Title: A Shadow in the Ember
Author: Jennifer L. Armentrout
Genre: Fantasy, Romance, Fiction
What It’s About: Seraphena Meriel, the last of the Meriel bloodline, was kept hidden for years after her birth. Dressed in a white wedding gown and a veil, she is taken to the throne room in the Shadow Temple, so that she can become the Consort to the Primal of Death, as per an agreement made by her ancestor–King Roderick Meriel, in exchange for the Rot to not overtake his beloved land. The Shadow Priests call in the Primal of Death, while she waits, and when he finally shows up–temple shaking, and cracking–he takes one look at Seraphena–Sera for short–and tells her that he does not want a Consort, before disappearing for good. Her mother, the Queen of Lasania, asks Sera what she did when the Primal left but did not choose to take her with him.
For three years, they tried to get the Primal to come back, but he did not and so Sera became introduced to the world as a Handmaiden to the Queen, though her mother did not look kindly upon her. In court that day, Sera witnesses the Lord of the Vodina Islands come back to the Queen’s request of aid of food, with the head of the emissary they had sent. He claims that he would consider taking the Queen’s request to his king if she gives the “piece of meat,” pointing at Sera. As the Lord leaves, the Queen looks to Sera and tells her to go show the Lord the piece of meat that she is. Sir Holland, Sera’s trainer and guard to the Royal family, does not like this, but Sera goes on her own–emotionless.
Sera finds her way through town to the docks, and waits for the Lord until he comes spilling out of the bar. When she starts to talk to him he asks her if she made her own decision and wanted to come with him instead, to which she says that she didn’t, and then fights and kills him. She severs his head, and also gets onto the ship belonging to the Vodina Isles, and kills some more folks, before sending the ship on its way. She then heads back into the city, and as she’s passing the relatively wealthy area, she feels her chest get warm, which tells her that there’s someone that is either dying or just died.
Sera decides to investigate, and sees a goddess named Cressa, killing a man on his knees on the grass in front of a townhome. Then a different god, whose name turns out to be Madis, comes out of a townhome holding a baby by its ankle and dumps it next to the man. Angry, Sera decides that she wants to go after them, except a voice stops her, and she finds herself face to face with a very powerful and handsome god. They talk about what she was trying to do, why it wouldn’t work, and the fact that his plan had changed. Then the god asks Sera to kiss him, and they start kissing against the wall as Cressa and Madis pass by. During the kiss, the god nips Sera and draws a drop of blood, but it kiss feels so real to them both, that Sera has a hard time figuring out her feelings about the whole situation. When they break apart, and as she walks away from him, she feels this sense of wrongness as she walks away from him. She looks over the grass where the man and the baby had been, and it is only a scorched grass with nothing on it. The got catches up with her, and she gets scared of him moving so slowly because it was unexpected.
Together they explore the townhome, and find out that the people who had died were the Kazin siblings–a woman and a brother, and the baby had to be the woman’s. Unfortunately, they are unable to find out more about the family, though the god notes that Sera has a Shadowstone dagger. She lies that she got it off her brother, but doesn’t reveal the true purpose for the shadowstone dagger–which was to kill the Primal of Death– because she figured that the god is from the Primal of Death’s court and didn’t want the information to get back to the Primal. The god tells her to go back home and to not think about the night or the situation ever again, as he had been tracking Madis and Cressa for some time. It is revealed that the two of them had killed at least four other people, one of whom was actually a friend of the god’s.
A short while later, Sera finds herself in her mother’s quarters, looking at the painting of her father, when her mother walks in with Andreia Joannis–a seamstress. The Queen berates her in front of Andreia and her other handmaiden, and Sera leaves, using as much of her strength to not slam the door behind her. That same day, she goes out on a walk, and once again gets a feeling of warmth in her chest. At first she follows Madis, whom she identifies weaving through the streets, but then decides to head the opposite direction to figure out what had happened, and enters a home that belonged to Andreia. She walks around into the kitchen, and suddenly hears a movement behind her, so she pulls out her Shadowstone dagger and stabs the person. It turns out to be the god, and she nearly stabbed him the heart. Sera has a momentary panic that he will kill her, but the god is annoyed with her stabbing him, so he just disintegrates her dagger. Together they look around the house, and they find the body of Andreia. While they’re having a debate about the dagger, stabbing him, and also Sera’s lack of verification that anyone else is in the house (while she argues that he should have made himself known), the desiccated corpse of Andreia, becomes reanimated. The god has never seen anything like this, and neither has Sera, but he takes care of it all and the corpse just disintegrates into ash.
Over the next few days, several things happen. First, Sera is in training with Sir Holland, when her step-sister, Princess Ezemeria, comes to get her, and as they walk away from Sera’s training towers, Ezra tells her that the orphanage had a girl who had been severely beaten by her father, and that there was a boy there. The orphanage was closely tied with the Mistresses of the Jade–who taught Sera all about seduction–who did not like the fact that the father was running a prostitution house outside of their own, and not the good kind. So Sera heads out with Ezra, and retrieves the boy after killing the father by slicing his throat. The boy is happy to be reunited with his sister at the orphanage and have a better life. That night, a protest breaks out that results in a fire in the same general area where the boy was pulled from, and there are many injured and dead. Ezra tells Sera about it, and asks if she would like to help, but Sera has other things to do.
