Cassian beheld the open door to Lanthys’s cell and knew two things.
The first, and most obvious, was that he was about to die.
The second was that he would do anything in the world to prevent Nesta from meeting the same fate.
The second clarified his mind, cooled and sharpened his fear into another weapon. By the time the voice slithered from the darkness around them, he was ready.
“I wondered when you and I would meet again, Lord of Bastards.”
Cassian had never, not once, forgotten the timbre and iciness of that voice, how it made his very blood bristle with hoarfrost. But Cassian answered, “All these centuries in here and you haven’t invented a more creative name for me?”
Lanthys’s laugh twined around them like a snake. Cassian gripped Nesta’s hand, though his order to run still hung between them. It was too late for running. At least for him. All that remained was buying her enough time to escape.
“You thought yourself so clever with the ash mirror,” Lanthys seethed, voice echoing from all around them. The light of Cassian’s left Siphon revealed only red-washed, misty darkness. “Thought you could best me.” Another laugh. “I am immortal, boy. A true immortal, as you might never
hope to be. Two centuries in here is nothing. I knew I’d only need to bide my time before I found a way to escape.”
“You found a way?” Cassian drawled to the mist that was Lanthys. “It seems like someone helped you out.” He clicked his tongue.
He just had to wait—wait until the attack came. Then Nesta could run. She was rigid beside him, utterly frozen. He nudged her with a foot, trying to knock her from her stupor. He needed her primed to run, not rooted to the spot like a deer.
“The door opened of my will alone,” Lanthys purred. “Liar. Someone opened it for you.”
Lanthys’s mist thickened, rumbling with ire.
Nesta swallowed audibly, and Cassian knew. When she’d ordered the Harp to let her go … The Harp had also released Lanthys. Just open up these wards, she’d instructed it. So it had: the wards on her, and the wards nearby—on Lanthys’s cell. It had said it wanted to play. And here it was: playing with their lives.
What if the Harp had extended its reach beyond Lanthys’s door? If every single cell door here was open …
But Cassian said to the monster he feared above all others, “So you plan to swirl around me like a rain cloud? What of that handsome form I saw in the mirror?”
“Is that what your companion prefers?” Lanthys whispered from too close—far too close. Nesta cringed away. Lanthys inhaled. “What are you?”
“A witch,” she breathed. “From Oorid’s dark heart.”
“There is a name I have not heard in a long while.” Lanthys’s voice sounded mere feet from Nesta. Cassian gritted his teeth. He needed the monster gathered on the other side of her—so the path upward was clear. Had to draw Lanthys over toward him. “But you do not smell of Oorid’s heaviness, its despair.” An inhale, still behind them, blocking the way out. “Your scent …” He sighed. “A pity you’ve marred such a scent with Cassian’s stink. I can barely distinguish anything on you besides his essence.”
That alone, Cassian realized, kept Lanthys from realizing what she was. Being interested, as the Bone Carver had been. But it revealed another dangerous truth: where to strike first.
“What is it you are obscuring behind you?” Lanthys asked, and Nesta turned, as if tracking him, keeping the Harp hidden at her back. Lanthys chuckled, though. “Ah. I see it now. Long have I wondered who would come to claim it. I could hear its music, you know. Its final note, like an echo in the stone. I was surprised to find it down here, hidden beneath the Prison, after all that time.”
The mist swirled and Lanthys drawled, “Such exquisite music it makes. What wonder it spins. Everything pays fealty to that Harp: seasons, kingdoms, the order of time and worlds. These are of no consequence to it. And its last string …” He laughed. “Even Death bows to that string.”
Nesta swallowed again. Cassian squeezed her hand tighter and said casually, “You true immortals are all the same: arrogant windbags who love to hear yourselves talk.”
“And you faeries are all blind to your own selves.” Lanthys crooned, circling again, and Cassian readied his blade. “Based upon scent alone, I would say that you two are—”
Cassian released Nesta’s hand and lunged forward, spearing his blade into the mist before Lanthys could say one more damning word.
Lanthys screamed in rage as Cassian’s Siphons flared, and Cassian roared, “RUN!” before he struck again. Lanthys retreated, and Cassian used the breath to free the Siphon from his left hand before chucking it to her, willing it to light. “Go!” he commanded as he tossed the stone to her. Red splashed across her fear-tight face as she caught his Siphon, but Cassian was already pivoting to Lanthys.
