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Chapter no 61

A Court of Silver Flames

One test remained.

Not any Cassian had given her, or any decreed by Illyrians or Valkyries, but one she’d set for herself.

Nesta figured today was as good as any to push herself on those last few hundred steps.

Down and down and down she went. Around and around and around.

They had sliced the Valkyrie ribbon, and had passed the Blood Rite Qualifier. But they would keep training. So much remained to be learned, so much remained that she looked forward to learning with all of them. With her friends.

With Cassian.

They alternated bedrooms, sleeping wherever was closest to their lovemaking. Or fucking. There was a difference, she’d realized. Lovemaking usually happened late at night or first thing in the morning, when he was lazy and thorough and smiling. Fucking usually happened at lunch or random times, against a wall or bent over a desk or straddling his lap, impaling herself on him again and again. Sometimes it started off as fucking and became the tender, intense thing she called lovemaking. Sometimes the lovemaking dissolved into frantic fucking. She could never tell what would happen, which was part of why she could never get enough.

She passed one hundred steps. Two hundred. A thousand.

Her head was clear. It burned with purpose, with direction and focus. She woke up each morning glad to be there, to throw herself against the world and see what it did. She had music each night at the evening services, where she had learned most of the songs and sang with the priestesses, letting her voice ring out alongside Gwyn’s. She had music from Cassian’s Symphonia, which she played whenever she could.

And she had music in her heart. A song made up of Cassian’s voice, of Gwyn’s and Emerie’s laughter, of her own breathing as she went down and down and down the stairs.

Two thousand. Three thousand.

Nesta’s feet flew, her steps unfaltering, even as her muscles burned. She fought through it. Gritted her teeth in a feral grin.

She gave herself to the burning, the exhaustion and the pain. She did not let them consume her, but allowed them to wash over her. Through her. Did not permit them to bend or deter her.

She was the rock against which such things crashed. With each step, each breath, she yielded to the Mind-Stilling. It was the next phase in the Valkyrie mind-training: to go from seated calm to active soothing. To be able to steady the mind, focus it, while in the midst of chaos.

Four thousand. Five thousand. Six thousand. The Mind-Stilling became as easy as breathing.

She would not be mastered by anything again. She was the master of herself.

Seven thousand. Eight thousand. Nine thousand.

And this person she was becoming, emerging into day by day … She might even like her.

The stairs vanished. And then there was only a door before her.

Nesta swayed, body still seeming to think it had to keep going around and around, but she took hold of the knob. Opened the door to the dusk and city beyond.

The lights had all been dimmed, but merry voices filled the streets. No one would prevent her from venturing into the city, to a tavern, and drinking

herself silly. No one would come to haul her back. She’d made it down the stairs. Life lay before her.

Only, she found herself looking up. Toward the House where a Starfall party would be held in an hour. The male who would be there, who’d encouraged her to come.

She faced the city—the lovely, vibrant city. None of it seemed as vibrant as what waited above. The climb would be brutal, and almost without end, but at the top … Cassian would be waiting. As he had waited for her for years now.

Nesta smiled. And began the climb.

 

 

Cassian, clad in his courtly finery, was standing at the door to the stairs when she returned.

He was so exquisite that if Nesta hadn’t already been panting from the climb, she’d have found herself unable to breathe.

Five steps had Nesta across the hall. Her arms around his neck. Her mouth on his.

She kissed him, and he opened for her, letting those silent words pass between them, holding her so tight their heartbeats echoed into each other.

When she pulled away, breathless from the kiss and all that filled her heart, Cassian only smiled. “The party already started,” he said, kissing her brow and stepping away. “But it’s still nearing its peak.” Indeed, music and laughter trickled down from levels above.

Cassian extended a hand, and Nesta wordlessly took it, letting him lead her down the hall. When she looked at the steps upward and her legs buckled, he scooped her into his arms and carried her. She leaned her head against his chest, closing her eyes, savoring the sound of his heart thumping. All the world was a song, and this heartbeat its core melody.

