A Court of Mist and Fury Page 81

“Why covet the Book, then?”

“Wouldn’t you want to lock away an object of terrible power? So no one could use it for evil—or their own gain? Or perhaps they locked it away for their own bargaining chip if it ever became necessary. I had no idea why they, of all courts, was granted the half of the Book in the first place.”

I shook my head and laid my hand flat on the whorl in the lead.

A jolt went through me like lightning, and I grunted, bearing down on the door.

My fingers froze to it, as if the power were leeching my essence, drinking as Amren drank, and I felt it hesitate, question—

I am Tarquin. I am summer; I am warmth; I am sea and sky and planted field.

I became every smile he’d given me, became the crystalline blue of his eyes, the brown of his skin. I felt my own skin shift, felt my bones stretch and change. Until I was him, and it was a set of male hands I now possessed, now pushed against the door. Until the essence of me became what I had tasted in that inner, mental shield of his—sea and sun and brine. I did not give myself a moment to think of what power I might have just used. Did not allow any part of me that wasn’t Tarquin to shine through.

I am your master, and you will let me pass.

The lock pulled harder and harder, and I could barely breathe—

Then a click and groan.

I shifted back into my own skin, and scrambled into the piled mud right as the door sank and swung away, tucking beneath the stones to reveal a spiral staircase drifting into a primordial gloom. And on a wet, salty breeze from below came the tendrils of power.

Across the open stair, Amren’s face had gone paler than usual, her silver eyes glowing bright. “I never saw the Cauldron,” she said, “but it must be terrible indeed if even a grain of its power feels … like this.”

Indeed, that power was filling the chamber, my head, my lungs—smothering and drowning and seducing—

“Quickly,” I said, and a small ball of faelight shot down the curve of the stairs, illuminating gray, worn steps slick with slime.

I drew my hunting knife and descended, one hand braced on the freezing stone wall to keep from slipping.

I made it one rotation down, Amren close behind, before faelight danced on waist-deep, putrid water. I scanned the passage at the foot of the stairs. “There’s a hall, and a chamber beyond that. All clear.”

“Then hurry the hell up,” Amren said.

Bracing myself, I stepped into the dark water, biting down my yelp at the near-freezing temperature, the oiliness of it. Amren gagged, the water nearly up to her chest.

“This place no doubt fills up swiftly once the tide comes back in,” she observed as we sloshed through the water, frowning at the many drainage holes in the walls.

We went only slow enough for her to detect any sort of ward or trap, but—there was none. Nothing at all. Though who would ever come down here, to such a place?

Fools—desperate fools, that’s who.

The long stone hall ended in a second lead door. Behind it, that power coiled, overlaying Tarquin’s imprint. “It’s in there.”

“Obviously.”

I scowled at her, both of us shivering. The cold was deep enough that I wondered if I might have already been dead in my human body. Or well on my way to it.

I laid my palm flat on the door. The sucking and questioning and draining were worse this time. So much worse, and I had to brace my tattooed hand on the door to keep from falling to my knees and crying out as it ransacked me.

I am summer, I am summer, I am summer.

I didn’t shift into Tarquin this time—didn’t need to. A click and groan, and the lead door rolled into the wall, water merging and splashing as I stumbled back into Amren’s waiting arms. “Nasty, nasty lock,” she hissed, shuddering not just from the water.

My head was spinning. Another lock and I might very well pass out.

But the faelight bobbed into the chamber beyond us, and we both halted.

The water had not merged with another source—but rather halted against an invisible threshold. The dry chamber beyond was empty save for a round dais and pedestal.

And a small, lead box atop it.

Amren waved a tentative hand over the air where the water just—stopped. Then, satisfied there were no waiting wards or tricks, she stepped beyond, dripping onto the gray stones as she stood in the chamber, wincing a bit, and beckoned.

Wading as fast as I could, I followed her, half falling onto the floor as my body adjusted to sudden air. I turned—and sure enough, the water was a black wall, as if there were a pane of glass keeping it in place.

“Let’s be quick about it,” she said, and I didn’t disagree.

We both carefully surveyed the chamber: floors, walls, ceilings. No signs of hidden mechanisms or triggers.

Though no larger than an ordinary book, the lead box seemed to gobble up the faelight—and inside it, whispering … The seal of Tarquin’s power, and the Book.

And now I heard, clear as if Amren herself whispered it:

Who are you—what are you? Come closer—let me smell you, let me see you …

We paused on opposite sides of the pedestal, the faelight hovering over the lid. “No wards,” Amren said, her voice barely more than the scrape of her boots on the stone. “No spells. You have to remove it—carry it out.” The thought of touching that box, getting close to that thing inside it— “The tide is coming back in,” Amren added, surveying the ceiling.

“That soon?”

“Perhaps the sea knows. Perhaps the sea is the High Lord’s servant.”

And if we were caught down here when the water came in—

I did not think my little water-animals would help. Panic writhed in my gut, but I pushed it away and steeled myself, lifting my chin.

The box would be heavy—and cold.

Who are you, who are you, who are you—

I flexed my fingers and cracked my neck. I am summer; I am sea and sun and green things.

“Come on, come on,” Amren murmured. Above, water trickled over the stones.

Who are you, who are you, who are you—

I am Tarquin; I am High Lord; I am your master.

The box quieted. As if that were answer enough.

I snatched the box off the pedestal, the metal biting into my hands, the power an oily smear through my blood.

An ancient, cruel voice hissed:

Liar.

And the door slammed shut.

CHAPTER

37

“NO!” Amren screamed, at the door in an instant, her fist a radiant forge as she slammed it into the lead—once, twice.

And above—the rush and gargle of water tumbling downstairs, filling the chamber—

No, no, no—

I reached the door, sliding the box into the wide inside pocket of my leather jacket while Amren’s blazing palm flattened against the door, burning, heating the metal, swirls and whorls radiating out through it as if they were a language all her own, and then—

The door burst open.

Only for a flood to come crashing in.

I grappled for the threshold, but missed as the water slammed me back, sweeping me under the dark, icy surface. The cold stole the breath from my lungs. Find the floor, find the floor—

My feet connected and I pushed up, gulping down air, scanning the dim chamber for Amren. She was clutching the threshold, eyes on me, hand out—glowing bright.

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