Chapter no 20

A Court of Silver Flames

Nesta could barely stand to be near Cassian as they flew over Velaris. Every glance, every scent of him, every touch while he carried her down to the river house grated along her skin, threatening to bring her back to last night, when she’d been starved for any taste of him.

Thankfully, Cassian didn’t speak to her. Barely looked at her. And by the time the sprawling manor along the river appeared, she’d forgotten to be annoyed by his silence. Two weeks up at the House, and the city suddenly loomed large, too loud, too full of people.

“This meeting will be fast,” Cassian promised as they landed on the front lawn, as if he’d read the tension in her body.

Nesta said nothing, unable to speak with the churning in her stomach. Who would be here? Which of them would she have to face, to endure them judging her so-called progress? They’d probably all heard of her fight with Elain—gods, would Elain be present?

She followed Cassian into the beautiful house, barely noting the round table in the heart of the entry, crowned with a massive vase full of freshly cut flowers. Barely noting the silence of the house, not a servant to be seen.

But Cassian paused before a landscape painting of a towering, barren mountain, void of life yet somehow thrumming with presence. Snow and pines crusted the smaller peaks around it, but this strange, bald mountain …

Only a black stone jutted from its top. A monolith, Nesta realized, stepping closer.

Cassian murmured, “I didn’t realize Feyre had painted Ramiel.”

The sacred mountain from the Blood Rite. Indeed, three stars faintly glowed in the twilight skies above the peak. It was a near-perfect, real-life rendering of the Night Court’s insignia.

“I wonder when she saw it,” Cassian mused, smiling faintly.

Nesta didn’t bother to suggest Feyre might have simply peered into Rhysand’s mind. Cassian continued onward, leading her down the hall without another word.

Nesta steeled herself as he stopped before the study doors—the same room where she’d sat and received a public lashing—and then flung one open.

Rhys and Feyre sat on the sapphire couch before the window. Azriel leaned against the mantel. Amren had curled herself into an armchair, bundled in a gray fur coat, as if the nip in the air today were a blast of winter. No Elain, no Morrigan.

Feyre’s gaze was wary. Cold. But it warmed as she smiled at Cassian, who strode to her and kissed her cheek—or tried to. He said to Rhys, “Really? She’s shielded even in here?”

Rhys stretched out his long legs, crossing one ankle over the other. “Even in here.”

Cassian rolled his eyes and plopped into the armchair beside Amren’s, surveying her fur coat and saying, “It’s barely cold today.”

Amren’s teeth flashed. “Keep talking like that and it’ll be your pelt I wear tomorrow.”

Nesta might have smiled had Amren not turned toward her.

Tension, thick and painful, stretched between them. Nesta refused to look away.

Amren’s red lips curled, her bob of black hair gleaming. Feyre cleared her throat. “All right, Az. Let’s hear it.”

Azriel folded his wings, shadows writhing around his ankles and neck. “Queen Briallyn has been busier than we thought, but not in the way we expected.”

Nesta’s blood went cold. The queen who had leaped into the Cauldron of her own free will, desperate to be turned young and immortal. She’d emerged a withered crone—and immortal. Doomed to be old and bent forever.

Azriel went on, “In the week I’ve been watching her, I … learned what her next steps are.” The way he hesitated before he said learned said enough: he’d tortured it out of someone. Many people.

Nesta glanced at his scarred hands, and Azriel tucked them behind his back, as if he noted her attention.

“Get on with it,” Amren snapped, rustling in her chair.

“The other queens indeed fled from Briallyn weeks ago, as Eris said. She alone sits in the throne room of their shared palace. And what Eris revealed about Beron was true, too: the High Lord visited Briallyn on the continent, pledging his forces to her cause.” A muscle ticked in Azriel’s jaw. “But Briallyn’s gathering of armies, the alliance with Beron, is only the auxiliary force to what she has planned.” He shook his head, shadows slithering over his wings. “Briallyn wishes to find the Cauldron again. In order to retrieve her youth.”

“She’ll never attain the Cauldron,” Amren said, waving a hand gleaming with rings. “No one but us, Miryam, and Drakon know where it’s hidden. Even if Briallyn did uncover its location, there are enough wards and spells on it that no one could ever break through.”

“Briallyn knows this,” Azriel said gravely. Nesta’s stomach churned. Azriel nodded to Cassian. “What Vassa suspected is true. The death-lord Koschei has been whispering in Briallyn’s ear. He remains trapped at his lake, but his words carry on the wind to her. He is ancient, his depth of knowledge fathomless. He pointed Briallyn toward the Dread Trove—not for her sake, but for his own ends. He wishes to use it to free himself from his lake. And Briallyn is not the puppet we believed her to be—she and Koschei are allies.” He added to Cassian, “You need to ask Eris whether Beron knows about this. And the Trove.”

