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“You actually did it,” Amren murmured, gaping as the three immortals slammed into Hybern’s lines, and the screaming began.
Bodies fell before them; bodies were left in their wake—some mere husks encased in armor. Drained by the Carver and Stryga. Some fled from what they beheld in Bryaxis—the face of their deepest fears.
Rhys was still smiling at me as he extended a hand toward Hybern’s army, now trying to adjust to the rampant havoc.
His fingers pointed.
Obsidian power erupted from him.
A massive chunk of Hybern’s army just …
Red mist, and metal shavings lay where they had been.
Rhys panted, his eyes a bit wild. The hit had been well placed. Splitting the army in two.
Azriel unleashed a second blast—blue light slamming into the now-exposed flank. Driving them farther apart.
The Illyrians moved. That had been Rhys’s signal.
They shot down from the skies—just as a legion rose up from Hybern teeming with things like the Attor. Hidden amongst Hybern’s ranks. Siphons flared, locking shields into place—and the Illyrians rained arrows with deadly accuracy.
But the Attor legion was well prepared. And when they answered with a volley of their own … Ash shafts, but arrowheads made from faebane. Even with Nuan’s antidote in our soldiers’ veins, it did not extend to their magic—and it was no defense against the stone itself. Faebane arrows pierced Siphon-shields as easily as butter. The king had adapted—improved—his arsenal.
Some Illyrians went down quickly. The others realized the threat and used their metal shields, unhooking them from across their backs.
On land, Tarquin’s, Helion’s, and Kallias’s soldiers began to charge. Hybern unleashed its hounds—and other beasts.
And as those two sides barreled for each other … Rhys sent another blast, followed by a wave of power from Tarquin. Splitting and shoving Hybern’s lines into uneven groups.
And through it all, Bryaxis … All I could make of it was a blur of ever-changing claws and fangs and wings and muscle, shifting and whirling within that dark cloud that struck and smothered. Blood sprayed wherever it plunged into screaming soldiers. Some seemed to die of pure terror.
The Bone Carver fought near Bryaxis. No weapons to be seen beyond a scimitar of ivory—of bone—in that male’s hands. He swept it before himself, as if he were threshing wheat.
Soldiers dropped dead before it—with barely a blow laid upon them. Even that Fae body of his could not contain that lethal power—stifle it.
Hybern fled before him. Before the Weaver. For on the other side of the Carver, leaving husks of corpses in her wake … Stryga shredded through Hybern in a tangle of black hair and white limbs.
Our own soldiers, mercifully, did not balk as they ran for the enemy lines. And I sent a roaring order down that two-pronged bond that now linked me to the Carver and Bryaxis, reminding them, my teeth gritted, that our soldiers were not fair game. Only Hybern and its allies.
Both raged against the order, yanking at the leash.
I rallied every scrap of night and starlight and snarled at them to obey.
I could have sworn an otherworldly, ungodly sense of self grumbled about it in response.
But they listened. And did not turn on our soldiers who at last intercepted Hybern’s lines.
The sound as both armies collided … I didn’t have words for it. Elain covered her ears, cringing.
My friends were down there. Mor fought with Viviane, keeping an eye on her as she’d promised Kallias, while he released his power in sprays of skin-shredding ice. Cassian—I couldn’t even spot him beyond the blazing flare of his Siphons near the front lines, crimson glowing amid the vicious shadows of Keir’s Darkbringers as they wielded them to their advantage: blinding swaths of Hybern soldiers in sudden darkness … then blinding them doubly when they ripped those shadows away and left nothing but glaring sunlight. Left nothing but their awaiting blades.
“It’s already getting messy,” Amren said, even though our lines—especially the Illyrians and Thesan’s Peregryns—held.
“Not yet,” Rhys said. “Much of the army isn’t yet engaged past the front lines. We need Hybern’s focus elsewhere.”
Starting with Rhys setting foot on that battlefield.
My guts twisted up. Hybern’s army began to move, pressing ahead. The Weaver, Carver, and Bryaxis plunged deep into the ranks, but Hybern’s soldiers quickly stepped up to staunch the holes in the lines.
Helion bellowed at our front lines to hold steady. Arrows rose and fell on either side. The ones tipped in faebane found their mark. Over and over again. As if the king had spelled them to hunt their targets.
“This will be over before we can even walk down this hill,” Amren snapped.
Rhys growled at her. “Not yet—”
A horn sounded—to the north.
Both armies seemed to pause to look.
And Rhys only breathed to me, “Now. You have to go now.”
Because the army that broke over the northern horizon …
Three armies. One bearing the burnt-orange flag of Beron.
The other the grass-green flag of the Spring Court.
And one … one of mortal men in iron armor. Bearing a cobalt flag with a striking badger. Graysen’s crest.
Out of a rip in the world, Eris appeared atop our knoll, clad head to toe in silver armor, a red cape spilling from his shoulders. Rhys snarled a warning, too far gone in his power to bother controlling himself.
Eris just rested a hand on the pommel of his fine sword and said, “We thought you might need some help.”
Because Tamlin’s small army, and Beron’s, and Graysen’s … Now they were running and winnowing and blasting for Hybern’s ranks. And leading that human army …
But Beron. Beron had come.
Eris registered our shock at that, too, and said, “Tamlin made him. Dragged my father out by his neck.” A half smile. “It was delightful.”
They had come—and Tamlin had managed to rally that force I’d so gleefully destroyed—
“Tamlin wants orders,” Eris said. “Jurian does, too.”
Rhys’s voice was rough—low. “And what of your father?”
“We’re taking care of a problem,” was all Eris said, and pointed toward his father’s army.
For those were his brothers approaching the front line, winnowing in bursts through the host. Right past the front lines and to the enemy wagons scattered throughout Hybern’s ranks.
