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The Crown of Gilded Bones by Jennifer L Armentrout

Updated: Jan 18, 2023

The Crown of Gilded Bones

by Jennifer L Armentrout

Published by Blue Box Press

Book 3 in the Blood and Ash series

She's been the victim and the survivor…

Poppy never dreamed she would find the love she’s found with Prince Casteel. She wants to revel in her happiness but first they must free his brother and find hers. It’s a dangerous mission and one with far-reaching consequences neither dreamed of. Because Poppy is the Chosen, the Blessed. The true ruler of Atlantia. She carries the blood of the King of Gods within her. By right the crown and the kingdom are hers.

The enemy and the warrior…

Poppy has only ever wanted to control her own life, not the lives of others, but now she must choose to either forsake her birthright or seize the gilded crown and become the Queen of Flesh and Fire. But as the kingdoms’ dark sins and blood-drenched secrets finally unravel, a long-forgotten power rises to pose a genuine threat. And they will stop at nothing to ensure that the crown never sits upon Poppy’s head.

A lover and heartmate…

But the greatest threat to them and to Atlantia is what awaits in the far west, where the Queen of Blood and Ash has her own plans, ones she has waited hundreds of years to carry out. Poppy and Casteel must consider the impossible—travel to the Lands of the Gods and wake the King himself. And as shocking secrets and the harshest betrayals come to light, and enemies emerge to threaten everything Poppy and Casteel have fought for, they will discover just how far they are willing to go for their people—and each other.

And now she will become Queen…


Violence #Fantasy Thrilling

Steamy #Romance


The Crown of Gilded Bones by Jennifer L Armentrout is the third book in her increasingly popular Blood and Ash series, and continues Poppy's story right at the moment we left off in the second book. When Poppy learns of whose blood she carries in her veins - and why she is able to do the things she does, she has a choice to make. She can claim Atlantia, as is her blood given right, or forsake it. As she comes to terms with everything she learns, and a life altering choice before her, she learns of a threat that can destroy everything and everyone she holds dear. One thing for sure: no matter what Poppy and her husband Casteel choose to do, it will change their lives forever.

Woah. Just holy fucking whoa.

How do I put this without spoiling anything ...

My mind is blown. In the good way. Like ... I will have a book hangover for months because nothing will top this one for a while. Listen up, because this is important. I'm a member of Jennifer's Blood and Ash spoiler group ... and I have seen MANY theories on what would happen in this book. Many on Poppy's bloodline. I honestly thought that with the amount of well thought out theories out there, there was no way this book would remain unpredictable - but it was. I mean ... holy shit, I didn't see a lot of that coming. It was brilliant. Chef's fucking kiss. It was heavy on dialogue and banter, but that is one of Jennifer's strengths. And it all had a purpose. The dialogue furthered the action, and a lot happens in this book. A LOT. One of the main complaints in the last book, was that Poppy's inner monologue was repetitive. And it was. But Jennifer changed that this time around. Poppy's thoughts serve a purpose to the story, and we get to see amazing growth to an already kickass character. In fact all the characters grown in different, subtle ways, and their relationships with one another as well. If well thought out character growth isn't enough for you, Jennifer's story went from wonderful and a unique twist on Atlantia, vampires, werewolves, and Gods/Goddesses, to a fucking epic adventure/romance fantasy. Another thing I love ------------------> it's clear, BOTH sides are at fault for what has happened. What an awesome touch of reality though. How often does the young pay for the mistakes of past generations and often times, help fix mistakes made in the past? All. The. Time. Love it. <-------------------

There were so many moments in this book where I mentally high-fived Poppy and said "YES QUEEN!" Let's be real - Poppy was an already pretty amazing female character. Does she always do the right thing? No, which is why she is such a great character. She doesn't get everything right, but she gets back up, and fixes it. And Casteel is just the epitome of perfect book husband. Yeah, he also did wrong in the past - but now he goes against his instincts, and let's Poppy make her own decisions. He gives her the freedom to be her for the first time in her life, and I love how strengthened their bond with one another was in this book. It never mattered what blood Poppy has - he loves her. She is his everything. And I love it. Her friendships with the wolven - particularly Kieran and Delano was also a joy to see. Yes, the wolven are bonded to her, but they do it because they truly love her - not just because instinct demands it.

