A Court of Mist and Fury Page 45

“And Amren?”

“Her duties as my Second make her my political adviser, walking library, and doer of my dirty work. I appointed her upon gaining my throne. But she was my ally, maybe my friend, long before that.”

“I mean—in that war where your armies fail and Cassian and Azriel are dead, and even Mor is gone.” Each word was like ice on my tongue.

Rhys paused his reach for the bald rock face before us. “If that day comes, I’ll find a way to break the spell on Amren and unleash her on the world. And ask her to end me first.”

By the Mother. “What is she?” After our chat this morning, perhaps it was stupid to ask.

“Something else. Something worse than us. And if she ever finds a way to shed her prison of flesh and bone … Cauldron save us all.”

I shivered again and stared up at the sheer stone wall. “I can’t climb bare rock like that.”

“You don’t need to,” Rhys said, laying a hand flat on the stone. Like a mirage, it vanished in a ripple of light.

Pale, carved gates stood in its place, so high their tops were lost to the mist.

Gates of bone.

The bone-gates swung open silently, revealing a cavern of black so inky I had never seen its like, even Under the Mountain.

I gripped the amulet at my throat, the metal warm under my palm. Amren got out. I would walk out, too.

Rhys put a warm hand on my back and guided me inside, three balls of moonlight bobbing before us.

No—no, no, no, no—

“Breathe,” he said in my ear. “One breath.”

“Where are the guards?” I managed to get out past the tightness in my lungs.

“They dwell within the rock of the mountain,” he murmured, his hand finding mine and wrapping around it as he tugged me into the immortal gloom. “They only emerge at feeding time, or to deal with restless prisoners. They are nothing but shadows of thought and an ancient spell.”

With the small lights floating ahead, I tried not to look too long at the gray walls. Especially when they were so rough-hewn that the jagged bits could have been a nose, or a craggy brow, or a set of sneering lips.

The dry ground was clear of anything but pebbles. And there was silence. Utter silence as we rounded a bend, and the last of the light from the misty world faded into inky black.

I focused on my breathing. I couldn’t be trapped here; I couldn’t be locked in this horrible, dead place.

The path plunged deep into the belly of the mountain, and I clutched Rhys’s fingers to keep from losing my footing. He still had his sword gripped in his other hand.

“Do all the High Lords have access?” My words were so soft they were devoured by the dark. Even that thrumming power in my veins had vanished, burrowing somewhere in my bones.

“No. The Prison is law unto itself; the island may be even an eighth court. But it falls under my jurisdiction, and my blood is keyed to the gates.”

“Could you free the inmates?”

“No. Once the sentence is given and a prisoner passes those gates … They belong to the Prison. It will never let them out. I take sentencing people here very, very seriously.”

“Have you ever—”

“Yes. And now is not the time to speak of it.” He squeezed my hand in emphasis.

We wound down through the gloom.

There were no doors. No lights.

No sounds. Not even a trickle of water.

But I could feel them.

I could feel them sleeping, pacing, running hands and claws over the other side of the walls.

They were ancient, and cruel in a way I had never known, not even with Amarantha. They were infinite, and patient, and had learned the language of darkness, of stone.

“How long,” I breathed. “How long was she in here?” I didn’t dare say her name.

“Azriel looked once. Into archives in our oldest temples and libraries. All he found was a vague mention that she went in before Prythian was split into the courts—and emerged once they had been established. Her imprisonment predates our written word. I don’t know how long she was in here—a few millennia seems like a fair guess.”

Horror roiled in my gut. “You never asked?”

“Why bother? She’ll tell me when it’s necessary.”

“Where did she come from?” The brooch he’d given her—such a small gift, for a monster who had once dwelled here.

“I don’t know. Though there are legends that claim when the world was born, there were … rips in the fabric of the realms. That in the chaos of Forming, creatures from other worlds could walk through one of those rips and enter another world. But the rips closed at will, and the creatures could become trapped, with no way home.”

It was more horrifying than I could fathom—both that monsters had walked between worlds, and the terror of being trapped in another realm. “You think she was one of them?”

“I think that she is the only one of her kind, and there is no record of others ever having existed. Even the Suriel have numbers, however small. But she—and some of those in the Prison … I think they came from somewhere else. And they have been looking for a way home for a long, long time.”

I was shivering beneath the fur-lined leather, my breath clouding in front of me.

Down and down we went, and time lost its grip. It could have been hours or days, and we paused only when my useless, wasted body demanded water. Even while I drank, he didn’t let go of my hand. As if the rock would swallow me up forever. I made sure those breaks were swift and rare.

And still we went onward, deeper. Only the lights and his hand kept me from feeling as if I were about to free-fall into darkness. For a heartbeat, the reek of my own dungeon cell cloyed in my nose, and the crunch of moldy hay tickled my cheek—

Rhys’s hand tightened on my own. “Just a bit farther.”

“We must be near the bottom by now.”

“Past it. The Bone Carver is caged beneath the roots of the mountain.”

“Who is he? What is he?” I’d only been briefed in what I was to say—nothing of what to expect. No doubt to keep me from panicking too thoroughly.

“No one knows. He’ll appear as he wants to appear.”

“Shape-shifter?”

“Yes and no. He’ll appear to you as one thing, and I might be standing right beside you and see another.”

I tried not to start bleating like cattle. “And the bone carving?”

“You’ll see.” Rhys stopped before a smooth slab of stone. The hall continued down—down into the ageless dark. The air here was tight, compact. Even my puffs of breath on the chill air seemed short-lived.

Rhysand at last released my hand, only to lay his once more on the bare stone. It rippled beneath his palm, forming—a door.

Like the gates above, it was of ivory—bone. And in its surface were etched countless images: flora and fauna, seas and clouds, stars and moons, infants and skeletons, creatures fair and foul—

It swung away. The cell was pitch-black, hardly distinguishable from the hall—

“I have carved the doors for every prisoner in this place,” said a small voice within, “but my own remains my favorite.”

“I’d have to agree,” Rhysand said. He stepped inside, the light bobbing ahead to illuminate a dark-haired boy sitting against the far wall, eyes of crushing blue taking in Rhysand, then sliding to where I lurked in the doorway.

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