فصل 75

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CHAPTER

75

The Cauldron purred in Elain’s presence as the King of Hybern slumped to his knees, clawing at the knife jutting through his throat. Elain backed away a step.

Choking, blood dribbling from his lips, the king gaped at Nesta. My sister lunged to her feet.

Not to go to Elain. But to the king.

Nesta wrapped her hand around Truth-Teller’s obsidian hilt.

And slowly, as if savoring every bit of effort it took … Nesta began to twist the blade. Not a rotation of the blade itself—but a rotation into his neck.

Elain rushed to Cassian, but the warrior was panting—smiling grimly and panting—as Nesta twisted and twisted the blade into the king’s neck. Severing flesh and bone and tendon.

Nesta looked down at the king before she made the final pass, his hands still trying to rise, to claw the blade free.

And in Nesta’s eyes … it was the same look, the same gleam that she’d had that day in Hybern. When she pointed her finger at him in a death-promise. She smiled a little—as if she remembered, too.

And then she pushed the blade, like a worker heaving the spoke of a mighty, grinding wheel.

The king’s eyes flared—then his head tumbled off his shoulders.

“Nesta,” Cassian groaned, trying to reach for her.

The king’s blood sprayed her leathers, her face.

Nesta didn’t seem to care as she bent over. As she took up his fallen head and lifted it. Lifted it in the air and stared at it—into Hybern’s dead eyes, his gaping mouth.

She did not smile. She only stared and stared and stared.

Savage. Unyielding. Brutal.

“Nesta,” Elain whispered.

Nesta blinked, and seemed to realize it, then—whose head she was holding.

What she and Elain had done.

The king’s head rolled from her bloodied hands.

The Cauldron seemed to realize what she’d done, too, as his head thumped onto the mossy ground. That Elain … Elain had defended this thief. Elain, who it had gifted with such powers, found her so lovely it had wanted to give her something … It would not harm Elain, even in its hunt to reclaim what had been taken.

It retreated the moment Elain’s eyes fell on our dead father lying in the adjacent clearing.

The moment the scream came out of her.

No. I lunged for them, but the Cauldron was too fast. Too strong.

It whipped me back, back, back—across the battlefield.

No one seemed to know the king was dead. And our armies …

Rhys and the other High Lords had given themselves wholly to the monsters that lurked under their skins, swaths of enemy soldiers dying in their wake, shredded or gutted or rent in two. And Helion—

The High Lord of Day was bloodied, his golden fur singed and torn, but he still battled against the Hybern commander. The commander remained unmarred. His face unruffled. As if he knew—he might very well win against Helion Spell-Cleaver today.

We arced away, across the field. To Bryaxis—still fighting. Holding the line for Graysen’s men. A black cloud that cut a path for them, shielded them. Bryaxis, Fear itself, guarding the mortals.

We passed Drakon and a black-haired woman with skin like dark honey, both squaring off against—

Jurian. They were fighting Jurian. Drakon had an ancient score to settle—and so did Miryam.

We whisked by so quickly I couldn’t hear what was said, couldn’t see if Jurian was indeed fighting back or trying to fend them off while he explained. Mor joined the fray, bloodied and limping, shouting at them—it was the least of our problems.

Because our armies …

Hybern was overwhelming us. Without the king, without the Cauldron, they’d still do it. The fervor the king had roused in them, their belief that they had been wronged and forgotten … They’d keep fighting. No solution would ever appease them beyond the complete reclaiming of what they still believed they were entitled to—deserved.

There were too many. So many. And we were all drained.

The Cauldron hurtled away, withdrawing toward itself.

There was a roar of pain—a roar I recognized, even with the different, harrowing form.

Rhys. Rhys—

He was faltering, he needed help—

The Cauldron sucked back into itself, and I was again atop that rock.

Again staring at Amren, who was slapping my face, shouting my name.

“Stupid girl,” she barked. “Fight it! ”

Rhys was hurt. Rhys was being overwhelmed—

I snapped back into my body. My hand remained atop the Cauldron. A living bond. But with the Cauldron settled into itself … I blinked. I could blink.

Amren blew out a breath. “What in hell—”

“The king is dead,” I said, my voice cold and foreign. “And you’re going to be soon, too.”

I’d kill her for this, for betraying us for whatever reason—

“I know,” Amren said quietly. “And I need you to help me do it.”

I almost let go of the Cauldron at the words, but she shook her head.

“Don’t break it—the contact. I need you to be … a conduit.”

“I don’t understand.”

“The Suriel—it gave you a message. For me. Only me.”

My brows narrowed.

Amren said, “The answer in the Book was no spell of control. I lied about that. It was … an unbinding spell. For me.”

“What?”