The crunching, fading steps told him Nesta obeyed. Good.
Lanthys gathered in the darkness, a cobra readying to strike.
Cassian just prayed Nesta made it out of the gates before he died.
Nesta ran from the voice that was hate and cruelty and hunger entwined. The voice that robbed her of joy, of warmth, of anything but primal, basic fear.
Her thighs protested at the path’s steepness, but she sprinted up toward the gates, obeying Cassian’s command, the roaring from the warrior and the monster echoing off the stones. Red light flashed behind her. The doors of the Prison’s cells rattled. Beasts screamed behind them, as if realizing one of them had gotten out. Wanting out themselves.
She clenched the Harp in one hand, Cassian’s Siphon blazing in the other. She had to reach the gates. Then make it down the mountain. And then holler for Rhysand, and pray he had some sort of spell to sense his name on the wind. Then he’d have to race back up the mountain, down the path, and …
Cassian might be dead by the time she reached the gates so high above.
He might be dying now.
A cold bolt shot through her heart. She had run from him. Left him.
The Harp warmed in her hand, humming. The gold gleamed as if molten.
We shall open doors and pathways; we shall move through space and eons together, it had sung during her unintentional scrying. Our music will free us of earthly rules and borders.
Open doors … She had opened a door with it—to Lanthys’s cell. Opened a door through its own power pressing on her. But to move through space …
The small strings are for games—light movement and leaping—but the longer, the final ones … Such deep wonders and horrors we could strum into being.
Nesta counted the strings. Twenty-six. She’d touched the first, the smallest, to free herself from the Harp’s power, but what did the others do?
Twenty-six, twenty-six, twenty-six …
Gwyn’s voice floated from far away, recounting Merrill’s earlier research on dimensions. The possibility of twenty-six dimensions.
We shall move through space and eons together … The small strings are for games—light movement and leaping … Could the Harp … Nesta’s breath caught in her throat. Could the Harp transplant her from one place to another? Not only open a door, but create one she might walk through?
Free us of earthly rules and borders …
She had to try it. For Cassian.
Motion stirred in the gloom above, rushing steps headed her way. Someone had entered the Prison through the gates. Nesta angled Cassian’s Siphon toward the sound, bracing for whatever monster might come barreling down—
Fae males in worn, dirty armor charged toward her. At least ten Autumn Court soldiers.
She knew who’d sent them, winnowing them on Koschei’s power. Who controlled them, even from across the sea.
I know where you are, Nesta Archeron.
And since Rhys had lowered the shields around the Prison … they’d walked right in.
Nesta didn’t think. She seized that silver fire within her. Let it wreathe her hands.
“Take me to Cassian,” she whispered, and plucked the first silver string of the Harp.
The world and oncoming soldiers vanished, and she had the sense of being thrown, even as she stood still, and she prayed and prayed—
Metal flashed, and red light flared, and there was Cassian, bleeding on the ground, Siphons blazing, fighting the mist in front of him.
There was nowhere to strike a fatal blow. The mist scattered at every thrust of Cassian’s sword, and Lanthys shrieked at each one, but Lanthys could not be killed. Only contained, Cassian had said.
And the Harp could open doorways—but not slay people. She ran for Cassian, finger readying on the Harp’s string to haul them out of there.
But Cassian’s eyes flared, and he yelled, “GET—” The mist wrapped around his throat and hurled him.
Her scream shattered through the tunnel as he hit the rock wall, wings crunching, and fell to the floor. He didn’t move.
A laugh like a knife scraping over stone filled the tunnel and then Nesta was thrown, too, slamming into the wall so hard her teeth clacked and her head spun, breath whooshing from her as her fingers splayed on the Harp before she hit the floor.
But she’d landed near Cassian, and she hurried to turn him over, praying his neck hadn’t snapped, that she hadn’t doomed him by coming here—
Cassian’s chest rose and fell, and the mighty, primal thing inside her body breathed a sigh of relief. Short-lived, as Lanthys laughed again.
“You shall wish the blow killed him before I’m through with you both,” the creature said. “You shall wish you kept running.” But Nesta refused to hear another word, not as she knelt over Cassian, the only thing between him and Lanthys.
