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The War Of Two Queens by Jennifer L Armentrout

Updated: Jan 18, 2023


The War of Two Queens

by Jennifer L Armentrout

Published by Blue Box Press

Book 4 in the Blood and Ash series


From the desperation of golden crowns…


Casteel Da’Neer knows all too well that very few are as cunning or vicious as the Blood Queen, but no one, not even him, could’ve prepared for the staggering revelations. The magnitude of what the Blood Queen has done is almost unthinkable.


And born of mortal flesh…


Nothing will stop Poppy from freeing her King and destroying everything the Blood Crown stands for. With the strength of the Primal of Life’s guards behind her, and the support of the wolven, Poppy must convince the Atlantian generals to make war her way—because there can be no retreat this time. Not if she has any hope of building a future where both kingdoms can reside in peace.


A great primal power rises…


Together, Poppy and Casteel must embrace traditions old and new to safeguard those they hold dear—to protect those who cannot defend themselves. But war is only the beginning. Ancient primal powers have already stirred, revealing the horror of what began eons ago. To end what the Blood Queen has begun, Poppy might have to become what she has been prophesied to be—what she fears the most.


As the Harbinger of Death and Destruction.

Genre:

 

The War of Two Queens is the fourth book in Jennifer L Armentrout's Bestselling Blood and Ash series. It switches gears a bit, with this being the first book in the series with dual POV - Poppy and Casteel. It picks up a month after the end of the last book, and the war between Poppy and Isbeth has begun. Casteel is once again a prisoner of Isbeth's, and Poppy will do anything to save him. But war isn't the only concern for Poppy and Cas. An ancient prophecy, and powers come to further light, and as Poppy delves deeper into her power, she fears she will have to become something she fears to defeat Isbeth and save her people.


Holy shit, it was hard to write that synopsis without spoiling. But I think I did it. Not well, but oh well. As I did with Sarah J Maas's House of Sky and Breath, I will write my main review with no spoilers, and then go full tilt spoilers, because I have to. I need to talk about this book, because in all honesty, this has to be my favorite of the series, after the first book. If you are one of my regular readers, you know I love this series, and love Jennifer L Armentrout's other work. Her books are what got me back into reading after a several year slump. But I am not just seriously loving on this book because I love her work. There are actually a few reasons why this book has skyrocketed to second place in the series for me.

  1. Poppy is a badass in the other books, but her power in this book ... holy shit. Her struggle with finding the balance with her almost limitless power, and the consequences of her power is a great inner battle. It didn't feel like Poppy was obsessing over it, or disregarding her potential for total chaos ... it felt like just the right amount of turmoil. One of the things I love about this series, is that it's main character is a physically and emotionally strong woman, and I love that she gets better and better with each book.

  2. The relationships between the characters are top notch. There is no question between Poppy and Casteel of their feelings for one another. I love that we have got to a point where they know that the other loves them unconditionally. No doubts. AT ALL. But it's their relationships with everyone that I loved - the good and bad. Poppy's feelings towards Isbeth were no longer clouded by the past. Poppy and her hold on the Atlantian people was stronger, but just because she is a goddess, doesn't mean she still doesn't have those who don't trust her. Which is good. I don't want this to be too easy. Her bond with the wolven is still strong - stronger it seems. Her complete respect and love for them makes their willingness to protect her feel good to me. Deserved. And it has encompassed the drakon as well. But the relationship I appreciated the most was her bond with Kieran. I have loved any scene in this series with the two of them, but this book, well, their bond had me gushing with happiness from the second chapter and throughout the book. Casteel's feelings for Kieran have been clear from the start. Kieran is more than his best friend. More than a chosen brother. More than his bonded wolven. And I feel now that its the same between Poppy and Kieran. And for Poppy, who spent her life not allowed to have any type of relationship with anyone, it's thrilling.

  3. The combination of FBAA and ASITE. I fucking LOVED ASITE (and I eagerly await the next book). I don't really have to add much to this. I just love that everything is coming to a head, and I am so fucking stoked.

  4. Jennifer took criticism for the last two books into account - or at least I think she did. Listen, I love these books. But I will admit that in AKOFAF and TCOGB, the whole stabby stabby, and Kieran's annoyance at Poppy's relentless questions was incredibly overdone. If there is any complaint I see on those books, its that. And while there are still jokes on Poppy's penchant for stabbing people, and insatiable curiosity, it's not overdone like it was in the last books. It felt like Jennifer added enough in there for her fans to appreciate, but didn't pound us over the head with it.

  5. There was constant action. There were time in TCOGB where I felt underwhelmed, but I didn't get that in this book. There is always something important happening in this book, that feels important to the plot and character arcs.


The War of Two Queen is an epic addition to the Blood and Ash series. It has everything I love about this series - female leadership, romance and sex, and intricate plot and action. And while there is a lot of controversy over this book - which I will get into in the spoiler section below - please don't let others opinions tarnish this book for you. Don't let it stop you from reading this book. Because it is truly one of Jennifer's best work in this series to date.


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Seriously, don't read on if you haven't read the book. Spoilers galore below!

Okay, so WOW. This book! This fucking book! I think I need to go in bullet points to organize my thoughts.

  • Poppy - This character kicks ass. She is still the character we all fell in love with in the first book, but she has stepped into her new role flawlessly. Queen Penelope demands respect, but is kind and fair. But her power ... holy shit. A month since Cas was taken, and she has learned so much of herself. One of my favorite things about this book was Poppy's very real fear that one day she will be set off, and she will just destroy. And Jennifer did a good job making it clear to us that while Poppy is good, she is also a Primal who loves, and will do anything to save those she cares for. Will it get to a point where Kieran will have to fulfill his promise to imprison her if she becomes a danger? Well I hope not, and I don't think so. I think it was to show us just how close Kieran and Poppy have become since they met - that Poppy trusts Kieran enough to do what he must, even if it will break his heart. I won't lie, though ... I'm worried about what influence Kolis will have on Poppy, considering she hears him talking to her sometimes. If there is any reason Kieran needs to lock up Poppy, it will be because of Kolis's influence.


  • Casteel - You know, I love Cas, but I think his POV's in this book were the weakest part. When we are immersed in the plot, and he is playing an active part in it, learning information that we need, I loved it. I guess the part that bugged me was how obsessive he is over Poppy. I love romance, and a male character who is all over his partner, but sometimes I wished I could jump into the book, tap him on the shoulder, and remind him he is a King. lol. Anyone else love that we FINALLY got to see Cas lose control? The sex was insanely hot ... if you could forget the fact that Cas hadn't bathed in over 40 days. And while a lot of us fans were icked out by that, I'm going to remind myself its a fantasy, and that they love each other so desperately, body odor and dungeon filth will not get in the way of their love. lol.


  • Kieran - Oh Kieran. I loved him in the other books, but my love for him has grown. His constant support for Poppy while Cas is imprisoned is so heartwarming. His respect for Cas and her is beautiful, not only in his job as advisor, but as their best friend. When Cas is gone, Kieran sleeps with Poppy every night, but in his wolven form, out of respect for Cas and Poppy. The comfort of them having each other while a piece of their hearts was gone immediately warmed my heart. And the moment between Cas and Kieran after Cas is rescued, when Kieran holds Cas's face in his hands, and tells him he has him and Poppy forever ... my freaking heart. Honest to gods, these three together, whether its friendship or more, they are my favorite.