I have to say this. It's a spoiler, so its hidden if you haven't read the book yet --------------> I think Jennifer really loved teasing everyone who is all for the joining. There were so many moments where the three of them were having an emotional moment, or were just affectionally near one another that was a giant tease, yet SO satisfying. After A Kingdom of Flesh and Fire, I was more on the side of there be no joining, because I was worried it would ruin the magic of Poppy and Casteel. After The Crown of Gilded Bones, and they way all three of them have bonded ... I'm pro-joining. I know a lot of fans want a scandalously detailed threesome ... and hey - If Jennifer feels that is where their joining would end up, I will not be upset about it - but I would also be totally fine if their joining just involved cuddling. <------------------.

I don't do this for every series. Only ones I truly am head over heels in love with, and with an intense plot. But here are some of my predictions for the next Blood and Ash book, which sadly won't be out till next year. (But no worries, to fill in the gap, Jennifer's first book in her Flesh and Fire series will be out in October)

Poppy & Casteel -----------> I predict they won't be reunited until halfway through the next book. Isbeth is crazypants and totally arrogant. I am sure she will be livid with Poppy's message, but she won't give up Casteel that easily. <--------------

The Brothers ------------> I had to label it brothers to keep Ian's death from being spoiled. I know that Malik has essentially been sentenced to death for treason. Valyn confirmed it by asking Poppy to make his death quick. But I don't think that will happen. Malik showed some signs that he isn't fully on board with Isbeth - mainly in how she was treating the Handmaiden, and Ian's death. He will be the one watching over Casteel. I think Casteel will be able to get through to his brother. Isbeth said things that made it pretty clear Malik broke. It wouldn't be the first time torture and abuse has led someone to make the choices Malik has. <-----------------

Tawny --------------> I'm calling it. I think she is the missing Draken daughter. The fact that she was paired with Poppy, and they didn't ascend her when they said they did .... I just think there is more to the story then meets the eye. Perhaps they somehow wiped her memories and suppressed her ability to shapechange? <----------------

Kieran -------------> I'm already obsessed with his touchy relationship with the draken that almost bit him. I'm suspecting an enemies to bros situation, or enemies to lovers. After all, most Atlantians and wolven are bisexual. <-------------

Casteel's parents -------------> very interesting dynamics between Poppy and Casteel's parents. I think Valyn and Poppy are already on their way to a good father/daughter in law relationship. I think it will take a long time for Poppy to forgive Eloana. While Eloana admitting her mistakes, and that it was due to ego, Poppy is done being a pushover. Eloana will need to work hard to gain Poppy's trust and friendship. Unfortunately, I don't think it will happen the way we think. I suspect, if not in the next book, but by the end of the series, Eloana will die trying to save one of her sons. <---------------

Revenants ----------------> It's heavily hinted that the Handmaiden isn't all that loyal to Isbeth. Despite being an abomination according to the Gods, I think her loyalty is to the people, and I suspect she will find a way in the future to help Poppy, in exchange for the true death or a chance to hide away with Malik, who I think she is secretly with <---------------

The Crown of Gilded Bones was everything I expected from Jennifer L Armentrout, and more. Absolutely unique and unexpecting, Jennifer continues to enrich her Blood and Ash world with fleshed out, morally grey and real characters, and a story arc that captivates from page one to the end. I cannot wait for the next book in this amazing series - nor can I wait to read the first Flesh and Fire book - set in the same world as Blood and Ash, but centers around Nyktos - King of Gods. And I think I am really going to love Nyktos and his mysterious consort.

My first.

My guard.

My friend.

My betrayer.

My partner.

My husband.

My heartmate.

My everything.

Casteel: "I don't know everything that is going on right now, but you - all of you - want to keep her safe. And I'm all about that. You know I would never hurt her. I would tear out my own heart before I did that. She's injured. I need to make sure she's okay, and nothing is going to stop me from doing that. Not even you. I will destroy every single one of you who stands between her and me."

Casteel: "Just so you know, what you just did? Said? It has me feeling all kinds of wildly inappropriate things at the moment."

A weak, shaky laugh left me.

Poppy: "There's something so wrong with you."

Casteel: "I know. But you love that about me."

I did. Gods, I really did.

Poppy: "Why are you smiling? That isn't something that should make you smile."

Casteel: "A move against my wife is a proclamation of war against me. Their fate is already sealed."

Valyn: "Fight this, and I'm sure Jasper, Kieran, or my son will be at your throat in a heartbeat. And at this moment, I cannot promise that I would move to stay any of them."

Casteel's chin lowered, and his smile was as cold as the first breath of winter.

Casteel: "It'll be me."

Poppy: "You will die. It will be by my hand, and it will be a death befitting a coward like you.

Jansen: "Believe it or not, I wouldn't wish your fate upon anyone."

