A Court of Mist and Fury Page 100

Friends.

The word sounded in my head. Was that what they were?

Amren was nowhere in sight, but I spotted a golden head at the same moment she spied me, and Mor breezed to my side. She wore a gown of pure white, little more than a slip of silk that showed off her generous curves. Indeed, a glance over her shoulder revealed Azriel staring blatantly at the back view of it, Cassian and the stranger already too deep in conversation to notice what had drawn the spymaster’s attention. For a moment, the ravenous hunger on Azriel’s face made my stomach tighten.

I’d remembered feeling like that. Remembered how it felt to yield to it. How I’d come close to doing that the other night.

Mor said, “It won’t be long now.”

“Until what?” No one had told me what to expect, as they hadn’t wanted to ruin the surprise of Starfall.

“Until the fun.”

I surveyed the party around us—“This isn’t the fun?”

Mor lifted an eyebrow. “None of us really care about this part. Once it starts, you’ll see.” She took a sip of her sparkling wine. “That’s some dress. You’re lucky Amren is hiding in her little attic, or she’d probably steal it right off you. The vain drake.”

“She won’t take time off from decoding?”

“Yes, and no. Something about Starfall disturbs her, she claims. Who knows? She probably does it to be contrary.”

Even as she spoke, her words were distant—her face a bit tight. I said quietly, “Are you … ready for tomorrow?” Tomorrow, when we’d leave Velaris to keep anyone from noticing our movements in this area. Mor, Azriel had told me tightly over breakfast that morning, would return to the Court of Nightmares. To check in on her father’s … recovery.

Probably not the best place to discuss our plans, but Mor shrugged. “I don’t have any choice but to be ready. I’ll come with you to the camp, then go my way afterward.”

“Cassian will be happy about that,” I said. Even if Azriel was the one trying his best not to stare at her.

Mor snorted. “Maybe.”

I lifted a brow. “So you two … ?”

Another shrug. “Once. Well, not even. I was seventeen, he wasn’t even a year older.”

When everything had happened.

But there was no darkness on her face as she sighed. “Cauldron, that was a long time ago. I visited Rhys for two weeks when he was training in the war-camp, and Cassian, Azriel, and I became friends. One night, Rhys and his mother had to go back to the Night Court, and Azriel went with them, so Cassian and I were left alone. And that night, one thing led to another, and … I wanted Cassian to be the one who did it. I wanted to choose.” A third shrug. I wondered if Azriel had wished to be the one she chose instead. If he’d ever admitted to it to Mor—or Rhys. If he resented that he’d been away that night, that Mor hadn’t considered him.

“Rhys came back the next morning, and when he learned what had happened … ” She laughed under her breath. “We try not to talk about the Incident. He and Cassian … I’ve never seen them fight like that. Hopefully I never will again. I know Rhys wasn’t pissed about my virginity, but rather the danger that losing it had put me in. Azriel was even angrier about it—though he let Rhys do the walloping. They knew what my family would do for debasing myself with a bastard-born lesser faerie.” She brushed a hand over her abdomen, as if she could feel that nail they’d spiked through it. “They were right.”

“So you and Cassian,” I said, wanting to move on from it, that darkness, “you were never together again after that?”

“No,” Mor said, laughing quietly. “I was desperate, reckless that night. I’d picked him not just for his kindness, but also because I wanted my first time to be with one of the legendary Illyrian warriors. I wanted to lie with the greatest of Illyrian warriors, actually. And I’d taken one look at Cassian and known. After I got what I wanted, after … everything, I didn’t like that it caused a rift with him and Rhys, or even him and Az, so … never again.”

“And you were never with anyone after it?” Not the cold, beautiful shadowsinger who tried so hard not to watch her with longing on his face?

“I’ve had lovers,” Mor clarified, “but … I get bored. And Cassian has had them, too, so don’t get that unrequited-love, moony-woo-woo look. He just wants what he can’t have, and it’s irritated him for centuries that I walked away and never looked back.”

“Oh, it drives him insane,” Rhys said from behind me, and I jumped. But the High Lord was circling me. I crossed my arms as he paused and smirked. “You look like a woman again.”

“You really know how to compliment females, cousin,” Mor said, and patted him on the shoulder as she spotted an acquaintance and went to say hello.

I tried not to look at Rhys, who was in a black jacket, casually unbuttoned at the top so that the white shirt beneath—also unbuttoned at the neck—showed the tattoos on his chest peeking through. Tried not to look—and failed.

“Do you plan to ignore me some more?” I said coolly.

“I’m here now, aren’t I? I wouldn’t want you to call me a hateful coward again.”

I opened my mouth, but felt all the wrong words start to come out. So I shut it and looked for Azriel or Cassian or anyone who might talk to me. Going up to a stranger was starting to sound appealing when Rhys said a bit hoarsely, “I wasn’t punishing you. I just … I needed time.”

I didn’t want to have this conversation here—with so many people listening. So I gestured to the party and said, “Will you please tell me what this … gathering is about?”

Rhysand stepped up behind me, snorting as he said into my ear, “Look up.”

Indeed, as I did so, the crowd hushed.

“No speech for your guests?” I murmured. Easy—I just wanted it to be easy between us again.

“Tonight’s not about me, though my presence is appreciated and noted,” he said. “Tonight’s about that.”

As he pointed …

A star vaulted across the sky, brighter and closer than any I’d seen before. The crowd and city below cheered, raising their glasses as it passed right overhead, and only when it had disappeared over the curve of the horizon did they drink deeply.

I leaned back a step into Rhys—and quickly stepped away, out of his heat and power and scent. We’d done enough damage in a similar position at the Court of Nightmares.

Another star crossed the sky, twirling and twisting over itself, as if it were reveling in its own sparkling beauty. It was chased by another, and another, until a brigade of them were unleashed from the edge of the horizon, like a thousand archers had loosed them from mighty bows.

The stars cascaded over us, filling the world with white and blue light. They were like living fireworks, and my breath lodged in my throat as the stars kept on falling and falling.

I’d never seen anything so beautiful.

And when the sky was full with them, when the stars raced and danced and flowed across the world, the music began.

Wherever they were, people began dancing, swaying and twirling, some grabbing hands and spinning, spinning, spinning to the drums, the strings, the glittering harps. Not like the grinding and thrusting of the Court of Nightmares, but—joyous, peaceful dancing. For the love of sound and movement and life.

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