Chapter no 17

A Court of Silver Flames

“I have a proposition for you.”

Stomach muscles throbbing, legs aching, Nesta stood before Clotho’s desk as the priestess finished writing on whatever manuscript she was annotating, her enchanted pen scratching along.

Clotho lifted her head when the pen dotted its last mark and wrote on a scrap of paper, Yes?

“Would you allow your priestesses to train with me every morning in the ring at the top of the House? Not all of them—just whoever might be interested.”

Clotho sat perfectly still. Then the pen moved. Train for what?

“To strengthen their bodies, to defend themselves, to attack, if they wish. But also to clear their minds. Help steady them.”

Who will oversee this training? You?

“No. I’m not qualified for that. I’ll be training with them.” Her heart pounded. She wasn’t sure why. “Cassian will be overseeing it. He’s not handsy— I mean, he’s respectful and …” Nesta shook her head. She sounded a proper fool.

Beneath the shadows of her hood, Nesta could sense Clotho’s gaze lingering upon her. The pen moved again.

Not many will come, I am afraid.

“I know. But even one or two … I’d like to offer.” Nesta gestured to a pillar beyond Clotho. “I’ll put a sign-up sheet there. Whoever wants to join is welcome.”

Again, that long stare from beneath the hood, its weight like a phantom touch.

Then Clotho wrote, Whoever wants to join has my blessing.



Nesta pasted the sign-up sheet onto the pillar that day.

No one had inked their name on it by the time she departed.

She awoke early, made the trek to the library to check the list, and found it still empty.

“It’ll take time,” Cassian consoled her when he read whatever lay etched on her face as she stepped into the training ring. He added a shade softly, “Keep reaching out your hand.”

So Nesta did.

Every afternoon when she arrived at the library, she checked the list.

Every evening when she left, she checked it as well. It was always empty.

At training, Cassian began to instruct her on basic footwork and body positioning in hand-to-hand combat. No punches or kicks, not yet. Nesta held that infernal plank for ten seconds. Then fifteen. Then twenty. Thirty.

Cassian added weights to her exercises, in order to build up her flimsy arms. Heavy stones with carved handles to carry while she did her lunges and squats.

All while she breathed and breathed and breathed.

She tried the stairs again. Made it to step five hundred before her muscles demanded she turn around. The next night, she halted on six hundred ten. Then seven hundred fifty.

She didn’t know what she’d do at the bottom: find a tavern or a pleasure hall and drink herself stupid, she supposed. If she made it, she’d deserve it, she told herself with each step.

At night, exhaustion weighed so heavily she could barely eat and bathe before tumbling into bed. Barely read a chapter of a book before her eyelids

drooped. She’d found a smutty novel she’d already read and loved in one of the trunks Elain had packed, and had laid it on the desk.

She’d said to the air, “I found this for you. It’s a present.” The book had vanished into nothing. But in the morning, she’d found a bouquet of autumnal flowers upon her desk, the glass vase bursting with asters and chrysanthemums of every color.

A week passed, during which she barely saw Gwyn, though she learned through Clotho that Merrill had been pushing her hard with the Valkyrie research. But Nesta had so many books to shelve that the hours passed swiftly.

Especially once she began using the books to train. While striding up the ramp, she’d hold a heavy stack and execute an assortment of lunges. Several times, she caught passing priestesses a level above peering at her while she did so.

Every day, she checked the sign-up sheet on the pillar beyond Clotho’s desk. Empty.

Day after day after day.

Keep reaching out your hand, Cassian had told her.

But what would it matter, she began to wonder, if no one bothered to reach back?



“You hold your fist like that when you punch someone and you’ll shatter your thumb.”

Panting, with sweat running down her back in great rivers, Nesta scowled at Cassian. She held up the fist he’d ordered her to make, her thumb inside her folded fingers. “What’s wrong with my fist?”

“Keep your thumb atop the knuckles on your pointer and middle finger.” He made a fist to demonstrate and wiggled the thumb tucked against his fingers. “If your thumb makes the hit, it’s going to hurt like hell.”

Studying the fist Cassian extended, Nesta mimicked the positioning on her own hand. “What then?”

He jerked his chin. “Get into the position we went over yesterday. Feet parallel, rooting your strength into the ground …”

“I know, I know,” Nesta muttered, and took up the stance he’d spent three days making her practice. She observed her feet as they shuffled into position, then she bent her knees slightly, bobbing twice to make sure she’d secured her center of power.

