فصل 35

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CHAPTER

35

Hybern had made its grand move at last. And we had not anticipated it.

I knew Azriel would take the blame upon himself. One look at the shadowsinger as he prowled through the front door of the town house minutes later, Cassian on his heels, told me that he already did.

We stood in the foyer, Nesta lingering at the dining table behind me.

“Has Tarquin called for aid?” Cassian asked Amren.

None of us dared question how she knew.

Amren’s jaw tightened. “I don’t know. I got the message, and—nothing else.”

Cassian nodded once and turned to Rhys. “Did the Summer Court have a mobile fighting force readied when you were there?”

“No,” Rhys said. “His armada was scattered along the coast.” A glance at Azriel.

“Half is in Adriata—the other dispersed,” the shadowsinger supplied. “His terrestrial army was moved to the Spring Court border … after Feyre. The closest legion is perhaps three days’ march away. Very few can winnow.”

“How many ships?” Rhys asked.

“Twenty in Adriata, fully armed.”

A calculating look at Amren. “Numbers on Hybern?”

“I don’t know. Many. It—I think they are overwhelmed.”

“What was the exact message?” Pure, unrelenting command laced every word.

Amren’s eyes glittered like fresh silver. “It was a warning. From Varian. To prepare our own defenses.”

Utter silence.

“Prince Varian sent you a warning?” Cassian asked a bit quietly.

Amren glared at him. “It is a thing that friends do.”

More silence.

I met Rhys’s stare, sensed the weight and dread and anger simmering behind the cool features. “We cannot leave Tarquin to face them alone,” I said. Perhaps Hybern had sent the Ravens yesterday to distract us from looking beyond our own borders. To have our focus on Hybern, not our own shores.

Rhys’s attention cut to Cassian. “Keir and his Darkbringer army are nowhere near ready to march. How soon can the Illyrian legions fly?”

Rhys immediately winnowed Cassian into the war-camps to give the orders himself. Azriel had vanished with them, going ahead to scout Adriata, taking his most trusted spies with him.

Nausea had churned in my gut as Cassian and Azriel tapped the Siphons atop their hands and that scaled armor unfurled across their body. As seven Siphons appeared on each. As the shadowsinger’s scarred hands checked the buckles on his knife belts and his quiver, while Rhys summoned extra Illyrian blades for Cassian—two at his back, one at each side.

Then they were gone—stone-faced and steady. Ready for bloodshed.

Mor arrived moments later, heavily armed, her hair braided back and every inch of her thrumming with impatience.

But Mor and I waited—for the order to go. To join them. Cassian had positioned the Illyrian legions closer to the southern border the weeks I’d been away, but even so, they wouldn’t be able to fly without a few hours of preparation. And it would require Rhys to winnow them in. All of them. To Adriata.

“Will you fight?”

Nesta was now standing a few steps up the staircase of the town house, watching as Mor and I readied. Soon—Azriel or Rhys would contact us soon with the all-clear to winnow to Adriata.

“We’ll fight if it’s required,” I said, checking once more that the belt of knives was secure at my hips.

Mor wore Illyrian leathers as well, but the blades on her were different. Slimmer, lighter, some of their tips slightly curved. Like lightning given flesh. Seraphim blades, she told me. Gifted to her by Prince Drakon himself during the War.

“What do you know of battle?”

I couldn’t tell if my sister’s tone was insulting or merely inquisitive.

“We know plenty,” Mor said tightly, arranging her long braid between the blades crossed over her back. Elain and Nesta would remain here, with Amren watching over them. And watching over Velaris, along with a small legion of Illyrians Cassian had ordered to camp in the mountains above the city. Mor had passed Amren on her way in, the small female apparently heading to the butcher to fill up on provisions before she’d return to stay here—for however long we’d be in Adriata. If we returned at all.

I met Nesta’s gaze again. Only wary distance greeted me. “We’ll send word when we can.”

A rumble of midnight thunder brushed against the walls of my mind. A silent signal, speared over land and mountains. As if Rhys’s concentration was now wholly focused elsewhere—and he did not dare break it.

My heart stumbled a beat. I gripped Mor’s arm, the leather scales cutting into my palm. “They’ve arrived. Let’s go.”

Mor turned to my sister, and I had never seen her seem so … warriorlike. I’d known it lurked beneath the surface, but here was the Morrigan. The female who had fought in the War. Who knew how to end lives with blade and magic.

“It’s nothing we can’t handle,” Mor said to Nesta with a cocky smile, and then we were gone.

Black wind roared and tore at me, and I clung to Mor as she winnowed us through the courts, her breath a ragged beat in my ear—

Then blinding light and suffocating heat and screams and thunderous booming and metal on metal—

I swayed, bracing my feet apart as I blinked. As I took in my surroundings.

