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CHAPTER

35

Two days passed. Every moment of it was a balancing act of truth and lies. Rhys saw to it that I was not invited to the meetings he and Amren held to distract my kind host, granting me time to scour the city for any hint of the Book.

But not too eagerly; not too intently. I could not look too intrigued as I wandered the streets and docks, could not ask too many leading questions of the people I encountered about the treasures and legends of Adriata. Even when I awoke at dawn, I made myself wait until a reasonable hour before setting out into the city, made myself take an extended bath to secretly practice that water-magic. And while crafting water-animals grew tedious after an hour … it came to me easily. Perhaps because of my proximity to Tarquin, perhaps because of whatever affinity for water was already in my blood, my soul—though I certainly was in no position to ask.

Once breakfast had finally been served and consumed, I made sure to look a bit bored and aimless when I finally strode through the shining halls of the palace on my way out into the awakening city.

Hardly anyone recognized me as I casually examined shops and houses and bridges for any glimmer of a spell that felt like Tarquin, though I doubted they had reason to. It had been the High Fae—the nobility—that had been kept Under the Mountain. These people had been left here … to be tormented.

Scars littered the buildings, the streets, from what had been done in retaliation for their rebellion: burn marks, gouged bits of stone, entire buildings turned to rubble. The back of the castle, as Tarquin had claimed, was indeed in the middle of being repaired. Three turrets were half shattered, the tan stone charred and crumbling. No sign of the Book. Workers toiled there—and throughout the city—to fix those broken areas.

Just as the people I saw—High Fae and faeries with scales and gills and long, spindly webbed fingers—all seemed to be slowly healing. There were scars and missing limbs on more than I could count. But in their eyes … in their eyes, light gleamed.

I had saved them, too.

Freed them from whatever horrors had occurred during those five decades.

I had done a terrible thing to save them … but I had saved them.

And it would never be enough to atone, but … I did not feel quite so heavy, despite not finding a glimmer of the Book’s presence, when I returned to the palace atop the hill on the third night to await Rhysand’s report on the day’s meetings—and learn if he’d managed to discover anything, too.

As I strode up the steps of the palace, cursing myself for remaining so out of shape even with Cassian’s lessons, I spied Amren perched on the ledge of a turret balcony, cleaning her nails.

Varian leaned against the threshold of another tower balcony within jumping range—and I wondered if he was debating if he could clear the distance fast enough to push her off.

A cat playing with a dog—that’s what it was. Amren was practically washing herself, silently daring him to get close enough to sniff. I doubted Varian would like her claws.

Unless that was why he hounded her day and night.

I shook my head, continuing up the steps—watching as the tide swept out.

The sunset-stained sky caught on the water and tidal muck. A little night breeze whispered past, and I leaned into it, letting it cool the sweat on me. There had once been a time when I’d dreaded the end of summer, had prayed it would hold out for as long as possible. Now the thought of endless warmth and sun made me … bored. Restless.

I was about to turn back to the stairs when I beheld the bit of land that had been revealed near the tidal causeway. The small building.

No wonder I hadn’t seen it, as I’d never been up this high in the day when the tide was out … And during the rest of the day, from the muck and seaweed now gleaming on it, it would have been utterly covered.

Even now, it was half submerged. But I couldn’t tear my eyes from it.

Like it was a little piece of home, wet and miserable-looking as it was, and I need only hurry along the muddy causeway between the quieter part of the city and the mainland—fast, fast, fast, so I might catch it before it vanished beneath the waves again.

But the site was too visible, and from the distance, I couldn’t definitively tell if it was the Book contained within.

We’d have to be absolutely certain before we went in—to warrant the risks in searching. Absolutely certain.

I wished I didn’t, but I realized I already had a plan for that, too.

We dined with Tarquin, Cresseida, and Varian in their family dining room—a sure sign that the High Lord did indeed want that alliance, ambition or no.

