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A Light in the Flame by Jennifer L Armentrout

A Light in the Flame

by Jennifer L Armentrout

Published by Blue Box Press

Book 2 in the Flesh and Fire Series

The only one who can save Sera now is the one she spent her life planning to kill.

The truth about Sera’s plan is out, shattering the fragile trust forged between her and Nyktos. Surrounded by those distrustful of her, all Sera has is her duty. She will do anything to end Kolis, the false King of Gods, and his tyrannical rule of Iliseeum, thus stopping the threat he poses to the mortal realm.

Nyktos has a plan, though, and as they work together, the last thing they need is the undeniable, scorching passion that continues to ignite between them. Sera cannot afford to fall for the tortured Primal, not when a life no longer bound to a destiny she never wanted is more attainable than ever. But memories of their shared pleasure and unrivaled desire are a siren’s call impossible to resist.

And as Sera begins to realize that she wants to be more than a Consort in name only, the danger surrounding them intensifies. The attacks on the Shadowlands are increasing, and when Kolis summons them to Court, a whole new risk becomes apparent. The Primal power of Life is growing inside her, pushing her closer to the end of her Culling. And without Nyktos’s love—an emotion he’s incapable of feeling—she won’t survive her Ascension. That is if she even makes it to her Ascension and Kolis doesn’t get to her first. Because time is running out. For both her and the realms.



I am OBSESSED with this book. Hell, this whole series! But this book ... THIS BOOK ... oh my heart.

It was intense.

It was emotional.

I laughed.

I cried. I CRIED!

The ending had my jaw dropping.

But let's discuss, shall we?

I think Jennifer did a superb job with character growth and their arcs this book. One of the reasons I enjoy Nyktos's character so much is that he has always felt layered. Yes, we know he cares for Sera. He thinks of her often. But we know he cares about other things. It's not all about Sera, and in these types of books, very often I see the male character orbit around the female. It's nice that we still get their connection, but it's not all Nyktos is. Sera felt like more than a fiery, "stabby" woman, and we get a much more emotional journey with her. Sera's turmoil, her feelings of being undeserving of love, or not good enough, and her admission of almost killing herself, it really added more layers to her character that felt relatable. I cried a lot for her. Jennifer's words describing her pain reminded me of the times I felt that way. Who knew one could relate to a fantasy character?

Now, I will be honest. I felt there was a small chunk of this book that felt a bit slow. I'm sure some will see it as filler. But I actually think it was necessary. While it didn't further the plot all that much, it did deepen our understand on just how dark Sera's inner feelings are, and how low her self-worth is. It makes the journey we take with her, where she finally feels happiness and wants to live richer, but also makes the ending more heartbreaking.

I think Jennifer made it clear in this book that while Nyktos may have been angry at Sera after finding out her plans in the last book, he never hated her. He was just hurt, but he understood why. But Nyktos ... my man ... you love her. Obviously there is a loophole when he had his ability to love taken from him. Because its so obvious. HE TASTED CHOCOLATE AND BERRIES! The only reason I can get past how ridiculous it is that they haven't realized this yet, is that despite all the growth, they are so emotionally traumatized from their past, they don't recognize love when they see or feel it. Despite their growing love and respect for one another, we still get Jennifer's classic magic touch when it comes to tension and banter. And we get a lot of it. And it's hot.

One of the things I loved about this book was Sera's growing power. From her accidently raising the bones of a dead person, and it recognizing her as queen, accidently blasting Nyktos with eather, and to her almost tearing the castle apart in reaction to the pain and heartbreak of THAT scene (if you know, you know), she is growing insanely powerful. I can't wait to see her at full level.

Speaking of THAT scene, while I knew that there was a why to what was going on, it still hurt. BRUTALLY.

As for the other characters, here are my thoughts:

  • Odin's beef with Sera is hilarious

  • Daddy Nektas indeed. *Drool*

  • Jadis taking a temper tantrum in draken form is freaking adorable.

  • Victor!

  • Bele is one of my favorite characters now. That "oops" before shooting the arrow? Wonderful.

  • Veses is a huge cunt and I hope she dies a miserable death. But for now, I am content with Sera stabbing her in the eye and with her being imprisoner.

  • Kolis is definitely a psycho.

  • Attes surprised me in the end there. I did not expect that.

  • Ector. :(

So tell me, what did you think of A Light in the Flame? Did you love it as much as I did? Did you cry? What are your theories for the next book? Speaking of theories ... did any of mine pan out? Here are my theories (below my review for A Shadow in the Ember) And heads up, there are spoilers for both Flesh and Fire and Blood and Ash below.

