فصل 22

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CHAPTER

22

I felt Rhys’s attention on me while we dressed the next morning, and throughout our hearty breakfast. Yet he didn’t push, didn’t demand to know what had dragged me into that screaming hell.

It had been a long while since those nightmares had hauled either of us from sleep. Blurred the lines.

It was only when we stood in the foyer, waiting for Cassian before we winnowed to the Prison, that Rhys asked from where he leaned against the stair banister, “Do you need to talk about it?”

My Illyrian leathers groaned as I turned toward him.

Rhys clarified, “With me—or anyone.”

I answered him truthfully, tugging at the end of my braid. “With everything bearing down on us, everything at stake …” I let my braid drop. “I don’t know. I think it’s torn open some … part of me that was slowly repairing.” Repairing thanks to both of us.

He nodded, no fear or reproach in his eyes.

So I told him. All of it. Stumbling over the parts that still made me ill. He only listened.

And when I was done, that shakiness remained, but … Speaking it, voicing it aloud to him …

The savage grip of those terrors lightened. Cleared away like dew in the sun. I freed a long breath, as if blowing those fears from me, letting my body loosen in its wake.

Rhys silently pushed off the banister and kissed me. Once. Twice.

Cassian stalked through the front door a heartbeat later and groaned that it was too early to stomach the sight of us kissing. My mate only snarled at him before he took us both by the hand and winnowed us to the Prison.

Rhys gripped my fingers tighter than usual as the wind ripped around us, Cassian now wisely keeping silent. And as we emerged from that black, tumbling wind, Rhys leaned over to kiss me a third time, sweet and soft, before the gray light and roaring wind greeted us.

Apparently, the Prison was cold and misty no matter the time of year.

Standing at the base of the mossy, rocky mountain under which the Prison was built, Cassian and I frowned up the slope.

Despite the Illyrian leathers, the chill seeped into my bones. I rubbed at my arms, lifting my brows at Rhys, who had remained in his usual attire, so out of place in this damp, windy speck of green in the middle of a gray sea.

The wind ruffled his black hair as he surveyed us, Cassian already sizing up the mountain like some opponent. Twin Illyrian blades were crossed over the general’s muscled back. “When you’re in there,” Rhys said, the words barely audible over the wind and silver streams running down the mountainside, “you won’t be able to reach me.”

“Why?” I rubbed my already-freezing hands together before puffing a hot breath into the cradle of my palms.

“Wards and spells far older than Prythian,” was all Rhys said. He jerked his chin to Cassian. “Don’t let each other out of your sight.”

It was the dead seriousness with which Rhys spoke that kept me from retorting.

Indeed, my mate’s eyes were hard—unflinching. While we were here, he and Azriel were to discuss what he’d found out about Autumn’s leanings in this war. And then adjust their strategy for the meeting with the High Lords. But I could sense it, the urge to request he join us. Watch over us.

“Shout down the bond when you’re out again,” Rhys said with a mildness that didn’t reach his gaze.

Cassian looked back over a shoulder. “Get back to Velaris, you mother hen. We’ll be fine.”

Rhys leveled another uncharacteristically hard stare at him. “Remember who you put in here, Cassian.”

Cassian just tucked in his wings, as if every muscle shifted toward battle. Steady and solid as the mountain we were about to climb.

With a wink at me, Rhys vanished.

Cassian checked the buckles on his swords and motioned me to start the long trek up the hill. My gut tightened at the climb ahead. The shrieking hollowness of this place.

“Who did you put in here?” The mossy earth cushioned my steps.

Cassian put a scar-flecked finger to his lips. “Best left for another time.”

Right. I fell into step beside him, my thighs burning with the steep hike. Mist chilled my face. Conserving his strength—Cassian wasn’t wasting a drop of energy on shielding us from the elements.

“You really think unleashing the Carver will do the trick against Hybern?”

“You’re the general,” I panted, “you tell me.”

He considered, the wind tossing his dark hair over his tan face. “Even if you promise to find a way to send him back to his own world with the Book, or give him whatever unholy thing he wants,” Cassian mused, “I think you’d better find a way to control him in this world, or else we’ll be fighting enemies on all fronts. And I know which one will hand our asses to us.”

“The Carver’s that bad.”

“You’re asking this right before we’re to meet with him?”

I hissed, “I assumed Rhys would have put his foot down if it was that risky.”

“Rhys has been known to hatch plans that make my heart stop dead,” Cassian grumbled. “So, I wouldn’t count on him to be the voice of reason.”

I scowled at Cassian, earning a wolfish grin in return.

But Cassian scanned the heavy gray sky, as if hunting for spying eyes. Then the moss and grass and rocks beneath our boots for listening ears below. “There was life here,” he said, answering my question at last, “before the High Lords took Prythian. Old gods, we call them. They ruled the forests and the rivers and the mountains—some were those things. Then the magic shifted to the High Fae, who brought the Cauldron and Mother along with them, and though the old gods were still worshipped by a select few, most people forgot them.”

I grappled onto a large gray rock as I climbed over it. “The Bone Carver was an old god?”

He dragged a hand through his hair, the Siphon gleaming in the watery light. “That’s what legend says. Along with whispers of being able to fell hundreds of soldiers with one breath.”

A chill rippled down my skin that had nothing to do with the brisk wind. “Useful on a battlefield.”

Cassian’s golden-brown skin paled while his eyes churned with the thought. “Not without the proper precautions. Not without him being bound to obey us within an inch of his life.” Which I’d have to figure out as well, I supposed.

“How did he wind up here—in the Prison?”

“I don’t know. No one does.” Cassian helped me over a boulder, his hand gripping mine tightly. “But how do you plan on freeing him from the Prison?”

