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CHAPTER

45

Only my friends didn’t seem surprised.

Tamlin’s eyes were green flame, golden light flickering around him as his magic sought to wrest free from Rhysand’s control. As he tried and tried to speak.

“If you want proof that we are not scheming with Hybern,” Rhysand said blandly to them all, “consider the fact that it would be far less time-consuming to slice into your minds and make you do my bidding.”

Only Beron was stupid enough to scoff. Eris was just angling his body in his chair—blocking the path to his mother.

“Yet here I am,” Rhysand went on, not deigning to give Beron a glance of acknowledgment. “Here we all are.”

Absolute silence.

Then Tarquin, silent and watchful, cleared his throat.

I waited for it—for the blow that would surely doom us. We were thieves who had deceived him, we had come to his house in peace and stolen from him, had ripped into their minds to ensure our success.

But Tarquin said to me, to Rhysand, “Despite Varian’s unsanctioned warning …” A glare at his cousin, who didn’t so much as look sorry about it, “You were the only ones who came to help. The only ones. And yet you asked for nothing in return. Why?”

Rhys’s voice was a bit hoarse as he asked, “Isn’t that what friends do?”

A subtle, quiet offer.

Tarquin took him in. Then me. And the others. “I rescind the blood rubies. Let there be no debts between us.”

“Don’t expect Amren to return hers,” Cassian muttered. “She’s grown attached to it.”

I could have sworn a smile tugged on Varian’s mouth.

But Rhys faced Tamlin, whose own mouth remained shut. His eyes still livid. And my mate said to him, “I believe you. That you will fight for Prythian.”

Kallias didn’t appear so convinced. Neither did Helion.

Rhys loosened his grasp on Tamlin’s voice. I only knew because a low snarl slipped from him. But Tamlin made no move to attack, to even speak.

“War is upon us,” Rhysand declared. “I have no interest in wasting energy arguing amongst ourselves.”

The better man—male. His restraint, his choice of words … All of it a careful portrayal of reason and power. But Rhysand … I knew he meant what he said. Even if Tamlin had been a part of killing his own family, even if he had played his part in Hybern … For our home, for Prythian, he’d set it aside. A sacrifice that would harm no one but his own soul.

But Beron said, “You may be inclined to believe him, Rhysand, but as someone who shares a border with his court, I am not so easily swayed.” A wry look. “Perhaps my errant son can clarify. Pray, where is he?”

Even Tamlin looked toward us—toward me.

“Helping to guard our city,” was all I said. Not a lie, not entirely.

Eris snorted and surveyed Nesta, who stared back at him with steel in her face. “Pity you didn’t bring the other sister. I hear our little brother’s mate is quite the beauty.”

If they knew Elain was Lucien’s mate … It was now another avenue, I realized with no small amount of horror. Another way to strike at the youngest brother they hated so fiercely, so unreasonably. Eris’s bargain with us had not included protection of Lucien. My mouth went dry.

But Mor replied smoothly, “You still certainly like to hear yourself talk, Eris. Good to know some things don’t change over the centuries.”

Eris’s mouth curled into a smile at the words, the careful game of pretending that they had not seen each other in years. “Good to know that after five hundred years, you still dress like a slut.”

One moment, Azriel was seated.

The next, he’d blasted through Eris’s shield with a flare of blue light and tackled him backward, wood shattering beneath them.

“Shit,” Cassian spat, and was instantly there—

And met a wall of blue.

Azriel had sealed them in, and as his scarred hands wrapped around Eris’s throat, Rhys said, “Enough.”

Azriel squeezed, Eris thrashing beneath him. No physical brawling—there had been a rule against that, but Azriel, with whatever power those shadows gave him …

“Enough, Azriel,” Rhys ordered. Perhaps those shadows that now slid and eddied around the shadowsinger hid him from the wrath of the binding magic. The others made no move to interfere, as if wondering the same.

Azriel dug his knee—and all his weight—into Eris’s gut. He was silent, utterly silent as he ripped the air from Eris’s body. Beron’s flames struck the blue shield, over and over, but the fire skittered off and fizzled out on the water. Any that escaped were torn to shreds by shadows.

“Call off your overgrown bat,” Beron ordered Rhys.

Rhys was enjoying it, bargain with Eris or no—could have ended it seconds ago. He gave me a glance as if to say so. And an invitation.

I rose on surprisingly steady knees.