  • That a) Isbeth isn't the big bad in the Blood and Ash series, but Kolis is and b) that the God's all going to sleep was connected to keeping Kolis entombed until the prophesized couple could defeat him. *************** Well, after reading A War of Two Queens, its confirmed by Nektas that it IS Kolis who is the one who needs defeating. As for the rest, I guess we will find out in the next flesh and fire book.

  • I did say if things go to shit in the battle between Poppy and Isbeth, Sera is going to get involved. I can't help but notice both predictions I have had so far were more Blood and Ash centered ... but knowing they intertwine I will forgive myself.

  • We'll see about my Tawny/Jadis theory

  • Sorry Ector :(

Do I have any new theories? hmmm.

  • I think Sera somehow restored Nyktos' kardia. Towards the end of the book, it was mentioned a lot that the embers were humming in her moments with Nyktos, when he is expressing how much he cares for her. If she can heal, and bring people back to life, why couldn't she heal this missing part of Nyktos?

  • When Nyktos and Sera made love, after they found out the only way to transfer the embers to Nyktos was by draining her, and he dying, not only do I think his kardia was returned to him, but I wouldn't be surprised if this is when they conceive their twins

I honestly don't have very many theories. The full prophecy, while making more and more sense each book, has my head spinning.

Nyktos: "Did you seriously just try to run?"

Nyktos's breath stirred the hair on the top of my head.

Nyktos: "From me? Why? Why would you do that?"

Sera: "Why not?"

I shot back, cringing at how utterly childish that sounded.

Nyktos: "Are you fucking kidding me right now?"

he snarled. A tremor ran through me as I strained against his hold .

Nyktos: "You fled the safety of the palace and r an straight into the second place I warned you never to enter. Was my very short list of rules that confusing? Or are you just that incapable of following rules meant to save your life?"

Sera: 'Fuck your rules,"

I spat, tremors skating through me.

Nyktos: "And my sanity right along with them."

Nyktos: "Or what?"

One side of his lips curled up.

Nyktos: "You're going to slit my throat?"

Frustration and hopelessness crashed into a bitter tide of desperation and anger.

Sera: "If that's what it takes."

Nyktos: "Then do it. Slit my throat."

He wrapped the braid around his hand, putting just enough pressure on my neck to force my head down towards his.

Nyktos: "Just make sure you cut deep. To the spine. Otherwise, all you'll accomplish is getting us both bloody."

Nektas: "You should probably avoid touching anything dead until you get a handle on those embers."

My hands fell into my lap.

Sera: "I'll definitely try to avoid doing that. It'll be hard because I do like to touch dead things."

I halted when the horse whipped his head in my direction. He pawed at the ground once more.

Nyktos: "He's not that happy with you."

Sera: "What did I do to him?"

Nyktos came up behind me, dipping his head as he said,

Nyktos: "You held a dagger to my throat, and you hit me with eather."

Sera: "Yeah, but I didn't do those things -"

I cut myself off. Primal magic.

Sera: "He's an extension of you. Got it."

I sighed, eyeing the horse.

Sera: "I'm sorry."

Odin huffed, turning his head from me.

Nyktos; "He'll get over it."

Nyktos gripped my hips and lifted me into the air before I even had a chance to react. I grasped the pommel, seating myself before I was flung over on the other side. Nyktos swung into the saddle behind me.

Nyktos: "Eventually."

Odin shook his mane.

Sera: "Do not order me around as if I'm a child."

Nyktos: "I wouldn't if you didn't behave like one."

I saw red.

Sera: "You sure as hell didn't think I was behaving like one when you had me in your bed and your fangs in my throat."

Suddenly, I was hanging from his shoulder - his actual shoulder - and staring at his back.

I was stunned speechless.

Then Nyktos turned.

Sera: "Let me down!"

I screamed, my braid slipping forward and smacking the side of my face.

Nyktos: "Nope."

Sera: "Put me down!"

I went to kick my legs, but his other arm folded over the backs of my knees, trapping them.

Sera: "Nyktos, I swear to the gods -"

Nyktos: "You shouldn't swear to the gods. It's blasphemous."

I screeched, swinging a fist back as he opened the door that adjoined our chambers. I froze, staring into the dark corridor of the short hall. The door ... had it been unlocked? Or had he used his power to unlock it?

Nyktos: "I have a feeling you're about to punch me in a kidney,"

Nyktos said as he carried me down the passageway and into his bedchamber.

My fist opened as the scent of citrus - of him - increased.

Sera: "No, I wasn't."

Nyktos: "I don't think I've ever met someone who lies as much as you do."

