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The Crown of Gilded Bones: Chapter 10

“I know a lot has happened,” Casteel said, gently catching a strand of my hair and tucking it behind my ear. “And I know things are confusing as fuck right now, but do you think you can tell me what happened? I know some things,” he told me. “I was able to get some information out of Alastir and the others by using compulsion, but it’s not like it’s a truth serum or I can force them into telling me everything. I have to be exact in what I ask, and I was mostly concerned about finding you and who else could be involved. So, I want to hear it from you. I think that is the only way we can begin to figure out what has happened here, tackling everything one step at a time.”

Dragging my gaze from my hands, I looked over at him. “I can tell you.”

He smiled at me as he touched my cheek. “You okay with me bringing Kieran in? He will need to hear this information.”

I nodded.

Casteel kissed where his fingers had touched seconds before and then rose, walking to the door as my gaze returned to my hands. Only a handful of moments passed before Kieran slipped back into the room. I peeked at him, tentatively reaching out with my senses as he stared at me and approached the bed. I didn’t know what I expected to feel from him, but all I felt was the heaviness of concern and a freshness that reminded me of spring air. Relief.

Kieran knelt in front of me as Casteel returned to sit beside me. “How are you feeling?”

“Okay, and a little confused,” I admitted. “I have a lot of questions.”

One side of the wolven’s lips tipped up. “I’m so shocked,” he murmured, pale eyes gleaming with amusement.

“I’m sorry for trying to eat you.” I felt my cheeks warm.

Kieran smiled then. “It’s okay.”

“Told you he wouldn’t hold it against you,” Casteel said.

 “Wouldn’t be the first time a hungry Atlantian tried to eat me,” Kieran said, and my brows lifted. I now had more questions, but a memory surged through me.

When I woke, I’d been too lost to the bloodlust to realize that I hadn’t been covered in blood. And I should’ve been. There had been so much blood from the wound. “You cleaned me, didn’t you? You wiped away the blood.”

“It didn’t feel right letting either of you lay in your blood,” he said with a shrug as if the act was nothing. “I didn’t want either of you seeing that when you woke up.”

Emotion clogged my throat as I stared at Kieran. I reacted without much thought, pitching forward. I didn’t know if he sensed what I was about to do or if he was worried that I was about to attempt to rip his throat out again, but he caught me without falling over, even though he did wobble a bit. He folded his arms around me without a heartbeat of hesitation, holding me just as tightly as I held him. I felt Casteel’s hand on my lower back, just under Kieran’s arms, and the three of us stayed like that for a little while. “Thank you,” I whispered.

“You don’t need to thank me for that.” He dragged a hand up to the back of my head and leaned away enough that his gaze met mine. “It was the least I could do.”

“But that wasn’t all you did,” Casteel said, reaching over and clasping a hand on the wolven’s shoulder. “You made sure we got here safely and kept watch. You did everything we needed and more. I owe you.”

Kieran lifted his hand from the back of my head and clasped Casteel’s forearm as his pale gaze met my husband’s amber one. “I did all that I could,” he reiterated.

Seeing them together caused another swell of emotion. I remembered what had been said in the Chambers of Nyktos about the bonds breaking. An ache started up in my chest as I disentangled myself from Kieran and glanced between them. “Is the bond really broken?” I asked. “Between you two?”

Casteel stared at Kieran, and a long moment passed. “It is.”

The ache in my chest grew. “What does that mean? Really?”

Kieran glanced at me. “That conversation can wait—”

“The conversation can happen now.” I crossed my arms. “Alastir and Jansen said some stuff while I was in the crypts,” I told them, inwardly cringing as I felt twin bursts of anger against my skin. “I don’t know how much of it was true, but neither really explained how me being a descendant of a deity….” I sucked in a sharp breath as I thought of who Alastir had claimed was part of my heritage. Did Casteel already know that? “I don’t understand how that supersedes something that has been around for ages. I’m not a deity.”

“I don’t think we know what you are exactly,” Casteel stated.

“I’m not a deity,” I protested.

“The fact that you are here and not a vampry means that nothing is off the table,” Kieran added. I was so taking that off the table. “But either way, you are a descendant of the gods. You are the only living one. You have—”

“If I hear I have the blood of a god inside me one more time, I might scream,” I warned.

“Okay, then.” Kieran scratched his face as he rose and then sat on the other side of me. There was a faint days-worth of scruff on his jaw. “Because of the blood you carry, the kiyou were given mortal form. Not to serve the elemental bloodlines, but to serve the children of the gods. If the deities hadn’t…” He trailed off with a shake of his head. “When the gods gave the kiyou mortal form, we were bonded to them and their children on an instinctual level that is passed down generation after generation. And that instinctive bond recognizes you.”

I understood what he was saying on a technical level, but fundamentally, it was utterly insane to me. “That’s just… I’m just Poppy, blood of the gods or not—”

“You’re not just Poppy, and that has nothing to do with you not becoming a vampry,” Casteel placed a hand on my shoulder. “And I mean it, Princess. I can’t say for sure that you’re not some sort of deity. What I saw you do? What I’ve seen and heard that you have done? You’re unlike any of us, and I still can’t believe I didn’t put it together when I first saw that light around you.”

