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The Crown of Gilded Bones: Chapter 41

The King of Gods stood before us, dressed in a white tunic that he wore over loose black pants.

He was also barefoot.

I didn’t know why I focused on that, but I did.

It was also why I was a little behind everyone else who had already lowered themselves to one knee, placing a hand over their hearts and their palms to the ground.

Poppy,” Casteel whispered, his head bowed.

I dropped so fast I nearly face-planted. The sharp ridges of the diamonds dug into my knee, but I barely felt them as I placed my right hand over my heart and my left palm to the rocky surface. Hot breath stirred the wisps of hair at the back of my neck, sending a bolt of unease down my spine. A rough, chuffing sound followed, reminding me an awful lot of laughter.

“Interesting,” came a voice so laden with power and authority that it pressed upon my skull. “You’ve awakened Nektas and still breathe. That can only mean one thing. My blood kneels before me.”

Silence echoed around me as I lifted my head. There were several feet between the god and me, but his silver-eyed stare pierced straight through me. “It is I.”

“That I know,” he answered. “I saw you in my sleep, kneeling beside the one you kneel behind now.”

“It was when we married,” Casteel spoke, his head still bowed.

“And I gave you two my blessing,” Nyktos added. “Yet, you dare to enter Iliseeum and wake me. What a way to show your gratitude. Should I kill all of you before I learn why, or do I even care enough to discover the reasons?”

 It could’ve been everything I’d experienced in my life that’d led to this moment. It could’ve been the bitter fear that punched through Casteel—fear for me and not him. It could’ve been my fear for him and my friends. It was probably all those things that drove me to my feet and loosened my tongue. “How about you don’t kill any of us, considering you’ve been asleep for eons, and we came here seeking your aid?”

The King of Gods came down a step. “How about I just kill you?”

Casteel moved so fast, I barely saw him do so until he was standing in front of me, using his body as a shield. “She means no disrespect.”

“But she has disrespected me.”

My stomach twisted as Kieran’s fingers dug into the diamonds. I knew that not even the wolven would protect me in this situation. I may represent the deities to them, but Nyktos was the god that gave them mortal form. “I’m sorry,” I said, attempting to step to the side, but Casteel moved, too, keeping me behind him.

“Then should I kill him?” Nyktos suggested, and terror turned my blood to ice. “I have a feeling that would serve as a better lesson than your death. I’m sure you’d mind your manners then.”

Real fear for Casteel seized me, reaching deep inside and sinking its vicious claws into my chest. Nyktos could do it with a thought, and that knowledge severed whatever self-control I had. Heat rolled through me, turning the ice to slush in my blood. Anger flooded every part of my body, and it felt as potent as the power in the god’s voice. “No.”

Casteel stiffened.

“No?” the King of Gods repeated.

Fury and resolve mingled with the hum in my chest. Eather throbbed throughout my body, and this time, when I side-stepped Casteel, he wasn’t fast enough to block me.

I stood in front of him, hands at my sides and feet spread wide. Silvery-white light crackled over my skin, and I knew I couldn’t stop Nyktos. If he wanted us dead, we would die, but that didn’t mean I would stand by. I would die a thousand deaths before I allowed that. I would—

Without warning, an image flashed in my mind. The silver-haired woman standing before another as the stars fell from the sky, her hands balled into fists. Her words came from my lips, “I will not let you harm him or any of my friends.”

Nyktos’s head tilted to the side as his eyes widened slightly. “Interesting,” he murmured, his gaze flicking over me. “Now I understand why sleep has been so hard lately—why we dream so intensely.” A brief pause. “And you do not need anyone to stand before you in defense.”

His statement shook me enough that the eather fizzled out.

“Though,” he continued, his gaze sliding to where Casteel stood, “it’s admirable of you to do so. I see that my approval of the union was not a mistake.”

The breath that left me was one of ragged relief, but then Nyktos turned away. He started walking up the stairs. Where was he going? I stepped forward, and the god stopped, looking over his shoulder. “You wanted to speak. Come. But only you. No one else can enter, or they will die.”

Heart thundering, I twisted toward Casteel. His features were sharp as crystal-bright eyes locked with mine. A desperate sense of helplessness echoed throughout him. He didn’t want me to enter that Temple, but he knew I had to. “Do not get yourself killed,” he ordered. “I will be very angry if you do.”

