Chapter no 52

A Court of Silver Flames

The wooden pews that filled the massive, red-stoned cavern were packed with pale-hooded figures, their blue gems glimmering in the torchlight as they waited for the sunset service to begin. Nesta claimed a spot on a pew in the rear, earning a few curious looks from the hooded females who filed past, but no one spoke to her.

A dais lay at the far end of the space, though no altar sat upon it. A natural stone pillar rose from the ground, the top flattened into something like a podium. Nothing else. No effigies or idols, no gilded furniture.

A silver-haired figure stalked down the aisle, a cold wind at her heels, and the others gave her a wide berth. Nesta stiffened as Merrill’s twilight-colored eyes settled upon her and narrowed with recognition—and hatred. But the female kept moving, taking her place atop the dais, where Clotho had appeared. Still no Gwyn.

The last of the priestesses found whatever seat was available, and silence fell as a group of seven females stepped onto the dais beside Merrill and Clotho. Some were hooded; others were bareheaded. And one of those bareheaded priestesses—

Gwyn. Her eyes glowed with mischief and delight as they found Nesta’s, as if to say, Surprise.

Nesta couldn’t help but smile back.

A bell rang seven times somewhere nearby, echoing through the stones, through Nesta’s feet. Each peal was a summons, a call to focus. Everyone rose at the seventh peal. Nesta gazed at the sea of pale robes and blue stones as the entire room seemed to suck in a breath.

As that seventh bell finished pealing, music erupted.

Not from any instruments, but from all around. As if they were one voice, the priestesses began to sing, a wave of sparkling sound.

Nesta could only gape at the lovely melody, the voices from the front of the cavern leading it, lifting higher than the others. Gwyn sang, chin high, a faint glow seeming to radiate from her.

The music was pure, ancient, by turns whispering and bold, one moment like a tendril of mist, the next like a gilded ray of light. It finished, and Merrill spoke about the Mother and the Cauldron and the land and sun and water. She spoke of blessings and dreams and hope. Of mercy and love and growth.

Nesta half-heard it, waiting for the sound, the perfect, beautiful sound, to begin again. Gwyn seemed to be shimmering with pride and contentedness.

Merrill finished the prayer, and the group began another song.

It was like a braid, the song—a plait of seven voices, weaving in and out, individual strands that together formed a pattern. Halfway through it, a drum appeared in the hand of the singer on the far left. A harp began strumming in the hands of one on the far right. A lute sounded from the center.

She’d never heard such music. Like a spell, a dream given form. The entire room sang, each voice resonating through the stone.

But Gwyn’s voice rose above them all, clear and powerful and yet husky on some notes. A mezzo-soprano. The word floated from the depths of Nesta’s memory, voiced by a watery-eyed music tutor who’d quickly declared Nesta hopeless at singing or playing, but in possession of an unusually fine ear.

The song ended, and more prayers and words flowed from Merrill, Clotho silent beside her. Then another song started—this one merrier, faster than the other. As if the songs were a progression. This one was a lilting

chant, the words tumbling over each other like water dancing down a mountainside, and Nesta’s foot tapped on the ground in time to the beat. Nesta could have sworn that beneath the hem of Gwyn’s robe, the priestess’s foot was doing the same. The words and the countermelodies danced around and around, until the walls hummed with the music, until the stone seemed to be singing it back.

They finished, and started another song—led into it by a rolling drumbeat, then a single voice. Then the harp joined, a second voice with it. Then the lute, along with a third. The three sang around and into each other, another braid of voices and melodies. They reached the second verse, and the other four joined in, the room with them.

Gwyn’s voice soared like a bird through the cavern as she started the third song with a solo, and Nesta closed her eyes, leaning into the music, shutting out one sense in order to luxuriate in the sound of her friend. Something beckoned in Gwyn’s song, in a way the others’ hadn’t. Like Gwyn was calling only to her, her voice full of sunshine and joy and unshakable determination. Nesta had never heard a voice like Gwyn’s—by turns trained and wild, as if there was so much sound fighting to break free of Gwyn that she couldn’t quite contain it all. As if the sound needed to be loose in the world.

The others joined Gwyn for the second verse, and the harp’s harmonies rose above their song, archways of wordless notes.

With her eyes closed, only the music mattered—the song, the voices, the harp. It wrapped around her, as if she’d been dropped into a bottomless pool of sound. Gwyn’s voice rose again, holding such a high note it was like a ray of pure light, piercing and summoning. Two other voices rolled in to join, pulsing around that repeated high note, the harp still strumming, voices whispering and flowing, lulling Nesta down, down, down into a pure, ancient place where no outside world existed, no time, nothing but the music in her bones, the stones at her feet, her side, overhead.

The music took form behind Nesta’s eyes as the priestesses sang lyrics in languages so old, no one voiced them anymore. She saw what the song spoke of: mossy earth and golden sun, clear rivers and the deep shadows of an ancient forest. The harp strummed, and mountains rolled ahead, as if a

veil had been cleared with the stroke of those strings, and she was flying toward it—toward a massive, mist-veiled mountain, the land barren save for moss and stones and a gray, stormy sea around it. The mountain itself held two peaks at its very top, and the stones jutting from its sides were carved in strange, ancient symbols, as old as the song itself.

