isbeth said that she killed her. That means Isbeth must have had a draken then—had access to the fire of the gods. That wasn’t that long ago.”

“Yeah, I want to believe that, but the fire of the gods isn’t just talking about the fire we breathe.” A muscle ticked along his jaw. “The fire is our essence—our blood. Not even a Revenant is immune to that. All the Blood Queen would need is a drop of a draken’s blood, no matter how old it was, to kill a Revenant.”

I rocked back, my heart sinking.

Reaver’s eyes met mine. “That kind of magic, that kind of power this Blood Queen has learned? You just saw what it is capable of. It can only be used for death and decay.” Reaver’s pupils thinned and stretched vertically. “She is a far more dangerous foe than I think anyone has realized.”

 

 

Later, I sat on the bed as I held Casteel’s ring between my fingers. My head spun as I turned everything over. And it was a lot. The dream that might not have been a dream. Vessa. The loss of all those draken. The knowledge that the Blood Queen had learned how to use the essence of this Primal, Kolis. Reaver’s belief that Jadis was already gone.

I looked over at Kieran. He sat across from me, sharpening a blade. “I lost seventeen draken tonight.”

We lost those draken,” he corrected softly.

“I awakened them. I summoned them. And within a month, they’re dead.” A knot burned the back of my throat. “You were right.”

“I know what you’re going to say,” he said. “What happened to the draken wasn’t your fault.”

“It is you who are being too kind now.” The knot of sorrow expanded. “If I had listened to you and gotten rid of her, she wouldn’t have been here to do this.”

Kieran didn’t say anything for a long moment. “There was no way you could’ve known that she was capable of such a thing,” he started, hands stilling as he lifted his gaze to mine. “Your kindness is part of who you are. It is one of the things that will make you a great Queen and god. You just need to learn when not to be kind.”

Nodding, I drew in a shaky breath as I looked down at the ring. This was a horrible way to learn such a lesson. The draken had paid a terrible price for me to learn it.

I briefly closed my eyes. Several moments passed. “You heard Reaver when he said my touch doesn’t work on beings of two worlds?”

He looked up once more. “I did.”

“That could mean I can’t bring wolven back to life.”

Sitting the blade and stone aside, he leaned forward. “It’s okay.”

“How is that okay?”

“How can it not be?” Kieran asked, his face inches from mine. “I’ve lived my entire life without there being this…this second chance. Someone with extra-special hands.”

“But I want that second chance to be an option. I know I shouldn’t. What happened with that young girl was an accident. I didn’t know what I was doing. I know I’m not the Primal of Life and don’t have that kind of authority, but…” My fingers curled around Casteel’s ring. “If something were to happen—”

“Then it happens.” Kieran’s gaze searched mine. “All of us who are here know that our lives can end at any minute. We’ve all lived never counting on a second chance, and none of us expects it to be any other way.”

“I know—”

“And you shouldn’t either.”

I knew I shouldn’t, but the idea of losing him? Vonetta? Delano? My insides went cold—colder than they’d ever been. And that place in me, the empty one, it grew.

I didn’t know what I would do if I lost them.

But as Kieran fell silent and eventually dozed off after placing his blade aside, I thought about the one thing that would prevent something from happening to Kieran. The one thing that would tie his lifespan to mine so neither Casteel nor I would ever have to say goodbye to him.

The Joining.


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