Nyktos turned sharply, dumping me on the bed.

Sera: "Asshole!"

Nyktos: "You're boots are as filthy as your mouth."

He grabbed hold of the other boot, and that too hit the floor with a thump.

Nyktos: "And while I enjoy that mouth in my bed, I won't enjoy the boots."

He glanced down at my spoiled, bloodied breeches.

Nyktos: "They need to come off, too."

Sera: "Wow. I don't think I've ever had a man ask me to remove my clothing so romantically before."

Sera: "Clever bastard,"

I whispered.

One side of his lips curved up.

Nyktos: "I know."

Nektas: "Watch out for her -"

A wing smacked me in the face.

Nektas: "Her wings."

Nektas finished with a sigh.

Nektas: "Sorry."

Sera: "It's okay.

I leaned my head back as Jadis wiggled closer , her taloned fingers sinking into my hair. Her breath tickled the side of my neck as she made a soft, chattering noise.

Sera: "Just don't breathe fire on me."

Wide, bright red eyes met mine. Jadis chirped.

Sera: "I hope that was an agreement."

Nyktos: "We all need someone to watch over us."

Heat crawled up my throat.

Sera: "Do you?"

Nyktos: "Desperately."

he whispered.

Nyktos: "I'll check in with you later. Until then,"

he said, his eyes meeting mine,

Nyktos: "behave."

Sera: "Yes, Your Highness."

I bowed.

Sera: "I wouldn't want to be grounded."

Nyktos: "You've been injured,"

Nyktos growled low in my ear.

Nyktos: "Again."

Sera: "Barely."

Nyktos: "I can smell your blood."

His palm grazed the side of my breast. I jerked. He skimmed his hand down my side to where there was a burning ache.

Nyktos: "It makes me want to taste you."

Ector: "Daddy Nyktos is not happy."

Rhain: "You know, I think I'll get that stuff for you and then make myself ... scarce."

Rhain backed up, grabbing Ector's arm.

Rhain: "Come, be scarce with me."

Ector: "That's probably a good idea."

Ector pivoted.

Ector: "He's got the scary face again."

He kind of did.

Nyktos: "Most wouldn't attempt to seduce and kill the Primal of Death. Not even if it was a duty drilled into them from birth. Not even for their kingdom. Then turn around and plan to do the same thing to another Primal. I wouldn't even say it would be a lack of courage on their part."

Sera: "Just a lack of common sense on mine?"

I retorted.

That damn eyebrow rose again.

Nyktos: "You said it."

Sera: "Wait. Do you think you took advantage of me after you gave me your blood?"

Nyktos: "I knew what my blood would do to you. I should've been able to restrain myself or left you alone the moment you started feeling the effects."

I stared at him.

Sera: "My reaction had very little to do with your blood.'

Nyktos: "Sera."

Sera: "And everything to do with my attraction to you. I told you that then. It hasn't changed."

His jaw flexed.

Nyktos: "Even so, I should've been able to control myself instead of becoming a man with no control over his body."

I laughed.

Sera: "You are not only a man."

Nyktos: "Just because I'm a Primal doesn't mean my body responds differently."

Sera: "I didn't realize that Primals - or men in general - had such little control over their cocks."

I whirled, gasping as flames crawled across the leg of one of the chairs Jadis was crouched in front of.

Sera: "oh, my gods!"

Jadis jumped excitedly, eyes alit by the flames. I quickly grabbed the pitcher, dousing the fire. Heart pounding, I stepped back -

Nektas walked into the chamber then, coming to an abrupt stop.

Nektas: "I leave the room for two minutes ..."

Sera: "That was not two minutes ..."

I panted.

Sera: "That was two years."

Nyktos: "What have you two been up to?"

Nyktos asked, glancing to where Reaver was already perched on the corner of his desk.

Reaver gave a couple of low grunts, but Jadis was chirping and yipping rapidly. She leaned back in Nyktos's arms, turning her head to Reaver. She hissed at him, and I couldn't help by grin.

Nyktos: "Maybe Reaver will play with you if you don't chase him so much."

Nyktos responded.

My brows shot up. I'd forgotten that Nyktos could understand them.

Nektas: "By the way, she set one of the chairs on fire."

Nektas announced. His daughter immediately planted her head in Nyktos's chest.

Nektas: "So time for a nap."

Nyktos's brows rose as Jadis gave a pitiful, muffled whimper.

Nyktos: "It's okay. I'm not mad."

He rubbed her back between her wings.

Nyktos: "We have plenty of chairs."

Nektas: "It is not okay."

