فصل 67

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CHAPTER

67

We’d need access to the Cauldron—be able to touch it. Together.

Alone, it had nearly killed me. But split amongst others who were Made … We could withstand its lethal power.

If we got it under our control, in one fell swoop we could harness its might to bind the king and his army. And wipe them off the earth.

Amren had found the spell to do it. Right where the Suriel had claimed it’d be encoded in the Book. Rather than nullify the Cauldron’s powers … we would nullify the person controlling it. And his entire host.

But we had to attain the Cauldron first. And with the two armies poised to fight …

We would move only when the carnage was at its peak. When Hybern might be distracted in the chaos. Unless he planned to wield that Cauldron on the killing field.

Which was a high possibility.

There was no chance we’d infiltrate that army camp again—not after we’d stolen Elain. So we would have to wait until we walked into the trap he’d set for us. Wait until we took up disadvantageous positions on that battlefield he’d selected, and arrive exhausted from the battles before it, the trek there. Exhausted from winnowing those human families out of his path.

Which we did. That night, any of us who could winnow …

I went to my old village with Rhysand.

I went to the houses where I had once left gold as a mortal woman.

At first, they did not recognize me.

Then they realized what I was.

Rhys held their minds gently, soothing them, as I explained. What had happened to me, what was coming. What we needed to do.

They did not have time to pack more than a few things. And they were all trembling as we swept them across the world, to the warmth of a lush forest just outside Adriata, Cresseida already waiting with food and a small army of servants to help and organize.

The second family did not believe us. Thought it was some faerie trick. Rhys tried to hold their minds, but their panic was too deep, their hatred too tangible.

They wanted to stay.

Rhys didn’t give them a choice after that. He winnowed their entire family, all of them screaming. They were still shrieking when we left them in that forest, more humans around them, our companions winnowing in new arrivals for Cresseida to document and soothe.

So we continued. House to house. Family to family. Anyone in Hybern’s path.

All night. Every High Lord in our army, any commander or noble with the gift and strength.

Until we were panting. Until there was a small city of humans huddled together in that summer-ripe forest. Until even Rhys’s strength flagged and he could barely winnow back to our tent.

He passed out before his head had hit the pillow, his wings splayed across the bed.

Too much strain, too much relying on his power.

I watched him sleep, counting his breaths.

We knew—all of us did. We knew that we wouldn’t walk away from that battlefield.

Maybe it would inspire others to fight, but … We knew. My mate, my family … they would fight, buy us time with their lives while Amren and my sisters and I tried to stop that Cauldron. Some would go down before we could reach it.

And they were willing to do it. If they were afraid, none of them let on.

I brushed Rhys’s sweat-damp hair back from his brow.

I knew he’d give everything before any of us could offer it. Knew he’d try.

It was as much a part of him as his limbs, this need to sacrifice, to protect. But I wouldn’t let him do it—not without trying myself.

Amren had not mentioned Bryaxis in our talks earlier. Had seemed to have forgotten it. But we still had a battle to wage tomorrow. And if Bryaxis could buy my friends, could buy Rhys, any extra time while I hunted down that Cauldron … If it could buy them the slimmest shot of survival … Then the Bone Carver could as well.

I didn’t care about the cost. Or the risk. Not as I looked at my sleeping mate, exhaustion lining his face.

He had given enough. And if this broke me, drove me mad, ripped me apart … All Amren would need was my presence, my body, tomorrow with the Cauldron. Anything else … if it was what I had to give, my own cost to buy them any sliver of survival … I would gladly pay it. Face it.

So I rallied the dregs of my power and winnowed away—winnowed north.

To the Court of Nightmares.

There was a winding stair, deep within the mountain. It led to only one place: a chamber near the uppermost peak. I had learned as much from my research.

I stood at the base of that stairwell, peering up into the impenetrable gloom, my breath clouding in front of me.

A thousand stairs. That was how many steps stood between me and the Ouroboros. The Mirror of Beginnings and Endings.

Only you can decide what breaks you, Cursebreaker. Only you.

I kindled a ball of faelight over my head and began my ascent.

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