Cassian circled her. “Good. Any punch you make should be swift and precise, not a wild swing that’ll knock you off balance and deprive your arm of strength. Your body and breath will power the punch more than your actual arm.” He took up a similar stance—and struck at the air.

He moved so smoothly, so brutally, that the blow was done before she could blink.

He held out his arm when he’d finished, muscles shifting. He’d rolled up his sleeves against the warm autumn day, but hadn’t taken his shirt off entirely. In the stark sunlight, the tattoo along his left arm seemed to drink down the brightness. “Line up the first two knuckles with your forearm. That’s what you want to hit with, and the strength in your arm will carry right through to them. If you hit with your ring finger and pinky, you’ll break your hand.”

“I had no idea punching was so fraught with peril.” “Apparently, it takes brains to be a brute.”

Nesta flattened her brows, but focused on aligning her forearm and the knuckles he’d indicated. “That’s it?”

“To hit with the proper knuckles, you need to angle your wrist downward just a fraction.”


“So your wrist doesn’t snap.”

She lowered her arm. “Considering how many ways there are to break my own hand when punching someone, it doesn’t seem worth it.”

“That’s why a good warrior knows when to pick his battles.” He lowered his fist. “You have to ask yourself if the risk is worth it each time.”

“And do you always throw a punch with perfect form?”

“Yes,” Cassian said without one ounce of doubt. He shook his hair from his eyes. “Well, most of the time. There have been some brawls when I

didn’t have the right angle and balance, but a punch, even one that could break my hand, was the best way out of a bind. I’ve shattered my hand …” He squinted at the sky, as if doing a mental tally. “Oh, probably ten times.”

“In five hundred years.”

“I can’t be perfect every moment of every day, Nes.” His eyes flickered. There had been no repeats of that madness in the hallway last week.

And she’d been too tired at night to even make it up to the dining room, let alone to pleasure herself in bed.

“Right,” he said. “Now shift your hips into the punch.” He struck at the air again. He moved more slowly this time, letting her see how his body flowed into the blow. “It will engage your core and your shoulder, both of which add extra power.” Another jab.

“So those abdominal exercises are useful beyond wanting to show off your muscles?”

He threw her a wry grin. “You really think this is just for show?”

“I think I’ve caught you looking at yourself in that mirror at least a dozen times each lesson.” Nesta nodded to the slender mirror across the ring.

He chuckled. “Liar. You use that mirror to watch me when you think I’m not paying attention.”

She refused to let him see the truth on her face. Refused to so much as lower her head. She focused again on her stance.

“All business today, huh?”

“You want me to train,” Nesta said coolly, “so train me.”

Even if no priestesses showed up, even if she was a stupid fool for hoping that they would, she didn’t mind this training. It cleared her head, required so much thinking and breathing that the roaring thoughts had little chance to devour her whole. Only in the quiet moments did those thoughts pounce again, usually if she lost focus while working in the library or bathing. And when that happened, the stairwell always beckoned. The infernal ten thousand steps.

But would it do anything—the training, the work, the stairs—beyond keeping her busy? The thoughts still waited like wolves to swarm her. To rip her apart.

I loved you from the first moment I held you in my arms. The wolves prowled closer, claws clicking.

“Where’d you go?” Cassian asked, hazel eyes dim with worry.

Nesta took up her stance again. It sent the wolves retreating a step. “Nowhere.”



Elain was in the private library.

Nesta knew it before she’d cleared the stairs, covered in dust from the library.

Her sister’s delicate scent of jasmine and honey lingered in the red-stoned hall like a promise of spring, a sparkling river that she followed to the open doors of the chamber.

Elain stood at the wall of windows, clad in a lilac gown whose close-fitting bodice showed how well her sister had filled out since those initial days in the Night Court. Gone were the sharp angles, replaced by softness and elegant curves. Nesta knew she herself had looked like that at one point, even if Elain’s breasts had always been smaller.

She peered down at herself, bony and gangly. Her sister turned toward her, glowing with health.

Elain’s smile was as bright as the setting sun beyond the windows. “I thought I’d drop by to see how you were doing.”

Someone had brought Elain here, since there was no way in hell she had climbed those ten thousand steps.

Nesta didn’t return her sister’s smile, but rather gestured to her body, the leathers, the dust. “I’ve been busy.”

“You look a little better than you did a few weeks ago.”

The last time she’d seen Elain—a week before she’d come to the House. She’d passed her sister in the bustling market square they called the Palace of Bone and Salt, and though Elain had halted, no doubt intending to speak to her, Nesta had kept walking. Hadn’t looked back before vanishing into the throng. Nesta didn’t wish to consider how poorly she’d looked then, if the picture she presented now was better.