She stops by the kitchen, which is preparing for the Rite–the ascension of a Chosen to a Primal’s Court–and gets some goods that she can use to feed people out in the country. She then goes to visit some of the farmers whose lives had been upended by the Rot, and visiting the Coupers–the family she had intended to check on in hopes of getting Mr. Couper to find a job inside the city–she finds that the whole family had been dead for several days with a vial in the hands of Mrs. Couper being the sole evidence of the decision to commit suicide. Once the Coupers are buried, Sera cannot get them out of her mind, and is angry that there is a feast being prepared for the Rite, when it could be used to feed farmers for a month or two. She heads over to her step-father’s office in the castle, and attempts to speak with him about it, at first not realizing that her step-brother Tavius was there. The conversation really devolves into an argument between her and Tavius, and how Tavius is doing nothing to be fit for a king but getting drunk and chasing skirts. In the heated discussion, Tavius throws his bowl of grapes at her, bruising her arm, and the king kicks him out to talk to Sera on her own. After the conversation resolves nothing, Sera heads back to her room when she suddenly hears someone begging for help.
It is a woman’s voice behind a door, and worried that perhaps something really unsavory is happening to the girl or that maybe she got hurt like one of the servants had a few years before while cleaning the chandelier in a less-trafficked area, Sera enters the room without really thinking about the fact that it was unlocked. She is assaulted by three guards who were paid really good coin to try to assassinate her–this is the third time in as many months and she believes that Tavius is behind it because he hates her so much. She fights off and kills all three attackers, only to be found by her mother and a god from the Primal of Life’s court. The maid agrees with whatever Sera says just to make sure neither of them get into trouble. The next day, Sera is helping Ezra with cleaning linen and items to help the healer in town deal with the burns and the dead from the fire. During the work, the two ladies talk, and Sera confides in Ezra about what had happened with the maid. As they walk towards the carriage, Sera notices a man with a silver band around his bicep–which is the same as the god that she had seen the last two times–so she knows that he’s from the same court. She comes up to him, and he introduces himself as Ector, before handing to her a box. She wants to ask him about it, but he tells her she knows who it is from, and then walks off. She opens up a box, and finds a beautifully intricate Shadowstone blade with an ivory-like, crescent shaped handle–which she immediately recognizes as being from her god.
She makes the decision to visit her lake, and on the way there she stumbles upon a dying Kiyou wolf–the wolf had been shot with an arrow and managed to nearly die in front of her. Since she loves animals so much, she revives it back to life and heals it completely, so it steadily disappears into the woods, while she sits there quietly ruminating on the fact that when she was a child, she brought back her barnyard cat–Butters–when he had died. Sera then gets up, and goes to her lake, where she strips her clothing, and enters the water slowly. Only once she’s in, and relaxing does she realize that she’s being watched. She calls out to whoever is hiding to come out, and they sure do, turning out to be her god. They tease each other for a bit about him watching her unmentionables as she entered the water, and she argues with him that the decent thing to do would have been to let her know he was there. She tells him to get out of her lake, and he makes his way to shore, before she realizes that he too is naked, and watches his behind as he gets onto the shore. Once up there, he gets dressed and pulls out his sword telling Sera that someone is coming. She quickly gets out of the water, gets dressed in her slip and starts fighting back against the Grym, a type of creature that is bound to the Primal or god who makes the deal with them when they were humans. These particular Gryms are called Hunters, and the god presumes that they’re after him. Sera helps him fight back, but freaks out when one of the hunters opens their mouths and there are snakes coming out of the mouth. She is able to kill them, but falls backwards, and the god comes to her aid, but then she sees one of the snakes, freaks out and hits her head on a rock.
When Sera comes to, she finds that she’s laying on the god’s thigh, and he is rubbing circles on her shoulder, which she finds comforting even though she never likes being touched as a result of her upbringing. He introduces himself to her as Ash, and they talk about their own lives, briefly, while teasing each other over the unmentionables. They kiss, and that leads to other things, specifically Ash touching her until Sera basically falls apart underneath him from her orgasm. What surprises her is that Ash seems to not have any experience in sex, because he asks her to show him what she likes. After she’s done, he tells her that she needs to go home. He leaves, and she heads out once she’s dressed.
Sera makes her way to the Temple of Life and tries to hide in the crowd so that she can witness her first Ascension of the chosen. She witnesses her mother laughing with Ezra, and feels jealous that her mother never had warm words or smiles for her. Tavius recognizes her and lets her mother know that she’s there, but fortunately nothing could be done because they won’t start a scene. Sera sees how the Primal of Life, Kolis, shows up and talks to the Chosen–a male–telling him that he is worthy. Unfortunately, she is unable to see Kolis’ face because it’s so brightly lit, but she feels like he had looked into the alcove that she was in. That night, when she’s back at the castle, walking around the grounds, Ezra comes up to her, and tells her that she and MMarisol, her friend, went to extract a child from a situation in town, but some bar fight happened, and Marsiol got her head hit somewhere, and was close to death. Ezra was on her way to take Marisol to the healer but it was closer to the castle, and so Sera comes with Ezra to the carriage, where they find that Marisol is no longer alive. Ezra pleads with Sera to at least try, because she is in love with Marisol and that Marisol will never find out what Sera did for her, but she also knows what Sera did for Butters–the barn cat. Seeing how much Ezra loves Marisol, Sera breaks her rule about not bringing humans back to life, and brings Marisol. When Marisol comes back to life, Ezra is so thankful, that she gives Sera a hug for the first time in their life, and keeps up her promise.