Poppy: "I'd be more worried about your fate than mine."

Teeth bared, he snapped his head down on the man's throat, tearing through skin as he thrust his hand through the man's chest. Lifting his head, he spat a mouthful of the man's blood into the Protector's face,

Casteel tossed the body to the ground and looked up at another man, blood streaming from his mouth.

Casteel: "What?"

The masked man spun and ran.

Casteel was faster, reaching him in the blink of an eye. He shoved his fist into the man's back and jerked his arm back sharply, pulling out something white and smeared with blood and tissue. His spine. Dear gods, it was the man's spine.

Kieran's eyes met mine.

Kieran: "He's a little angry."

Poppy: "A little?"

Kieran: "Okay. He's really angry."

Casteel: "I cannot let you go. I won't. Not now. Not ever."

Casteel: "Get all of them away from us, or I swear to the gods, I will rip their hearts from their chests. I do not care if a heart belongs to one who gave me life. You will not stop me."

Valyn: "Look around you! The gods are speaking to us right now. You cannot do this -"

Casteel: "The gods will not stop me, either."

Casteel: "I love you, Penellephe. You. Your fierce heart, your intelligence and strength. I love your endless capacity for kindness. I love your acceptance of me. Your understanding. I'm in love with you, and I will be in love with you when I take my last breath and then beyond the Vale.

Casteel: "You don't want him. He won't be as tasty. You want me."

Kieran: "In any other situation, I might be offended."

Poppy: "It hurts."

Casteel: "I know. You're hungry. But you can't eat Kieran. That would make me a little sad."

Casteel: "I don't think I've told you this. I didn't get the chance yet. When you asked me to kiss you under the willow? Deep down, I knew then that I would give you anything you asked for. I still will."

Poppy: "Is this real?"

Casteel: There's nothing more real than right now."

Casteel: "I'm not going to last very long. But neither will you."

Poppy: "You are the foundation that helps me stand. You are my walls and my roof. My shelter. You are my home."

Casteel: "As you are mine, Poppy."

Casteel: "I will always find you. No matter what."

Poppy: "I thought I would never get to feel you hold me again. That I would never feel your kiss or see your stupid dimples."

Casteel: "You love my dimples."

Poppy: "I ... I tried to eat Kieran."

Casteel: "He won't hold it against you."

Poppy: "I tried to eat Kieran while I was naked."

Casteel: "That's probably why he won't hold it against you."

Poppy: "I have a lot of questions."

Kieran: "I'm so shocked."

Casteel: "Hit me. Hard. Like you mean it."

Poppy: "Why do you want me to hit you?"

Naill: "That's a good question."

Casteel: "Hit me."

Poppy: "I don't want to hit you."

Casteel: "That would be a first."

Poppy: "I don't want to hit you right now."

Casteel was quiet for a moment and then turned to Kieran and Naill.

Casteel: "Did I ever tell you guys about that time I discovered Poppy perched outside a window, clutching a book to her chest?"

Naill: "No, but I have a lot of questions."

Poppy: "Cas."

He shot me a slow smile of warning.

Casteel: "She had this book - it's her favorite. She even brought it with her when we left Masadonia."

Poppy: "I did not."

Casteel: "She's embarrassed about it, because it's a sex book. And not just any sex book. It's full of all kinds of dirty and unimaginable -"

I snapped forward, punching him in the stomach.

Casteel: "Fuck."

Casteel doubled over with a grunt as Naill let out a low whistle.

Casteel: "Gods."

Poppy: "Happy now?"

Casteel: "Yeah. I will be when I can breathe again."

Casteel: "I've gotten all I can get out of Alastir that will be of use to us, so you know how tonight will end?"

Poppy: "With death."

Casteel: "By your hand or mine?"

he asked, his lips grazing the curve of my jaw.

Poppy: "Mine."

Casteel: "If you think what I did was a shock, then you need to understand that I will do anything and everything for my wife. No risk is too great, nor is anything too sacred. Because she is my everything. There is nothing greater than her, and I do mean nothing."

Casteel: "I know what my actions would have caused."

Valyn: "And yet?"

Casteel: "Here we stand."

Casteel: "Such a stunning, vicious little creature."

Casteel: "Poppy, I'm going to stop you right there. Part of me wants to laugh -"

Kieran: "Same."

My eyes narrowed on the wolven.

Casteel: "The other part of me finds absolutely nothing funny about you apologizing for things you have no control over."

Kieran: "I also second that."

Poppy: "This conversation doesn't involve you, Kieran."

Kieran: "Just chiming in with my two cents. Carry on. My father and I will pretend we can't hear either of you."

