A Court of Mist and Fury Page 56

Rhys winnowed in Cassian first, returning a heartbeat later for me and Azriel.

The spymaster had waited in silence. I tried not to look too uncomfortable as he scooped me into his arms, those shadows that whispered to him stroking my neck, my cheek. Rhys was frowning a bit, and I just gave him a sharp look and said, “Don’t let the wind ruin my hair.”

He snorted, gripped Azriel’s arm, and we all vanished into a dark wind.

Stars and blackness, Azriel’s scarred hands clenching tightly around me, my arms entwined around his neck, bracing, waiting, counting—

Then blinding sunlight, roaring wind, a plunge down, down—

Then we tilted, shooting straight. Azriel’s body was warm and hard, though those brutalized hands were considerate as he gripped me. No shadows trailed us, as if he’d left them in Velaris.

Below, ahead, behind, the vast, blue sea stretched. Above, fortresses of clouds plodded along, and to my left … A dark smudge on the horizon. Land.

Spring Court land.

I wondered if Tamlin was on the western sea border. He’d once hinted about trouble there. Could he sense me, sense us, now?

I didn’t let myself think about it. Not as I felt the wall.

As a human, it had been nothing but an invisible shield.

As a faerie … I couldn’t see it, but I could hear it crackling with power—the tang of it coating my tongue.

“It’s abhorrent, isn’t it,” Azriel said, his low voice nearly swallowed up by the wind.

“I can see why you—we were deterred for all these centuries,” I admitted. Every heartbeat had us racing closer to that gargantuan, nauseating sense of power.

“You’ll get used to it—the wording,” he said. Clinging to him so tightly, I couldn’t see his face. I watched the light shift inside the sapphire Siphon instead, as if it were the great eye of some half-slumbering beast from a frozen wasteland.

“I don’t really know where I fit in anymore,” I admitted, perhaps only because the wind was screeching around us and Rhys had already winnowed ahead to where Cassian’s dark form flew—beyond the wall.

“I’ve been alive almost five and a half centuries, and I’m not sure of that, either,” Azriel said.

I tried to pull back to read the beautiful, icy face, but he tightened his grip, a silent warning to brace myself.

How Azriel knew where the cleft was, I had no idea. It all looked the same to me: invisible, open sky.

But I felt the wall as we swept through. Felt it lunge for me, as if enraged we’d slipped past, felt the power flare and try to close that gap but failing—

Then we were out.

The wind was biting, the temperature so cold it snatched the breath from me. That bitter wind seemed somehow less alive than the spring air we’d left behind.

Azriel banked, veering toward the coastline, where Rhys and Cassian were now sweeping over the land. I shivered in my fur-lined cloak, clinging to Azriel’s warmth.

We cleared a sandy beach at the base of white cliffs, and flat, snowy land dotted with winter-ravaged forests spread beyond them.

The human lands.

My home.

CHAPTER

23

It had been a year since I had stalked through that labyrinth of snow and ice and killed a faerie with hate in my heart.

My family’s emerald-roofed estate was as lovely at the end of winter as it had been in the summer. A different sort of beauty, though—the pale marble seemed warm against the stark snow piled high across the land, and bits of evergreen and holly adorned the windows, the archways, and the lampposts. The only bit of decoration, of celebration, humans bothered with. Not when they’d banned and condemned every holiday after the War, all a reminder of their immortal overseers.

Three months with Amarantha had destroyed me. I couldn’t begin to imagine what millennia with High Fae like her might do—the scars it’d leave on a culture, a people.

My people—or so they had once been.

Hood up, fingers tucked into the fur-lined pockets of my cloak, I stood before the double doors of the house, listening to the clear ringing of the bell I’d pulled a heartbeat before.

Behind me, hidden by Rhys’s glamours, my three companions waited, unseen.

I’d told them it would be best if I spoke to my family first. Alone.

I shivered, craving the moderate winter of Velaris, wondering how it could be so temperate in the far north, but … everything in Prythian was strange. Perhaps when the wall hadn’t existed, when magic had flowed freely between realms, the seasonal differences hadn’t been so vast.

The door opened, and a merry-faced, round housekeeper—Mrs. Laurent, I recalled—squinted at me. “May I help … ” The words trailed off as she noticed my face.

With the hood on, my ears and crown were hidden, but that glow, that preternatural stillness … She didn’t open the door wider.

“I’m here to see my family,” I choked out.

“Your—your father is away on business, but your sisters … ” She didn’t move.

She knew. She could tell there was something different, something off—

Her eyes darted around me. No carriage, no horse.

No footprints through the snow.

Her face blanched, and I cursed myself for not thinking of it—

“Mrs. Laurent?”

Something in my chest broke at Elain’s voice from the hall behind her.

At the sweetness and youth and kindness, untouched by Prythian, unaware of what I’d done, become—

I backed away a step. I couldn’t do this. Couldn’t bring this upon them.

Then Elain’s face appeared over Mrs. Laurent’s round shoulder.

Beautiful—she’d always been the most beautiful of us. Soft and lovely, like a summer dawn.

Elain was exactly as I’d remembered her, the way I’d made myself remember her in those dungeons, when I told myself that if I failed, if Amarantha crossed the wall, she’d be next. The way she’d be next if the King of Hybern shattered the wall, if I didn’t get the Book of Breathings.

Elain’s golden-brown hair was half up, her pale skin creamy and flushed with color, and her eyes, like molten chocolate, were wide as they took me in.

They filled with tears and silently overran, spilling down those lovely cheeks.

Mrs. Laurent didn’t yield an inch. She’d shut this door in my face the moment I so much as breathed wrong.

Elain lifted a slender hand to her mouth as her body shook with a sob.

“Elain,” I said hoarsely.

Footsteps on the sweeping stairs behind them, then—

“Mrs. Laurent, draw up some tea and bring it to the drawing room.”

The housekeeper looked to the stairs, then to Elain, then to me.

A phantom in the snow.

The woman merely gave me a look that promised death if I harmed my sisters as she turned into the house, leaving me before Elain, still quietly crying.

But I took a step over the threshold and looked up the staircase.

To where Nesta stood, a hand braced on the rail, staring as if I were a ghost.

The house was beautiful, but there was something untouched about it. Something new, compared to the age and worn love of Rhys’s homes in Velaris.

And seated before the carved marble sitting room hearth, my hood on, hands outstretched toward the roaring fire, I felt … felt like they had let in a wolf.

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