The ​Crown of Gilded Bones

Page 67

My jaw was now in my lap. Godsdamnit, Casteel’s theory had been right. Miss Willa was an Atlantian. I couldn’t believe it—wait. Did that mean she was here, in Atlantia?

Oh, wow, if so, I had…so many questions for her.

“Last I heard, she was in Evaemon, or nearby in Aegea,” Jasper answered.

Casteel slowly turned to me, his lips curving into a smile wide enough that his dimples had already appeared. “I can’t say I’ve met her personally, but Poppy might—”

“I have never met her!” I all but shouted as I twisted toward him, punching his thigh.

“Ouch.” Leaning away from me, he rubbed his leg as he laughed.

“What is going on with you two?” Jasper asked.

“Apparently, there’s a Willa who wrote a sex diary of some sort,” Kieran said with a sigh. “It’s Poppy’s favorite book or something.”

I turned to the wolven as Casteel made a choking sound again. “It is not my favorite book.”

“Nothing to be ashamed of if it is,” he said with an indifferent shrug, but I tasted his sugary amusement.

“A sex book?” Jasper repeated. I was going to wither up and die right here.

Kieran nodded. “Cas was just saying he thought Willa might be an Atlantian because of a—”

“Okay,” I cut in before Kieran or Casteel could go into that further. “None of that is really important right now.”

“Oh, I disagree.” Casteel stretched over, placing his drink on a small table by the settee. “Is Willa an elemental? Something else? And you had no idea that Miss Willa Colyns is a popular biographer of a certain aspect of her life in Solis?”

Gods, I hated all of them right now. I hated myself even more for wanting to know the answers.

“She’s of the changeling bloodline, I believe,” Jasper answered, his forehead creasing. “Though sometimes I wonder about that. But no, I didn’t know that. Explains a lot, though, now that I think about it.”

Kieran’s lip curled, but Casteel looked even more interested in what that meant. I held up my hand and said, “Why would she know about Iliseeum?”

“Because Willa is old,” Jasper said. “She is the oldest changeling that I know of. She is one of Atlantia’s Elders.”

“How old is oldest?” I prodded.

He raised a brow. “Pushing two thousand years old.”

“W-what?” I stuttered, thinking of Cillian Da’Lahon, who The History of The War of Two Kings and the Kingdom of Solis claimed saw over two thousand and seven hundred years before his death. “Is that common? To live that long?”

Jasper nodded. “In times of peace and prosperity, yes.”

“And, yes, a wolven can live that long, too,” Kieran chimed in before I could ask.

My mind was…well, it couldn’t even comprehend living that long. How did one not grow tired of everything after that many years? I thought about the subject matter in Willa’s book, and figured that probably explained a lot.

I shook my head, hoping it would clear. “Can she do what Jansen could? Take on others’ images?”

Jasper shook his head. “No. Jansen was…gods, he had to be the last of the changelings that could do that.”

As terrible as it sounded, I felt relief. “Who are the Elders of Atlantia?”

“They are a type of Council who helps to rule alongside the King and Queen when needed,” Casteel explained, tugging gently on my braid. “Normally, they are never called on unless a major decision needs to be made. The last time they came together was when Malik was taken, I believe.” A sharp swirl of anguish pulsed through him. “I wasn’t in Evaemon when that happened. I was here.”

He’d been here recovering, trying to piece himself back together. My chest ached for him.

“You better believe they’ve been called now,” Jasper’s tone was dry, and my stomach tumbled. “You just might get to ask Willa about the book you were talking about.”

Oh, gods.

While I did have a lot of questions for her, I wasn’t sure I could hold a conversation because I would be thinking about wicked kisses and foursomes.

But I really didn’t need to focus on that. Because if a Council had been convened, I knew why—my arrival and everything that had happened.

“As much as I want to hear more about Miss Willa, we have more pressing things to deal with,” Casteel stated, surprising me. “How does one enter Iliseeum if they cannot do so by land or sea?”

Jasper didn’t answer for a long moment. “You know, you would’ve learned about it when you took the throne.” His gaze touched mine for a brief moment, and I knew what he meant. That Casteel would’ve learned when I took the Crown. “You don’t travel over or through the Mountains of Nyktos. You travel under them.”

An icy wave of surprise scuttled through Casteel. “The tunnel system?”

Jasper nodded. “The one from Evaemon leads into Iliseeum if—and that’s a big if—you know how to navigate it.”

“Damn,” Kieran muttered, scrubbing a hand over his head. “All those years messing around in those tunnels and we could’ve ended up in the damn Lands of the Gods.”

It struck me as a very odd coincidence that Casteel and Kieran had spent their childhood attempting to map out those tunnels and caverns, and this whole time, they could’ve taken Cas right to this Lands of the Gods. Had he or his brother been drawn to them? If so, had it been some sort of divine intervention?

I stayed way too long in the shower the following morning, testing the limits of exactly how long the water would remain hot.

Feeling the warm water pelting my skin and washing the soapy suds away was truly too much of a magical feeling to rush. The shower felt like it cleansed more than soap, as if it were rinsing away the stickiness of confusion that prevented me from looking past the shock of everything I had discovered and learned. That could’ve been my imagination, but by the time I forced myself to turn off the faucets, I felt like I could face what today held.

What awaited me in Atlantia.

And maybe it wasn’t just the shower, but all the hours of deep sleep I’d ended up stacking up over the last day or so. It could’ve been last night, when Jasper had left, and Kieran wanted to discuss the tunnel systems. Casteel had taken the seat Kieran had occupied, rearranging me so I was all but cradled against him as they spoke. I was amazed by how much they recalled regarding the tunnels, still able to remember the differences in certain underground rock formations and the scents that changed depending on which tunnel they were in. I’d only briefly been in the one that led to the beautiful, lilac-filled cavern in Spessa’s End, and the other that rested below New Haven, to view the names of those who had died at the hands of the Ascended.

So many more names needed to be added to that wall.

But as they talked, I couldn’t help but wonder if some kind of prophecy did exist. If hardly anyone knew that Iliseeum rested beyond the mountains, then was it possible for there to be a prophecy that no one knew about? Or was that comparing apples to oranges? I didn’t know.

Before Kieran left, I’d asked about the wolven named Sage—the one who was supposed to be patrolling the wall. She had been found on the other side of the wall, having been struck from behind. The injury and the subsequent fall from the wall would’ve either seriously injured or killed a mortal, but according to Kieran, who had checked in on the wolven before returning to our rooms with the book, she would recover in a day or so. Hearing that and learning that there had been no casualties among the wolven or anyone else who had engaged in the battle with the Gyrms had filled me with a lot of relief. That could’ve aided in me not feeling so overwhelmed.

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