A Court of Mist and Fury Page 134

A warm body slammed into mine, catching me before I could panic and perhaps winnow myself somewhere. “Easy,” Cassian said, banking right. I looked below to see Mor still plummeting, then winnow again into nothing.

No sign or glimmer of Rhys’s presence near or behind us. A few yards ahead, Azriel was a swift shadow over the black water. Toward the landmass we were now approaching.

Hybern.

No lights burned on it. But it felt … old. As if it were a spider that had been waiting in its web for a long, long time.

“I’ve been here twice,” Cassian murmured. “Both times, I was counting down the minutes until I could leave.”

I could see why. A wall of bone-white cliffs arose, their tops flat and grassy, leading away to a terrain of sloping, barren hills. And an overwhelming sense of nothingness.

Amarantha had slaughtered all her slaves rather than free them. She had been a commander here—one of many. If that force that had attacked Velaris was a vanguard … I swallowed, flexing my hands beneath my gloves.

“That’s his castle ahead,” Cassian said through clenched teeth, swerving.

Around a bend in the coast, built into the cliffs and perched above the sea, was a lean, crumbling castle of white stone.

Not imperious marble, not elegant limestone, but … off-white. Bone-colored. Perhaps a dozen spires clawed at the night sky. A few lights flickered in the windows and balconies. No one outside—no patrol. “Where is everyone?”

“Guard shift.” They’d planned this around it. “There’s a small sea door at the bottom. Mor will be waiting for us there—it’s the closest entrance to the lower levels.”

“I’m assuming she can’t winnow us in.”

“Too many wards to risk the time it’d cost for her to break through them. Rhys might be able to. But we’ll meet him at the door on the way out.”

My mouth went a bit dry. Over my heart, the Book said, Home—take me home.

And indeed I could feel it. With every foot we flew in, faster and faster, dipping down so the spray from the ocean chilled me to my bones, I could feel it.

Ancient—cruel. Without allegiance to anyone but itself.

The Cauldron. They needn’t have bothered learning where it was held inside this castle. I had no doubt I’d be drawn right to it. I shuddered.

“Easy,” Cassian said again. We swept in toward the base of the cliffs to the sea door before a platform. Mor was waiting, sword out, the door open.

Cassian loosed a breath, but Azriel reached her first, landing swiftly and silently, and immediately prowled into the castle to scout the hall ahead.

Mor waited for us—her eyes on Cassian as we landed. They didn’t speak, but their glance was too long to be anything but casual. I wondered what their training, their honed senses, detected.

The passage ahead was dark, silent. Azriel appeared a heartbeat later. “Guards are down.” There was blood on his knife—an ash knife. Az’s cold eyes met mine. “Hurry.”

I didn’t need to focus to track the Cauldron to its hiding place. It tugged on my every breath, hauling me to its dark embrace.

Any time we reached a crossroads, Cassian and Azriel would branch out, usually returning with bloodied blades, faces grim, silently warning me to hurry.

They’d been working these weeks, through whatever sources Azriel had, to get this encounter down to an exact schedule. If I needed more time than they’d allotted, if the Cauldron couldn’t be moved … it might all be for nothing. But not these deaths. No, those I did not mind at all.

These people—these people had hurt Rhys. They’d brought tools with them to incapacitate him. They had sent that legion to wreck and butcher my city.

I descended through an ancient dungeon, the stones dark and stained. Mor kept at my side, constantly monitoring. The last line of defense.

If Cassian and Azriel were hurt, I realized, she was to make sure I got out by whatever means. Then return.

But there was no one in the dungeon—not that I encountered, once the Illyrians were done with them. They had executed this masterfully. We found another stairwell, leading down, down, down—

I pointed, nausea roiling. “There. It’s down there.”

Cassian took the stairs, Illyrian blade stained with dark blood.

Neither Mor nor Azriel seemed to breathe until Cassian’s low whistle bounced off the stairwell stones from below.

Mor put a hand on my back, and we descended into the dark.

Home, the Book of Breathings sighed. Home.

Cassian was standing in a round chamber beneath the castle—a ball of faelight floating above his shoulder.

And in the center of the room, atop a small dais, sat the Cauldron.

CHAPTER

62

The Cauldron was absence and presence. Darkness and … whatever the darkness had come from.

But not life. Not joy or light or hope.

It was perhaps the size of a bathtub, forged of dark iron, its three legs—those three legs the king had ransacked those temples to find—crafted like creeping branches covered in thorns.

I had never seen something so hideous—and alluring.

Mor’s face had drained of color. “Hurry,” she said to me. “We’ve got a few minutes.”

Azriel scanned the room, the stairs we’d strode down, the Cauldron, its legs. I made to approach the dais, but he extended an arm into my path. “Listen.”

So we did.

Not words. But a throbbing.

Like blood pulsed through the room. Like the Cauldron had a heartbeat.

Like calls to like. I moved toward it. Mor was at my back, but didn’t stop me as I stepped up onto the dais.

Inside the Cauldron was nothing but inky, swirling black.

Perhaps the entire universe had come from it.

Azriel and Cassian tensed as I laid a hand on the lip. Pain—pain and ecstasy and power and weakness flowed into me. Everything that was and wasn’t, fire and ice, light and dark, deluge and drought.

The map for creation.

Reeling back into myself, I readied to read that spell.

The paper trembled as I pulled it from my pocket. As my fingers brushed the half of the Book inside.

Sweet-tongued liar, lady of many faces—

One hand on half of the Book of Breathings, the other on the Cauldron, I took a step outside myself, a jolt passing through my blood as if I were no more than a lightning rod.

Yes, you see now, princess of carrion—you see what you must do …

“Feyre,” Mor murmured in warning.

But my mouth was foreign, my lips might as well have been as far away as Velaris while the Cauldron and the Book flowed through me, communing.

The other one, the Book hissed. Bring the other one … let us be joined, let us be free.

I slid the Book from my pocket, tucking it into the crook of my arm as I tugged the second half free. Lovely girl, beautiful bird—so sweet, so generous …

Together together together

“Feyre.” Mor’s voice cut through the song of both halves.

Amren had been wrong. Separate, their power was cleaved—not enough to take on the abyss of the Cauldron’s might. But together … Yes, together, the spell would work when I spoke it.

Whole, I would become not a conduit between them, but rather their master. There was no moving the Cauldron—it had to be now.

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