Nektas came around the desk , extricating Jadis from the Primal's arms. His daughter all but threw herself over his shoulder, hanging limply as Reaver eyed warily.

Nektas: "No matter how many chairs there are."

Sera: "Your penmanship is beautiful."

Nyktos: "Thank you."

He filled another page.

Then a third.

Sera: "How ... how do you choose who dies?"

Nyktos: 'I don't."

Another name.

Nyktos: 'The names come to me as I write."

I leaned my hip against the desk, curling my leg just enough that the panels of the gown parted, revealing my leg from the calf to just above the knee.

Sera: "What is you make a mistake?"

He stopped writing, his gaze slowly sliding up the length of my exposed leg.

Sera: "What if you're making up names and don't realize it?"

Nyktos: "I don't make mistakes."

Sera: "Never?"

Nyktos: "Not with this. In other things?"

he muttered, the edges of his fangs dragging over his lower lip as his gaze lingered on the curve of my hip.

Nyktos: "Far too often?"

Sera: "Really?"

Nyktos: "I can think of a few right now."

Sera: "Like what?"

I asked, knowing I was being a brat and thoroughly enjoying myself.

Nyktos: "Like not having Nektas take you with him when he left."

He returned to writing.

Nyktos: "He could've put you down for a nap. I'm sure Jadis and Reaver would've enjoyed the company."

I pressed my lips together to stop from laughing.

Sera: "That was rude."

Nyktos: "Was it?"

Sera: "Yes."

I watched him write several more names. Seconds ticked into minutes. Good gods, how many would die today?

Sera: "Perhaps I should've left with Nektas. I wonder if he would've ... enjoyed putting me down for a nap. He did seem to like my gown."

That got his attention.

The stylus stopped moving. His chin lifted, and thundercloud eyes pierced with lightning met mine.

Very purposely, I placed my hands on his desk and leaned forward. The slight bend of the waist was enough to test the limits of the gown.

Nyktos's eyes lowered. The stylus vanished from his palm. I hoped that meant he was finished.

Sera: "I'm sorry. Am I being distracting?"

Nyktos: "You don't sound sorry at all."

The line of his jaw flexed as he slowly drew his gaze to mine

Nyktos: "And you know exactly what you're doing."

Sera: "What's that?"

Nyktos: "You're purposely being distracting."

Sera: "I would never."

Nyktos: "And seductive."

Sera: "Why would you think that?"

I asked, blinking wide eyes.

Nyktos: "Your breasts are inches from my face, Sera."

His gaze dropped and then returned to mine.

Nyktos: "I don't think. I know. And it's not going to work."

Sera: "Your failure to keep your eyes from straying to inappropriate places is not a reflection on my action."

I told him, tipping my head and letting my hair fall forward onto his hand.

Sera: "But if I were trying to seduce you, Your Highness, it would most definitely work."

Nyktos: "You think so?"

Sera: "I don't think."

I smiled then, bright and wide.

Sera: "I know."

Sera: "Why did you come to my bedchamber last night?"

Nyktos: "Arm's reach. Remember?"

Sera: "I remember, but was it truly that? Or did you sense my need? My want? Of you."

I inched forward, half-expecting him to retreat. He didn't . When I spoke, my lips brushed the corner of his, and I felt a faint zap of static.

Sera: "I was thinking of you when I fucked my fingers. Imagining that it was your touch - before I even knew you were in the chamber."

Nyktos: "Sera,"

he warned - or begged. It sounded like both.

Sera: 'Just thought you should know."

I drew back, stilling when his molten silver eyes locked onto mine.

Sera: "I can take care of my desires, but it only goes so far."

Nyktos: "You better make it stretch as far as it can go."

he ordered softly.

Sera: "And if I don't?"

Nyktos: "What I did to those gods in the throne room will pale in comparison to what I do to whoever satisfies your needs."

Sera: "I know when to be reserved and not reckless."

Nyktos: "Good. Just don't forget how to be so exquisitely reckless later."

Attes smiled, revealing straight teeth and fangs.

Attes: "This one has bite."

Nyktos: "You have no idea."

Nyktos murmured, and my head whipped toward him. His eyes briefly met mine as that damn hand slipped deeper between my thighs. His thumb gave a swipe, nearly brushing the thin undergarment there.

Nyktos: "Behave."

Attes: "I also hope you're more careful with your tone. I may find your boldness refreshing. Alluring, even. Others will not."

Nyktos: "Those who do not like it won't live long enough to wallow in their insult."

Nyktos responded before I could.

Attes: "Because you'll make sure they're all dead before they can?"

