Home > The ​Crown of Gilded Bones (Blood and Ash #3)(9)

The ​Crown of Gilded Bones (Blood and Ash #3)(9)
Author: Jennifer L. Armentrout

“Malec?” I guessed.

Alastir nodded. “But a lot of people were wrong. I was wrong. He was the worst of them all.”

Tensing, I watched him come forward and lower himself to the stone floor before me. He sat with a heavy sigh, resting an arm on a bent knee as he studied me. “Not many people knew what Malec was capable of. What his godly powers were like. When he used them, he left very few witnesses behind. But I knew what he could do. Queen Eloana knew. King Valyn did.” His cool blue eyes met mine. “His abilities were a lot like yours.”

I sucked in a short breath. “No.”

“He could sense emotion, like the empath bloodline. It was believed that their line branched off from the one that birthed Malec, having mingled with a changeling line. Some believe that was why the gods favored the empaths. That they had more eather in them than most,” he continued.

“Malec could heal wounds with his touch, but he rarely did it because he was not only descended from the God of Life, he was also a descendant of the God of Death. Nyktos. The King of Gods is both. And Malec’s abilities had a dark side. He could take emotion and turn it back on others, like the empaths. But he could do so much more.”

There was no way.

“He could send his will into others, breaking and shattering their bodies without touch. He could become death.” Alastir held my gaze as I shook my head. “I like you. I know you may not believe that, and I understand if you don’t. But I am sorry because I know that Casteel cares for you deeply. I didn’t in the beginning, but I know now that your relationship is real. This will hurt him. But that is the blood you carry in you, Penellaphe. You are descended from Nyktos. You carry the blood of King Malec inside you,” he said, watching me. “I belong to a long line of people who swore an oath to protect Atlantia and her secrets. That was why I was willing to break my bond with Malec. And it is why I cannot allow you to do what he almost succeeded in.”

It was hard for me to fully comprehend that I carried any godly blood in me. Obviously, I couldn’t deny that I wasn’t just half-Atlantian and half-mortal. One of mixed heritage couldn’t do what I had done. Not even an elemental Atlantian was capable of that. But someone descended from Nyktos? From King Malec?

The deity who had created the very first Ascended? His actions had led to thousands of deaths, if not more.

That was in my blood?

I couldn’t believe what Alastir was saying. It sounded as impossible as what Duchess Teerman had claimed about the Queen of Solis being my grandmother. That was impossible. The Ascended couldn’t bear children.

“How could I descend from Malec?” I asked, even if it sounded impossible.

“Malec had many mistresses, Penellaphe. Some were mortal. Some weren’t,” he told me. “And he had children with some of them—offspring who spread across the kingdom, settling in areas far west from here. It is not at all impossible. There are many others like you—those who never reached the age of the Culling. You are his descendant.”

“Others who never reached….” I trailed off, a whole new horror beginning to take shape in my mind. Good gods, were Alastir and Jansen—and who knew how many others—responsible for the deaths of…of children over the course of the centuries?

“But it’s not just the bloodline, Penellaphe. We were warned about you long ago. It was written in the bones of your namesake before the gods went to sleep,” Alastir said. My skin pimpled.

“‘With the last Chosen blood spilled, the great conspirator birthed from the flesh and fire of the Primals will awaken as the Harbinger and the Bringer of Death and Destruction to the lands gifted by the gods. Beware, for the end will come from the west to destroy the east and lay waste to all which lies between.’”

I stared at him in stunned silence.

“You are the Chosen, birthed of the flesh and fire of the gods. And you come from the west, to the lands the gods have gifted,” Alastir conferred. “You are who your namesake warned about.”

“You…you’re doing all of this because of my bloodline and a prophecy?” A harsh laugh rattled from me. There had been old wives’ tales about prophecies and tales of doom in every generation. They were nothing but fables.

“You don’t have to believe me, but I knew—I think I always did.”

He frowned as his eyes narrowed slightly. “I sensed it when I looked into your eyes for the first time. They were old. Primal. I saw death in your eyes, even all those years ago.”

My heart stuttered and then sped up. “What?”

“We met before. You were either too young then to remember or the events of the night were too traumatic,” Alastir said, and every part of me flashed hot and then cold. “I didn’t realize it was you when I saw you for the first time in New Haven. I thought you looked familiar, and it kept nagging at me. Something about your eyes. But it wasn’t until you said your parents’ names that I knew exactly who you were. Coralena and Leopold. Cora and her lion.”