The next morning Sera wakes up to find Tavius in her room, and things do not go well as he had pull the dagger that Sera normally keeps under her pillow, which means that Sera had been sleeping really deeply. Tavius announces that the King had died from something relating to his heart, so now he, Tavius, had become the King despite chasing skirts and drinking. He demands that Sera treats him with respect, and tells her that she’s been given too many liberties over the last three years after failing, when she should’ve been gone. He also reveals that he was really insecure over her existence because as long as she’s around, it means that she has a claim on the throne being the last Meriel, and he had always wanted the throne. So that is why he had been so cruel to her. Sera tries to fight back but makes a miscalculation that has her trapped underneath him on her own bed, and when he demands that she shows him some respect, she tells him that he will not ever be her king. Tavius says that this is treason, and has her dragged by his guards to the atrium, where he strings her up, and starts to whip her. Sera retreats into herself and refuses to give Tavius the satisfaction of getting a rise out of her–she also promises him, in her anger, that she will get her hands on him, cut both of his hands out, burn him and stab his heart out, before shoving the whip down his throat.
The Queen and Ezra arrive at the commotion-thanks to the maid going to get them, and they call out to Tavius to stop with the assault, but he ignores them after saying that he will forgive them for their transgression–which is basically not addressing him as the King–because of the death of the King. Tavius continues to whip Sera, but suddenly the ground shakes and the Primal of Death shows up along with two men of his court–Ector, and another one named Saion. They get Sera down from her ties, while the Primal of Death, who introduces himself as the Asher, and ultimately Nyktos, to Tavius when he asks who the hell he is. Ash kills the people who took part in Sera’s humiliation, and ties up Tavius to the statue, the same way that Tavius had tied up Sera. At this point Sera has been released, and the Queen implores Ash to let Tavius go, that he’s never done something like this and that he never will do something like this again; that it must be because of the death of his father. Ash isn’t about to let it happen, but Sera agrees and asks for leniency for Tavius. When Ash grants it, she takes a sword, and asks Tavius if he remembers what she promised him. Tavius loses his sanity when he realizes that she’s about to do exactly what she told him–she cuts off both of his arms, cuts out his heart, and then grabs the whip from Ash and shoves it down Tavius’ throat. She then turns on Ash, who tells everyone to get out of the atrium. They have a small argument because he’d always known who she was from the moment they’ve met in that alcove when looking into Cressa and Madis, but he never revealed it, and he also told her that he did not want a Consort. Unfortunately, Ash tells her that regardless of what they both want or not, he’s going to have to take her as part of the deal.
Sera is really surprised because she didn’t think he would come for her, and Ash is surprised because he didn’t think she thinks that he would let her die for the crimes of killing the would-be king. Ezra had tried to tell Sera that she should be the queen of Lasania, but Sera told Ezra that she’s to be the queen instead, so she really has no power in the kingdom, and was going to face whatever consequences they would put forth for her. Ash takes her in his arms, portals out onto his horse, Odin, and then together they make their way towards Iliseeum. It turns out that there are some locations in the world where the boundary between the mortal and the god worlds is very thin, and one of those is the Lake where Sera and Ash had spent that one night.
As they enter Iliseeum, Sera tries to take in as much as possible, until they get into Lethe, where she is surprised to see heads on the wall. Ash tells her that those are the heads of other gods, and so Sera has a hard time reconciling the fact that Ash is kind and decent, and takes every kill personally, but has heads on the wall. On the road to the castle, she gets introduced to Nektas a draken–a dragon that can take human form–and is in awe, though she’s scared to touch Nektas for fear he will eat her. Ultimately, they arrive at the castle, and Ash introduces her to several people before asking for Aios to take her to her rooms–which are on the same floor as Ash’s bedrooms. Aios reveals that she is not a staff, but most people who live in Lethe are well taken care of by Ash, and that they volunteer to do things to take care of Ash back. She tells Sera that there is no one she trusts more than Ash.
Ash stops by when Sera is taking a bath, and he washes her hair for her before also putting ointment on her wounds from the whip. They talk about the Shadow Temple priests, and how they went back three times to summon him, but Ash reveals that they never summoned him again after the first time. He also reveals why he didn’t take her as his Consort the first time–he can pick up on people’s emotions and there was a lot of anger in her and something else, like she was too prettily packaged up without having lived, and he didn’t want that kind of person. As they continue talking, he reveals that he knows when she’s doing something because she wants to–making sounds and actions that are not forced because she was taught to do so, but rather because she enjoys his touch or whatever it is that she is doing. He plays with her in the bathroom, teasing her and she has another orgasm with him touching her in the bathroom. They discuss the heads, and he reveals that those are up there because of other gods that like to try to push him. At one point, Sera finally asks him again why he made the deal for a Consort if he was not willing to keep up the end of the bargain.
It turns out that Ash didn’t–it was his father who made the deal, and when his father passed, the bindings of that deal were passed on to Ash. He was aware of Sera’s birth, and of her heightened emotions throughout her life. But he had no need of a Consort, and realized that neither he nor she consented to this deal so he didn’t want to fulfill it. Sera is surprised by this whole admission, because it means that now she doesn’t know if she should kill him. But that is the first night that she slept soundly for a whole day before she woke up. She spends several days thereafter in her room, becoming furious with the fact that Ash hadn’t seen her at all. Finally, Saion takes her to breakfast, where she dines with Ash, who in turn gives her back her blade and tells her what happens to Primal’s when they get severely hurt and don’t take someone’s blood. When they are done with breakfast, Ash takes her around and shows her to the library of the castle, where he gives her rules–she’s free to go anywhere in the palace so long as she does not enter the Red woods without him since they are dangerous. She is also free to enter the city once she becomes his consort, and thirdly, she must not be around if he gets some unexpected visits. He also reveals that he does not believe in love and has no intention of falling in love because it destroyed his parents–his father loved his mother very much, who died while he was still in her womb, and his father was never the same. It was the first and only time a Consort had been harmed, and as a result Ash believes that love is a weakness that can be used against you.
