The ​Crown of Gilded Bones

Page 161

Delano withdrew his sword, his features sharpening to a deadly thinness. “You will address her as Queen Penellaphe or Your Majesty.”

Slowly, the King turned his head to the wolven, the mannerism serpent-like. “The one beside you?” He sniffed the air. “Nothing more than a heathen. An overgrown dog.” The King sneered. “Disgusting.”

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

The Revenant frowned. “I do not.” He plucked at the front of his tunic. “Rude.”

“Oh, I’m sorry.” I stared up at the Blood King. “Is it you who taints the air instead?”

There was a sugary burst of amusement from the Revenant as a muscle flexed in King Jalara’s jaw. “I would watch your tongue, Maiden.”

I held up my left hand as a low snarl rumbled from Delano.

King Jalara smirked. “Or maybe not. Every word you speak that irritates me, I will be sure to take it out on the one you call your husband.”

Every part of me screamed in rage—screamed for blood and pain, even as I showed no emotion and looked up at the Blood King. The Ascended who had never been cruel to me as a child. Who had just been there, in the background.

“You do know that he has found his stay with us to be less than pleasant. Dear Ileana almost had him convinced that you had been captured in spite of his sacrifice. His screams of rage were a serenade for the ages.”

My jaw clenched.

A smug look settled onto his features. “What? You have nothing to say? You do not ask about his well-being? No begging?” His head tilted. “No threatening? I at least expected one threat from you after hearing Ileana wax poetically about her—”

“Call her by her real name,” I interrupted. “I’m sure you know it is Isbeth.”

His eyes narrowed. “She is no longer Isbeth.”

“And what do you think she is? Ileana, the goddess?”

“What do you think?” he challenged.

“I know a god cannot be made,” I said. “She is nothing more than a twisted mess of bitterness and greed made manifest.”

“And what does that make you?”

“An actual god,” I replied as flatly as Casteel would’ve.

“And yet you couldn’t defeat her?” He laughed coldly. “You may be born of Nyktos’s blood, but you and I both know what you are and what you will always be. The Maiden who is part beauty and part disaster.”

I said nothing. I felt nothing.

His chin dipped as he drew closer. “You should do as she requests. She is your mother.”

“And yet, I couldn’t care less.” I held his stare. “Believe it or not, I didn’t come here to spend time insulting the Blood Queen.”

King Jalara inhaled sharply. “You came to surrender? To submit?”

“I came to send a message to the Blood Queen.”

His brows flew up so fast and so far, I was surprised they didn’t topple his precious crown. “A message? I came all the way out to this godsforsaken place on the edge of the Wastelands to deliver a message for you?”

I nodded as my right hand moved under the cloak, crossing my stomach.

“You have to be out of your mind. You are, aren’t you?” King Jalara’s smile was grotesque, revealing his fangs. “The only message I will deliver for you is one of submission.”

“I’m sorry. I misspoke,” I said, forcing a silly little laugh. “It’s you that’s the message.”

“What—?” His twisted smile froze. His gaze shot over my shoulder—

Kieran exploded from the shadows, slamming into him. He stumbled, lips peeling back in a snarl as Kieran latched on to his arm, not letting him get far. I pulled the sword from my cloak and spun, sweeping out wide and high.

Only a few things in my entire life were as satisfying as the feeling of the blade meeting King Jalara’s flesh, the resistance of bone, and then the shocking ease with which it gave way. The blade sliced deep into his throat and through the spinal column, separating his head from the body.

My gaze lifted to where the knights had frozen, to where the Revenant stood in utter shock, either held immobile by the sight of their King’s head winging in the opposite direction of his body, or by the sight of the other wolven prowling out from the darkness.

And then I fought like a god.

I didn’t summon the eather. I didn’t visualize it. I didn’t take the time to let the power ramp up inside me. I didn’t need to because it was always there. I simply willed it.

The shields exploded, and then the swords. The necks of the knights twisted sideways, silencing their screams before they even formed. Their arms broke. Bones cracked throughout the bodies. Their legs bent backwards, and then I tore them apart from the inside.

In the mist of blood, the Revenant quickly withdrew two black, crescent-shaped swords. He held them as the wolven growled and snapped. “That won’t work on me.”

“No. It won’t,” I said as a rush of wind whipped from above. The light of the moon was suddenly obscured.

The Revenant glanced up. “What the—?”

Reaver landed before me, rocking the ground and the trees. His tail whipped around, sliding between the wolven as he stretched out his head and opened his mouth. A deafening roar erupted from deep within his throat as a wisp of smoke floated above the frills.

“But this will,” I finished, sheathing the sword. “Fire of the gods, right? That will kill you.”

“Good fucking gods, is that—?” The Revenant stumbled, tripping over his feet. He caught himself just as Reaver’s spiked tail slammed into his chest.

Well, that was not a part of the plan, I thought as I watched the Revenant fly sideways, crashing into rock. He hit it with a fleshy smack. Sliding onto his knees, he pitched forward onto his hands with a groan.

Slowly, I looked over at Reaver. “Really?”

He made a chuffing sound as he swung his tail back, narrowly missing taking out Kieran in the process. The wolven’s ears flattened as he growled.

“Calm,” I warned him as I stepped over Reaver’s tail. “That’s not a battle you’re going to win.”

Everything about Kieran’s stance said he’d like to try as I approached the moaning Revenant. He quieted as I knelt in front of him, clutching his chest.

“That was part of the message that I want you to deliver to your Queen,” I said, and it was the kind of message Casteel would send.

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

It was King Jalara’s head.

“Fuck,” the Revenant groaned.

I took the ruby crown Delano handed me. “I want you to deliver that to her. Let her know that I have his crown. It’s mine now. I want you to thank her for me, for teaching me to fight like a god. Tell her that was for Ian.”

The Revenent’s flat eyes met mine.

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

“Yes,” he wheezed.

“Good.” I rose then, the ruby crown dangling from my fingers. “Make sure she knows that I am the Chosen, the One who is Blessed, and I carry the blood of the King of Gods in me. I am the Liessa to the wolven, the second daughter, the true heir, owed the crowns of Atlantia and Solis. I am the Queen of Flesh and Fire, and the gods’ guards ride with me. Tell the Blood Queen to prepare for war.

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