Nyktos laughed darkly.

Nyktos: "Because my Consort will likely plunge a dagger to their hearts before I'm even aware of what has occurred."

Sera: "Did you even think about knocking first?"

I exclaimed.

Nyktos: "No."

Sera: "You should have."

I pressed my palm to my thundering heart.

Sera: "I could've been busy."

Nyktos: "Doing what?"

Sera: "Many things. Use your imagination."

Nyktos stopped, his jaw tightening.

Nyktos: "Not sure it using my imagination would be wise."

Saion: "Thought you were headed to your bedchamber,"

Saion reminded her.

Sera: "I was."

I nibbled on my lower lip as Nyktos motioned another guard forward - one thickly muscled and fair-haired.

Saion: "Was."

Saion sighed.

Saion: "Past tense. Great."

Sera: "Your highness,"

I said, more politely than I had ever said two works in my entire life.

A flicker of eather appeared in his cool, gray eyes, joining the wary gleam to his stare as he faced me fully. He briefly glanced at Saion and then snapped his attention to me.

Nyktos: "Are you taking a walk?"

Taking a walk? Like the fine Ladies of Lasania would stroll through the gardens of Wayfair? I almost laughed.

Sera: "I would like to know if it's possible for Saion to train with me."

Saion: "Whoa."

Saion's head whipped toward me.

Saion: "I told her that wasn't possible."

Sera: "He's afraid you will gut him if he does,"

I continued, aware of Ector's and Rhain's slow approach.

Sera: "Which I'm hoping is an exaggeration to hide the fact that he's simply nervous that I will be far better with a sword than he is."

Saion: "That is not the reason,"

Saion shot back.

Saion: "What you said first was the truth. I'm simply nervous that my insides will end up on my outsides."

Sera: "I have a sword to use."

I announced, facing Nyktos and smiling up at him.

Sera: "There's a multitude of logical reasons for why I should continue my training . But since your guards are too nervous to train with me, then shouldn't it be you?"

Rhain: "Hell."

Rhain murmured.

I lifted the sword, leveling it at Nyktos's throat.

Sera: "Or are you also ... nervous?"

Silence descended in the courtyard as Nyktos stared down at me. Wisps of eather began churning in eyes that had heated to quiksilver.

Nyktos: "Nervous is the last think I'm feeling at the moment."

Sera: "I need something to do."

Nyktos: 'Other than b eing a distraction?"

Sera: "In addition to that."

Sera: "I'm not ogling you."

Paxton frowned.

Paxton: "What does ogling mean?"

Nyktos: "To look at someone amorously, and rather impertinently."

He paused, his eyes meeting mine.

Nyktos: "As if they have no control over where their eyes stray."

The boy grinned before ducking his chin.

Paxton: "Yeah, that's totally was you were doing."

Paxton: "He is a Primal god,"

Paxton said, sounding incredibly exasperated for someone his age.

Paxton: "There is nothing he can't do."

Nyktos: "That is not entirely true."

Nyktos glanced at the bed, a slight frown pulling at his lips.

Nyktos: "There are many things I can't do."

Paxton: "Name one."

Nyktos: "Getting my soon-to-be Consort to follow instructions would be one of them."

Nyktos: "Sera,"

I thought I heard Nyktos whisper my name as I began to doze off.

Nyktos: "You were never a ghost to me."

Nektas: "Your current expression reminds me of Jadis in the moments before she throws herself onto the floor and starts screaming."

Sera: "I'm likely to do way worse than that."

Nektas: "I said he understands, and I'll tell you the same thing I told him when he was younger. Forgiveness benefits the forgiver, and it's easy. Understanding is acceptance, and that is far harder."

His gaze held mine as Jadis gave a little wiggle.

Nektas: "And if Ash didn't understand and accept your past actions, you would not be where you are right now. You would not carry his scent on your body, and I would've never sensed what I did when I found him with you."

Sera: "What did you sense? "

I whispered, my heart stomping in my chest.

Nektas: "What I sensed before."

That odd little half grin returned.

Nektas: "Peace."

Nyktos: "I heard Erlina brought by the clothing she made. Were you pleased?"

Sera: "They are all beautiful."

Nyktos: "Hopefully, they're less distracting."

Sera: 'They are."

Nyktos: "Thank the Fates."

Nyktos: "About the demands you made."

Sera: "I wouldn't say they were demands."

I watched him draw his fingers through my hair.

Nyktos: "What would you call them?"

Sera: "Gently requests."

Nyktos laughed roughly.

Nyktos: "Which part was gentle, Sera? The kicking me, or the holding your dagger to my throat?"