The next day Ash holds court, and Sera sneaks into it. She watches as Hamid comes up to Ash and tells Ash that a woman who had moved to Lethe from Kolis’ court had gone missing. Gemma, the woman, had disappeared four days prior and Hamid is worried about her. Immediately, Theon (a different member of Ash’s inner circle that Sera met on her first day) and Saion head out to find her. Ector walks up to Ash, because he had looked up to the alcove where Sera is located, and then whisks Sera away into the library. He tells her that he doubts that “she” (Ash’s visitor) would care about Library, and closes the door, leaving her alone. Sera waits a few moments before she lets herself out and catches onto a bit of conversation with Veses, one of the Primals who is a beautiful woman, and gets jealous that she’s going with Ash to his office while talking about why Ash does not want her (Veses) and why he chose a mortal for his Consort.
Because of her anger about this, Sera runs out into the Red Woods, against Ash’s rules, and finds herself healing a hawk whose wing has been hurt, which is a new thing for her as before she hadn’t been able to heal if the animal wasn’t close to death. Then the Hunters come into the woods, and she manages to fight them off when suddenly these skeletal remains start coming up and out of the ground. Sera continues fighting them off but it becomes a losing battle, until Ash shows up and basically kicks their butts and reveals that all of these husks of a former beings were actually gods and goddesses who had been chained together as punishment underground. He’s furious with her for not listening to his rules, and tells her to head out with one of his guards, when suddenly faints. Turns out that in the process of fighting off the Hunters, she got scratched by ones resulting in a poison being let go into her bloodstream and was close to dying. Luckily for her, Ash had the antidote and was able to administer it. Eventually a few days later, Ash and Sera make up, help each other get an orgasm on the daybed outside while sitting at night talking, and then fall asleep. Sera is woken up in the morning only to find Jade–Nektas’ daughter in the foot of her bed, and Nektas sitting on the railing of the balcony. Nektas tells her that she is one of his own.
Shortly thereafter, Sera walks with Ector on the southern side of the castle, with the two small draken–Reaver and Jade–when there is a commotion at the southern gate, and Ector tells her to stay put while he goes check it out as she’s not supposed to be seen around the Southern Gate. She decides to go check it out and sees that a group of people have gathered around a carriage where a woman is brutally injured–Sera feels the warmth in her chest that she’s dying, and gathers from the information that this is Gemma. The group of people bring Gemma into a room, and someone goes to call Ash, but Gemma dies. Sera is not willing to let this happens, so she tells Ector that she has to do something, as she feels the energy building in her, and the two draken are making really odd noises, but no one understands what is going on. Sera brings Gemma back to life and heals all of her injuries, which is when pretty much everyone has a “holy cannoli!” moment and Ash, having witnessed her bring Gemma back, realizes exactly what his father did. He sends people off to go fetch others and to make sure that the people on the rise are on the lookout, before telling everyone who was in that room to come into a different room for a completely different meeting.
In that meeting, Ash reveals that his father, Eythos, was the original Primal of Life, and his brother, Kolis, was the original Primal of Death. There was some jealousy on Kolis’ part because everyone in the mortal realm loved Eythos, and then one day Kolis found a woman that he fell in love with–Sotoria– upon seeing her pick flowers in the field. She got scared of him and died falling off the cliff, but Kolis was so much in love with her that he wanted to bring her back, so he asked Eythos to bring her back. Doing so would mean to break a rule that Eythos and Kolis agreed to, which was to never bring a soul back from the Vale. Eythos reminded Kolis of that and the fact that it would be wrong to grant life to someone and then not grant it to someone else of equal worth. Sera reveals that this is why she did not want to bring back humans to life, because she didn’t want the power of having to make that choice of who and when. The story then goes on that Kolis, at first, seemingly gave up the idea of pursuing Sotoria, but then Eythos fell in love with Ash’s mother, Mycella, and she became his Consort. Kolis spent the next several decades finding a way to bring back Sotoria, and managed to do that by becoming the Primal of Life, thereby changing destinies with Eythos, who warned Kolis what would happen if he brought Sotoria back especially after such a long time–she would not be who she was. This did transpire, and she was horrified by what was done, and when she died, Eythos did something to ensure that Kolis would never reach Sotoria–he designated her soul for rebirth. Every time she dies, she is reborn again, but her memories of her previous life are not shared with her current body–though for her to be reborn she needs to be born in a shroud, and Kolis knows this. As far as they are aware, Kolis had not found her. Ash then reveals that Kolis is the one who killed Mycella while she was pregnant with Ash, because he believed that it was only fair that Eythos lost his love just as he did, and he managed to destroy Mycella’s soul while killing her. Sera is sorry for Ash and gives him her condolences, but then also asks why the gods and other Primal’s have allowed for this. It turns out that Kolis destroyed all records of the truth in Iliseeum and in the mortal world and continued to keep that record even when it became apparent that he could no longer create life and maintain it. It turns out that since Kolis’ destiny was never to be the Primal of Life, whatever powers he gained as a Primal of Life were temporary and ended up waning over time–so Kolis cannot grant life or create it, and no other Primal’s have been born since Ash. And as a result, the balance is shifting towards death of everything both in the mortal realm and in Iliseeum.
