فصل 71

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CHAPTER

71

I could barely hear, barely think in the wake of the Cauldron’s power.

In the wake of the empty, blasted bit of plain where the Carver had been. The sudden cold that shuddered down my spine—as if erasing the tattoo inked upon it.

And then the silence—silence in some pocket of my mind as a section of that two-pronged leash of control faded into darkness without end. Leaving nothing behind.

I wondered who would carve his death in the Prison.

If he had perhaps already carved it for himself on the walls of that cell. If he had wanted to make sure I was worthy not to taunt me, but because he wanted his end … he wanted his end to be worth carving.

And as I gazed at that decimated part of the plain, the ashes of the Illyrians still raining down … I wondered if the Carver had made it. To wherever he had been so curious about going.

I sent up a quiet prayer for him—for all the soldiers who had been there and were now ash on the wind … sent up a prayer that they found it everything they’d hoped it would be.

It was the Illyrians who drew me out of the quiet, the ringing in my ears. Even as our army began to panic in the wake of the Cauldron’s might, the remaining bulk of the Illyrian legions re-formed their lines and charged ahead, Thesan’s Peregryns wholly interspersed with them now.

Jurian’s human army, made up of Graysen’s men and others … To their credit, they did not falter. Did not break, even as they went down one by one.

If the Cauldron dealt another blow …

Nesta had her brow in the grass as Cassian landed so hard the ground shuddered. He was reaching for her as he panted, “What is it, what—”

“It’s gone quiet again,” Nesta breathed, letting Cassian haul her into a sitting position as he scanned her face. Devastation and rage lay in his own. Did he know? That she had screamed for him, knowing he’d come … That she’d done it to save him?

Rhys only ordered him, “Get back in line. The soldiers need you there.”

Cassian bared his teeth. “What the hell can we do against that?”

“I’m going in,” Azriel said.

“No,” Rhys snapped. But Azriel was spreading his wings, the sunlight so stark on the new, slashing scars down the membrane.

“Chain me to a tree, Rhys,” Azriel said softly. “Go ahead.” He began checking the buckles on his weapons. “I’ll rip it out of the ground and fly with it on my damned back.”

Rhys just stared at him—the wings. Then the decimated Illyrian forces.

Any chance we had of victory …

Nesta wasn’t going anywhere. She could barely stay sitting. And Elain … Amren was holding Elain upright as she vomited in the grass. Not from the Cauldron. But pure terror.

But if we did not stop the Cauldron before it refilled again … We’d be gone within a few more strikes. I met Amren’s gaze. Can it be done—with just me?

Her eyes narrowed. Maybe. A pause. Maybe. It never specified how many. Between the two of us … it could be enough.

I eased to my feet. The view of the battle was so much worse standing.

Helion, Tarquin, and Kallias struggled to hold our lines. Jurian, Tamlin, and Beron still battered the northern flank, while the Illyrians and Peregryns slammed back the aerial legion; Keir’s Darkbringers now little more than wisps of shadow amid the chaos, but …

But it was not enough. And Hybern’s sheer size … It was beginning to push us back.

Beginning to overwhelm us.

Even by the time Amren and I crossed the miles of battlefield … What would be left?

Who would be left?

There was another horn, then.

I knew it did not belong to any ally.

Just as I knew Hybern had not only picked this battlefield for its physical advantages … but geographical ones.

Because toward the sea, sailing out of the west, out of Hybern …

An armada appeared.

So many ships. All teeming with soldiers.

I caught the look between Cassian, Azriel, and Rhys as they beheld the other army sailing in—at our backs.

Not another army. The rest of Hybern’s army.

We were trapped between them.

Amren swore. “We might need to run, Rhysand. Before they make landfall.”

We could not fight both armies. Couldn’t even fight one.

Rhys turned to me. If you can get across that battlefield in time, then do it. Try to stop the army. The king. But if you can’t, when it all goes to hell … When there are none of us left …

Don’t, I begged him. Don’t say it.

I want you to run. I don’t care what it costs. You run. Get far away, and live to fight another day. You don’t look back.

I began to shake my head. You said no good-byes.

“Azriel,” Rhys said quietly. Hoarsely. “You lead the remaining Illyrians on the northern flank.” Guilt—guilt and fear rippled in my mate’s eyes at the command. Knowing that Azriel was not fully healed—

Azriel didn’t give Rhys a chance to reconsider. Didn’t say good-bye to any of us. He shot into the sky, those still-healing wings beating hard as they carried him toward the scrambling northern flank.

That armada sailed nearer. Hybern, sensing their reinforcements were soon to make landfall, cheered and pushed. Hard. So hard the Illyrian lines buckled. Azriel sailed closer and closer to them, Siphons trailing tendrils of blue flame in his wake.

Rhys watched him for a moment, throat bobbing, before he said, “Cassian, you take the southern flank.”

