The ​Crown of Gilded Bones

Page 65

Confusion drew my brows together. “How is that possible? How can something walk around and interact with people and not be alive?”

“One could ask the same question about the Craven,” Casteel said. “They react to those around them. They have mouths, and their bodies go through the motions of breathing. They hunger.” He lowered his glass to his knee. “But do you think they live? Truly?”

I didn’t need to think about that. “No,” I said, looking back at the sketch. “Not once they turn. They’re no longer alive. Nothing remains that makes them mortal, at least.”

And that was sad because all of them had been mortal at one time—people who had lives and were someone’s daughter or son, friend or lover—before the Ascended ripped everything away from them.

My hands curled into the soft material of the robe. The number of lives the Ascended had destroyed was utterly incalculable. They could’ve done that to Ian and to Tawny, devastating everything that made them who they were.

The Ascended had to be stopped.

“The difference here is that the Gyrms were never alive in the first place,” Kieran explained, running a finger along sentences that looked like nothing more than scribbles on an ivory page to me. “They were created from the soil of the gods and from the eather—from magic—and used to do the bidding of the one who summoned them. Created them. They have no thoughts, no will beyond why they were summoned.”

I blinked once and then twice. “They were created from dirt and magic? Seriously?”

Jasper nodded as he started pacing. “I know it sounds like something made up to scare children—”

“Like the lamaea?” I asked.

He stopped and looked at me, glass halfway to his mouth as Casteel coughed out a quiet laugh. His pale eyes shot to the Prince. “I don’t even need to ask which one of you told her about that. Out of the things you could’ve shared with her, you chose that?”

“It was a passing comment in a wider, much more important conversation that she has somehow latched on to and never forgotten.” Casteel took a drink. “Not my fault.”

“How could I ever forget about a creature that has fins for legs and tails for arms?” I wondered out loud.

“The lamaea were never real. It was just a thing really twisted parents made up.” Kieran shot his father a pointed look. “But the Gyrms were, and they were usually summoned to serve as soldiers or guards—protectors of sacred places. It says here that they can be killed with any puncture wound. Apparently, it shatters the magic holding them together, so one doesn’t have to aim for the heart or the head.”

“Good to know,” I murmured.

Kieran continued scanning the page. “Once they’ve served their purpose, whatever holds the soil and magic used to conjure them—usually a vase or cloth of some sort—is destroyed by fire. Once nothing but ash remains, they disappear.”

“They’re just conjured into existence to do whatever someone needs, and then…poof, they’re gone?” My nose wrinkled. “That seems wrong and sad. And, yes, I get that they’re technically not alive. It still doesn’t feel right.”

“It’s not,” Casteel agreed, a muscle working in his jaw. “It’s why that kind of magic is forbidden by Atlantians and mortals alike in this realm.”

There was that word again. It tugged at the memories of my time in the crypts with Jansen. “When you say ‘realm,’ what are you talking about?”

“The Lands of the Gods, that realm,” Casteel answered as his hand wandered to my upper back and slid under my braid. “It’s called Iliseeum.”

“Iliseeum?” My breath caught as what Jansen had said finally came back to me. “Jansen mentioned a place called Iliseeum—and a place called the Shadowlands. I thought he was making stuff up.” I glanced around the room. “Both are real?”

“They are.” Casteel reached over, straightening the collar on the robe. “Iliseeum is the Lands of the Gods. The Shadowlands are where the Abyss is located and how the Vale is accessed.”

“He also…he also said that Nyktos was known as…the Asher? He said he was called the One who is Blessed, the Bringer of Death, and the Guardian of Souls,” I said, frowning. “And he said that Nyktos ruled over the Land of the Dead and that he was the Primal God of Common Men and Endings.”

“Technically, Nyktos is those things,” Jasper answered. “As the God of Life and Death, he rules both the Shadowlands and the realms of the living, but he is not the God of Common Men. And I never heard of him being referred to as the Asher or the One who is Blessed.” He looked over at me, brimming with curiosity. “Although, weren’t you called that? Blessed?”

I nodded.

“Interesting,” he murmured. “I think Jansen told some truths and then made things up to sound more knowledgeable and important, just like the Unseen were often known to do.”

My brow rose. Jansen did have an inflated sense of self-worth. “But how have I never heard of Iliseeum until now?”

“I bet there’s a lot you haven’t heard of.” Jasper took a drink. “Did you know that Nyktos has a Consort?”

“He does?” I stared at the older wolven.

Kieran looked at me. “How do you think he had offspring?”

“First off, he could have multiple special people in his life,” I pointed out. “But most importantly, he’s the God of Life. Couldn’t he just create his children?”

“He probably could.” Casteel tugged lightly on my braid. “But he didn’t create his children like that. He and his Consort did it the old-fashioned way.”

“What is her name?” I asked. “And why is this the first time I’m even hearing about her?”

“No one knows her name,” he answered. “She has only ever been known as the Consort.”

“Well, that sounds…sexist,” I muttered.

“Can’t disagree with that,” Casteel replied. “And to answer your other question, no one knows why the Ascended decided to erase some of these bigger details from their history.”

“Maybe they didn’t know,” Jasper pointed out. “Only the oldest of the Ascended, those first turned, would’ve known the real history of our lands and peoples. And most, if not all of them, were killed before the war.” Queen Eloana had ordered that—the execution of all vamprys once they became too numerous and too blood-hungry to control. “It was the later ones, those turned by the Atlantians and who traveled farther east that fought back so strongly.”

“Godly magic can be found here, right? Like the eather in the bones of the deities,” I said, and a hot pulse of anger radiated from Casteel.

“Not just in the bones of a deity, but also in the blood of a god.” Jasper stopped pacing, coming to stand near the terrace doors of the living area. He took a deep drink, finishing off the whiskey. “Of course, it’s easier to visit a crypt and remove the bones of the deities than to attempt to get one’s hands on the blood of a god.”

I shuddered at the thought of how disruptive that act would be to the dead. It wasn’t something I had really considered while in the crypts.

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