“How did you not know?” I looked up at Kieran. “If my blood really is that potent, how did no wolven know what I was?”

“I think we did, Poppy,” Kieran answered. “But just like Casteel, we didn’t connect what we were seeing or feeling when we were around you.”

Understanding crept into me. “That’s why you said I smelled like something dead—”

“I said you smelled of death,” Kieran corrected with a sigh. “Not that you smelled like something dead. Death is power, the old kind.”

“Death is power?” I repeated, not entirely sure at first how that made sense. But then it occurred to me. “Death and life are two sides of the same coin. Nyktos is…”

“He’s the God of Life and Death.” Kieran’s gaze flicked to Casteel. “And this explains why you thought her blood tasted old.”

“Ancient,” Casteel murmured, and I started to frown. “Her blood tastes ancient.”

I really didn’t want them to continue discussing what my blood tasted like. “Delano thought he heard me calling him when I was imprisoned in that room in New Haven—”

“For your safety,” Casteel tacked on.

I ignored his comment, still annoyed at being kept in that room. “I was feeling rather…emotional at the time. Is that what the summoning thing is? Were you reacting to my emotions?”

Kieran nodded. “In a way, yes. It’s similar to the bond we have with the Atlantians. Extreme emotion was often an alert that the one we were bonded to was threatened. We could sense that emotion.”

I thought about that. “There were shocks of static whenever some wolven touched me,” I murmured. The signs had been there, but like Casteel’s mother had said, why would anyone suspect this when the last of the deities had died out ages ago? It seemed to have even confused Alastir—the extent of my…powers. But how could I not have other amazing abilities if I was indeed a descendant of the King of Gods?

Well, killing people by turning their emotions back on them would probably count as an amazing ability—a scary one—but why couldn’t I morph into something like a dragon?

That would be incredible.

“Am I really descended from Nyktos? Alastir said I was, but since Nyktos is the father of the gods—”

“That is the figure of speech,” Casteel corrected. “Nyktos isn’t the actual father of the gods. He is the King of them. Alastir spoke the truth, or at least he spoke what he believed to be true,” he said, his jaw hardening.

I exhaled heavily. “Why could I even do what I did in the Chambers? What changed? The Culling?” I asked, referencing the process the Atlantians went through when they no longer aged like mortals and began to develop heightened senses, along with undergoing numerous physical changes. It was why Casteel believed that the Ascended had waited until now to have me go through my Ascension. My blood would be of more use to them now, capable of making more Ascended.

Had the Ascended known about the blood I carried? Had Queen Ileana known the entire time? Alastir had been in contact with the Ascended. I believed that. Would my blood even work now that I had…?

I had nearly died.

And maybe I had a little. I remembered floating toward a silvery light, without body or thought. And I knew if I made my way to it, not even Casteel would be able to reach me.

“I think so,” Casteel said as the warmth of his body pressed against my side, drawing me from my thoughts. “I think being on Atlantian land combined with the blood I’ve given you played a role in strengthening the blood in you.”

“And I guess what happened at the Chambers of Nyktos just tipped it all over the edge?” I leaned into Casteel. “Waking this…thing up inside me?”

“What is in you is not a thing, Poppy.” Casteel looked down at me. “It is a power. Magic. It is the eather waking up inside you, becoming a part of you.”

“I’m not sure that makes me feel any better.”

A lopsided grin appeared. “It would if you stopped thinking of your ancestry as a thing. But considering everything that has happened, you really haven’t had any time to come to terms with any of this.”

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.”

“Then you saw the deities chained there, left to die?” Their fate still made me sick to my stomach. “I was kept with them. I don’t know for how long. A couple of days? Alastir and Jansen said that the deities had become dangerous.” I told them the story, repeating what Jansen and Alastir had told me about the children of the gods. “They said that I too would be dangerous. That I was a threat to Atlantia, and that was why they were…doing what they were. Were the deities really that violent?”

Kieran’s gaze touched Casteel’s over my head as he said, “The deities were gone by the time we were born.”

“But?” I persisted.

“But I’ve heard they could be prone to acts of anger and violence. They could be unpredictable,” Casteel stated carefully, and I tensed. “They weren’t always like that, though. And not all of them were. But it had nothing to do with their blood. It was their age.”

I frowned. “What do you mean?”

Casteel exhaled heavily. “You think an Atlantian’s lifespan is unthinkable, but a deity is like a god. They are immortal. Instead of living two and three thousand years, they lived double and triple that,” he said, and my heart stuttered. “Living that long would make anyone apathetic or bored, impatient and intolerant. They…simply grew too old and became cold.”

“Cold? Like the Ascended?”

“In a way, yes,” he said. “It’s why the gods went to sleep. It was the only way they could keep some sense of empathy and compassion. The deities never chose to do that.”

“So even if that were to happen to you,” Kieran began, drawing my gaze to his, “you would have thousands of years before it came time to take a very nice, long nap.”

I started to frown, but what Kieran said slammed into me with the speed and weight of an out-of-control carriage. My heart started racing as I stared at him first and then turned to Casteel. A tingling sensation swept over my skin as my mouth tried. “Am I…am I immortal now?”


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