فصل 62

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CHAPTER

62

I couldn’t bring myself to smile at Amren. I could barely keep my chin high.

She peered behind me, as if she could see the path I’d taken from Mor’s tent, smell the fight on me. “Be careful,” Amren warned as I fell into step beside her, heading for our tent again, “of how you push her. There are some truths that even Morrigan has not herself faced.”

The hot anger was swiftly slipping into something cold and queasy and heavy.

“We all fight from time to time, girl,” Amren said. “Both of you should cool your heels. Talk tomorrow.”

“Fine.”

Amren shot me a sharp look, her hair swinging with the motion, but we’d reached my tent.

Rhys and Azriel were holding Cassian between them as they gently set him into a chair at the paper-strewn desk. The general’s face was still grayish, but someone had found a shirt for him—and washed off the blood. From the way Cassian sagged in that seat … He must have insisted he come. And from the way Rhys lightly mussed his hair as he strode to the other side of the desk … That wound, too, had been patched up.

Rhys lifted a brow as I entered, still stomping a bit. I shook my head. I’ll tell you later.

A caress of claws down my innermost barrier—a comforting touch.

Amren laid the Book onto the desk with a thud that echoed in the earth beneath our feet.

“The second and penultimate pages,” I said, trying not to flinch at the power of the Book slithering through the tent. “The Suriel claimed the key you were looking for is there. To nullify the Cauldron’s power.”

I assumed Rhys had told Amren what had occurred—and assumed that he’d told someone to fetch Nesta, since she pushed through the heavy flaps a moment later.

“Did you bring them?” Rhys asked Amren as Nesta silently approached the table.

Still coated in mud up to her shins, my sister paused on the other side—away from where Cassian now sat. Looked him over. Her face revealed nothing, yet her hands … I could have sworn a faint tremor rippled through her fingers before she balled them into fists and faced Amren. Cassian watched her for a moment longer before turning his head toward Amren as well. How long had Nesta stood atop that hill, watching the battle? Had she seen him fall?

Amren reached into the pocket of her pewter cloak and chucked a black velvet bag onto the desk. It clacked and thunked as it hit the wood. “Bones and stones.”

Nesta only angled her head at the sight of the bag.

Your sister came immediately when I explained what we needed, Rhys said. I think seeing Cassian hurt convinced her not to pick a fight today.

Or convinced my sister to pick a fight with someone else entirely.

Nesta lifted the bag. “So, I scatter these like some backstreet charlatan and it’ll find the Cauldron?”

Amren let out a low laugh. “Something like that.”

Arcs of mud lay beneath Nesta’s nails. She didn’t seem to notice as she untied the small pouch and dumped out its contents. Three stones, four bones. The latter were brown and gleamed with age; the former were white as the moon and smooth as glass, each marked with a thin, reedy letter I did not recognize.

“Three stones for the faces of the Mother,” Amren said upon seeing Nesta’s raised brows. “Four bones … for whatever reason the charlatans came up with that I can’t be bothered to remember.”

Nesta snorted. Rhys echoed the sentiment. My sister said, “So what—I just shake them around in my hands and chuck them? How am I to make sense of any of it?”

“We can figure it out,” Cassian said, his voice rough and weary. “But start with holding them in your hands and thinking—about the Cauldron.”

“Don’t just think about it,” Amren corrected. “You must cast your mind toward it. Find the bond that links you.”

Even I paused at that. And Nesta, stones and bones now in hand … She made no move to close her eyes. “I—am I to … touch it?”

“No,” Amren warned. “Just come close. Find it, but do not interact.”

Nesta still didn’t move. She could not use the bathtub, she’d told me. Because the memories it dragged up—

Cassian said to her, “Nothing can harm you here.” He sucked in a breath, groaning softly, and rose to his feet. Azriel tried to stop him, but Cassian brushed him off and strode for my sister’s side. He braced a hand on the desk when he at last stopped. “Nothing can harm you,” he repeated.

Nesta was still looking at him when she finally shut her eyes. I shifted, and the angle allowed me to see what I hadn’t detected before.

Nesta stood before the map, a fist of bones and stones clenched over it. Cassian remained at her side—his other hand on her lower back.

And I marveled at the touch she allowed—marveled at it as much as I did the mud-splattered hand she held out. The concentration that settled over her face.

Her eyes shifted beneath their lids, as if scanning the world. “I don’t see anything.”

“Go deeper,” Amren urged. “Find that tether between you.”

She stiffened, but Cassian stepped closer, and she settled again.

A minute went by. Then another.

A muscle twitched on Nesta’s brow. Her hand bobbed.

Her breath then came fast and hard, her lips curling back as she panted through her teeth.

“Nesta,” Cassian warned.

“Quiet,” Amren snapped.

A small noise came out of her—one of terror.

“Where is it, girl,” Amren coaxed. “Open your hand. Let us see.”

Nesta’s fingers only clutched tighter, the whites of her knuckles as stark as the stones held within them.

Too deep—whatever she had done—

I lunged for her. Not physically, but with my mind.