Wagons full of faebane, I realized as they crackled with blue fire and then turned to ash without even a trace of smoke. His brothers winnowed to every cache, every arsenal. Flames exploded in their path.
Destroying that supply of deadly faebane. Burning it into nothing. As if someone—Jurian or Tamlin—had told them precisely where each would be.
Rhys blinked, his only sign of surprise. He looked to me, then Amren, and nodded. Go. Now.
While Hybern was focused on the approaching army—trying to calculate the risks, to staunch the chaos Beron and his sons unleashed with their targeted attacks. Trying to figure out what the hell Jurian was doing there, and how many weaknesses Jurian had learned. And would now exploit.
Amren ushered my sisters forward, even as Elain let out a low sob at the sight of the Graysen coat of arms. “Now. Quick and quiet as shadows.”
We were going down—into that. Bryaxis and the Carver were still shredding, still slaughtering in their little pockets past the enemy lines. And the Weaver … Where was the Weaver—
There. Slowly plowing a slim path of carnage. As Rhys had instructed her moments before.
“This way,” I said to them, keeping an eye on Stryga’s path of horror. Elain was shaking, still gazing toward that human army and her betrothed in it. Nesta monitored the Illyrian legions soaring past overhead, their lines unfaltering.
“I assume we’ll be following the path of bodies,” Amren muttered to me. “How does the Weaver know how to find the Cauldron?”
Rhys seemed to be listening, even as we turned away, his fingers brushing mine in silent farewell. I just said, “Because she appears to have an unnaturally good sense of smell.”
Amren snorted, and we fell into flanking positions around my sisters. A glamour of invisibility would hopefully allow us to skirt the southern edge of the battlefield—along with Azriel’s shadows as he monitored from behind. But once we got behind enemy lines …
I looked back as we neared the edge of the knoll. Just once. At Rhys, where he now stood talking to Azriel and Eris, explaining the plan to relay to Tamlin, Beron, and Jurian. Eris’s brothers made it back behind their father’s lines—fires now burning throughout Hybern’s army. Not enough to stop them, but … at least the faebane had been dealt with. For now.
Rhys’s attention slid to me. And even with the battle around us, hell unleashing everywhere … For a heartbeat, we were the only two people on this plain.
I opened up my mental barriers to speak to him. Just one more farewell, one more—
Nesta inhaled a shuddering gasp. Stumbled, and took down Amren with her when she tried to keep her upright.
Rhys was instantly there, before the understanding dawned upon me. The Cauldron.
Hybern was rousing the Cauldron.
Amren squirmed out from beneath Nesta, whirling toward the battlefield. “Shields—”
Eris winnowed away—to warn his father, no doubt.
Nesta pushed herself onto her elbows, hair shaking free of her braid, lips bloodless. She heaved into the grass.
Rhys’s magic shot out of him, arcing around our entire army, his breathing a wet rasp—
Nesta’s hands grappled into the grass as she lifted her head, scanning the horizon.
Like she could see right to where the Cauldron was now about to be unleashed.
Rhys’s power flowed and flowed out of him, bracing for impact. Azriel’s Siphons flashed, a sprawling shield of cobalt locking over Rhysand’s, his breathing just as heavy as my mate’s—
And then Nesta began screaming. Not in pain. But a name. Over and over.
Amren reached for her, but Nesta roared, “CASSIAN!”
She scrambled to her feet, as if she’d leap into the skies.
Her body lurched, and she went down, heaving again.
A figure shot from the Illyrian ranks, spearing for us, flapping hard, red Siphons blazing—
Nesta moaned, writhing on the ground.
The earth seemed to shudder in response.
No—not in response to her. In terror of the thing that erupted from Hybern’s army.
I understood why the king had claimed those rocky foothills. Not to make us charge uphill if we should push them so far. But to position the Cauldron.
For it was from the rocky outcropping that a battering ram of death-white light hurled for our army. Just about level with the Illyrian legion in the sky—as the Attor’s legion dropped to the earth, and ducked for cover. Leaving the Illyrians exposed.
Cassian was halfway to us when the Cauldron’s blast hit the Illyrian forces.
I saw him scream—but heard nothing. The force of that power …
It shredded Azriel’s shield. Then Rhysand’s. And then shredded any Siphon-made ones.
It hollowed out my ears and seared my face.
And where a thousand soldiers had been a heartbeat before …
Ashes rained down upon our foot soldiers.
Nesta had known. She gaped up at me, terror and agony on her face, then scanned the sky for Cassian, who flapped in place, as if torn between coming for us and charging back to the scattering Illyrian and Peregryn ranks. She’d known where that blast was about to hit.
Cassian had been right in the center of it.
Or would have been, if she hadn’t called him away.
Rhys was looking at her like he knew, too. Like he didn’t know whether to scold her for the guilt Cassian would no doubt feel, or thank her for saving him.
Nesta’s body went stiff again, a low moan breaking from her.
I felt Rhys cast out his power—a silent warning signal.
The other High Lords raised shields this time, backing the one he rallied.
But the Cauldron did not hit the same spot twice. And Hybern was willing to incinerate part of his own army if it meant wiping out a strength of ours.
Cassian was again hurtling for us, for Nesta sprawled on the ground, as the light and unholy heat of the Cauldron were unleashed again.
Right into its own lines. Where the Bone Carver was gleefully shredding apart soldiers, draining the life from them in sweeps and gusts of that deadly wind.
An unearthly, female shriek broke from deep in the Hybern forces. A sister’s warning—and pain. Just as that white light slammed into the Bone Carver.
But the Carver … I could have sworn he looked toward me as the Cauldron’s power crashed into him. Could have sworn he smiled—and it was not a hideous thing at all.
The Cauldron wiped him away without any sign of effort.
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