Varian was studying Amren as if he was trying to solve a riddle she’d posed to him, and she paid him no heed whatsoever as she debated with Cresseida about the various translations of some ancient text. I’d been leading up to my question, telling Tarquin of the things I’d seen in his city that day—the fresh fish I’d bought for myself on the docks.

“You ate it right there,” Tarquin said, lifting his brows.

Rhys had propped his head on a fist as I said, “They fried it with the other fishermen’s lunches. Didn’t charge me extra for it.”

Tarquin let out an impressed laugh. “I can’t say I’ve ever done that—sailor or no.”

“You should,” I said, meaning every word. “It was delicious.”

I’d worn the necklace he’d given me, and Nuala and I planned my clothes around it. We’d decided on gray—a soft, dove shade—to show off the glittering black. I had worn nothing else—no earrings, no bracelets, no rings. Tarquin had seemed pleased by it, even though Varian had choked when he beheld me in an heirloom of his household. Cresseida, surprisingly, had told me it suited me and it didn’t fit in here, anyway. A backhanded compliment—but praise enough.

“Well, maybe I’ll go tomorrow. If you’ll join me.”

I grinned at Tarquin—aware of every one I offered him, now that Rhys had mentioned it. Beyond his giving me brief, nightly updates on their lack of progress with discovering anything about the Book, we hadn’t really spoken since that evening I’d filled his glass—though it had been because of our own full days, not awkwardness.

“I’d like that,” I said. “Perhaps we could go for a walk in the morning down the causeway when the tide is out. There’s that little building along the way—it looks fascinating.”

Cresseida stopped speaking, but I went on, sipping from my wine. “I figure since I’ve seen most of the city now, I could see it on my way to visit some of the mainland, too.”

Tarquin’s glance at Cresseida was all the confirmation I needed.

That stone building indeed guarded what we sought.

“It’s a temple ruin,” Tarquin said blandly—the lie smooth as silk. “Just mud and seaweed at this point. We’ve been meaning to repair it for years.”

“Maybe we’ll take the bridge then. I’ve had enough of mud for a while.”

Remember that I saved you, that I fought the Middengard Wyrm—forget the threat …

Tarquin’s eyes held mine—for a moment too long.

In the span of a blink, I hurled my silent, hidden power toward him, a spear aimed toward his mind, those wary eyes.

There was a shield in place—a shield of sea glass and coral and the undulating sea.

I became that sea, became the whisper of waves against stone, the glimmer of sunlight on a gull’s white wings. I became him—became that mental shield.

And then I was through it, a clear, dark tether showing me the way back should I need it. I let instinct, no doubt granted from Rhys, guide me forward. To what I needed to see.

Tarquin’s thoughts hit me like pebbles. Why does she ask about the temple? Of all the things to bring up … Around me, they continued eating. I continued eating. I willed my own face, in a different body, a different world, to smile pleasantly.

Why did they want to come here so badly? Why ask about my trove?

Like lapping waves, I sent my thoughts washing over his.

She is harmless. She is kind, and sad, and broken. You saw her with your people—you saw how she treated them. How she treats you. Amarantha did not break that kindness.

I poured my thoughts into him, tinting them with brine and the cries of terns—wrapping them in the essence that was Tarquin, the essence he’d given to me.

Take her to the mainland tomorrow. That’ll keep her from asking about the temple. She saved Prythian. She is your friend.

My thoughts settled in him like a stone dropped into a pool. And as the wariness faded in his eyes, I knew my work was done.

I hauled myself back, back, back, slipping through that ocean-and-pearl wall, reeling inward until my body was a cage around me.

Tarquin smiled. “We’ll meet after breakfast. Unless Rhysand wants me for more meetings.” Neither Cresseida nor Varian so much as glanced at him. Had Rhys taken care of their own suspicions?

Lightning shot through my blood, even as my blood chilled to realize what I’d done—

Rhys waved a lazy hand. “By all means, Tarquin, spend the day with my lady.”