Sera: 'The part where I didn't hurt you."

Nyktos: "Fuck,"

he breathed, his throat working on a swallow. His head tilted. The tips of his fingers grazed the side of my breast.

Nyktos: "I was right. There's another freckle here."

My skin felt as if it were on fire.

Sera: "Do you think there are more?"

Nyktos: "I know there are."

Sera: "Where?"

His hand skimmed my waist and then skipped to my bent knees. He gently pushed them down, straightening them. Spreading them. His lips parted even more as he saw the scrap of black lace.

Nyktos: "I approve."

My cheeks warmed.

Sera: "You have Erlina to thank."

Nyktos: "That, I do."

He ran his hand up my inner thigh, stopping midway.

Nyktos; "Three little freckles right here, clustered together."

Both of his hands ran up my thighs to the thin strip of silky lace.

Nyktos: "Your freckles are like a constellation."

I lifted my hips as he drew the lace down over my legs and then pulled the undergarment off. His hands returned to my hips, and I let out a startled gasp as he tugged me to the edge of the bed. He lowered himself to the knees on the floor. A pulse of pleasure darted through me as his gaze fixed on the throbbing space between my legs.

Nyktos: "That's another name I'll need to come up with. What I'll call this constellation."

he said, threading an arm under my hips as he hooked one of my legs over his shoulder. The position forced me back onto my elbows.

Nyktos: "I'm always more creative when I have something sweet on my tongue."

Sera: "Any guards who spot us will already be suspicious of two people coming out of the Dark Elms. Odin will draw even more attention."

Odin huffed.

Sera: "It's because you're rather large,"

I said to the top of Odin's head.

Sera: "And very beautiful."

He gave another huff.

I sighed.

Nyktos drew the horse to a halt.

Nyktos: "He appreciates the compliments."

Sera: "Doubtful."

Nyktos: "He does."

Nyktos swung himself off the horse with ease.

Nyktos: "He just likes being dramatic."

Sera: "You didn't think I would succeed at killing him?"

Ezra: "I wasn't quite sure you'd succeed at the whole making-him-fall-in-love part,"

Sera: "Wow."

Ezra: "You are a bit ... temperamental. And those around you do have a tendency to end up stabbed."

Ezra: "You are death."

Nyktos: "I am."

Ezra: "You are not very Death-like."

His head tilted.

Nyktos: "And how is one ... Death-like?"

Sera: "Why did you visit my lake if you had this?"

Nyktos was quiet for so long that I looked at him. He was still staring at the pool.

Nyktos: "Because it was your lake."

Nyktos: "Let me see your dagger."

Sera: "How do you know I have it?"

Nyktos: "You always have it, Sera. Hand it over."

He paused, extending his hand.

Nyktos: "Please."

Sera: "I hate it when you say please,"

I grumbled, bending over and reaching inside the shaft of my boot. I slid the dagger out, straightening.

Nyktos: "What a strange thing to hate."

I placed it, hilt first, onto his palm.

Sera: "Yeah, you'd think."

Nyktos: "Thank you."

Nyktos turned sharply, throwing the dagger.

My mouth dropped open as it flew through the air, striking the wall above the table with such force that the handle vibrated.

Sera: "What the hell?"

My head whipped toward him.

Sera: "Now, you're just annoying me."

I lifted my right hand and extended my middle finger even as adrenaline surged through me. He was probably right, but I missed training. Fighting.

Sera: "In case you don't know what that means, go fuck yourself."

Nyktos chuckled.

Nyktos: "If you behave, maybe I'll fuck you instead."

Nyktos: "Now, how would you get free of me? You can't reach that dagger or any other weapon, even if you had them. What would you do?"

I strained against his hold, only succeeding in having him draw me closer.

Sera: "scream loudly?"

Nyktos: "No."

Sera: "Beg?"

I suggested, tensing as I felt his breath on the side of my neck.

Nyktos: "There are very few things I would be interested in hearing you beg for, and your life is not one of them. I can feel the essence in you ramping up. It's there. Charging the air. You can summon the eather. Will it manifest into energy that can break my hold. You won't hurt me."

I had been able to feel it, too. Keyword being had.

Sera: "I'm not worried about hurting you."

His cool breath grazed the shell of my ear.

Nyktos: "Then what is stopping you."

Sera: "Those few things you're interested in hearing me beg for."

Nyktos: "You are always safe with me, liessa."

I wanted more.

I wanted to be his wife.

His partner.

His Queen.

I wanted to be Nyktos's Consort.

The wanting of something I could have was foreign to me. Because just like Nyktos, I'd spent a life of just existing, and wanting felt like living.