  • Reaver - Oh my gods, I love Reaver. I loved him in ASITE, when he was a ten year old drakon learning to fly, but was still prickly and quiet, and I loved him now, as an older (but still young, according to Nektas) drakon who kicks fucking ass. I mean, yeah, his love for burning people and things is probably not the greatest, but there is no denying he is a strong ally for Poppy. He has the sarcasm and dry sense of humor that fits in well with these characters, but he is also an oddball, which is what one would expect considering where he is from. And his moodiness when being woken up, or being kept from sleep, is seriously so relatable. When the craven were coming towards them, and he snaps and says "For fuck's sake!", not because craven were coming, but because he is so annoyed his sleep is being further delayed ... I was laughing. Love Reaver, and I hope he finds Jadis ... because I love her too, and I need to know she is okay.


  • Tawny - her arc in this book, while small, was SO unexpected. I predicted that Isbeth had turned her into a weapon against Poppy. I did not expect her to become what she is ... which is something we don't know. I'm sure Nektas, or Nyktos, or even Sera will enlighten Tawny and the rest as to what is going on. In this state of dead, but not dead. Poppy noted she was warmer to the touch at the end of the book, but it doesn't really answer the question as to what is going on with her. But the other part of her story - where she actually gets to TALK to Viktor - was another huge surprise. I love that Poppy gets to learn about who and what Viktor was to her, and that she gets confirmation on something she has questioned a lot - if he was proud of her. I don't think Tawny's part is done in all this, and I am excited to continue her arc.


  • Millicent - I suspected that she was Poppy's sister before the book came out. The prophecy in ASITE told us there was a first daughter, and with her introduced at the end of TCOGB, it didn't take much to connect the two. So I wasn't surprised. What I was surprised with was how much I liked her. Typically by book 4, I am not interested in new characters being introduced, and tend to reduce them in my mind to "cannon fodder". But I like Millicent - and definitely don't want her to be killed off. She is quirky, and has many of the traits that we love in Poppy - strong willed, protective, intelligent, and can take an asshole down. Judging by how she behaves, I suspect she isn't fully a Revenant. Probably due to the blood that runs through her veins. She has a bigger part to play in this story, and I wouldn't be surprised if Malik and her had POV's in the next two books. A storyline has been set - him living in hell to stay with his heartmate, who doesn't KNOW she is his heartmate. Her terrible upbringing. And she ran ... and I don't think she ran because she was afraid. I suspect she went to do one of two things: she either saw Callum escape and went after him to kill him, or she went to free her father.


  • Malik - I had a feeling that there was a reason Malik was appearing to be in Isbeth's side. I also had a feeling that he was the "Dark One" in Poppy's memories. But after his explanation, I won't lie ... I understood. Much like Poppy understood. Malik's arc is sad. He stayed with Isbeth, forsaking his family and his home, to be near his heartmate, who doesn't know she is mated to him. He lost his bestest friend, his bonded wolven, - Delano's sister - watching her be tortured to death. It is no wonder he broke. And now he is a lost soul, it seems. As his country and family seem unsure how to feel about him. I really hope that we get his POV in future books. I love Poppy, Cas and Kieran, but I find myself intrigued with Malik's and Millicent's story too. And I want to see a happy ending for him with his family. Especially Cas.

  • Isbeth - Ding dong the bitch is dead. My only issue with Isbeth (other than her being evil, of course) was how she was written almost like your typical cliche villian. Off hinge, over the top dramatic ... and its weird, because I have no doubt she actually does love her daughters, but its twisted and not real. My favorite Isbeth scene was her dying. Because holy fuck, Poppy ripped her to shreds and I loved it.


  • Callum - fuck that douche. I have a feeling though we have met him in ASITE before. A future traitor to Nyktos and Sera. Can you guess who I am thinking of?


  • Nektas - Look at Nektas, coming in, kicking ass like the daddy he is (just a little Blood and Ash Spoiler group inside joke lol). Spilling the tea like the Surial (and yes, I know, wrong fandom). But out of all the info he dropped, I was happiest when he said he could feel that Jadis was still alive (because I don't know if I could have forgiven my queen JLA for that death), and when he revealed Reaver's childhood nickname of Reaver-Butt. I cannot wait to see Kieran call him that. I LIVE FOR IT


  • The Joining - Poppy is the luckiest character ever. lol. I have been saying it to my best friend for months - if the joining is happening, its happening in this book. From the second chapter on, I just knew we were getting it. I also knew that there was going to be some upset "fans", but I had no idea it was going to get to the height it did. I will get into my rant about the book community below, because I want to focus on my thoughts of the joining and for the story moving forward. Now, it's been clear since AKOFAF that the joining was going to happen. After finishing AKOFAF, I was one of those readers who was against the Joining (but I knew it would happen). As its described, the Joining is incredibly intimate, and you need absolute trust, and I didn't feel like Kieran and Poppy were there yet in their relationship - not to mention, Poppy and Cas had just admitted that their feelings were real, so I felt like they needed more time. But after TCOGB, I switched to pro-joining. I didn't care if it was just intimate, or if it turned sexual. I just wanted these three bonded in a way that they would always be together. I knew it had to happen in this book, and I'm glad Jennifer waited to this one. Cas and Poppy's relationship has NO DOUBTS. They know they love one another. Heartmates. Cas and Kieran were already close - Cas says so many times that Kieran is more than his best friend, more than a chosen brother. This book really cements Kieran and Poppy's friendship, and love and affection for one another. Poppy can now say the same for Kieran and herself. Now, I am thrilled the joining happened, because it gives Cas and Kieran a bit more protection, and now that we know Poppy is a primal, she will always have them. Am I happy it turned into something sexual? Well, yeah, but not only because I the idea of the three of them together is hot. After all the teasing in the last 2 books, I knew it would (and if you are one of the ones who didn't think it was going to happen, how did you miss the foreshadowing?) But I also understood the genuine love and attraction between Poppy and Kieran. They leaned on each other when Cas was gone. It felt ... natural. As possessive as Cas is, he has NEVER felt a hint of jealousy over Kieran. Hell, in the first book, when Kieran is watching Poppy in the tub, and she asks him how Cas would feel about him seeing her there, he says he would be intrigued. INTRIGUED! And while Kieran and Poppy were trying to behave at the beginning of the joining, it was Casteel who was not. He was into it, and fuck, I am DOWN for a man who has so much confidance in his relationship with Poppy, is open minded, and just wants Poppy to have fun, love who she wants, and explore her sexuality after the life she was forced to live as the maiden. Anyways, I am happy. Cas and Kieran have a little (a lot) of extra padding due to Poppy, and they will have each other forever. And while it is heavily implied that Kieran DOES have feelings for Poppy, that doesn't stop him from finding someone else in the future - and Poppy is willing to join that person with them as well. But if Jennifer wants to turn this into a throuple situation, I'm not opposed.


  • The Rite - We knew that the third and fourth sons and daughters were treated as cattle and murdered, but I don't think any of us got the true horror of that until we stepped into the temple with Poppy. So disturbing, and surprising to learn in the end that they were not just for the Ascended. By the sounds of it, most of the blood went to Kolis. Which is another level of fucked up on top of the crazy.


  • The War - was a little too easy. I mean, for a war. It was more of a conquering, because lets be honest, Isbeth wasn't fighting for those cities. The war was more of a personal battle between mother and daughter - prophecy and will. Something that placed Poppy in situations where she learned a lot about herself and the temples.


  • The Gods - No, we don't get to see Nyktos or Sera in this book - not in the flesh. But we get to see Poppy and Sera ... merge ... for lack of a better word. And I loved it. Poppy is powerful. But with her grandmother in her, helping her, holy shit. That death was EVERYTHING Isbeth deserved. And I loved that it as Poppy and Sera defeating her together - Poppy, Isbeth's daughter, who has suffered such cruelty and lies thoughout her life, and Sera, who watched as both of her sons were taken in by her - one due to fate, and the other because of curiosity. Let me tell you - I CANNOT WAIT to see Poppy not only meet Sera in person, but her father. Maybe her uncle. That would be kind of cool. But definitely Sera and Poppy. Poppy was robbed of a true mother figure. I think that both Sera and Poppy's relationship would be epic.

