فصل 63

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CHAPTER

63

None of us lasted long after dinner.

Amren and Varian didn’t even bother to join us.

No, she’d just wrapped her legs around his waist, right there in front of us, and he’d stood, lifting her in one swift movement. I wasn’t entirely sure how Varian managed to walk them out of the tent while still kissing her, Amren’s hands dragging through his hair, letting out noises that were unnervingly like purring as they vanished into the camp.

Rhys had let out a low laugh as we all gawked in their wake. “I suppose that’s how Varian decided he’d tell Amren he was feeling rather grateful she ordered us to go to Adriata.”

Tarquin cringed. “We’ll alternate who has to deal with them on holidays.”

Cassian chuckled hoarsely, and looked to Nesta, who remained pale and quiet. What she’d seen, what I’d seen in her mind …

The size of that army …

“Eat or bed?” Cassian had asked Nesta, and I honestly couldn’t tell if he’d meant it as some invitation. I debated telling him he was in no shape.

Nesta only said, “Bed.” And there was certainly no invitation in the exhausted reply.

Rhys and I managed to eat, quietly discussing what we’d seen. Exhaustion weighted my every breath, and I’d barely finished my plate of roast mutton before I crawled into bed and passed out atop the blankets. Rhys woke me only to tug off my boots and jacket.

Tomorrow morning. We’d figure out how to deal with everything tomorrow morning. I’d talk to Amren about finally mustering Bryaxis to help us wipe out that army.

Maybe there was something else we weren’t seeing. Some additional shot at salvation beyond that nullifying spell.

My dreams were a tangled garden, thorns snagging on me as I stumbled through them.

I dreamed of the Suriel, bleeding out and smiling. I dreamed of the Weaver’s open mouth ripping into Ianthe while she still screamed. I dreamed of Lord Graysen—so mortal and young—standing at the edge of the camp, beckoning to Elain. Telling her he’d come for her. To come home with him. That he’d found a way to undo what had been done to her—to make her human again.

I dreamed of that Cauldron in the King of Hybern’s war-tent, so dark and slumbering … Awakening as Nesta and I stood there, invisible and unseen.

How it had watched back. Known us.

I could feel it watching me, even then. In my dreams. Feel it extend an ancient, black tendril toward me—

I jolted awake.

Rhys’s naked body was wrapped around mine, his face softened with sleep. In the blackness of the tent, I listened.

Crackling fires outside. The drowsy murmurs of the soldiers on watch. The wind sighing along the canvas tents, snapping at the banners crowning them.

I scanned the dark, listening.

The skin on my arms pebbled.

“Rhys.”

He was instantly awake—sitting upright. “What is it?”

“Something …” I listened so hard my ears strained. “Something is here. Something is wrong.”

He moved, hauling on his pants and knife-belt. I followed suit, still trying to listen, fingers stumbling over the buckles. “I dreamed,” I whispered. “I dreamed about the Cauldron … that it was watching again.”

“Shit.” The word was a hiss of breath.

“I think we opened a door,” I breathed, shoving my feet into my boots. “I think … I think …” I couldn’t finish the sentence as I hurried for the tent flaps, Rhys at my heels. Nesta. I had to find Nesta—

Gold-brown hair flashed in the firelight, and she was already there, hurrying for me, still in her nightgown. “You hear it, too,” she panted.

Hear—I couldn’t hear, but just feel—

Amren’s small figure darted around a tent, wearing what looked to be Varian’s shirt. It came down to her knees, and its owner was indeed behind her, bare-chested as Rhys was, and wide-eyed.

Amren’s bare feet were splattered in mud and grass. “It came here—its power. I can feel it—slithering around. Looking.”

“The Cauldron,” Varian said, brows narrowing. “But—it’s aware?”

“We pried too deep,” Amren said. “Battle aside, it knows where we are as much as we now know its location.”

Nesta raised a hand. “Listen.”

And I heard it then.

It was a song and invitation, a cluster of notes sung by a voice that was male and female, young and old, haunting and alluring and—

“I can’t hear anything,” Rhys said.

“You were not Made,” Amren snapped. But we were. The three of us …

Again, the Cauldron sang its siren song.

My very bones recoiled. “What does it want?”

I felt it pulling away—felt it sliding off into the night.

Azriel stepped out of a shadow. “What is that,” he hissed.

My brows rose. “You hear it?”

A shake of the head. “No—but the shadows, the wind … They recoil.”

The Cauldron sang again.

Distant—withdrawing.

“I think it’s leaving,” I whispered.

Cassian stumbled and staggered for us a moment later, a hand braced on his chest, Mor on his heels. She did not so much as look at me, nor I her, as Rhys told them. Standing together in the dead of night—

The Cauldron sang one final note—then went silent.

The presence, the weight … vanished.

Amren loosed a sigh. “Hybern knows where we are by now. The Cauldron likely wanted to have a look for itself. After we taunted it.”

I rubbed at my face. “Let’s pray that’s the last we see of it.”

Varian angled his head. “So you three … because you were Made, you can hear it? Sense it?”

“It would appear so,” Amren said, looking inclined to tug him back to wherever they’d been, to finish what they’d no doubt still been in the middle of doing.

But Azriel asked softly, “What about Elain?”

Something cold went through me. Nesta was just staring at Azriel. Staring and staring—

Then she broke into a run.

Her bare feet slid through the mud, splattering me as we charged for our sister’s tent.

“Elain—” Nesta shoved open the tent.

She stopped short so fast I slammed into her. The tent—the tent was empty.

Nesta flung herself inside, tossing away blankets, as if Elain had somehow sunk into the ground. “Elain!”

I whirled into the camp, scanning the tents nearby. One look at Rhys conveyed what we’d found inside. An Illyrian blade appeared in his hand just before he winnowed.

Azriel stalked to my side, right into the tent where Nesta had now come to her feet. He tucked his wings in tightly as he squeezed through the narrow space, ignoring Nesta’s snarl of warning, and knelt at the cot.

He ran a scarred hand over the rumpled blankets. “They’re still warm.”

Outside, Cassian was barking orders, the camp rousing.

“The Cauldron,” I breathed. “The Cauldron was fading away—going somewhere—”

Nesta was already moving, sprinting for where we’d heard that voice. Luring Elain out.

I knew how it had done it.

I’d dreamed of it.

Graysen standing on the edge of camp, calling to her, promising her love and healing.

We reached the copse of trees at the edge of the camp, just as Rhys appeared out of the night, his blade now sheathed across his back. There was something in his hands. No emotion on his carefully neutral face.

Nesta let out a sound that might have been a sob as I realized what he’d found at the edge of the forest. What the Cauldron had left behind in its haste to return to Hybern’s war-camp. Or as a mocking gift.

Elain’s dark blue cloak, still warm from her body.

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