Chapter no 35

A Court of Silver Flames

There was no light, nothing but frigid water and clawed hands hauling her through it.

She had been here before. It was just like the Cauldron, being hurled into the icy dark—

This was how she would die, and there was nothing to do about it, no one to save her. She’d taken her last breath and hadn’t even made it a good one, so focused on her terror she had forgotten that she had weapons, and she had magic—

Weapons. Blind in the darkness, Nesta grabbed the dagger at her side.

She’d fought back against the Cauldron. She’d do so now.

Her bones groaned where the kelpie clutched her, its grip informing her where to strike. Working against the rush of the water as it sped along, Nesta sliced her dagger down, praying she didn’t cut off her own leg.

Bone reverberated against the blade. The grip on her leg splayed, and she shoved the tip of her dagger in farther as the arm ripped away.

She flailed in spinning darkness. Up and down blurred and warped, and she was drowning—

Spindly hands slammed into her chest, one wrapping around her throat as her back hit something soft and silty. The bottom.

No, she wouldn’t end like this, helpless as she’d been that day against the Cauldron—

Lips and teeth collided with her mouth, and she screamed as the kelpie kissed her. His black tongue shoved into her mouth, tasting of foul meat.

For a heartbeat, she wasn’t beneath the water, but against a woodpile in the human lands, Tomas’s hard mouth crushing into hers, his hands pawing at her—

Nesta struggled to pull her head away, to free her mouth, but air filled her lungs. As if the kelpie had breathed it into her. As if he wanted her alive a little longer, to prolong her pain.

The kelpie withdrew, and Nesta had enough sense to shut her aching, brutalized mouth, to trap in that breath he had given her. To not question how such a thing was even possible.

The kelpie’s hands ripped at her body, tearing away every weapon with unerring aim, as if he did not need to see in this darkness, as if those large black eyes could pick up any trickle of light like some deep-sea creature. Her entire body went stiff and unmoving, each brutal touch entitled and furious and delighting in her fear.

When he had disarmed her, her lungs were burning again, and she felt that thin male body pushing her into the bottom once more as he shoved his mouth to hers.

She gagged, but opened for him, letting him fill her mouth with another life-giving breath that had nothing to do with kindness. His tongue wriggled like a worm against hers, and his spindly, too-large hands ran down her breasts, her waist, and when she gagged again, fighting against her sob, his laugh puffed through her lips.

He pulled away, rows of teeth ripping at her mouth as he did, and she shook when he lingered, stroking at her hair. His little prize—that was what the touch said. How he would make her suffer and beg before the end. She had escaped the monsters of the human realm only to find the same ones above the wall. Had escaped from Tomas only to wind up here, raging as she had then.

That pleading female voice had faded. As if whatever she was, whoever she was, she knew no hope existed now.

Nesta fumbled internally for her power while the kelpie began to swim again, a hand around her wrist, lugging her behind him.

Her legs bumped into metallic objects and bones, somehow preserved within the bog.

Some of the bones still felt fleshy.

Please, she begged that power within her, slumbering and ancient and terrible. Please. Nesta cast for it, seeking it in the chasm inside herself.

She could see it glowing ahead, golden and shining. Her fingers strained for it.

The kelpie swam faster through the darkness, wending between the objects in the water as if they were the roots of a tree.

The golden thing drew nearer, and it was a round disk, her power, growing closer and closer and closer. As Nesta was dragged along, that golden disk rushed toward her splayed fingers. The kelpie didn’t seem to see it; he didn’t veer away as it shot toward her outstretched hand.

It was not her power that shone ahead.

The golden disk connected with her fingers, and Nesta knew what it was as she gripped it tight. Like called to like. Power to power.

The kelpie pulled her along, unaware. Nesta’s breath again became short. Her feet and legs sliced into dagger-sharp objects, ripping open on a few.

Power lay in her hand. Death gripped her by the other.

She knew what she had to do with the sort of clarity only pure desperation and terror could bring. Knew what she had to risk. Her fingers tightened on the thing in her hand.

The kelpie slowed, as if sensing her shift. But not fast enough. He couldn’t stop her from slamming the Mask onto her face.

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