فصل 76

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CHAPTER

76

Tears slid down Varian’s blood-flecked skin as we watched that spot on the sea where Amren had vanished.

Below, beyond, our forces were beginning to cry out with victory—with joy.

Up on the rock … utter quiet.

I looked at last toward the broken thirds of the Cauldron.

Perhaps I had done it. In unbinding her, I had unbound the Cauldron. Or perhaps Amren in her unleashed power … even that had been too great for the Cauldron.

“We should go,” I said to Varian. The others would be looking for us.

I had to get my father. Had to bury him. Help Cassian.

Had to see who else was among the dead—or living.

Hollow—I was so tired and hollow.

I managed to stand. To take one step before I felt it.

The … thing in the Cauldron. Or lack of it.

It was lack and substance, absence and presence. And … it was leaking into the world.

I dared a step toward it. And what I beheld in those ruins of the Cauldron …

It was a void. But also not a void—a growth.

It did not belong here. Belong anywhere.

There were hands at my face, turning me, touching me. “Are you hurt, are you—”

Rhys’s face was battered—bloody. His hands were still tipped in talons, his canines still elongated. Barely out of that beast form. “You—you freed her—”

He was stammering. Shaking. I wasn’t entirely sure how he was even standing.

I didn’t know where to begin. How to explain.

I let him into my mind, his presence gentle—and as exhausted as I was, I let him see my father. Nesta and Cassian. The king. And Amren.

All of it.

Including that thing behind us. That hole.

Rhys folded me into his arms—just for a moment.

“We have a problem,” Varian murmured, pointing behind us.

We followed the line of his finger. To where that fissure in the world within the shards of the Cauldron … It was growing.

The Cauldron could never be destroyed, we had been warned. Because our very world was bound to it.

If the Cauldron were destroyed … we would be, too.

“What have I done,” I breathed. I had saved our friends—only to damn us all.

Made. Made and un-Made.

I had broken it. I could remake it again.

I ran for the Book, flinging open the pages.

But the gold was engraved with symbols only one being on this earth knew how to read, and she was gone. I hurled the damn thing into the void inside the Cauldron.

It vanished and did not appear again.

“Well, that’s one way to try,” Rhys said.

I whirled at the humor, but his face was hard. Grim.

“I don’t know what to do,” I whispered.

Rhys studied the ruins. “Amren said you were a conduit.” I nodded. “So be one again.”

“What?”

He looked at me like I was the insane one as he said, “Remake the Cauldron. Forge it anew.”

“With what power?”

“My own.”

“You’re—you’re drained, Rhys. So am I. We all are.”

“Try. Humor me.”

I blinked, that edge of panic dulling a bit. Yes—yes, with him, with my mate …

I thought through the spell Amren had shown me. If I changed one small thing … It was a gamble. But it might work.

“Better than nothing,” I said, blowing out a breath.

“That’s the spirit.” Humor danced in his eyes.

The dead lay around us for miles, cries of the wounded and grieving starting to rise up, but … We had stopped Hybern. Stopped the king.

Perhaps in this … in this we would be lucky, too.

I reached for him—with my hand, my mind.

His shields were up—solid walls he’d erected during battle. I brushed a hand along one, but it remained. Rhys smiled down at me, kissed me once. “Remind me to never get on Nesta’s bad side.”

That he could even joke—no, it was a form of enduring. For both of us. Because the alternative to laughter … Varian’s devastated face, watching us silently, was the alternative. And with this thing before us, this final task …

So I managed a laugh.

And I was still smiling, just a bit, when I again laid my hand on the broken shards of the Cauldron.

It was a hole. Airless. No life could exist here. No light.

It was … it was what had existed at the beginning. Before all things had exploded from it.

It did not belong here. Maybe one day, when the earth had grown old and died, when the stars had vanished, too … maybe then, we would return to this place.

Not today. Not now.

I was both form and nothing.

And behind me … Rhys’s power was a tether. An unending lightning strike that surged from me into this … place. To be shaped as I willed it.

Made and un-Made.

From a distant corner of my memory, my human mind … I remembered a mural I had seen at the Spring Court. Tucked away in a dusty, unused library. It told the story of Prythian.

It told the story of a Cauldron. This Cauldron.

And when it was held by female hands … All life flowed from it.

I reached mine out, Rhys’s power rippling through me.

United. Joined as one. Ask and answer.

I was not afraid. Not with him there.

I cupped my hands as if the cracked thirds of the Cauldron could fit into them. The entire universe into the palm of my hand.

I began to speak that last spell Amren had found us. Speak and think and feel it. Word and breath and blood.

Rhys’s power flowed through me, out of me. The Cauldron appeared.

Light danced along the fissures where the broken thirds had come together. There—there I would need to forge. To weld. To bind.

I put a hand against the side of the Cauldron. Raw, brutal power cascaded out of me.

I leaned back into him, unafraid of that power, of the male who held me.

It flowed and flowed, a burst dam of night.

The cracks fizzled and blurred.

That void began to slither back in.

More. We needed more.

He gave it to me. Rhys handed over everything.

I was a bearer, a vessel, a link.

I love you, he whispered into my mind.

I only leaned back into him, savoring his warmth, even in this non-place.

Power shuddered through him. Wrapped around the Cauldron. I recited the spell over and over and over.

The first crack healed.

Then the second.

I felt him tremble behind me, heard his wet rasp of breath. I tried to turn—

I love you, he said again.

The third and final crack began to heal over.

His power began to sputter. But it kept flowing out.

I threw mine into it, sparks and snow and light and water. Together, we threw everything in. We gave every last drop.

Until that Cauldron was whole. Until the thing it contained … it was in there. Locked away.

Until I could feel the sun again warming my face. And saw that Cauldron squatting before me—beneath my hand.

I eased my fingers from the icy iron rim. Gazed down into the inky depths.

No cracks. Whole.

I loosed a shuddering breath. We had done it. We had done—

I turned.

It took me a moment to grasp it. What I saw.

Rhys was sprawled on the rocky ground, wings draped behind him.

He looked like he was sleeping.

But as I breathed in—

It wasn’t there.

That thing that rose and fell with each breath. That echoed each heartbeat.

The mating bond.

It wasn’t there. It was gone.

Because his own chest … it was not moving.

And Rhys was dead.

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