فصل 47

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CHAPTER

47

If I wanted to escape, I could either face the stream or face them. But Lucien …

His red hair was tied back, and there wasn’t a hint of finery on him: just armored leather, swords, knives … His metal eye roamed over me, his golden skin pale. “We’ve been hunting for you for over two months,” he breathed, now scanning the woods, the stream, the sky.

Rhys. Cauldron save me. Rhys was too far back, and—

“How did you find me?” My steady, cold voice wasn’t one I recognized. But—hunting for me. As if I were indeed prey.

If Tamlin was here … My blood went icier than the freezing rain now sluicing down my face, into my clothes.

“Someone tipped us off you’d been out here, but it was luck that we caught your scent on the wind, and—” Lucien took a step toward me.

I stepped back. Only three feet between me and the stream.

Lucien’s eye widened slightly. “We need to get out of here. Tamlin’s been—he hasn’t been himself. I’ll take you right to—”

“No,” I breathed.

The word rasped through the rain, the stream, the pine forest.

The four sentinels glanced between each other, then to the arrow I kept aimed.

Lucien took me in again.

And I could see what he was now gleaning: the Illyrian fighting leathers. The color and fullness that had returned to my face, my body.

And the silent steel of my eyes.

“Feyre,” he said, holding out a hand. “Let’s go home.”

I didn’t move. “That stopped being my home the day you let him lock me up inside of it.”

Lucien’s mouth tightened. “It was a mistake. We all made mistakes. He’s sorry—more sorry than you realize. So am I.” He stepped toward me, and I backed up another few inches.

Not much space remained between me and the gushing waters below.

Cassian’s training crashed into me, as if all the lessons he’d been drilling into me each morning were a net that caught me as I free-fell into my rising panic. Once Lucien touched me, he’d winnow us out. Not far—he wasn’t that powerful—but he was fast. He’d jump miles away, then farther, and farther, until Rhys couldn’t reach me. He knew Rhys was here.

“Feyre,” Lucien pleaded, and dared another step, his hand outraised.

My arrow angled toward him, my bowstring groaning.

I’d never realized that while Lucien had been trained as a warrior, Cassian, Azriel, Mor, and Rhys were Warriors. Cassian could wipe Lucien off the face of the earth in a single blow.

“Put the arrow down,” Lucien murmured, like he was soothing a wild animal.

Behind him, the four sentinels closed in. Herding me.

The High Lord’s pet and possession.

“Don’t,” I breathed. “Touch. Me.”

“You don’t understand the mess we’re in, Feyre. We—I need you home. Now.”

I didn’t want to hear it. Peering at the stream below, I calculated my odds.

The look cost me. Lucien lunged, hand out. One touch, that was all it’d take—

I was not the High Lord’s pet any longer.

And maybe the world should learn that I did indeed have fangs.

Lucien’s finger grazed the sleeve of my leather jacket.

And I became smoke and ash and night.

The world stilled and bent, and there was Lucien, lunging so slowly for what was now blank space as I stepped around him, as I hurtled for the trees behind the sentinels.

I stopped, and time resumed its natural flow. Lucien staggered, catching himself before he went over the cliff—and whirled, eye wide to discover me now standing behind his sentinels. Bron and Hart flinched and backed away. From me.

And from Rhysand at my side.

Lucien froze. I made my face a mirror of ice; the unfeeling twin to the cruel amusement on Rhysand’s features as he picked at a fleck of lint on his dark tunic.

Dark, elegant clothes—no wings, no fighting leathers.

The unruffled, fine clothes … Another weapon. To hide just how skilled and powerful he was; to hide where he came from and what he loved. A weapon worth the cost of the magic he’d used to hide it—even if it put us at risk of being tracked.

“Little Lucien,” Rhys purred. “Didn’t the Lady of the Autumn Court ever tell you that when a woman says no, she means it?”

“Prick,” Lucien snarled, storming past his sentinels, but not daring to touch his weapons. “You filthy, whoring prick.”

I loosed a growl.

Lucien’s eyes sliced to me and he said with quiet horror, “What have you done, Feyre?”

“Don’t come looking for me again,” I said with equal softness.

“He’ll never stop looking for you; never stop waiting for you to come home.”

The words hit me in the gut—like they were meant to. It must have shown in my face because Lucien pressed, “What did he do to you? Did he take your mind and—”

“Enough,” Rhys said, angling his head with that casual grace. “Feyre and I are busy. Go back to your lands before I send your heads as a reminder to my old friend about what happens when Spring Court flunkies set foot in my territory.”

The freezing rain slid down the neck of my clothes, down my back. Lucien’s face was deathly pale. “You made your point, Feyre—now come home.”

