The Alpha and the Warrior

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XXXIV. THE BOOKSHOPPE

Isla.

Her name was an echo from a void. One she could sense at the end of a long stretch of ebony cord, twined with gold in an unbreakable stitch, drawing together two halves of a weaver’s blanket. It was a tightrope to teeter, a road to walk, into a darkness unknown, but. . . comforting.

Isla.

The cord thrummed, and shadows of the abyss drew closer, snaking along the path, swallowing the glow in tendrils, until they reached and threatened to envelop her entirely. Coiling. Tightening.

Isla.

She winced.

The icy binds dug in, sharp. Familiar, but foreign. Overpowering as they tried to wriggle into her mind. Break in. Draw from it. Find that piece. That link, like a doorway.

Isla’s instinct kicked in, and she reinforced that wall, the barrier that protected the most precious parts of her. Ones she’d never had to guard while in her natural state, when that bridge wasn’t exposed.

Isla.

The wall shattered.

Panic rose, manifesting with a worry lingering and powering the darkness. Not from her, but another.

“Isla!”

Wait.

Isla blinked back into reality, staring into the empty corner before her in the room. She brought her hand up to her head and scratched at her scalp.

She knew that voice. Loved that voice.

“Kai?”

The shadows dropped into nothing but smoke, and the bond became a patchwork of radiance once more.

The relief that flowed between them was mutual.

“Are you okay?” His voice filled her head as if he were standing right beside her, and any fear Isla had felt slowly ebbed away. “Where are you?”

She couldn’t believe it.

They were actually. . . doing this. Communicating through the bond. Not only with pushes and pulls, but actual words. She wasn’t alone in this room. She never would be—anywhere, ever. Not as long as this road lay between them.

“I’m fine.” She sent the words with a tinge of uncertainty, afraid the ability wouldn’t work a second time. “I’m in Callan’s room. Three doors down from mine.” There was no response, but Kai’s emotion on the other side felt stronger than it ever had, resonated much clearer. “He’s not here.”

Once again, he didn’t answer, but Isla figured it wouldn’t be long before her mate walked through the hotel room door.

She shook her head as if to clear it. It was nice having him there, but was linking with your mate supposed to feel like that? So. . . invasive? It hadn’t been that way when they shifted.

While she waited for Kai—after giving one more run of her hand through her hair—Isla inched back to the edge of the mattress. There was a scent coming from the blood on the diadem, but it wasn’t one she recognized. It was dry and flecked onto her skin as she picked it up, just as gentle as she had its twin in the alleyway. Flakes of red fell like snow across the white of the blankets. As its other half, the crown was silver and gold and bejeweled with black crystal, sister to the dagger. It was clear where the two pieces had been severed, the metal jagged and caved in.

Isla pictured bringing the two pieces together, envisioning them whole—but that image was still incomplete. Another piece was missing. One last ornament, another large jewel perhaps, absent from its center.

There was a creaking, and Isla snapped her head in the doorway’s direction. Kai peeked his head through first, and for a second, all faded and washed away. It was just him and the way she felt for him. But the moment was brief, as it needed to be.

“He isn’t here,” Isla reminded him quietly, catching how he’d been training his eyes across the room. When he broke the threshold inside, she motioned to close the door behind him, to which he obliged.

“Where is he?” Kai’s voice was just as soft as hers. He took a quick glance back at the bathroom—nose twitching at the wafting of smoke—before his eyes honed on the papers strewn along the bed.

“I don’t know,” Isla said. “All of his stuff is still here.”

“And there’s blood on the door.”

So he’d also noticed.

“I think it could be his. But his scent is everywhere here, and we went on a twenty-mile hike today. He could’ve hurt himself.”

“He would heal.” Kai sifted through the papers on the bed, offering,

He was right. If it was small enough, if he’d returned to the hotel rather than be looked at by a medic, he would be virtually unscathed.

Isla held back her sigh, hating that a worry rose in her chest for her boorish ex-lover.

“Look at the bureau,” Isla told Kai. She cradled the crown, nearly hiding it in her clasped hands, as if she felt the subconscious urge to protect it. Like it was calling her to.

Kai glanced up at her and then did as she said.

