An image of him formed in my mind, reaching for me as his skin turned gray and hardened. Pressure clamped down on my chest, grinding my heart. I squeezed my eyes shut against the rush of dampness rising, but it was no use. I still saw him, his back arched and body contorted, his eyes dulling, his gaze fixing. He couldn’t be gone. Neither could Kieran or Jasper. They had to be fine. I just needed to get out of here and find them.
I moved to stand—
The bindings snapped against my skin, digging in deeper. A hoarse cry parted my dry lips as I fell back against the wall. Inhaling deeply, I lifted my arm to get a better look at the chain. Spurs. The bones had sharpened spurs on them.
“Shit,” I whispered, wincing at the sound of my voice.
I needed to calm. I couldn’t panic. The wolven…they would hear me, right? That’s what it had sounded like Casteel and the others were saying. That they’d heard or felt my distress before and had answered. I was definitely distressed now.
But I’d heard them yelping in pain after Jasper and Kieran were shot. None of them had reached the top of the Temple after that. What if they too were—?
I lifted my hands to my face. The chain had enough give to do so without pain. “Stop,” I told myself. They couldn’t have killed all the wolven.
Anger and disbelief warred inside me as I focused on steadying my breathing. I would get out of here. I would find Casteel and Kieran and the others. All of them had to be okay.
Then I would kill Alastir. Slowly and painfully.
Holding that promise close to my heart, I forced out a slow, even breath and lowered my hands. I’d been chained before. That time in New Haven had not been as bad as this, but I’d been in bad situations before with Duke Teerman and Lord Mazeen. Like in the carriage with Lord Chaney, who had been bordering on bloodlust, I had to stay calm. I couldn’t cave to panic. If I did, I would lose myself.
Like I’d lost myself at the Chambers of Nyktos.
No. I hadn’t lost myself when I killed those people. I’d still been there. I just hadn’t…I hadn’t cared to hold back, to curtail whatever power had come alive inside me. I didn’t even feel guilt now. I didn’t think I’d feel remorse later, either.
My legs and back stung from the wounds those blades had left behind as I looked at where my bonds connected with the wall. No ring held the chain in place. It wasn’t just fused to the wall, it was a part of it—a growth.
What in the hell kind of crypt was this?
I couldn’t break stone, but bone…bone and roots were fragile in comparison. Carefully, I twisted my wrist to create tension that didn’t press against my skin. I gripped the other length of bone and root with my other hand—
“I wouldn’t do that.”
My head snapped in the direction of the male voice. It came from the shadows beyond the lit pillars.
“Those aren’t normal bones you’re handling,” the male voice continued. “They’re the bones of the ancients.”
My lip curled as I immediately loosened my grip.
A deep chuckle rose from the shadows, and I stilled once more. That laugh…it sounded a little familiar. So did the voice.
“And because they’re bones of the deities, they carry Primal magic—the eather—within them,” he added. “Do you know what that means, Penellaphe? Those bones are unbreakable, imbued by another who carries the blood of the gods within them.” The voice drew closer, and I tensed. “It was a rather archaic technique crafted by the gods themselves, designed to immobilize those who had become too dangerous—too much of a threat. They say it was Nyktos himself who bestowed the power on the bones of the dead. An act he carried out when he ruled over the dead in the Shadowlands. When he was the Asher, the One who is Blessed, the Bringer of Death, and the Guardian of Souls. The Primal God of Common Men and Endings.”
The…the Shadowlands? Ruled over the dead? Nyktos was the God of Life, King of all the gods. Rhain was the God of Common Men and Endings. I had never heard of the Shadowlands before, but with that name alone, it sounded like a place I didn’t want to learn more about.
“But I digress,” he said, and I saw the hazy dark outline of a man in the gloom. I squinted, focusing on him, but I…I sensed nothing from him. “You pull on those bindings, they will simply tighten. You keep doing it, they will cut through your flesh and into your bone. Eventually, they will sever your limbs. Don’t believe me, take a closer look at the one beside you.”
I didn’t want to look, to take my eyes off the shadowy form, but I couldn’t help myself. I glanced at the body beside me and looked down at its side. The skeletal remains of a hand lay beside it.
“Lucky for you, you only carry the blood of the gods in you. You’re not a deity like them. You would bleed out and die rather quickly. The deities like the one beside you?” the man said, and my attention shot back to him. The shadowy mass was closer now, having stopped at the edges of the fiery glow. “He…well, he grew weaker and hungrier until his body started to cannibalize itself. That process alone most likely took centuries.”
Centuries? I shuddered.
“You must be asking yourself what he could have done to warrant such a horrid punishment. What did he and the others lining the walls and in their coffins do?” he asked. And, yeah, a part of me wondered just that.
“They became too dangerous. Too powerful. Too…unpredictable.” He paused, and I swallowed hard. It took no leap of logic to assume that those against the wall and before me were deities. “Too much of a threat. Just like you.”
“I’m not a threat,” I snarled.
“You’re not? You killed many.”
My fingers curled inward. “They attacked me for no reason. They hurt—” My voice cracked. “They hurt the wolven. Their Prince. My—”
“Your heartmate?” he suggested. “A union of not only the hearts but also of the soul. Rare and more powerful than any bloodline. Many would consider such a thing a miracle. Tell me, do you think it’s a miracle now?”
“Yes,” I growled without hesitation.
He laughed, and yet again, something tugged at the recesses of my memories. “You will then be relieved to know that they are all safe. The King and Queen—those two wolven, even the Prince,” he said, and I might’ve stopped breathing. “If you don’t believe that, you can trust the marriage imprint.”
My heart stuttered. I hadn’t even thought of that. Casteel had told me that the imprint faded upon the death of one of the partners. That was how some had learned of their heartmate’s demise.
Part of me didn’t want to look, but I had to. A hollowness filled my stomach as my gaze shifted to my left hand. It trembled as I turned it over. The golden swirl across my palm glimmered faintly.
Relief cut so swiftly through me that I had to clamp my mouth shut to stop the cry from rising up from the very depths of my being. The imprint was still there. Casteel was alive. I shuddered again, tears scorching my throat. He was alive.
“Sweet,” he whispered. “So very sweet.”
An uneasy sensation crept over my skin, stealing bits and pieces of the relief.