My rant to/about the book community:

I loved this book. Absolutely loved it. One of the things I was excited about was going on facebook, goodreads, and #booktok, and gush over this book. But I finished, and instead, I went back to a facebook group that had an author in hiding, her moderators in distress, and negative reviews ... and most not authentic. People who didn't even read the book would rate it 1 star just because they didn't like the last book. It ruined the "great book" high for me, and it HURT me, actually hurt me, that an author has to go through this. First of all, to those who would give a negative review when you didn't even read the book - why? What possible power trip do you get from this? Second of all, to those of you who were upset about the joining ... did you read the last 3 books? This has been the most FORESHADOWED EVENT in all the books I have ever read. If threesomes aren't your thing, that's fine. But the amount of hate Jennifer has received for this is just unacceptable. Jennifer is one of the very few authors who interacts with her fans every day. Her facebook groups, in particular her blood and ash spoiler group, has been a safe space for her. The amount of hate she has received for something she has literally spoon fed readers since book one, for a series that is FICTIONAL is crazy! Death threats, threats to ruin her career, messages so filled with hate it was disturbing to her moderators ... if you are one of these people, what is going so wrong in your life that you feel the need to do this? Over fiction? Like, I am an obsessive reader. Have been since I was a kid. I read books, and I obsess. But never have I decided to try to ruin an authors livelihood because I didn't like something she wrote that wasn't harmful. If the material that is written is degrading or harmful in real life, I get it. But its never okay to act this way over fiction. And over a threesome? Really? Come on. Grow up. You don't like it - that's fine. I write negative reviews on here. But there is a big difference between not liking something, and trying to ruin someone. And I'm not saying this because I love Jennifer's work. This goes for all authors. The amount of hate that has been thrown Jennifer's way is not okay. Don't like the book? That's fine. Write a negative review in a respectful way. But death threats, and getting your friends who haven't even read the book to rate it 1 star because YOU don't like it? Well, that says more about you than it does about the author, doesn't it?


I hate the this book received so much hate. And about something that a) has been hinted about since book 1, and 2) is sex. A type a sex a lot of people participate in. It's not illegal, and there is nothing wrong with it. It's not for everyone, sure. But at least this wasn't written purely for the smut. Hell, this was the most innocent threesome act I have EVER read. This was about love. And the amount of hate that Jennifer received over an act of pure love between characters almost ruined it for me. But it didn't. Jennifer wrote a wonderful book. It concluded a storyline that was starting to feel tiresome, and started something much bigger. Everything is coming together. And I can't wait to continue this series.




*by purchasing this book through a link below, I will earn a small commission, at no cost to you.*


Kieran: “He is still yours. You are still his.”

Tears stung my throat, my eyes.

Poppy: “Always,” Kieran: “In case you don’t know this, no matter what’s done to Cas, he won’t regret his choice.” Poppy: “If something were to happen to you—”

Kieran: “There would be nothing for Cas to forgive you for if something did. He would expect nothing less than me being by your side.”

I stared at him in disbelief.

Poppy: “If you’d let me finish a sentence, I was about to say I would never forgive myself.”

His stare softened.

Kieran: “And I would never forgive myself if you went into the heart of the Ascended without me.”

He clasped the back of my neck.

Kieran: “Just as I haven’t for letting Cas go all those years ago.”

Oh, gods.

Poppy: “Kieran—”

Kieran: “Don’t forget what he means to me, Poppy. I’ve known him my whole damn life. We shared the same crib more times than not. We took our first steps together. Sat at the same table most nights, refusing to eat the same vegetables. We explored tunnels and lakes, pretended that fields were new, undiscovered kingdoms. We were inseparable. And that didn’t change as we grew older.”

His voice roughened, and he dropped his forehead to mine.

Kieran: “He was and still is a part of me.” Kieran started to frown.

Kieran: “Are you about to cry?”

Poppy: “No.”

Kieran: “Doesn’t look that way.”

Poppy: “Then stop looking, and it won’t.” Casteel: “I may be chained, but I am no pet.”

Casteel: “I would tell you that I would kill Isbeth for that, but my Queen is a god. She will kill her.” Reaver: “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.” Kieran: “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.” Poppy: "I was born with the flesh and fire of the Primal god in my blood. Make no mistake, with each passing day, I feel less like a mortal than I did the day before. I am not mortal. Neither am I Atlantian. I am a god. And I will not choose between the mortals and the Atlantians when I can choose both.” Valyn: “What will happen after we take Oak Ambler?”

Emil: “We might as well all get back on our knees,”

Emil said with a sigh.

Emil: “Because you’re not going to like this either, and then she’s going to go full god on us again.”

Memory: Viktor: “I’m not untouched by it. Death is death. Killing is killing, Poppy, no matter how justified it is. Every death leaves a mark behind, but I do not expect anyone to take a risk that I would not take. Nor would I ask another to bear a burden I refused to shoulder or feel a mark I haven’t felt myself.” Wolven: “Be careful.”

The female wolven pressed her forehead to Hisa’s.

Wolven: “But be brave,”

she replied, kissing her.

Hisa: “Always,”

Hisa confirmed.

Poppy: “But be brave,”

I whispered, looking away. I liked that. Be careful but be brave. And we would all be that today. Emil: “Find someplace to rest?”

Emil looked over at me, his gold eyes wide.

Emil: “And he chose that?”

Poppy: “That wasn’t exactly what I’d had in mind when I said that, but Reaver’s…going to be Reaver.” Kieran: “There are things far worse than death. Like her when she’s annoyed.”

He jerked his chin in my direction.

Kieran: “She likes to stab things then. But when she gets angry? You’ll see exactly what a god is capable of.”

The Priest’s eyes darted to me, and I smiled tightly.

Poppy: “I do get stabby. And I’m already annoyed by a whole list of things. Poppy: “We need to find some clothing for you,”

I said, remembering what I had asked of Kieran. I doubted Reaver would fit into anything the Duke had worn.

Poppy: “Like as soon as possible.”

Then I thought of the other draken.

Poppy: “We need to find a lot of clothing.”

Reaver: “You people and your concerns about nudity is tiresome,”

Sage: “I have absolutely no problem with nudity. Just thought I’d share.”

Reaver grinned. Poppy: “People died today,”

Reaver: “People always die.”

He reached over and picked up an apple from the bushel.

Reaver: “Especially in war.”

Poppy: “That doesn’t make it any easier.”

Reaver: “It just makes it what it is.” Poppy: “Why does the Consort sleep so deeply when Nyktos doesn’t?”

Reaver looked down at his apple, not speaking for several long moments.

Reaver: “It’s the only way to stop her.” Poppy: “Reaver. Stop antagonizing Kieran.”

Reaver: “I have done no such thing. He is just overly sensitive…for a wolven.”

Kieran’s arms unfolded as he stepped forward. I held up a hand.

Poppy: “Don’t start.”

Kieran: “Start? What exactly have I started? I just walked in here.”

Reaver: “See?”

Reaver tossed the apple core into a nearby bin.

Reaver: “Sensitive.” Kieran: “Can you sit?”

Kieran asked from the chair he was seated in.

Poppy: “No.”

Kieran: “Your pacing won’t make tomorrow come any sooner,”

he said, and leaving tomorrow wasn’t even one of the top reasons I was wearing a path in the stone floor. It was the grief that I still tasted from that morning. It was the tentative hope I still felt from the people of Oak Ambler. It was also their awakening rage that lingered in the back of my throat.

