Tamlin cried out as my blade pierced his flesh, breaking bone. For a sickening moment, when his blood rushed onto my hand, I thought the ash dagger would go clean through him.
But then there was a faint thud—and a stinging reverberation in my hand as the dagger struck something hard and unyielding. Tamlin lurched forward, his face going pale, and I yanked the dagger from his chest. As the blood drained away from the polished wood, I lifted the blade.
Its tip had been nicked, turned inward on itself.
Tamlin clutched his chest as he panted, the wound already healing. Rhysand, at the foot of the dais, grinned from ear to ear. Amarantha climbed to her feet.
The faeries murmured to one another. I dropped the blade, sending it clattering across the red marble.
Kill her now, I wanted to bark at Tamlin, but he
didn’t move as he pushed his hand against his wound, blood dribbling out. Too slowly—he was healing too slowly. The mask didn’t fall off. Kill her now.
“She won,” someone in the crowd said. “Free them,” another echoed.
But Amarantha’s face blanched, her features contorting until she looked truly serpentine. “I’ll free them whenever I see fit. Feyre didn’t specify when I had to free them—just that I had to. At some point. Perhaps when you’re dead,” she finished with a hateful smile. “You assumed that when I said instantaneous freedom regarding the riddle, it applied to the trials, too, didn’t you? Foolish, stupid human.”
I stepped back as she descended the steps of the dais. Her fingers curled into claws—Jurian’s eye was going wild within the ring, his pupil dilating and shrinking. “And you,” she hissed at me. “You.” Her teeth gleamed—turning sharp. “I’m going to kill you.”
Someone cried out, but I couldn’t move, couldn’t even try to get out of the way as something
far more violent than lightning struck me, and I crashed to the floor.
“I’m going to make you pay for your insolence,” Amarantha snarled, and a scream ravaged my throat as pain like nothing I had known erupted through me.
My very bones were shattering as my body rose and then slammed onto the hard floor, and I was crushed beneath another wave of torturous agony.
“Admit you don’t really love him, and I’ll spare you,” Amarantha breathed, and through my fractured vision, I saw her prowl toward me. “Admit what a cowardly, lying, inconstant bit of human garbage you are.”
I wouldn’t—I wouldn’t say that even if she splattered me across the ground.
But I was being ripped apart from the inside out, and I thrashed, unable to out-scream the pain.
“Feyre!” someone roared. No, not someone— Rhysand.
But Amarantha still neared. “You think you’re worthy of him? A High Lord? You think you deserve anything at all, human?” My back arched,
and my ribs cracked, one by one.
Rhysand yelled my name again—yelled it as though he cared. I blacked out, but she brought me back, ensuring that I felt everything, ensuring that I screamed every time a bone broke.
“What are you but mud and bones and worm meat?” Amarantha raged. “What are you, compared to our kind, that you think you’re worthy of us?”
Faeries began calling foul play, demanding Tamlin be released from the curse, calling her a cheating liar. Through the haze, I saw Rhysand crouching by Tamlin. Not to help him, but to grab the—
“You are all pigs—all scheming, filthy pigs.”
I sobbed between screams as her foot connected with my broken ribs. Again. And again. “Your mortal heart is nothing to us.”
Then Rhysand was on his feet, my bloody knife in his hands. He launched himself at Amarantha, swift as a shadow, the ash dagger aimed at her throat.
She lifted a hand—not even bothering to look—
and he was blasted back by a wall of white light.
But the pain paused for a second, long enough for me to see him hit the ground and rise again and lunge for her—with hands that now ended in talons. He slammed into the invisible wall Amarantha had raised around herself, and my pain flickered as she turned to him.
“You traitorous piece of filth,” she seethed at Rhysand. “You’re just as bad as these human beasts.” One by one, as if a hand were shoving them in, his talons pushed back into his skin, leaving blood in their wake. He swore, low and vicious. “You were planning this all along.”