As the conversation keeps going, Sera realizes that she was not at fault for the Rot–the Rot has already been happening, but she realizes that with her birth the Rot became more evident and thereby started a countdown to extinction. It is the deal made between Eythos and King Roderick expiring. It is Aios who then provides a different perspective that perhaps the ember of life was protected in the bloodline so long as a daughter was not born. Once she was born, the ember of life entered a mortal body as a vessel for it, that is vulnerable and carries an expiration date. Everything that Sera is learning now is beginning to disintegrate everything that she had known and been taught her whole life. Ash picks up on her emotions and realizes that they are much deeper for something that sounds like a simple misrepresentation of the whole story/deal. She then realizes that she will not have to kill Ash and feels relieved because she had begun to care for Ash as he made her feel like someone. It is Bele, a goddess who is part of Ash’s court and is a huntress, that states that she doesn’t think that Sera though that becoming Ash’s consort would save her people and that she learned how to end a deal in favor of the summoner. Ash stays silent, in shock, and transforms into the Primal of Death in front of her, asking Sera if that is true. And she tells him that it’s true–and she continues to tell him that it’s why she wanted to fulfill the deal even though she never agreed to it, when he asks her. Sera tries to apologize for that, though Nyktos tells her not to, but it’s evident that he’s no longer Ash to her. Nektas interrupts them, and tells them that they are under siege.
Nyktos decides that they need to take Sera with them to fight at the front of the ocean, where ships are becoming capsized, and he takes her on his horse until they reach the rise. She feels the deaths of the people on the ships, and Nyktos specifically clears up that what she is feeling is their souls separating from their bodies. Nyktos tells her to stay with Ector and Rhain while he goes to fight closer to the scene, and specifically asks her to remember what he said–to not hurt anyone on his side. Everyone realizes that Nyktos would not kill her because she carries the ember of life. Sera, Ector and Rhain watch the water where they see dakkais, vicious flesh-eating creatures who were featureless except for gaping mouths. Nyktos, Bele and more fight against the creatures on the water. As the Dakkais get closer to the Rise, Sera, Ector and Rhain fight them as well, and Sera saves both Ector and Rhain from a couple of them. Ultimately, the draken show up and set all of the Dakkais on fire, before a different draken shows up and tries to engage the draken protecting Nyktos’ realm, only to be taken down by Nektas and then killed by Nyktos.
Once the siege is over, Sera waits in the throne room with Ector and Rhain for Nyktos to come back, since she wasn’t sure how badly hurt he was in the battle. Aios only stopped by to tell everyone that Gemma had woken and spoken with Hamid, but no one could be sure about what Gemma was aware of. When Nyktos finally shows up, Ector and Rhain say different things on what they planned to do with her, but reveal that she had been sitting in the throne room playing with the shadow stone blade he got her. Nyktos goes up to her, pulls her leg up to his hip, and takes out her blade from her thigh strap, stating that he doesn’t want another dagger in his chest. Sera then asks if it was Kolis that sent those things, which Nyktos confirms that Kolis knows that something is here, but he doesn’t know the source, and that he plans on keeping it that way for as long as possible. This gives Sera some hope that he’ll keep her around, because Nyktos believes that Eythos did something else beyond keeping the ember of life alive and wouldn’t have put it in a mortal’s body. So until Nyktos is able to figure it out, Kolis won’t be coming anywhere near Sera. As they talk about the losses from the siege and Sera’s subsequent feelings, Nyktos keeps reading them, mocking the feelings as being fake and that she must be acting. Sera finally blows up and tells him to stop reading her emotions if he wasn’t going to believe them anyway and then basically tells him that she’s been trained to think and feel a certain way since childhood, so how dare he insinuate that what she feels is fake if for once feeling how she wanted to feel. She reveals that she’s felt guilt over the relief she felt when Nyktos did not take her because she did not want to do what was expected of her.
Nyktos does not react any further, but Nektas comes up to him and whispers to him about something. Nyktos tells him that he should be on the walls, and there is a bit of tension between the two of them where Nyktos keeps telling Nektas he’s fine, but Nektas knows better. Quickly it becomes evident–from further questions from Ector, and Rhain–that Nyktos lost a lot of blood in the battle. Sera offers to heal him, but Nyktos tells her an ember of life is not enough for her to heal a Primal, and he does not trust her at all anyways. He goes off to clean up, leaving Nektas to put Sera somewhere safe so she doesn’t do anything idiotic as she doesn’t have any value for her life. As soon as Nyktos leaves, Sera asks Nektas how badly he is hurt, only to be told by Ector that she does not have to pretend with her feelings. She asks them all what she just said about telling her how she feels and add that it goes for everyone in this room. Saion finally answers the question of how hurt he is, and Nektas adds that Nyktos really has been hurt so bad that he needs to feed. They realize that Nyktos is in a precarious situation–he’s lost so much blood he could become feral, primal–but he refuses to feed because he’s been forced to do that until he killed. Sera puts it together that it must have been at Kolis’ hands, and they all wonder what to do until Nektas tells them that he could probably get Nyktos to feed from Sera because he’s mad enough at her to basically break his decision around not feeding. Nektas asks her if she really wants to do that, and as Sera thinks about it, she realizes that if Nyktos hadn’t found out the truth, she would have offered herself up. Nektas stares at her when she says it was her choice, but Rhain reminds them that she came her to kill Nyktos, to which Nektas tells them that no, Nyktos actually brought her here.