If Elain’s mental gates were those of a sleeping garden, Nesta’s … They belonged to an ancient fortress, sharp and brutal. The sort I imagined they once impaled people upon.

But they were open wide. And inside …

Dark.

Dark like I had never known, even with Rhysand.

Nesta.

I took a step into her mind.

The images slammed into me.

One after one after one, I saw them.

The army that stretched into the horizon. The weapons, the hate, the sheer size.

I saw the king standing over a map in a war-tent, flanked by Jurian and several commanders, the Cauldron squatting in the center of the room behind them.

And there was Nesta.

Standing in that tent, watching the king, the Cauldron.

Frozen in place.

With undiluted fear.

“Nesta.”

She did not seem to hear me as she stared at them.

I reached for her hand. “You found it. I see—I see where it is.”

Nesta’s face was bloodless. But she at last dragged her attention to me. “Feyre.”

Surprise lit her terror-wide eyes.

“Let’s go back,” I said.

She nodded, and we turned. But we felt it—we both did.

Not the king or the commanders plotting with him. Not Jurian as he played his deadly game of deception. But the Cauldron. As if some great sleeping beast opened an eye.

The Cauldron seemed to sense us watching. Sense us there.

I felt it stir—like it would lunge for Nesta. I grabbed my sister and ran.

“Open your fist,” I ordered her as we sprinted for the iron gates to her mind. “Open it now.”

She only panted, and that monstrous force swelled behind us, a black wave rising up.

“Open it now, or it will get in here. Open it now, Nesta!”

I heard the words as I threw myself out of her mind—heard them because I’d been shouting in that tent.

With a gasp, Nesta’s fingers splayed wide, scattering stones and bones over the map.

Cassian caught her with an arm around the waist as she swayed. He hissed in pain at the movement. “What the hell—”

“Look,” Amren breathed.

There was no throw that could have done it—save for one blessed by magic.

The stones and bones formed a perfect, tight circle around a spot on the map.

Nesta and I went pale. I had seen the size of that army—we both had. While Hybern had been driving us northward, letting us chase them in these two battles …

The king had amassed his host along the western edge of the human territory.

Perhaps no more than a hundred miles from our family’s estate.

Rhys called in Tarquin and Helion to show them what we’d discovered.

Too few. We had too few soldiers, even with three armies here, to take on that host. I’d shown Rhysand what I’d seen—and he’d shown it to the others.

“Kallias will arrive soon,” Helion said, dragging his hands through his onyx hair.

“He’d have to bring forty thousand soldiers,” Cassian said. “I doubt he has half that.”

Rhys was staring and staring at that cluster of stones and bones on the map. I could feel the wrath rippling off him—not just at Hybern, but himself for not thinking Hybern might be deliberately toying with us. Positioning us here.

We’d won the high ground these two battles—Hybern had won the high ground in this war.

He knew what waited in the Middle.

And Hybern had now forced us to gather here—in this spot—so that he and his behemoth army could drive us northward. A clean sweep from the south, eventually pushing us into the Middle or forcing us to break apart to avoid the lethal tangle of trees and denizens.

And if we took the battle to them … We might court death.

None of us were foolish enough to risk building any plans around Jurian, regardless of where his true allegiance lay. Our best chance was in buying time for other allies to arrive. Kallias. Thesan.

Tamlin had chosen who to back in this war. And even if he’d picked Prythian, he would have been left with the problem of mustering a Spring Court force after I’d destroyed their faith in him.

And Miryam and Drakon … Not enough time, Rhys said to me. To hunt for them—find them, and bring back their army. We could return to find Hybern has wiped our own off the map.

But there was the Carver—if I dared risk retrieving his prize. I didn’t mention it, didn’t offer it. Not until I could know for certain—once I wasn’t about to faint from exhaustion.

“We’ll rest on it,” Tarquin said, blowing out a breath. “Meet at dawn tomorrow. Making a decision after a long day never helped anyone.”

Helion agreed, and saw himself out. It was hard not to stare, not to compare his features to Lucien’s. Their nose was the same—eerily identical. How had no one ever called him out for it?

I supposed it was the least of my worries. Tarquin frowned at the map one last time and declared, “We’ll find a way to face this.”

Rhys nodded, while Cassian’s mouth quirked to the side. He’d slid back into his chair for the discussion, and now nursed a cup of some healing brew Azriel had fetched for him.

Tarquin turned from the table, just as the tent flaps parted for a pair of broad shoulders—

Varian. He didn’t so much as look at his High Lord, his focus going right to where Amren sat at the head of the table. As if he’d sensed she was here—or someone had reported. And he’d come running.

Amren’s eyes flicked up from the Book as Varian halted. A coy smile curved her red lips.

There was still blood and dirt splattered on Varian’s brown skin, coating his silver armor and close-cropped white hair. He didn’t seem to notice or care as he strode for Amren.

And none of us dared to speak as Varian dropped to his knees before Amren’s chair, took her shocked face in his broad hands, and kissed her soundly.

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