Her magic sent him sprawling, and it then hurled into Rhysand again—so hard that his head cracked against the stones and the knife dropped from his splayed fingers. No one made a move to help him, and she struck him once more with her power. The red marble splintered where he hit it, spiderwebbing toward me. With wave after wave she hit him. Rhys groaned.
“Stop,” I breathed, blood filling my mouth as I strained a hand to reach her feet. “Please.”
Rhys’s arms buckled as he fought to rise, and blood dripped from his nose, splattering on the marble. His eyes met mine.
The bond between us went taut. I flashed between my body and his, seeing myself through his eyes, bleeding and broken and sobbing.
I snapped back into my own mind as Amarantha turned to me again. “Stop? Stop? Don’t pretend you care, human,” she crooned, and curled her finger. I arched my back, my spine straining to the point of cracking, and Rhysand bellowed my name as I lost my grip on the room.
Then the memories began—a compilation of the worst moments of my life, a storybook of despair and darkness. The final page came, and I wept, not entirely feeling the agony of my body as I saw that young rabbit, bleeding out in that forest clearing, my knife through her throat. My first kill—the first life I’d taken.
I’d been starving, desperate. Yet afterward, once my family had devoured it, I had crept back into the woods and wept for hours, knowing a line had been crossed, my soul stained.
“Say that you don’t love him!” Amarantha shrieked, and the blood on my hands became the blood of that rabbit—became the blood of what I had lost.
But I wouldn’t say it. Because loving Tamlin was the only thing I had left, the only thing I couldn’t sacrifice.
A path cleared through my red-and-black vision. I found Tamlin’s eyes—wide as he crawled toward Amarantha, watching me die, and unable to save me while his wound slowly healed, while she still gripped his power.
Amarantha had never intended for me to live, never intended to let him go.
“Amarantha, stop this,” Tamlin begged at her feet as he clutched the gaping wound in his chest. “Stop. I’m sorry—I’m sorry for what I said about Clythia all those years ago. Please.”
Amarantha ignored him, but I couldn’t look away. Tamlin’s eyes were so green—green like the meadows of his estate. A shade that washed a w a y the memories flooding through me, that pushed aside the evil breaking me apart bone by
bone. I screamed again as my kneecaps strained, threatening to crack in two, but I saw that enchanted forest, saw that afternoon we’d lain in the grass, saw that morning we’d watched the sunrise, when for a moment—just one moment— I’d known true happiness.
“Say that you don’t truly love him,” Amarantha spat, and my body twisted, breaking bit by bit. “Admit to your inconstant heart.”
“Amarantha, please,” Tamlin moaned, his blood spilling onto the floor. “I’ll do anything.”
“I’ll deal with you later,” she snarled at him, and sent me falling into a fiery pit of pain.
I would never say it—never let her hear that, even if she killed me. And if it was to be my downfall, so be it. If it would be the weakness that would break me, I would embrace it with all my heart. If this was—
For though each of my strikes lands a powerful blow,
When I kill, I do it slow …
That’s what these three months had been—a slow, horrible death. What I felt for Tamlin was the cause of this. There was no cure—not pain, or absence, or happiness.
But scorned, I become a difficult beast to defeat.
She could torture me all she liked, but it would never destroy what I felt for him. It would never make Tamlin want her—never ease the sting of his rejection.
The world became dark at the borders of my vision, taking the edge off the pain.
But I bless all those who are brave enough to dare.
For so long, I had run from it. But opening myself to him, to my sisters—that had been a test
of bravery as harrowing as any of my trials.
“Say it, you vile beast,” Amarantha hissed. She might have lied her way out of our bargain, but she’d sworn differently with the riddle— instantaneous freedom, regardless of her will.
Blood filled my mouth, warm as it dribbled out between my lips. I gazed at Tamlin’s masked face one last time.
“Love,” I breathed, the world crumbling into a blackness with no end. A pause in Amarantha’s magic. “The answer to the riddle …,” I got out, choking on my own blood, “is … love.”
Tamlin’s eyes went wide before something forever cracked in my spine.