“It’s a map,” she added, trailing his movement. “Of here. Do you know what those lines mean? Are they roads or paths? Or anything about why those spots are circled?”

Before he picked up the map, Kai lifted the identification card for ‘Edriel’ and cursed under his breath. The parchment crinkled as he took it in his hands and turned to her, leaning against the furniture as he read it over. “Nothing strange comes to mind. Just land, roads, shops, houses, temples.”

“And they all lead to the Wall.”

A muscle feathered Kai’s jaw, and he shook his head. “It looks that way.”

Isla spun to face him fully. “What are you thinking?”

“That I trust a Bak more than I trust Alpha Cassius.”

Isla gulped.

Alpha Cassius—no longer her Alpha, as he’d used to say. Now she was only a few rungs below their High Ruler in the Hierarchy, and even held superior to her own father.

Or at least she would be, after her coronation.

She felt her fingers tremble. She’d need to talk to him, to Sebastian, to Adrien, tell them she—

“What is that?”

Isla lifted her gaze to Kai. He focused on the piece in her hand, glinting with a singular stream of light.

“It’s a diadem—or half of one,” she answered.

Kai pushed off the bureau to come in closer. “You found this in here?” Isla nodded. “And seeing this scared you so much that I could feel it?”

“I didn’t just see this.”

Whatever look had been on her face made it easy for Kai to figure out what she was alluding to. He stepped back, as if to go search the room, but Isla reached out a hand to stop him. “They’re gone too. I don’t know where. They just vanished. . . or they were never really there.”

That sounded ridiculous.

“Maybe they went out the window,” she offered.

She let him fall from her grasp as he went to the opening, looking at the three-story drop to the ground—manageable—before pulling down the frame and flipping the latch to lock it. “Why can’t I sense them anymore?”

Isla shrugged. “We’re wolves, we mask our scents and auras all the time.”

“But every time before?”

Too many questions.

Isla rubbed her forehead, grimacing as she felt the flecks of blood scrape her skin. “I don’t know. Something’s obviously changed. They’re getting bolder. I think they whispered in my ear.”

“For the love of fuck.” Kai heaved a breath and pinched the bridge of his nose. “What’d they say?”

Her lips turned further downwards, the word hitting a weak part of her. “Traitor.”

Kai’s brows lifted, the remark potentially feeding into his theory that Io was behind all of it. But something still didn’t feel right. Isla knew there was more.

“I have the other half of this in my room,” she said. “Everything else is with Jonah. It’ll make more sense, and I can better explain once we have it.”

Another look of surprise from her mate. “You told Jonah before you told me?”

Isla sighed. “I wanted to know more before I just started throwing theories at you. This is the person who murdered your family, tried to kill you. Me. I couldn’t just. . .” She trailed off, looking off as her face screwed in perplexity.

Kai waved his hand in front of her. “Isla?”

“Why do all this?” She met his eyes again. “If this person is skilled enough to kill an Alpha and his Heir, nearly kill his Scion—why toy with us? Why send Lukas to kill me at all when they could do it themselves so easily? They were at my back, and we can barely detect when they’re around anymore. We only see them when they want us to.” She cast her gaze back to the papers on the bed, on the crimson snow. “Why the messages? Why all the random things? Why. . .”

She lost herself again, squinting down at a specific torn parchment on the mattress. Its contents didn’t matter, but what did were the four words staring back at her—Warrior Callan of Io.

Warrior. Io.

“What if they’re trying to tell us something?” She thought back to the message they’d just gotten. Warrior. Io. Charon. The crest of Kai’s family, which could essentially mean Deimos. She turned to Kai once more. “What if this was a warning? For us. For me in the alley. Trying to warn me about Callan. He’s as much a Warrior as I am.”

Kai’s face looked considerate, but doubt—serious doubt—still lingered. Understandable. It was a different approach and exactly why she’d wanted more information before she tossed things at him.

This wasn’t a game. A murderer waited somewhere along this web. One who’d taken nearly everything from him and altered his life forever.

“Then what were the rest of the words and symbols? And why use things we can understand now? I didn’t recognize any of this in what I’d gotten before.”

