Chapter no 69

A Court of Silver Flames

Eris and the small caravan rode eastward for three days, stopping only to eat and sleep. Their pace was leisurely, and from the glimpses Cassian and Azriel got through the clouds, it seemed Eris was unchained. Briallyn’s small, hunched figure rode at his side each day. But they caught no sign of the Crown on her—no glint of gold in the sun.

The Blood Rite would end the next day. Cassian had heard nothing of Nesta, felt nothing. But he’d barely slept. Had hardly been able to keep his focus on the party ahead as they entered a low-lying forest beyond the hills, ancient and knotted and full of hanging moss.

“I’ve never been here before,” Azriel murmured over the wind. “It feels like an old place. It reminds me of the Middle.”

Cassian kept his silence. Didn’t speak as they trailed their quarry deeper into the wood to a small lake in its center. Only when the party halted at its dark shores did Azriel and Cassian land nearby. Begin their silent tracking on foot.

The group must not have been concerned about being overheard, because Cassian could make out their words from well beyond their campsite along the shore. Twenty of them had gathered, a mixture of what looked like human nobility and soldiers. Eris’s white stallion had been hitched to a branch. But the male—

“Over here, Cassian,” Eris crooned.

Cassian whirled, and found the High Lord’s son holding a knife at his ribs.



By midday, Nesta could barely breathe. Gwyn was dragging, Emerie was panting, and they’d begun to ration their water. No matter how high they climbed, how many boulders they cleared along the narrow path, the peak grew no closer.

They saw no one else. Heard no one else. A small mercy.

Nesta’s breath singed her lungs. Her legs wobbled. There was only the pain in her body and the relentless circling of her thoughts, as if they were vultures gathering to feast.

She just wanted to turn off her mind

Was it possible that the Breaking wasn’t merely physical, but mental as well? That this mountain somehow dredged up every bit of her fear and sucked her mind deep into it?

They halted for lunch, if water could be called lunch. Gwyn’s leg was bleeding again, her face ghostly white. None of them spoke.

But Nesta noted their haunted eyes—knew they heard their own horrors.

They rested for as long as they dared, then moved again.

Keep going upward. That was the only way. Step to step to step.



“It looks like we’re two-thirds of the way up,” Emerie rasped from ahead.

Night had fallen, the moon bright enough to keep the Breaking’s path illuminated. To show those three stars above Ramiel’s peak. Beckoning. Waiting.

If they reached it by dawn, it’d be a miracle.

“I need to rest,” Gwyn said faintly. “Just—just another minute.” Her face was gray, her hair limp. The leathers along her leg soaked red.

Emerie had taken a spill on a loose rock two hours earlier and twisted her ankle—she was limping now as well.

They were moving too slowly.

“The Pass of Enalius isn’t too far ahead,” Emerie insisted. “If we can make it through the archway, then it’s a clear shot to the top.”

Gwyn breathed, “I’m not sure if I can.”

“Let her rest, Emerie,” Nesta said, sitting on a small boulder beside Gwyn. Dawn had to be four hours off. And then it would be over. Would it matter if they’d reached the peak by then? If they’d won? They’d gotten this far. They’d—

“How did they get here?” Gwyn asked, swearing.

Nesta went still. From her vantage point, she could see straight down. To where a beam of moonlight illuminated a familiar-looking male and six others climbing the mountain behind them. A good ways back, but closing in.

“Bellius,” Emerie whispered.

“We need to go,” Nesta said, lurching to her feet. Gwyn followed, wincing.

Nesta sized up the males. Emerie and Gwyn were too injured to fight, too exhausted, and—

“Put your arms around my neck,” Nesta said, offering her back to Gwyn.


Nesta did it for her. She had climbed the ten thousand stairs of the House of Wind, up and down, over and over and over again. Perhaps for this. This very moment.

“We’re winning this fucking thing,” Nesta said, bending to grab Gwyn’s legs. Teeth gritted, Nesta hoisted Gwyn onto her back.

The muscles in her thighs strained, but held. Her knees did not buckle. Her gaze lay on the terrain ahead. She would not look behind.

So Nesta began to climb, Emerie limping beside her.