Sera tells Nektas she’s surprised he suggested this. Nektas response that Nyktos asked him to put her somewhere safe–her bedchamber, which is next to Nyktos’ room. He tells her that Nyktos won’t open the door if she knocks, but he’s sure that the door between their chambers is unlocked. Sera is unsure and asks if it would work, so Nektas asks her if she would have continued through with killing him even if she hadn’t learned that killing Nyktos would do absolutely nothing to save her people. At first Sera wants to say yes, but the word dies in her throat before she verbalizes it, and she realizes that she wasn’t sure if she would have. Nektas tells her that this is his reason, and he believes that Nyktos knows that too. So Sera walks to her bedroom, and then goes through the door adjoining their rooms until she finds Nyktos in the bathing chamber, where he was wiping himself, but his injuries would not heal at all.
There is a bit of a disagreement between them, and Sera is resigned to the idea that she would die either by Nyktos’ hands or his guard’s hands, so she has no issue being fed from. Ultimately, Nyktos tries to kick her out of his room saying that if she doesn’t leave, he’ll feed from her and he’ll fuck her while at it. Sera asks if that is a promise or more talk, and Nyktos tells her that he may kill her because he hadn’t fed in decades and doesn’t trust himself now, but then he uses the word “liessa”–the first time he’d used it since he found out about Sera’s treachery. He then bites into the side of her throat and begins to feed from her–leaving a pleasurable feeling and she gets aroused. Nyktos pulls back at some point, and she asks him if it was enough, to which he states it will have to be enough, but it was obvious that he was still hungry. She was then propelled by a need and a want for him for no other reason than for herself, and makes him deliver on his promise to feed and fuck her.
Nyktos then bites into her breast and takes her to bed, starts thrusting into her until he finishes drinking from her, and then just continues to thrust into her. He admits that he has never felt anything like this before, and she also realizes that even though she’d had sex before, this was her first time feeling it like this. They continue having sex until they both have an orgasm, and then they talk. Nyktos asks how she can be so convincing and she reveals to him that they didn’t know he could read emotion so she wasn’t taught that as part of the art of seduction, but at the same time she reminds him that he should not be reading her emotions. Assuming Nyktos doesn’t want her in his bed, Sera gets up and starts going to her chambers, but Nyktos calls her back and tells her that he find his mark on her unmentionables quite fascinating, before telling her that she should sleep next to him so that they can rest for whatever comes next. At one point Nyktos laughs at her suggestion of being worried that she’d stab him, and calls her liessa again, at which point Sera tells him to go fuck himself. She tries to get out of bed, but then he captures her and she realizes that he’s warm–something that he wasn’t prior to drinking her blood. They talk and Nyktos tells her he finds it funny because she can never weaken him to the point that she’d ever be a real threat. She asks him if he’s sure of that, and he basically fucks her again. At one point, she bites him in his thumb and draws blood into her mouth, drinking it, but he continues to have sex with her until they both have an orgasm again.
Sera wakes up the next morning alone, and wonders why his body had felt so warm the night before. She wonders about what she would do considering all that she knows, how she feels about Nyktos, and returns to her chambers, where Paxton knocks on the door and brings in pails of water. Paxton and her talk for a bit about his family and his life, as he brings in the pails of water, and Paxton reveals that he tried to steal from Nyktos but Nyktos took pity on him, so he ended up in Lethe. It is Paxton who reveals how everyone has been talking that the Mortal Consort has been on the rise shooting at the Dakkais and helping everyone, which gives them so much join and the mortals feel like they are being recognized for their contribution. Once the water is in the bath, Paxton leaves and Sera relaxes in the bath, closing her eyes, until she feels a cloth against her neck.
She fights off her attacker, almost going under in the water, but manages to get a hold of the chair, breaks it and stabs the person with the leg of the chair. The attacker is still alive when Nyktos arrives and covers her to protect her, but then Ector kills the attacker, who turns out to be Hamid, destroying his soul so they can’t even talk to him about why he attacked Sera. But there is a question of whether or not Gemma revealed something, though Gemma doesn’t reveal anything. As Sera, Nyktos, Ector, Rhain and Saion talk about the whole situation, Nyktos touches Sera and Sera realizes that he’s warm. She makes that observation, and asks if anyone else noticed it, to which they say that no one goes around touching Nyktos because he enjoys Sera’s kind of touching. Ector does touch Nyktos and confirms what Sera says, so they’re beginning to talk about why that may be, when Sera gets pain in her face. She reveals that she had this kind of intense headache once before, and that she’s gotten blood when she’s brushed her teeth. Nyktos and Saion both say that it is impossible but do not reveal what it is, though Nyktos knows what to do to help lessen the pain. He comes back with a hot drink that Sera has to drink quickly–one that Sir Holland had given her back in the mortal realm. She tells Nyktos and Nektas (who had come in to watch over her) two of the ingredients and how it works, which surprises Nyktos. Nyktos begins to ask her about the headaches, which had happened before, and after further questioning, he tells her that she is experiencing a symptom of the Culling. Nyktos explains that having eather in your blood is what makes gods, Primals and godlings go through the Culling, a process that slows down your aging and more. Nyktos then reveals that the ember of life would have been powerful enough to evoke the symptoms that could be debilitating without the right combination of herbs, but then assures her that she won’t have to go through these symptoms for much longer as she only has an ember of an eather.