She had been here before.
Had been in this exact position, his head on her lap, Death laughing at them.
Then, she had curled over him and waited to die. Then, she had stopped fighting.
She would not fail this time. The mist pressed in, and she could have sworn she felt a hand reach for her.
It was enough to set her moving.
Drawing her sword in the same movement with which she shot to her feet, Nesta slashed a perfect combination.
Lanthys screamed, and it was nothing like what she’d heard before— this was an earsplitting sound of pure shock and fury.
Nesta hefted Ataraxia, settling her weight between her feet, making sure her stance was even. Unshakable. The blade began to glow.
The mist contorted, shrinking and writhing as if it fought an invisible enemy, and then it became solid, blooming with color.
A naked, golden-haired male stood before her. He was of average height, his golden skin sculpted with muscle, his sharp-boned face simmering with hate. Not a repulsive, awful creature, but one of beauty.
His black eyes narrowed upon the blade as he hissed, “That is not Narben.” The name meant nothing to her.
Nesta lunged, thrusting Ataraxia into eighth position. Lanthys leaped back.
Cassian groaned, stirring to consciousness as she held the ground in front of her.
“Which death-god are you?” Lanthys demanded, glancing between the blade and her. The silver fire sizzling in her eyes.
Nesta swung Ataraxia again, and Lanthys cringed away. Afraid of the blade.
That which could not be killed was afraid of her blade. Not her, but Ataraxia. Her Made weapon.
“Get in your cell.” Nesta advanced a step, Ataraxia pointed before her.
Lanthys backed slowly toward his cell.
“What is that blade?” His golden hair swayed down to his waist as he backed away again.
“Its name is Ataraxia,” Nesta spat. “And it shall be the last thing you see.”
Lanthys burst out laughing, the sound like a crow’s cawing. Hideous, compared to his beautiful form. “You named a death-sword Ataraxia?” He howled, and the very mountain shook.
“It shall slay you whether you like its name or not.”
“Oh, I do not think so,” Lanthys seethed. “I rode in the Wild Hunt before you were even a scrap of existence, witch from Oorid. I summoned the hounds and the world cowered at their baying. I galloped at the head of the Hunt, and Fae and beast bowed before us.”
Nesta flipped Ataraxia in her hand, a movement she’d taken to doing with the Illyrian blades in idle moments during training. She’d seen Cassian do it often, and found that it dispelled any extra energy.
She hadn’t realized it was such an effective intimidation technique.
Lanthys shrank back.
She prayed the Autumn Court soldiers coming down the path any moment would hesitate before the blade, too. Knew they wouldn’t. Not with Briallyn and the Crown controlling them.
“Which death-god are you?” Lanthys asked again. “Who are you beneath that flesh?”
“I am nobody,” she snapped.
“Whose fire burns silver in your gaze?” “You know whose fire,” she stalled.
But it struck true, somehow. Lanthys’s skin drained of color. “It is not possible.” He looked to the Harp beside a stirring Cassian, and his eyes widened again. “We heard about you down here. You are the one the sea and the wind and the earth whispered of.” He shuddered. “Nesta.” He grinned, showing teeth slightly too long. “You took from the Cauldron itself.”
Lanthys halted his retreat. And extended a broad, graceful hand. “You do not even know what you could do. Come. I shall show you.” He smiled again with those too-long teeth, turning his face from beauty to horror with a quirk of his lips. “Come with me, Queen of Queens, and we shall return what was once lost.” The words were a lullaby, a honeyed promise. “We shall rebuild to what we were before the golden legions of the Fae cast off their chains and overthrew us. We shall resurrect the Wild Hunt and ride rampant through the night. We shall build palaces of ice and flame, palaces of darkness and starlight. Magic shall flow untethered again.”
Nesta could see the portrait Lanthys wove into the air around them. She saw herself on a black throne, a matching crown in her unbound hair. Enormous onyx beasts—scaled, like those she’d seen on the Hewn City’s pillars—lay at the foot of the dais. Ataraxia leaned against her throne, and on her other side … Lanthys sat there, his hand laced through hers. Their kingdom was endless; their palace built of pure magic that lived and thrived around them. The Harp sat behind them on an altar, the Mask, too, but the golden Crown wasn’t there.
