A Court of Mist and Fury Page 129

Cassian braced his forearms on the broad stone railing, his red Siphons like living pools of flame.

I said, perhaps because I was a busybody who liked to stick my nose in other people’s affairs, “It meant a great deal to me—what you promised my sister the other day.”

Cassian shrugged, his wings rustling. “I’d do it for anyone.”

“It meant a lot to her, too.” Hazel eyes narrowed slightly. But I casually watched the river. “Nesta is different from most people,” I explained. “She comes across as rigid and vicious, but I think it’s a wall. A shield—like the ones Rhys has in his mind.”

“Against what?”

“Feeling. I think Nesta feels everything—sees too much; sees and feels it all. And she burns with it. Keeping that wall up helps from being overwhelmed, from caring too greatly.”

“She barely seems to care about anyone other than Elain.”

I met his stare, scanning that handsome, tan face. “She will never be like Mor,” I said. “She will never love freely and gift it to everyone who crosses her path. But the few she does care for … I think Nesta would shred the world apart for them. Shred herself apart for them. She and I have our … issues. But Elain … ” My mouth quirked to the side. “She will never forget, Cassian, that you offered to defend Elain. Defend her people. As long as she lives, she will remember that kindness.”

He straightened, rapping his knuckles against the smooth marble. “Why are you telling me this?”

“I just—thought you should know. For whenever you see her again and she pisses you off. Which I’m certain will happen. But know that deep down, she is grateful, and perhaps does not possess the ability to say so. Yet the feeling—the heart—is there.”

I paused, debating pushing him, but the river flowing beneath us shifted.

Not a physical shifting. But … a tremor in the current, in the bedrock, in the skittering things crawling on it. Like ink dropped in water.

Cassian instantly went on alert as I scanned the river, the banks on either side.

“What the hell is that?” he murmured. He tapped the Siphon on each hand with a finger.

I gaped as scaled black armor began unfolding and slithering up his wrists, his arms, replacing the tunic that had been there. Layer after layer, coating him like a second skin, flowing up to his shoulders. The additional Siphons appeared, and more armor spread across his neck, his shoulders, down his chest and waist. I blinked, and it had covered his legs—then his feet.

The sky was cloudless, the streets full of chatter and life.

Cassian kept scanning, a slow rotation over Velaris.

The river beneath me remained steady, but I could feel it roiling, as if trying to flee from— “From the sea,” I breathed. Cassian’s gaze shot straight ahead, to the river before us, to the towering cliffs in the distance that marked the raging waves where it met the ocean.

And there, on the horizon, a smear of black. Swift-moving—spreading wider as it grew closer.

“Tell me those are birds,” I said. My power flooded my veins, and I curled my fingers into fists, willing it to calm, to steady—

“There’s no Illyrian patrol that’s supposed to know about this place … ,” he said, as if it were an answer. His gaze cut to me. “We’re going back to the town house right now.”

The smear of black separated, fracturing into countless figures. Too big for birds. Far too big. I said, “You have to sound the alarm—”

But people were. Some were pointing, some were shouting.

Cassian reached for me, but I jumped back. Ice danced at my fingertips, wind howled in my blood. I’d pick them off one by one— “Get Azriel and Amren—”

They’d reached the sea cliffs. Countless, long-limbed flying creatures, some bearing soldiers in their arms … An invading host. “Cassian.”

But an Illyrian blade had appeared in Cassian’s hand, twin to the one across his back. A fighting knife now shone in the other. He held them both out to me. “Get back to the town house—right now.”

I most certainly would not go. If they were flying, I could use my power to my advantage: freeze their wings, burn them, break them. Even if there were so many, even if—

So fast, as if they were carried on a fell wind, the force reached the outer edges of the city. And unleashed arrows upon the shrieking people rushing for cover in the streets. I grabbed his outstretched weapons, the cool metal hilts hissing beneath my forge-hot palms.

Cassian lifted his hand into the air. Red light exploded from his Siphon, blasting up and away—forming a hard wall in the sky above the city, directly in the path of that oncoming force.

He ground his teeth, grunting as the winged legion slammed into his shield. As if he felt every impact.

The translucent red shield shoved out farther, knocking them back—

We both watched in mute horror as the creatures lunged for the shield, arms out—

They were not just any manner of faerie. Any rising magic in me sputtered and went out at the sight of them.

They were all like the Attor.

All long-limbed, gray-skinned, with serpentine snouts and razor-sharp teeth. And as the legion of its ilk punched through Cassian’s shield as if it were a cobweb, I beheld on their spindly gray arms gauntlets of that bluish stone I’d seen on Rhys, glimmering in the sun.

Stone that broke and repelled magic. Straight from the unholy trove of the King of Hybern.

One after one after one, they punched through his shield.

Cassian sent another wall barreling for them. Some of the creatures peeled away and launched themselves upon the outskirts of the city, vulnerable outside of his shield. The heat that had been building in my palms faded to clammy sweat.

People were shrieking, fleeing. And I knew his shields would not hold—

“GO!” Cassian roared. I lurched into motion, knowing he likely lingered because I stayed, that he needed Azriel and Amren and—

High above us, three of them slammed into the dome of the red shield. Clawing at it, ripping through layer after layer with those stone gauntlets.

That’s what had delayed the king these months: gathering his arsenal. Weapons to fight magic, to fight High Fae who would rely on it—

A hole ripped open, and Cassian threw me to the ground, shoving me against the marble railing, his wings spreading wide over me, his legs as solid as the bands of carved rock at my back—

Screams on the bridge, hissing laughter, and then—

A wet, crunching thud.

“Shit,” Cassian said. “Shit—”

He moved a step, and I lunged from under him to see what it was, who it was—

Blood shone on the white marble bridge, sparkling like rubies in the sun.

There, on one of those towering, elegant lampposts flanking the bridge …

Her body was bent, her back arched on the impact, as if she were in the throes of passion.

Her golden hair had been shorn to the skull. Her golden eyes had been plucked out.

She was twitching where she had been impaled on the post, the metal pole straight through her slim torso, gore clinging to the metal above her.

Someone on the bridge vomited, then kept running.

But I could not break my stare from the golden queen. Or from the Attor, who swept through the hole it had made and alighted atop the blood-soaked lamppost.

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