“I’m not sure.” A surge of adrenaline took to Isla’s veins. “But Jonah has the marker and the book, maybe he’s figured out how he could decipher the language.”

Kai’s brows furrowed. “The what and the what?”

Right.

“Let’s go to my room,” Isla said, waving her hand for him to follow her. “I’ll explain the best I can.”

| ☽ |

The crisp air Mavec offered was welcomed as Isla and Kai took to the cobblestone walkways. No longer inside in an enclosed space—with more room to run if anything appeared from the darkness and a moonlit path to guide them—it was almost calming.

Almost.

They didn’t trek through the hidden paths of the forest as they had nights ago, and the patter of their footsteps was more hurried than it had been then. But what Isla could see of the lower city—of the river and the rolling hills—was still as wondrous as she remembered. Fallen star streets and the patrons that occupied them, the faint sound of music—not particularly cheerful, but not morose—and boats with their bow lights cast along the water’s surface and dancing amidst a smudge left by the Goddess.

It was a statement. There would be a vigil tomorrow, for those hurt and killed during the attacks. And even before that, life would not stop, no matter what the Rogues had done last night. They wouldn’t win. The people of Deimos were resilient.

Isla tugged at the hood of her jacket—Kai’s jacket—the red paint still staining the sleeve. At her side hung a satchel, carrying the broken diadem and the dagger. The items clinked against each other with every step, and Isla swore sometimes, they sang, the sound reverberating longer than she’d expect.

Kai had the papers with the messages tucked in the pockets of his own hooded garment. Ever since she’d clued him in on everything she could—and he told her why he’d figured Io to blame—he’d been silent.

She hated that his claims had made sense, in theory. Linking back to Charon, the land that bordered them, a land Io was apparently “close with”. But something was still missing. Something still felt wrong. So until then, she curbed the sickness in her stomach and forced herself not to ponder it until they had more information.

Kai, it seemed, couldn’t do so as easily.

Isla glanced up at her mate. He walked close to her side, their arms and hands occasionally brushing against each other. His focus held on the landscape before them, a pensive expression hardening his face.

Completely lost in his head. Working to figure out how to regain the ground he’d lost in his efforts to always be steps ahead of anyone and everyone.

He would run himself ragged, spin himself into insanity, if it meant he could protect who and what he loved.

On another brush of his skin against hers, Isla grabbed his hand and interlocked their fingers. Kai looked down at her as she wrapped her other around his upper arm. She tugged herself closer, happily accepting his warmth, and placed a kiss on his clothed shoulder before resting against it. She cocked her head and held his stare, smiling sweetly up at him. A little blissful distraction. An attempt to find a pocket of peace for the both of them.

“Hi,” she said.

Kai’s lips ticked upwards—not a beaming grin, but enough—and he leaned over to echo the greeting against the line of her hair. He kissed her forehead, before turning to look forward again. Isla knew his mind was still running faster than he could keep up with it, but his features had softened, his muscles loosened, and the bond felt less strained. She couldn’t ask for much else.

Kai shoved his hand in his pocket, and for a few more steps, they walked, tangled like an actual couple on a midnight stroll.

Isla’s eyes were fixated on the crystal-laden earth when she heard Kai say in a breath, “Luna Isla of Deimos.” Even without looking up, Isla could hear that the grin on his face had grown. “It has a nice ring to it.”

She took in a deep inhale of chilled air, nearly making herself cough as a shot of nerves coursed through her. “Does it now?”

Kai hummed in affirmation. “And speaking of rings.” He loosened his grip on her hand, holding it delicately in the view of both their faces. “Would you want to pick yours, or do you want it to be a surprise?”

Isla hadn’t thought about her mating ring. The glittering jewel she’d wear on her finger as a second outward symbol that she belonged to another—besides her mark, which would fade into something more subtle in time.

She tugged her bottom lip between her teeth. She’d seen plenty of the gems. Davina wore hers around her neck—not customary, but also not unusual—and Cora’s ring from Adrien had been gorgeous, taken from the Imperial vaults.

Isla cared little for the extravagance, but appreciated pretty things.

“You have proven to have good taste,” she told him, hoping the image of her in her dress from the banquet flashed through his head too.

