Because this Solstice … it was her birthday. Twenty-one years old.

It hit me for a moment, how small that number was.

My beautiful, strong, fierce mate, shackled to me—

“I know what that look means, you bastard,” Cassian said roughly, “and it’s bullshit. She loves you—in a way I’ve never seen anybody love anyone.”

“It’s hard sometimes,” I admitted, staring toward the snow-coated field outside the house, the training rings and dwellings beyond it, “to remember that she picked it. Picked me. That it’s not like my parents, shoved together.”

Cassian’s face turned uncharacteristically solemn, and he remained quiet for a moment before he said, “I get jealous sometimes. I’d never begrudge you for your happiness, but what you two have, Rhys …” He dragged a hand through his hair, his crimson Siphon glinting in the light streaming through the window. “It’s the legends, the lies, they spin us when we’re children. About the glory and wonder of the mating bond. I thought it was all bullshit. Then you two came along.”

“She’s turning twenty-one. Twenty-one, Cassian.”

“So? Your mother was eighteen to your father’s nine hundred.”

“And she was miserable.”

“Feyre is not your mother. And you are not your father.” He looked me over. “Where is this coming from, anyway? Are things … not good?”

The opposite, actually. “I get this feeling,” I said, pacing a step, the ancient wood floorboards creaking beneath my boots, my power a writhing, living thing prowling through my veins, “that it’s all some sort of joke. Some sort of cosmic trick, and that no one—no one—can be this happy and not pay for it.”

“You’ve already paid for it, Rhys. Both of you. And then some.”

I waved a hand. “I just …” I trailed off, unable to finish the words.

Cassian stared at me for a long moment.

Then he crossed the distance between us, gathering me in an embrace so tight I could barely breathe. “You made it. We made it. You both endured enough that no one would blame you if you danced off into the sunset like Miryam and Drakon and never bothered with anything else again. But you are bothering—you’re both still working to make this peace last. Peace, Rhys. We have peace, and the true kind. Enjoy it—enjoy each other. You paid the debt before it was ever a debt.”

My throat tightened, and I gripped him hard around his wings, the scales of his leathers digging into my fingers. “What about you?” I asked, pulling away after a moment. “Are you … happy?”

Shadows darkened his hazel eyes. “I’m getting there.”

A halfhearted answer.

I’d have to work on that, too. Perhaps there were threads to be pulled, woven together.

Cassian jerked his chin toward the door. “Get going, you bastard. I’ll see you in three days.”

I nodded, opening the door at last. But paused on the threshold. “Thanks, brother.”

Cassian’s crooked grin was bright, even if those shadows still guttered in his eyes. “It’s an honor, my lord.”

Chapter 3


Cassian wasn’t entirely certain that he could deal with Devlon and his warriors without throttling them. At least, not for the next good hour or so.

And since that would do little to help quell the murmurings of discontent, Cassian waited until Rhys had winnowed out into the snow and wind before vanishing himself.

Not winnowing, though that would have been one hell of a weapon against enemies in battle. He’d seen Rhys do it with devastating results. Az, too—in the strange way that Az could move through the world without technically winnowing.

He’d never asked. Azriel certainly had never explained.

But Cassian didn’t mind his own method of moving: flying. It certainly had served him well enough in battle.

Stepping out the front door of the ancient wooden house so that Devlon and the other pricks in the sparring rings would see him, Cassian made a good show of stretching. First his arms, honed and still aching to pummel in a few Illyrian faces. Then his wings, wider and broader than theirs. They’d always resented that, perhaps more than anything else. He flared them until the strain along the powerful muscles and sinews was a pleasurable burn, his wings casting long shadows across the snow.

And with a mighty flap, he shot into the gray skies.

The wind was a roar around him, the temperature cold enough that his eyes watered. Bracing—freeing. He flapped higher, then banked left, aiming for the peaks behind the camp pass. No need to do a warning sweep over Devlon and the sparring rings.

Ignoring them, projecting the message that they weren’t important enough to even be considered threats were far better ways of pissing them off. Rhys had taught him that. Long ago.

Catching an updraft that sent him soaring over the nearest peaks and then into the endless, snow-coated labyrinth of mountains that made up their homeland, Cassian breathed in deep. His flying leathers and gloves kept him warm enough, but his wings, exposed to the chill wind … The cold was sharp as a knife.

He could shield himself with his Siphons, had done it in the past. But today, this morning, he wanted that biting cold.

Especially with what he was about to do. Where he was going.

He would have known the path blindfolded, simply by listening to the wind through the mountains, inhaling the smell of the pine-crusted peaks below, the barren rock fields.

It was rare for him to make the trek. He usually only did it when his temper was likely to get the better of him, and he had enough lingering control to know he needed to head out for a few hours. Today was no exception.

In the distance, small, dark shapes shot through the sky. Warriors on patrol. Or perhaps armed escorts leading families to their Solstice reunions.

Most High Fae believed the Illyrians were the greatest menace in these mountains.

They didn’t realize that far worse things prowled between the peaks. Some of them hunting on the winds, some crawling out from deep caverns in the rock itself.

Feyre had braved facing some of those things in the pine forests of the Steppes. To save Rhys. Cassian wondered if his brother had ever told her what dwelled in these mountains. Most had been slain by the Illyrians, or sent fleeing to those Steppes. But the most cunning of them, the most ancient … they had found ways to hide. To emerge on moonless nights to feed.

Even five centuries of training couldn’t stop the chill that skittered down his spine as Cassian surveyed the empty, quiet mountains below and wondered what slept beneath the snow.

He cut northward, casting the thought from his mind. On the horizon, a familiar shape took form, growing larger with each flap of his wings.

Ramiel. The sacred mountain.

The heart of not only Illyria, but the entirety of the Night Court.

None were permitted on its barren, rocky slopes—save for the Illyrians, and only once a year at that. During the Blood Rite.

Cassian soared toward it, unable to resist Ramiel’s ancient summons. Different—the mountain was so different from the barren, terrible presence of the lone peak in the center of Prythian. Ramiel had always felt alive, somehow. Awake and watchful.

He’d only set foot on it once, on that final day of the Rite. When he and his brothers, bloodied and battered, had scaled its side to reach the onyx monolith at its summit. He could still feel the crumbling rock beneath his boots, hear the rasp of his breathing as he half hauled Rhys up the slopes, Azriel providing cover behind. As one, the three of them had touched the stone—the first to reach its peak at the end of that brutal week. The uncontested winners.