“I won’t,” I promised. At least, I hoped I didn’t. The draken named Nektas made that gravelly chuckling sound again. “I love you.”

“Prove it to me later.”

Drawing in a shallow breath, I nodded and then turned, following the King of Gods. He stood before the open doors, extending a hand toward the shadowy interior. Hoping I walked back out, I entered.

“Make sure they behave, Nektas,” the god requested.

I turned to see Casteel and the others rise while the draken thumped its tail off the diamond-strewn ground. The doors closed without sound, and I was suddenly alone with the King of Gods. Whatever idiotic bravery had invaded me earlier quickly vanished as Nyktos said nothing and simply stared at me. I did what I hadn’t allowed since I first saw him. I opened my senses, letting them stretch—

“I wouldn’t do that.”

I sucked in a startled breath.

“It would be very unwise.” Nyktos dipped his chin. His eyes burned a bright silver. “And very impolite.”

Air tightened in my throat as I wrangled my senses back in. My gaze quickly flicked around, looking for another exit without turning my back to him. There was nothing but black walls and sconces. But who was I kidding? I knew running would do no good.

Nyktos moved then, striding forward. I tensed, and a smile appeared. “Minding your manners now?”

“Yes,” I whispered.

He chuckled, and the sound…it was like the wind on a warm day. “Bravery is a fleeting beast, isn’t it? Always there to get you into trouble, but quick to disappear once you’re where you want to be.”

No truer words had ever been spoken.

The scent of sandalwood brushed over me as he passed. I turned, finally seeing the rest of the chamber. Two large doors were closed. Winding shadowstone staircases rose on either side.

“Sit,” he offered, gesturing to the two white chairs in the center of the chamber. A round table sat between them—a table made of bone. On top sat a bottle and two glasses.

My brow furrowed as I tore my gaze from the table and the chairs to the god. “You were expecting us.”

“No.” He sat in the chair and reached for the bottle. “I was expecting you.”

I stood there. “Then we didn’t wake you.”

“Oh, you woke me quite some time ago,” he replied, pouring what looked like red wine into a delicate, stemmed glass. “I wasn’t sure exactly why, but I’m beginning to understand.”

My thoughts spun. “Then why did you threaten to kill us?”

“Let’s make one thing clear, Queen of Flesh and Fire,” he said, and a shudder worked its way through me as he looked over at me. “I do not threaten death. I make death happen. I was simply curious to see what you and your chosen were made of.” He smiled slightly, pouring wine into the other glass. “Sit.”

I forced my legs to move. My boots made no sound as I walked across the floor. I sat stiffly as I told myself not to ask any of the thousand questions brewing. It was best that I get to the point and then get the hell out of there as fast as possible.

That was not what happened.

“Are any other gods awake? Your Consort?” I blurted out.

An eyebrow rose as he placed the bottle back on the table. “You know the answer to that. You saw one yourself.”

My breath caught. Aios had appeared while we’d been in the Skotos Mountains, stopping me from what would’ve been a very messy death.

“Some have stirred enough to be aware of the realm outside of others. Others have remained in a semi-lucid state. A few are still in the deepest sleep,” he answered. “My Consort sleeps now, but she does so fitfully.”

“How long have you been awake? The others?”

“Hard to say.” He slid the glass toward me. “It’s been on and off for centuries, but more frequent in the last two decades.”

I didn’t touch the glass. “And you know what has happened in Atlantia? Solis?”

“I am the King of Gods.” He leaned back, crossing a leg over the other. The repose and everything about him was relaxed. It rattled me because there was a thread of intensity under the looseness. “What do you think?”

My lips parted in disbelief. “Then you know about the Ascended—what they’ve done to people. To mortals. Your children. How have you not intervened? Why haven’t any of the gods stepped in to do something to stop them?” The moment my demands left my mouth, my entire body seized with dread. He was most certainly going to kill me now, shared blood or not.

But he smiled. “You are so much like her.” He laughed. “She will be thrilled to learn this.”

My shoulders tightened. “Who?”

“Do you know that most of the gods who sleep now were not the first gods?” Nyktos asked instead of answering, sipping his wine. “There were others known as the Primal. They were the ones who created the air we breathe, the land we reap, the seas that surround us, the realms and all in between.”

