A Court of Mist and Fury Page 139

The queens gasped. And for a moment, all I could think of was my father. What he would do, what he would say, when his most beloved daughter looked at him with a Fae face.

“So we can survive,” the dark-haired youngest breathed, eyes bright.

I fell to my knees, the guards not bothering to grab me as I sobbed. What he’d done, what he’d done—

“The hellcat now, if you’ll be so kind,” the King of Hybern said.

I whipped my head to Nesta as she went silent. The Cauldron righted itself.

Cassian again stirred, slumping on the floor—but his hand twitched. Toward Nesta.

Elain was still shivering on the wet stones, her nightgown shoved up to her thighs, her small breasts fully visible beneath the soaked fabric. Guards snickered.

Lucien snarled at the king over the bite of the magic at his throat, “Don’t just leave her on the damned floor—”

There was a flare of light, and a scrape, and then Lucien was stalking toward Elain, freed of his restraints. Tamlin remained leashed on the ground, a gag of white, iridescent magic in his mouth now. But his eyes were on Lucien as—

As Lucien took off his jacket, kneeling before Elain. She cringed away from the coat, from him—

The guards hauled Nesta toward the Cauldron.

There were different kinds of torture, I realized.

There was the torture that I had endured, that Rhys had endured.

And then there was this.

The torture that Rhys had worked so hard those fifty years to avoid; the nightmares that haunted him. To be unable to move, to fight … while our loved ones were broken. My eyes met with those of my mate. Agony rippled in that violet stare—rage and guilt and utter agony. The mirror to my own.

Nesta fought every step of the way.

She did not make it easy for them. She clawed and kicked and bucked.

And it was not enough.

And we were not enough to save her.

I watched as she was hoisted up. Elain remained shuddering on the ground, Lucien’s coat draped around her. She did not look at the Cauldron behind her, not as Nesta’s thrashing feet slammed into the water.

Cassian stirred again, his shredded wings twitching and spraying blood, his muscles quivering. At Nesta’s shouts, her raging, his eyes fluttered open, glazed and unseeing, an answer to some call in his blood, a promise he’d made her. But pain knocked him under again.

Nesta was shoved into the water up to her shoulders. She bucked even as the water sprayed. She clawed and screamed her rage, her defiance.

“Put her under,” the king hissed.

The guards, straining, shoved her slender shoulders. Her brown-gold head.

And as they pushed her head down, she thrashed one last time, freeing her long, pale arm.

Teeth bared, Nesta pointed one finger at the King of Hybern.

One finger, a curse and a damning.

A promise.

And as Nesta’s head was forced under the water, as that hand was violently shoved down, the King of Hybern had the good sense to look somewhat unnerved.

Dark water lapped for a moment. The surface went flat.

I vomited on the floor.

The guards at last let Rhysand kneel beside me in the growing pool of Cassian’s blood—let him tuck me into him as the Cauldron again tilted.

Water poured forth, Lucien hoisting Elain in his arms and out of the way. The bonds on Tamlin vanished, along with the gag. He was instantly on his feet, snarling at the king. Even the fist on my mind lightened to a mere caress. As if he knew he’d won.

I didn’t care. Not as Nesta was sprawled upon the stones.

I knew that she was different.

From however Elain had been Made … Nesta was different.

Even before she took her first breath, I felt it.

As if the Cauldron in making her … had been forced to give more than it wanted. As if Nesta had fought even after she went under, and had decided that if she was to be dragged into hell, she was taking that Cauldron with her.

As if that finger she’d pointed was now a death-promise to the King of Hybern.

Nesta took a breath. And when I beheld my sister, with her somehow magnified beauty, her ears … When Nesta looked to me …

Rage. Power. Cunning.

Then it was gone, horror and shock crumpling her face, but she didn’t pause, didn’t halt. She was free—she was loose.

She was on her feet, tripping over her slightly longer, leaner limbs, ripping the gag from her mouth—

Nesta slammed into Lucien, grabbing Elain from his arms, and screamed at him as he fell back, “Get off her!”

Elain’s feet slipped against the floor, but Nesta gripped her upright, running her hands over Elain’s face, her shoulders, her hair— “Elain, Elain, Elain,” she sobbed.

Cassian again stirred—trying to rise, to answer Nesta’s voice as she held my sister and cried her name again and again.

But Elain was staring over Nesta’s shoulder.

At Lucien—whose face she had finally taken in.

Dark brown eyes met one eye of russet and one of metal.

Nesta was still weeping, still raging, still inspecting Elain—

Lucien’s hands slackened at his sides.

His voice broke as he whispered to Elain, “You’re my mate.”

CHAPTER

66

I didn’t let Lucien’s declaration sink in.

Nesta, however, whirled on him. “She is no such thing,” she said, and shoved him again.

Lucien didn’t move an inch. His face was pale as death as he stared at Elain. My sister said nothing, the iron ring glinting dully on her finger.

The King of Hybern murmured, “Interesting. So very interesting.” He turned to the queens. “See? I showed you not once, but twice that it is safe. Who should like to be Made first? Perhaps you’ll get a handsome Fae lord as your mate, too.”

The youngest queen stepped forward, her eyes indeed darting between all the Fae men assembled. As if they were hers for the picking.

The king chuckled. “Very well, then.”

Hate flooded me, so violent I had no control over it, no song in my heart but its war-cry. I was going to kill them. I was going to kill all of them—

“If you’re so willing to hand out bargains,” Rhys suddenly said, rising to his feet and tugging me with him, “perhaps I’ll make one with you.”

“Oh?”

Rhys shrugged.

No. No more bargains—no more sacrifices. No more giving himself away piece by piece.

No more.

And if the king refused, if there was nothing to do but watch my friends die …

I could not accept it. I could not endure it—not that.

And for Rhys, for the family I’d found … They had not needed me—not really. Only to nullify the Cauldron.

I had failed them. Just as I had failed my sisters, whose lives I’d now shattered …

I thought of that ring waiting for me at home. I thought of the ring on Elain’s finger, from a man who would now likely hunt her down and kill her. If Lucien let her leave at all.

I thought of all the things I wanted to paint—and never would.

But for them—for my family both of blood and my own choosing, for my mate … The idea that hit me did not seem so frightening.

And so I was not afraid.

I dropped to my knees in a spasm, gripping my head as I gnashed my teeth and sobbed, sobbed and panted, pulling at my hair—

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