Chapter no 16

A Court of Silver Flames

Cassian hadn’t slept well.

It was hard to sleep well when he’d been so aroused he’d had to pleasure himself not once but three times just to calm the hell down enough to close his eyes. But he awoke before dawn aching for her, her scent still in his nose, and another release had barely taken the edge off.

He’d told her exactly what he planned to do last night, but meeting Nesta’s stare over the breakfast table the next morning was more uncomfortable than he’d anticipated.

She’d beaten him to the table, and had been reading a book while she ate. It lay closed now, but from the spine, he gleaned that it was one of the romances she favored so much.

To break the silence, Cassian asked, “What are you reading?”

Color stained Nesta’s pale cheeks. And he could have sworn it took an effort of will for her to meet his eyes, too. “A romance.”

“I gathered that. What’s this one about?”

She dropped her gaze quickly. But the blush remained. He knew it had nothing to do with the novel.

But she lifted her eyes to him again, spine stiffening. Like she was working hard as hell to make herself meet his stare. Her fingers clenched her fork. And when he looked at them, she pulled her hand under the table.

As if it were blazing with proof.

His blood heated as he realized the blush, her embarrassment … He made himself take deep, steadying breaths. They had to train together for the next two hours. Being at attention wasn’t only unhelpful, but inappropriate in the training ring.

It didn’t make him stop picturing it: that hand between her legs, her body as aching for release as his had been. The way she’d probably bitten her lip, just as he had, to keep from crying out. His cock grew hard, pushing at his pants to the point of pain.

Cassian shifted in his seat, trying to free up any space for himself. It only succeeded in making the hard seam rub against his cock, the friction enough to make him grit his teeth.

Training. They had training.

“The book,” Nesta said, a bit breathlessly, “is about …” Her nostrils flared and her eyes went a bit unfocused. “A book.”

“Interesting,” Cassian murmured. “Sounds great.”

He had to get out of this room. Had to sort his shit out before he went upstairs. The heat between them didn’t belong in the training ring. Where the fuck was Az when he needed him? Cassian had played buffer for Mor for years—where the fuck was she when he needed her?

But he couldn’t rise from his chair. If he did, Nesta would see precisely how she’d affected him. That is, if she hadn’t already scented it—and understood the shift in his smell. And if she looked at the bulge in his pants with that heat she’d had in her eyes last night, the heat he’d come to just picturing her, he might very well make a fool of himself.

It was a risk he was willing to take. Had to take, before he laid her flat on the table and removed their clothing piece by piece.

Cassian shot out of his chair, muttering, “I’ll see you there,” and left.



“The book,” Nesta repeated to herself, staring at her porridge, “is about a book.” She cupped her forehead in her hands. “Idiot.”

At least Cassian hadn’t seemed to be listening. But whatever willingness had been in his eyes last night seemed reluctant today, as if he

couldn’t help—didn’t want that heat between them, that tension. He’d practically run out of the room to avoid her.

Training would be awful.

He was waiting in the ring, the portrait of a swaggering warrior. Nesta didn’t dare look at his pants. To what she could have sworn she’d glimpsed straining at the stays and buttons when he’d fled the room.

But if he appeared unruffled, then fine. She’d match him in it.

Nesta rolled her shoulders, approaching him. “More stretching and balance?”


Their eyes met, and there was only clear, determined calm—and a challenge. “We’ll do the warm-up, and then we’re moving into some core work.”

She gaped. Her … core?

“Abdominals,” he clarified, and pink washed across his face. He cleared his throat. “Filthy mind.” He flicked her cheek. “Too much smut.”

She batted him away and gestured to the muscles hidden beneath his shirt. “You’re going to make me look like that?”

His low laugh rippled over her body. “No one can look like this but me, Nes.”

Arrogant ass.

“Rhysand and Azriel do,” she said sweetly. “I’ve got one or two muscles on them.”

“I don’t see it.”

He winked. “Maybe they’re in other places.”

She couldn’t help it. Couldn’t stop it. Not the flash of desire, but the smile that overtook her face. She huffed a laugh.

Cassian stared like he hadn’t seen her before.

His shock was enough that Nesta dropped her smile. “All right,” she said. “Warm-up, then abdominals.”



She hated abdominal exercises.

Mostly because she couldn’t do them.

“I knew you didn’t have much muscle,” Cassian observed as Nesta lay belly-down on the ground, having collapsed onto her front after trying to hold a full-body plank, “but this is absolutely pathetic.”

“Aren’t you supposed to be my inspirational teacher?” “You can’t do more than five seconds.”

She spat, “And how long can you do?” “Five minutes.”

Nesta pushed herself onto her elbows. “I’m sorry if I haven’t had five hundred years of core work.”

“I asked you to hold that plank for thirty seconds.”

She shoved onto her knees, stomach aching. He’d had her doing curls upward, then leg extensions while lying on her back, and then lifting a smooth five-pound rock over her head while she’d tried to raise herself from lying prone into a sitting position using only her stomach muscles. She hadn’t been able to do more than one or two of any of them before her body gave out. No amount of will or grit could make it move.