Kieran: “And it’s making me nervous.”

I stopped, facing them.

Poppy: “Really?”

Kieran: “No.”

Kieran lifted his glass to his lips as he kicked a booted foot onto the ottoman in front of him.

Kieran: “It’s just really distracting, and I feel like if I drank any more, your constant back and forth would end up making me sick.”

Poppy: “Why don’t you stop drinking then?”

I suggested, tone dripping with acid. Sugary amusement radiated from where Hisa stood at the archway of the chamber. Valyn raised his brows as he lifted his glass, surely hiding his grin as I did, in fact, plop very loudly into the chair across from Kieran.

Poppy: “Happy?”

Kieran: “Sounded like you may have hurt yourself,”

Poppy: “It’s about to sound like you’re hurt because I’m a second away from punching you,”

Kieran grinned.

Kieran: “You mean, a love tap?”

My eyes narrowed. Tawny: “I feel so much better now that I’m here.”

She glanced down at Delano, who watched her closely.

Tawny: “Even though he looks like he wants to eat me, and not in the fun way.” Tawny: "He also told me it wasn’t just Nyktos who gave his approval for your marriage. That it was him and the Consort.”

I opened my mouth, but I couldn’t find the words.

Tawny: “I also approve. Not that anyone asked.” Tawny: “He looked good, Poppy, and he wanted me to tell you that, yes, he was proud of you.” A muscle ticked along Kieran’s jaw.

Kieran: “I don’t like this.”

He quickly glanced at Tawny.

Kieran: “No offense.”

She lifted a shoulder.

Tawny: “I wouldn’t like it either. I’m way too nosy.” Tawny: “So,”

Tawny drew out the word.

Tawny: “Why is it that he behaves as I would expect from your husband?”

Heat crept into my cheeks.

Poppy: “He’s the Advisor to the Crown.”

Tawny stared at me.

Poppy: “And a friend. A close friend—but not like that,”

I quickly added as interest sparked along Tawny’s features.

Poppy: “Honestly, I don’t know what it’s like. It’s complicated.”

Tawny: “I would say. And I cannot wait to hear all about this complication in excruciatingly painful detail.” I’d been coming for her, but she’d found me at the Red Pearl. I’d been planning on taking her, but she’d captured me on the Rise surrounding Masadonia. I’d been ready to use her, but under the willow, she had wrapped me around every single one of her fingers without even trying. I’d been prepared to do anything, but she’d become everything to me when she asked me to stay the night while in New Haven. She’d claimed me. And she’d kept me, even after knowing what I was, who I was, and what I’d done. She loved me. Poppy: “I think you’ll like Reaver.”

Her nose scrunched in that adorable way of hers.

Poppy: “Or maybe not. He tried to bite Kieran.”

My brows lifted.

Casteel: “A draken tried to bite Kieran?”

She nodded.

Casteel:My Kieran?”

Poppy: “Yes, but at this point, if Reaver tries to bite him again, Kieran has it coming." Casteel: “I think you want to stab me.”

Poppy: “I would, but since you like it when I do, it doesn’t have the desired effect I’m going for.” Casteel: “Two hearts. We’re two hearts.”

I brushed my lips over her brow, closing my eyes.

Casteel: “One soul. We’ll find each other again. We always will—” Poppy: “Craven.”

Our luck had changed. I reached for my dagger.

Reaver: “For fuck’s sake,”

Reaver shouted, tossing the tarp aside as he rose…completely naked. He jumped from the wagon, landing in a crouch.

Reaver: “I got this.”

Kieran: “What does he think he’s going to do buck-ass na—?”

Kieran bit off as sparks of light erupted all over Reaver, and he shifted into his draken form.

Kieran: “Well, okay, he’s going to do that.” Isbeth: “You think you’re stronger than me?”

Casteel: “Fuck, yeah.”

I smiled then, closing my hand around the bone.

Casteel: “I am, after all, my mother’s son.” Kieran: “When I realized you were in my head, I changed what I was thinking about,”

he said, and I wondered if those rapid, brief images I couldn’t catch was him flipping through his memories.

Kieran: “I thought of the beach on purpose. Figured it would shock you.”

Poppy: “Jerk,”

Kieran: “But the thing is, I don’t think it shocked you at all. I think it intrigued you.” Kieran: “You’re not going to acknowledge what I said about you being intrigued?”

Poppy: “Nope.”

I scooted back on the bedroll and lay down on my side. Grinning, he looked up from his arm.

Kieran: “You going to pretend that you don’t know I was watching the both of you and that you and Casteel were watching us?”

Poppy: “Yep.” And that was what I became. Death. The Harbinger the lieutenant had called me.

Reaver: “Oh, shit,”

Memory/Dream: Coralena: “She’s but a child—”

The Dark One: “And she will be the end of everything.”

Coralena: “Or she is just the end of them. A beginning—” Kieran: “Please close that door,”

Kieran said from behind me.

Poppy: “Scared of dolls?”

Kieran: “More like I’m scared of those dolls stealing my soul.” Poppy: “She wants to put me in the white of the Maiden.”

I stared at the gown.

Poppy: “I don’t care what her reasons are, but she will never have a say in what I wear again.”

Those pale eyes watched me from behind the painted mask.

Millicent: “But that’s the only gown I was given.”

Poppy: “Not my problem.”

Millicent: “It’s not mine either.”

I faced the Handmaiden.

Poppy: “Your name is Millicent?”

Millicent: “Last time I checked.”

My spine straightened.

Poppy: “I need you to understand something, Millicent. If she wants me to come to her, you will find me clothing that is not white. Or I will go to her as I am.”

Millicent: “You have dirt and blood and the gods only know what else on you. Perhaps you’ve forgotten, but your mother has a thing for cleanliness.”

Poppy: “Do not refer to her as my mother.”

Eather vibrated in my chest as I stepped toward the Handmaiden.

Poppy: “That is not who she is to me.”

Millicent said nothing.

Poppy: “Either you find me something else to wear, or I go like this. And if that is unsuitable, I will go to her with nothing but the skin I was born in.”

Millicent: “Really?”

She drew out the word.

Poppy: “Really.”

Millicent: “That would almost be worth letting you do, just to see the look on her face.”

Millicent was still for several seconds and then kicked her heels off the back of the chair. I crossed my arms as she half-rolled, half-flipped out of the chair onto her feet. She pivoted toward me, the flat, patchy hair half in her face.

Millicent: “Then it is my problem.”

Poppy: “Yep.”

Millicent exhaled loudly.

Millicent: “I don’t get paid enough for this.”

She grabbed the gown from the other Handmaiden.

Millicent: “Actually, I don’t get paid at all, so it’s even worse.” Malik: “I’m only speaking the truth. They will fear her.”

Poppy: “Instead of fearing the false god in front of them? A demis who has stolen the essence of a long-forgotten Primal and used it to kill the King of Gods’ guards? Who sanctioned the slaughter of countless children in the so-called, honorable Rite?”

I arched a brow at Isbeth. Her eyes narrowed slightly.

Poppy: “I wonder how they will feel to learn that not even your name is real.”

I laughed softly.

Poppy: “Fake, just like the Blessing. Just like the Rite and everything that makes up the Blood Crown. False, just like the god you believe you are.” 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. Casteel: “I love you, Poppy.”

She shook.

Casteel: “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.

Casteel: “From the first moment I saw you smile… And heard you laugh? Gods,”

I rasped, and she shuddered, her beautiful eyes closing.

Casteel: “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.” Callum: “Do you think you deserve that? 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.

Poppy: “I wasn’t speaking to you,”

I snarled, letting go of the blade.

