فصل 23

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دانلود اپلیکیشن «زیبوک»

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دانلود اپلیکیشن «زیبوک»

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CHAPTER

23

“War is upon us,” I said to the Carver. “Rumor suggests you have … gifts that may be useful upon the battlefield.”

A smile at Cassian, as if understanding why he’d joined me. “In exchange for a price,” the Carver mused.

“Within reason,” Cassian countered.

The Carver surveyed his cell. “And you think that I wish to go … back.”

“Don’t you?”

The Carver folded his legs beneath his small frame. “Where we came from … I do not believe it is now anything more than dust drifting across a plain. There is no home to return to. Not one that I desire.”

For if he’d been here before even Amren had arrived … Tens of thousands of years—longer, perhaps. I shoved against the sinking sensation in my gut. “Then perhaps improving your … living conditions might entice you, if this world is where you wish to be.”

“This cell, Cursebreaker, is where I wish to be.” The Carver patted the dirt beside him. “Do you think I let them trap me without good reason?”

Cassian’s entire body seemed to shift—seemed to go aware and focused. Ready to haul us out of there.

The Carver traced three overlapping, interlocked circles in the dirt. “You have met my sister—my twin. The Weaver, as you now call her. I knew her as Stryga. She, and our older brother, Koschei. How they delighted in this world when we fell into it. How those ancient Fae feared and worshipped them. Had I been braver, I might have bided my time—waited for their power to fade, for that long-ago Fae warrior to trick Stryga into diminishing her power and becoming confined to the Middle. Koschei, too—confined and bound by his little lake on the continent. All before Prythian, before the land was carved up and any High Lord was crowned.”

Cassian and I waited, not daring to interrupt.

“Clever, that Fae warrior. Her bloodline is long gone now—though a trace still runs through some human line.” He smiled, perhaps a bit sadly. “No one remembers her name. But I do. She would have been my salvation, had I not made my choice long before she walked this earth.”

I waited and waited and waited, picking apart the story he laid out like crumbs of bread.

“She could not kill them in the end—they were too strong. They could only be contained.” The Carver wiped a hand through the circles he’d drawn, erasing them wholly. “I knew that long before she ever trapped them—took it upon myself to find my way here.”

“To spare the world from yourself?” Cassian asked, brows narrowing.

The Carver’s eyes burned like the hottest flame. “To hide from my siblings.”

I blinked. “Why?”

“They are death-gods, girl,” the Carver hissed. “You are immortal—or long-lived enough to seem that way. But my siblings and I … We are different. And the two of them … Stronger. So much stronger than I ever was. My sister … she found a way to eat life itself. To stay young and beautiful forever thanks to the lives she steals.”

The weaving—the threads inside that house, the roof made of hair … I made a note to throw Rhys in the Sidra for sending me into that cottage.

But the Carver himself … “If they are death-gods,” I said, “then what are you?”

Death. He had asked me, over and over, about death. About what waited beyond it, what it felt like. Where I had gone. I’d thought it mere curiosity, but …

That boy’s face crinkled with amusement. My son’s face. The vision of the future that had once been shown to me all those months ago, as some sort of taunt or embodiment of what I hadn’t dared yet admit to myself. What I was most uncertain of. And now … now that young boy … A different sort of taunt, for the future I now stood to lose.

“I am forgotten, that’s what I am. And that’s how I prefer to be.” The Carver rested his head against the wall of rock behind him. “So you will find that I do not wish to leave. That I have no desire to remind my sister and brother that I am alive and in the world. Contained and diminished as they are, their influence remains … considerable.”

“If Hybern wins this war,” Cassian said roughly, “you might find the gates of this place blown wide open. And your sister and brother unleashed from their own territories—and interested in paying a visit.”

“Even Hybern is not that foolish.” A satisfied huff of air. “I’m sure there are other inmates here who will find your offer … tempting.”

My blood roared. “You will not even consider assisting us.” I waved a hand to the cell. “This is what you would prefer—for eternity?”

“If you knew my brother and sister, Cursebreaker, you would find this a much wiser and more comfortable alternative.”

I opened my mouth, but Cassian squeezed my hand in warning. Enough. We’d said enough, revealed enough. Looking so desperate … It would help nothing.

“We should go,” Cassian said to me, the very picture of unruffled calm. “The delights of the Hewn City await.”

We’d indeed be late if we didn’t leave now. I threw a glare at the Carver by way of farewell, letting Cassian lead me toward the open cell door.

“You are going to the Hewn City,” the Carver said—not entirely a question.

“I don’t see how that is any business of yours,” I said over my shoulder.

The Carver’s beat of silence echoed around us. Made us pause on the threshold.

“One last attempt,” the Carver mused, eyes skating over us, “to rally the entirety of the Night Court, I suppose.”

“Again, it is none of your concern,” I said coolly.

The Carver smiled. “You will be bargaining with him.” A glance at the tattoo on my right hand. “I wonder what Keir’s asking price will be.” A low laugh. “Interesting.”

Cassian let out a long-suffering sigh. “Out with it.”

The Bone Carver again fell silent, toying with the shard of the Attor’s bone in the dirt beside him. “The eddies of the Cauldron swirl in strange ways,” he murmured, more to himself than us.

“We’re going,” I said, making to turn again, hauling Cassian with me.

“My sister had a collection of mirrors in her black castle,” the Carver said.

We halted once more.

“She admired herself day and night in those mirrors, gloating over her youth and beauty. There was one mirror—the Ouroboros, she called it. It was old even when we were young. A window to the world. All could be seen, all could be told through its dark surface. Keir possesses it—an heirloom of his household. Bring it to me. That is my price. The Ouroboros, and I am yours to wield. If you can find a way to free me.” A hateful smile.

I exchanged a glance with Cassian, and we both shrugged at the Carver. “We’ll see,” was all I said before we walked out.

Cassian and I sat on a boulder overlooking a silver stream, breathing in the chill mists. The Prison loomed at our backs, a dreadful weight blocking out the horizon.

“You said that you knew the Carver was an old god,” I mused softly. “Did you know he was a death-god?”

Cassian’s face was taut. “I guessed.” When I lifted a brow, he clarified, “He carves deaths into bones. Sees them. Enjoys them. It wasn’t hard to figure out.”

I considered. “Was it you or Rhys who suggested you come here with me?”

“I wanted to come. But Rhys … he guessed it, too.”

Because what we’d seen in Nesta’s eyes that day …

“Like calls to like,” I murmured.

Cassian nodded tightly. “I don’t think even the Carver knows what Nesta is. But I wanted to see—just in case.”

“Why?”

“I want to help.”

It was answer enough.

We fell into silence, the stream gurgling as it rushed by.

“Would you be frightened of her, if Nesta was—Death? Or if her power came from it?”

Cassian was quiet for a long moment.

He said at last, “I’m a warrior. I’ve walked beside Death my entire life. I would be more afraid for her, to have that power. But not afraid of her.” He considered, and added after a heartbeat, “Nothing about Nesta could frighten me.”

I swallowed, and squeezed his hand. “Thank you.”

I wasn’t sure why I even said it, but he nodded all the same.

I felt him before he appeared, a spark of star-kissed joy flaring through me right as Rhys stepped out of the air itself. “Well?”

Cassian hopped off the boulder, extending a hand to help me down. “You’re not going to like his asking price.”

Rhys held out both hands to winnow us back to Velaris. “If he wants the fancy dinner plates, he can have them.”

Neither Cassian nor I could muster a laugh as we both reached for Rhys’s outstretched hands. “You better bring your bargaining skills tonight,” was all Cassian muttered to my mate before we vanished into shadow.

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