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CHAPTER

30

I was still sore enough the next day that I had to send word to Cassian I wasn’t training with him. Or Azriel.

A mistake, perhaps, given that both of them showed up at the door to the town house within minutes, the former demanding what the hell was wrong with me, the latter bearing a tin of salve to help with the aches in my back.

I thanked Azriel for the salve and told Cassian to mind his own business.

And then asked him to fly Nesta up to the House of Wind for me, since I certainly couldn’t fly her in—even for a few feet after winnowing.

My sister, it seemed, had found nothing in her books about repairing the wall—and since no one had yet shown her the library … I’d volunteered. Especially since Lucien had left before breakfast for a library across the city to look up anything in regard to fixing the wall, a task I’d been more than willing to hand over. I might have felt guilty for never giving him a proper tour of Velaris, but … he seemed eager. More than eager—he seemed to be itching to head into the city on his own.

The two Illyrians paused their inspection of me long enough to note my sisters finishing up breakfast, Nesta in a pale gray gown that brought out the steel in her eyes, Elain in dusty pink.

Both males went a bit still. But Azriel sketched a bow—while Cassian stalked for the dining table, reached right over Nesta’s shoulder, and grabbed a muffin from its little basket. “Morning, Nesta,” he said around a mouth of blueberry-lemon. “Elain.”

Nesta’s nostrils flared, but Elain peered up at Cassian, blinking twice. “He snapped your wings, broke your bones.”

I tried to shut out the sound of Cassian’s scream—the memory of the spraying blood.

Nesta stared at her plate. Elain, at least, was out of her room, but …

“It’ll take more than that to kill me,” Cassian said with a smirk that didn’t meet his eyes.

Elain only said to Cassian, “No, it will not.”

Cassian’s dark brows narrowed. I dragged a hand over my face before going to Elain and touching her too-bony shoulder. “Can I set you up in the garden? The herbs you planted are coming in nicely.”

“I can help her,” said Azriel, stepping to the table as Elain silently rose. No shadows at his ear, no darkness ringing his fingers as he extended a hand.

Nesta monitored him like a hawk, but kept silent as Elain took his hand, and out they went.

Cassian finished the muffin, licking his fingers. I could have sworn Nesta watched the entire thing with a sidelong glance. He grinned at her as if he knew it, too. “Ready for some flying, Nes?”

“Don’t call me that.”

The wrong thing to say, from the way Cassian’s eyes lit up.

I chose that moment to winnow to the skies above the House, chuckling as wind carried me through the world. Some sisterly payback, I supposed. For Nesta’s general attitude.

Mercifully, no one saw my slightly better crash landing on the veranda, and by the time Cassian’s dark figure appeared in the sky, Nesta’s hair bright as bronze in the morning sun, I’d brushed off the dirt and dust from my leathers.

My sister’s face was wind-flushed as Cassian gently set her down. Then she strode for the glass doors without a single look back.

“You’re welcome,” Cassian called after her, more than a bite to his voice. His hands clenched and slackened at his sides—as if he were trying to loosen the feel of her from his palms.

“Thank you,” I said to him, but Cassian didn’t bother saying farewell as he launched skyward and vanished into the clouds.

The library beneath the House was shadowed, quiet. The doors opened for us, the same way they’d opened when Rhys and I had first visited.

Nesta said nothing, only surveying every stack and alcove and dangling chandelier as I led her down to the level where Clotho had found those books. I showed her the small reading area where I’d been stationed, and gestured to the desk. “I know Cassian gets under your skin, but I’m curious, too. How do you know what to look for in regard to the wall?”

Nesta ran a finger over the ancient wood desk. “Because I just do.”

“How.”

“I don’t know how. Amren told me to just … see if the information clicks.” And perhaps that frightened her. Intrigued her, but frightened her. And she hadn’t told Cassian not out of spite, but because she didn’t wish to reveal that vulnerability. That lack of control.

I didn’t push. Even as I stared at her for a long moment. I didn’t know how—how to broach that subject, how to ask if she was all right, if I could help her. I had never been affectionate with her—I’d never held her. Kissed her cheek. I didn’t know where to begin.

So I just said, “Rhys gave me a layout of the stacks. I think there might be more on the Cauldron and wall a few levels down. You can wait here, or—”

“I’ll help you look.”