Felt all of them tense, Tamlin’s gaze like a brand as I walked toward the shadowsinger, my sparkling gown hissing along the floor behind me. As I put a tattooed hand on the hard, near-invisible curve of the shield and said, “Come, Azriel.”

Azriel stopped.

Eris gasped for air as those scarred hands loosened. As Azriel turned his face toward me—

The frozen rage there rooted me to the spot.

But beneath it, I could almost see the images that haunted him: the hand Mor had yanked away, her weeping, distraught face as she had screamed at Rhys.

And now, behind us, Mor was shaking in her chair. Pale and shaking.

I only offered my hand to Azriel. “Come sit beside me.”

Nesta had already moved her seat, and an extra chair appeared beside mine.

I didn’t let my hand tremble as I kept it extended. And waited.

Azriel’s eyes slid to Eris, the High Lord’s son panting beneath him. And the shadowsinger leaned down to whisper something in his ear that made Eris blanch further.

But the shield dropped. The shadows lightened into sunshine.

Beron struck—only for his fire to bounce off a hard barrier of my own. I lifted my gaze to the High Lord of Autumn. “That’s twice now we’ve handed you your asses. I’d think you’d be sick of the humiliation.”

Helion laughed. But my attention returned to Azriel, who took my still-offered hand and rose. The scars were rough against my fingers, but his skin was like ice. Pure ice.

Mor opened her mouth to say something to Azriel, but Cassian put a hand on her bare knee and shook his head. I led the shadowsinger to the empty chair beside mine—then walked to the table myself to pour him a glass of wine.

No one spoke until I offered it to him and sat down.

“They are my family,” I said at the raised brows I received for my waiting on him. Tamlin just shook his head in disgust and finally slid that claw back into his hand. But I met Eris’s fuming gaze, my voice as cold as Azriel’s face as I said, “I don’t care if we are allies in this war. If you insult my friend again, I won’t stop him the next time.”

Only Eris knew how far that alliance went—information that could damn this meeting if either side revealed it. Information that could get him wiped off the earth by his father.

Mor was staring and staring at Azriel, who refused to look at her, who refused to do anything but give Eris that death-gaze.

Eris, wisely, averted his eyes. And said, “Apologies, Morrigan.”

His father actually gawked at the words. But something like approval shone on the Lady of Autumn’s face as her eldest son settled himself once more.

Thesan rubbed his temples. “This does not bode well.”

But Helion smirked at his retinue, crossing an ankle over a knee and flashing those powerful, sleek thighs. “Looks like you owe me ten gold marks.”

It seemed like we weren’t the only ones who’d placed bets. Even if not one of Helion’s entourage answered his mocking smile with one of their own.

Helion waved a hand, and the stacks of papers Tamlin had compiled drifted over to him on a phantom wind. With a snap of his fingers—scar-flecked from swordplay—other stacks appeared before every chair in the room. Including my own. “Replicas,” he said without looking up as he leafed through the documents.

A handy trick—for a male whose trove was not in gold, but in knowledge.

No one made any move to touch the papers before us.

Helion clicked his tongue. “If all of this is true,” he announced, Tamlin snarling at the haughty tone, “then I’d suggest two things: first, destroying Hybern’s caches of faebane. We won’t last long if they’ve made them into so many versatile weapons. It’s worth the risk to destroy them.”

Kallias arched a brow. “How would you suggest we do that?”

“We’ll handle it,” Tarquin offered. Varian nodded. “We owe them for Adriata.”

Thesan said, “There is no need.”

We all blinked at him. Even Tamlin. The High Lord of Dawn just folded his hands in his lap. “A master tinkerer of mine has been waiting for the past several hours. I would like for her to now join us.”

Before anyone could reply, a High Fae female appeared at the edge of the circle. She bowed so quickly that I barely glimpsed more than her light brown skin and long, silken black hair. She wore clothes similar to Thesan’s, and yet—her sleeves had been rolled up to the forearms, the tunic unbuttoned to her chest. And her hand—

I guessed who she was before she rose. Her right hand was solid gold—mechanical. The way Lucien’s was. It clicked and whirred quietly, drawing the eye of every immortal in the room as she faced her High Lord. Thesan smiled in warm welcome.

But her face … I wondered if Amren had modeled her own features after a similar bloodline when she’d bound herself into her Fae body: the sharp chin, round cheeks, and stunning uptilted eyes. But where Amren’s were that unholy silver, this female’s were dark as onyx. And aware—utterly aware of us gawking at her hand, her arrival—as she said to Thesan, “My Lord.”