Poppy: "I'll dirty the bed if I sit."

Casteel: "Then you'll have to take the pants off."

Poppy: "Are you trying to get me naked?"

Casteel: "Poppy. When am I not trying to get you naked?"

Tears scorched my throat and rushed to my eyes. I did the only mature thing possible. I smacked my hands over my face.

Casteel: "Poppy. That sounded like it hurt."

Poppy: "It did. I don't want to cry."

Casteel: "Does smacking yourself in the face help with that?"

Poppy: "No."

Casteel: "I didn't mean to make you cry."

Poppy: "Then don't say incredibly sweet and supportive things."

Casteel: "If I get inside of you right now, I don't think I can control myself. I'd have you up against that wall, my cock and fangs so deep inside you that neither of us would know where one began and the other ended."

Poppy: "Why does everyone act like I run around stabbing people?"

Casteel stared back at me and then looked pointedly at his chest.

Poppy: "Whatever. You deserved it."

Poppy: "All of that sounds incredibly sad and also hopeful. I mean, that if your mother did love Malec, she was still able to find love again, To open herself like that once more. I don't know ... I don't know if I could do that."

Casteel: "I would never give you a reason to, Poppy."

Kieran: "Did you two forget I was here? Holding a conversation with you two? Or trying to."

I sort of did.

Kieran: "Foursomes? I imagine you had a lot of questions about that."

Poppy: "I did not."

Kieran: "I don't believe that for one second. You probably asked how it was possible."

I had totally been wondering that, but those words never once passed my lips.

Casteel: "Would you like to explain it to her?"

Poppy: "That won't be necessary. I have a vivid enough imagination, thank you very much."

He looked a little disappointed.

Casteel: "I am very intrigued by this imagination of yours."

Poppy: "I'm sure you are. Want to know what I'm imagining right now? I'm currently entertaining myself with images of kicking both of you in the throats."

Kieran: "Now I'm also intrigued."

Poppy: "Cheese?"

A faint grin appeared as he shook his head.

Kieran: "You're going to make this weird, aren't you?"

Poppy: "I offered you cheese. How is that making anything weird?"

Kieran: "You waved at me."

Poppy: "I was being polite."

Kieran: "The fact that you're being polite is also weird."

Poppy: "I'm always polite."

Kieran lifted his brows, and I didn't need to read his emotions to sense the incredulity.

Poppy: "I was going to offer you the last of the chocolate, but you can forget about that now."

Kieran: "You don't need to worry about how you were when you woke up. It happens."

Poppy: "How often have you really had someone try to eat you upon waking up?"

Kieran: "You'd be surprised."

Kieran: "Let me guess. You have a question."

I frowned as I crossed my arms over my chest.

Kieran: "What?"

Poppy: "Nothing."

A moment passed.

Poppy: "Kieran?"

Kieran: "Yeah?"

Poppy: "I have a question."

Kieran: You have an unhealthy obsession with stabbing people.

Poppy: "I do not!"

Kieran: "You heard, then?"

Poppy: "I did. And I don't have a healthy obsession with that. I'm just surrounded by people who have an unhealthy obsession with annoying me."

Poppy: "I am no one's Queen. I am just Poppy."

Kieran: "Whether you claim the throne or not, you are still out Liessa."

Poppy: "So you expect me to hide, then? Is that what being a Queen means to the wolven? then what kind of Queen would that make me?"

Kieran: "The kind that stays alive."

Poppy: "And the kind not worthy of those willing to defend her. Now let go of my arm."

Kieran: "Or?"

Poppy: "Or I will make you."

Kieran: "You are already worthy of those who protect you. Which is infuriating,"

Poppy: "I'm a little confused."

Kieran: "If you weren't so brave, my life and Casteel's would be a hell of a lot easier."

Poppy: "What are these things?"

Kieran: "I have no idea. Just kill them."

Poppy: "Oh, well , I was thinking about keeping one. You know, as a -"

Kieran: "If you say pet, I'm going to think you're more demented than Cas."

Poppy: "I was going to say friend."

Kieran: "That's even worse."

The mask slipped free -

Poppy: "Oh, my gods!"

The thing didn't have a face.

Not really. There was no nose. No mouth. Just thin, black slits where eyes should've been. Everything else was smooth, thin, pale flesh.

I would never unsee this.

Poppy: "Take it back! Here."

I flung the bronze mask back at the thing.

Casteel: "How many of them did you kill?"

Poppy: "A few."

Casteel: "A few?"

Poppy: "A decent amount."