“You’ve got good coloring, I mean,” Elain clarified, striding from the windows to cross the room. She stopped a few feet away. As if holding herself back from the embrace she might have given.

Like Nesta was some sort of disease-ridden leper.

How many times had they been in this room during those initial months? How many times had it been this way, only with their positions switched? Elain had been the ghost then, too thin, with her thoughts turned inward.

Somehow, Nesta had become the ghost.

Worse than a ghost. A wraith, whose rage and hunger were bottomless, eternal.

Elain had only needed time to adjust. But Nesta knew she herself needed more than that.

“Are you enjoying your time up here?”

Nesta met her sister’s warm brown eyes. When human, Elain had easily been the prettiest of the three of them, and when she’d been turned High Fae, that beauty had been amplified. Nesta couldn’t put her finger on what changes had been wrought beyond the pointed ears, but Elain had gone from lovely to devastatingly beautiful. Elain never seemed to realize it.

It was always that way between them: Elain, sweet and oblivious, and Nesta, the snarling wolf at her side, poised to shred anyone who threatened her.

Elain is pleasant to look at, her mother had once mused while Nesta sat beside her dressing table, a servant silently brushing her mother’s gold-brown hair, but she has no ambition. She does not dream beyond her garden and pretty clothes. She will be an asset on the marriage market for us one day, if that beauty holds, but it will be our own maneuverings, Nesta, not hers, that win us an advantageous match.

Nesta had been twelve at the time. Elain barely eleven.

She’d absorbed every word of her mother’s scheming, plans for futures that had never come to pass.

We shall have to petition your father to go to the continent when the time is right, her mother had often said. There are no men here worthy of either of you. Feyre hadn’t even been considered at that point, a sullen,

strange child whom her mother ignored. Human royalty rules there still— lords and dukes and princes—but their wealth is tapped out, many of their estates nearing ruin. Two beautiful ladies with a king’s fortune could go far.

I might marry a prince? Nesta had asked. Her mother had only smiled.

Nesta shook her head clear of the memories and said at last, “I don’t have any choice but to be here, so I don’t see how I could be enjoying myself.”

Elain wrung her slender fingers, nails kept trimmed short for her work in the gardens. “I know the circumstances for your coming here were awful, Nesta, but it doesn’t mean you need to be so miserable about it.”

“I sat by your side for weeks,” Nesta said flatly. “Weeks, while you wasted away, refusing food and drink. While you appeared to hope you’d just wither and die.”

Elain flinched. But Nesta couldn’t stop the words from pouring out. “No one suggested you either shape up or be shipped back to the human lands.”

Elain, surprisingly, held her ground. “I wasn’t drinking myself into oblivion and—and doing those other things.”

“Fucking strangers?”

Elain flinched again, her face coloring.

Nesta snorted. “You’re living amongst beings who have none of our human primness, you know.” Elain squared her shoulders again, just as Nesta added, “It’s not like you and Graysen didn’t act on your feelings.”

It was a low blow, but Nesta didn’t care. She knew Elain had given her maidenhead to Graysen a month before they’d been turned Fae. Elain had been glowing the next morning.

Elain cocked her head. Didn’t dissolve into the crying mess she usually became when Graysen came up. Instead she said, “You’re angry with me.”

Fine, then. She could be direct, too. Nesta shot back, “For packing my things while Rhysand and Feyre told me I’m a worthless pile of shit? Yes.”

Elain crossed her arms and said calmly, sadly, “Feyre warned me this might happen.”

The words struck Nesta like a slap. They’d spoken of her, her behavior, her attitude. Elain and Feyre—that was the new status of things. The bond

Elain had chosen.

It was inevitable, Nesta supposed, stomach churning. She was the monster. Why shouldn’t the two of them band together and shove her out? Even if she’d foolishly believed that Elain had always seen every horrible part of her and decided to stick by her anyway.

“I still wanted to come,” Elain went on with that focused calm, the quiet steel building in her voice. “I wanted to see you, to explain.”

Elain had chosen Feyre, chosen her perfect little world. Amren hadn’t been any different. Nesta’s spine stiffened. “There is nothing to explain.”

Elain held up her hands. “We did this because we love you.” “Spare me the bullshit, please.”

Elain stepped closer, brown eyes wide. Undoubtedly wholly convinced of her own innocence, her innate goodness. “It’s the truth. We did this because we love you, and worry for you, and if Father were here—”

“Don’t ever mention him.” Nesta bared her teeth, but kept her voice low. “Never fucking mention him again.