Amren looked to the carnage, the screams of the dying ringing us. “I thought I’d need your sisters to help you control the Cauldron, but after you faced the Ouroboros … I knew you could do it. Just you. And just me. Because when you unbind me with the Cauldron’s power, in my real form … I will wipe that army away. Every last one of them.”

“Amren—”

But a male voice pleaded from behind, “Don’t.”

Varian appeared from the rocky path, gasping for breath, splattered with blood.

Amren smirked. “Like a hound on a scent.”

“Don’t,” was all Varian said.

“Unleash me,” Amren said, ignoring him. “Let me end this.”

I began shaking my head. “You—you will be gone. You said you won’t remember us, won’t be you anymore if you’re freed.”

Amren smiled slightly—at me, at Varian. “I watched them for so many eons. Humans—in my world, there were humans, too. And I watched them love, and hate—wage senseless war and find precious peace. Watched them build lives, build worlds. I was … I was never allowed such things. I had not been designed that way, had not been ordered to do so. So I watched. And that day I came here … it was the first selfish thing I had done. For a long, long while I thought it was punishment for disobeying my Father’s orders, for wanting. I thought this world was some hell he’d locked me into for disobedience.”

Amren swallowed.

“But I think … I wonder if my Father knew. If he saw how I watched them love and hate and build, and opened that rip in the world not as punishment … but as a gift.” Her eyes gleamed. “For it has been a gift. This time—with you. With all of you. It has been a gift.”

“Amren,” Varian said, and sank onto his knees. “I am begging you—”

“Tell the High Lord,” she said softly, “to leave out a cup for me.”

I did not think I had it in my heart for another ounce of sorrow. I gripped the Cauldron a little harder my throat thick. “I will.”

She looked to Varian, a wry smile on her red mouth. “I watched them most—the humans who loved. I never understood it—how it happened. Why it happened.” She paused a step away from the Cauldron. “I think I might have learned with you, though. Perhaps that was a last gift, too.”

Varian’s face twisted with anguish. But he made no further move to stop her.

She turned to me. And spoke the words into my head—the spell I must think and feel and do. I nodded.

“When I am free,” Amren said to us, “do not run. It will attract my attention.”

She lifted a steady hand toward my arm.

“I am glad we met, Feyre.”

I smiled at her, bowing my head. “Me too, Amren. Me too.”

Amren grabbed my wrist. And swung herself into the Cauldron.

I fought. I fought with every breath to get through the spell, my arm half-submerged in the Cauldron as Amren went under the dark water that had filled it. I said the words with my tongue, said them with my heart and blood and bones. Screamed them.

Her hand vanished from my arm, melting away like dew under the morning sun.

The spell ended, shuddering out of me, and I snapped back, losing my hold on the Cauldron. Varian caught me before I fell, and gripped me hard as we gazed at the black mass of the Cauldron, the still surface.

He breathed, “Is she—”

It started far, far beneath us. As if she had gone to the earth’s core.

I let Varian haul me a few steps away as the ripple thundered up through the ground, spearing for us, the Cauldron.

We had only enough time to throw ourselves behind the nearest rock when it hit us.

The Cauldron shattered into three pieces, peeling apart like a blossoming flower—and then she came.

She exploded from that mortal shell, light blinding us. Light and fire.

She was roaring—in victory and rage and pain.

And I could have sworn I saw great, burning wings, each feather a simmering ember, spread wide. Could have sworn a crown of incandescent light floated just above her flaming hair.

She paused. The thing that was inside Amren paused.

Looked at us—at the battlefield and all of our friends, our family still fighting on it.

As if to say, I remember you.

And then she was gone.

She spread those wings, flame and light rippling to encompass her, no more than a burning behemoth that swept down upon Hybern’s armies.

They began running.

Amren came down on them like a hammer, raining fire and brimstone.

She swept through them, burning them, drinking in their death. Some died at the mere whisper of her passing.

I heard Rhys bellowing—and the sound was the same as hers. Victory and rage and pain. And warning. A warning not to run from her.

Bit by bit, she destroyed that endless Hybern army. Bit by bit, she wiped away their taint, their threat. The suffering they had brought.

She shattered through that Hybern commander, poised to strike Helion a deathblow. Shattered through that commander as if he were made of glass. She left only ashes behind.

But that power—it was fading. Vanishing ember by ember.

Yet Amren went to the sea, where my father and Vassa’s army battled alongside Miryam’s people. Entire boats full of Hybern soldiers fell still after she passed.

As if she had inhaled the life right out of them. Even while her own life sputtered out.

Amren reached the final boat—the very last ship of our enemy—and was no more than a flame on the breeze.

And when that ship, too, fell silent …

There was only light. Bright, clean light, dancing on the waves.

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