Callum: “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.

Isbeth: “You just stabbed my Revenant.”

Isbeth sighed.

Poppy: “He’ll be fine, won’t he?” Poppy: “Casteel isn’t the only one that matters,”

I told him as we hurried along under the canopy of jacaranda trees.

Poppy: “So do you, Kieran.” Malik: “Callum,”

Malik snarled, entering the cell. He stuck close to the wall as Casteel whipped to the side, tracking his brother’s movements. His bloodied chest vibrated with sound.

Malik: “He did this.”

Fury exploded, stirring up the Primal essence.

Poppy: “I want him dead.”

Reaver: “Noted,” Casteel turned his head, pressing his cheek to mine.

Casteel: “I can’t feel your mouth on mine.”

His words were a raw whisper in my ear.

Casteel: “If I do, I’m going to fuck you. I’m going to get so deep inside you that there will be no part of you I don’t reach. Right here. Right now. It doesn’t matter who is in this chamber. It’s already taking everything in me not to be inside you.” Poppy: “Hey. Hey.”

I struggled to pull Casteel’s attention back to me.

Poppy: “That’s Reaver,”

I told him, and his nostrils flared.

Poppy: “Remember? I told you about him. He’s a friend. He’s also a draken. You’re not going to win that battle.”

Malik: “I think he wants to give it a go,”

The way Casteel tracked Reaver’s movements told me that Malik wasn’t far off the mark. Reaver knelt by us.

Reaver: “I’m going to need you to lift one arm at a time,. And I’m going to need you to do that without trying to bite me because I bite back.” Kieran said nothing as he pulled away, and the strangest urge to reach out and stop him swept through me. I didn’t understand where that want had come from. Or if it was mine or Casteel’s. And I didn’t know why it felt wrong not to act on it. Casteel: “I’m not…I’m not in control.”

A pounding pulse of desire followed those words, becoming a roar in my blood. It was such an intense wave of sensation, leaving the tips of my breasts tight, and the very core of me throbbing all over again.

Poppy: “Neither am I.”

Casteel: “Thank fuck,”

he grunted, and then his mouth closed over mine. Casteel: “Brace yourself, my Queen.” Casteel: “Kieran,”

I said, my eyes searching hers.

Casteel: “You fed from Kieran.”

Her head cocked to the side.

Poppy: “Why am I not surprised that you somehow knew that?”

Knowing that Kieran had given her this aid brought nothing but relief. He would’ve made sure she was comfortable and safe, and that there wasn’t even an ounce of shame to be felt. Gods, I owed him so much.

Casteel: “I couldn’t see you going to anyone else. You’re close to Delano and Vonetta—and the others—but Kieran is…it’s different with him.”

Poppy: “It is,”

she whispered, bending and kissing the damp skin of my arm.

Poppy: “I also figured he was the one person you wouldn’t mind feeding me.”

Casteel: “I wouldn’t care who you used if you had that need.”

She raised a brow.

Poppy: “Really?”

Casteel: “Really.”

Poppy: “So, if I had decided to feed from Emil?”

she suggested, and my jaw clenched.

Poppy: “Or Naill—”

Casteel: “Okay. You’re right,”

I admitted. No matter who she sought aid from, I never would’ve held it against her. The other person? Thoughts and prayers for their ass, though.

Casteel: “Kieran is the only one.” Casteel: “I can wear it wherever you want me to.”

Poppy: “Wherever?”

she teased, even while her fingers trembled as she worked the clasp on the chain.

Casteel: “Wherever you want. On any finger or toe of your choosing. I can have it pierced to my nipple. Or have it melted into a bolt and pierced in my cock—actually, you might enjoy that.”

Poppy’s gaze flew to mine.

Poppy: “In your…cock?”

Said cock hardened at the sound of her saying that, at how her lips parted around the word. I nodded. Her cheeks pinkened as she tipped forward.

Poppy: “That’s possible?”

Casteel: “It is.”

Poppy: “Wouldn’t that piercing hurt to have done?”

Casteel: “Probably hurts like the fires of the Abyss.”

She glanced down at the ring. A moment passed.

Poppy: “And…and why would I find that enjoyable?”

Gods. I loved her curiosity.

Casteel: “I’ve heard that many find the rub of the ball that holds the bolt in place to be very pleasurable.”

Poppy: “Oh.”

She drew in a deep breath.

Poppy: “And does the wearer of such a piercing find it pleasurable?”

Casteel: “Oh, yeah.”

I grinned as the color in her cheeks spread down her throat.

Poppy: “Interesting,”

she murmured, her brow creasing once more. I would’ve given anything to know what she was thinking.


Poppy: “You once told me that I didn’t always have to be strong when I was with you. That it was safe for me not to be okay. You told me that it was your duty as my husband to make sure I knew that I didn’t have to pretend. Well, it’s my duty as your wife to make sure you know that, too. You’re my shelter, Cas. My roof and my walls—my foundation. And I am yours.” Casteel: “I’ll believe anything you say right now.”

Her laugh was light, teasing the head of my dick.

Poppy: “Believe it. Because if you weren’t?”

That hand kept moving, slow and steady and hot.

Poppy: “I wouldn’t be on my knees before you.”

Casteel: “No. You wouldn’t be,”

I gasped, unable to keep my hands at my sides. I touched her cheek. Threaded my fingers through her silky hair.

Casteel: “It’s funny, though.”

Poppy: “What is?”

Poppy: “I may be the one standing, but it’s me who is still bowing to you.” Casteel: “What godsdamn chapter in Miss Willa’s diary was that in?” Poppy: “I started taking precautions.”

My brows flew up.

Casteel: “Was that in the diary, too?”

Poppy laughed.

Poppy: “No. I asked Vonetta,”

I decided I really needed to thank Netta.

Poppy: “She told me what to take since a baby Casteel would be the last thing we need—at least, at the moment.”

Confusing-as-fuck emotions slammed into me, a mix of cold, hard terror and sweet anticipation.

Casteel: “What about a baby Poppy?”

I brushed her hair back.

Casteel: “With deep red hair, freckles, and green-and-silver eyes?”

Poppy: “My eyes are still like that?”

Casteel: “Yep.”

She sighed.

Poppy: “I don’t know why they’re like that, but your question? Are you being serious?”

Casteel: “Always.”

Poppy: “You are not always serious.”

Casteel: “I am now.”

Poppy: “I don’t know. I mean…yes?”

Her nose scrunched.

Poppy: “One day, far, far, far, far from now. Yes.”

Casteel: “When we’re not in the middle of a war, for example?”

I smiled up at her.

Casteel: “And I’m ready to not be the center of your attention?”

Poppy: “More like when I’m confident that I won’t accidentally leave the child somewhere I shouldn’t.”

I chuckled, lifting my head and kissing her.

Casteel: “Later.”

Poppy: “Later,” Poppy: “We should get up. We need to come up with a plan. Deal with Malik. Figure out how to get out of here. Hopefully, find out something about Tawny’s current condition. Come back. Kill that bitch,”

she said, and my brows rose.

Poppy: “And then I need to free my father. Poppy blinked.

Poppy: “You stabbed her?”

Casteel: “Yeah, with a Craven bone.”

Poppy: “I wish I’d seen that.”

Her eyes were wide once more.

Poppy: “I love you so very much.”

I laughed at the utter wrongness of that. Kieran palmed my cheek.

Kieran: “You got me. You got Poppy. You aren’t alone. We’re both here. Always and forever.”

Fuck. The knot hit my throat and dampened my eyes.

Casteel: “Yeah. I know.” Casteel: “You’re my favorite kind of torture,” Poppy: “It’s just that I don’t like using you as a—as a snack.”

