The ​Crown of Gilded Bones

Page 9

“But he would’ve been greatly injured if you hadn’t been stopped,” he said. “You would’ve brought the whole Temple down. He would’ve fallen with it. Maybe you would’ve even killed him. It is possible for you to do that, you know? You have the power within you.”

My heart skipped a beat in my chest. “I would never hurt him.”

“Maybe not intentionally. But from what I’ve gathered, you seem to have very little control over yourself. How do you know what you would’ve done?”

I started to deny what he’d said, but I tipped my head back against the wall, unsettled. I…I wasn’t sure what I had become in that Temple, but I had been in control. I had also been full of vengeance, just like the strange flash of the woman I’d seen in my mind. I had been prepared to kill those who ran from me. I’d been prepared to tear apart the entire kingdom. Would I have done that? Saion’s Cove was full of innocent people. Surely, I would’ve stopped before it got to that point.

I was lying to myself.

I’d believed that Casteel had been gravely injured, if not killed. I wouldn’t have stopped. Not until I’d sated that need for vengeance. And I had no idea what it would’ve taken for that to happen.

The air I breathed turned sour, and it was an effort to file that realization away to stress over later. “What did you do to him? To the others?”

“I did nothing.”

“Bullshit,” I snapped.

“I fired no arrows. I wasn’t even there,” he replied. “What they did, was use a toxin derived from the shadowshade—a flower that grows in the most eastern regions of the Mountains of Nyktos. It causes convulsions and paralysis before hardening the skin. Quite painful before they enter into the deep sleep. The Prince will take a bit longer than normal to awaken from what I hear. A few days. So, I imagine tomorrow, perhaps?”

A…a few days? Tomorrow? “How long have I been out?”

“Two days. Maybe three.”

Good gods.

I didn’t even want to think about the damage done to my head that would have knocked me out for that long. But the others hadn’t been struck as many times as Casteel. Kieran would likely be awake now. So would Jasper. And maybe the other—

“I know what you’re thinking,” the male cut into my thoughts. “That the wolven will feel your call. That they will come for you. No, they won’t. The bones nullify the Primal notam. They also negate any and all abilities, reducing you to what you are at your very core. Mortal.”

Was that why I felt nothing from this man? That wasn’t exactly what I’d wanted to hear. Panic threatened to dig its claws into me once more, but the shadowy form moved closer, stepping into the glow of the torch.

My entire body went rigid at the sight of the man dressed in all black. Every part of me rebelled at what I saw. It didn’t make sense. It was impossible. But I recognized the dark, buzzed hair, the hard-set jaw, and thin lips. Now I knew why his laugh sounded so familiar.

It was the commander of the Royal Guard.

Commander Jansen.

“You’re dead,” I breathed, staring up at him as he drifted between the pillars.

A dark eyebrow rose. “Whatever gave you that impression, Penellaphe?”

“The Ascended discovered that Hawke wasn’t who he said he was shortly after we left.” What Lord Chaney had told me in that carriage resurfaced. “They said the Descenters infiltrated the highest ranks of the Royal Guard.”

“They did, but they didn’t catch me.” One side of Jansen’s lips curved up as he strolled forward, his fingers skating over the side of a coffin.

Confusion swirled through me as I stared up at him. “I…I don’t understand. You’re a Descenter? You support the Prince—?”

“I support Atlantia.” He moved fast, crossing the distance in less time than it took a heart to beat. He knelt so we were at eye-level. “I am no Descenter.”

“Really?” His superspeed sort of gave that away. “Then what are you?”

The tight-lipped smile grew. His features sharpened, narrowed, and then he changed. Shrinking in height and width, the new body drowned in the clothing Jansen had been wearing. His skin became tanner and smoother. In an instant, his hair darkened to black and became longer, his eyes lightening and turning blue.

Within seconds, Beckett knelt before me.

Chapter 4

“Good gods,” I croaked, pressing away from this—this thing before me.

“Did I startle you?” Jansen/Beckett asked in the young wolven’s voice—coming from a face identical to Alastir’s great-nephew.

“You’re…you’re a changeling.”

He nodded.

I couldn’t stop staring at him, my brain unable to reconcile the knowledge that it was Jansen before me and not Beckett. “I…I didn’t know they could make themselves look like other people.”

“Most of the changeling bloodlines that are left are only able to shift into animal form or have…other skills,” he said. “I’m one of the very few who can do it and hold another’s form for long periods of time. Want to know how?”

I really did, but I said nothing.

Lucky for me, he was in a talkative mood. “All I need is something of them on me. A strand of hair is typically enough. The wolven are incredibly easy to replicate.”

No part of me could comprehend how anyone could be easy to replicate. “And would they…know that you’d done this? Taken on their appearance?”

Still smiling with Beckett’s boyish features, Jansen shook his head. “Not usually.”

I couldn’t even begin to process what it would be like to take on another’s identity or how someone could do so without the other’s permission. It felt like a great violation to me, especially if done to trick someone…

Realization swept through me in a wave of fresh anger. “It was you,” I seethed. “Not the real Beckett who led me into the Temple. You.”

“I’ve always known a clever girl lived behind the veil,” he remarked and then shifted once again into the features that belonged to him. It was a feat no less shocking than the time before.

The knowledge that it hadn’t been the young, playful wolven who’d led me into a trap brought forth a decent amount of relief. “How? How did no one know? How had I—?” I cut myself off. When I read his emotions in the Temple, they had felt just like Beckett’s.

“How did you or our Prince not know? Or even Kieran or Jasper? When changelings assume the identity of another, we take on their characteristics to the point where it’s extremely difficult to decipher the truth. Sometimes, it can even become hard for us to remember who we truly are.” A troubled look crept across his features but vanished so quickly that I wasn’t sure I’d seen it. “Of course, our Prince knew I was a changeling. As do many others. But, obviously, no one expected such a manipulation. No one was even looking for one.”

“Is Beckett okay?”

Jansen looked away. “He should have been. He was given a sleeping draft. That was the plan. For him to sleep long enough for me to take his place.”

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