Casteel kissed my cheek.

Casteel: "That's my girl."

Poppy: "Putting on more appropriate clothing won't change the fact that you've already seen me in nothing more than a shirt."

Casteel: "What did you try to do?"

Kieran: "I tried to get her to stay inside and remain safe."

A loud, rough laugh burst out of Casteel.

Casteel: "And how did that go?"

Kieran: "As painless as you can imagine."

Casteel: "Its not because I don't think you're capable. It's just that I fear losing you. But your need to defend yourself is greater than my fear. That's the only reason I don't stop you. It will be the same for Kieran."

Poppy: "I don't think there needs to be any killing."

Kieran: "That's rich coming from you."

Poppy: "I'm trying to deescalate the situation."

Kieran snorted

Jasper: "What is going on with you two?"

Kieran: "Apparently, there's a Willa who wrote a sex diary of some sort. It's Poppy's favorite book or something."

I turned to the wolven as Casteel made a choking sound.

Poppy: "It's not my favorite book."

Kieran: "Nothing to be ashamed of if it is."

Casteel; "Please tell me you're wearing your dagger."

Fighting a grin, I lifted the right side of the skirt to my thigh.

Casteel groaned.

Casteel: "Gods, you're perfect."

Casteel: "I do not want to be party to forcing you into yet another role you did not ask for nor desire. I will not replace the veil you loathed with a crown you hate."

Poppy: "I ... I don't really know how to dance."

Delano: "No one does. Until they do."

He wiggled his fingers.

Delano: "What do you say, Penellephe?"

Casteel: "I want to do everything imaginable, and things no one has ever thought of with you. But I only need you, Poppy. Now. Always."

Casteel: "You can do anything to me, and I'll want it. This? My cock in your mouth? I'd have to be dead and nothing but ash to not want that."

Casteel: "Fuck. I love that godsdamn diary."

Kirha: "Good gods, this better be the last baby."

Kieran: "Yeah, well, someone needs to make sure your husband gets that through his thick skull."

Kirha: "Your father will when he's constantly changing diapers again. I birth them, he cleans them."

she remarked, grinning when Kieran wrinkled his nose.

Kirha: "That's the deal."

Casteel: "I'll have to remember that."

Kieran: "Poppy looks faint."

Kieran smirked. Poppy: "Is the bowing thing going to happen often?"

Kieran: "Yes."

Poppy: "Why didn't your mother do that? Not that I wanted her to, but I'm curious. Is it because she's pregnant?"

Kieran: "I told her it would make you uncomfortable if she did. Just like I told my father not to do it." My chest warmed

Poppy: "You know what?"

Kieran: "What?"

I reached over and patted his chest

Poppy: "You're more than okay."

Kieran: "Now that I know you think I'm more than okay, I can sleep well at night."

Poppy: "Do you have a changeling in your bloodline, Cas?"

Cas: "Not sure, but I can tell you something's changing in my pants right now."

Poppy: "Oh, my gods."

I barked out a loud laugh as several of the nearby wolven made rough, huffing sounds.

Poppy: "That was so ..."

Casteel: "Witty?"

He suggested, while Kieran snorted.

Poppy: "Stupid. I can't you said that."

Kieran: "Neither can I. But the Da-Neer bloodline is purer than his thoughts."

Poppy: "The sword and the arrow aren't equal. They should be equal."

Casteel: "Yeah, they should be."

Kieran: "They were equal at one time. Before Malac, and when two deities sat on the thrones. I imagine the sword is more prominent because, technically, Malec was far stronger than Queen Eloana."

He sent Casteel an apologetic look.

Kieran: "No offense."

Casteel: "Technically or not, it leaves a bad taste in my mouth."

Kieran: "If you take the Crown, many will expect the arrow to be come more prominent, as you are more powerful than Cas."

Poppy: "If I take the Crown, the arrow and sword will be equal. A King and Queen should be of equal power, no matter what blood courses through their veins."

Casteel: "Her name is Penellaphe. And if you get my wife's permission, you may call her that. If not, then you may call her Princess. Whatever rolls more respectfully off your tongue. But what you will never refer to her as is the Maiden. Do you understand me?"

Poppy: "I don't know what you might think of me or what Alastir shared with you, but I didn't choose to be the Maiden or to wear the veil. I didn't choose to be a descendant of some deity or come back here and break bonds or usurp any bloodlines. The only thing I have ever chosen is your son."

Poppy: "Well, at least you can stop calling me a goddess, I am just a ... deity."

Casteel: "You will always be a goddess to me."