We followed the sloping path in silence, the rustle of paper and occasional whisper of a priestess’s robes along the stone floors the only sounds. I quietly explained to her who the priestesses were—why they were here. I explained that Rhys and I planned to offer sanctuary to any humans who could make it to Velaris.

She said nothing, quieter and quieter as we descended, that black pit on my right seeming to grow thicker the deeper we went.

But we reached a path of stacks that veered into the mountain in a long hall, faelights flickering into life within glass globes along the wall as we passed. Nesta scanned the shelves while we walked, and I read the titles—a bit more slowly, still needing a little time to process what was instinct for my sister.

“I didn’t know you couldn’t really read,” Nesta said as she paused before a nondescript section, noticing the way I silently sounded out the words of a title. “I didn’t know where you were in your lessons—when it all happened. I assumed you could read as easily as us.”

“Well, I couldn’t.”

“Why didn’t you ask us to teach you?”

I trailed a finger over the neat row of spines. “Because I doubted you would agree to help.”

Nesta stiffened like I’d hit her, coldness blooming in those eyes. She tugged a book from a shelf. “Amren said Rhysand taught you to read.”

My cheeks heated. “He did.” And there, deep beneath the world, with only darkness for company, I asked, “Why do you push everyone away but Elain?” Why have you always pushed me away?

Some emotion guttered in her eyes. Her throat bobbed. Nesta shut her eyes for a moment, breathing in sharply. “Because—”

The words stopped.

I felt it at the same moment she did.

The ripple and tremor. Like … like some piece of the world shifted, like some off-kilter chord had been plucked.

We turned toward the illuminated path that we’d just taken through the stacks, then to the dark far, far beyond.

The faelights along the ceiling began to sputter and die. One by one.

Closer and closer to us.

I only had an Illyrian knife at my side.

“What is that,” Nesta breathed.

“Run,” was all I said.

I didn’t give her the chance to object as I grabbed her by the elbow and sprinted into the stacks ahead. Faelights flickered to life as we passed—only to be devoured by the dark surging for us.

Slow—my sister was so damned slow with her dress, her general lack of exercising—

Rhys.

Nothing.

If the wards around the Prison were thick enough to keep out communication … Perhaps the same applied here.

A wall approached—with a hall before it. A second slope: left rising, right plunging down—

Darkness slithered down from above. But the inky gloom leading deeper … fresh and open.

I went right. “Faster,” I said to her. If we could lead whoever it was deep, perhaps we could cut back, right to the pit. I could winnow—

Winnow. I could winnow now—

I grabbed for Nesta’s arm.

Right as the darkness behind us paused, and two High Fae stepped out of it. Both male.

One dark-haired, one light. Both in gray jackets embroidered with bone-white thread.

I knew their coat of arms on the upper right shoulder. Knew their dead eyes.

Hybern. Hybern was here—

I didn’t move fast enough as one of them blew out a breath toward us.

As that blue faebane dust sprayed into my eyes, my mouth, and my magic died out.

Nesta’s gasp told me she felt something similar.

But it was on my sister that the two focused as I staggered back, tears streaming the dust from my eyes, spitting out the faebane. I gripped her arm, trying to winnow. Nothing.

Behind them, a hooded priestess slumped to the ground.

“So easy to get into their minds once our master let us through the wards,” said one of them—the dark-haired male. “To make them think we were scholars. We’d planned to come for you … But it seems you found us first.”

All spoken to my sister. Nesta’s face was near-white, though her eyes showed no fear. “Who are you.”

The white-haired one smiled broadly as they approached. “We’re the king’s Ravens. His far-flying eyes and talons. And we’ve come to take you back.”

The king—their master. He’d … Mother above.

Was the king here—in Velaris?

Rhys. I slammed a mental hand into the bond. Over and over. Rhys.

Nothing.

Nesta’s breath began to come quickly. Swords hung at their sides—two apiece. Their shoulders were broad, arms wide enough to indicate muscle filled those fine clothes.

“You’re not taking her anywhere,” I said, palming my knife. How had the king done it—arrived here unnoted, and fractured our wards? And if he was in Velaris … I shoved down my terror at the thought. At what he might be doing beyond this library, unseen and hidden—

“You’re an unexpected prize, too,” the black-haired one said to me. “But your sister …” A smile that showed all of his too-white teeth. “You took something from that Cauldron, girl. The king wants it back.”

That was why the Cauldron couldn’t shatter the wall. Not because its power was spent.

But because Nesta had stolen too much of it.

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