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فصل 46

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Chapter 46

Everything was black, and warm—and thick. Inky, but bordered with gold. I was swimming, kicking for the surface, where Tamlin was waiting, where life was waiting. Up and up, frantic for air. The golden light grew, and the darkness became like sparkling wine, easier to swim through, the bubbles fizzing around me, and— I gasped, air flooding my throat.

I was lying on the cold floor. No pain—no blood, no broken bones. I blinked. A chandelier dangled above me—I’d never noticed how intricate the crystals were, how the hushed gasp of the crowd echoed off them. A crowd—meaning I was still in that throne room, meaning I … I truly wasn’t dead. Meaning I had … I had killed those … I had … The room spun.

I groaned as I braced my hands against the floor, readying myself to stand, but—the sight of my skin stopped me cold. It gleamed with a strange light, and my fingers seemed longer where I’d laid them flat on the marble. I pushed to my feet. I felt—felt strong, and fast and sleek. And— And I’d become High Fae.

I went rigid as I sensed Tamlin standing behind me, smelled that rain and spring meadow scent of him, richer than I’d ever noticed. I couldn’t turn around to look at him—I couldn’t … couldn’t move. A High Fae—immortal. What had they done?

I could hear Tamlin holding his breath—hear as he loosed it. Hear the breathing, the whispering and weeping and quiet celebrating of everyone in that hall, still watching us—watching me—some chanting praise for the glorious power of their High Lords.

“It was the only way we could save you,” Tamlin said softly. But then I looked to the wall, and my hand rose to my throat. I forgot about the stunned crowd entirely.

There, beneath Clare’s decayed body, was Amarantha, her mouth gaping as the sword protruded from her brow. Her throat gone—and blood now soaked the front of her gown.

Amarantha was dead. They were free. I was free. Tamlin was—

Amarantha was dead. And I had killed those two High Fae; I had—

I shook my head slowly. “Are you—” My voice sounded too loud in my ears as I pushed back against that wall of black that threatened to swallow me. Amarantha was dead.

“See for yourself,” he said. I kept my eyes on the ground as I turned. There, on the red marble, lay a golden mask, staring at me with its hollow eyeholes.

“Feyre,” Tamlin said, and he cupped my chin between his fingers, gently lifting my face. I saw that familiar chin first, then the mouth, and then— He was exactly how I dreamed he would be.

He smiled at me, his entire face alight with that quiet joy I had come to love so dearly, and he brushed my hair aside. I savored the feel of his fingers on my skin and raised my own to touch his face, to trace the contours of those high cheekbones and that lovely, straight nose—the clear, broad brow, the slightly arching eyebrows that framed his green eyes.

What I had done to get to this moment, to be standing here … I shoved against the thought again. In a minute, in an hour, in a day, I would think about that, force myself to face it.

I put a hand on Tamlin’s heart, and a steady beat echoed into my bones.

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I sat on the edge of a bed, and while I’d thought being an immortal meant a higher pain threshold and faster healing, I winced a good deal as Tamlin inspected my few remaining wounds, then healed them. We’d scarcely had a moment alone together in the hours that followed Amarantha’s death—that followed what I had done to those two faeries.

But now, in this quiet room … I couldn’t look away from the truth that sounded in my head with each breath.

I’d killed them. Slaughtered them. I hadn’t even seen their bodies being taken away.

For it had been chaos in the throne room in the moments after I’d awakened. The Attor and the nastier faeries had disappeared instantly, along with Lucien’s brothers, which was a clever move, as Lucien wasn’t the only faerie with a score to settle. No sign of Rhysand, either. Some faeries had fled, while others had burst into celebration, and others just stood or paced—eyes distant, faces pale. As if they, too, didn’t quite feel like this was real.

One by one, crowding him, weeping and laughing with joy, the High Fae and faeries of the Spring Court knelt or embraced or kissed Tamlin, thanking him—thanking me. I kept far enough back that I would only nod, because I had no words to offer them in exchange for their gratitude, the gratitude for the faeries I’d butchered to save them.

