فصل 53

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CHAPTER

53

Mor stayed overnight, even going so far as to paint some rudimentary stick figures on the wall beside the storeroom door. Three females with absurdly long, flowing hair that all resembled hers; and three winged males, who she somehow managed to make look puffed up on their own sense of importance. I laughed every time I saw it.

She left after breakfast, having to walk out to where the no-winnowing shield ended, and I waved to her distant, shivering figure before she vanished into nothing.

I stared across the glittering white expanse, thawed enough that bald patches peppered it—revealing bits of winter-white grass reaching toward the blue sky and mountains. I knew summer had to eventually reach even this melting dreamland, for I’d found fishing poles and sporting equipment that suggested warm-weather usage, but it was hard to imagine snow and ice becoming soft grass and wildflowers.

Brief as a glimmering spindrift, I saw myself there: running through the meadow that slumbered beneath the thin crust of snow, splashing through the little streams already littering the floor, feasting on fat summer berries as the sun set over the mountains …

And then I would go home to Velaris, where I would finally walk through the artists’ quarter, and enter those shops and galleries and learn what they knew, and maybe—maybe one day—I would open my own shop. Not to sell my work, but to teach others.

Maybe teach the others who were like me: broken in places and trying to fight it—trying to learn who they were around the dark and pain. And I would go home at the end of every day exhausted but content—fulfilled.

Happy.

I’d go home every day to the town house, to my friends, chock full of stories of their own days, and we’d sit around that table and eat together.

And Rhysand …

Rhysand …

He would be there. He’d give me the money to open my own shop; and because I wouldn’t charge anyone, I’d sell my paintings to pay him back. Because I would pay him back, mate or no.

And he’d be here during the summer, flying over the meadow, chasing me across the little streams and up the sloped, grassy mountainside. He would sit with me under the stars, feeding me fat summer berries. And he would be at that table in the town house, roaring with laughter—never again cold and cruel and solemn. Never again anyone’s slave or whore.

And at night … At night we’d go upstairs together, and he would whisper stories of his adventures, and I’d whisper about my day, and …

And there it was.

A future.

The future I saw for myself, bright as the sunrise over the Sidra.

A direction, and a goal, and an invitation to see what else immortality might offer me. It did not seem so listless, so empty, anymore.

And I would fight until my last breath to attain it—to defend it.

So I knew what I had to do.

Five days passed, and I painted every room in the cottage. Mor had winnowed in extra paint before she’d left, along with more food than I could possibly eat.

But after five days, I was sick of my own thoughts for company—sick of waiting, sick of the thawing, dripping snow.

Thankfully, Mor returned that night, banging on the door, thunderous and impatient.

I’d taken a bath an hour before, scrubbing off paint in places I hadn’t even known it was possible to smear it, and my hair was still drying as I flung open the door to the blast of cool air.

But Mor wasn’t leaning against the threshold.

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