The ​Crown of Gilded Bones

Page 30

I wasn’t sure how I could come to terms with it even when I had time. “I don’t…”

“You don’t want this,” Kieran finished for me, his wintry gaze meeting mine.

“I don’t want”—I briefly closed my eyes—“I don’t want to come between you two. I don’t want to come between any wolven and the Atlantian they were bonded to.” I don’t want to be the monster that Alastir warned me I’d become.

“Poppy,” Casteel started.

“You can’t tell me that having your bond with Kieran broken hasn’t affected you,” I cut in. “You guys were ready to tear each other apart at the Temple. That didn’t feel right.” A knot of emotion choked me. “I didn’t like it.”

“If you knew us when we were younger, you probably would’ve thought we hated each other.” Casteel gently squeezed my shoulder. “We’ve come to blows over far less important things than you.”

“Is that supposed to make me feel better?” I asked. “Because you’re doing a really terrible job at that right now.”

“I guess not.” Casteel touched my cheek, tipping my head back so our eyes met. “Look, knowing the bond isn’t there is weird. I’m not going to lie. But knowing that the bond has shifted to you—that not just Kieran, but all the wolven will protect you, is a relief. That is part of how we tracked you to the crypts in the Skotos Mountains and to the Wastelands. They felt you. If they hadn’t been able to, we wouldn’t have gotten to you in time,” he said, and all of it made my stomach twist. “I can’t be mad about that or upset. Not when I know the limits Kieran will go to to ensure that you remain safe.”

My lower lip trembled. “But he’s your best friend. He’s like a brother to you.”

“And I still am. Bonds are strange things, Poppy.” Kieran placed his hand over the top of where Casteel’s remained on my shoulder. I shuddered. “But my loyalty to Cas has never been about a bond created when neither of us was old enough to walk. It never will be. You have nothing to worry about when it comes to us. And I doubt that you have much to worry about when it comes to any of the other bonded wolven. Most of us have fostered friendships that can’t break. So, we just…we just made room for you.”

Made room for me.

“I…I like the sound of that,” I whispered hoarsely.

Kieran patted my shoulder, or rather Casteel’s hand. Maybe both.

“You think you can tell us what you remember?” Casteel asked after a moment, and I told him I could. “I need to know exactly what happened at the Temple. What you and that son of a bitch Jansen may have talked about when he was masquerading as Beckett. How he acted. I want to know exactly what those people said to you.” He met my gaze. “I know it won’t be easy, but I need to know anything you can remember.”

I nodded. I told him everything, and it was easier than I thought it would be. What had happened had caused an ache in the center of my chest, but I didn’t let that feeling grow or get in the way. Casteel wouldn’t let it. I felt next to nothing from him as I talked. Now was not the time for emotion. Only facts were needed.

“That prophecy he spoke of?” I said, looking between them. “Have either of you heard of that?”

“No.” Casteel shook his head. “It sounded like a load of bullshit, especially the part about the Goddess Penellaphe. Sort of insulting to attach that nonsense to the Goddess of Wisdom.”

I couldn’t agree more. “But could it be something you haven’t heard?”

“No. We don’t have prophecies,” Kieran confirmed. “We don’t believe in them. It sounds like a mortal thing.”

“They’re not widely believed in Solis, but they do exist,” I told them. “I didn’t believe it either. It all sounded too convenient and exact, but there’s a lot of things I don’t know or believe.”

“Well, that is one thing I don’t think you have to worry about,” Casteel stated.

I nodded, my thoughts shifting. “When the sky started to rain blood, they said it was the tears of the gods,” I told him. “They took it as a sign that what they were doing was right.”

“They were wrong.”

“I know,” I said.

“Do you know how you were able to stop them?” Kieran asked. “How you used your abilities?”

“That is a hard question to answer. I…I don’t know how to explain it other than to say it was like I knew what to do.” My brows knitted as I pressed my palm to the center of my chest. “Or like it was some instinct I didn’t realize I had. I just knew what to do.”

“Eather,” Casteel corrected softly.

“Eather,” I repeated. “I sort of…saw it in my mind, and it happened. I know that sounds bizarre—”

“It doesn’t.” He returned to stand in front of me. “When I use compulsion, the eather gives me the ability to do so. I see in my mind what I want the person to do as I speak it.”

“Oh. So, it’s…it’s kind of like projecting your thoughts?”

He nodded. “Sounds like what you did is the same. It’s also how we can tell if we’re dealing with an elemental or another bloodline—based on the amount of eather we feel.”

“It was written that the gods could sense it, too, whenever it was used,” Kieran said. “It felt like a seismic shift to them.”

I thought over everything they’d said. “It’s weird, though. When I ease someone’s pain, I think happy thoughts—good ones. And then…” I rolled my eyes as I sighed. “Then I projected those feelings into the person.”

Casteel grinned at me.

“I guess it’s not that much different.”

He shook his head. “You think you can do it again?”

My stomach tumbled a bit. “I don’t know. I don’t know if I want to—”

“You should,” he said, his jaw hardening as he held my gaze. “If you are ever in a situation like that again, any situation where you cannot physically defend yourself, do not hesitate. Listen to that instinct. Let it guide you. It will not steer you wrong, Poppy. It will keep you alive, and that is all that matters.”

“I agree with everything Cas just said,” Kieran chimed in. “But I know you can use those powers. That you know how. You were going to do it back at the ruins before you saw Jansen, but you stopped yourself.” His gaze searched mine. “You stopped yourself and said that you weren’t a monster.”

An unnatural stillness came from the other side of me. “Why?” Casteel demanded. “Why would you say something like that?”

Kieran was right. I knew how to use the eather. All I had to do was picture it in my mind. The knowledge existed like some ancient instinct.

“Poppy,” Casteel said, his tone gentler. “Talk to me. Talk to us.”

“I…” I wasn’t sure where to begin. My thoughts were still so damn scattered. I looked between the two of them. “Did you go into the crypts?”

“We did,” Casteel confirmed. “Briefly.”

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