فصل 10

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CHAPTER

10

Brannagh ran her fingers through Ianthe’s golden hair, clicking her tongue at the bloodied pulp cradled in her lap. “Going somewhere, Feyre?”

I let my mask drop.

“I have places to be,” I told the Hybern royals, noting the flanking positions they were too casually establishing around me.

“What could be more important than assisting us? You are, after all, sworn to assist our king.”

Time—biding their time until Tamlin returned from hunting with Jurian.

Lucien shoved off the tree, but didn’t come to my side. Something like agony flickered across his face as he finally noted the stolen bandolier, the pack on my shoulders.

“I have no allegiance to you,” I told Brannagh, even as Dagdan began to edge past my line of sight. “I am a free person, allowed to go where and when I will it.”

“Are you?” Brannagh mused, sliding a hand to her sword at her hip. I pivoted slightly to keep Dagdan from slipping into my blind spot. “Such careful plotting these weeks, such skilled maneuvering. You didn’t seem to worry that we’d be doing the same.”

They weren’t letting Lucien leave this clearing alive. Or at least with his mind intact.

He seemed to realize it at the same moment I did, understanding that there was no way they’d reveal this without knowing they’d get away with it.

“Take the Spring Court,” I said, and meant it. “It’s going to fall one way or another.”

Lucien snarled. I ignored him.

“Oh, we intend to,” Brannagh said, sword inching free of its dark sheath. “But then there’s the matter of you.”

I thumbed free two of the Illyrian fighting knives.

“Haven’t you wondered at the headaches? How things seem a little muffled on certain mental bonds?”

My powers had tired so swiftly, had become weaker and weaker these weeks—

Dagdan snorted and finally observed to his sister, “I’d give her about ten minutes before the apple sets in.”

Brannagh chuckled, toeing the blue stone shackle. “We gave the priestess the powder at first. Crushed faebane stone, ground so fine you couldn’t see or scent or taste it in your food. She’d add a little at a time, nothing suspicious—not too much, lest it stifle all your powers at once.”

Unease began to clench my gut.

“We’ve been daemati for a thousand years, girl,” Dagdan sneered. “But we didn’t even need to slip into her mind to get her to do our bidding. But you … what a valiant effort you put up, trying to shield them all from us.”

Dagdan’s mind speared for Lucien’s, a dark arrow shot between them. I slammed up a shield between them. And my head—my very bones ached—

“What apple,” I bit out.

“The one you shoved down your throat an hour ago,” Brannagh said. “Grown and tended in the king’s personal garden, fed a steady diet of water laced with faebane. Enough to knock out your powers for a few days straight, no shackles required. And here you are, thinking no one had noticed you planned to vanish today.” She clicked her tongue again. “Our uncle would be most displeased if we allowed that to happen.”

I was running out of borrowed time. I could winnow, but then I’d abandon Lucien to them if he somehow couldn’t manage to himself with the faebane in his system from the food at the camp—

Leave him. I should and could leave him.

But to a fate perhaps worse than death—

His russet eye gleamed. “Go.”

I made my choice.

I exploded into night and smoke and shadow.

And even a thousand years wasn’t enough for Dagdan to adequately prepare as I winnowed in front of him and struck.

I sliced through the front of his leather armor, not deep enough to kill, and as steel snagged on its plates, he twisted expertly, forcing me to either expose my right side or lose the knife—

I winnowed again. This time, Dagdan went with me.

I was not fighting Hybern cronies unaware in the woods. I was not fighting the Attor and its ilk in the streets of Velaris. Dagdan was a Hybern prince—a commander.

He fought like one.

Winnow. Strike. Winnow. Strike.

We were a black whirlwind of steel and shadow through the clearing, and months of Cassian’s brutal training clicked into place as I kept my feet under me.

I had the vague sense of Lucien gaping, even Brannagh taken aback by my show of skill against her brother.

But Dagdan’s blows weren’t hard—no, they were precise and swift, but he didn’t throw himself into it wholly.

Buying time. Wearing me down until my body fully absorbed that apple and its power rendered me nearly mortal.

So I hit him where he was weakest.

Brannagh screamed as a wall of flame slammed into her.

Dagdan lost his focus for all of a heartbeat. His roar as I sliced deep into his abdomen shook the birds from the trees.

“You little bitch,” he spat, dancing back from my next blow as the fire cleared and Brannagh was revealed on her knees. Her physical shield had been sloppy—she’d expected me to attack her mind.

She was shuddering, gasping with agony. The reek of charred skin now drifted to us, directly from her right arm, her ribs, her thigh.

Dagdan lunged for me again, and I brought up both of my knives to meet his blade.

He didn’t pull the blow this time.

I felt its reverberation in every inch of my body.

Felt the rising, stifling silence, too. I’d felt it once before—that day in Hybern.

Brannagh surged to her feet with a sharp cry.

But Lucien was there.

Her focus wholly on me, on taking from me the beauty I’d burned from her, Brannagh did not see him winnow until it was too late.

Until Lucien’s sword refracted the light of the sun leaking through the canopy. And then met flesh and bone.

A tremor shuddered through the clearing—like some thread between the twins had been snipped as Brannagh’s dark head thudded onto the grass.

Dagdan screamed, launching himself at Lucien, winnowing across the fifteen feet between us.

Lucien had barely heaved his blade out of Brannagh’s severed neck when Dagdan was before him, sword shoving forward to ram through his throat.

Lucien only had enough time to stumble back from Dagdan’s killing blow.

I had enough time to stop it.