Then there had been meetings in the frenzied throne room—quick, tense meetings with the High Lords Tamlin was allied with to sort out next steps; then with Lucien and some Spring Court High Fae who introduced themselves as Tamlin’s sentries. But every word, every breath was too loud, every smell too strong, the light too bright. Keeping still throughout it all was easier than moving, than adjusting to the strange, strong body that was now mine. I couldn’t even touch my hair without the slight difference in my fingers jarring me.

On and on, until every newly heightened sense was chafing and raw, and Tamlin at last noticed my dull eyes, my silence, and took my arm. He escorted me through the labyrinth of tunnels and hallways until we found a quiet bedroom in a distant wing of the court.

“Feyre,” Tamlin said now, looking up from inspecting my bare leg. I had been so accustomed to his mask that the handsome face surprised me each time I beheld it.

This—this was what I had murdered those faeries for. Their deaths had not been in vain, and yet … The blood on me had been gone when I’d awoken—as if becoming an immortal, as if surviving, somehow earned me the right to wash their blood off me.

“What is it?” I said. My voice was—quiet. Hollow. I should try—try to sound more cheerful, for him, for what had just happened, but … He gave me that half smile. Had he been human, he might have been in his late twenties. But he wasn’t human—and neither was I.

I wasn’t certain whether that was a happy thought or not.

It was one of my smallest concerns. I should be begging for his forgiveness, begging the families and friends of those faeries for their forgiveness. I should be on my knees, weeping with shame for all that I had done— “Feyre,” he said again, lowering my leg to stand between my knees. He caressed my cheek with a knuckle. “How can I ever repay you for what you did?” “You don’t need to,” I said. Let that be that—let that dark, dank cell fade away, and Amarantha’s face forever disappear from my memory. Even if those two dead faeries—even if their faces would never fade for me. If I could ever bring myself to paint again, I would never be able to stop seeing those faces instead of the colors and light.

Tamlin held my face in his hands, leaning close, but then released me and grasped my left arm—my tattooed arm. His brows narrowed as he studied the markings. “Feyre—” “I don’t want to talk about it,” I mumbled. The bargain I had with Rhysand—another small concern compared to the stain on my soul, the pit inside it. But I didn’t doubt I’d see Rhys again soon.

Tamlin’s fingers traced the marks of my tattoo. “We’ll find a way out of this,” he murmured, and his hand traveled up my arm to rest on my shoulder. He opened his mouth, and I knew what he would say—the subject he would try to broach.

I couldn’t talk about it, about them—not yet. So I breathed “Later” and hooked my feet around his legs, drawing him closer. I placed my hands on his chest, feeling the heart beating beneath. This—I needed this right now. It wouldn’t wash away what I’d done, but … I needed him near, needed to smell and taste him, remind myself that he was real—this was real.

“Later,” he echoed, and leaned down to kiss me.

It was soft, tentative—nothing like the wild, hard kisses we’d shared in the hall of throne room. He brushed his lips against mine again. I didn’t want apologies, didn’t want sympathy or coddling. I gripped the front of his tunic, tugging him closer as I opened my mouth to him.

He let out a low growl, and the sound of it sent a wildfire blazing through me, pooling and burning in my core. I let it burn through that hole in my chest, my soul. Let it raze through the wave of black that was starting to press around me, let it consume the phantom blood I could still feel on my hands. I gave myself to that fire, to him, as his hands roved across me, unbuttoning as he went.

I pulled back, breaking the kiss to look into his face. His eyes were bright—hungry—but his hands had stopped their exploring and rested firmly on my hips. With a predator’s stillness, he waited and watched as I traced the contours of his face, as I kissed every place I touched.