And that scared me even more since there was a really good chance I'd screw up a possible future - if there turned out to be one - with Nyktos. One that could be real. I wasn't just a messy person. I was the mess. I was temperamental. Violent. Stubborn. Prone to moodiness, anxious one second and overly confident the next. I could barely deal wth myself on most days, but I wanted Nyktos to be able to handle me.

Sera: "The poppies,"

I whispered.

Sera: "The poisonous, temperamental poppies that remind you or me."

Nyktos: "The powerful, beautiful poppies that also remind me of hope,"

Nyktos replied, his thumb smoothing under my lower lip before returning to my hip.

Nyktos: "Those poppies are the hope of life. The power of those embers. Proof that life cannot be defeated, not even in death."

You okay?

Such a simple question. One easily answered by many, I imagined. One I could've answered that morning without hesitation or much thought. You okay? Now, the question was loaded with meaning because not only did the Pools of Divanash knew a secret not known to others. Nektas did, too.

Sera: "I ... I think so,"

I said finally, beating back the prickly, uncomfortable wave.

Sera: "I will be,"

I added with a shrug.

Sera: "I always am."

Nektas: "Not everyone can always be okay. And if you happen to find that you're not, you can talk to me. We'll make sure you're okay."

Bele: "It's common enough that you kind of prepare to die during the Culling>"

Rhain: "Bele,"

Rhain groaned.

Bele: "What? It's true. I told my mother I wanted a ceremony if I died. A large, obnoxious one full of endless prayers to the Primals and a countless stream of mourners to speak only of how great I was. I want loud, heartfelt sobbing - not just a few tears. I'm talking full-on, ugly crying. Snot running down the face kind of sobbing."

The skin above her brows creased as her lips pursed.

Bele: "And at least one good fight as my body burns. Like a full-on fight that even knocks over the pyre."

I stared at Bele.

Sera: "Wow."

Rhain: "That about sums it up."

Rhain: "Are you feeling unwell?"

Rhain blurted out.

Sera: "I feel quite fine. And I don't know why everyone keeps asking me that."

Nyktos: "Keeps?"

Sera: "Orphine asked if I was fine about two dozen times,"

I said, exaggerating.

Rhain: "Probably because you're being ..."

Rhain frowned.

Rhain: "Polite."

My expression mirrored his.

Sera: "I don't know why that would make anyone think I'm unwell."

Rhain: "Have you met yourself?"

Dyses: "Until then, she should realize that she's in the presence of her betters and bow."

I stiffened, realizing I should've done that the moment I'd laid eyes on Attes. Though I had a feeling Dyses was more offended that I hadn't shown him respect. Swallowing my annoyance and proving that I did, indeed, have common sense, I started to bow.

Nyktos: "You will not,"

Nyktos said quietly, stopping me with a hand on my arm. His eyes briefly met mine, and then he turned to Dyses.

Nyktos: "My soon-to-be Consort will bow when she's in the presence of those deserving of respect."

His lazy smile set off warning bells.

Nyktos: "But until then ..."

Nyktos shadowstepped, appearing behind Dyses in the span of a heartbeat. There was no warning. Dyses' chest simply exploded in a spray of hot, shimmery red-blue blood.

I jerked back out of instinct, hand going to my thigh where the dagger was strapped, but then I saw Nyktos's hand.

My gods ... Nyktos had punched his hand straight through the god's back - through bone and tissue.

Nyktos jerked his hand free, and he was ... he was holding a fleshy, reddish-blue lump in his palm. Dyses looked down at his chest, his mouth gaping.

Nyktos: "You will bow before her.:

Nyktos's fingers closed over the heart, destroying it in a burst of silvery eather.

Veses: "You let go of that arrow, and all you'll do is piss me off. And I mean, really piss me off."

Bele: "Oops."

Bele released the arrow.

Nyktos: "You're in a lot of pain."

Sera: "True, but I stabbed her in the eye. It was gross."

I gave him a grimace of a smile

Sera: "But worth it."

Nyktos: "But there are a hundred reasons why one of us needs to leave,"

he said, his breath matching mine.

Nyktos: "And only o ne reason neither of us is."

Sera: "Want."

He gave me a curt shake of his head.

Nyktos: "Need."

Sera: "Do you care for her?"

Nyktos: "Fates."

He laughed flatly, shaking his head.

Nyktos: "I pity her. I loathe her. That's all I feel for her."

His answer left me more confused.

Sera: "How do you feel about me?"

Nyktos was silent and then tipped his head back to look at me. Eather pulsed intently behind his pupils.