His brows flew up.

Kieran: “Well, first off, I don’t like to think of myself as a snack. More like a whole damn meal.”

Dropping my face to the top of Poppy’s head, it took everything in me not to laugh.

Poppy: “Okay, Mr. Whole Damn Meal, I don’t like using you in general, and you know that.”

Moving suddenly, she shoved her elbow into my stomach, causing me to grunt.

Poppy: “And you? It’s not funny.”

Casteel: “Of course, not, my Queen,”

I replied, grinning into her hair. Casteel: “As I said before…”

I rocked her against me.

Casteel: “You’re my favorite kind of torture.”

She moaned, trembling.

Casteel: “You’re just my favorite.”

Her breath caught as I squeezed her ass, grinding her down on my dick.

Poppy: “You’re my favorite everything.”

I nipped at her lower lip.

Casteel: “I know.”

Poppy: “Arrogant.”

Casteel: “Just telling the truth.” Casteel waited at the door, his eyes a heated gold as he watched me. Slowly, his gaze lifted to mine.

Casteel: “I still find that dagger sheathed to your thigh wildly arousing.”

I smiled, joining him.

Poppy: “I still find that to be slightly disturbing.”

Casteel: “Only slightly? I see my dysfunction is rubbing off on you.”

Poppy: “That’s because you’re a bad influence.”

Casteel: “Told you once before, my Queen.”

He touched his thumb to my chin and then moved the hand to my lower back as he opened the door, causing my heart to flutter about. Gods, how I’d missed these little touches.

Casteel: “Only the already enticingly wicked can be influenced.” Casteel: “She also has a tendency to…”

Malik: “Ramble?”

Malik finished for him, a half-grin appearing. My eyes narrowed.

Poppy: “I do not ramble.”

Casteel coughed on his drink as Kieran silently hoisted himself onto the counter, his brows lifted.

Poppy: “I do not,”

I insisted.

Reaver: “Yes, you do,”

Reaver said, entering the kitchen. He glanced at Casteel.

Reaver: “Reaver. Nice to meet you. Glad you didn’t bite me, and I didn’t have to burn you alive.”

I had nothing to say to that.

Casteel: “Nice to meet you, too,”

Casteel drawled, eyes glimmering with a hint of bewildered amusement as he stared at the draken.

Casteel: “Thank you for your aid.”

Reaver: “Whatever.”

Reaver strolled past us, heading for the covered plate near the hearth. Casteel: “I’ll call you whatever you like, as long as you call me yours.”

I let out a short laugh and felt Casteel’s smile against my cheek. He’d successfully pulled me back from the edge of a panic spiral. Reaver made a gagging sound.

Reaver: “Did he seriously just say that?”

Kieran: “Unfortunately,” Reaver: “Just so everyone knows. I’m not cleaning up this mess.” I whipped toward Kieran.

Kieran: “Are you going to stop him?”

Kieran: “Nope.”

Kieran crossed his arms.

Kieran: “The fucker deserves it.”

Malik had apparently had enough. He caught Casteel’s wrist and flipped him, then sat up, blood running from his nose and mouth. The brief reprieve lasted a whole second as Casteel sprang to his feet and slammed his knee into Malik’s chin, knocking his head back. And then down they went again, rolling into the legs of the table. I turned to Reaver—

Reaver: “Don’t look at me.”

Reaver picked up his biscuit.

Reaver: “This is entertaining as fuck.”

My eyes narrowed.

Poppy: “You guys are useless,”

I snapped, pivoting toward the brothers. I was this close to beating the snot out of both of them myself. Tapping into the eather, I lifted my hand. A silvery glow sparked across my fingers.

Poppy: “Knock it off,”

I said over the grunts. Either they didn’t hear me or chose not to listen.

Poppy: “Oh, for godssake, I should be the furious one, and yet I have to be the rational, calm one.” The swords dropped from the guards’ hands, clattering off the floor as their necks twisted to the sides, cracking.

Casteel: “You’ll probably be concerned to hear this, but also not surprised,”

Casteel said, and the smoky, spicy flavor in my mouth crowded out the taste of death.

Casteel: “But I found that wildly…hot.”

Reaver: “There’s something wrong with him. Isn’t there?”

There most definitely was, but I loved him for it. Casteel: “We are not loyal to each other because of courtesy or tradition or title. We have always been above all that. And, in a lot of ways, we’re two halves of the same whole. Different than Poppy and me, but not that much different. You know that.” Poppy: “You can’t go around punching the King.”

Kieran: “Someone forgot to tell you that,”

Kieran replied, brushing past Poppy.

Tawny: “You punch him?”

Poppy: “No. Not really.”

Poppy’s cheeks turned red.

Casteel: “She has stabbed me, though.”

I took Poppy’s hand.

Casteel: “In the chest.”

Poppy: “Oh, my gods,”

Poppy snapped as Tawny’s eyes went wide.

Poppy: “You really need to stop telling people that.” Kieran: “I don’t think many wolven would turn down Joining with a King and a Primal.”

My cheeks warmed. I still couldn’t believe that was what I was, but that didn’t matter at the moment.

Poppy: “You’re not just any wolven. It would be no one else but you.”

Kieran dipped his chin as a sweet taste gathered in my mouth, at odds with the bite of whiskey.

Kieran: “Don’t make me feel emotional about this. If you do, you’re going to make this weird.”

I laughed.

Poppy: “Well, it’s about time I’m the one who gets to make something weird.” Kieran: “I would do anything for him. I would do anything for you,”

he said, echoing what Casteel had said. He looked up at me.

Kieran: “And knowing that you would do this for me means…”

He swallowed.

Kieran: “There really aren’t words other than that my reasons for agreeing to the Joining have very little to do with Cas being a King or you a Primal god and everything to do with the love I have for both of you.” Poppy: “What…what kind of love do you feel?”

He studied me until I almost started squirming in the chair.

Kieran: “There are many kinds of love, but when it comes to you, it’s the kind that allowed me to make that—”

He inhaled sharply, his jaw hardening.

Kieran: “It’s the kind of love that allowed me to make that promise to you, Poppy. It’s the same kind of love that allowed you to ask that of me.” Several branches sheared off and fell like arrows around as Reaver descended among the blood trees, his wings spread out wide before snapping back. Kieran stumbled to the side.

Kieran: “Fucking gods, every time.”

Wintry-blue eyes flashed.

Kieran: “Tell me he doesn’t do that on purpose.” I knocked a Gyrm’s hand aside.

Poppy: “Touching without permission is not okay.” I backed into a boulder. Scrambling off the ground, I rose to my knees on the rock.

Poppy: “Nope. Nope. Nope. Will eather work on these things?”

I asked Reaver.

Reaver: “From you?”

His lip curled in disgust as he stabbed a serpent.

Reaver: “Yes, only because you’re a Primal about to finish the Culling.”

Casteel spun toward me as a grin tugged at his lips.

Casteel: “Are you hiding on a boulder?”

Poppy: “Yep.”

Casteel: “You’re adorable.”

Poppy: “Shut up.” Poppy: “I just need to know, why do they have snakes inside them?”

Reaver: “They have no insides. No organs. The serpents are all that fills them.”

All of us turned to Reaver. Perry swallowed as if he were one second from vomiting. I dropped my hand from Delano’s neck.

Poppy: “Well, that…that is even more disturbing. I wish I hadn’t asked.”

Casteel stopped in front of me, extending his hand.

Poppy: “I’m fine.”

I sat.

Poppy: “Just going to stay right here.”

Casteel: “For how long?”

he asked as Delano hopped onto the boulder, settling onto his belly beside me.