Judging by the nod of his brows and the indent in his cheek, it had. Kai lifted her hand to gently press his mouth to it. “Surprise it is then.”

The action had sent sparks up her arm, through her body, and Isla couldn’t resist the urge to pause their steps, just so she could kiss him properly. He didn’t hesitate to deepen it and pull her closer, sending an I love you through the bond.

Thankfully, their journey had been free of passers-by, so they could enjoy the moment, their pocket of peace, just a few seconds longer.

When they eventually made it to The Bookshoppe’s door, there was a faint light glowing on the other side through the opaque glass, though the sign on it clearly read CLOSED. Sounds of yelling and laughter carried into the night air.

Was Jonah not alone?

Kai looked to her and the bag, before lifting his hand to the wood. He knocked on it several times in an off-beat, peculiar cadence. Three quick taps, three quicker ones, before a last hit that seemed to linger and leave stillness on the other side.

A few seconds passed, a wind sweeping across and displacing Isla’s hood when darkness rippled across the window. Then came a clicking sound—just one lock this time—before the door swung open.

The scent of booze practically thwacked Isla in the face, and much of it came from Davina.

The hotel secretary pushed one of her fiery locks loosed from the haphazard bun she’d done—as if she’d been trying to imitate the one Ameera immaculately donned—from her face. Her green doe-eyes, glazed over from what Isla assumed the source of her potent scent of wine, were wide as she shifted her gaze between their two intruders. She wasn’t the only one here at the shop. Jonah, Rhydian, and Ameera stood around one of the study tables, bottles of liquor in front of them. The four of them wore equal expressions of shock, though she was sure it was for Kai’s surprise visit rather than hers.

“You assholes, did you forget to invite us?” Kai heckled, pushing his hood back on his head, revealing hair still a bit mused from Isla’s hands through it. His happiness to see them practically radiated from him. She didn’t even need the bond to feel it.

From any of them.

It was the first time that she’d ever seen their “family” all together.

Davina, still dazed, her eyes turning glossy, took a step back to allow them inside, and Isla followed Kai’s suit, taking down her hood. He kicked the door closed behind them.

Ameera was obviously fighting to keep too-wide a grin off her face. “And what did we do to deserve this honor, your Highness?”

At the address, Kai scoffed, but before he could answer, there was a strangled sound. He barely had time to react before Davina, on the brink of tears, launched herself at him.

Isla recalled this morning, which felt eons ago now—a time when she wasn’t mated, wasn’t on the cusp of becoming Luna—and remembered how devastated Davina had been with the news of the challenge.

The challenge—something else that couldn’t be negated from the list of shit.

Davina hadn’t seen Kai since the announcement, not like Rhydian and Ameera and she had. Jonah hadn’t seen him either, but he remained in his spot beside Ameera. Watching. Observing. As Jonah seemed to do.

Kai chuckled, wrapping his arms around the smallest of the bunch. “Hey, Davi.”

He scrunched his nose, getting a full whiff of her, and lifted his eyes, directing an inquisitive stare at the rest of the group.

“Lightweight,” Ameera whispered, gesturing towards the empty bottle of red wine. On her other side, Rhydian was shaking his head.

Davina nearly fell over with how fast she pulled away from Kai and whipped around. A lazy scowl crossed her face. “I may not be some super shifting wolf—” She jutted her finger in Ameera’s direction. “But I have ears!”

The female General waved her off, and Isla couldn’t hold back a laugh. She’d never pictured what a drunk Davina would be like.

Her sound had drawn the redhead’s attention her way, and even if unwarranted, Davina jumped at her too. The difference in their heights had the smaller woman’s head right at her shoulder. Isla greeted her as Kai had, laughter persisting.

“Wait,” Davina suddenly muttered against Isla’s shirt. She took in a deep, exaggerated inhale before stepping back. Isla was at an arm’s length as she leaned back in to take in her scent again. Then she teetered back over to Kai. Another sniff.

“You smell like each other,” she said suspiciously.

Isla pursed her lips, feigning innocence, and glanced up at Kai. “Do we tell them?”

Her mate smirked in return.