This was it. The last moments … the last time I would see them all.

I wouldn’t run. If it all went to hell, I would make it count and use my own last breath to get that army and king wiped off the earth. But right now …

Hybern’s armada sailed directly for the distant beach. If I didn’t go now, I’d have to charge right through them. The Weaver was already slowing on the eastern front, her death-dance hindered by too many enemies. Bryaxis continued to shred through the lines, swaths of the dead in its wake. But it was still not enough. All that planning … it was still not enough.

Cassian said to Rhys, to me, to Nesta, “I’ll see you on the other side.”

I knew he didn’t mean the battlefield.

His wings shifted, readying to lift him.

A horn blast cleaved the world.

A dozen horns, lifted in perfect, mighty harmony.

Rhys went still.

Utterly still at the sound of those horns from the distance. From the east—from the sea.

He whipped his head to me, grabbed me by the waist, and hauled me into the sky. A heartbeat later, Cassian was beside us, Nesta in his arms—as if she’d demanded to see.

And there … sailing over the eastern horizon …

I did not know where to look.

At the winged soldiers—thousands upon thousands of them—flying straight toward us, high above the ocean. Or the armada of ships stretching away beneath them. More than Hybern’s armada. Far, far more.

I knew who they were the moment the aerial host’s white, feathered wings became clear.

The Seraphim.

Drakon’s legion.

And in those ships below … So many different ships. A thousand ships from countless nations, it seemed. Miryam’s people. But the other ships …

Out of the clouds, a tan-skinned, dark-haired Seraphim warrior soared for us. And Rhys’s choked laugh was enough to tell me who it was. Who now flapped before us, grinning broadly.

“You could have asked for aid, you know,” drawled the male—Drakon. “Instead of letting us hear of all this through the rumor mill. Seems we arrived just in time.”

“We came looking for you—and found you gone,” Rhys said—but those were tears in his eyes. “Makes it hard to ask someone for aid.”

Drakon snorted. “Yes, we realized that. Miryam figured it out—why we hadn’t heard from you yet.” His white wings were almost blindingly bright in the sun. “Three centuries ago, we had some trouble on our borders and set up a glamour to keep the island shielded. Tied to—you know. So that anyone who approached would only see a ruin and be inclined to turn around.” He winked at Rhys. “Miryam’s idea—she got it from you and your city.” Drakon winced a bit. “Turns out, it worked too well, if it kept out both enemies and friends.”

“You mean to tell me,” Rhys said softly, “that you’ve been on Cretea this entire time.”

Drakon grimaced. “Yes. Until … we heard about Hybern. About Miryam being … hunted again.” By Jurian. The prince’s face tightened with rage, but he surveyed me, then Nesta and Cassian, with a sharp-eyed scrutiny. “Shall we assist you, or just flap here, talking?”

Rhys inclined his head. “At your leisure, Prince.” He glanced to the armada now aiming for Hybern’s forces. “Friends of yours?”

Drakon’s mouth quirked to the side. “Friends of yours, I think.” My heart stopped. “Some of Miryam’s boats are down there, she with them, but most of that came for you.”

“What,” Nesta said sharply, not quite a question.

Drakon pointed to the ships. “We met up with them on the flight here. Saw them crossing the channel and decided to join ranks. It’s why we’re a little late—though we gave them a bit of a push across.” Indeed, wind was now whipping at their white sails, propelling those boats faster and faster toward that Hybern armada.

Drakon rubbed his jaw. “I can’t even begin to explain the convoluted story they told me, but …” He shook his head. “They’re led by a queen named Vassa.”

I began crying.

“Who apparently was found by—”

“Lucien,” I breathed.

“Who?” Drakon’s brows narrowed. “Oh, the male with the eye. No. He met up with them later on—told them where to go. To come now, actually. So pushy, you Prythian males. Good thing we, at least, were already on our way to see if you needed help.”

“Who found Vassa,” Nesta said with that same flat tone. As if she somehow already knew.

Closer, those human ships sailed. So many—so, so many, bearing a variety of different flags that I could just start to make out, thanks to my Fae sight.

“He calls himself the Prince of Merchants,” Drakon said. “Apparently, he discovered the human queens were traitors months ago, and has been gathering an independent human army to face Hybern ever since. He managed to find Queen Vassa—and together they rallied this army.” Drakon shrugged. “He told me that he’s got three daughters who live here. And that he failed them for many years. But he would not fail them this time.”

The ships at the front of the human armada became clear, along with the gold lettering on their sides.

“He named his three personal ships after them,” Drakon said with a smile.

And there, sailing at the front … I beheld the names of those ships.

The Feyre.

The Elain.

And leading the charge against Hybern, flying over the waves, unyielding and without an ounce of fear …

The Nesta.

With my father … our father at the helm.

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