Gwyn and Emerie were waiting in one of the parlors overlooking the river, healed but still in their torn, bloody clothes. Steam curled off the cups set on the low table before them.
Emerie said thickly as Nesta stopped before their couch, “Two wraiths brought us some tea—”
But Gwyn cut her off, face blazing as she hissed at Nesta, “I should
never forgive you.”
Nesta just leaped onto the couch, hugging Gwyn tightly. She reached out an arm for Emerie, who joined their embrace. “We can talk forgiveness another day,” Nesta said through her tears, settling between them. “You won the entire damn thing.”
“Thanks to you,” Emerie said.
“I got a crown of my own, don’t worry,” Nesta said, even as she knew Mor was now winnowing all three objects of the Trove back to the place Nesta had taken them from. She’d summoned them, working around Helion’s spells. No spell could ever keep them from her—Briallyn had spoken true about that.
“Who healed you?” Nesta pulled back to survey them. “How are you even here?”
“The stone,” Emerie explained, features soft with wonder. “It healed every wound on us the moment it brought us out of the Rite. We arrived
here, of all places.”
“I think it knew where we were needed most,” Gwyn said quietly, and Nesta smiled.
Her smile faded, however, as she asked Emerie, “Will your family punish you for what happened to Bellius?” If they so much as thought about doing so, Nesta would pay them a little visit. With the Mask, the Harp, and the Crown.
Which was why the Trove should be kept far away from her.
Emerie shrugged a shoulder. “Deaths happen in the Rite. He fell in combat when one of his fellow warriors turned on him during the hike up Ramiel’s slopes. That’s as much as they need to know.” Her eyes twinkled.
Nesta had a feeling that the truth of what had occurred on that mountain would remain only with them—and the innermost circle of Feyre’s court. Cassian had clearly been brought into the Rite against his will. Hopefully no one would ever challenge that fact.
Gwyn laughed hoarsely. “The Illyrians are going to be furious about our winning, you know. Especially because I have no intention of being called Carynthian. I’m content with being a Valkyrie.”
“Oh, they’ll be in hysterics for decades,” Emerie agreed, grinning.
Nesta grinned back, slinging her arms around her friends again and sinking into the deep cushions of the couch. “I can’t wait to see it.”
And for the first time, with these two friends beside her, with her mate waiting for her … it was true.
Nesta couldn’t wait to see the future that unfolded. All of it.
The baby, whom Rhys and Feyre named Nyx, was as beautiful as anyone could ever dream a baby to be. Dark hair, with blue eyes that already glowed with his father’s and mother’s starlight, offsetting the light tan of his skin.
And then there were the tiny wings, which Cassian had never realized were so delicate, so perfect, until he touched their velvet softness. The claws atop them would grow in much later, along with the ability to use the wings themselves, but … He stared at the bundle in his arms, his heart full
to bursting, and said to where Feyre and Rhys sat on the bed, neatly remade with clean linens, “You have no idea how much trouble this one is going to get into.”
Feyre chuckled. “Those pretty eyes will be to blame, I’m sure.” Rhys, still rattled and pale, just smiled.
The door opened, and then Nesta was there, still in her torn, bloody, stolen clothes. She’d held the babe already, and Cassian’s chest had swelled, aching, to see her smiling down at Nyx.
But now Nesta’s eyes drifted to Cassian, and he saw the quiet request in them.
He silently handed Nyx to Azriel, who winced at the transfer of this most delicate little creature to his scarred hands, and followed Nesta out the door, into the hall, and down the stairs. They didn’t speak until they stood on the back lawn of the house, overlooking the river once again awakening in the spring sunshine.
What she’d done, both during the Rite and after it … She’d filled them all in briefly. He knew there was more. But perhaps some things would always remain a secret between her and her friends. Her sisters-in-arms.
So Cassian asked, “Is your magic … The power’s really gone?”
The brisk spring wind whipped her golden-brown hair across her face. “I gave it back to the Cauldron in exchange for the knowledge of how to save them.” She swallowed. “But a little remains. I think something else— someone else—stopped the Cauldron from taking all of it. And I made some changes of my own.”
The Mother. The only being who would see the sacrifice Nesta had made and give a little back. Perhaps it was she who had peered out at them through the Mask. “What did you change?”
Nesta rested a hand on her abdomen. “I changed myself a little, too. So none of us will have to go through this again.”
For a heartbeat, Cassian had no words. “You … You’re ready for a
Nesta barked a laugh. “No. Gods no. I’ll be drinking my contraceptive tea for a while yet.” She laughed again. “But I adjusted myself to match what the Cauldron did for Feyre. For when the time is right.”
He couldn’t tear himself from the quiet joy lighting her face. So he offered her a soft smile. Yes—when the time was right, they would start that journey together.
But what Nesta had done today, what she’d given …
“You could have ruled the world with your power,” he said carefully.
“I don’t want to rule the world.” Her eyes were unguarded in a way he had never seen. Mate, she had called him.
“What do you want?” Cassian managed to ask, voice rasping.
She smiled, and damn if it wasn’t the loveliest thing he’d ever seen. “You.”
“You’ve had me from the moment you met me.”
She tucked a strand of hair behind an arched ear. “I know.”
He brushed a kiss over her mouth. But Nesta said, “I want a disgustingly ornate mating ceremony.”
He laughed, pulling away. “Really?” “Why not?”
“Because I’ll never hear the end of it from Azriel and Mor.” Or the Illyrians.
Nesta considered. Then pulled something out of her pocket. A small biscuit, swiped from a tray in the birthing room. “Then here. Food. From me to you, my mate. That’s the official ritual, isn’t it? The sharing of food from one mate to the other?”
He choked. “These are my two options? A frilly mating ceremony or a stale biscuit?”
Her face filled with such true light, it nearly stole the breath from him. “Yes.”
So Cassian laughed again, and folded her fingers around the pathetic biscuit, leaning to whisper in her ear, “We’ll make a coronation of it, Nes.”
“I already have a crown,” she said. “I just want you.”
His jaw tightened. Yes, they’d have to figure out what to do with the entire Dread Trove now that they possessed all three objects. How Nesta had summoned it despite the spells Helion had placed on the other two … He’d think of that another day. Along with the fact that she’d stopped Time
with the Harp. And that she seemed to have some sort of connection—or understanding—with the Mother. The Mother.
But Nesta smoothed his bunched brow, as if she could see those worries there. “Later,” she promised. “We’ll deal with all that later.” Including the remaining queens, Koschei, and a still-looming war.
“Later,” he agreed, and she slid her arms around his neck.
There were no more words after that. Only the two of them, standing on the riverbank under the sun, letting its warmth seep through their bones.
Nesta pulled away, whispering, “I love you,” and it was all Cassian needed before kissing her again, the force of it more powerful and enduring than the Cauldron itself.