A Court of Mist and Fury Page 101

I lingered with Rhysand at the edge of it, caught between watching the people dancing on the patio, hands upraised, and the stars streaming past, closer and closer until I swore I could have touched them if I’d leaned out.

And there were Mor and Azriel—and Cassian. The three of them dancing together, Mor’s head tipped back to the sky, arms up, the starlight gleaming on the pure white of her gown. Dancing as if it might be her last time, flowing between Azriel and Cassian like the three of them were one unit, one being.

I looked behind me to find Rhys watching them, his face soft. Sad.

Separated for fifty years, and reunited—only to be cleaved apart so soon to fight again for their freedom.

Rhys caught my gaze and said, “Come. There’s a better view. Quieter,” He held a hand out to me.

That sorrow, that weight, lingered in his eyes. And I couldn’t bear to see it—just as I couldn’t bear to see my three friends dancing together as if it was the last time they’d ever do it.

Rhys led me to a small private balcony jutting from the upper level of the House of Wind. On the patios below, the music still played, the people still danced, the stars wheeling by, close and swift.

He let go as I took a seat on the balcony rail. I immediately decided against it as I beheld the drop, and backed away a healthy step.

Rhys chuckled. “If you fell, you know I’d bother to save you before you hit the ground.”

“But not until I was close to death?”

“Maybe.”

I leaned a hand against the rail, peering at the stars whizzing past. “As punishment for what I said to you?”

“I said some horrible things, too,” he murmured.

“I didn’t mean it,” I blurted. “I meant it more about myself than you. And I’m sorry.”

He watched the stars for a moment before he replied. “You were right, though. I stayed away because you were right. Though I’m glad to hear my absence felt like a punishment.”

I snorted, but was grateful for the humor—for the way he’d always been able to amuse me. “Any news with the orb or the queens?”

“Nothing yet. We’re waiting for them to deign to reply.”

We were silent again, and I studied the stars. “They’re not—they’re not stars at all.”

“No.” Rhys came up beside me at the rail. “Our ancestors thought they were, but … They’re just spirits, on a yearly migration to somewhere. Why they pick this day to appear here, no one knows.”

I felt his eyes upon me, and tore my gaze from the shooting stars. Light and shadow passed over his face. The cheers and music of the city far, far below were barely audible over the crowd gathered at the House.

“There must be hundreds of them,” I managed to say, dragging my stare back to the stars whizzing past.

“Thousands,” he said. “They’ll keep coming until dawn. Or, I hope they will. There were less and less of them the last time I witnessed Starfall.”

Before Amarantha had locked him away.

“What’s happening to them?” I looked in time to see him shrug. Something twanged in my chest.

“I wish I knew. But they keep coming back despite it.”

“Why?”

“Why does anything cling to something? Maybe they love wherever they’re going so much that it’s worth it. Maybe they’ll keep coming back, until there’s only one star left. Maybe that one star will make the trip forever, out of the hope that someday—if it keeps coming back often enough—another star will find it again.”

I frowned at the wine in my hand. “That’s … a very sad thought.”

“Indeed.” Rhys rested his forearms on the balcony edge, close enough for my fingers to touch if I dared.

A calm, full silence enveloped us. Too many words—I still had too many words in me.

I don’t know how much time passed, but it must have been a while, because when he spoke again, I jolted. “Every year that I was Under the Mountain and Starfall came around, Amarantha made sure that I … serviced her. The entire night. Starfall is no secret, even to outsiders—even the Court of Nightmares crawls out of the Hewn City to look up at the sky. So she knew … She knew what it meant to me.”

I stopped hearing the celebrations around us. “I’m sorry.” It was all I could offer.

“I got through it by reminding myself that my friends were safe; that Velaris was safe. Nothing else mattered, so long as I had that. She could use my body however she wanted. I didn’t care.”

“So why aren’t you down there with them?” I asked, even as I tucked the horror of what had been done to him into my heart.

“They don’t know—what she did to me on Starfall. I don’t want it to ruin their night.”

“I don’t think it would. They’d be happy if you let them shoulder the burden.”

“The same way you rely on others to help with your own troubles?”

We stared at each other, close enough to share breath.

And maybe all those words bottled up in me … Maybe I didn’t need them right now.

My fingers grazed his. Warm and sturdy—patient, as if waiting to see what else I might do. Maybe it was the wine, but I stroked a finger down his.

And as I turned to him more fully, something blinding and tinkling slammed into my face.

I reeled back, crying out as I bent over, shielding my face against the light that I could still see against my shut eyes.

Rhys let out a startled laugh.

A laugh.

And when I realized that my eyes hadn’t been singed out of their sockets, I whirled on him. “I could have been blinded!” I hissed, shoving him. He took a look at my face and burst out laughing again. Real laughter, open and delighted and lovely.

I wiped at my face, and when I pulled my hands down, I gaped. Pale green light—like drops of paint—glowed in flecks on my hand.

Splattered star-spirit. I didn’t know if I should be horrified or amused. Or disgusted.

When I went to rub it off, Rhys caught my hands. “Don’t,” he said, still laughing. “It looks like your freckles are glowing.”

My nostrils flared, and I went to shove him again, not caring if my new strength knocked him off the balcony. He could summon wings; he could deal with it.

He sidestepped me, veering toward the balcony rail, but not fast enough to avoid the careening star that collided with the side of his face.

He leaped back with a curse. I laughed, the sound rasping out of me. Not a chuckle or snort, but a cackling laugh.

And I laughed again, and again, as he lowered his hands from his eyes.

The entire left side of his face had been hit.

Like heavenly war paint, that’s what it looked like. I could see why he didn’t want me to wipe mine away.

Rhys was examining his hands, covered in the dust, and I stepped toward him, peering at the way it glowed and glittered.

He went still as death as I took one of his hands in my own and traced a star shape on the top of his palm, playing with the glimmer and shadows, until it looked like one of the stars that had hit us.

His fingers tightened on mine, and I looked up. He was smiling at me. And looked so un-High-Lord-like with the glowing dust on the side of his face that I grinned back.

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