Cassian nodded into the ensuing silence. Nesta found herself asking, “What’s the Dread Trove?”

Amren’s eyes glowed with a remnant of her power. “The Cauldron Made many objects of power, long ago, forging weapons of unrivaled might. Most were lost to history and war, and when I went into the Prison, only three remained. At the time, some claimed there were four, or that the fourth had been Unmade, but today’s legends only tell of three.”

“The Mask,” Rhys murmured, “the Harp, and the Crown.” Nesta had a feeling none of them were good.

Feyre frowned at her mate. “They’re different from the objects of power in the Hewn City? What can they do?”

Nesta had tried her best to forget that night she and Amren had gone to test her so-called gift against the hoard within those unhallowed catacombs. The objects had been half-imprisoned in the stone itself: knives and necklaces and orbs and books, all shimmering with power. None of it pleasant. For the Dread Trove to be worse than what she’d witnessed …

“The Mask can raise the dead,” Amren answered for Rhys. “It is a death mask, molded from the face of a long-forgotten king. Wear it and you may summon the dead to you, command them to march at your will. The Harp can open any door, physical or otherwise. Some say between worlds. And the Crown …” Amren shook her head. “The Crown can influence anyone, even piercing through the mightiest of mental shields. Its only flaw is that it requires close physical proximity to initially sink its claws into a victim’s mind. But wear the Crown, and you could make your enemies do your bidding. Could make a parent slaughter their child, aware of the horror but unable to stop themselves.”

“And these things were lost?” Nesta demanded.

Rhys threw her a frown. “Those who possessed them grew careless. They were lost in ancient wars, or to treachery, or simply because they were misplaced and forgotten.”

“What does it have to do with the Cauldron?” Nesta pushed.

“Like calls to like,” Feyre murmured, looking to Amren, who nodded. “Because the Trove was Made by the Cauldron, so might the Trove find its Maker.” She angled her head. “Briallyn was Made, though. Can’t she track the Cauldron herself?”

Amren drummed her fingers on the arm of her chair. “The Cauldron aged Briallyn to punish her.” A glance at Nesta. “Or punish you, I suppose.” Nesta kept her face carefully blank. Amren went on, “But I think you took something from it when you seized your power, girl.”

Feyre looked toward Nesta, her voice soft as she asked, “What exactly happened in the Cauldron?”

Every image, thought, feeling pelted Nesta. Smothered her, exactly as she had to smother the rising power in her at her sister’s question. No one spoke. They all just stared.

Cassian cleared his throat. “Does it matter?” Everyone faced him, and Nesta nearly sagged with relief at the shift of their attention. Even as something kindled in her chest at his words. His defense of her.

“It’d help us gain insight,” Feyre said.

“We can discuss it later …,” Cassian began, but Nesta straightened.

“I …” They all halted. Twisted toward her. Her mouth went dry. Nesta swallowed against it, praying they didn’t see the shaking hands she tucked under her thighs. Her thoughts swarmed her, each memory screaming, and she didn’t know where to start, how to explain it—

Breathe. It calmed her mind whenever Cassian led her through their exercises. So she let herself inhale—then slowly exhale. Again. A third time.

And into the silence, Nesta said, “I wasn’t aware of what I took. Just that I was taking things the Cauldron did not want me to have. It seemed fitting, given what it was doing to me.”

There. That was all she could say, would say.

But Feyre nodded, eyes shining bright with something Nesta could not place. Feyre said to Amren, “So it’s highly possible that the Cauldron couldn’t imbue Briallyn with the ability to track it. All it could do was give Briallyn the ability to track anything it Made, a sorry shadow of the original gift.”

The others nodded, and Nesta dared a look at Cassian, who gave her a soft smile. Like in saying the few words she’d managed to get out, she’d somehow done something … worthy. Her chest tightened.

Had she done so many unworthy things that her scant contribution earned that much praise?

Nesta forced herself to ignore the nauseating thought as Amren continued, “If you were to gather all three objects, you could use the potency of their combined Made essence to track down the Cauldron, no matter where it is.”

“Not to mention gain three objects of terrible power,” Azriel added grimly. “Capable of granting even a human army an advantage against the Fae.”

“Raise the dead,” Cassian mused, his face tightening, any trace of that approving smile gone, “and you’d have an unstoppable force, able to march without rest or food. Open any door, and you could move that army of the dead wherever you wished. And with unrestrained influence, you could make any enemy territory and its people bow to you.”

Silence again filled the room. Nesta’s heart thundered.

“And all Koschei wants is to be free from his lake?” Rhys asked Azriel. But Amren answered. “No one really knows the full scope of the Trove’s powers. Beyond freeing him from his lake, Koschei may very well know something about the Trove that we don’t—some greater power that

manifests when all three are united.”

Rhys looked at Azriel, who nodded grimly.

“What is a death-lord?” Nesta asked into the silence.

