The ​Crown of Gilded Bones

Page 154

A shiver of rage brushed my skin, stroking the throbbing in my chest, and her lip curled in disgust. It was brief. I wasn’t sure that she was even aware of it, but I saw it.

“But it doesn’t matter,” she continued. “She’ll have every Revenant on hand guarding him. She’ll have him watching over your King,” she told me, and I knew that she spoke of the Prince. “You won’t get near him.” She lowered her bow, her shoulders settling. “Unless you can bring the fire of the gods with you, none of you stands a chance.”

A chill swept through me as I stared at her. Fire of the gods? Her gaze met mine as she took a step back. “I’m sure we will meet again,” she said.

“We will.”

I sat in the wooden chair of the hunting cabin Casteel had brought me to, after he’d saved my life and risked so much in the process, and stared at the bed.

Tawny lay there, her face too pale, her breathing too shallow. I’d tried to heal her. I’d tried once when I went back to the woods. My gift had flared to life then, and the wound had closed, but she didn’t wake. I tried again when we stopped halfway here, after we’d mounted the horses that Hisa had brought. I placed my hands on her too-warm skin as soon as we arrived at the cabin, but she didn’t wake, and those dark veins had spread up her throat.

We’d traveled straight through the Wastelands and had reached the hunting cabin as night descended. We had to stop. Everyone was tired, and Tawny… I didn’t know what was wrong with her or what had pierced her flesh to cause this—for my gift to not do much beyond closing her skin.

The arrow the Handmaiden had held resurfaced. It had been fashioned from shadowstone. The same weapon my mother had had the night the Craven came to the inn. The same kind of weapon the deities had been buried with and the skeleton soldiers had held. I couldn’t remember seeing what kind of weapons the guards had. I’d…I’d obliterated the ones who stood in front of me, but the Handmaiden had said it would put me down for a while. I glanced at Tawny. Could it have been shadowstone? Was that why my gifts had only worked to a certain point?

My gaze lowered to my hand. I turned it palm up and, in the glow of the candlelight, saw the marriage imprint shimmer. I closed my hand, squeezing my eyes shut against the burn.

I hadn’t cried.

I wanted to. I wanted to cry for Ian. I wanted to cry for Lyra. I wanted to cry for Tawny because I feared she’d never open her eyes again. I wanted to cry for Casteel because I knew what he faced, even if I could imagine what he must be thinking or feeling to know that his brother had not only betrayed him but would also become one of his prison keepers.

Anger had grown with each mile we got closer to Atlantia. If we had known the truth about who the Queen really was, we could’ve better prepared. We would’ve known it was impossible for her to be an Ascended. We would’ve known that anything was possible. Instead, we’d gone into the meeting hobbled by lies. No part of me believed for even one second that Eloana hadn’t known the truth. Possibly even Valyn had known. The knowledge they’d withheld could’ve changed everything.

Because it already had.

A soft knock drew me from my thoughts. I rose and stiffly walked to the door.

Kieran stood there. “Can’t sleep. None of us can.” Beyond him, I saw several shapes sitting around a small fire. He looked over my shoulder. “How is she?”

“Still asleep.”

“I know you haven’t slept.”

I shook my head as I stepped out into the cool night air, closing the door behind me. I glanced over at the bent and bowed trees as I walked with Kieran over to where the others sat.

Vonetta glanced up as I sat beside her. She offered me a flask, but I shook my head. I’d apologized to her and to Kieran, but I felt like I needed to do it again. I opened my mouth.

“Don’t,” she cut me off. “I know what you’re going to say. It’s not necessary. I understand. We all understand.”

There were several murmurs of agreement from around the fire. My gaze briefly met Hisa’s and then Delano’s and finally Naill’s. “He’s still alive,” I said roughly. “She won’t kill him. Not when she thinks she can use him to control me—control Atlantia.”

They nodded, but I sensed relief. They had needed to hear that. I’d needed to say that. “Does anyone know anything about shadowstone? That was what the Handmaiden had.”

“I heard what she said,” Kieran said.

“Do you think that could be what’s causing Tawny’s injuries?” I asked.

“I don’t know.” Hisa dragged a hand over her head. “She’s mortal. I’ve never seen a mortal wounded by shadowstone before. A lot of Healers in Evaemon and some of the older Elders may have seen something like this.”

I thought of Willa and then her diary, and the next breath I took hurt.

“What is the plan?” Emil asked as Vonetta handed him the flask. He took a drink.

We hadn’t really spoken on the ride away from Oak Ambler. Not about anything, but I had done a lot of thinking—about what Isbeth had said, what even the Duchess had claimed in Spessa’s End, and what the Handmaiden had told me.

Even though I’d refused Isbeth, she believed that everything was falling into place. She had the Prince and now the King of Atlantia. She had found a way to control me, and in her mind, she therefore controlled Atlantia. Just like Duchess Teerman had claimed, I would succeed where the Queen had failed.

But they were wrong.

I looked down at my hands—at the marriage imprint. You always had the power in you. That was something I had also thought about. I now knew where I’d first heard it. The silvery-blonde I’d seen when I had been so close to dying. That is what she had said to me.

You always had the power in you.

And it was what Nyktos had said. A part of me wondered if the woman I’d seen was his Consort. That, in her sleep, she’d reached out to me, to either warn or help me. It would make sense that she would.

After all, I was her granddaughter, if she was who I believed.

My fingers curled into my palms. The center of my chest hummed with power—the eather of the King of Gods. The kind that should’ve been powerful enough to destroy whatever the hell Isbeth believed she was. But I hadn’t been prepared. I hadn’t fought like a god because I did not believe I was one.

But Casteel had, hadn’t he? Did he ever really believe I was a deity?

I exhaled roughly. “She was right.”

Vonetta looked over at me. “Who?”

“The Queen. I am a god,” I stated.

Her brows rose as she glanced over at Emil and Naill. “Um—”

“No. Wait.” Kieran rose, understanding flickering through him. “If what she claimed is true and Malec is one of Nyktos and his Consort’s sons—and you’re their grandchild—you are a god,” he reiterated what I’d just been thinking.

Delano nodded slowly. “It doesn’t matter what in the hell Ileana— Isbeth—is. You are the grandchild of Nyktos—of a Primal God. That is why your bloodline is so potent. You are a god, not a deity.”

“Shit,” Emil muttered, taking another drink before Vonetta snatched the flask from him.

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