Thesan gestured to the female standing tall before the assembled group. “Nuan is one of my most skilled craftspeople.”

Rhys leaned back in his seat, brows rising with recognition at the name, and jerked his chin to Beron, to Eris. “You might know her as the person responsible for granting your … errant son, as you called him, the ability to use his left eye after Amarantha removed it.”

Nuan nodded once in confirmation, her lips pressing into a thin line as she took in Lucien’s family. She didn’t so much as turn in Tamlin’s direction—and he certainly didn’t bother to acknowledge her, regardless of the past binding them, their mutual friend.

“And what has this to do with the faebane?” Helion demanded. Thesan’s lover seethed at the High Lord of Day’s tone, but one glance from Thesan had the male relaxing.

Nuan turned, her dark hair slipping over a shoulder as she studied Helion. And did not seem impressed. “Because I found a solution for it.”

Thesan waved a hand. “We heard rumors of faebane being used in this war—used in the attack on your city, Rhysand. We thought to look into the issue before it became a deadly weakness for all of us.” He nodded to Nuan. “Beyond her unparalleled tinkering, she is a skilled alchemist.”

Nuan crossed her arms, the sun glinting off her metal hand. “Thanks to samples attained after the attack in Velaris, I was able to create an … antidote, of sorts.”

“How did you get those samples?” Cassian demanded.

A flush crept over Nuan’s cheeks. “I—heard the rumors and assumed Lucien Vanserra would be residing there after … what happened.” She still didn’t look at Tamlin, who remained silent and brooding. “I managed to contact him a few days ago—asked him to send samples. He did—and did not tell you,” she added quickly to Rhysand, “because he did not want to raise your hopes. Not until I’d found a solution.”

No wonder he’d been so eager to head alone into Velaris that day he’d gone to help us research. I shot a look at Rhys. Seems like Lucien can still play the fox.

Rhys didn’t look at me, though his lips twitched as he replied, Indeed.

Nuan went on, “The Mother has provided us with everything we need on this earth. So it has been a matter of finding what, exactly, she gave us in Prythian to combat a material from Hybern capable of wiping out our powers.”

Helion shifted with impatience, that glistening, white fabric slipping over his muscled chest.

Thesan read that impatience, too, and said, “Nuan has been able to quickly create a powder for us to ingest in drink, food, however you please. It grants immunity from the faebane. I already have workers in three of my cities manufacturing as much of it as possible to hand out to our unified armies.”

Even Rhys seemed impressed at the stealth, the unveiling. I’m surprised you didn’t have a grand reveal of your own today, I quipped down the bond.

Cruel, beautiful High Lady, he purred, eyes twinkling.

Tarquin asked, “But what of physical objects made from faebane? They possessed gauntlets at the battle to smash through shields.” He jerked his chin to Rhys. “And when they attacked your own city.”

“Against that,” Nuan said, “you only have your wits to protect you.” She did not break Tarquin’s stare, and he straightened, as if surprised she did so. “The compound I’ve made will only protect you—your powers—from being rendered void by the faebane. Perhaps if you are pierced with a weapon tipped in faebane, having the compound in your system will negate its impact.”

Quiet fell.

Beron said, “And we are supposed to trust you”—a look at Thesan, then at Nuan—“with this … substance we’re to blindly ingest.”

“Would you rather face Hybern without any power?” Thesan demanded. “My master alchemists and tinkerers are no fools.”

“No,” Beron said, frowning, “but where did she come from? Who are you?” The last bit directed at Nuan.

“I am the daughter of two High Fae from Xian, who moved here to give their children a better life, if that is what you are demanding to know,” Nuan answered tightly.

Helion demanded of Beron, “What does this have to do with anything?”

Beron shrugged. “If her family is from Xian—which I’ll have you remember fought for the Loyalists—then whose interests does she serve?”

Helion’s amber eyes flashed.

Thesan cut in sharply, “I will have you remember, Beron, that my own mother hailed from Xian. And a large majority of my court did as well. Be careful what you say.”

Before Beron could hiss a retort, Nuan said to the Lord of Autumn, her chin high, “I am a child of Prythian. I was born here, on this land, as your sons were.”

Beron’s face darkened. “Watch your tone, girl.”

“She doesn’t have to watch anything,” I cut in. “Not when you fling that sort of horseshit at her.” I looked to the alchemist. “I will take your antidote.”

Beron rolled his eyes.

But Eris said, “Father.”

Beron lifted a brow. “You have something to add?”

