Home > A Soul of Ash and Blood

A Soul of Ash and Blood
Author: Jennifer L. Armentrout





A sweet but stale scent drifted out from the dark corridor. My head jerked toward the sound of light, fast footsteps as I reached for my hip, drawing the bloodstone dagger.

A vampry darted between the sandstone pillars, rushing into the lamplit hall of the seemingly unending vault beneath Wayfair Castle, nothing more than a flash of streaming dark hair, alabaster skin, and crimson silk.

There was no hesitation. Neither Kieran nor I had given any of them leeway since entering the underground.

I released the dagger, sending it flying across the hall. The bloodstone blade struck true, embedding deeply in the vampry’s chest, cutting off the annoying, godsawful shriek as it knocked the Ascended back. A web of fissures rapidly appeared in the Ascended’s flesh, spreading across its cheeks and down its throat. Skin cracked and then peeled back, lifting from bone and turning to dust. Within a heartbeat, my dagger clanged off the stone floor beside nothing more than a pile of silk.

“Cas.” It came out as a sigh, and my lips curved into a smile despite the frustration filling the breathy word.

I couldn’t help it when Poppy called me that. Hearing it sometimes made my chest tight yet made me feel light as air. Other times, it made me hard as fuck. But it always brought out a smile.

“The Ascended didn’t attack us,” Poppy said.

“It was running at us.” I went to where the dagger lay and picked it up.

“Or running from us,” she suggested.

“That’s one way to look at it.” Cleaning the blade on the leg of my pants, I sheathed the dagger and faced her—and damn if I didn’t feel a catch in my godsdamn breath.

Every inch of Poppy showed that she’d just fought a terrifying battle. Blood and grime smeared her cheeks, hands, and her clothing, not to mention what covered her bare feet. The braid she’d forced her unruly hair into had mostly come undone, and the strands gleamed like bold, red wine in the dim light of the gas lamps, spilling over her shoulders and down her back.

And still, she was so damn beautiful to me.

My heartmate.

My Queen.

Not a goddess but a Primal—the Primal of Blood and Bone. Of Life and Death.

Shock rippled through me, nearly causing me to stumble. It had been doing that every couple of minutes since she went all Primal on the Blood Queen. I imagined it would be a long damn time before it stopped happening.

“But the last thing anyone who doesn’t want to end up a pile of dust should do is run in your direction.” I bowed at the waist. “My Queen.”

Poppy blinked slowly, clearly unimpressed by my chivalry. That brightened my smile, and her full lips twitched as she fought back a grin, revealing a hint of sharp canine.

Lust punched straight through me as my chin dipped, and my eyes locked with hers. Every time I caught a glimpse of her fangs, I wanted to feel them in my flesh. Correction. I wanted to feel them in my flesh while I was buried deep inside her.

A throat cleared. “May we continue?” a raspy, flat voice asked. “Or would you two like a private moment?”

Poppy’s cheeks warmed, flooding her face with color that had been absent since we’d arrived at Wayfair. My gaze shifted to the speaker.

The massive mountain of a male with his black-and-silver-streaked hair raised a brow.

Fucking Nektas, the eldest and inarguably most dangerous of the draken, was starting to piss me off.

Holding his stare, I checked my desire for my wife. Not because of his presence. And not even because we were down here searching for her father. But because of Poppy.

Something wasn’t right.

I rejoined her and the ever-alert Delano, who had been sticking close in wolven form. “You ready?”

Nodding, she started walking again, the stone floor likely icy against her bare feet. I’d offered to carry her.

The look she’d given me ensured I didn’t ask again. That hadn’t stopped Kieran from making the same offer, though. He’d received a similar look of warning—the kind that made you want to cup your balls. Lucky for us, Poppy likely preferred us with those parts undamaged.

I didn’t take my eyes off her as we continued.

Out in the Bone Temple, before she unleashed unholy hell on the Blood Queen, I’d watched in unfettered horror as pure light exploded her armor. And I’d been unable to do a damn thing. I’d only ever felt such fear one other time; when the bolt had struck her in the Wastelands, and I’d watched her life slipping from her. I’d felt that same terror earlier when I saw the blood running from her mouth. She’d changed, even if only for a few seconds, her flesh becoming a kaleidoscope of light and shadow with an outline of wings taking shape and arcing behind her. It reminded me of the winged statues guarding the City of the Gods in Iliseeum.

I’d then watched her destroy Isbeth.

No one among us would miss the woman, but the Blood Queen had been Poppy’s mother.

At some point, the realization that she had taken her mother’s life would hit her, bringing out a lot of messy, complicated emotions.

And I would be there for her.

So would Kieran.

He walked on her other side, doing the same as I was. Every couple of moments, he glanced down at her, a mixture of concern and awe flashing across his blood-streaked features.

He was a fucking mess.

So was I.

Our clothing and what remained of our armor was shredded from the battle. I knew blood splattered my flesh—some of it mine, some from the dakkais. The rest was dried specks from those who’d been struck down—those who had died but hadn’t stayed dead.

I glanced to where Delano prowled silently behind us. While most of the wolven and the others were currently moving through Carsodonia in search of the Ascended and looking for my brother, he had chosen to follow Poppy.

There was a strange, unnerving sensation I couldn’t shake as Delano lifted his head and pale, luminous blue eyes met mine. I wondered if the life restored to those who’d fallen in battle had been a gift that could be stripped away at any moment. I had no real reason to feel that way. According to Nektas, the act of restoring life to so many was not only known to the Primals of Life and of Death but also aided by them.

Besides, that feeling of unease could be sourced back to a shit ton of things. We were currently moving about the enemy’s nest, and while none of the mortal servants or Royal Guards who remained at Wayfair had put up a fight when we entered, and there had only been three Ascended underground so far, none of us were comfortable here. Wayfair wasn’t ours. It never would be.

Another thing preying on my mind at the moment was my brother, who was somewhere out there, chasing after Millicent, who happened to be Poppy’s sister. And none of us knew where Millicent stood in regard to their mother.

Then again, from my personal experience with Millie, I didn’t think she knew where she stood on anything half the time.

There was also the fact that Poppy’s Primal grandparents were no longer sleeping, and from what I could figure out, one of them could enter the mortal realm whenever they felt like it.

And then there was Callum, that golden fuck of a Revenant who still needed to be dealt with, which brought me to what probably should be the most disconcerting item of all. Yes, we’d defeated the Blood Crown, but the real battle awaited. We had only prevented Kolis, the original and true Primal of Death, from taking full corporeal form. Still, he was free, he was awake, and he wasn’t the only one. All those things were hardcore pressing issues, but…

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