She forbade her leash to slip completely. But she felt it—the stirring of that terrible beast inside her. Felt its power surge, blazing yet cold. She lunged for it, shoving it down, down, down, but it was too late. Elain’s gasp confirmed that Nesta’s eyes had gone to silver fire, as Cassian had described it.

But Nesta smothered the fire in her darkness, until she was cold and empty and still once more.

Pain slowly washed over Elain’s face. And understanding. “Is that what this is all about? Father?”

Nesta pointed to the door, finger shaking with the effort of keeping that writhing power at bay. Each word from Elain’s mouth threatened to undo her restraint. “Get out.

Silver lined Elain’s eyes, but her voice remained steady, sure. “There was nothing that could have been done to save him, Nesta.”

The words were kindling. Elain had accepted his death as inevitable. She hadn’t bothered to fight for him, as if he hadn’t been worth the effort, precisely as Nesta knew she herself wasn’t worth the effort.

This time, Nesta didn’t stop the power from shining in her eyes; she shook so violently she had to fist her hands. “You tell yourself there’s nothing that could have been done because it’s unbearable to think that you could have saved him, if you’d only deigned to show up a few minutes earlier.” The lie was bitter in her mouth.

It wasn’t Elain’s fault their father had died. No, that was entirely Nesta’s own fault. But if Elain was so determined to root out the good in her, then she’d show her sister how ugly she could be. Let a fraction of this agony rip into her.

This was why Elain had chosen Feyre. This.

Feyre had rescued Elain time and again. But Nesta had sat by, armed only with her viper’s tongue. Sat by while they starved. Sat by when Hybern stole them away and shoved them into the Cauldron. Sat by when Elain had been kidnapped. And when their father had been in Hybern’s grip, she had done nothing, nothing to save him, either. Fear had frozen her, blanketing her mind, and she’d let it do so, let it master her, so that by the time her father’s neck had snapped, it had been too late. And entirely her fault.

Why wouldn’t Elain choose Feyre?

Elain stiffened, but refused to balk from whatever she beheld in Nesta’s gaze. “You think I’m to blame for his death?” Challenge filled each word. Challenge—from Elain, of all people. “No one but the King of Hybern is to blame for that.” The quaver in her voice belied her firm words.

Nesta knew she’d hit her mark. She opened her mouth, but couldn’t continue. Enough. She had said enough.

That fast, the power in her receded, vanishing into smoke on the wind. Leaving only exhaustion weighing her bones, her breath. “It doesn’t matter what I think. Go back to Feyre and your little garden.”

Even during their squabbles in the cottage, fighting over who got clothes or boots or ribbons, it had never been like this. Those fights had been petty, born of misery and discomfort. This was a different beast entirely, from a place as dark as the gloom at the base of the library.

Elain headed for the doors, purple dress sweeping behind her. “Cassian said he thought the training was helping,” she murmured, more to herself

than to Nesta.

“Sorry to disappoint you.” Nesta slammed the doors so hard they rattled.

Silence filled the room.

She didn’t twist toward the windows to see who might fly past with Elain, who’d be witness to the tears Elain would likely shed.

Nesta slid into one of the armchairs before the unlit fireplace and stared at nothing.

She didn’t stop the wolves when they gathered around her again, hateful, razor-sharp truths on their red tongues. She didn’t stop them as they began to rend her apart.



When Elain burst into the dining room of the House, Cassian and Rhys were shaking off the frigid air that had been howling through Windhaven.

Her brown eyes were bright with tears, but she kept her chin high. “I want to go home,” she said, voice wobbling slightly.

Cassian looked at Rhys, who’d dropped off the middle Archeron sister before retrieving Cassian from Windhaven. He’d wanted to see for himself how ready the Illyrians were to fight. That Rhys had found nothing lacking both elated Cassian and filled him with dread. If war began once more, how many would die? It was a soldier’s lot in life to fight, to march with Death beside him, and he had led males into battle multiple times. Yet how many promises had he foolishly made to the families of those who’d fallen in the recent war that the peace would last for a while? How many more families would he have to comfort? He didn’t know why it was different this time, why it weighed so heavily. But while Rhys and Devlon had been speaking, Cassian had been staring at the children of Windhaven, wondering how many would lose their fathers.

Cassian cast the memory aside as Rhys surveyed Elain, his violet-blue eyes missing nothing. “What happened.”

When Rhys spoke like that, it was more of a command than a question.

