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Beron shielded barely fast enough to block me, but the wake singed Eris’s arm—right through the cloth. And the pale, lovely arm of Lucien’s mother.
The others shouted, shooting to their feet, but I couldn’t think, couldn’t hear anything but Eris’s words, see those moments Under the Mountain, see that nightmare of Amarantha leading Rhys down the hall, what Rhys had endured—
I ignored it as I stood. And sent a wave of water from the reflection pond to encircle Beron and his chair. A bubble without air.
Flame pounded against it, turning water to steam, but I pushed harder.
I’d kill him. Kill him and gladly be done with it.
I couldn’t tell if Rhysand was yelling it, if he was murmuring it down the bond. Maybe both.
Beron’s flame barrier slammed into my water, hard enough that ripples began to form, steam hissing amongst them.
So I bared my teeth and sent a fist of white light punching into that fiery shield—the white light of Day. Spell-breaker. Ward-cleaver.
Beron’s eyes widened as his shields began to fray. As that water pushed in.
Then hands were on my face. And violet eyes were before mine, calm and yet insistent. “You’ve proved your point, my love,” Rhys said. “Kill him, and horrible Eris will take his place.”
Then I’ll kill all of them.
“As interesting an experiment as that might be,” Rhys crooned, “it would only complicate the matters at hand.”
Into my mind he whispered, I love you. The words of that hateful bastard don’t mean anything. He has nothing of joy in his life. Nothing good. We do.
I began to hear things—the trickling water of the pool, the crackle of flames, the quick breathing of those around us, the cursing of Beron trapped in that tightening cocoon of light and water.
I love you, Rhys said again.
And I let go of my magic.
Beron’s flames exploded like an unfurling flower—and bounced harmlessly off the shield Rhys had thrown around us.
Not to shield against Beron.
But the other High Lords were now on their feet.
“That was how you got through my wards,” Tarquin murmured.
Beron was panting so hard he looked like he might spew fire.
But Helion rubbed his jaw as he sat down once more. “I wondered where it went—that little bit. So small—like a fish missing a single scale. But I still felt whenever something brushed against that empty spot.” A smirk at Rhys. “No wonder you made her High Lady.”
“I made her High Lady,” Rhys said simply, lowering his hands from my face but not leaving my side, “because I love her. Her power was the last thing I considered.”
I was beyond words, beyond basic feelings. Helion asked Tamlin, “You knew of her powers?”
Tamlin was only watching me and Rhys, my mate’s declaration hanging between us. “It was none of your business,” was all Tamlin said to Helion. To all of them.
“The power belongs to us. I think it is,” Beron seethed.
Mor leveled a look at Beron that would have sent lesser males running.
The Lady of Autumn was clutching her arm, angry red splattered along the moon-white skin. No glimmer of pain on that face, though. I said to her as I reclaimed my seat, “I’m sorry.”
Her eyes lifted toward mine, round as saucers.
Beron spat, “Don’t talk to her, you human filth.”
Rhys shattered through Beron’s shield, his fire, his defenses.
Shattered through them like a stone hurled into a window, and slammed his dark power into Beron so hard he rocked back in his seat. Then that seat disintegrated into black, sparkling dust beneath him.
Leaving Beron to fall on his ass.
Glittering ebony dust drifted away on a phantom wind, staining Beron’s crimson jacket, clinging like clumps of ash to his brown hair.
“Don’t ever,” Rhys said, hands sliding into his pockets, “speak to my mate like that again.”
Beron shot to his feet, not bothering to brush off the dust, and declared to no one in particular, “This meeting is over. I hope Hybern butchers you all.”
But Nesta rose from her chair. “This meeting is not over.”
Even Beron paused at her tone. Eris sized up the space between my sister and his father.
She stood tall, a pillar of steel. “You are all there is,” she said to Beron, to all of us. “You are all that there is between Hybern and the end of everything that is good and decent.” She settled her stare on Beron, unflinching and fierce. “You fought against Hybern in the last war. Why do you refuse to do so now?”
Beron did not deign to answer. But he did not leave. Eris subtly motioned his brothers to sit.
Nesta marked the gesture—hesitated. As if realizing she indeed held their complete attention. That every word mattered. “You may hate us. I don’t care if you do. But I do care if you let innocents suffer and die. At least stand for them. Your people. For Hybern will make an example of them. Of all of us.”
“And you know this how?” Beron sneered.
