Chapter no 66

A Court of Silver Flames

The Illyrian warrior was smaller than the one Nesta had killed, but this male had gotten his hands on a bow and arrow.

“Give me your weapons,” he ordered, eyes darting over her, noting the blood coating her face, crusting her chin and neck.

Nesta didn’t move. Didn’t so much as lower her chin.

“Give me your fucking weapons,” the male warned, voice sharpening.

“Where did you come from?” she demanded, as if he didn’t have an arrow pointed at her face. And then, before he had time to answer, “Was another female there?”

The male blinked—and it was the only confirmation Nesta needed before she handed over the arrow. Slowly, slowly reached for the knife. “Did you kill her, too?” Her voice had dropped to pure ice.

“The crippled bitch? I left her to the others.” He grinned. “You’re better prey anyway.”

Emerie. She couldn’t be far off, if this male had already seen her. Nesta pulled the knife free.

The male kept the arrow pointed. “Drop it and back up ten paces.” Emerie was alive. And nearby. And in danger.

And this motherfucker wouldn’t stop Nesta from saving her.

Nesta bowed her head, shoulders slumping in what she hoped the male believed was a show of resignation. Indeed, he smiled.

He didn’t stand a chance.

Nesta lowered the knife. And flicked her wrist, fingers splaying as she let it soar toward the male.

Right into his groin.

He screamed, and she charged as his hand loosed on the bow. She slammed into him and the weapon, the string slapping her face hard enough to draw tears, but they crashed down, and he was shrieking—

No one would stand between her and her friends.

Her mind slid to a place of cold and calm. She grabbed the bow, flung it away. As the male writhed on the ground, trying to wrench out the knife piercing his balls, she leaped upon it, shoving it in harder. His scream sent birds scattering from the pines.

Nesta twisted the blade free, leaving him lying there. She grabbed the two arrows but didn’t bother freeing the quiver pinned beneath his back. She retrieved the Illyrian bow, snatched her knife, and ran in the direction from which he’d come.

His howls followed her for miles.



A river announced its presence well before Nesta reached it. So did the warriors on its near bank, tentatively speaking with each other—feeling each other out, she guessed—as they filled what seemed to be canteens. Like someone had left those, too.

No sign of Emerie.

She kept behind a tree, downwind, and listened.

Not a whisper about Emerie or another female. Just tense rule-making about the alliances they were forming, how to reach Ramiel, who had left the weapons and canteens for them …

She was about to hunt for an easy spot to cross the river, away from the males, when she heard, “Pity that bitch escaped. She’d have made for good entertainment on the cold nights.”

Everything in Nesta’s body went still. Emerie had made it to this river.


Another said, drinking from the rushing water, “She’s probably washed halfway down the mountain. If she isn’t dead from the rapids, the beasts will get her before dawn.”

Emerie must have jumped into the river to get away from these males.

Nesta ran her fingers across the bow slung over her shoulder. The arrows in her belt hung like weights. She should kill them for this. Fire these two arrows into two of them and kill them for hurting her friend—

But if Emerie had survived …

She pushed off the tree. Slipped to the next. And the next. Followed the river, her steps barely more than the whisper of water over stone.

Through the pines, down the hills. The rapids increased, the rocks rising like black spears. A waterfall roared ahead. If Emerie had gone over it …

The rapids hurtled over the edge, to the bottom a hundred feet below.

No surviving that.

Nesta’s throat dried out.

And dried out further as she beheld what lay across the river, caught on a fallen tree jutting from the rocky bank directly before the plunge to the falls.


Nesta rushed to the edge of the water, but snatched her foot back from its icy fingers. Emerie appeared unconscious, but Nesta didn’t dare risk shouting her name. A glance at the sky revealed the sun at its midafternoon point, but it offered no heat, no salvation.

How long had Emerie been in the frigid water? “Think,” Nesta murmured. “Think, think.”

Each minute in the water risked killing Emerie. She lay too far away to discern any injuries, but she didn’t stir against the branch. Only her twitching wings showed any sign of life.

