A Court of Mist and Fury Page 112

And through that merciless, unyielding rage, I decided that if Rhys was not alive, if he was harmed beyond repair … I didn’t care who they were and why they had done it.

They were all dead.

Tracks veered from the main group—scouts probably sent to find a spot for the night. I slowed my winnowing, carefully tracing their steps now. Two groups had split, as if trying to hide where they’d gone. Rhys’s scent clung to both.

They’d taken his clothes, then. Because they’d known I’d track them, seen me with him. They’d known I’d come for him. A trap—it was likely a trap.

I paused at the top branches of a tree overlooking where the two groups had cleaved, scanning the ground. One headed deeper into the mountains. One headed along them.

Mountains were Illyrian territory—mountains would run the risk of being discovered by a patrol. They’d assume that’s where I would doubt they would be stupid enough to go. They’d assume I’d think they’d keep to the unguarded, unpatrolled forest.

I weighed my options, smelling the two paths.

They hadn’t counted on the small, second scent that clung there, entwined with his.

And I didn’t let myself think about it as I winnowed toward the mountain tracks, outracing the wind. I didn’t let myself think about the fact that my scent was on Rhys, clinging to him after last night. He’d changed his clothes that morning—but the smell on his body … Without taking a bath, I was all over him.

So I winnowed toward him, toward me. And when the narrow cave appeared at the foot of a mountain, the faintest glimmer of light escaping from its mouth … I halted.

A whip cracked.

And every word, every thought and feeling, went out of me. Another whip—and another.

I slung my bow over my shoulder and pulled out a second ash arrow. It was quick work to bind the two arrows together, so that a tip gleamed on either end—and to do the same for two more. And when I was done, when I looked at the twin makeshift daggers in either hand, when that whip sounded again … I winnowed into the cave.

They’d picked one with a narrow entrance that opened into a wide, curving tunnel, setting up their little camp around the bend to avoid detection.

The scouts at the front—two High Fae males with unmarked armor who I didn’t recognize—didn’t notice as I went past.

Two other scouts patrolled just inside the cave mouth, watching those at the front. I was there and vanished before they could spot me. I rounded the corner, time slipping and bending, and my night-dark eyes burned at the light. I changed them, winnowing between one blink and the next, past the other two guards.

And when I beheld the four others in that cave, beheld the tiny fire they’d built and what they’d already done to him … I pushed against the bond between us—almost sobbing as I felt that adamant wall … But there was nothing behind it. Only silence.

They’d found strange chains of bluish stone to spread his arms, suspending him from either wall of the cave. His body sagged from them, his back a ravaged slab of meat. And his wings …

They’d left the ash arrows through his wings. Seven of them.

His back to me, only the sight of the blood running down his skin told me he was alive.

And it was enough—it was enough that I detonated.

I winnowed to the two guards holding twin whips.

The others around them shouted as I dragged my ash arrows across their throats, deep and vicious, just like I’d done countless times while hunting. One, two—then they were on the ground, whips limp. Before the guards could attack, I winnowed again to the ones nearest.

Blood sprayed.

Winnow, strike; winnow, strike.

Those wings—those beautiful, powerful wings—

The guards at the mouth of the cave had come rushing in.

They were the last to die.

And the blood on my hands felt different from what it had been like Under the Mountain. This blood … I savored. Blood for blood. Blood for every drop they’d spilled of his.

Silence fell in the cave as their final shouts finished echoing, and I winnowed in front of Rhys, shoving the bloody ash daggers into my belt. I gripped his face. Pale—too pale.

But his eyes opened to slits and he groaned.

I didn’t say anything as I lunged for the chains holding him, trying not to notice the bloody handprints I’d left on him. The chains were like ice—worse than ice. They felt wrong. I pushed past the pain and strangeness of them, and the weakness that barreled down my spine, and unlatched him.

His knees slammed into the rock so hard I winced, but I rushed to the other arm, still upraised. Blood flowed down his back, his front, pooling in the dips between his muscles.

“Rhys,” I breathed. I almost dropped to my own knees as I felt a flicker of him behind his mental shields, as if the pain and exhaustion had reduced it to window-thinness. His wings, peppered with those arrows, remained spread—so painfully taut that I winced. “Rhys—we need to winnow home.”

His eyes opened again, and he gasped, “Can’t.”

Whatever poison was on those arrows, then his magic, his strength …

But we couldn’t stay here, not when the other group was nearby. So I said, “Hold on,” and gripped his hand before I threw us into night and smoke.

Winnowing was so heavy, as if all the weight of him, all that power, dragged me back. It was like wading through mud, but I focused on the forest, on a moss-shrouded cave I’d seen earlier that day while slaking my thirst, tucked into the side of the riverbank. I’d peeked into it, and nothing but leaves had been within. At least it was safe, if not a bit damp. Better than being in the open—and it was our only option.

Every mile was an effort. But I kept my grip on his hand, terrified that if I let go, I’d leave him somewhere I might never be able to find, and—

And then we were there, in that cave, and he grunted in agony as we slammed into the wet, cold stone floor.

“Rhys,” I pleaded, stumbling in the dark—such impenetrable dark, and with those creatures around us, I didn’t risk a fire—

But he was so cold, and still bleeding.

I willed my eyes to shift again, and my throat tightened at the damage. The lashings across his back kept dribbling blood, but the wings … “I have to get these arrows out.”

He grunted again, hands braced on the floor. And the sight of him like that, unable to even make a sly comment or half smile …

I went up to his wing. “This is going to hurt.” I clenched my jaw as I studied the way they’d pierced the beautiful membrane. I’d have to snap the arrows in two and slide each end out.

No—not snapping. I’d have to cut it—slowly, carefully, smoothly, to keep any shards and rough bits from causing further damage. Who knew what an ash splinter might do if it got stuck in there?

“Do it,” he panted, his voice hoarse.

There were seven arrows in total: three in this wing, four in the other. They’d removed the ones from his legs, for whatever reason—the wounds already half-clotted.

Blood dripped on the floor.

I took the knife from where it was strapped to my thigh, studied the entry wound, and gently gripped the shaft. He hissed. I paused.

“Do it,” Rhys repeated, his knuckles white as he fisted his hands on the ground.

Prev Next