Chapter no 32

A Court of Silver Flames

“I should go with you,” Rhys said to Cassian as they gathered in the foyer of the river house the next morning.

should go with you,” Feyre countered, leaning against the stair railing, frowning at her mate and Cassian.

Nesta watched them in silence, the weight of the weapons she carried like phantom hands pushing on her back, her thighs, her hips. You’re still as likely to hurt yourself as you are an opponent, Cassian had said as he laid his weapons on the dining table this morning, but it’s better than going into Oorid unarmed. She’d selected a dagger and he’d grinned. Pointy end goes into your enemy.

She’d given him a withering look, but had allowed him to assist her with the straps and buckles of the various sheaths, focusing upon his strong hands whispering over her skin and not the task at hand.

“We both should go with you,” Rhys amended. “But at least Azriel will be there.”

“Thanks for your confidence,” Cassian said wryly, and kissed Feyre’s cheek. Rhys must have lowered her shield—for the moment. “You two aren’t even parents yet and your mother-henning has reached an unbearable level.”

Mother-henning?” Feyre choked on a laugh.

“It’s a word,” Cassian said, so casually that Nesta wondered if he comprehended the danger they were walking into.

Nesta slid her gaze to Azriel, who shrugged subtly in confirmation. Yes, they were about to venture into a lethal, ancient bog. No, Cassian didn’t seem as disturbed as the two of them were.

Nesta scowled, and Az offered her a slight smile. They could be allies, that smile seemed to say. Against Cassian’s utter insanity. She found herself answering Azriel with a slight smile of her own.

Rhys sighed to the ceiling. “Shall we?”

Nesta glanced up the stairs past Feyre. Elain had again opted to remain in her room when Nesta was present, which was just fine. Absolutely, utterly fine. Elain could make her own choices. And had chosen to thoroughly shut the door on Nesta. Even as she fully embraced Feyre and her world. Nesta’s chest tightened, but she refused to think of it, acknowledge it. Elain was like a dog, loyal to whatever master kept her fed and in comfort.

Nesta wrenched her attention from the stairs, cursing herself for a fool for even looking.

“I don’t like this,” Feyre blurted, stepping toward her. “You haven’t had enough training.”

Cassian smirked. “She has two Illyrian warriors guarding her. What could go wrong?”

“Don’t answer that,” Rhys said drily to his mate. He met Nesta’s gaze.

Stars were born and died in his eyes. “If you don’t want to go—”

“You need me,” Nesta said, chin lifting. “The bog is large enough that you won’t be able to find the Mask without my … gifts.” She had no idea how she’d find the Mask in Oorid, but they could at least begin exploring the area today. Or so Cassian had said this morning.

Feyre seemed poised to object, but Azriel extended his scarred hands to Cassian and Nesta. Feyre stepped forward again. “The Middle is like nothing you have experienced before, Nesta. Don’t let your guard down for a moment.”

Nesta nodded, not bothering to say that she’d operated by that principle for a long time.

Azriel didn’t give them a chance to exchange another word before murmuring shadows swept around them. Nesta couldn’t help clinging to Azriel, gleaning on some innate level that if she let go, she would tumble through this space between places and be lost forever.

But then gray, watery light hit her. And the air—the air was heavy, full of slow-running water and mold and loamy earth. No wind moved around them; not even a breeze.

Cassian whistled. “Look at this hellhole.” Dropping Azriel’s hand, Nesta did just that.

Oorid stretched before them. She had never seen a place so dead. A place that made the still-human part of her recoil, whispering that it was wrong wrong wrong to be here.

Azriel winced. The shadowsinger of the Night Court winced as the full brunt of Oorid’s oppressive air and scent and stillness hit him.

The three of them surveyed the wasteland.

Even the Cauldron’s water hadn’t been as solidly black as the water here, as if it were made of ink. In the shallows mere feet away, where the water met the grass, not one blade was visible where the surface touched it.

Dead trees, gray with age and weather, jutted like the broken lances of a thousand soldiers, some draped with curtains of moss. No leaves clung to their branches. Most of the branches had been cracked off, leaving jagged spears extending from the trunks.

“Not one insect,” Azriel observed. “Not one bird.”

Nesta strained to listen. Only silence answered. Empty of even a whistle of a breeze. “Who would bury their dead here?”

“They didn’t put them in the earth,” Cassian said, his voice oddly muffled, as if that thick air gobbled up any echo. “These were water burials.”

Nesta said, “I’d rather be burned to ashes and cast to the wind than be left here.”

“Noted,” Cassian said.

“This is an evil place,” Azriel whispered. True fear shone in the shadowsinger’s hazel eyes.

The hair on Nesta’s arms rose. “What manner of creature dwells here?”