Nesta peeled off her clothes. Wished she’d taken the nightgown to tie her knife and two arrows around her leg, rather than leave them on the shore, but she had no choice. She took the Illyrian bow, though, strapping it across her chest, the string digging into her bare skin.

Naked, she eyed the distance between the falls, the rapids, the rocks, and Emerie.

“Rock to rock,” she told herself. Braced for the cold. And leaped into the water.

Nesta gasped and sputtered at the icy shock, hands shaking so hard she feared she’d lose her grip on the slick rocks and be hurtled over the falls. But she kept going. Aiming for Emerie. Closer and closer, until finally she swam frantically between the last rock and the riverbank—and Emerie draped over the half-submerged tree beyond it.

Shaking, teeth chattering, Nesta dragged Emerie free of the branches and farther up the bank, then crouched over her.

Emerie’s face was battered, her arm bleeding from a gash in her biceps.

But she breathed.

Nesta reined in her sob of relief and gently shook her friend. “Emerie, wake up.”

The female didn’t so much as moan in pain. Nesta searched through Emerie’s dark hair, and her fingers came away bloody.

She had to get her across the river. Find shelter. Make a fire and get them warm. The bow she’d carried wasn’t enough to protect them. Not nearly.

“All right, Emerie.” Nesta’s teeth chattered so hard her face ached. “Sorry about this.”

She gripped her friend’s nightgown and ripped it down the middle, baring Emerie’s thin, toned body to the elements. Nesta peeled off the nightgown and twisted it into a long rope, then unshouldered the bow.

“You’re not going to enjoy this part,” Nesta said through her clacking teeth, hauling Emerie back to the water. “Neither am I,” she muttered, the icy water biting into her numbed feet.

Cold as the Cauldron. Cold as—

Nesta let the thought pass, willing it to drift by like a cloud. Focused.

She managed to get Emerie into the water up to their waists, holding her as tightly as her shaking fingers would allow. Then she hoisted her friend onto her back and hooked the Illyrian bow around them both, letting the near-unbreakable string dig into her own chest so the wood rested against Emerie’s spine, tethering them together.

“Better than nothing.” She looped Emerie’s limp arms around her shoulders, then took Emerie’s nightgown and wrapped it around her wrists, tying them in place. “Hold on,” she warned, even though Emerie remained an unmoving weight across her back.

Rock to rock. Just as she’d done before. Rock to rock and then back to the shore.

Rock to rock. Step to step.

She’d done ten thousand steps in the House of Wind. Had done more than that over these months. She could do this.

Nesta moved deeper into the water, biting back her cry at its cold.

Emerie swayed and banged into her, and the Illyrian bow’s string dug into Nesta’s chest hard enough to slice the skin. But it held.

Step to step to step.

By the time Nesta returned to the far bank, shaking, near sobbing, the bowstring had drawn blood. But they were on solid land, and her clothes and weapons were there, and—and now to find warmth and shelter.

Nesta laid Emerie on the pine needles, covering her friend with the dry clothes she’d left behind, and gathered what wood she could carry. Naked, shaking, she could barely hold on to the sticks in her arms as she piled them near Emerie. Her trembling fingers struggled to twist the sticks long enough to ignite a spark, to coax the kindling to a flame, but—there. Fire. She raided the area for fallen logs, praying they weren’t too wet from the mists off the rapids to catch flame.

When the fire was crackling steadily, Nesta slithered under her pile of clothes beside Emerie and wrapped her arms around her friend, their skin pressing close. They were both freezing, but the fire was warm, and beneath the male’s large clothes the chill from the water began to fade.

But they were utterly exposed to the world. If someone came by, they’d be dead.

Nesta held Emerie, feeling her body warm by increments. Watching her breathing ease. Feeling her own chattering teeth calm.

Soon it would be night. And what would emerge in the dark …

Nesta remembered Cassian’s tales of the monsters that prowled these woods. She swallowed, wrapping her arms more tightly around Emerie. She

glanced at her arm, the charm still glowing faintly, only pointing southward now. A sole glimmer of hope, of direction. What had happened to Gwyn? Was she enduring her worst nightmares again? Was she—

Nesta focused on her breathing. Stilled her mind.