Eloana: "She has nothing to fear from me."

Poppy: "I don't. I don't fear you at all."

Eloana: "I would think not. My son would only choose a bride whose bravery equaled his own."

Eloana: "If he is alive and they've had him this long? It would almost be better if he ..."

Poppy: "If he were dead?"

Eloana: "That is a terrible thing to think, isn't it? Especially as a mother, it's a terrible thing to wish for your child."

Poppy: "No. It's just ... real. Feeling that way doesn't mean you don't love or care for him or even hope that he's not still alive."

Eloana: "How can you say that when you know that a part of me wishes he had passed on to the Vale?"

Poppy: "You know that I can sense emotions. I can feel your anguish, but I also felt your hope and your love for your son. I know that's real. And I think wishing that any loved one was at peace isn't wrong. I love my brother. What I may have to do doesn't change that."

Eloana: "No. It just proves how much you do love him."

Eloana: "My son said you were brace and strong. I see that is no exaggeration. What my son failed to mention though, is that you're also incredibly logical."

A laugh burst from me. I couldn't help it, and it was loud enough that Kieran looked over his shoulder at us with a questioning raise of his brows.

Poppy: "I'm sorry. It's just that Casteel would argue that logic isn't one of my strong suits."

Eloana: "That doesn't surprise me. Most men wouldn't know logic if it smacked them in the face."

Valyn: "I can respect your desire to care for your wife's needs, but the kingdom always comes first whether you're the Prince or the King."

Casteel: "It's a damn shame if you really believe that. Because to me, attending to each other's needs ensures that the kingdom's needs can be met. One cannot happen without the other."

Poppy: "I swear to the gods if you say you're not willing to allow me to take those same risks, I'm going to hurt you."

Casteel: "If that's a threat, it's my favorite kind."

Poppy: "It will not be in a way you like."

I glanced pointedly below his waist.

Poppy: "Trust me."

Casteel: "Do you know what I'm craving?"

Poppy: "What?"

Casteel: "Honeydew. I could live on the taste of you. I swear to you."

Poppy: "The Blood Crown is the root of the evil plaguing the people of Solis. They are the oppressors, not the heroes."

Ian: "The villain is always the hero in their story, aren't they?"

Poppy: "Not in this one."

Kieran: "Would you like to try a casserole? That's something we can share."

Poppy: "What's a ... casserole?"

Casteel looked over at me, a slow grin spreading across his lips.

Casteel: "Poppy ..."

Poppy: "What?"

Casteel: "You've never had a casserole before?"

My eyes narrowed

Poppy: "Obviously, not."

Kieran: "It's good. I think you'll like it."

Vonetta: "It is."

Casteel: "Especially if there's a lot of ... meat in it."

I stared at him, immediately suspicious.

Poppy: "Why are you saying it that way?"

Casteel: "Like what?"

Poppy: "Don't try to play innocent."

Casteel: "Me? I'm always innocent. I'm just saying I think you will enjoy a meat casserole."

I didn't trust him for one second. I twisted toward Kieran.

Poppy: "What is he talking about?"

Kieran frowned

Kieran: "A meat casserole."

I looked over at Vonette and Delano

Poppy: "Is that true?"

Vonetta: "I honestly don't know what this one is referring to, but I was thinking about a green bean casserole."

Naill: "Oh, man, I haven't had one of those in forever."

Sitting back, I folded my arms across my chest.

Poppy: "I don't want it."

Casteel: "Shame."

Poppy: "I want to be nosy."

Kieran: "Like when you watched Lyra and I on the beach?"

I choked on my breath - my actual breath - as my face flamed red.

Poppy: "That is not what I was referencing."

He was grinning so hard, I was surprised his face didn't crack.

Kieran: "You're not going to deny it?"

Poppy: "What is the point?"

Kieran eyed me.

Kieran: "Intriguing."

Poppy: "Shut up."

Kieran: "The heart doesn't care how long you may have with someone. It just cares that you have the person for as long as you can."

Casteel: "You assholes interrupted a very charming conversation."

Poppy: "If I get blood on my new clothing, I'm going to be very upset."

Casteel: "I'll get you new clothing."

Poppy: "But I like this tunic."

Casteel: "Are you smiling at him after he just suggested that I don't have a brain?"

Poppy: "I am under the impression the suggested you don't use your brain often. Not that you don't have one. And, yes, I am smiling at him. I like him."

Raul: "Her Highness has good taste. Not counting the taste that got you standing next to that one."

I laughed again.

Poppy: "Trust me, I have questioned that."

Perry laughed, and then came a rough chuckle from the old man.