Elain waved a hand in dismissal before flinging open the veranda doors and striding into the open air.

“Elain,” Rhys said as he and Cassian trailed her into the dying light.

Elain stood by the rail, the breeze caressing her hair. “She’s not getting any better. She’s not even trying.” She wrapped her arms around herself and stared toward the distant sea.

Rhys turned to him, his face grave. Feyre warned her.

Cassian swore softly. Nesta is making progress—I know she is. Something set her off. He added, because Rhys was still looking like cold death personified, It’ll take time. Maybe no more visits from her sisters, for the time being. At least not without her permission. He didn’t want to isolate Nesta. Not at all. If Elain wants to see her again, let me ask Nesta first.

Rhys’s voice slithered like liquid night. What about Feyre? She doesn’t want Feyre here.

Power rumbled through Rhys, guttering the stars in his eyes.

Calm the fuck down, Cassian snapped. They have their own shit to sort out. You threatening to obliterate Nesta every time it comes up doesn’t help.

Rhys held his stare, the inherent dominance in it like the force of a tidal wave. But Cassian weathered it. Let it wash past him. Then Rhys shook his head and said to Elain, “I’ll fly you home.”

Elain didn’t object when Rhys scooped her up and launched into the red-and-pink-stained sky.

When they were a speck of black and purple over the rooftops, Rhys sweeping along the gilded river as if giving Elain a scenic tour, then and only then did Cassian enter the House.

He stormed across the dining room and into the hallway; he charged down the stairs, his feet eating every inch of distance until he flung open the family library’s doors.

“What the fuck happened?”

Nesta was sitting in an armchair before the dark fireplace, fingers digging into the rolled arms of the seat. A queen on a quilted throne.

“I don’t want to talk to you,” was all she said.

His heart thundered, his chest heaving as if he’d run a mile. “What did you say to Elain?”

She leaned forward to peer at him. Then rose to her feet, a pillar of steel and flame, her lips curling back from her teeth. “Of course you’d assume I’m the one at fault.” She prowled closer, her eyes burning with cold fire. “Always defending sweet, innocent Elain.”

He crossed his arms, letting her get as close to him as she wanted. Like hell would he yield one step to her. “I’ll remind you that you’ve been the chief defender of sweet, innocent Elain until recently.” He’d witnessed her go toe to toe with Fae capable of slaughtering her without giving it a thought, all for her sister.

Nesta only simmered, near-shaking with rage. Or cold. Cauldron, it was cold in here. Only the heated floors offered any reprieve. “Fire,” he said, and the House obeyed. A great blaze flared to life in the hearth behind him.

“No fire,” she said, focused upon Cassian, though her words were not to him.

The House seemed to ignore her.

No fire,” she ordered. He could have sworn she blanched slightly.

For a heartbeat, he was again in Rhys’s mother’s house in Windhaven. She’d been staring and staring into the fire, as if speaking to it, as if unaware that even he was there.

The fire crackled and popped. Nesta seethed to the open air, “I said—”

A log cracked, as if the House were merrily ignoring her, adding heat to the flame.

But Nesta flinched. Barely a blink and half a shudder, but her entire body went rigid. Fear and dread flashed over her features, then vanished.


Whatever curiosity Nesta noted on his face had her bristling again before launching toward the open doors of the library.

“Where are you going?” he demanded, unable to keep the temper from his voice.

“Out.” She hit the hall and aimed for the stairwell.

Cassian stalked after her, a snarl ripping from his throat. He quickly closed the distance between them.

“Leave me alone,” she bit out.

“What’s the plan, Nes?” He trailed her to the lowest level of the House and the stairwell halfway down the corridor. “You tear into the people who love you until they eventually give up and leave you alone? Is that what you want?”

She yanked on the handle of the ancient door and threw him a withering glare over a shoulder. She opened her mouth, then shut it against whatever had been about to come out.

As if she’d bank herself for him. Pity him. Spare him. Like he needed shielding from her.

“Say it,” he hissed. “Just fucking say it.”

Nesta’s gaze lit with that silver fire. Her nose crinkled with animalistic rage.

The Siphons atop his hands warmed, readying for an enemy he refused to acknowledge.

Her eyes slid down to the red stones. And when they again lifted to his face, the unholy fire in her stare was gone. Replaced by something so dead and vacant it was like gazing into the unseeing eyes of a fallen soldier on a battlefield. He’d seen crows pick at eyes that dead.

Nesta said nothing as she turned back to the stairwell and began her descent.

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