She’d survive the night. Help Emerie. Then find Gwyn.

Around a river, she’d learned on her hike with Cassian, cave systems were often carved out by the water. But to find one, she’d have to leave Emerie …

Nesta glanced at the vanishing sun, then slipped out from under the pile of clothes. She covered Emerie with leaves and twigs, added another log to the fire, and risked taking the male’s jacket to wrap around herself.

Nesta wore the boots, even though her blistered feet objected, and made a careful circle around the campsite, listening for anything. Anyone. Scanning every rock and cleft boulder.


The sky darkened. There had to be caves around here somewhere.

Where the fuck were they? Where— “The entrance is here.”

Nesta whirled, dagger out, to find an Illyrian male standing ten feet away. How he’d crept up, how he’d survived given the gash running down the side of his face—

He noted her own wounds, her nakedness beneath the coat, the bare legs and the boots. The knife.

Yet no lust or hatred clouded his brown eyes.

The male carefully pointed to what she’d mistaken for a leaf-covered boulder. “That’s a cave. Big enough to fit inside.”

Nesta drew herself up to her full height. Let him see the cold violence in her eyes.

“You won’t survive an hour on the ground once night falls,” the male said, his boyishly charming face neutral. “And if you’re not already scaling a tree, then I’m going to guess you’ve got someone hurt with you.”

She revealed nothing.

He lifted his hands. No weapons, no blood on him save the gash leaking down his face. “I came from the landing site to the west.” Where she’d

come from. “I saw the body in the gulch—you did that to Novius, didn’t you? He was naked. You’re in a male’s clothes. And that must be the knife that pierced his throat. Do you know who the hell dumped weapons here?”

Nesta kept her silence. Night deepened around them.

The male shrugged when she didn’t reply. “I decided to head northward, hoping to reach Ramiel by a less traveled path, avoiding conflict with the others entirely, if I can. I have no quarrel with you. But I am going into that cave now, and if you’re smart, you’ll bring whoever is with you and come inside, too.”

“And have you take my weapons and kill me in my sleep?”

The male’s brown eyes flickered. “I know who you are. I’m not stupid enough to go after you.”

“It’s the Blood Rite. You’d be forgiven.”

“Feyre Cursebreaker would not forgive me for killing her sister.” “So you do this to gain her favor?”

“Does it matter? I swear an oath on Enalius himself not to kill you or whoever is with you. Take it or leave it.”

“Not to kill us or harm us in any way. Or have anyone you know do so, either.”

A slight smile. “You adapted to the rules of the Fae quickly. But yes. I swear that, too.”

Nesta’s throat bobbed as she weighed the male’s expression. Glanced to the hidden cave entrance behind him.

“I need help carrying her.”



They didn’t risk a fire in the cave, but the male, whose name was Balthazar, offered his thick wool cloak to cover Emerie. Nesta slid Emerie into the dead male’s clothing, leaving herself wearing only the leather jacket, and though it went against every instinct, she allowed Balthazar to sit on her other side, his warmth leaking into her chilled body.

“When dawn comes, be gone,” Nesta said into the dark of the musty, leaf-filled cave as night fell.

“If we survive the night, I’ll be glad to go,” Balthazar said. “The beasts of the woods might smell your friend’s blood and track us right to this cave.”

Nesta slid her gaze to the young warrior. “Why aren’t you out there killing everyone?”

“Because I want to reach the mountain and become Oristian. But if I meet someone I’d like to kill, I won’t hesitate.”

Silence fell, and remained.

Within moments, branches snapped.

Balthazar’s body tightened, his breath becoming impossibly quiet. In the pitch-black of the cave, the only sounds were the rustle of their clothes and the leaves beneath them.

A howl rent the night, and Nesta flinched, clutching Emerie closer to her side.

But the snapping branches and howling moved off, and Balthazar’s body relaxed. “It’s just the first,” he whispered into the blackness. “They’ll prowl until dawn.” She didn’t want to know what was out there. Not as screaming began in the distance. “Some can climb trees,” Balthazar murmured. “The dumb warriors forget that.”