Eris didn’t flinch, but he seemed to choose his words very, very carefully. “I have seen the effects of faebane.” He nodded toward me. “It truly renders us unable to tap our power. If it’s wielded against us in war or beyond it—”

“If it is, we shall face it. I will not risk my people or family in testing out a theory.”

“It is no theory,” Nuan said, that mechanical hand clicking and whirring as it curled into a fist. “I would not stand here unless it had been proved without a doubt.”

A female of pride and hard work.

Eris said, “I will take it.”

It was the most … decent I’d ever heard him sound. Even Mor blinked at it.

Beron studied his son with a scrutiny that made some small, small part of me wonder if Eris might have grown to be a good male if he’d had a different father. If one still lurked there, beneath centuries of poison.

Because Eris … What had it been like for him, Under the Mountain? What games had he played—what had he endured? Trapped for forty-nine years. I doubted he would risk such a thing happening again. Even if it set him in opposition to his father—or perhaps because of that.

Beron only said, “No, you will not. Though I’m sure your brothers will be sorry to hear it.”

Indeed, the others seemed rather put-out that their first barrier to the throne wasn’t about to risk his life in testing Nuan’s solution.

Rhys said simply, “Then don’t take it. I will. My entire court will, as will my armies.” He gave a thankful nod to Nuan.

Thesan did the same—in thanks and dismissal—and the master tinkerer bowed once more and left.

“At least you have armies to give it to,” Tamlin said mildly, breaking his roiling silence. A smile at me. “Though perhaps that was part of the plan. Disable my force while your own swept in. Or was it just to see my people suffer?”

A headache was beginning to pound at my right temple.

Those claws poked through his knuckles again. “Surely you knew that when you turned my forces on me, it would leave my people defenseless against Hybern.”

I said nothing. Even as I blocked the images from my mind.

“You primed my court to fall,” Tamlin said with venomous quiet. “And it did. Those villages you wanted so badly to help rebuild? They’re nothing more than cinders now.”

I shut out that, too. He’d said they’d remain untouched, that Hybern had promised—

“And while you’ve been making antidotes and casting yourselves as saviors, I’ve been piecing together my forces—regaining their trust, their numbers. Trying to gather my people in the East—where Hybern has not yet marched.”

Nesta said drily, “So you won’t be taking the antidote, then.”

Tamlin ignored her, even as his claws sank into the arm of his chair. But I believed him—that he’d moved as many of his people as he could to the eastern edge of the territory. He’d said as much long before I’d returned home.

Thesan cleared his throat and said to Helion, “You said you had two suggestions based on the information you analyzed.”

Helion shrugged, the sun catching in the embroidered gold thread of his tunic. “Indeed, though it seems Tamlin is already ahead of me. The Spring Court must be evacuated.” His amber eyes darted between Tarquin and Beron. “Surely your northern neighbors will welcome them.”

Beron’s lip curled. “We do not have the resources for such a thing.”

“Right,” Viviane said, “because everyone’s too busy polishing every jewel in that trove of yours.”

Beron threw her a glare that had Kallias tensing. “Wives were invited as a courtesy, not as consultants.”

Viviane’s sapphire eyes flared as if struck by lightning. “If this war goes poorly, we’ll be bleeding out right alongside you, so I think we damn well get a say in things.”

“Hybern will do far worse things than kill you,” Beron counted coolly. “A young, pretty thing like you especially.”

Kallias’s snarl rippled the water in the reflection pool, echoed by Mor’s own growl.

Beron smiled a bit. “Only three of us were present for the last war.” A nod to Rhys and Helion, whose face darkened. “One does not easily forget what Hybern and the Loyalists did to captured females in their war-camps. What they reserved for High Fae females who either fought for the humans or had families who did.” He put a heavy hand on his wife’s too-thin arm. “Her two sisters bought her time to run when Hybern’s forces ambushed their lands. The two ladies did not walk out of that war-camp again.”

Helion was watching Beron closely, his stare simmering with reproach.

The Lady of the Autumn Court kept her focus on the reflection pool. Any trace of color drained from her face. Dagdan and Brannagh flashed through my mind—along with the corpses of those humans. What they’d done to them before and after they’d died.

“We will take your people,” Tarquin cut in quietly to Tamlin. “Regardless of your involvement with Hybern … your people are innocent. There is plenty of room in my territory. We will take all of them, if need be.”

A curt nod was Tamlin’s only acknowledgment and gratitude.