Poppy: “Not sure.”

His lips twitched.

Poppy: “Don’t you dare smile,”

I warned.

Casteel: “I’m not,”

he swore, and that was definitely a lie.

Casteel: “There are no more serpents, Poppy.”

Poppy: “Don’t care.”

Casteel wiggled his fingers.

Casteel: “You can’t stay up there, my Queen. We need to get Malec, and we may need your extra-special Primal badassery to do it.”

My eyes narrowed on him.

Poppy: “It irritates me when you’re right.”

Casteel: “Then you must be irritated often,” Reaver: “Three things.”

Reaver held up three fingers.

Reaver: “First off, I need my rest. If I don’t get my rest, I get cranky.”

Kieran: “Who sounds like the sensitive one now?”

Reaver: “And when I get cranky, I like to set things on fire and then eat them,” Casteel: “What do you mean?”

Casteel’s eyes narrowed.

Casteel: “And can you please stop giving Kieran the middle finger?”

Reaver: “I was actually giving it to everyone, but whatever.” Poppy: “You’re excited about this, aren’t you?”

Casteel: “Hell, yes, I am.”

He lowered his head to mine, his voice low when he said,

Casteel: “I cannot wait to feel your fangs on my skin.”

Warmth crept into my face.

Poppy: “Cas—”

Casteel: “On lots of places,”

Kieran: “Fucking gods,” The fangs would come in, pushing out the other teeth, which was really gross to think about. But he said they descended once they broke through. None of that sounded like fun.

Kieran: “It really isn’t,”

Kieran said when I voiced exactly that.

Kieran: “Cas was a fucking whiny baby that day.”

Casteel: “Yeah, well, when you have two teeth being pushed out, let me know how that feels,”

I started to stand, but he clasped my cheek.

Poppy: “What?”

Casteel: “Nothing.”

His left palm found mine, pressing our imprints together.

Casteel: “Nothing except that I’m in love with you. That I will always be in love with you, from now until our last breaths.” Poppy: “I think she’s with Emil.”

He arched a brow as he led me down the walkway.

Poppy: “Something’s going on between them, isn’t there?”

Casteel: “You’re just now realizing that?”

He snorted.

Casteel: “Better question is, has Kieran figured that out?”

Poppy: “I think he was just beginning to when we left Oak Ambler.”

His grin kicked up a notch.

Casteel: “Thoughts and prayers for Emil.”

Poppy: “More like thoughts and prayers for Kieran if he tries to intervene. Vonetta likes Emil. I don’t think she’ll take all that kindly to Kieran not minding his business.”

Casteel: “True.” Casteel: “Nothing will happen—absolutely nothing—that you don’t want to take part in,”

he said, kissing the underside of my jaw.

Casteel: “No matter what you think we may want or what you feel from us.”

Kieran: “We expect nothing,”

Poppy:“I know.”

My heart beat so fast, it was like the fluttering wings of a wild bird taking flight.

Poppy: “I’m safe with both of you.”

Kieran: “Always,”

Casteel’s lip brushed my chin.

Casteel: “And forever.” Casteel’s grin spread until that infuriating dimple in his left cheek became visible, and his stare turned downright wicked. Kieran and I were attempting to behave appropriately. Apparently, Casteel wasn’t. He bit his lower lip, revealing a hint of fang. His lack of behaving appropriately didn’t come as a shock. At all. Kieran sighed heavily.

Kieran: “No help whatsoever, man.” Casteel: “I love you, Penellaphe Da’Neer,”

Casteel whispered, dipping his head to drag his lips over mine.

Casteel: “From this moment to your last moment.”

I shuddered at what he’d said. Those words had nothing to do with the Joining. They were just a reminder.

Poppy: “I love you, Casteel Da’Neer,. From this moment to our last moment.” Casteel groaned again as his hand tightened around mine.

Casteel: “Behave. Or you’re going to make Kieran blush.”

Kieran: “Yeah,”

came that not-so-dry response.

Kieran: “That’s exactly what’s going to happen.” Kieran: “What do you want?”

Kieran asked. My nails dug even harder into his skin, earning a laugh.

Poppy: “I…I want to come,”

I snapped.

Poppy: “There. Are you happy?”

Casteel: “Fucking thrilled,”

Kieran: “And then some,” Poppy: “Do either of you feel different?”

Casteel cleared his throat.

Casteel: “I did feel…tingly.”

My brows knitted.

Poppy: “I’m not sure if that’s a serious answer or you just being indecent.”

Casteel: “When am I not being indecent?”

Casteel asked with a chuckle.

Kieran: “That’s a good point,”

Kieran said, resting his hand on my shoulder.

Kieran: “But I think this is a rare time when he was only being slightly indecent. Because I know what he’s talking about. I felt…tingly, too. All over.”

Casteel: “When the cords were wrapped around us,”

Casteel added, turning his head toward mine.

Casteel: “I felt it inside me. Warm.”

He paused.

Casteel: “Tingly.”

I grinned.

Poppy: “And how about now?”

Kieran: “Normal,”

Casteel’s thumb swept over the top of my hand.

Casteel: “Indecent.”

Poppy: “So, no different?”

Poppy: “Nope.”

Poppy: “How doesn’t she know?”

Malik: “She just doesn’t.”

Poppy: “Then how do you know?”

His head inclined.

Malik: “You ask a lot of questions.” Poppy: “So I’ve been told.”

Malik: “Has anyone ever told you that asking questions is a sign of intelligence?”

Poppy: “I haven’t needed to be told that. Because I already know.” Tawny: “They’re beautiful.”

Tawny looked up at Poppy.

Tawny: “I would wear that every day and night. Even to bed.”

My brow rose as I realized that I hadn’t made love to Poppy yet with the crown upon her head. A slow smile began to creep across my face. Poppy’s gaze shot to mine. Kieran sighed.

Kieran: “You have, likely unintentionally, given Cas ideas.”

Tawny: “I’m curious about these ideas,”

Poppy: “No, you’re not,” Casteel: “From blood and ash,”

I shouted, lifting the hand joined with Poppy’s. People echoed the words through the town and the valley. Poppy looked up at me and then faced the crowd as she lifted the hand that held Kieran’s.

Poppy: “We have risen!” Poppy: “What is it with the Da’Neer men and being amused when women threaten them?”

Kieran snorted, taking my hand and turning me to face him.

Kieran: “It probably has a complicated answer,”

he said, carefully taking hold of my crown and lifting it so it didn’t snag in my hair. Neither Casteel nor I would wear our crowns. We would already be targets on the field, and we didn’t need anything making it easier to pinpoint us.

Kieran: “Buried in deeply rooted issues that span many generations.”

Casteel: “I find that deeply offensive,” Casteel: “We will end this tonight, one way or another. And then, I’m going to find that diamond I told you about.”

He kissed me again.

Casteel: “But before that, I’m going to get what I want. You. In the armor.”

Kieran: “Gods,”

Kieran half sighed, half laughed. Casteel’s lips curved into a smile against mine.

Casteel: “It’s not like you aren’t thinking it.”

My eyes went wide as Kieran sounded as if he choked on his breath. What I suddenly felt from him while Casteel chuckled wasn’t embarrassment. It was sharp and heavy, too fleeting for me to latch onto. My eyes narrowed on Kieran as Casteel took my hand.

Poppy: “Are you shielding your emotions?”

Kieran: “I would never do such a thing,”

Kieran replied, his expression one of pure innocence.

Poppy: “Uh-huh,”

His eyes caught mine, the gold glimmering in the starlight.

Poppy: “You have faced Craven and vamprys, men wearing masks of mortal flesh. Stared down Atlantians who’ve wanted to harm you, seized cities, and freed me,”

he said, touching my cheek.