Nektas leaves, and Nyktos and Sera talk about the night before. Nyktos says he won’t repeat it, and that she will be his Consort in title only, but nothing else–his interest in her does not override his common sense, especially after learning of her treachery. Sera wants friendship, and while Nyktos can respect how far she was willing to go, for him, love was never on the table. He then says that he would not trust her, would not think of her even as a friend, and if she wasn’t a vessel for the ember of life, he wouldn’t bother with her. Sera is left alone after that, and only brought food, which gives her the chance of stealing a butter knife. Aios shows up with Bele and convinces Sera to talk to Gemma about what happened, stating that lord only knows that they have had to do worse things that what Sera planned to do to Nyktos. Sera agrees to help them, and they go to talk to Gemma, who basically tells them that she had thought she recognized someone from the Kolis’ court and ran away into the woods, got lost and when she was found she knew she was dying from the injuries. She remembered dying and being at the gates, before she was pulled back by Sera, whom she recognized when she briefly opened her eyes after healing. Gemma told Hamid everything, and considering Hamid’s own history with Kolis killing his mother, Hamid would do anything and everything to avoid Kolis from getting his hands on Sera, especially considering that Kolis had been working on something called the Revenant–a Chosen that was not quite ascended, not quite dead, but also not quite right–and he needed Sera to perfect it. Once it’s clear that Gemma won’t be able to reveal more, the three woman leave the area.
But they don’t get far before Cressa finds them and a fight starts between Cressa and Bele. Bele gets stabbed with a Shadowstone dagger, and Sera fights back against Madis by stabbing him with a butter knife, but he knocks her out. Then the third member of the party–Tariq–shows up to confirm if Sera is the package that Kolis has been searching for. Sera won’t give him anything to reveal that, so Taric bites into her neck and starts drinking her blood, which is so painful and terrifying for Sera. Suddenly the foyer start shaking, and Nyktos shows up in full Primal glory (wings and all), rips ups Cressa, and Madis. He then warns Taric not to look at Sera while he’s speaking to him, but when Tariq looks over at her, he melts his eyeballs, and then kills him once no more information could be received. When he calms down, he checks on Sera, giving her the shadow stone dagger back, and tells her that she is never afraid though she may feel fear. Unfortunately Bele had died, leaving many folks gutted. Sera offers to try to at least heal her and bring her back, but Nyktos was against it. Aios asks just to give her a chance to try and Nyktos ultimately agrees by telling folks to be on the lookout. Sera not only heals and brings back bile, but also Ascends her to a Primal-like status, which should not be possible considering that Sera has an ember of life.
She gets pulled into Nyktos’ office, and Saion tells her that the reason why it’s incredible that she ascended a god is because it would mean a new transition, new stage of life. They talk about how when Bele returned, there was a shift of power between the Primal and the newly ascended primal, but no one has reason to believe that Bele is a Primal right now. Nyktos shows up and thanks Sera for saving Bele, and Ector does the same, which surprises her. She reveals that one of the things that was said between Taric, Madis and Cressa was that they were trying to figure out who the viktors were trying to protect, and potentially were looking for her in Lasania. Nyktos explains that viktors are mostly mortals, born to serve a single purpose–to guard a harbinger of great change, though most are not aware of their duty, and serve through unexpected mechanisms of fate. They would generally have some kind of markings, and they are eternal, like the Fates, meaning they can be reincarnated but they actually return to Mount Lotho where the Arae (the Fates) give them form once they need them. As they finish talking, Sera falls asleep.
She is then woken up by a boy with crimson eyes who turns out to be Reaver, and her conversation with Reaver wakes up Nyktos. Reaver tells them that Nektas sent him to find them and that he’s waiting in the throne room. They are about to leave to find Nektas, but Sera is feeling a little lightheaded and tells Nyktos to not worry about feeding from her; that the bloodloss is on Taric. Suddenly Nyktos kisses her and keeps kissing her, but when he steps back, he tells her it changes nothing.
They walk through the chambers to the throne room, encountering Penellaphe, who tells them that she came with the Arae, one of whom waits for them, and will explain why she is here. As they enter the room, Sera stops short because the man waiting for them is Sir Holland. He confirms that he’s known Sera all of her life, and he’s not young because of the whiskey, and while she has a hard time swallowing it at first, Sera realizes that he was the one who always believed in her and his unwavering faith made sudden sense. Nytkos claims that he can’t interfere, to which Penellaphe says that Holland technically did not–he did not tell Sera anything about the Rot wasn’t tied to the deal, or who he was–he just trained her and believed in her. Holland reveals that he did all of this because he knew Eythos, Nyktos’ father, when he was the Primal of Life and he considered him a friend. Interfering would mean the final kind of death, but fortunately, there’s nothing the Arae can do anymore that would intervene with Sera’s fate.
Holland then explains that Eythos had embers of life, just like Kolis has embers of death–and when Nyktos was born, part of the embers of life had been transferred to Nyktos, and Nyktos would not know if he had it until he went through the Culling. But Eythos pulled the ember from Nyktos before Kolis could learn that Nyktos had it in him as Kolis would have seen Nyktos as even more of a threat. So what Eythos did was took the ember from Nyktos and the remaining ember from himself, and put it into the Meriel bloodline. So Sera has the essence, which could recognize its source, meaning that it’s like two souls meant to be together finding each other. So they would have been more comfortable with each other–which both Nyktos and Sera confirm feeling during their first natural encounter when he stopped her from pursuing Cress and Madis. Penellaphe then reveals that she had a prophetic vision that she didn’t understand, so she ended up telling Kolis, who interrogated her so extensively about the information. Still not clear about this vision, once she was released from Kolis she found the fates, who also did not understand what it meant, and only when Eythos came to ask what can be done about Kolis did Holland tell him about the prophecy. It was Eythos who had some kind of understanding of what the prophecy meant–though Penellaphe had disjointed images of wars, mortals being controlled by non-mortals.