“I’m not a child playing games,” I said through my teeth. That’s how they’d seen me: in need of coddling, explaining, defending …

“Careful, Lucien,” Rhysand drawled. “Or Feyre darling will send you back in pieces, too.”

“We are not your enemies, Feyre,” Lucien pleaded. “Things got bad, Ianthe got out of hand, but it doesn’t mean you give up—”

“You gave up,” I breathed.

I felt even Rhys go still.

“You gave up on me,” I said a bit more loudly. “You were my friend. And you picked him—picked obeying him, even when you saw what his orders and his rules did to me. Even when you saw me wasting away day by day.”

“You have no idea how volatile those first few months were,” Lucien snapped. “We needed to present a unified, obedient front, and I was supposed to be the example to which all others in our court were held.”

“You saw what was happening to me. But you were too afraid of him to truly do anything about it.”

It was fear. Lucien had pushed Tamlin, but to a point. He’d always yielded at the end.

“I begged you,” I said, the words sharp and breathless. “I begged you so many times to help me, to get me out of the house, even for an hour. And you left me alone, or shoved me into a room with Ianthe, or told me to stick it out.”

Lucien said too quietly, “And I suppose the Night Court is so much better?”

I remembered—remembered what I was supposed to know, to have experienced. What Lucien and the others could never know, not even if it meant forfeiting my own life.

And I would. To keep Velaris safe, to keep Mor and Amren and Cassian and Azriel and … Rhys safe.

I said to Lucien, low and quiet and as vicious as the talons that formed at the tips of my fingers, as vicious as the wondrous weight between my shoulder blades, “When you spend so long trapped in darkness, Lucien, you find that the darkness begins to stare back.”

A pulse of surprise, of wicked delight against my mental shields, at the dark, membranous wings I knew were now poking over my shoulders. Every icy kiss of rain sent jolts of cold through me. Sensitive—so sensitive, these Illryian wings.

Lucien backed up a step. “What did you do to yourself?”

I gave him a little smile. “The human girl you knew died Under the Mountain. I have no interest in spending immortality as a High Lord’s pet.”

Lucien started shaking his head. “Feyre—”

“Tell Tamlin,” I said, choking on his name, on the thought of what he’d done to Rhys, to his family, “if he sends anyone else into these lands, I will hunt each and every one of you down. And I will demonstrate exactly what the darkness taught me.”

There was something like genuine pain on his face.

I didn’t care. I just watched him, unyielding and cold and dark. The creature I might one day have become if I had stayed at the Spring Court, if I had remained broken for decades, centuries … until I learned to quietly direct those shards of pain outward, learned to savor the pain of others.

Lucien nodded to his sentinels. Bron and Hart, wide-eyed and shaking, vanished with the other two.

Lucien lingered for a moment, nothing but air and rain between us. He said softly to Rhysand, “You’re dead. You, and your entire cursed court.”

Then he was gone. I stared at the empty space where he’d been, waiting, waiting, not letting that expression off my face until a warm, strong finger traced a line down the edge of my right wing.

It felt like—like having my ear breathed into.

I shuddered, arching as a gasp came out of me.

And then Rhys was in front of me, scanning my face, the wings behind me. “How?”

“Shape-shifting,” I managed to say, watching the rain slide down his golden-tan face. And it was distracting enough that the talons, the wings, the rippling darkness faded, and I was left light and cold in my own skin.

Shape-shifting … at the sight of part of the history, the male I had not really let myself remember. Shape-shifting—a gift from Tamlin that I had not wanted, or needed … until now.

Rhys’s eyes softened. “That was a very convincing performance.”

“I gave him what he wanted to see,” I murmured. “We should find another spot.”

He nodded, and his tunic and pants vanished, replaced by those familiar fighting leathers, the wings, the sword. My warrior—

Not my anything.

“Are you all right?” he said as he scooped me into his arms to fly us to another location.

I nestled into his warmth, savoring it. “The fact that it was so easy, that I felt so little, upsets me more than the encounter itself.”

Perhaps that had been my problem all along. Why I hadn’t dared take that final step at Starfall. I was guilty that I didn’t feel awful, not truly. Not for wanting him.

A few mighty flaps had us soaring up through the trees and sailing low over the forest, rain slicing into my face.

“I knew things were bad,” Rhysand said with quiet rage, barely audible over the freezing bite of the wind and rain, “but I thought Lucien, at least, would have stepped in.”

“I thought so, too,” I said, my voice smaller than I intended.

He squeezed me gently, and I blinked at him through the rain. For once, his eyes were on me, not the landscape below. “You look good with wings,” he said, and kissed my brow.

Even the rain stopped feeling so cold.

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