With the wind as their song, Nesta and Emerie found their rhythm. They climbed, squeezing and slithering and hauling their weight. And the males fell behind, like the mountain was silently whispering, Go, go, go.



“I knew you were a lying bastard,” Cassian said through his teeth. Azriel, a step away, could do nothing. Not with Eris angling that knife—Nesta’s dagger—into Cassian’s ribs. He could have sworn flame seared into him where the knife met his leather. “But this is low, even for you.”

“Honestly, I’m disappointed in Rhysand,” Eris said, digging the tip of the knife through Cassian’s leathers enough for him to feel its bite, and that ripple of searing flame. Whether it was Eris’s power through the blade or whatever Nesta had Made it into, he didn’t care. He just needed to find some way to avoid it piercing his skin. “He’s become so bland these days. He didn’t even try to look into my mind.”

“You can’t win this,” Azriel warned with quiet menace. “You’re a dead male walking, Eris. Have been for a long time.”

“Yes, yes, all that old business with the Morrigan. How boring of you to cling to it so.”

Cassian blinked. The Morrigan. Eris never referred to her like that.

“Let him go, Briallyn,” Cassian growled. “Come play with us instead.”

The Made dagger slid away from his ribs, and a withered, reedy voice said from nearby, “I’m already playing with you, Lord of Bastards.”



Nesta’s legs shook. Her arms trembled. Gwyn was a half-dead weight at her back. The blood loss had made her so weak it seemed she could barely hold on.

The Breaking flowed through an archway of black stone where the path became broader and easier. The Pass of Enalius. Emerie had paused only long enough to run a bleeding hand over the stone, her dirty face full of wonder and pride. “I am standing where none of my ancestors have been before,” she whispered, voice choked.

Nesta wished she could pause alongside her friend. Could marvel with her. But to stop, even for a breath … Nesta knew that once she halted, she wouldn’t be able to move again.

The flattening of the path around the archway was only a temporary relief. They soon reached a cluster of stones—the last of the impossible

climbing before it seemed to become a direct path to the top. Dawn remained a good two hours off. The full moon’s light was beginning to fade as it sank toward the west.

The group of males would catch them before the summit.

Nesta’s fingers spasmed as she reached for Emerie’s outstretched hand where her friend knelt atop one of the sharp boulders. If they could get past this section—

Her knees buckled, and Nesta went down, face smacking into a rock so hard stars burst across her vision, but all she could do was hold on to Gwyn as they tumbled and slammed into rocks and gravel and rolled and rolled downward, Emerie’s screams ringing in her ears, and then—

Nesta collided with someone hard.

No—not someone, though she could have sworn she felt warmth and breath. She’d hit the archway of stone. They’d fallen all the way back down to the Pass of Enalius, dangerously close to the males who pursued them.


“Alive,” her friend groaned.

Emerie slid to her knees on the path. “Are you hurt?”

Nesta couldn’t move as Gwyn untangled herself. The two of them were covered in dirt, debris, and blood. “I can’t …” Nesta panted. “I can’t carry you anymore.”

Silence fell.

“So we rest,” Gwyn managed to say, “then we continue.”

“We’ll never make it in time,” Nesta said. “Or at least before the males catch up.”

Emerie swallowed. “We try anyway.” Gwyn nodded. “Rest a minute first. Maybe the dawn will reach us before they do.”

“No.” Nesta peered down the path. “They’re climbing too fast.” Again, silence.

“What are you saying?” Emerie asked carefully.

Nesta marveled at the hope and bravery in their faces. “I can hold them off.”

“No,” Gwyn said, voice sharpening.

Nesta schooled her features into utter coldness. “You are both injured. You will not survive the fight. But you can manage the climb. Emerie can help—”


“I can use the bottleneck of the path right there,” Nesta plowed ahead, pointing to the space beyond the archway, “to keep them off long enough for you two to reach the top. Or dawn to come. Whichever happens first.”

Gwyn bared her teeth. “I refuse to leave you here.

Emerie’s pained face told Nesta enough: she understood. Saw the logic. Nesta said to Gwyn, “It is the only way.”

