The Captive Kingdom (Ascendance 4) - Page 72


A heavy silence followed, when all I could hear was my heart slamming against my chest. “Do not say it.”

“Conner set his plan in motion to find a false prince because he believed war was coming. He killed your parents and then began searching for someone he could put on the throne — anyone the people would accept as you. He sent Darius here, out of harm’s way. We know he planned to take control of the throne through the false prince. What if he planned to eventually dispose of the false prince, then bring Darius back to the throne?” She drew in a slow breath. “Jaron, the night that Conner sent Trea away, I only heard his last words to her: ‘my son.’”

“No, Imogen.”

“I believe that Darius’s father is Bevin Conner.”

I sat with Imogen’s suggestion for several minutes, unable to speak, or really, to fully absorb the weight of the consequences if she was right.

There were many things I owed to Conner. Because of him, I had returned to the throne and claimed my identity again. Because of him, I had Imogen in my life, and Mott and Tobias, and Roden. I was still alive thanks to him, for near the end of the war, he had sacrificed himself to save me.

Yet for all that, I could never forget the fact that he had killed my parents, and Latamer, and committed any number of other crimes in his quest for power and control. Despite the good that he had brought into my life, it was always clear in my mind that he was a villain and that his fate was what he had deserved.

Was he also Darius’s father?

Imogen and I said little more about that possibility, even as the afternoon sun made our cell uncomfortably warm. I told her about my lost sword, listened to her thoughts, and asked her forgiveness once again for putting her in so much jeopardy.

Eventually, I reclined against the wall with Imogen in my arms, letting thoughts flow through my mind like drifting waves. Some crashed harder against my conscience than others, but nothing could make them stop.

I was almost grateful for the interruption when the door to our prison cell opened, long enough for one of the Prozarian vigils to call down to me, “Prepare yourself, if you can. Your trial will begin in fifteen minutes.”

The instant he left, I turned to Imogen. “You need to leave.”

Her head tilted. “You have a way out?”

With a sly grin, I withdrew the key to the cell door from my jerkin. That had been the reason for crashing into Mercy so clumsily. Perhaps I had sacrificed my pride to cling to him in such a pathetic way, but that’s how long it had taken me to get the key from his pocket.

I pointed deeper within this underground room, which significantly narrowed beyond this cell. “Hide there, as far into the shadows as you can get.”

“That’s hardly an escape.”

“It will be.” I opened the cell door, then kissed her before nodding in the direction I wanted her to go. “Hurry, Imogen. They’ll be back any moment.”

“You’re not coming?”

“I have to be at that trial.”

She threw out her arms. “Why would you do that? You know how it will end!”

“No, I don’t know. If I can still change things with Darius, I have to try.”

“Didn’t you hear anything I said to you?”

“I heard all of it. That’s why I have to help him now, and I won’t be able to do that if I escape with you. Will you try to find everyone you can, and gather them together where it’s safe? I’m going to force the Prozarians to surrender, and we need everyone’s help.”

She bit her lip and looked as though there was something more she wanted to say, but instead she nodded and ducked into the shadows.

Just in time too, for no sooner did she slip behind an outcrop of rock than the door at the other end of the room opened again. Lump entered, pausing at the entrance as though bracing himself for my insults. When none came, he began, “It is time for —” He stopped and walked the rest of the way down the stairs. “Where’s the girl?”

I looked around me. “I see no one here but you and me.”

“There was a girl, I saw her.”

“Oh, her. Yes, well, she already escaped.”

“How?”

I lifted Mercy’s keys. “These.”


Tags: Jennifer A. Nielsen Ascendance Fantasy
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