My lady. I ignored the two words. But I shut out my own marveling at what I’d accomplished, the slow-building horror at the invisible violation Tarquin would never know about.

I leaned forward, bracing my bare forearms on the cool wood table. “Tell me what there is to see on the mainland,” I asked Tarquin, and steered him away from the temple on the tidal causeway.

Rhys and Amren waited until the household lights dimmed before coming into my room.

I’d been sitting in bed, counting down the minutes, forming my plan. None of the guest rooms looked out on the causeway—as if they wanted no one to notice it.

Rhys arrived first, leaning against the closed door. “What a fast learner you are. It takes most daemati years to master that sort of infiltration.”

My nails bit into my palms. “You knew—that I did it?” Speaking the words aloud felt too much, too … real.

A shallow nod. “And what expert work you did, using the essence of him to trick his shields, to get past them … Clever lady.”

“He’ll never forgive me,” I breathed.

“He’ll never know.” Rhys angled his head, silky dark hair sliding over his brow. “You get used to it. The sense that you’re crossing a boundary, that you’re violating them. For what it’s worth, I didn’t particularly enjoy convincing Varian and Cresseida to find other matters more interesting.”

I dropped my gaze to the pale marble floor.

“If you hadn’t taken care of Tarquin,” he went on, “the odds are we’d be knee-deep in shit right now.”

“It was my fault, anyway—I was the one who asked about the temple. I was only cleaning up my own mess.” I shook my head. “It doesn’t feel right.”

“It never does. Or it shouldn’t. Far too many daemati lose that sense. But here—tonight … the benefits outweighed the costs.”

“Is that also what you told yourself when you went into my mind? What was the benefit then?”

Rhys pushed off the door, crossing to where I sat on the bed. “There are parts of your mind I left undisturbed, things that belong solely to you, and always will. And as for the rest … ” His jaw clenched. “You scared the shit out of me for a long while, Feyre. Checking in that way … I couldn’t very well stroll into the Spring Court and ask how you were doing, could I?” Light footsteps sounded in the hall—Amren. Rhys held my gaze though as he said, “I’ll explain the rest some other time.”

The door opened. “It seems like a stupid place to hide a book,” Amren said by way of greeting as she entered, plopping onto the bed.

“And the last place one would look,” Rhys said, prowling away from me to take a seat on the vanity stool before the window. “They could spell it easily enough against wet and decay. A place only visible for brief moments throughout the day—when the land around it is exposed for all to see? You could not ask for a better place. We have the eyes of thousands watching us.”

“So how do we get in?” I said.

“It’s likely warded against winnowing,” Rhys said, bracing his forearms on his thighs. “I won’t risk tripping any alarms by trying. So we go in at night, the old-fashioned way. I can carry you both, then keep watch,” he added when I lifted my brows.

“Such gallantry,” Amren said, “to do the easy part, then leave us helpless females to dig through mud and seaweed.”

“Someone needs to be circling high enough to see anyone approaching—or sounding the alarm. And masking you from sight.”

I frowned. “The locks respond to his touch; let’s hope they respond to mine.”

Amren said, “When do we move?”

“Tomorrow night,” I said. “We note the guard’s rotations tonight at low tide—figure out where the watchers are. Who we might need to take out before we make our move.”

“You think like an Illyrian,” Rhys murmured.

“I believe that’s supposed to be a compliment,” Amren confided.

Rhys snorted, and shadows gathered around him as he loosened his grip on his power. “Nuala and Cerridwen are already on the move inside the castle. I’ll take to the skies. The two of you should go for a midnight walk—considering how hot it is.” Then he was gone with a rustle of invisible wings and a warm, dark breeze.

Amren’s lips were bloodred in the moonlight. I knew who would have the task of taking out any spying eyes—and wind up with a meal. My mouth dried out a bit. “Care for a stroll?”

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