His ragged breathing was the only sound—and his hands soon began roaming across my back and sides, caressing and teasing and baring me to him. When my traveling fingers reached his mouth, he bit down on one, sucking it into his mouth. It didn’t hurt, but the bite was hard enough for me to meet his eyes again. To realize that he was done waiting—and so was I.

He eased me onto the bed, murmuring my name against my neck, the shell of my ear, the tips of my fingers. I urged him—faster, harder. His mouth explored the curve of my breast, the inside of my thigh.

A kiss for each day we’d spent apart, a kiss for every wound and terror, a kiss for the ink etched into my flesh, and for all the days we would be together after this. Days, perhaps, that I no longer deserved. But I gave myself again to that fire, threw myself into it, into him, and let myself burn.

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I was pulled from sleep by something tugging at my middle, a thread deep inside.

I left Tamlin sleeping in the bed, his body heavy with exhaustion. In a few hours, we would be leaving Under the Mountain and returning home, and I didn’t want to wake him sooner than I had to. I prayed I would ever get to sleep that peacefully again.

I knew who summoned me long before I opened the door to the hall and padded down it, stumbling and teetering every now and then as I adjusted to my new body, its new balance and rhythms. I carefully, slowly took a narrow set of stairs upward, up and up, until, to my shock, a trickle of sunlight poured into the stairwell and I found myself on a small balcony jutting out of the side of the mountain.

I hissed against the brightness, shielding my eyes. I’d thought it was the middle of the night—I’d completely lost all sense of time in the darkness of the mountain.

Rhysand chuckled softly from where I could vaguely make him out standing along the stone rail. “I forgot that it’s been a while for you.” My eyes stung from the light, and I remained silent until I could look at the view without a shooting pain going through my head. A land of violet snowcapped mountains greeted me, but the rock of this mountain was brown and bare—not even a blade of grass or a crystal of ice gleamed on it.

I looked at him finally. His membranous wings were out—tucked behind him—but his hands and feet were normal, no talons in sight. “What do you want?” It didn’t come out with the snap I’d intended. Not as I remembered how he’d fought, again and again, to attack Amarantha, to save me.

“Just to say good-bye.” A warm breeze ruffled his hair, brushing tendrils of darkness off his shoulders. “Before your beloved whisks you away forever.” “Not forever,” I said, wiggling my tattooed fingers for him to see. “Don’t you get a week every month?” Those words, thankfully, came out frosty.

Rhys smiled slightly, his wings rustling and then settling. “How could I forget?”

I stared at the nose I’d seen bleeding only hours before, the violet eyes that had been so filled with pain. “Why?” I asked.

He knew what I meant, and shrugged. “Because when the legends get written, I didn’t want to be remembered for standing on the sidelines. I want my future offspring to know that I was there, and that I fought against her at the end, even if I couldn’t do anything useful.” I blinked, this time not at the brightness of the sun.

“Because,” he went on, his eyes locked with mine, “I didn’t want you to fight alone. Or die alone.”

And for a moment, I remembered that faerie who had died in our foyer, and how I’d told Tamlin the same thing. “Thank you,” I said, my throat tight.

Rhys flashed a grin that didn’t quite reach his eyes. “I doubt you’ll be saying that when I take you to the Night Court.” I didn’t bother to reply as I turned toward the view. The mountains went on and on, gleaming and shadowed and vast under the open, clear sky.

But nothing in me stirred—nothing cataloged the light and colors.

“Are you going to fly home?” I said.

A soft laugh. “Unfortunately, it would take longer than I can afford. Another day, I’ll taste the skies again.” I glanced at the wings tucked into his powerful body, and my voice was hoarse as I spoke. “You never told me you loved the wings—or the flying.” No, he’d made his shape-shifting seem … base, useless, boring.

He shrugged. “Everything I love has always had a tendency to be taken from me. I tell very few about the wings. Or the flying.” Some color had already come into that moon-white face—and I wondered whether he might once have been tan before Amarantha had kept him belowground for so long. A High Lord who loved to fly—trapped under a mountain. Shadows not of his own making still haunted those violet eyes. I wondered if they would ever fade.