Beron said, “So the Seasonal Courts are to become the charnel houses and hostels, while the Solar Courts remain pristine here in the North?”

“Hybern has focused its efforts on the southern half,” Rhys said. “To be close to the wall—and human lands.”

At this, Nesta and I exchanged looks.

Rhys went on, “Why bother to go through the northern climes—through faerie territories on the continent, when you could claim the South and use it to go directly to the human lands of the continent?”

Thesan asked, “And you believe the human armies there will bow to Hybern?”

“Its queens sold us out,” Nesta said. She lifted her chin, poised as any emissary. “For the gift of immortality, the human queens will allow Hybern in to sweep away any resistance. They might very well hand over control of their armies to him.” Nesta looked to me, to Rhys. “Where do the humans on our island go? We cannot evacuate them to the continent, and with the wall intact … Many might rather risk waiting than cross over the wall anyway.”

“The fate of the humans below the wall,” Beron cut in, “is none of our concern. Especially in a spit of land with no queen, no army.”

“It is my concern,” I said, and the voice that came out of me was not Feyre the huntress or Feyre the Cursebreaker, but Feyre the High Lady. “Humans are nearly defenseless against our kind.”

“So go waste your own soldiers defending them,” Beron said. “I will not send my own forces to protect chattel.”

My blood heated, and I took a breath to cool it, to cool the magic crackling at the insult. It did nothing. If it was this impossible to get all of them to ally against Hybern …

“You’re a coward,” I breathed to the High Lord of Autumn. Even Rhys tensed.

Beron just said, “The same could be claimed of you.”

My stomach churned. “I don’t need to explain myself to you.”

“No, but perhaps to that girl’s family—but they’re dead, too, aren’t they? Butchered and burned to death in their own beds. Funny, that you should now seek to defend humans when you were all too happy to offer them up to save yourself.”

My palms heated, as if twin suns built and swirled beneath them. Easy, Rhys purred. He’s a cranky old bastard.

But I could barely hear the words behind the tangle of images: Clare’s mutilated body nailed to the wall; the cinders of the Beddors’ house staining the snow like wisps of shadow; the smile of the Attor as it hauled me through those stone halls Under the Mountain—

“As my lady said,” Rhys drawled, “she does not need to explain herself to you.”

Beron leaned back in his chair. “Then I suppose I don’t need to explain my motivations, either.”

Rhys lifted a brow. “Your staggering generosity aside, will you be joining our forces?”

“I have not yet decided.”

Eris went so far as to give his father a look bordering on reproach. From genuine alarm or for what that refusal might mean for our own covert alliance, I couldn’t tell.

“Armies take time to raise,” Cassian said. “You don’t have the luxury of sitting on your ass. You need to rally your soldiers now.”

Beron only sneered. “I don’t take orders from the bastards of lesser fae whores.”

My heartbeat was so wild I could hear it in every corner of my body, feel it pounding in my arms, my gut. But it was nothing compared to the wrath on Cassian’s face—or the icy rage on Azriel’s and Rhys’s. And the disgust on Mor’s.

“That bastard,” Nesta said with utter coolness, though her eyes began to burn, “may wind up being the only person standing in the way of Hybern’s forces and your people.”

She didn’t so much as look at Cassian as she said it. But he stared at her—as if he’d never seen her before.

This argument was pointless. And I didn’t care who they were or who I was as I said to Beron, “Get out if you’re not going to be helpful.”

At his side, Eris had the wits to actually look worried. But Beron continued to ignore his son’s pointed stare and hissed at me, “Did you know that while your mate was warming Amarantha’s bed, most of our people were locked beneath that mountain?”

I didn’t deign responding.

“Did you know that while he had his head between her legs, most of us were fighting to keep our families from becoming the nightly entertainment?”

I tried to shut out the images. The blinding fury at what had been done, what he’d done to keep Amarantha distracted—the secrets he still kept from shame or disinterest in sharing, I didn’t know. Cassian was now trembling two seats down—with restraint. And Rhys said nothing.

Tarquin murmured, “That’s enough, Beron.”

Tarquin, who had guessed at Rhysand’s sacrifice, his motives.

Beron ignored him. “And now Rhysand wants to play hero. Amarantha’s Whore becomes Hybern’s Destroyer. But if it goes badly …” A cruel, cold smile. “Will he get on his knees for Hybern? Or just spread his—”

I stopped hearing the words. Stopped hearing anything other than my heart, my breathing.

Fire exploded out of me.

Raging, white-hot flame that blasted into Beron like a lance.

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