Nesta’s body melted away, her bones and the stones of the cavern a distant memory as she flowed into the mountain, beheld towering, carved gates, and passed through them into a darkness so complete it was primordial; darkness that was full of living things, terrible things.

A path led into the dark, and she followed it, past doors with no handles, sealed forever. She felt horrors lurk behind those doors, one horror greater than the others—a being of mist and hatred—but the song led her past them all, invisible and unmarked.

This place was utterly lethal. A place of suffering and rage and death. Her very soul quaked to wander its halls. And even though she had passed by the door keeping her safe from that one being more horrible than all the rest … she knew it watched her. She refused to look back, to acknowledge it.

So Nesta drifted down and down, the harp and the voices pulsing and

guiding, until she stopped before a rock. She laid a hand on it to find it was only an illusion, and she passed through it, down another long hall, beneath the mountain itself, and then she stood in a cavern, almost the twin to the one the priestesses sang in, as if they were linked in song and dreaming.

But rather than red stone, it was carved of black rock. Symbols had been etched into the smooth floor, into the curving walls, rising toward a ceiling so high it faded into gloom. Spells and wards pulsed around the room, but there, in the center of the space, set upon the floor as if it had been laid there by someone who’d merely walked away and forgotten it …

There, in the center of the chamber, sat a small, golden harp.

Cold leached through Nesta, clarifying her thoughts enough to realize where she stood. That the music of the priestesses had lulled her into a trance, that her own bones and the stone of the mountain surrounding her had been her scrying tools, and she had drifted to this place …

The Harp gleamed in the darkness, as if it possessed its own sun within the metal and strings. Play me, it seemed to whisper. Let me sing again. Join your voice with mine.

Her hand reached toward the strings. Yes.

The Harp sighed, a low purr rolling off it as Nesta’s hand neared. We shall open doors and pathways; we shall move through space and eons together. Our music will free us of earthly rules and borders.

Yes. She’d play the Harp, and there would be nothing but music until the stars died out.

Play. I have so long wished to play, it said, and she could have sworn she heard a smile within the sound. What might my song unlock in here? A cold, humorless laugh skittered along Nesta’s bones. It sang again, Play, play—

The song halted, and the vision shattered.

Nesta’s knees gave out as the room swept in, and she collapsed onto the pew, earning an alarmed look from Gwyn through the crowd. Her heart thundered, her mouth was dry as sand, and she forced herself to rise to her feet again. To listen to the end of the service as she pieced it all together, realized what she had discovered in her unwitting scrying.



“You’re sure of this?”

Cassian leaned a hip against Rhys’s desk. “Nesta said the Harp is beneath the Prison.”

“She’s never been to the Prison,” Rhys said, frowning.

Cassian had honestly thought Nesta might be drunk when she’d burst into the dining room an hour earlier, breathless, and told him her wild story. He’d hardly been able to follow what she’d said, except for the fact that she believed the Harp was at the Prison.

Worse, that she’d woken up the Harp in the Prison. What havoc might it wreak unchecked? The thought chilled Cassian to the core.

So he’d flown down here and found Rhys in his study. Again poring over old healers’ volumes, trying to find some way to save his mate.

Rhys leaned back against his seat. Considered.

Az had winnowed to a meeting point on the eastern coast to get a report from Mor about the Vallahan situation, and Feyre was out to dinner with Amren, so it was just the two of them tonight. Cassian had suggested that Nesta come tell Rhys herself, but she’d refused. She’d been shaken—had needed some time to pull herself back together. He’d check in on her later. Make sure she hadn’t withdrawn too far into her head.

Rhys drummed his fingers on his biceps. Stared at his desk for a long moment. “When we heard about Beron’s treachery, I had Helion show me how to apply a shield like the one I had around Feyre to the Prison itself.”

“You guessed this would happen?”

“No.” A muscle ticked in Rhys’s jaw. “Feyre and I were concerned that Beron would try to free the inmates to use in a conflict—just as we used the Bone Carver in the war. Give me tonight, and I’ll get the shield untangled and open for you tomorrow.”

“It takes that long to undo a shield?”

Rhys dragged a hand through his hair. Worries etched deep lines into his brow. “It’s a combination of magic and spell work, so yes. And I’ll admit I’m distracted enough these days that I might need some extra time to make sure it’s done correctly.”

Cassian’s stomach bottomed out at the bleakness in Rhys’s face. But he only said, “All right.”

A blade appeared on the desk, summoned from wherever Rhys kept it.

The great sword Nesta had Made.

“Take it with you,” his High Lord said quietly. “I want to see what happens if Nesta uses it.”

“A visit to the Prison isn’t the time for one of your experiments,” Cassian countered.

The stars in Rhys’s eyes winked out. “Then let’s hope she doesn’t need to draw it.”

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