“How does it feel to be a High Fae?” he asked—a quiet, curious question.

I looked out toward the mountains again, considering. And maybe it was because there was no one else to hear, maybe it was because the shadows in his eyes would also forever be in mine, but I said, “I’m an immortal—who has been mortal. This body …” I looked down at my hand, so clean and shining—a mockery of what I’d done. “This body is different, but this”—I put my hand on my chest, my heart—“this is still human. Maybe it always will be. But it would have been easier to live with it …” My throat welled. “Easier to live with what I did if my heart had changed, too. Maybe I wouldn’t care so much; maybe I could convince myself their deaths weren’t in vain. Maybe immortality will take that away. I can’t tell whether I want it to.” Rhysand stared at me for long enough that I faced him. “Be glad of your human heart, Feyre. Pity those who don’t feel anything at all.” I couldn’t explain about the hole that had already formed in my soul—didn’t want to, so I just nodded.

“Well, good-bye for now,” he said, rolling his neck as if we hadn’t been talking about anything important at all. He bowed at the waist, those wings vanishing entirely, and had begun to fade into the nearest shadow when he went rigid.

His eyes locked on mine, wide and wild, and his nostrils flared. Shock—pure shock flashed across his features at whatever he saw on my face, and he stumbled back a step. Actually stumbled.

“What is—” I began.

He disappeared—simply disappeared, not a shadow in sight—into the crisp air.

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Tamlin and I left the way I’d come in—through that narrow cave in the belly of the mountain. Before departing, the High Fae of several courts destroyed and then sealed Amarantha’s court Under the Mountain. We were the last to leave, and with a wave of Tamlin’s arm, the entrance to the court crumbled behind us.

I still didn’t have the words to ask what they’d done with those two faeries. Maybe someday, maybe soon, I would ask who they were, what their names had been. Amarantha’s body, I’d heard, had been hauled off to be burned—though Jurian’s bone and eye were somehow missing. As much as I wanted to hate her, as much as I wished I could have spat on her burning body … I understood what had driven her—a very small part of her, but I understood it.

Tamlin gripped my hand as we strode through the darkness. Neither of us said anything when a glimmer of sunlight appeared, staining the damp cave walls with a silvery sheen, but our steps quickened as the sunlight grew brighter and the cave warmer, and then both of us emerged onto the spring-green grass that covered the bumps and hollows of his lands. Our lands.

The breeze, the scent of wildflowers hit me, and despite the hole in my chest, the stain on my soul, I couldn’t stop the smile that spread as we mounted a steep hill. My faerie legs were far stronger than my human ones, and when we reached the top of the knoll, I wasn’t nearly as winded as I might once have been. But the breath was knocked from my chest when I beheld the rose-covered manor.

Home.

In all my imaginings in Amarantha’s dungeons, I’d never allowed myself to think of this moment—never allowed myself to dream that outrageously. But I’d made it—I’d brought us both home.

I squeezed his hand as we gazed down at the manor, with its stables and gardens, two sets of childish laughter—true, free laughter—coming from somewhere inside its grounds. A moment later, two small, shining figures darted into the field beyond the garden, shrieking as they were chased by a taller, chuckling figure—Alis and her boys. Safe and out of hiding at last.

Tamlin slipped an arm around my shoulders, tucking me close to him as he rested his cheek on my head. My lips trembled, and I wrapped my arm around his waist.

We stood atop the hill in silence, until the setting sun gilded the house and the hills and the world and Lucien called us to dinner.

I stepped out of Tamlin’s arms and kissed him softly. Tomorrow—there would be tomorrow, and an eternity, to face what I had done, to face what I shredded into pieces inside myself while Under the Mountain. But for now … for today … “Let’s go home,” I said, and took his hand.

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