The ​Crown of Gilded Bones

Page 75

The child’s lashes were dark against cheeks absent of color. I could barely feel her pain anymore, and I knew that was a bad sign. For that kind of pain to ease so quickly and totally, things were grave. Atlantians, even those of the elemental line, were basically mortal until they entered the Culling. Any number of injuries that could fatally harm a mortal could do the same to them.

The mother’s gaze landed on me. “Can you help her?” she whispered, shuddering. “Can you? Please?”

Heart thumping and skin vibrating, I neared them. “I will.”

At least I thought I could. I had healed Beckett’s broken bones. I had no idea if that would happen now, but I knew I could pump as much warmth and happiness into her as I could. I feared that was all I could do. I worried the Healer had been right, and this child had moved beyond anyone’s ability. I just prayed that my touch didn’t manifest in the same way as it had in the Temple.

Casteel walked ahead, crouching beside the parents. He placed a hand on the woman’s shoulder as I lowered myself while Kieran had gone still, all except for the rise and fall of his chest. His nostrils flared as Delano whimpered, sinking onto his haunches at the child’s feet.

Casteel’s gaze met mine, and I saw it there—the welling grief. “Poppy…”

“I can try,” I insisted, kneeling across from the mother. The stone was hard under my knees as I tried not to notice how the child’s head hung so limply, how it didn’t seem shaped right. I started to reach for the girl, but the mother’s arms tensed around her. “You can still hold her,” I said gently. “You don’t have to let her go.”

The woman stared at me in a way that made me unsure if she understood me, but then she nodded.

“I just need to touch her,” I told her, feeling their shock, their uncertainty, and even the anger I thought had come from the Healer. I shut them out as I focused on the child—the too-pale child. “That’s all. I won’t hurt her. I promise.”

The mother didn’t say anything, but she didn’t move as I lifted my hands again. Inhaling deeply, I kept my attention on the child as I opened my senses wide. I felt…I felt nothing from the girl. Unease trickled through me. She could be deeply unconscious, slipping where pain couldn’t follow, but what I saw on the carriage wheel and the way her head appeared caved-in…

I had only ever healed wounds and bones, and only recently. Nothing like this.

I could still try.

Curving a hand around her arm, I swallowed hard at the stillness of her skin. That was the only way I could describe the feel of her flesh. I suppressed a shudder and let instinct guide me. Gently, I placed my other hand on her forehead. My palms warmed, and a tingling sensation spread down my arms and across my fingers. The child didn’t move. Her eyes remained closed. Becket had responded almost immediately when I touched him, but there was nothing from her. My throat thickened as I looked at her chest. Either her breathing was too shallow or she didn’t breathe—hadn’t been breathing. A slice of pain cut through my chest.

“Poppy,” Cas whispered. A moment later, I felt his hand on my shoulder.

I didn’t let myself feel what he was experiencing. “Just a few more seconds,” I said, my gaze returning to the child’s face, to the blue pallor of her lips.

“Oh, gods,” the father moaned, rocking backward. “Please. Help her.”

One of the wolven brushed against my back as desperation swelled.

“This is unnecessary,” the Healer stated. “That child has already gone into the Vale. You are doing nothing but giving them false hope, and I must say something—”

Casteel’s head lifted, but I was faster. My chin jerked over my shoulder as my gaze met the Healer’s. Static danced over my skin.

“I don’t give up so quickly,” I said, feeling the heat in my skin flare. “I will still try.”

Whatever the Healer saw in my face—in my eyes—he shrank back from, stumbling a step as he pressed a hand to his chest. I honestly didn’t care as I turned back to the child, exhaling roughly.

It couldn’t be too late for this child because that wouldn’t be fair, and I didn’t care how unfair life could be. The girl was far too young for this to be it for her—for her life to be over, all because she’d run out into the road.

Tamping down my rising panic, I ordered myself to focus. To think about the mechanics. When I healed Beckett, I hadn’t had to think about much. It just happened. Maybe this was different. She was injured far more seriously. I just needed to try harder.

I had to try harder.

My skin continued vibrating, and my chest hummed like a hundred birds taking flight inside me. Sharp inhales echoed around me as a faint silver glow emanated from my hands.

“Good gods,” someone rasped. The sound of boots sliding over pebbles and dirt sounded.

Closing my eyes, I searched for memories—good ones. It didn’t take me as long as it had before. Immediately, I recalled how I felt kneeling in the sandy dirt beside Casteel as he slipped the ring on my finger. My entire being had been wrapped in the taste of chocolate and berries, and I could feel that now. The corners of my lips turned up, and I held onto that feeling, taking that pulsing joy and happiness and picturing it as a bright light that funneled through my touch to the child, wrapping around her like a blanket. All the while, I repeated over and over that it wasn’t too late, that she would live. It’s not too late. She will live. It’s not too late. She will live—

The child jerked. Or the mother did. I didn’t know. My eyes flew open, and my heart stuttered. The silver light had spread, settling over the child in a fine, shimmery web that blanketed her entire body. I could only see patches of her skin underneath—her pink skin.

“Momma,” came the soft, weak voice from under the light, and then stronger, “Momma.”

Gasping, I drew my hands back. The silvery light twinkled like a thousand stars before fading away. The little girl, her skin pink, and her eyes open, was sitting up, reaching for her mother.

Stunned, I leaned back as my gaze swept to Casteel. He was staring at me, golden eyes filled with wonder. “I…” He swallowed thickly. “You…you are a goddess.”

“No.” I folded my hands against my legs. “I’m not.”

Sunlight glanced off his cheek as he tipped forward, bracing his weight on the hand he’d placed on the ground. He leaned in, brushing his nose across mine as he cupped my cheek. “To me, you are.” He kissed me softly, scattering what was left of my senses. “To them, you are.”

Chapter 23

To them?

I pulled back, my gaze locking with Casteel’s. He nodded, and I rose on shaky legs, looking over the now-silent garden. My gaze crept over slender, crystal wind chimes that hung from delicate branches, and yellow and white coneflowers as tall as me. My lips parted on a soft inhale. Nearly a dozen people had gathered inside the garden—not including the wolven. All of them had lowered to one knee, their heads bowed. I turned to where Kieran had stood.

My breath caught. He too kneeled. I stared at his bent head and then lifted my gaze to see that the Healer, who hadn’t believed I could help, who had been angry that I was giving the parents false hope, had bowed, as well, one hand flat to his chest and the other against the ground. Beyond him and the iron fence, those who had been in the streets no longer stood. They kneeled, too, their hands pressed to their breasts and their palms against the ground.

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