I jolted, feeling as if the floor of the crypt had moved under me. I couldn’t speak.

“I lied to you,” he said softly. “When I said that I would ask to see if any others had known of them or had potentially tried to help them escape to Atlantia, I never planned to ask anyone. I didn’t need to because it was me.”

Heart pounding fast, I snapped out of my stupor. “You were there that night? The night the Craven attacked the inn?”

He nodded as the torches flickered behind him.

A picture of my father formed in my mind, his features hazy as he kept glancing out the window of the inn, looking and searching for something or someone. Later that night, he’d said to someone who lingered in the shadows of my mind, “This is my daughter.”

I couldn’t…I couldn’t breathe as I stared at Alastir. His voice. His laugh. It had always sounded so familiar to me. I’d thought it reminded me of Vikter. I’d been wrong.

“I came to meet them, give them safe passage,” he said, his voice growing weary.

“She doesn’t know,” my father had told that shadow in my memory that I could never fully latch on to. Images flashed rapid-fire behind my eyes, snapshots of memories—recollections I wasn’t sure were real or fragments of nightmares. My father…his smile had been all wrong before he looked over his shoulder. “Understood,” was the phantom voice’s response. Now I knew who that voice had belonged to.

“Your parents should’ve known better than to share what they knew with anyone.” Alastir shook his head again, this time sadly. “And you were right to assume that they were attempting to flee Solis, to get as far away from the kingdom as they could. They were. They knew the truth. But you see, Penellaphe, your mother and father always knew exactly what the Ascended were.”

I jerked back, barely feeling the pain in my wrists and legs. “No.”

“Yes,” he insisted. But there was no way this was the truth. I knew my parents were good people. I remembered that. Good people wouldn’t have stood by, doing nothing, if they knew the truth of the Ascended. Realized what happened when children were given over during the Rite. Good people didn’t stay silent. They were not complicit.

“Your mother was a favorite of the counterfeit Queen, but she was no Lady in Wait destined to Ascend. She was a Handmaiden to the Queen.”

Handmaiden? Something about that struck a chord of familiarity. Out of the churning chaos of my mind, I saw…women who were always with the Queen. Women in black who never spoke and wandered through the halls of the palace like shadows. They…they’d scared me as a child. Yes. I remembered that now. How had I forgotten about them?

“Her Handmaidens were her personal guards.” Alastir’s brows knitted, and the scar on his forehead deepened. “Casteel knows they were a unique sort of nightmare.”

I lifted a hand and froze. Casteel had been held by the Queen for five decades, tortured and used by her and others. He’d been freed before my mother was born, but his brother took his place.

But my mother, my gentle, soft, and helpless mother couldn’t have been like that. If she were one of the Queen’s personal guards, nightmare or not, she would’ve been trained to fight. She would’ve—

She would’ve been able to defend herself.

I didn’t understand. Didn’t know if any of that was true. But I knew what was. “You,” I breathed, my entire being turning numb as I stared at the man I’d befriended. That I’d trusted. “It was you. You betrayed them, didn’t you?”

“It wasn’t me who struck down your father. It wasn’t me who betrayed your mother,” he replied. “But in the end, it doesn’t matter. I would’ve killed them anyway. I would’ve killed you.”

A harsh laugh erupted from me as rage and disbelief twisted my insides. “If it wasn’t you, then who was it? The Craven?”

“There were Craven there that night. You carry their scars. They were led right to the doors of the inn.” He didn’t blink. Not once. “He led them there. The Dark One.”

“Liar!” I shouted. “Casteel had nothing to do with what happened.”

“I never said Casteel did. I know it wasn’t him, even though I never saw the face behind the cloak and hood he wore when he came to that inn,” Alastir replied. “Other things were at play that night. Darkness that moved outside of my influence. I was there to help your parents. That is what I did back then. But when they told me what you could do, I knew—I knew who you came from. So, when the darkness came to those doors, I let it in.”

I didn’t know if I believed him or if it even mattered if my parents had died by his hand or not. He had still played a role in my parents’ deaths, leaving Ian and I and everyone else there to die, as well. Leaving me to be torn apart by claws and teeth. That pain. That night. It had haunted me for my entire life.

A breath shuddered out of him. “I let it in and walked away, believing that the dirtiest part of my duty was done. But you survived, and here we are.”

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