The aching muscles along my back, core, and thighs had gone into complete revolt by the time Rhys and I parted ways, my mate heading off to track down Cassian—who would be my escort tomorrow morning to the Prison. If both of us had gone, it would perhaps look too … desperate, too vital. But if the High Lady and her general went to visit the Carver to pose some hypothetical questions …
It would still show our hand, but perhaps not quite how badly we needed any extra bit of assistance. And Cassian, unsurprisingly, knew more about the Carver than anyone thanks to some morbid fascination with all of the Prison’s inmates. Especially since he was responsible for jailing some of them.
But while Rhys sought out Cassian, I had a task of my own.
I was wincing and hissing as I strode through the murky red halls of the House to find my sister and Amren. To see which of them was still standing after their first lesson. Among other things.
I found them in a quiet, forgotten workroom, coldly watching the other.
Books lay scattered on the table between them. A ticking clock by the dusty cabinets was the only sound.
“Sorry to interrupt your staring contest,” I said, lingering in the doorway. I rubbed at a spot low in my back. “I wanted to see how the first lesson was going.”
“Fine.” Amren didn’t take her eyes off my sister, a faint smile playing about her red mouth.
I studied Nesta, who gazed at Amren, utterly stone-faced. “What are you doing?”
“Waiting,” Amren said. “For what?”
“For busybodies to leave us alone.”
I straightened, clearing my throat. “Is this part of her training?”
Amren turned her head to me with exaggerated slowness, her chin-length, razor-straight hair shifting with the movement. “Rhys has his own method of training you. I have mine.” Her white teeth flashed with every word. “We visit the Court of Nightmares tomorrow night—she needs some basic training before we do.”
Amren sighed at the ceiling. “Shielding herself. From prying minds and powers.”
I blinked. I should have thought of that. That if Nesta were to join us, be at the Hewn City … she would need some defenses beyond what we could offer her.
Nesta at last looked to me, her face as cold as ever. “Are you all right?” I asked her.
Amren clicked her tongue. “She’s fine. Stubborn as an ass, but as you’re related, I’m not surprised.”
I scowled. “How am I supposed to know what your methods are? For all I know, you picked up some terrible techniques in that Prison.”
Careful. So, so careful.
Amren hissed, “That place taught me plenty of things, but certainly not this.”
I angled my head, the portrait of curiosity. “Did you ever interact with the others?”
The fewer people who knew about my trip tomorrow to see the Carver, the safer it was—the less chance of Hybern catching wind of it. Not for any fear of betrayal, but … there was always risk.
Azriel, now off hunting for information on the Autumn Court, would be told when he returned tonight. Mor … I’d tell her eventually. But Amren … Rhys and I had decided to wait to tell Amren. The last time we’d gone to the Prison, she’d been … testy. Telling her we planned to unleash one of her fellow inmates? Perhaps not the best thing to mention while we waited for her to find a way to heal that wall—and train my sister.
Impatience rippled across Amren’s face, those silver eyes flaring. “I only spoke to them in whispers and echoes through rock, girl. And I was glad of it.”
“What’s the Prison?” Nesta asked at last.
“A hell entombed in stone,” Amren said. “Full of creatures you should thank the Mother no longer walk the earth freely.”
Nesta frowned deeply, but shut her mouth.
“Like who?” I asked. Any extra information she might have—
Amren bared her teeth. “I am giving a magic lesson, not a history one.” She waved a dismissive hand. “If you want someone to gossip with, go find one of the dogs. I’m sure Cassian’s still sniffing around upstairs.”
Nesta’s lips twitched upward.
Amren pointed at her with a slender finger ending in a sharp, manicured nail. “Concentrate. Vital organs must be shielded at all times.”
I tapped a hand against the open doorway. “I’ll keep looking for more information for you in the library, Amren.” No response. “Good luck,” I added.
“She doesn’t need luck,” Amren said. Nesta huffed a laugh.
I took that as the only farewell I’d get. Perhaps letting Amren and Nesta train together was … a bad choice. Even if the prospect of unleashing them upon the Court of Nightmares … I smiled a bit at the thought.
By the time Mor, Rhys, Cassian, and I gathered for dinner at the town house—Azriel still off spying—my muscles were so sore I could barely walk up the front stairs. Sore enough that any plans I had to visit Lucien up at the House after the meal vanished. Mor was testy and quiet throughout, no doubt in anticipation of the visit tomorrow night.
She’d had to work with Keir plenty throughout the centuries, and yet tomorrow … She’d only warned Rhys once while we ate that he should thoroughly consider any offer Keir might give him in exchange for his army. Rhys had shrugged, saying he’d think about it when the time came. A non-answer—and one that made Mor grit her teeth.
I didn’t blame her. Long before the War, her family had brutalized her in ways I didn’t let myself consider. Not a day before I was to meet with them again—ask them for help. Work with them.
Rhys, Mother bless him, had a bath waiting for me after the meal.
I’d need all my strength for tomorrow. For the monsters I was to face beneath two very different mountains.
I had not visited this place for months. But the carved stone walls were just as I’d last seen them, the darkness still interrupted by bracketed torches.
Not the Prison. Under the Mountain.
But instead of Clare’s mutilated body spiked high to the wall above me … Her blue-gray eyes were still wide with terror. Gone was the haughty
iciness, the queenly jut to her chin.
Nesta. They’d done precisely to her, wound for wound, what they’d done to Clare.
And behind me, screaming and pleading—
I turned, finding Elain, naked and weeping, tied to that enormous spit. What I had once been threatened to endure. Gnarled, masked faeries rotated the iron handles, turning her over—
I tried to move. Tried to lunge.
But I was frozen—utterly bound by invisible chains to the floor.
Feminine laughter flitted from the other end of that throne room. From the dais. Now empty.
Empty, because that was Amarantha, strutting into the gloom, down some hall that hadn’t been there before but now stretched away into nothing.
Rhysand followed a step behind her. Going with her. To that bedroom. He looked over his shoulder at me, only once.
Over his wings. His wings, which were out, which she’d see and destroy, right after she—
I was screaming for him to stop. Thrashing at those bonds. Elain’s pleading rose, higher and higher. Rhys kept walking with Amarantha. Let her take his hand and tug him along.
I couldn’t move, couldn’t stop it, any of it—
I was hauled out of the dream like a thrashing fish from a net cast deep into the sea.
And when I surfaced … I remained half there. Half in my body, half Under the Mountain, watching as—
The word was an order. Laced with that primal command he so rarely wielded.
But my eyes focused. My chest expanded. I slipped a bit further back into my body.
I did so. His face came into view, faelights murmuring to life inside their
lamps and bowls in our bedroom. His wings were tucked in tight, framing his disheveled hair, his drawn face.
“Again,” he only said. I obeyed.
My bones had turned brittle, my stomach a roiling mess. I closed my eyes, fighting the nausea. Rippling terror kept its talons buried deep. I could still see it: the way she’d led him down that hall. To—
I surged, rolling to the edge of the mattress and clamping down hard as my body tried to heave up its contents onto the carpet. His hand was instantly on my back, rubbing soothing circles. Utterly willing to let me vomit right over the side of the bed. But I focused on my breathing.
On closing down those memories, one by one. Memories repainted.
I lay half sprawled over the edge for uncounted minutes. He rubbed my back throughout.
When I could finally move, when the nausea had subsided … I twisted back over. And the sight of that face … I slid my arms around his waist, gripping tightly as he pressed a silent kiss to my hair, reminding myself over and over that we were out. We had survived. Never again—never again would I let someone hurt him like that. Hurt my sisters like that.