Gwyn screamed, “IT IS NOT THE ONLY WAY!” And then she was sobbing. “I will not abandon you to them. They will kill you.”

“You need to go,” Nesta said, even as her hands began shaking. “Now.” “No,” Gwyn wept. “No, I won’t. I’ll face it with you.”

Something deep in Nesta’s chest cracked. Cracked open completely, and what lay within bloomed, full and bright and pure.

She wrapped her arms around Gwyn. Let her friend sob into her chest. “I’ll face it with you,” Gwyn whispered, over and over again. “Promise me we’ll face it together.”

Nesta couldn’t stop her tears then. The chill wind froze them on her cheeks. “I promise,” she breathed, stroking Gwyn’s matted hair. “I promise.”

Gwyn sobbed, and Nesta let herself sob with her, squeezing her tightly.

Letting her stroking hand come to rest on Gwyn’s neck.

A pinch in the right spot, exactly on that pressure point Cassian had shown her, and it was done.

Gwyn went down. Unconscious.

Nesta grunted, carefully lowering Gwyn to the ground as she peered up at Emerie. Her friend’s face was grave, but unsurprised.

Nesta only said, “Can you carry her the rest of the way?” It would be a feat in itself. “Or at least keep going until dawn?”

“I will.” Nesta knew Emerie would find that strength. She had a soul of steel. Emerie laid her sword before Nesta. Her dagger. The shield.

“Keep the canteens,” Nesta said, patting her own. “I’ve got enough.” Another lie.

“She’ll never forgive you for this,” Emerie said.

“I know.” The males had risen higher. She didn’t wait for Emerie to speak before she helped ease Gwyn onto Emerie’s back, the latter hissing at the weight upon her wings, splaying them at awkward angles. Nesta tied the bloodied rope around them, binding them together. Emerie grimaced, but managed to move a few steps.

“Come with us,” Emerie offered, eyes lined with silver.

Nesta shook her head. “Consider it the repayment of a debt.” A tear slipped down Emerie’s cheek. “For what?”

“For being my friends. Even when I didn’t deserve it.” Emerie’s face crumpled. “There is no debt, Nesta.”

But Nesta smiled softly. “There is. Let me pay it.”

Swallowing back her tears, Emerie nodded. Hefted Gwyn higher and winced, but managed to hobble through the arch. Toward the rocks and the last stretch of the Breaking, all the way up to the peak.

Nesta did not say good-bye. She just inhaled through her nose, held the breath, then exhaled. Repeated her Mind-Stilling again and again, until her breath became the steady crash of waves and her heart became solid stone, and every inch of her body was hers to control.

She was the rock against which the surf broke. These males would break against her, too.



They had no choice. With Eris in Briallyn’s grip, Cassian and Azriel could only follow the hunched, cloaked figure to the lake. Cassian didn’t dare consider whether the Crown was being used on him. If it’d be used on Azriel.

The party in which Eris and Briallyn had traveled had dispersed, nowhere to be seen along the lake. Had they even been real? Or just an illusion?

A glance at Az revealed his brother stone-faced, cold fury in his eyes.

The hunched, cloaked figure stopped before the stones of the lake. Eris halted beside her.

“Out with it, then,” Cassian said.

Briallyn drew back the hood of her cloak.

There was nothing there. The material fell and pooled on the stones.

Eris’s face remained blank. Empty.

“Just an animated kernel of magic,” a slithering voice drawled from the lake.

Thirty feet from shore, standing atop the surface, floated a shadow. It shifted and warped, its edges fluttering, but it had the vague shape of a tall male.

“Who are you?” Azriel demanded.

But Cassian knew. “Koschei,” he whispered.



Nesta stood under the Pass of Enalius for a long minute.

She took out her canteen. Drank the last of the water. Chucked it to the side.

She tucked the dagger into her belt. Picked up the sword. And drew a line in the dirt in front of the archway.

Her final stand. Her last line of defense.

Nesta gathered the shield. Peered over her shoulder to where Emerie had cleared the last cluster of boulders and now struggled up the long, straight path to the peak.

A small, quiet smile passed over Nesta’s face. Then she hefted her shield. Angled her sword.

And stepped beyond the line she’d drawn to meet her enemy.

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