“No, I didn’t know that,” I admitted, thinking of what Jansen had said about Nyktos once being the God of Death and the Primal God of Common Men and Endings.

“Most do not. They were once great rulers and protectors of man. That did not last. Much like with the children of those who sleep now, they became tainted and twisted, corrupt and uncontrollable,” he told me, his gaze moving to his drink. “If you knew what they had become, the kind of wrath and evil they spread upon the lands and man, you would be haunted till the end of your days. We had to stop them. We did.” That one eyebrow, his right one, rose again. “But not before we ended the mortal lands as those who survived remembered, sending them into the Dark Ages that it took centuries and centuries for them to claw out of. I bet you didn’t know that either.”

I shook my head.

“You wouldn’t. The history of all that was before has been destroyed. Only a handful of structures survived,” he stated, swishing the red liquid in his glass. “Unthinkable sacrifices were made to ensure that their sickness could never infect the world again, but obviously, mortals were rightfully wary of the gods. We entered into a blood treaty with them, one that ensured that only gods born within the mortal realm could retain their powers there.” Quicksilver eyes lifted to mine once more. “None of the gods can enter the mortal realm without weakening greatly…and resorting to what is forbidden to ensure their strength. That is why we have not intervened. That is why my Consort sleeps fitfully, Poppy.”

I jerked at the sound of my nickname. All of that sounded like a reasonable explanation for why they hadn’t become involved, but something stood out to me. “How…how is a god born in the mortal realm?”

“Good question.” He smiled behind his wine glass. “They should not be.”

I frowned.

His smile kicked up a notch.

And then it occurred to me—what he had said about only a few Primal gods being among those who slept now. If what Jansen had claimed was true, and Nyktos was already a god before he became this… “Are you a Primal?”

“I am.” He stared at me. “And that means you have Primal blood in you. That is what fuels that bravery of yours. That is why you are so powerful.”

I took a drink then, swallowing a mouthful of the sweet wine. “Does that mean my mother could’ve been mortal?”

“Your mother could’ve been from any blood, and you would be who you are today, regardless. Unexpected, but…welcomed nonetheless,” he said, and before I had a chance to even process what that could mean, what that could signify, he continued. “But that’s not what you came to talk to me about, is it? And I bet you have a lot of questions.” One side of his lips tipped up as a somewhat…fond look crept into his otherwise cold features. “Is your brother who you want him to be? Is the mother who you remember yours?” His eyes drilled into mine as goosebumps spread across my skin. “Are your dreams a reality or your imagination? Who truly killed the ones you called Mother and Father? But you don’t have long to ask those questions. You have time for only one. These lands are not meant for your friends, nor your lover. If they stay much longer, they will not be able to leave.”

I stiffened. “None of us has entered Dalos.”

“It doesn’t matter. You came to ask for my aid? There is nothing I can do for you.”

“I don’t need your aid,” I clarified, placing my glass on the table. Gods knew how many questions I wanted to ask about Ian, about my parents and the memories, but this trip wasn’t about me. It was about those waiting outside and all those I had yet to meet. “I need the aid of your guards.”

Nyktos’s brow rose. “You know who my guards are.”

“Now I do,” I mumbled under my breath. His head tilted, and I cleared my throat. “You’re aware of what the Ascended are doing, right? They’re using Atlantians to make more of them, and they’re feeding upon innocent mortals. We need to stop them. I’ve learned that the Ascended have created something that I was told only your guards can help us stop. Something called a Revenant.”

The change that swept over the god was instant and final. The façade of ease vanished. Streaks of white bled across his irises, luminous and crackling. Everything about him hardened, and every instinct in me went on high-alert.

“What?” I ventured. “Do you know what the Revenants are?”

A muscle ticked in his jaw. “An abomination of life and of death.” He stood abruptly, eyes settling to a pearly shade of steel. “What you face is a greater evil that should not be, and I…I am sorry that you will see what is to come.”

Well, that didn’t bode well at all.

 “You need to leave, Queen.” The doors behind me swung open.

I stood. “But your guards—”

“You were born of flesh with the fire of the gods in your blood. You are a Bringer of Life and a Bringer of Death,” Nyktos interrupted. “You are the Queen of Flesh and Fire, due more than one Crown, one kingdom. What you seek, you already have. You always had the power in you.”


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