Nyktos: "I feel too many things. Curiosity and excitement that remind me of what I think yearning must feel like. Need. Want."

he said roughly, his voice low.

Nyktos: "Amusement at times. Sometimes, even anger. But always awe. I am always in awe of you. I could keep going, but most of all, what I feel is the closest thing to peace I've ever experienced."

Sera: "I'm going to kill her."

Rhain's eyes widened in alarm.

Rhain: "You can't kill a Primal, Sera."

Sera: "Watch me try."

Ash: "What about the title?"

Ash said, stare fixed on the crowd much like Nektas. His wine remained untouched.

Sera: "I like it,"

I shared, feeling a bit foolish as my cheeks warmed.

Ash: "You do?"

Ash asked, turning to me. I nodded.

Ash: "I'm glad."

Hoping my face didn't look as hot as it felt, I refocused on the crowd. I found Keela and Penellaphe once more, their heads tipped together as they continued chatting.

Sera: "There was a little bit of Penellaphe's prophecy in there."

Nyktos: "Not enough that is should raise any alarms. It was the only thing that kept coming t o my mind. Your hair. Moonlight.""

The center of his cheeks were the ones that flushed now. He cleared his throat

Nyktos: "And you do look like the brightest moon tonight."

Nyktos: "You do not need to bow."

Her forest green eyes were bright.

Kayleigh: "But -

Sera: "It's all right."

I jumped in.

Sera: "He's not the bow-to-me type of Primal."

Nyktos: "Well, sometime I am."

Delfai: "You were supposed to kill me."

Delfai leaned back against the bookshelf, patches of skin along his arms and neck charred. My stomach churned.

Delfai: "That was how I died."

Nyktos: "Well, you're not dead, thanks to her."

Ash's jaw worked as he glared at the god as if he were about to change his mine.

Nyktos: "Congratulations."

Delfai's fingers stilled around his throat.

Delfai: "It may be cause for celebration."

His hand dropped to his lap.

Delfai: "Perhaps there is a silver beast and a brightest moon. Two. Not one. Two then one."

Nyktos: "What in the hell are you talking about?"

Delfai": "Nothing."

He smiled widely, revealing blood-streaked teeth.

Delfai: "Nothing but hope."

Sera: 'It's too late. The embers have merged with me. Removing them will kill me either way, and I - I don't want to die."

Nyktos: "Glad to hear that you finally feel that way."

I ignored that.

Sera: "I want a future. I want to live. I want to experience a life where I have control of my future. I want us. But I need a future where we defeat Kolis and the Rot goes away. Where those in Iliseeum and in the mortal realm are safe. That's what's important. The onlt thing that matters."

Nyktos: "No, it is not the only damn thing that matters, Sera."

His eyes flashed.

Nyktos: "You. Not the godsdamn embers. Not the fucking realms. You matter."

Nyktos: "You've done nothing wrong."

Sera; "Neither have you."

Nyktos: "How the fuck can you even say that?"

Ash roared, loud enough that even with the distance we'd traveled, it was still likely someone heard. I doubted anyone would dare to venture into the pines, though.

Nyktos: "Because there was another option. I could've saved you."

Sera: "This isn't on you."

Reaching up, I clasped his cool cheeks. He started to pull away, but I held on as the embers hummed . Essence shattered his eyes - anger and agony, too. I drew in a short breath and nearly choked on the scent of pine.

Sera: "Even if you had your kardia, Ash, there was no guarantee that you'd love me -"

Nyktos: "yes there is."

His eyes were wide and wild as he caught my wrists.

Nyktos: "I would've loved you if I could have. There would've been no stopping me."

Nyktos: "I wish ..."

he whispered hoarsely, dragging his fingers across the freckles sweeping over my cheek.

Nyktos: "I wish I'd never had my kardia removed."

My eyes fluttered open.

His eyes glinted with a ... a sheen of red. Primal tears of grief.

Nyktos: "I never wanted to love. Not until you, liessa."

Sera: "Can you make me a promise?"

He lifted his head, and eyes full of silver moonlight met mine.

Nyktos: "Anything, liessa."

Sera: "When it comes time, can you take me to my lake? I want it to be done there."

Ash's chest stilled against mine. His eyes slammed shut as the tendons of his throat stood out, and his features sharpened and thinned.

Nyktos: "I promise."

Sera: "Fuck the dakkais."

Saion let out a short laugh.

Saion: "I like you."

he said, shaking his head as his gaze returned to the rise.

Saion: "You know that? I really do."

The essence flared from my hands.

Sera: "I like you, too."


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