“But I also saw her. I saw them. A Chosen and a descendant of the First. A Queen of Flesh and Fire. And him, a King risen from Blood and Ash, who ruled side by side with man. And they…they felt right. They felt like hope.” according to Penellaphe, was part of the prophecy, which is something that had yet to transpire. Penellaphe is not able to say much more about anything else, but she remembers the words from the prophecy, which she recites. Holland reveals that Eythos made the deal with Roderick shortly after he learned of the prophecy, though the prophecies are not absolute. Holland then spreads his fingers wide and shows the numerous strands that shimmers between them. He tells them that many people have dozen or hundred of possible outcomes depending on choices, but Sera had many strings, many different paths, all ending the same–with her death before twenty-one years of age. Nyktos tells them that that will not happen, to which Holland says that he may be a Primal, but he is not a fate so he has no say as death always finds Sera, one way or another, either by the hands of Kolis or Death himself. Penellaphe says that there are many ways Sera’s death happens at Nyktos’ hands, but then points out a smaller thread that seems to have broken off to another one and says that this thread was not intentional.
She has Nyktos’ blood, Holland claims–and at first Sera is about to deny it before she realizes that she did take a drop of Nyktos’ blood. According to Holland, that is enough, and that considering the ember of life was strong enough to give her symptoms of the Culling, having the drop of a powerful Primal in Sera will push her into the Culling. Nyktos claims that it’s not possible for her to go through it because she’s mortal, but Penellaphe claims that her body and her mind may be, but she has the essence of two powerful Primals, and it will come out. Nyktos is horrified, and Sera tells him that it was her fault, not his; he couldn’t have known. Holland claims that she’s so reckless and impulsive, to which she laughs and says it was her greatest flaw. Holland counters with “or greatest strength” and tells them that her actions could have given whatever Eythos believed upon hearing the prophecy a chance to happen. Nyktos and Sera are shocked, and Penellaphe tells them to look closer at the unintentional thread. Sera looks closer and she sees a shadow of a thread that changes in length constantly, and when she asks about it Penellaphe says that it’s an unexpected, unpredictable thread–it is unknown, and unwritten because there is one thing that not even the Fates can predict or control.
Nyktos wants to know what it is and how to find it–but it cannot be found, only accepted.
Because it is love that is more powerful than fate.
Holland reveals that Sera cannot undergo the Culling, not without the sheer will of love that can force a thread to extend her life and stop her death, and not without the love of someone who would aid her in her Ascension. And it cannot be just a god who loves her–it has to be a Primal, not just any Primal either, but the blood of the Primal to whom the ember belonged to as long as there is pure love. Nyktos is horrified while Sera realizes that she’s screwed, for Nyktos is incapable of love–and both feel sorry for the other as they believe it’s not fair to the other.
Holland then reveals that Sera had as many outcomes as she had lives, meaning that she was reborn, and Eythos remembered that first one when he answered Roderick Muriel’s’ summons, meaning that she was Sotoria in one of her past lives. Holland says that Eythos was smart and wise, so he knew what would happen as the outcome of Kolis’ actions, including that Kolis’ powers would fade and that the realms would be affected by death. Penellaphe tells Nyktos that Eythos wanted to keep him safe, but also wanted to give him a chance to save the realms, the mortals and gods a chance, and Nyktos revenge against Kolis. So Eythos hid the ember of life where it could be safe and grow in power until a new Primal was ready to be born in the being that would weaken his own brother. Sera is not ready to believe she was Sotoria until she realizes what Penellaphe just said about a new Primal being born. Nyktos recites part of the prophecy and confirms what Holland had said about no Primals being born. Sera creating a new Primal, fulfills part of the prophecy. Holland confirms that all life in all the realms were only continuing to come into creation because of the Mierel bloodline carrying the ember, but now she is the only one who carries the ember, and is why life continues. If she dies, all of life dies, which Sera does not think makes sense, until Nyktos points out that she is the heir to the lands and seas, skies and realms because she is the Primal of Life.
My Thoughts: So I originally read this book when it initially came out, and I loved it so much that I had to re-read it again this time around. And just as much as I loved it then, I love it now. It’s such a wonderful story of love but also set in a completely different setting than the Blood and Ash series–though there is some kind of cross over, especially at the end when they talk about the prophecies.
I love Sera’s fearlessness, I love her willingness to sacrifice for her people, and her constant fighting back against Tavius. I love how she does not allow herself to be cowed by him, even when she’s tied up and being whipped, and then goes and delivers on the promise. I love the innuendo and conversations with Ash, and I was 100% gutted when Ash became Nyktos to her because he found out the intentions behind her actions. I do have faith that he will come around to her, as I believe the fact that she felt relived at not being taken by him the first time, and the utter hope that she had when she found out that the Rot had nothing to do with Ash, because she could admit to herself that she began to care for him, is something that needs to be considered as part of her actions despite the fact that they may have been initially treasonous. I hope that Nyktos considers them, and now knowing everything that he does, he will fall in love with her.
I absolutely cannot wait to see the second book in this series because while it’s similar to Blood and Ash in the sense there is some overlap with the mythology, it is a completely different story and plot.
If you loved the Blood and Ash series, you will love this one.