“I went into the Cauldron,” Nesta said flatly. “It showed me his heart. He will bring down the wall, and butcher those on either side of it.”
Truth or lie, I could not tell. Nesta’s face revealed nothing. And no one dared contradict her.
She looked to Kallias and Viviane. “I am sorry for the loss of those children. The loss of one is abhorrent.” She shook her head. “But beneath the wall, I witnessed children—entire families—starve to death.” She jerked her chin at me. “Were it not for my sister … I would be among them.”
My eyes burned, but I blinked it away.
“Too long,” Nesta said. “For too long have humans beneath the wall suffered and died while you in Prythian thrived. Not during that—queen’s reign.” She recoiled, as if hating to even speak Amarantha’s name. “But long before. If you fight for anything—fight now, to protect those you forgot. Let them know they’re not forgotten. Just this once.”
Thesan cleared his throat. “While a noble sentiment, the details of the Treaty did not demand we provide for our human neighbors. They were to be left alone. So we obeyed.”
Nesta remained standing. “The past is the past. What I care about is the road ahead. What I care about is making sure no children—Fae or human—are harmed. You have been entrusted with protecting this land.” She scanned the faces around her. “How can you not fight for it?”
She looked to Beron and his family as she finished. Only the Lady and Eris seemed to be considering—impressed, even, by the strange, simmering woman before them.
I didn’t have the words in me—to convey what was in my heart. Cassian seemed the same.
Beron only said, “I shall consider it.” A look at his family, and they vanished.
Eris was the last to winnow, something conflicted dancing over his face, as if this was not the outcome he’d planned for. Expected.
But then he, too, was gone, the space where they’d been empty save for that black, glittering dust.
Slowly, Nesta sat, her face again cold—as if it were a mask to conceal whatever raged in her at Beron’s disappearance.
Kallias asked me quietly, “Did you master the ice?”
I gave a shallow nod. “All of it.”
Kallias scrubbed at his face as Viviane set a hand on his arm. “Does it make a difference, Kal?”
“I don’t know,” he admitted.
That fast, this alliance unraveled. That fast—because of my lack of control, my—
It either would have been this or something else, Rhys said from where he stood beside my chair, one hand toying with the glittering panels on the back of my gown. Better now than later. Kallias won’t break—he just needs to sort it through on his own.
But Tarquin said, “You saved us Under the Mountain. Losing a kernel of power seems a worthy payment.”
“It seems she took far more than that,” Helion argued, “if she could be within seconds of drowning Beron despite the wards.” Perhaps I’d gotten around them simply by being Made—outside anything the wards knew to recognize.
Helion’s power, warm and clear, brushed against the shield, trawling through the air between us. As if testing for a tether. As if I were some parasite, leeching power from him. And he’d gladly sever it.
Thesan declared, “What’s done is done. Short of killing her”— Rhys’s power roiled through the room at the words—“there is nothing we can do.”
It wasn’t entirely placating, his tone. Words of peace, yet the tone was terse. As if, were it not for Rhys and his power, he’d consider tying me down on an altar and cutting me open to see where his power was—and how to take it back.
I stood, looking Thesan in the eye. Then Helion. Tarquin. Kallias. Exactly as Nesta had done. “I did not take your power. You gave it to me, along with the gift of my immortal life. I am grateful for both. But they are mine now. And I will do with them what I will.”
My friends had risen to their feet, now in rank behind me, Nesta at my left. Rhys stepped up to my right, but did not touch me. Let me stand on my own, stare them all down.
I said quietly, but not weakly, “I will use these powers—my powers—to smash Hybern to bits. I will burn them, and drown them, and freeze them. I will use these powers to heal the injured. To shatter through Hybern’s wards. I have done so already, and I will do so again. And if you think that my possession of a kernel of your magic is your biggest problem, then your priorities are severely out of order.”
Pride flickered down the bond. The High Lords and their retinues said nothing.
But Viviane nodded, chin high, and rose. “I will fight with you.”
Cresseida stood a heartbeat later. “As will I.”
Both of them looked to the males in their court.
Tarquin and Kallias rose.
Then Helion, smirking at me and Rhys.
And finally Thesan—Thesan and Tamlin, who did not so much as breathe in my direction, had barely moved or spoken these past few minutes. It was the least of my concerns, so long as they all were standing.
Six out of seven. Rhys chuckled down the bond. Not bad, Cursebreaker. Not bad at all.
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