Raul: "I like her, Cas."

Casteel: "Of course you do."

Casteel: "Remember what you are, Fearless."

Kieran: "You are a descendant of the gods, Poppy. You run from no one and nothing."

Casteel: "You will bow before your Queen. Or you will bleed before her. It is your choice."

Willa: "When I saw you in the Red Pearl, I knew you wore a mask. Not the one that hid your identity, but one you were forced to wear for many years beneath the veil. One you didn't know you even wore. I saw you, and I knew you were the Maiden. I knew you were a second daughter , one who shared the blood of the gods. And I knew he was seeking the same thing that led you to the Red Pearl that night."

Poppy: "He was there is discuss his plans."

Willa: "That was one of the reasons, but deep inside, he was searching for the same as you. To live."

Air lodged in my throat

Willa: "Can I share something with you? You weren't the only one seeking sanctuary that night. He was in need of shelter - one that could bear the weight of his desires, his love, and his pain. And he found it. He may have given you freedom, but you have given him more than you could ever know."

Kieran: "I don't know why you look so excited. The draken were a notoriously ... unfriendly bloodline, with temperaments that would make yours look like a small, cuddly animal's."

I lifted my right hand and extended my middle finger. He smirked.

Poppy: "But I have the blood of Nyktos in me."

Kieran: "And they can also breathe fire. So, let's hope none of us pisses them off."

Poppy: "Thank you all for doing this with us."

Vonetta grinned

Vonetta: "It's not like any of us would turn down an offer to see Illiseeum."

Emil: "Only because none of us have any common sense."

Delano: "That, too."

Casteel: "I, for one, am glad that I'm surrounded by those who have more loyalty and thirst for adventure than common sense."

Poppy: "Well, we thought we'd cross that bridge when we came to it."

Vonetta: "That sounds like a wonderfully detailed plan."

Casteel: "Aren't you glad you signed up?"

Vonetta: "Totally."

Casteel: "You see, there's this extremely popular book in Solis. It's actually Poppy's favorite -"

Poppy: "It is not my favorite, you jerk."

Delano: "Please don't stab him in this tunnel."

Poppy: "I cannot promise that."

Casteel: "How did you do that?"

Poppy: "I pictured it. Like you said. And I just hoped it didn't ... you know, break her bones."

Vonetta halted in the process of rising, her gaze finding mine in the dim firelight.

Vonetta: "You didn't know if it wouldn't do that?"

Poppy: "No."

Vonetta: "Gods, I thinking I need to lay down again."

Casteel: "What in the world of nightmare fuel is this?"

Vonetta: "Skeletons! Couldn't you have said that you saw skeletons in the hole?"

Casteel cursed as another bony hand appeared, this one clutching a sword in its grip.

Vonetta: "Armed skeletons! Couldn't you have said you saw armed skeletons in the hole?"

Emil: "Sorry. I was kind of taken aback by the sight of fully functioning, fucking skeletons with weapons. My apologies."

Emil: "Cutting off the head does not work. I repeat. It does not work!"

Vonetta: "You, are a mess."

Emil: "And you are beautiful."

Poppy: "Oh, my gods! Not ropes! Not ropes! Snakes!"

Delano: "Holy shit. That is so not right."

Emil: "I regret the decision to join you all. I regret this decision very much."

Casteel kissing me, and there was nothing ridiculous about that. His tongue parted my lips, and I welcomed his taste.

Vonetta: "This is a little awkward."

Kieran: "They do this all the time. You'll get used to it."

Delano: "Better than them fighting."

Nyktos: "Bravery is a fleeting beast, isn't it? Always there to get you into trouble, but quick to disappear once you're where you want to be."

Nyktos: "Let's make one thing clear, Queen of Flesh and Fire. I do not threaten death. I make death happen."

Nyktos: "You were born of flesh with the fire of the gods in your blood. You are a Bringer of Life and a Bringer of Death. You are the Queen of Flesh and Fire, due more than one Crown, one Kingdom. What you seek, you already have, You always had the power in you."

Gianna: "I have no feelings for your husband. Not before and definitely not now."

Poppy: "Good. Because if you did, I would probably tear you apart, limb by limb, and then feed what remained to a pack of hungry barrats."

Casteel: "I wish we weren't about to have this meeting because I really want to fuck you on this table right now."

Kieran: "Gods."

Casteel: "I'm going to do what I wanted to last evening and fuck you on this desk."

Poppy: "This isn't a table."

Casteel: "It'll work. But first, I'm hungry."

Poppy: "Then you should retrieve something to eat."