“This is torture.” Bracing her hands on her knees, Nesta pointed to the ring. “If you’re so perfect, do everything you just ordered me to do.”

Cassian snorted. “A ten-year-old Illyrian boy could do it in the span of a few minutes.”

“Then do your big, tough male routine.”

He smirked. “All right. You want to mouth off, then I’ll show you my big, tough male routine.”

He slung his shirt off. Tied back his hair.

And this was a different sort of torture. To watch him go through the same exercises, only harder, heavier, faster. To watch the muscles of his stomach ripple, muscles everywhere ripple. To watch sweat glisten and then run down his golden body, over his tattoos, along the eight-pointed star of their bargain on his spine before sliding into the waist of his pants.

But he’d been professional during their lesson. Utterly professional and distant, as if this training ring was sacred to him.

Nesta couldn’t tear her eyes away as he completed his exercises, panting softly. She tried not to wonder if that panting was how he’d sounded last night when he’d pleasured himself.

But Cassian’s hazel eyes were clear. Triumphant.

In another age, another world, he might have been deemed a warrior-god by mortals. After what he’d told her about the monsters he’d put in the Prison, he might very well be considered a great hero in this age. The kind that would one day be whispered about around a fire. People would name their children after him. Warriors would want to be him. A fine warrior would be known as Cassian reborn.

She’d called him a brute.

“What?” Cassian wiped the sweat from his face.

She asked, to distract herself from her thoughts, “Are there truly no female fighting units amongst the Illyrians?” She hadn’t seen any during the war.

His smile faded. “We tried once and it failed spectacularly. So, no.

There aren’t.”

“Because Illyrians are backward and horrible.” He winced. “Have you been talking to Az?”

“Just my observations.”

He untied his hair, the thick, straight locks falling around his face. “The Illyrians … I told you. Progress is slow. It’s an ongoing goal of ours—me and Rhys, I mean.”

“It’s that hard for the females to become warriors?”

“It’s not just the training. It’s running the social gauntlet, too. And then there’s the Blood Rite, which they’d also have to complete.”

“What’s the Blood Rite?”

“What it sounds like.” He rubbed his neck. “When an Illyrian warrior comes into his full power, usually in his twenties, he has to go through the Blood Rite before he can qualify as a full warrior and adult. Would-be warriors from every clan and village get sent in, usually three or four from each—all of them scattered across an area in the Illyrian Mountains. We’re left there for a week with two goals: survival, and making it to Ramiel.”

“What’s Ramiel?” She felt like a child with these questions, but her curiosity got the better of her.

“Our sacred mountain.” He drew a familiar symbol in the dirt: an upward-pointing triangle with three dots above it. A mountain, she realized.

And three stars. “It’s the symbol of the Night Court. The Blood Rite always takes place when Arktos, Carynth, and Oristes, our three holy stars, shine above it for one week a year. On the final day of the Rite, they’re directly above its peak.”

“So you hike to the mountain?”

“We kill our way to the mountain.” His eyes had turned hard. “We’re drugged and dumped into the wilderness, with nothing but our clothes.”

“And you have to participate?”

“Once you’re in, you can’t leave. At least until the Rite is over, or you reach the peak of Ramiel. If anyone breaks into the Rite to extract or save you, the law declares that both of you will be hunted down and killed for the transgression. Even Rhys isn’t exempt from those laws.”

Nesta shivered. “It sounds barbaric.”

“That’s not the half of it. A spell is in place so our wings are rendered useless and no magic may be used.” He held up a hand, displaying the red Siphon on its back. “Magic is rare amongst Illyrians, but when it does manifest, it requires Siphons to be controlled, filtered into something usable. But it gives us an advantage over the other Illyrians without it—so the spell levels the playing field. Illyrians do possess magic on one night a year, though: the night before the Blood Rite, when the war-band leaders can winnow the drugged novices into the wilds. Don’t even ask me why that is. No one knows.”

“Azriel can winnow all the time, though.”

“Az is different. In a lot of ways.” His tone didn’t invite further questioning.

“So without the use of magic in the Rite, you kill each other the normal way? Swords and daggers?”

“Weapons are banned, too. At least ones that are brought in from the outside. But you can build your own. You need to build your own. Or else you’ll be slaughtered.”

“By the other warriors?”

“Yes. Rival clans, enemies, assholes seeking notoriety—all of it. In some villages, the higher the kill count, the more glory you bring. The most backward clans claim the slaughter is to thin out the weaker warriors, but I

always thought it was a grand waste of any potential talent.” Cassian dragged a hand through his hair. “And then there are the creatures that roam the mountains—ones that can easily bring down an Illyrian warrior with claws and fangs.”

A murky memory surfaced, of Feyre telling her about the horrible beasts she’d once encountered in the region. Cassian went on, “So you’re facing all of that while trying to make your way to Ramiel’s slopes. The majority of the males forget to save enough strength for the end of the week to make the climb. It’s a full day and night of brutal climbing, where one fall can kill you. Most don’t even make it to the base of the mountain. But if they do, the opponent changes. You’re not facing other warriors—you’re pitting yourself, your very soul, against the mountain. It’s usually that fact that breaks anyone who tries to scale it.”

