فصل 36

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CHAPTER

36

The first and second kills were the hardest. I didn’t waste physical strength on the cluster of five Hybern soldiers—High Fae, not Attor-like underlings—forcing their way into a barricaded room full of terrified servants.

No, even as my body hesitated at the kills, my magic did not.

The two soldiers nearest me had feeble shields. I tore through them with a sizzling wall of fire. Fire that then found its way down their throats and burned every inch of the way.

And then sizzled through skin and tendon and bone and severed the heads from their bodies.

Mor just killed the soldier nearest her with good old-fashioned beheading.

She whirled, the soldier’s head still falling, and sliced off the head of the one just nearing us.

The fifth and final soldier stopped his assault on the battered door.

Looked between us with flat, hate-bright eyes.

“Do it, then,” he said, his accent so like that of the Ravens.

His thick sword rose, blood sliding down the groove of the fuller.

Someone was sobbing in terror on the other side of that door.

The soldier lunged for us, and Mor’s blade flashed.

But I struck first, an asp of pure water striking his face—stunning him. Then shoving down his open mouth, his throat, up his nose. Sealing off any air.

He slumped to the ground, clawing at his neck as if he’d free a passage for the water now drowning him.

We left him without looking back, the grunting of his choking soon turning to silence.

Mor slid me a sidelong glance. “Remind me not to get on your bad side.”

I appreciated the attempt at humor, but … laughter was foreign. There was only the breath in my heaving lungs and the roiling of magic through my veins and the clear, unyielding crispness of my vision, assessing all.

We found eight more in the midst of killing and hurting, a dormitory turned into Hybern’s own sick pleasure hall. I did not care to linger on what they did, and only marked it so that I knew how fast and easily to kill.

The ones merely slaughtering died fast.

The others … Mor and I lingered. Not much, but those deaths were slower.

We left two of them alive—hurt and disarmed but alive—for the surviving faeries to kill.

I gave them two Illyrian knives to do it.

The Hybern soldiers began screaming before we cleared the level.

The hallway on the floor below was splattered in blood. The din was deafening. A dozen soldiers in the silver-and-blue armor of Tarquin’s court battled against the bulk of the Hybern force, holding the corridor.

They were nearly pushed back to the stairs we’d just exited, steadily overwhelmed by the solid numbers against them, the Hybern soldiers stepping over—stepping on—the bodies of the fallen Summer Court warriors.

Tarquin’s soldiers were flagging, even as they kept swinging, kept fighting. The closest one beheld us—opened his mouth to order us to run. But then he noted the armor, the blood on us and our blades.

“Don’t be afraid,” Mor said—as I stretched out a hand and darkness fell.

Soldiers on both sides shouted, scrambling back, armor clanging.

But I shifted my eyes, made them night-seeing. As I had done in that Illyrian forest, when I had first drawn Hybern blood.

Mor, I think, was born able to see in the darkness.

We winnowed through the ebon-veiled corridor in short bursts.

I could see their terror as I killed them. But they could not see me.

Every time we appeared in front of Hybern soldiers, frantic in the impenetrable dark, their heads fell. One after another. Winnow; slash. Winnow; thump.

Until there were none left, only the mounds of their bodies, the puddles of their blood.

I banished the darkness from the corridor, finding the Summer Court soldiers panting and gaping. At us. At what we had done in a matter of a minute.

I didn’t look too long at the carnage. Mor didn’t, either.

“Where else?” was all I asked.

We cleared the palace to its lowest levels. Then we took to the city streets, the steep hill leading down to the water rampant with Hybern soldiers.

The morning sun rose higher, beating down on us, making our skin slick and swollen with sweat beneath our leathers. I stopped discerning the sweat on my palms from the blood coating it.

I stopped being able to feel a great many things as we killed and killed, sometimes engaging in outright combat, sometimes with magic, sometimes earning our own bruises and small wounds.

But the sun continued its arc across the sky, and the battle continued in the bay, the Illyrian lines battering the Hybern fleet from above while Tarquin’s armada pushed from behind.

Slowly, we purged the streets of Hybern soldiers. All I knew was the sun baking the blood coating my skin, the coppery tang of it clinging to my nostrils.

We had just cleared a narrow street, Mor striding through the felled Hybern soldiers to make sure any survivors … stopped surviving. I leaned against a blood-bathed stone wall just outside the shattered front window of a clothier, watching Mor’s quicksilver blade rise and fall in lightning-bright flashes.

Beyond us, all around us, the screams of the dying were like the never-ending pealing of the city’s warning bells.

Water—I needed water. If only to wash the blood from my mouth.

Not my own blood, but that of the soldiers we’d cut down. Blood that had sprayed into my mouth, up my nose, into my eyes, when we’d ended them.

Mor reached the last of the dead, and terrified High Fae and faeries finally poked their heads out of the doorways and windows flanking the cobblestoned street. No sign of Alis, her nephews, or cousin—or anyone who looked like them, amongst the living or the fallen. A small blessing.

We had to keep moving. There were more—so many more.

As Mor began striding back to me, boots sloshing through puddles of blood, I reached a mental hand toward the bond. Toward Rhys—toward anything that was solid and familiar.

Wind and darkness answered me.

I became only half-aware of the narrow street and the blood and the sun as I peered down the bridge between us. Rhys.

Nothing.

I speared myself along it, stumbling blindly through that raging tempest of night and shadow. If the bond sometimes felt like a living band of light, it now had turned into a bridge of ice-kissed obsidian.

And rising up on its other end … his mind. The walls—his shields … They had turned into a fortress.

I laid a mental hand to the black adamant, my heart thundering. What was he facing—what was he seeing to have made his shields so impenetrable?

I couldn’t feel him on the other side.

There was only the stone and the dark and the wind.

Rhys.

Mor had nearly reached me when his answer came.

A crack in the shield—so swift that I did not have time to do anything more than lunge for it before it had closed behind me. Sealing me inside with him.

The streets, the sun, the city vanished.

There was only here—only him. And the battle.

Looking through Rhysand’s eyes as I once had that day Under the Mountain … I felt the heat of the sun, the sweat and blood sliding down his face, slipping beneath the neck of his black Illyrian armor—smelled the brine of the sea and the tang of blood all around me. Felt the exhaustion ripping at him, in his muscles and in his magic.

Felt the Hybern warship shudder beneath him as he landed on its main deck, an Illyrian blade in each hand.

Six soldiers died instantly, their armor and bodies turning into red-and-silver mist.

The others halted, realizing who’d landed amongst them, in the heart of their fleet.

Slowly, Rhys surveyed the helmeted heads before him, counted the weapons. Not that it mattered. All of them would soon be crimson mist or food for the beasts circling the waters around the clashing armada. And then this ship would be splinters on the waves.

Once he was done. It was not the common foot soldiers he’d sought out.

Because where power should have been thrumming from him, obliterating them … It was a muffled rumble. Stifled.

He’d tracked it here—that strange damper on his power, on the Siphons’ power. As if some sort of spell had turned his power oily in his grip. Harder to wield.

It was why the battle had gone on so long. The clean, precise blow he’d intended to land upon arriving—the single shot that would have saved so many lives … It had slipped from his grasp.

So he’d hunted it down, that damper. Battled his way across Adriata to get to this ship. And now, exhaustion starting to rip at him … The armed soldiers around Rhysand parted—and he appeared.

Trapped within Rhysand’s mind, his powers stifled and body weary, there was nothing I could do but watch as the King of Hybern stepped from belowdecks and smiled at my mate.

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