The wind whipped away the tears rolling down Nesta’s face at the sight of our father’s ships.
At the sight of the ship he’d chosen to sail into battle, for the daughter who had hated him for not fighting for us, who had hated him for our mother dying, for the poverty and the despair and years lost.
Drakon said drily, “I take it you’re acquainted?”
Our father—gone for months and months with no word.
He had left, my sisters had once said, to attend a meeting regarding the threat above the wall. At that meeting, had it become clear that we had been betrayed by our own kind? And had he then departed, under such secrecy he would not risk the messages to us falling into the wrong hands, to find help?
For us. For me, and my sisters.
Rhys said to Drakon, “Meet Nesta. And my mate, Feyre.”
Neither of us looked to the prince. Only at our father’s fleet—at the ships he’d named in honor of us.
“Speaking of Vassa,” Rhys said to Drakon, “was her curse—ended?”
The human armada and the Hybern host neared, and I knew the impact would be lethal. Saw Hybern’s magic shields go up. Saw the Seraphim raise their own. “See for yourself,” Drakon said.
I blinked at what began to shoot between the human boats. What soared over the water, fast as a shooting star. Spearing for Hybern. Red and gold and white—vibrant as molten metal.
I could have sworn Hybern’s fleet began to panic as it broke from the lines of the human armada and closed the gap between them.
As it spread its wings wide, trailing sparks and embers across the waves, and I realized what—who—now flew at that enemy host.
A firebird. Burning as hot and furious as the heart of a forge. Vassa—the lost queen.
Rhys kissed away the tears sliding down my own face as that firebird queen slammed into Hybern’s fleet. Burning husks of ships were left in her wake.
Our father and the human army spread wide. To pick off the others. Rhys said to Drakon, “Get your legion on land.”
A slim chance—a fool’s chance of winning this thing. Or staunching the slaughter.
Drakon’s eyes went glazed in a way that told me he was conveying orders to someone far away. I wondered if Nephelle and her wife were in that legion
—if the last time they had drawn swords was that long-ago battle at the bottom of the sea.
Rhys seemed to be thinking of the past, too. Because he muttered to Drakon over the din exploding off the sea and the battle below, “Jurian is here.”
The casual, cocky grace of the prince vanished. Cold rage hardened his features into something terrifying. And his brown eyes … they went wholly black.
“He fights for us.”
Drakon didn’t look convinced, but he nodded. He jerked his chin to Cassian. “I assume you’re Cassian.” The general’s chin dipped. I could already see the shadows in his eyes—at the loss of those soldiers. “My legion is yours. Command them as you like.”
Cassian scanned our foundering host, the northern flank that Azriel was reassembling, and gave Drakon a few terse orders. Drakon flapped those white wings, so stark against his honey-brown skin, and said to Rhys, “Miryam’s furious with you, by the way. Three hundred fifty-one years since you last visited. If we survive, expect to do some groveling.”
Rhys rasped a laugh. “Tell that witch it goes both ways.”
Drakon grinned, and with a powerful sweep of his wings, he was gone.
Rhys and Cassian looked after him, then at the armadas now engaged in outright bloodshed. Our father was down there—our father, who I had never seen wield a weapon in his life—
The firebird rained hell upon the ships. Literally. Burning, molten hell as she slammed into them and sent their panicking soldiers to the bottom of the
“Now,” I said to Rhys. “Amren and I need to go now.”
The chaos was complete. With a battle raging in every direction … Amren and I could make it. Perhaps the king would be preoccupied.
Rhys made to shoot me back down to the ground, where Amren and Elain were still waiting. Nesta said, “Wait.”
Nesta stared toward that armada, toward our father fighting in it. “Use me.
I blinked at the same moment Cassian said, “No.”
Nesta ignored him. “The king is probably waiting beside that Cauldron. Even if you get there, you’ll have him to contend with. Draw him out. Draw him far away. To me.”
“How,” Rhys said softly.
“It goes both ways,” Nesta murmured, as if my mate’s words moments before had triggered the idea. “He doesn’t know how much I took. And if … if I make it seem like I’m about to use his power … He’ll come running. Just to kill me.”
“He will kill you,” Cassian snarled.
Her hand clenched on his arm. “That’s—that’s where you come in.” To guard her. Protect her. To lay a trap for the king.
“No,” Rhys said.
Nesta snorted. “You’re not my High Lord. I may do as I wish. And since he’ll sense that you’re with me … You need to go far away, too.”
Rhys said to Cassian, “I’m not letting you throw your life away for this.” I was inclined to agree.
Cassian surveyed the depleted Illyrian lines, now holding strong as Azriel rallied them. “Az has control of the lines.”
“I said no,” Rhys snapped. I’d never heard him use that tone with Cassian, with any of them.
Cassian said steadily, “It’s the only shot we have of a diversion. Luring him away from that Cauldron.” His hands tightened on Nesta. “You gave everything, Rhys. You went through that hell for us, for fifty years.” He’d never addressed it—not fully. “You think I don’t know what happened? I know, Rhys. We all do. And we know you did it to save us, spare us.” He shook his head, sunlight glinting off that dark, winged helmet. “Let us return the favor. Let us repay the debt.”
“There is no debt to repay.” Rhys’s voice broke. The sound of it cracked my heart.
Cassian’s own voice broke as he said, “I never got to repay your mother— for her kindness. Let me do it this way. Let me buy you time.”
I wasn’t sure if in the entire history of Illyria, there had ever been such a discussion.
“You can,” Cassian said gently. “You can, Rhys.” He gave a lazy grin. “Save some of the glory for the rest of us.”
But Cassian asked Nesta, “Do you have what you need?”
Nesta nodded. “Amren showed me enough. What to do to rally the power to me.”
And if Amren and I could control the Cauldron between us … That distraction they’d offer …
Nesta looked down to Elain—our sister monitoring the bloodbath ahead.
Then to me. She said quietly, “Tell Father—thank you.”
She wrapped her arms tightly around Cassian, those gray-blue eyes bright, then they were gone.
Rhys’s body strained with the effort of not going after them as they soared for a copse of trees far behind the battlefield. “He might survive,” I said softly.
“No,” Rhys said, flying us down to Amren and Elain. “He won’t.”
I had Rhys move Elain to the farthest reaches of our camp. And when he returned, my mate only pressed a kiss to my mouth before he took to the skies, spearing for the heart of the battle—the heaviest fighting. I could barely stand to look—to see where he landed.
Alone with Amren, she said to me, “Shield us from sight, and run as fast as you can. Don’t stop; try not to kill. It’ll leave a trail.”
I nodded, checking my weapons. The Seraphim were soaring overhead now, wings bright as the sun on snow. I settled a glamour around us, veiling us and muffling our sounds.
“Quickly,” Amren repeated, silver eyes churning like thunderclouds. “Don’t look back.”
So I didn’t.