I winced. “I suppose our friend would know, since she got out.” Careful—we had to be careful when mentioning Amren’s name here.

Cassian’s face grew solemn. “She doesn’t talk about how she did it, Feyre. I’d be careful how you push her.” Since we still had not told Amren where we were today. What we were doing.

I thought about saying more, but ahead, far up the slope, the massive bone gates opened.

I’d forgotten it—the weight of the air inside the Prison. Like wading through the unstirred air of a tomb. Like stealing a breath from the open mouth of a skull.

We both bore an Illyrian blade in one hand, the faelight bobbing ahead to show the way, occasionally dancing and sliding along the shining metal. Our other hands … Cassian clenched my fingers as tightly as I clutched his while we descended into the eternal blackness of the Prison, our steps crunching on the dry ground. There were no doors—none that we could see.

But behind that solid, black rock, I could still feel them. Could have sworn a faint scratching sound filled the passage. From the other side of that rock.

As if someone were running their nails down it. Something huge—and old. And quiet as the wind through a field of wheat.

Cassian kept utterly silent, tracking something—counting something.

“This could be … a very bad idea,” I admitted, my grip tightening on his hand.

“Oh, it most certainly is,” Cassian said with a faint smile as we continued down and down into the heavy black and thrumming silence. “But this is war. We don’t have the luxury of good ideas—only picking between the bad ones.”

The Bone Carver’s cell door swung open the moment I laid my palm to it.

“Worth the misery of being Rhys’s mate,” Cassian quipped as the white bone swung away into darkness.

A light chuckle within.

The amusement faded from Cassian’s face at the sound—as we walked into the cell, still hand in hand.

The orb of faelight bobbed ahead, illuminating the stone-hewn cell.

Cassian growled at what it revealed. Who it revealed.

Wholly different, no doubt, from the same young boy who now smiled at me.

Dark-haired, with eyes of crushing blue.

I started at the child’s face—what I had not noticed that first time. What I had not understood.

It was Rhysand’s face. The coloring, the eyes … it was my mate’s face.

But the Carver’s full, wide mouth, curled into that hideous smile … That was my mouth. My father’s mouth.

The hair on my arms rose. The Carver inclined his head in greeting—in greeting and in confirmation, as if he knew precisely what I realized. Who I had seen and was still seeing.

The High Lord’s son. My son. Our son. Should we survive long enough to bear him.

Should I not fail in my task to recruit the Carver. Should we not fail to unify the High Lords and the Court of Nightmares. And keep that wall intact.

It was an effort to keep my knees from buckling. Cassian’s face was pale enough that I knew whatever he was seeing … it wasn’t a beautiful young boy.

“I was wondering when you’d return,” the Carver said, that boy’s voice sweet and yet dreadful—from the ancient creature that lurked beneath it. “High Lady,” he added to me. “Please accept my congratulations on your union.” A glance at Cassian. “I can smell the wind on you.” Another little smile. “Have you brought me a gift?”

I reached into the pocket of my jacket and chucked a small shard of bone, no bigger than my hand, at the Carver’s feet.

“This is all that’s left of the Attor after I splattered him on the streets of Velaris.”

Those blue eyes flared with unholy delight. I hadn’t even known we’d kept this fragment. It had been stored until now—precisely for this sort of thing.

“So bloodthirsty, my new High Lady,” the Carver purred, picking up the cracked bone and turning it over in those small, delicate hands. And then the Carver said, “I smell my sister on you, Cursebreaker.”

My mouth went dry. His sister—

“Did you steal from her? Did she weave a thread of your life into her loom?”

The Weaver of the Wood. My heart thundered. No breathing could steady it. Cassian’s hand tightened around mine.

The Carver purred to Cassian, “If I tell you a secret, warrior-heart, what will you give me?”

Neither of us spoke. Carefully—we’d have to phrase and do this so carefully.

The Carver stroked the shard of bone in his palm, attention fixed upon a stone-faced Cassian. “What if I tell you what the rock and darkness and sea beyond whispered to me, Lord of Bloodshed? How they shuddered in fear, on that island across the sea. How they trembled when she emerged. She took something—something precious. She ripped it out with her teeth.”

Cassian’s golden-brown face had drained of color, his wings tucking in tight.

“What did you wake that day in Hybern, Prince of Bastards?”

My blood went cold.

“What came out was not what went in.” A rasping laugh as the Carver laid the shard of bone on the ground beside him. “How lovely she is—new as a fawn and yet ancient as the sea. How she calls to you. A queen, as my sister once was. Terrible and proud; beautiful as a winter sunrise.”

Rhys had warned me of the inmates’ capacity to lie, to sell anything, to get free.

“Nesta,” the Bone Carver murmured. “Nes-ta.”

I squeezed Cassian’s hand. Enough. It was enough of this teasing and taunting. But he didn’t look at me.

“How the wind moans her name. Can you hear it, too? Nesta. Nesta. Nesta.”

I wasn’t sure Cassian was breathing.

“What did she do, drowning in the ageless dark? What did she take?”

It was the bite in the last word that snapped my tether of restraint. “If you wish to find out, perhaps you should stop talking long enough for us to explain.”

My voice seemed to shake Cassian free of whatever trance he’d been in. His breathing surged, tight and fast, and he scanned my face—apology in his eyes.

The Carver chuckled. “I so rarely get company. Forgive me for wanting to make idle talk.” He crossed an ankle over a foot. “And why have you sought my services?”

“We attained the Book of Breathings,” I said casually. “There are … interesting spells inside. Codes within codes within codes. Someone we know cracked most of them. She is still looking for others. Spells that could … send someone like her home. Others like her, too.”

The Carver’s violet eyes flared bright as flame. “I’m listening.”

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