“No way.” They spun forward to find Rhydian with his arms up, his smile wide and bright. “No fucking way!”

Kai’s smile nearly rivaled his brother’s as he shifted the neckline of his shirt to the side, revealing his mark. He attempted a dejected sigh. “She got me.”

More sounds came from various directions—gasps, a holler, laughs, and some clapping. Rhydian scaled the room to them quickly, and Davina screamed, jumping at Isla again. As the two of them exchanged giggles over the embrace, Kai and Rhydian exchanged their own.

And before she knew it, Isla was being lofted off the ground in the Guard’s arms.

“Welcome to the family,” Rhydian said, the words so pleasant, also like a punch in the stomach. Especially when she realized a buzzed Rhydian reminded her a lot of Sebastian—when he was sober. “I hope you know Magnus is going to shit himself when you show up to training as his Luna.”

A cruel grin crossed her mouth. That did sound fun, but could she even attend training anymore?

Over Rhydian’s shoulder, Isla caught Ameera and Jonah making their way over.

“And so the dynasty begins,” the General presented overdramatically. “I thought you two had the look.”

Kai, who was enduring another hug from Davina, rose a brow. “What look?”

“The ‘finally fucked’ look,” Jonah said, lifting his glass to them, still standing a few feet away from the whirlwinds that were his brother and sister-in-law. “My rule still stands, you know.”

“We have to celebrate!” Davina bellowed. Isla didn’t have time to settle after Rhydian had set her down, because his mate was already grabbing both her and Kai to pull them to the table of drinks.

Celebrate?

Her bag feeling heavier on her shoulder, Isla caught Kai’s eye. She wished she didn’t have to be the one to ruin the fun. “Is there time to celebrate?”

Kai’s throat bobbed, and he shook his head.

“Can we tell all of them?” she asked.

Now he nodded. “I trust them more than anyone. But it has to be okay with you too.”

“Oh, great. Now this shit is going to start.” Ameera pointed between them. “The secret conversations.”

They certainly were convenient.

At the table, Davina dropped their arms, and Isla decided. If Kai trusted them—his family, which she was now a part of—then so did she.

“We can’t celebrate yet,” Isla said, tightening her grip on her bag and turning to Jonah.

He lifted a brow, and she simply nodded at him. It was all he needed to understand. His features falling, his eyes went to Kai in question, and his brother inclined his head, signaling he knew too.

“Okay, what’s happening?” Ameera had thrown her hands up, zeroing her stare on Jonah. “Are you in on this?”

Jonah didn’t answer, just gulped down the rest of his liquor and descended behind the shelves to his back room. Kai had since gone to secure every lock on the door, while Isla cleared some of the booze off the table to make room for her bag. Carefully, she removed each of the items and placed them in the wood’s center. How garish the embellishments of gold and silver, crystal and gemstone, looked against its worn surface.

“What the hell? Who did you rob?” Rhydian asked, pushing around the pile of blood-red jewels and jabbing at a piece of the diadem as if it would bite him.

Nothing would surprise Isla at this point.

“Get comfortable,” she told them all, gesturing to the seats that Kai was now dragging over. “And ask Jonah if he has more whiskey.”

| ☽ |

Isla hated whiskey, quite frankly, but she needed something strong. She downed a glass, the liquid burning her throat, as she waited for everyone to settle.

Like a display at a museum, the marker, the book, the dagger, the two halves of the diadem, a pile of ruby jewels, the sheets bearing the copied messages, and the map—which Kai had apparently stolen from Callan’s room—sat atop the study table. The six of them circled it, staring, features contorted in iterations of awe and disturbance. Kai and Isla exchanged a quick glance, a silent conversation about who would go first.

Kai began with the night he was supposed to die.

That fact itself was enough to shake the room. Isla hadn’t known that he’d kept it such a secret from all of them.

Despite their shock, they remained silent, letting him recount everything he remembered. Everything he’d already told Isla. About the inn of Abalys with Amalie, about the feeling—of being stuck, in pain, disconnected—and the first message.