I parried Dagdan’s blade aside with one knife, the male’s eyes going wide as I winnowed between them—and punched the other into his eye. Right into the skull behind it.

Bone and blood and soft tissue scraped and slid along the blade, Dagdan’s mouth still open with surprise as I yanked out the knife.

I let him fall atop his sister, the thud of flesh on flesh the only sound.

I merely looked at Ianthe, my power guttering, a hideous ache building in my gut, and made my last command, amending my earlier ones. “You tell them I killed them. In self-defense. After they hurt me so badly while you and Tamlin did nothing. Even when they torture you for the truth, you say that I fled after I killed them—to save this court from their horrors.”

Blank, vacant eyes were my only answer.

“Feyre.”

Lucien’s voice was a hoarse rasp.

I merely wiped my two knives on Dagdan’s back before going to reclaim my fallen pack.

“You’re going back. To the Night Court.”

I shouldered my heavy pack and finally looked at him. “Yes.”

His tan face had paled. But he surveyed Ianthe, the two dead royals. “I’m going with you.”

“No,” was all I said, heading for the trees.

A cramp formed deep in my belly. I had to get away—had to use the last of my power to winnow to the hills.

“You won’t make it without magic,” he warned me.

I just gritted my teeth against the sharp pain in my abdomen as I rallied my strength to winnow to those distant foothills. But Lucien gripped my arm, halting me.

“I’m going with you,” he said again, face splattered with blood as bright as his hair. “I’m getting my mate back.”

There was no time for this argument. For the truth and debate and the answers I saw he desperately wanted.

Tamlin and the others would have heard the shouting by now.

“Don’t make me regret this,” I told him.

Blood coated the inside of my mouth by the time we reached the foothills hours later.

I was panting, my head throbbing, my stomach a twisting knot of aching.

Lucien was barely better off, his winnowing as shaky as my own before we halted amongst the rolling green and he doubled over, hands braced on his knees. “It’s—gone,” he said, gasping for breath. “My magic—not an ember. They must have dosed all of us today.”

And given me a poisoned apple just to make sure it kept me down.

My power pulled away from me like a wave reeling back from the shore. Only there was no return. It just went farther and farther out into a sea of nothing.

I peered at the sun, now a hand’s width above the horizon, shadows already thick and heavy between the hills. I took my bearings, sorting through the knowledge I’d compiled these weeks.

I stepped northward, swaying. Lucien gripped my arm. “You’re taking a door?”

I slid aching eyes toward him. “Yes.” The caves—doors, they called them—in those hollows led to other pockets of Prythian. I’d taken one straight Under the Mountain. I would now take one to get me home. Or as close to it as I could get. No door to the Night Court existed, here or anywhere.

And I would not risk my friends by bringing them here to retrieve me. No matter that the bond between Rhys and me … I couldn’t so much as feel it.

A numbness had spread through me. I needed to get out—now.

“The Autumn Court portal is that way.” Warning and reproach.

“I can’t go into Summer. They’ll kill me on sight.”

Silence. He released my arm. I swallowed, my throat so dry I could barely do so. “The only other door here leads Under the Mountain. We sealed off all the other entrances. If we go there, we could wind up trapped—or have to return.”

“Then we go to Autumn. And from there …” I trailed off before I finished. Home. But Lucien gleaned it anyway. And seemed to realize then—that’s what the Night Court was. Home.

I could almost see the word in his russet eye as he shook his head. Later.

I gave him a silent nod. Yes—later, we’d have it all out. “The Autumn Court will be as dangerous as Summer,” he warned.

“I just need somewhere to hide—to lie low until … until we can winnow again.”

A faint buzzing and ringing filled my ears. And I felt my magic vanish entirely.

“I know a place,” Lucien said, walking toward the cave that would take us to his home.

To the lands of the family who’d betrayed him as badly as this court had betrayed mine.

We hurried through the hills, swift and silent as shadows.

The cave to the Autumn Court had been left unguarded. Lucien looked at me over his shoulder as if to ask if I, too, had been responsible for the lack of guards who were always stationed here.

I gave him another nod. I’d slid into their minds before we’d left, making sure this door would be left open. Cassian had taught me to always have a second escape route. Always.

Lucien paused before the swirling gloom of the cave mouth, the blackness like a wyrm poised to devour us both. A muscle feathered in his jaw.

I said, “Stay, if you want. What’s done is done.”

For Hybern was coming—already here. I had debated it for weeks: whether it was better to claim the Spring Court for ourselves, or to let it fall to our enemies.

But it could not remain neutral—a barrier between our forces in the North and the humans in the South. It would have been easy to call in Rhys and Cassian, to have the latter bring in an Illyrian legion to claim the territory when it was weakest after my own maneuverings. Depending on how much mobility Cassian had retained—if he was still healing.

Yet then we’d hold one territory—with five other courts between us. Sympathy might have swayed for the Spring Court; others might have joined Hybern against us, considering our conquest here proof of our wickedness. But if Spring fell to Hybern … We could rally the other courts to us. Charge as one from the North, drawing Hybern in close.

“You were right,” Lucien declared at last. “That girl I knew did die Under the Mountain.”

I wasn’t sure if it was an insult. But I nodded all the same. “At least we can agree on that.” I stepped into the awaiting cold and dark.

Lucien fell into step beside me as we strode beneath the archway of carved, crude stone, our blades out as we left behind the warmth and green of eternal spring.

And in the distance, so faint I thought I might have imagined it, a beast’s roar cleaved the land.

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