It rested atop Lanthys’s head.
And that was the snarled thread that pulled her out—the naked gleam of his greed. He’d seen the Harp, known she was after the Trove, and revealed what he’d do with it. The Crown he’d claim for himself. It would have no influence over her, but their rule would be one of coercion. Enslavement.
A fourth object lay on the altar, veiled in shadow. But she couldn’t make out more than a gleam of age-worn bone—
The vision shifted, and they writhed on a great black bed, the golden skin of Lanthys’s back shining as he moved inside her. Such pleasure—she had never known such pleasure with anyone. Only he could fuck her like this, driving so deep, her body warm and supple and wet for him, and soon, soon his seed would take root in her womb and the child she would bear him would rule entire universes—
Another snarled thread that led outward. Past the illusion.
Her body was not his to touch, to fill with life. And she had known pleasure richer than what he’d shown her.
Nesta blinked, and it was gone.
Lanthys growled. He now stood only as far away as her reach. Ataraxia’s reach. “I can take care of that problem,” he snarled toward Cassian. “And you will forget those ties soon enough.”
She hefted Ataraxia higher. “Go back into your cell and shut the door.” “I shall just escape again.” Lanthys chuckled. “And when I do, I will
find you, Nesta Archeron, and you shall be my queen.”
“No. I don’t think I will.” Nesta let her power ripple down the blade.
Ataraxia sang, blazing like the moon.
Lanthys paled. “What are you doing?” “Finishing the job.”
And his eyes were so fixed upon the glowing blade that he didn’t spare a sideways glance to Cassian. Did not see the dagger drawn. The one Cassian threw with impeccable aim.
It embedded to the hilt in Lanthys’s chest.
Lanthys screamed, arching, and Nesta leaped. She sliced a two-three combination, slashing straight across, letting the power of her breath, her legs, and her core carry the blade through.
Ataraxia sang the heartsong of the wind as it whipped through the air.
Lanthys’s head and corpse fell in different directions, thumping upon the stones.
Strange black blood spurted from his form, and then Cassian was there, groaning as he wrapped a hand around hers again. “The Harp,” he panted, his face the portrait of pain. Blood leaked down his temple. “Pick it up and let’s go. We have to get out of here.”
“Can you even stand?”
He swayed on his feet. He wouldn’t make it three steps.
“Yes,” he grunted. To get her out of here, she knew he’d try. Just as she knew that Lanthys was dead. Had it been the sword, or her power? Since she’d Made the sword, she supposed it technically counted as her power, but … What could not be killed had been slain. Somehow. A small part of her delighted in it, even as the rest of her trembled.
Now the scrape and thud of footsteps rushed toward them. “Autumn Court soldiers,” she breathed, pointing to the dark path upward. “More of them. Briallyn sent them to get the Harp.”
Screaming began throughout the mountain. Petrified, pleading screaming, fists pounding. Not on the rock or the doors that held them, but on the opposite walls of their cells. As if they were begging the Prison to spare them from her and that sword.
Lanthys had fallen. And the occupants of the Prison had felt it.
Even the footsteps of the Autumn Court soldiers seemed to slow at the sound.
Nesta smiled darkly, and picked up the Harp. “We’re not running out of here. And we leave the Autumn Court soldiers untouched.” If only to prove Eris wrong. But Cassian’s wounds … Yes, they needed to leave. Quickly. “Hold on to me,” she commanded, and whispered, “The front lawn of Feyre’s house along the Sidra River in Velaris.”
Cassian barked a warning, but she plucked three strings this time. Only pulling one had carried her down here, so she supposed that two would take them perhaps a bit farther than that, and Velaris … Well, it seemed like it’d take three strings. She didn’t want to know where all twenty-six strings might take her if strummed. Or if someone made a melody.
The world vanished; again she had the sensation of falling while standing still, and then—
Sun and grass and a crisp autumn breeze. A massive, lovely estate behind them, the river before them, and not a trace of the Prison or Lanthys. Nesta let go of Cassian as Rhysand burst out of the house’s glass doors. He gaped at his friend, and when Nesta beheld Cassian in the daylight …
Blood trickled from his hair down his cheek. His lip was split; his arm hung at an odd angle—
That was all Nesta saw before Cassian collapsed to the grass.