“And what—you make it to the top and get a trophy?”

Cassian snorted, but his words were serious. “There’s a sacred stone atop it. Touch the stone first, and you win. It will transport you out immediately.”

“And everyone else when the week is done?”

“Whoever is left standing is considered a warrior. Where you are when it ends sorts you into one of the three echelons of warrior, named after our holy stars: Arktosian, the ones who don’t make it to the mountain but survive; Oristian, the ones who make it to the mountain but don’t reach the top; and Carynthian, the ones who scale the summit and are considered elite warriors. Touching the stone atop Ramiel is to win the Rite. Only a dozen warriors in the past five centuries have reached the mountain.”

“You touched the stone, I take it.”

“Rhys, Az, and I touched it together, even though we were deliberately separated from each other at the beginning.”


“The leaders feared us and what we’d become. They thought the warriors or beasts would handle us, if we didn’t have each other to lean against. They were wrong.” His eyes glittered fiercely. “What they learned was that we love each other as true brothers. And there was nothing that we wouldn’t do, no one we wouldn’t kill, to reach each other. To save each

other. We killed our way across the mountains, and made it through the Breaking—the worst of Ramiel’s three routes to the top—and we won the damn thing. We touched the stone in the same moment, the same breath, and entered the Carynthian tier of warriors.”

Nesta failed to keep the shock off her face. “And you say only twelve have become Carynthian … in five hundred years?”

“No. Twelve made it to the mountain and became Oristian. Only three others, besides us, won the Blood Rite and became Carynthian.” His throat bobbed. “They were fine warriors, and led exemplary units. We lost two of them against Hybern.”

Likely in that blast that had decimated a thousand of them. The blast she’d shielded him from. Him, and only him.

Nesta’s stomach clenched, nausea sliding through her. She forced herself to take a long breath. “So you think females can’t participate in the Rite?”

“Mor would likely win the damn thing in record time, but no. I wouldn’t want even her participating in the Rite.” The unspoken part of his reasoning lay coldly in his eyes. There would be a different, worse kind of violence to defend against, even if the females were as highly trained as the males.

Nesta shivered. “Could you have a female unit without them taking the Blood Rite?”

“They would never be honored as true warriors without it—without one of those three titles. Well, I would consider them warriors, but not the rest of the Illyrians. No other units would fly with them. They’d consider it a disgrace and an insult.” She frowned and he held up his hands. “Like I said: change comes slowly. You heard the bullshit Devlon spewed about your cycle. That’s considered progress. In the past, they’d kill a female for picking up a weapon. Now they ‘decontaminate’ the blade and call themselves modern thinkers.” Disgust contorted his features.

Nesta eased to her feet and scanned the sky. Her head had cleared— only slightly. She didn’t relish the prospect of shelving books when her body was already aching … But perhaps she’d see Gwyn.

“Training the Illyrian females,” Cassian went on, “wouldn’t be about fighting in our wars. It would be about proving they’re equally as capable and strong as the males. It would be about mastering their fear, honing the strength they already have.”

“What do they fear?”

“Becoming my mother,” he said softly. “Going through what she endured.”

What the priestesses beneath the mountain had endured.

Nesta thought of the quiet priestesses who did not leave the mountain, who dwelled in the dimness. Riven flashed through her memory, hurrying past, unable to stomach a stranger’s presence. Gwyn, with her bright eyes that sometimes darkened with shadows.

Cassian tilted his head to the side at her silence. “What is it?” “Would you train non-Illyrian females?”

“I’m training you, aren’t I?”

“I mean, would you consider …” She didn’t know how to elegantly phrase it, not like silver-tongued Rhysand. “The priestesses in the library. If I invited them to train with us here, where it’s private and safe. Would you train them?”

Cassian blinked slowly. “Yes. I mean, of course, but …” He winced. “Nesta, many of the females in the library do not want to be—cannot stand to be—around males again.”

“Then we’ll ask one of your female friends to join. Mor or anyone else you can think of.”

“The priestesses might not even be able to stomach having me present.” “You’d never hurt anyone like that.”

His eyes softened slightly. “It’s not about that for them. It’s about the fear—the trauma they bear. Even if they know I’d never do that to them, I might still drag up memories that are incredibly difficult for them to face.”

“You said this training would help me with my … problems. Perhaps it could help them. At the very least give them a reason to get outside for a bit.”

Cassian watched her for a long moment. Then he said, “Whoever you can get up here with us, I’ll gladly train. Mor’s away, but I can ask Feyre


“Not Feyre.” Nesta hated the words. The way his back stiffened. She

couldn’t look at him as she said, “I just …” How could she explain the tangle between her and her sister? The self-loathing that threatened to consume her every time she looked at her sister’s face?

“All right,” Cassian repeated. “Not Feyre. But I need to give her and Rhys a heads-up. You should probably ask Clotho for permission, too.” A warm hand clasped her shoulder and squeezed. “I like this idea, Nes.” His hazel eyes shone bright. “I like it a lot.”

And for some reason, the words meant everything.

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