Casteel: “You’re more than a Queen. More than a goddess on the verge of becoming a Primal. You’re Penellaphe Da’Neer, and you’re fearless.”

My breath snagged in my chest. Kieran touched the other side of my cheek, turning my gaze to his. He smiled.

Kieran: “And you run from no one and nothing.” Casteel: “That’s it?”

The Revenant nodded. Kieran’s arm flew out in a flash. I saw a glint of bloodstone, and then the hilt of the dagger was flush with Callum’s chest.

Kieran: “Thank you,”

he growled, jerking the dagger up and out.

Kieran: “Fucker.”

Callum staggered back. Blood trickled from his mouth.

Callum: “Godsdamn it…”

A rough laugh came from Millicent as Callum hit the floor.

Millicent: “Never gets old,”

she said, stepping over his body.

Millicent: “He recovers fast, though. Go for his stupid head next time.”

Kieran: “Advice taken and accepted,”

Kieran muttered, glancing at me as I folded my hand over his arm.

Kieran: “I’m fine—”

He sighed as the healing warmth hit him. His eyes flicked to Casteel.

Casteel: “Let her do her thing,”

Casteel replied, his focus now on Isbeth.

Casteel: “It makes her feel good.”

A blur of white leaped out of the smoke. I sucked in thick, blood-heavy air as Delano’s paws landed on my chest, knocking me back, out of the path of a stream of fire.

Poppy: “Thank you,”

I gasped, briefly clasping the back of his neck as I kissed his forehead.

Poppy: “We need to get to Malec.”

Delano: I’m with you Isbeth: “Betrayed by both of my daughters.”

Isbeth wiped the blood from her face.

Isbeth: “I’m so very proud.” Poppy: “Your reign has come to an end.” I opened my eyes, and through the smoke and mist, I saw Casteel and Kieran surrounded by dakkais. By Revenants. They closed in on them as I planted my palms against the stone, and my hands sank into the rock as I threw my head back and screamed the name. Not that of the King of Gods, but the Queen of Gods. The true Primal of Life. Her. Seraphena. The true Primal of Life. The one I’d gotten the gift of life and healing from. Not Nyktos. His gift was the shadows in my skin, the death in my touch, and the coldness in my chest.


Poppy: “She knew what you plotted. She saw it in her sleep. Saw it all.”

Isbeth’s terror choked me as she shook her head.

Isbeth: “Then she has to know I did it for Malec. It was all for her son and her grandson that they took from me!”

Poppy: “It was all for nothing.”

I lifted my hand, and Isbeth’s body went rigid, her mouth open but issuing no sound. No words. Nothing. The clouds thickened even more as she rose, suspended several feet above the ground.

Poppy: “It was love that made you. She would’ve forgiven Malec for what he did by making you. But your hatred? Your grief? Your thirst for vengeance? It has rotted your mind more than the blood of a god could have ever done. What you have become—what you have brought upon the realms—will not save you.”

Isbeth’s right arm jerked backward. The crack of bone was loud, and the flare of pain I felt was red-hot. Poppy: “What you have wrought and brought upon these realms will not heal you or steal away your pain,”

I said, and her other arm snapped.

Poppy: “It will not bring you glory, peace, or love.” Isbeth’s left and right legs broke at the knee, and I took in the pain, let it become a part of me.

Poppy: “And for what you have done to those of her blood, you will be erased,”

I proclaimed. Blood seeped from Isbeth’s eyes. Her nose. Her mouth.

Poppy: “Nothing of you will be recorded in the histories that are yet to be written. You will not be known, neither for the deeds you’ve done as a mortal nor for your infamy as a Queen. You are not worthy of remembrance.”

Isbeth’s spine cracked. Her upper body wilted backward, and the pain…it was absolute. A sudden awareness pressed upon me. An awakening. One that echoed not through this realm, but in Iliseeum and deep within the City of the Gods as Nektas landed behind me. A presence filled me, and when I spoke, it was the voice of the true Primal of Life.

Sera: “I was once taught that all beings are worthy of an honorable, quick death. I no longer believe in that. For your death will be dishonorable and endless. Nyktos awaits the start of your eternity in the Abyss.” Poppy: “I don’t…”

I swallowed. My mouth felt weird. I reached up— Kieran caught my wrist.

Kieran: “Before you even ask, yes.”

My breath snagged as I gingerly ran my tongue along the line of my upper teeth. They felt normal until I hit a small, sharp point, drawing blood. I winced.

Casteel: “Careful. They’ll take a little bit to get used to.”

Oh, my gods.

Poppy: “I have fangs.”

Kieran nodded.

Kieran: “Cas is going to have to walk you through getting used to them. Not my wheelhouse.”

My gaze swung to Casteel.

Poppy: “What do they look like?”

His lips twitched.

Casteel: “Like…fangs.”

Poppy: “That tells me nothing.”

Casteel: “They’re adorable.” Nektas: “He may be older than everything you know, but he is still a youngling,”

Nektas explained, and my heart twisted, because I thought of his youngling. Jadis.

Nektas: “And to many, he is still Reaver-Butt.”

Reaver-Butt? Casteel stiffened behind me.

Kieran: “Wait.”

Kieran blinked.

Kieran: “What?”

Nektas: “It was a nickname he liked when he was very young.” Poppy: “Seraphena—the Consort. She’s the true Primal of Life.”

Nektas: “She is the heir to the lands and seas, skies and realms,”

Nektas said, speaking softly. But the words…they were full of respect, and they reverberated like thunder in my chest.

Nektas: “The fire in the flesh, the Primal of Life, and the Queen of Gods. The most powerful Primal.”

He paused.

Nektas: “For now.” Poppy: “So that’s why her name cannot be spoken? Because she’s the Primal of Life? That’s…bullshit.”

Several pairs of eyes landed on me.

Poppy: “It is! Everyone is like oh, Nyktos this and Nyktos that, and the whole time, it should have been Seraphena this and Seraphena that. Did Nyktos even make the wolven? Was it even him who met with Elian to calm things after the deities were killed?”

Nektas: “Nyktos did meet with the Atlantian and the kiyou wolves. But it was the Consort’s essence that gave the wolven life.”

I stared at him for what felt like an eternity.

Poppy: “That’s some sexist, patriarchal bullshit!”

Casteel’s body shook against mine again.

Casteel: “She has a point.”

Nektas: “She does.”

Nektas lifted his chin.

Nektas: “And doesn’t. The Consort is the one who chose it to be this way. For her to remain unknown. Nyktos only honors it because it is as she wishes.” Nektas: “You are not just a loophole. You’re many things. The Primal of Blood and Bone—the true Primal of Life and Death.”

He spoke in the way he had when he’d spoken of the Consort, and the essence hummed through me.

Nektas: “Those two essences have never existed in one. Not in the Consort. Not in Nyktos.”

Poppy: “Is that a good or a bad thing?”

I whispered.

Nektas: “That is yet to be known.”

Casteel’s arms tightened around me.

Casteel: “We already know that it means something good.”

Nektas eyed him as tiny kernels of unease took root.

Nektas: “Then make sure of it.” I bent, reaching for a vine, but Casteel caught my hand.

Casteel: “Why,”

he asked, golden eyes tired but dancing with amusement,

Casteel: “must you touch everything?”

Poppy: “I don’t know. Maybe I’m a tactile person?” Nektas: "Kolis is not the only one who has awakened. The Consort and Nyktos no longer sleep. That means the gods will be awakening all across the many Courts of Iliseeum and in the mortal realm, and many of their loyalties do not lie with the Primal of Life. The war you fought hasn’t ended. It has only just begun.”

 

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