Even if Kai attempted to appear the vision of strength, Isla felt each word breaking something in him, especially when he recounted walking through his brother’s apartment, empty and eerily quiet after they’d taken his body away. She grabbed his hand beneath the table and stroked her thumb reassuringly over his skin as he explained how he’d never gotten to say a proper goodbye to his sibling before he’d been burned alongside their father.

After Kai had brought up the message in Callisto—the last piece of the puzzle he wanted to offer before Isla would jump in—Ameera put her hand up. A vein throbbed at her temple. “You’re telling me, that you’ve had a psychopath after you for months, and you never said anything?”

Kai had no answer for her but, “Yes.”

Yes?” the female General repeated. “Why wouldn’t you tell us? We could’ve—”

“What?” Kai cut her off, and Isla had a feeling the two of them going head-to-head like this was a common occurrence. “Could’ve what? Gone after them? They killed my father and Jaden, I wasn’t getting you guys involved.”

Ameera gritted her teeth. “That’s not your call to make.”

“Yes, it is.”

Isla could feel guilt simmering within him, hear the nuances of it in his tone, but it wasn’t because he hadn’t told them. Grief twined within it.

But before she could put much thought to the reason, Rhydian chimed in. “Does anyone else know about them going to you too?” He tried to keep his voice even, mask any anger he felt, but his nostrils flared.

“Ezekiel.”

“You told my dad?” Ameera asked.

“He’s my Beta,” Kai said.

Her features curled in a snarl, and she said nothing else.

“Does Amalie know?” Davina offered weakly, sipping from the water they were forcing her to drink. She was fading fast, leaning against Rhydian’s shoulder, heavy-lidded. “She was sleeping right next to you.”

Kai shook his head, casting a quick eye towards Isla at the mention of the wealthy heiress once in his bed. She responded by running her fingers lazily, and dangerously, up his leg, stopping at the hinge of his hips and trailing back down. He stiffened under her touch. Her reminder and reassurance.

“Cruel,” she heard in her head.

And then Kai spoke aloud, “She didn’t even wake up.”

“Your mother didn’t either,” Jonah said. “Right?”

Kai nodded, whatever exhilaration or joy he’d been feeling fading away.“She doesn’t talk a lot about that night, but I know she woke up because she felt their bond snap, and then my father was dead.”

Isla remembered the man at the banquet who’d lost his wife, remembered Zahra standing behind him. Imagined how her father must’ve felt. How Adrien must’ve. The thought of losing her connection to Kai now made her nauseous. Davina may have been pondering the same as she leaned into Rhydian.

“I would’ve never thought there was foul play if it weren’t for what happened to me. There were no wounds. There was no blood. No scent of wolfsbane or even mistletoe or mountain ash. Both of them were just—dead.”

Isla felt a shudder whenever he said the word, and the guilt grew stronger.

Dead—they were dead. And he wasn’t.

“What about magic?” Ameera said, folding her arms across her chest. “I remember the weeks before it happened they were doing a lot in Surles, close to the Wall. Maybe he got too close, or spent too much time in the wasteland. I mean, it was like they lived there. My dad was never at my parents’ house when I’d visit.”

Isla rose a brow, much of what Ameera had said ringing unfamiliarly. “What wasteland?”

“Along the Wall’s border, there are patches of land where forest used to be,” Kai explained. “It’s almost like the Wilds, but without the Bak. Everything around there started dying about a decade ago. It never recovered, but thankfully it never expanded either.”

Isla hummed, something about it now hitting a vague place in her memory.

“Death by magic would give off a scent,” Jonah said, adjusting himself to lean back in his chair. “That’s why the Wilds smells so horrible. It’s just a cesspool of death and destruction.”

Isla frowned, her heart clenching. What a catastrophe that must’ve been. She couldn’t imagine being there that day of the decimation, feeling the curse ripple through the earth, take hold of the Pack’s inhabitants and ending their lives.

As she shook away the grisly images of how she envisioned the past and recalled the ghosts that lingered about in the Wilds, she also noticed that Jonah was eyeing her. “What?”

The shop owner nodded towards the table. “Where did you get those?”

Isla followed his eyes to the dagger and the broken diadem. She reached for the weapon and lifted it in her hand. Everyone recoiled just an inch. “Someone had given this to Lukas to kill me.” She used the tip of the blade to point back at the table. “With the book.”