Nesta stayed silent.

“I’ll take first watch,” the warrior said. “Rest.” “Fine.” But she did not dare close her eyes.



Nesta remained awake the entire night. If Balthazar knew she hadn’t been sleeping during his watch, he didn’t say. She’d used the time to do her Mind-Stilling exercises, which kept the edge off, but not entirely.

The crackle of brush under the paws and talons of stalking beasts and the screaming of the Illyrians continued for hours.

When Balthazar nudged her with a knee and she feigned waking, he only murmured that he was going to sleep and tucked himself against her. Nesta let herself soak up his warmth against the frigid cave air. Whether his deep breaths were true sleep or faked, as hers had been, she didn’t care.

Nesta kept her eyes open, even when they became unbearably sore and heavy. Even when the warmth from her two companions threatened to lull her to sleep.

She would not sleep. Wouldn’t lower her guard for one moment.

Dawn eventually leaked through the lattice of branches, and the screams and howling faded, then vanished. A quick inspection in the dim light revealed that though her friend remained unconscious, the wound on Emerie’s head had stopped bleeding. But—

“You’ll find plenty of clothes today,” Balthazar said, seeming to read her mind. He stepped into the daylight and peered around, then cursed under his breath. “Plenty of clothes.”

The words sent Nesta scrambling out of the cave. Winged bodies lay everywhere, many half-eaten.

A brisk wind ruffled Balthazar’s dark hair as he walked away. “Good luck, Archeron.”



Eris was nowhere to be found in the lands surrounding the queens’ castle. But Azriel had encountered a passing human merchant on the road from the palace, who hadn’t hesitated when he’d been asked whether a Fae male had recently arrived. He readily supplied that a red-haired Fae male had been dragged into the castle the night before last. He’d heard in the tavern that the male was to be taken soon to another site.

“We’ll wait here until they leave the castle. Then trail them from the cloud cover,” Azriel said, face dark.

Cassian grunted his agreement and dragged a hand through his hair.

He’d barely slept, thinking of Nesta, and of Feyre and Rhys.

Cassian and Azriel hadn’t discussed their brother’s bargain, which would doom Rhys should Feyre not survive the labor. To lose her would be unbearable, but to also lose Rhys … Cassian couldn’t think of it without feeling sick. Perhaps Amren was working on some way to undo the bargain

—if anyone could think of a way, it would be her. Or Helion, he supposed.

Cassian and Azriel were beyond Rhys’s and Feyre’s daemati range, though. They’d have no news of anything.

But he’d know if Nesta were dead. In his heart, his soul, he’d sense it.

Would feel it.

A mate always did.

Even if she’d rejected that bond.



Nesta had lived through the night, thanks to dumb luck and an Illyrian more interested in politics than killing.

Exhaustion slowed every movement as Nesta picked her way through the dismembered bodies, peeling off whatever clothes were intact and not stained by blood or bodily fluids. Many of the warriors had pissed or shit themselves when the beasts of the forest had found them. Finding a clean pair of pants was a tall order.

But Nesta gathered enough, including a smaller pair of boots for herself and one set for Emerie, and picked up another dagger, two canteens of water, and what seemed to be someone’s half-eaten rabbit dinner.

By the time she returned to the cave—dressed, watered, and with half a leg of rabbit in hand—Emerie was awake. Weak, but awake. She said nothing as Nesta handed her the meat and the water, then helped her dress.

Only when Nesta eased her out of the cave and Emerie surveyed the carnage did she rasp, “Gwyn?”

Nesta, her arm looped around Emerie’s middle, lifted her free hand— the one with the bracelet on her wrist. She slowly pointed her arm in each direction. “South,” she said when the charm gleamed. Gwyn’s general location hadn’t changed since yesterday.

Emerie sucked in a breath. Lifted her own bracelet to the south. The charm glittered almost frantically now, emitting an urgent sense of needing to move, to act, to be swift.

Wonder flashed in Emerie’s eyes before sharpening to grim focus. “Let’s hurry.”

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