“You’re asking this now?” Cassian said, brows high. He and Azriel had both worn their thicker armor, summoned by tapping the Siphons atop the backs of their hands.

“I was scared to ask before,” Nesta admitted. “I didn’t want to lose my nerve.”

Cassian opened his mouth, but Azriel said, “Things that hunt in the water and feast on flesh.”

“No one’s seen a kelpie in a damn long time,” Cassian countered. “That doesn’t mean they’re gone.”

“What’s a kelpie?” Nesta asked, heart pounding at the tension etched into their faces.

“An ancient creature—one of the first true monsters of the faeries,” Cassian said. “Humans called them by other names: water-horses, nixies. They were shape-shifters who dwelled in the lakes and rivers and lured unwitting people into their arms. And after they drowned them, they feasted. Only the entrails would make it back to shore.”

Nesta stared toward the bog’s black surface. “And they live in there?”

“They vanished hundreds of years before we were born,” Cassian said firmly. “They’re a myth whispered around fires, and a warning for children not to play near the water. But no one knows where they went. Most were hunted, but the survivors …” He conceded with a nod to Azriel, “It’s possible that they fled to the Middle. The one place that could protect them.” Nesta grimaced. Cassian threw her a grin that didn’t meet his eyes. “Just don’t go running after a beautiful white horse or a pretty-faced young man and you’ll be fine.”

“And stay out of the water,” Azriel added solemnly.

“What if the Mask is in the water?” She gestured to the vast bog.

They’d fly over it, they’d decided, and let her sense whatever lay here.

“Then Az and I will draw straws like the tough warriors we are and the loser goes in.”

Azriel rolled his eyes, but chuckled. Cassian’s grin at last glowed in his gaze as he opened his arms. “Oorid’s beauty awaits, my lady.”



Cassian had been to some horrible places in his five centuries of existence.

The Bog of Oorid was by far the worst. Its very essence spoke of death and decay.

The oppressive air muffled even the sound of their wings, like Oorid would abide no sound disturbing its ancient slumber.

Nesta clung to him as he flew, Az at his side, and Cassian peered at the dead forest that spread below, the black water that had flooded it like an obsidian mirror. It was so still that he could see their reflections perfectly.

The wind whipping her braided hair, Nesta said, “I’m not sure what I’m looking for.”

“Just keep all your senses open and see if anything sparks.” Cassian began a wide circle to the west. The air seemed to press on his wings, as if it would cast them down to the earth.

But to enter that black water would be a last resort.

Islands of grass dotted the expanse, some so crowded with brambles that he could find no safe place to land. The tangles of thorns were a mockery of what might have been—as if Oorid had ever produced roses. Not a single flower bloomed.

“It’s unbearable.” Nesta shivered.

“We’ll stay only as long as we can stomach it,” Cassian said, “and if we don’t find anything, we’ll return tomorrow and pick up where we left off.”

He had two swords, four knives, an Illyrian bow, and a quiver of arrows, plus all seven Siphons. Yet he couldn’t shake the feeling of flying naked.

“What else dwells here other than kelpies?”

“Some say witches,” he murmured. “Not the human kind,” he added when she raised a brow. “The kind that used to be something else and then their thirst for magic and power turned them into wretched creatures, banished here by various High Lords.”

“They don’t sound so bad.”

“They drink young blood to fill the coldness the magic left in them.”

Nesta winced. Cassian went on as she scanned the bog, “There are lightsingers: lovely, ethereal beings who will lure you, appearing as friendly faces when you are lost. Only when you’re in their arms will you see their

true faces, and they aren’t fair at all. The horror of it is the last thing you see before they drown you in the bog. But they kill for sport, not food.”

“And all these horrible creatures are just left here, untended?”

“The Middle lies under no High Lord’s jurisdiction. It’s long been the dumping ground for any unwanteds.”

“Not the Prison?”

“Their crimes are ones of nature. A kelpie is designed to lure and kill, just as a wolf is designed to hunt its prey. The Middle keeps them separate from us without punishing them for what they were made to be.”

“But no one will come rid the world of them?”

“The Middle is full of primal magic. It has its own rules and laws. Hunt the kelpies or lightsingers without provocation and you might find yourself trapped here.”

She shuddered. “How would the Mask have wound up in the bog?” “I don’t know.” He nodded toward the ground. “You feel anything?” “No. Nothing.”

Cassian glanced over a shoulder to Az before they entered a cloud of mist hovering above the northern section of the bog. It was so thick that Cassian rose higher, not wanting to impale them on a tall tree. The mist was chill enough to run icy fingers down his wings, his face.

Nesta jolted, then breathed, “Cassian.”

He cleared the mist, banking to the left. “You sensed something?”

“I don’t know what I sensed.” She swallowed. “Something is here.” He looked over his shoulder again to signal Azriel.

But Az wasn’t there.

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