“Lukas?” Rhydian asked.

Right, she hadn’t gotten there yet.

“A Hunter from Tethys,” Isla said, before continuing through an explanation of how Lukas had lost his memory, “lashed out”, and found himself restrained in the infirmary.

As she went on about how she’d gone to visit him and he pulled the knife on her, Kai tensed at her side.

“I should’ve been there.”

“You needed to be here.”

A suspicious look had crossed over Jonah’s face, but he also seemed. . . perturbed.

“What’s wrong?” Isla hated to ask.

“That crystal wedged in the blade and in the crown.”

“What about it?”

He heaved a breath, as if he knew what he was about to say would elicit some negative reaction.

“Crystals like that are primary conduits for witch magic.”

He’d been right.

The dagger clanked to the table as Isla took in a sharp breath, and almost all of them instinctually crept back.

Jonah hadn’t moved. “If it was cursed, you’d be dead by now, believe me,” he deadpanned. “I’m just making an observation. It could just be crafted jewelry and a weapon.”

Davina had gone a ghostly white with a tinge of green. “How do you know it’s witch crystal?”

“I don’t. I just know the witches use crystals to better focus their power. It’s part of their craft.”

“How do you know that?” Rhydian prodded.

“Pick up a book. Our continent isn’t the only one in the world,” Jonah jeered at his brother before turning back to Isla. “What about the crown? Where’d you find that?”

She opened and closed her mouth, her face paling. “The pieces were left for me—given to me—by whoever is trying to kill us.”

“Oh, of course, how kind,” Ameera huffed, that vein still pulsing as she leaned forward to pick up the map. “What’s this?”

“Callan had that,” Kai said, after having gone oddly quiet. “You were tailing him. What was he doing?”

Isla’s brows shot up. Ameera had been the one following Callan around the city?

Ameera placed the map back on the table. “I told you, it looked like a lot of nothing, even when he went down to Abalys. He was just looking at things.”

“What things?”

“I don’t know—storefronts, waterways, trees? I was watching him, not everything around him.”

“Certainly not a spymaster,” Jonah muttered under his breath, earning a swat at his arm.

Beside him, Rhydian peered at the map. “And he obviously saw something—many somethings.”

Ameera growled, snatching the map off the table and rising to her feet.

“Where are you going?” Davina questioned, her voice nearly a whisper as she fought sleep.

“To find the somethings.” Ameera’s voice was saccharine, though she glowered at the men of the table.

Isla perked up in her seat. “I want to go with you.” Kai made a sound of confusion, and she looked to him. “I want to know what he was doing. Maybe figure out if the messages are really supposed to be warnings about him.” A wary look appeared on his face. “Go to the Hall and take care of the Pack. I have us,” she assured before he could offer himself to go too. Her fingers went up to brush his cheek. “I’ll be safe, and I’ll have Ameera to protect me.”

“Me too,” Rhydian said, nodding towards the passed out Davina on his shoulder. Carefully, he rose, picking her up effortlessly in his arms. “She’d kill me if I brought her on a train like this.”

Kai watched them disappear behind the stacks, avoiding the eye contact Isla kept fixated on him. Eventually, he loosed a breath and met her gaze. “Okay.”

Isla smiled, pecking his lips and getting to her feet. Her eyes snagged on the diadem and dagger on the table. A sinking feeling lingered in her stomach. “Tell Jonah the rest of what I told you before you go.” Kai nodded, and she looked to the shop owner, who’d since picked up the book and one of the scribbled messages to compare. “Do you think you can figure it out?”

Jonah glanced at her and then at Kai. “Can you get me into the Estate’s library or any of the royal archives?”

Kai raised a brow. “How far back?”

“As far back as it goes.”

His expression flattened, and the two of them seemed to share their own unspoken communication. But before Isla could ask, she heard from behind her, “Let’s go, Luna.”

It felt odd responding to the call, but she did, spinning to find Ameera and Rhydian—large but somehow quick and quiet—standing by the door.

Walking to meet them, Isla threw back through the bond, “You better tell me everything later.”

She heard a chuckle in her head. “I’ll see you at home.”

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