- A Court of Frost and Starlight
I linked my arm through his, nestling into his warmth. “It’s strange,” I murmured.
Rhys angled his head. “What is?”
I smiled. At him, at the Rainbow, at the city. “This feeling, this excitement to wake up every day. To see you, and to work, and to just be here.”
Nearly a year ago, I’d told him the opposite. Wished for the opposite. His face softened, as if he, too, remembered it. And understood.
I went on, “I know there’s much to do. I know there are things we’ll have to face. A few sooner than later.” Some of the stars in his eyes banked at that. “I know there’s the Illyrians, and the human queens, and the humans themselves, and all of it. But despite them …” I couldn’t finish. Couldn’t find the right words. Or speak them without falling apart in public.
So I leaned into him, into that unfailing strength, and said down the bond, You make me so very happy. My life is happy, and I will never stop being grateful that you are in it.
I looked up to find him not at all ashamed to have tears slipping down his cheeks in public. I brushed a few away before the chill wind could freeze them, and Rhys whispered in my ear, “I will never stop being grateful to have you in my life, either, Feyre darling. And no matter what lies ahead”—a small, joyous smile at that—“we will face it together. Enjoy every moment of it together.”
I leaned into him again, his arm tightening around my shoulders. Around the top of the arm inked with the tattoo we both bore, the promise between us. To never part, not until the end.
And even after that.
I love you, I said down the bond.
What’s not to love?
Before I could elbow him, Rhys kissed me again, breathless and swift. To the stars who listen, Feyre.
I brushed a hand over his cheek to wipe away the last of his tears, his skin warm and soft, and we turned down the street that would lead us home. Toward our future—and all that waited within it.
To the dreams that are answered, Rhys.
The black water at her thrashing heels was freezing.
Not the bite of winter chill, or even the burn of solid ice, but something colder. Deeper.
It was the cold of the gaps between stars, the cold of a world before light.
The cold of hell—true hell, she realized, as she bucked and kicked against the strong hands trying to shove her into that Cauldron.
True hell, because that was Elain lying on the floor, the red-haired, one-eyed Fae male hovering over her. Because those were pointed ears poking through the sodden gold-brown hair, and that was an immortal glow resting upon Elain’s fair skin.
True hell, worse than the inky depths that waited mere inches from her toes.
Put her in, the hard-faced king ordered.
And the sound of that voice, the male who had done this to Elain …
She knew that she was going into the Cauldron. Knew she would lose this fight.
Knew no one was coming to save her, not sobbing Feyre, not Feyre’s gagged former lover, not her devastated new mate. Not Cassian, broken and bleeding on the floor, still trying to rise on trembling arms.
The king—he had done this. To Elain. To Cassian.
And to her.
The icy water bit into the soles of her feet.
It was a bite of venom, a bite of a death so permanent that every inch of her roared in defiance.
She was going in, but she would not go gently. She would not go bowed to this Fae king.
The water gripped her ankles with phantom hands, tugging her down.
So she twisted, wrenching her arm free from the guard who held it.
And so she pointed.
One finger—at the king.
Down down down that water wanted to pull her.
But Nesta Archeron still pointed at the King of Hybern.
A death-promise. A target marked.
Hands shoved her into the water’s awaiting claws.
And Nesta Archeron laughed at the fear that crept into the king’s eyes. Just before the water devoured her whole.
In the beginning
And at the end
There was Darkness
And nothing more
She did not feel the cold as she sank into a sea of blackness that had no bottom, no horizon, no surface.
But she felt the burning when it began.
Immortality was not a serene youth.
It was fire.
It was molten ore poured into her veins, boiling up her human blood until it was nothing but steam, forging her brittle bones into fresh steel.
When she opened her mouth to scream, when the pain ripped apart her very self, there was no sound. There was nothing here, in this place, but darkness and agony and power—
She would not take this gently.
She would not let them do this. To her, to Elain.
She would not bow, or yield, or grovel.
They would pay. All of them.
Starting with this place, this thing.
She tore into the darkness with claws and talons and teeth. Rent and cleaved and shredded.
The dark eternity around her shuddered. Bucked. Thrashed.
She laughed as it tried to recoil. Laughed around the mouthful of raw power she ripped from the inky black around her and swallowed whole; laughed at the fistfuls of eternity she shoved into her heart, her veins.
The Cauldron struggled like a bird under a cat’s paw. She refused to relent her grip.
Everything it had stolen from her, from Elain, she would take from it. From Hybern.
So she did.
Down into black eternity, Nesta and the Cauldron twined and fell, burning through the darkness like a newborn star.
Cassian raised his fist to the green-painted door in the dim hallway—and hesitated.
He’d cut down more enemies than he could count or remember, had stood knee-deep in gore on a killing field and kept swinging, had made choices that cost him the lives of good warriors, had been a general and a grunt and an assassin, and yet here he was, lowering his fist. Balking.
The building on the north side of the Sidra was in need of new paint. And new floors, if the creaking boards beneath his boots had been any indication as he’d climbed the two flights. But at least it was clean. It was still grim by Velaris standards, but when the city itself had no slums, that wasn’t saying much. He’d seen and stayed in far worse.
But it didn’t quite explain why she was staying here. Had insisted she live here, when the town house was sitting empty thanks to the river estate’s completion. He could understand why she wouldn’t bother taking up rooms in the House of Wind—it was too far from the city, and she couldn’t fly or winnow in. But Feyre and Rhys gave her a salary. The same, generous one they gave him, and every member of their circle. So Cassian knew she could afford far, far better.
He frowned at the peeling paint on the green door before him. No sounds trickled through the sizable gap between the door and floor; no fresh scents lingered in the hallway. Maybe he’d get lucky and she’d be out. Maybe she was still sleeping under the bar of whatever pleasure hall she’d frequented last night. Though maybe that’d be worse, since he’d have to track her down there, too. And a public scene …
He lifted his fist again, the red of his Siphon flickering in the ancient balls of faelight tucked into the ceiling.
Coward. Grow some damned balls and do your job.
Cassian almost sighed. Thank the Mother—
Clipped, precise footsteps thudded toward the other side of the door. Each more pissed off than the last.
He tucked his wings in tight, squaring his shoulders as he braced his feet slightly farther apart.
She had four locks on her door, and the snap as she unlatched each of them might as well have been the beating of a war-drum. He ran through the list of things he was to say, how Feyre had suggested he say them, but—