Their stares struck her like stones. Cassian answered, tapping the scar on the side of his neck. “I told you of Lanthys—the wound he gave me. He is literally deathless. Nothing can kill him. Koschei, too, cannot be killed. He is the master of his own death.” He lowered his hand from the horrible scar. The gleam in his eye suggested that his thoughts had turned toward her own powers. She ignored the thing that writhed within her in answer and confirmation, cold fire licking up her spine. Mercifully, Cassian went on, “They are death-lords.”

The words hung in the air. Rhys cursed. “I’d forgotten about Lanthys.” Cassian threw him a dry look, again tapping that scar. “I haven’t.”

To Nesta’s horror, Amren shuddered. Amren.

Feyre cleared her throat. “So they are trying to find this Dread Trove in order to track down the Cauldron for Briallyn, and likely free Koschei in the process. And launch a war, with Beron as her ally, that would grant them whatever territories they wish. Or give some to Koschei, depending on what bargain he strikes with Briallyn—probably one to his advantage.”

“Again, Briallyn is well aware of Koschei’s insidious influence,” Azriel said. “If her strings are being pulled, it is only because she’s allowing it to achieve her own ends.”

Cassian said, “So we’ve got them on one front, and Beron here, ready and eager to go into war with Briallyn so he might expand his own territory after the carnage halts.”

Nesta’s head spun. She’d had no idea any of this was occurring. She’d picked up hints, but nothing that had confronted her with the knowledge of the danger that faced them. To be on the brink of such disaster again … She shifted in her seat.

Feyre asked Azriel, “Briallyn has not found the Dread Trove yet?”

Azriel shook his head. “Not as far as I could tell. The Dread Trove was last rumored to be here in Prythian. That’s all Koschei knows, apparently. We have that on our side at least. Briallyn won’t risk coming over here— not yet. Even with Beron as an ally. And Koschei is bound to his lake. But they are readying Briallyn to come, gathering her realm’s greatest spies and warriors. There was already a host of them at the queens’ palace. Why Briallyn and Koschei took Eris’s soldiers is something I still haven’t figured out.” He gestured to Cassian. “You need to meet with Eris.”

Cassian nodded. “I will. But we’ll have to shore up the borders. Warn the courts. Tell them of Beron’s plan. To hell with secrecy.”

“We’d expose Eris in doing that,” Rhys countered. “And lose a valuable ally,” he added when Cassian rolled his eyes. “Eris is a snake, but he’s useful. His motives might be selfish and power-hungry, but he can offer us a great deal.” He frowned, and said carefully, “I agree with Az. I want you to update Eris on this, as you promised.”

“Fine,” Cassian agreed. “But what of warning the courts about the Trove?”

“No,” Rhys said. “We’d only risk one of them going after it. Beron would send out every warrior and spy of his to find it first. That he hasn’t done so already suggests he doesn’t know about the Trove, but we need Eris to confirm.”

Feyre asked, “Why didn’t we look for the Trove when we were hunting for the Cauldron ourselves?”

“The Book was easier to find,” Amren said. “And it has been ten thousand years since anyone used the Trove. I assumed it was all at the bottom of an ocean.”

“So we find it,” Cassian declared. “Any ideas?”

“Made objects tend to not wish to be found by just anyone,” Amren cautioned. “That they have faded from memory, that even didn’t think of them immediately in the fight against Hybern, suggests that perhaps they willed it that way. Wanted to stay hidden. True things of power have such gifts.”

“You say that as if the objects have a sentience,” Cassian said.

“They do,” Amren said, storms drifting across her eyes. “They were Made in a time when wild magic still roamed the earth, and the Fae were not masters of all. Made objects back then tended to gain their own self-awareness and desires. It was not a good thing.” Amren’s face clouded with memory, and a chill whispered over Nesta’s spine.

Rhys mused, “Just as I’m able to alter a mind to forget, perhaps they have a similar gift.”

“But Briallyn is Made,” Amren said. Nesta’s mouth again went dry. “When Briallyn was Made, it likely removed from her the Dread Trove’s glamour, for lack of a better term. Recognized her as kin. Where she might have glanced over a mention of the items before and never thought twice, now it stuck. Or perhaps called to her, presented itself in a dream.”

All of them, all at once, looked at Nesta.

“You,” Amren said quietly, “are the same. So is Elain.”

Nesta stiffened. “If they’re all enchanting you to forget, how is it that Azriel was able to remember and bear the information here?”

“Perhaps once you learn of it, recognize it, the spell is broken,” Amren said. “Or perhaps the Dread Trove wants us to know of it now, for some

dark reason of its own.”

The hair on Nesta’s arms rose.

Cassian shifted in his seat. “So we track down the Dread Trove—how?”

Elain spoke from the doorway, having appeared so silently that they all twisted toward her, “Using me.”

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