There was no priestess waiting to lead us into the black pit at the heart of the library. And Amren, for once, kept quiet.
We reached that bottom level, that impenetrable dark, our steps the only sound.
“I want to talk to you,” I said into the blackness beckoning beyond the end of the light leaking down from high above.
One does not summon me.
“I summon you. I’m here to offer you company. As part of our bargain.” Silence.
Then I felt it, snaking and curling around us, gobbling up the light. Amren swore softly.
You brought—what is it you brought? “Someone like you. Or you could be like them.” You speak in riddles.
A cool, insubstantial hand brushed against my nape and I tried not to inch back toward the light. “Bryaxis. Your name is Bryaxis. And someone locked you down here a long time ago.”
The darkness paused.
“I’m here to offer you another bargain.”
Amren remained still and silent, as I’d told her to, offering me a single nod of confirmation. She could indeed sever the wards holding Bryaxis down here
—when the time was right.
“There is a war,” I said, fighting to keep my voice steady. “A terrible war about to break across the land. If I can free you, will you fight for me? For me and my High Lord?”
The thing—Bryaxis—did not reply.
I nudged Amren with my elbow.
She said, her voice as young and old as the creature’s, “We will offer you freedom from this place in exchange for it.”
A bargain. A simple, powerful magic. As great as any the Book could muster.
This is my home.
I considered. “Then what is it you want in exchange?” Silence.
Sunlight. And moonlight. The stars.
I opened my mouth to say I wasn’t entirely sure that even as High Lady of the Night Court I could promise such things, but Amren stepped on my foot and murmured, “A window. High above.”
Not a mirror, as the Carver wanted. But a window in the mountain. We’d have to carve far, far up, but—
Amren stomped on my foot this time.
Bryaxis whispered in my ear, Will I be able to hunt without restraint on the battlefields? Drink in their fear and dread until I am sated?
I felt slightly bad for Hybern as I said, “Yes—only Hybern. And only until the war is over.” One way or another.
A beat of silence. What would you have me do, then?
I gestured to Amren. “She will explain. She will disable the wards—when we need you.”
Then I will wait.
“Then it’s a bargain. You will obey our orders in this war, fight for us until we no longer need you, and in exchange … we shall bring the sun and moon and stars to you. In your home.” Another prisoner who had come to love its cell. Perhaps Bryaxis and the Carver should meet. An ancient death-god and the face of nightmares. The painting, dreadful yet alluring, began to creep roots deep within my mind.
I kept my shoulders loose, posture as casual as I could summon while the darkness slid around me, winding between me and Amren, and whispered into my ear, It is a bargain.
I made the hour count. When we all gathered in the town house foyer once more to winnow to the Illyrian camp, I’d changed into my fighting leathers,
my new tattoo concealed beneath.
No one asked where I’d gone. Though Mor looked me over and said, “Where’s Amren?”
“Still poring over the Book,” I answered just as Rhys winnowed into the town house. Not a lie. Amren would stay here—until we needed her at the battlefields.
Rhys angled his head. “Looking for what? The wall is gone.”
“For anything,” I said. “For another way to nullify the Cauldron that doesn’t involve the insides of my head leaking out through my nose.”
Rhys cringed and opened his mouth to object, but I cut him off. “There must be another way—Amren thinks there must be another way. It doesn’t hurt to look. And have her hunt for any other spell that might stop the king.”
And when Amren was not doing that … she’d bring down those complex wards containing Bryaxis beneath the library—to be severed only when I called for Bryaxis. Only when the might of Hybern’s army was fully upon us. If I could not get the Ouroboros for the Carver … then Bryaxis was better than nothing.
I wasn’t entirely certain why I didn’t mention it to the others.
Rhys’s eyes flickered, no doubt warring with the idea of what role any other route would require of me in regard to the Cauldron, but he nodded.
I interlaced my fingers with his, and he squeezed once.
Behind me, Mor took Nesta and Cassian by the hand, readying to winnow them to the camp, while shadows gathered around Azriel, Elain at his side, wide-eyed at the spymaster’s display.
But we hesitated—all of us. And I allowed myself one last time to drink it in, the furniture and the wood and the sunlight. To listen to the sounds of Velaris, the laughing of children in the streets, the song of the gulls.
In the silence, I knew my friends were, too.
Rhys cleared his throat, and nodded to Mor. Then she was gone, Cassian and Nesta with her. Then Azriel, gently taking Elain’s hand in his own, as if afraid his scars would hurt her.
Alone with Rhys, I savored the buttery sunshine leaking in from the windows of the front door. Breathed in the smell of the bread Nuala and Cerridwen had baked that morning with Elain.
“The creature in the library,” I murmured. “Its name is Bryaxis.” Rhys lifted a brow. “Oh?”
“I offered it a bargain. To fight for us.”
Stars danced in those violet eyes. “And what did Bryaxis say?” “Only that it wants a window—to see the stars and moon and sun.”
“You did explain that we need it to slaughter our enemies, didn’t you?”
I nudged him with a hip. “The library is its home. It only wanted some adjustments made to it.”
A crooked smile tugged on Rhys’s mouth. “Well, I suppose if I now have to redecorate my own lodgings to match Thesan’s splendor, I might as well add a window for the poor thing.”
I elbowed him in the ribs that time. He still wore his finery from the meeting. Rhys chuckled. “So our army grows by one. Poor Cassian will never recover when he sees his newest recruit.”
“With any luck, Hybern won’t, either.” “And the Carver?”
“He can rot down there. I don’t have time for his games. Bryaxis will have to be enough.”
Rhys glanced at my arm, as if he could see the new, second band beside the first one. He lifted our joined hands and pressed a kiss to the back of my palm.
Again, we silently looked around the town house, taking in every last detail, the quiet that now lay like a layer of dust upon it.
Rhys said softly, “I wonder if we’ll see it again.”
I knew he wasn’t just talking about the house. But I rose up on my toes and kissed his cheek. “We will,” I promised as a dark wind gathered to sweep us to the Illyrian war-camp. I held tightly to him as I added, “We’ll see it all again.”
And when that night-kissed wind winnowed us away, away into war, away into untold danger … I prayed that my promise held true.