Open air and music flowed around her, glasses clinking and clothing rustling, and she opened her eyes again as Cassian set her down.

Stars flowed overhead. Thousands and thousands of stars. She barely remembered last year’s Starfall. Had been too drunk to care.

But this, so high up …

Nesta didn’t care that she was covered in sweat, wearing her leathers amongst a bejeweled crowd. Not as she staggered onto the veranda at the top of the House and gaped at the stars raining across the bowl of the sky. They zoomed by, so close some sparked against the stones, leaving glowing dust in their wake.

She had a vague sense of Cassian and Mor and Azriel nearby, of Feyre and Rhys and Lucien, of Elain and Varian and Helion. Of Kallias and Viviane, also swollen with child and glowing with joy and strength. Nesta smiled in greeting and left them blinking, but she forgot them within a moment because the stars, the stars, the stars …

She hadn’t realized that such beauty existed in the world. That she might feel so full from wonder it could hurt, like her body couldn’t contain all of it. And she didn’t know why she cried then, but the tears began rolling down her face.

The world was beautiful, and she was so grateful to be in it. To be alive, to be here, to see this. She stuck out a hand over the railing, grazing a star as it shot past, and her fingers came away glowing with blue and green dust. She laughed, a sound of pure joy, and she cried more, because that joy was a miracle.

“That’s a sound I never thought to hear from you, girl,” Amren said beside her.

The delicate female was regal in a gown of light gray, diamonds at her throat and wrists, her usual black bob silvered with the starlight.

Nesta wiped away her tears, smearing the stardust upon her cheeks and not caring. For a long moment, her throat worked, trying to sort through all that sought to rise from her chest. Amren just held her stare, waiting.

Nesta fell to one knee and bowed her head. “I am sorry.”

Amren made a sound of surprise, and Nesta knew others were watching, but she didn’t care. She kept her head lowered and let the words flow from her heart. “You gave me kindness, and respect, and your time, and I treated them like garbage. You told me the truth, and I did not want to hear it. I was jealous, and scared, and too proud to admit it. But losing your friendship is a loss I can’t endure.”

Amren said nothing, and Nesta lifted her head to find the female smiling, something like wonder on her face. Amren’s eyes became lined with silver, a hint of how they had once been. “I went poking about the House when we arrived an hour ago. I saw what you did to this place.”

Nesta’s brow furrowed. She hadn’t changed anything.

Amren grabbed Nesta under the shoulder, hauling her up. “The House sings. I can hear it in the stone. And when I spoke to it, it answered. Granted, it gave me a pile of romance novels by the end of it, but … you caused this House to come alive, girl.”

“I didn’t do anything.”

“You Made the House,” Amren said, smiling again, a slash of red and white in the glowing dark. “When you arrived here, what did you wish for most?”

Nesta considered, watching a few stars whiz past. “A friend. Deep down, I wanted a friend.”

“So you Made one. Your power brought the House to life with a silent wish born from loneliness and desperate need.”

“But my power only creates terrible things. The House is good,” Nesta breathed.

“Is it?”

Nesta considered. “The darkness in the pit of the library—it’s the heart of the House.”

Amren nodded. “And where is it now?”

“It hasn’t made an appearance in weeks. But it’s still there. I think it’s just … being managed. Maybe the House’s knowledge that I’m aware of it, and didn’t judge it, makes it easier to keep in check.”

Amren put a hand above Nesta’s heart. “That’s the key, isn’t it? To know the darkness will always remain, but how you choose to face it, handle it … that’s the important part. To not let it consume. To focus upon the good, the things that fill you with wonder.” She gestured to the stars zooming past. “The struggle with that darkness is worth it, just to see such things.”

But Nesta’s gaze had slid from the stars—finding a familiar face in the crowd, dancing with Mor. Laughing, his head thrown back. So beautiful she

had no words for it.

Amren chuckled gently. “And worth it for that, too.”

Nesta looked back at her friend. Amren smiled, and her face became as lovely as Cassian’s, as the stars arching past. “Welcome back to the Night Court, Nesta Archeron.”

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