Casteel: "I have."

Poppy: "I want you to know that you are always Cas. You were never a thing, and you aren't one now. You are Casteel Hawkethrone Da'Neer. A son. A brother. A friend. A husband. You are a King. My King. And you will always be my everything, but never will you be a thing."

Delano: "Oh, gods. You really need to stop touching things, Poppy."

Casteel: "I think it's safe to say that we do not agree to your terms."

Isbeth: "You don't really have that authority, do you? I know what she is. She is the true ruler of Atlantia. You're just a pretty accessory."

Casteel: "Oh, I'm pretty, all right. And I'm also a very deadly accessory."

Poppy: "You don't like me, do you?"

Gregori: "I think you know the answer to that."

Poppy: "I do. And you know what? In the entirety of the two kingdoms, I couldn't give a fuck if you or any other member of the Council likes me. It does not change that I am your Queen, and your tone and manner is which you address me is highly inappropriate."

I watched pink seep into the man's cheeks, and I smiled tightly.

Poppy: "Not just because I'm your Queen, but because I am the grandchild of Nyktos, and you speak to a god with such disrespect."

Poppy: "No. Don't you dare close your eyes. I didn't when I watched a sword slice through my brother's throat. Don't you dare close your eyes. You're stronger than that."

Eloana: "I still don't see how she hasn't won."

Poppy: "Because I'm not you. I have been used my entire life in one way or another, and I will not be used again. I know what I am now. I know what it means to have had the power in me this whole time. My brother's death wasn't in vain. Neither was Lyra's. I understand now."

Eloana: "What are you saying?"

Poppy: "I can summon Nyktos's guard, and I will. Isbeth may have her Revenants, her knights, soldiers, and those who support her. But I will have the draken."

Poppy: "I'm going to Illiseeum. Once I return, I will send the Blood Queen the kind of message only Casteel would be proud of."

Eloana: "Knowing what my won would be proud of, I can only imagine what kind of message that will be,"

I felt my lips curve up in a tight, savage smile.

Poppy: "And then I'm going to finish what you started centuries ago. I will return these lands to Atlantia, and I will return with my King at my side."

Eloana: "And if you fail?"

Poppy: "I won't."

Nektas: "From this moment to the last moment, they are yours, Queen of Flesh and Fire."

Poppy: "The draken are beautiful. If a bit ... temperamental. They have been asleep for a very long time, so I suppose they're allowed to be grumpy."

Kieran: "Grumpy? More like bitey."

Poppy: "You deserved it. He got too close to one while he was resting. Almost lost a hand."

Kieran: "More like an arm."

Valyn: "My son is a very lucky man to have found you and made himself yours."

Poppy: "It is I who is lucky to have been found by your son and to have become his."

King Jalara: "The one beside you? Nothing more than a heathen. An overgrown dog. Disgusting."

Poppy: "Disgusting? The one beside me comes from the line of those given mortal form by Nyktos himself. The one who stands to your left reeks of decay and rot."

Revenant: "I do not. Rude."

Poppy: "Oh, I'm sorry."

I stared up at the Blood King

Poppy: "Is it you who taints the air instead?"

Poppy: "That was part of the message that I want you to deliver to your Queen."

The Revenant looked up, blood leaking from his mouth. His gaze only left me long enough to see what Delano had dropped at his feet.

It was King Jalara's head.

Revenant: "Fuck."

I took the ruby crown Delano handed to me.

Poppy: "I want you to deliver that to her. Let her know that I have his crown. It's mine now. I want you to thank her for me, for teaching me to fight like a god. Tell her that was for Ian."

The Revenant's flat eyes met mine.

Poppy: "Now this is the really important part. I need you to make sure she understands that I'm coming for her. That I will burn every Revenant that stands between her and me. I will strike down ever Ascended who defends her. I will topple every castle she seeks to hide in. Make sure she understands that her survival hinges on Casteel. She will release him, or she will see each and every one of her cities leveled. If she touches him again, I will destroy her precious Malec, and I can. I know where to find him. He lives. For now. And if she kills Casteel? If anyone kills him? I will make sure her death is a slow one that will take hundreds of years to complete. If not thousands. You understand?"

Revenant: "Yes."

Poppy: "Good. Make sure she knows that I am the Chosen, the One who is Blessed, and I carry the blood of the King of Gods in me. I am the Liessa to the wolven, the second daughter, the true heir, owed the crown of Atlantia and Solis. I am the Queen of Flesh and Fire, and t he gods' guards ride with me. Tell the Blood Queen to prepare for war."


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