Rhys and the Illyrians had already joined the fray.

Mor had winnowed us to the barren top of one of the hills flanking the half-moon bay of Adriata, offering perfect views of the island-city in its center and the city on the mainland below.

The waters of the bay were red.

Smoke rose in gnarled black columns from buildings and foundering ships.

People screamed, soldiers shouted—

So many.

I had not anticipated the scope of how many soldiers there would be. On either side.

I’d thought it would be neat lines. Not chaos everywhere. Not Illyrians in the skies above the city and the harbor, blasting their power and arrows into the Hybern army that rained hell upon the city. Ship after ship squatted toward the horizon, hemming either entrance to the bay. And in the bay …

“Those are Tarquin’s ships,” Mor said, her face taut as she pointed to the white sails colliding with terrible force against the gray sails of Hybern’s fleet. Utterly outnumbered, and yet plumes of magic—water and wind and whips of vines—kept attacking any boat that neared. And those that broke through the magic faced soldiers armed with spears and bows and swords.

And ahead of them, pushing against the fleet … the Illyrian lines.

So many. Rhys had winnowed them in—all of them. The drain on his power …

Mor’s throat bobbed. “No one else has come,” she murmured. “No other courts.”

No sign of Tamlin and the Spring Court on Hybern’s side, either.

A thunderous boom of dark power blasted into Hybern’s fleet, scattering ships—but not many. As if … “Rhys’s power is either already nearly spent or … they’ve got something working against it,” I said. “More of that faebane?”

“Hybern would be stupid not to use it.” Her fingers curled and uncurled at her sides. Sweat beaded on her temple.

“Mor?”

“I knew it was coming,” she murmured. “Another war, at some point. I knew battles would come for this war. But … I forgot how terrible it is. The sounds. The smells.”

Indeed, even from the rocky outcropping so high above, it was … overwhelming. The tang of blood, the pleading and screaming … Getting into the midst of it …

Alis. Alis had left the Spring Court, fearing the hell I’d unleash there—only to come here. To this. I prayed she was not in the city proper, prayed she and her nephews were keeping safe.

“We’re to go to the palace,” Mor said, squaring her shoulders. I hadn’t dared break Rhysand’s concentration by opening up a channel in the bond, but it seemed he was still capable of giving orders. “Soldiers have reached its northern side, and their defenses are surrounded.”

I nodded once, and Mor drew her slender, curving blade. It gleamed as brightly as Amren’s eyes, that Seraphim steel.

I unsheathed my Illyrian blade from across my back, the metal dark and ancient by comparison to the living silver flame in her hand.

“We stick close—you don’t get out of sight,” Mor said, smoothly and precisely. “We don’t go down a hall or stairwell without assessing first.”

I nodded again, at a loss for words. My heart beat at a gallop, my palms turning sweaty. Water—I wished I’d had some water. My mouth had gone bone-dry.

“If you can’t bring yourself to make the kill,” she added without a hint of judgment, “then shield me from behind.”

“I can do it—the … killing,” I rasped. I’d done plenty of it that day in Velaris.

Mor assessed the grip I maintained on my blade, the set of my shoulders. “Don’t stop, and don’t linger. We press forward until I say we retreat. Leave the wounded to the healers.”

None of them enjoyed this, I realized. My friends—they had gone to war and back and had not found it worthy of glorification, had not let its memory become rose-tinted in the centuries following. But they were willing to dive into its hell once again for the sake of Prythian.

“Let’s go,” I said. Every moment we wasted here could spell someone’s doom in that gleaming palace in the bay.

Mor swallowed once and winnowed us into the palace.

She must have visited a few times throughout the centuries, because she knew where to arrive.

The middle levels of Tarquin’s palace had been communal space between the lower floors that the servants and lesser faeries were shoved into and the shining residential quarters for the High Fae above. When I had last seen the vast greeting hall, the light had been clear and white, flitting off the seashell-encrusted walls, dancing along the running rivers built into the floor. The sea beyond the towering windows had been turquoise mottled with vibrant sapphire.

Now that sea was choked with mighty ships and blood, the clear skies full of Illyrian warriors swooping down upon them in determined, unflinching lines. Thick metal shields glinted as the Illyrians dove and rose, emerging each time covered in blood. If they returned to the skies at all.

But my task was here. This building.

We scanned the floor, listening.

Frantic murmurs echoed from the stairwells leading upward, along with heavy thudding.

“They’re barricading themselves into the upper levels,” Mor observed as my brows narrowed.

Leaving the lesser fae trapped below. With no aid.

“Bastards,” I breathed.

The lesser fae did not have as much magic between them—not in the way the High Fae did.

“This way,” Mor said, jerking her chin toward the descending stairs. “They’re three levels down, and climbing. Fifty of them.”

A ship’s worth.

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