A Court of Mist and Fury Page 82

The water already flowed up to my breasts, and I rushed to her, fighting the onslaught flooding the chamber, willing that new strength into my body, my arms—

The water became easier, as if that kernel of power soothed its current, its wrath, but Amren was now climbing up the threshold. “You have it?” she shouted over the roaring water.

I nodded, and I realized her outstretched hand wasn’t for me—but for the door she’d forced back into the wall. Holding it away until I could get out.

I shoved through the archway, Amren slipping around the threshold—just as the door rolled shut again, so violently that I wondered at the power she’d used to push it back.

The only downside was that the water in the hall now had much less space to fill.

“Go,” she said, but I didn’t wait for her approval before I grabbed her, hooking her feet around my stomach as I hoisted her onto my back.

“Just—do what you have to,” I gritted out, neck craned above the rising water. Not too much farther to the stairs—the stairs that were now a cascade. Where the hell was Rhysand?

But Amren held out a palm in front of us, and the water buckled and trembled. Not a clear path, but a break in the current. I directed that kernel of Tarquin’s power—my power now—toward it. The water calmed further, straining to obey my command.

I ran, gripping her thighs probably hard enough to bruise. Step by step, water now raging down, now at my jaw, now at my mouth—

But I hit the stairs, almost slipping on the slick step, and Amren’s gasp stopped me cold.

Not a gasp of shock, but a gasp for air as a wall of water poured down the stairs. As if a mighty wave had swept over the entire site. Even my own mastery over the element could do nothing against it.

I had enough time to gulp down air, to grab Amren’s legs and brace myself—

And watch as that door atop the stairs slid shut, sealing us in a watery tomb.

I was dead. I knew I was dead, and there was no way out of it.

I had consumed my last breath, and I would be aware for every second until my lungs gave out and my body betrayed me and I swallowed that fatal mouthful of water.

Amren beat at my hands until I let go, until I swam after her, trying to calm my panicking heart, my lungs, trying to convince them to make each second count as Amren reached the door and slammed her palm into it. Symbols flared—again and again. But the door held.

I reached her, shoving my body into the door, over and over, and the lead dented beneath my shoulders. Then I had talons, talons not claws, and I was slicing and punching at the metal—

My lungs were on fire. My lungs were seizing—

Amren pounded on the door, that bit of faelight guttering, as if it were counting down her heartbeats—

I had to take a breath, had to open my mouth and take a breath, had to ease the burning—

Then the door was ripped away.

And the faelight remained bright enough for me to see the three beautiful, ethereal faces hissing through fish’s teeth as their spindly webbed fingers snatched us out of the stairs, and into their frogskin arms.

Water-wraiths.

But I couldn’t stand it.

And as those spiny hands grabbed my arm, I opened my mouth, water shoving in, cutting off thought and sound and breath. My body seized, those talons vanishing—

Debris and seaweed and water shot past me, and I had the vague sense of being hurtled through the water, so fast the water burned beneath my eyelids.

And then hot air—air, air, air, but my lungs were full of water as—

A fist slammed into my stomach and I vomited water across the waves. I gulped down air, blinking at the bruised purple and blushing pink of the morning sky.

A sputter and gasp not too far from me, and I treaded water as I turned in the bay to see Amren vomiting as well—but alive.

And in the waves between us, onyx hair plastered to their strange heads like helmets, the water-wraiths floated, staring with dark, large eyes.

The sun was rising beyond them—the city encircling us stirring.

The one in the center said, “Our sister’s debt is paid.”

And then they were gone.

Amren was already swimming for the distant mainland shore.

Praying they didn’t come back and make a meal of us, I hurried after her, trying to keep my movements small to avoid detection.

We both reached a quiet, sandy cove and collapsed.

A shadow blocked out the sun, and a boot toed my calf. “What,” said Rhysand, still in battle-black, “are you two doing?”

I opened my eyes to find Amren hoisting herself up on her elbows. “Where the hell were you?” she demanded.

“You two set off every damned trigger in the place. I was hunting down each guard who went to sound the alarm.” My throat was ravaged—and sand tickled my cheeks, my bare hands. “I thought you had it covered,” he said to her.

Amren hissed, “That place, or that damned book, nearly nullified my powers. We almost drowned.”

His gaze shot to me. “I didn’t feel it through the bond—”

“It probably nullified that, too, you stupid bastard,” Amren snapped.

His eyes flickered. “Did you get it?” Not at all concerned that we were half-drowned and had very nearly been dead.

I touched my jacket—the heavy metal lump within.

“Good,” Rhys said, and I looked behind him at the sudden urgency in his tone.

Sure enough, in the castle across the bay, people were darting about.

“I missed some guards,” he gritted out, grabbed both our arms, and we vanished.

The dark wind was cold and roaring, and I had barely enough strength to cling to him.

It gave out entirely, along with Amren’s, as we landed in the town house foyer—and we both collapsed to the wood floor, spraying sand and water on the carpet.

Cassian shouted from the dining room behind us, “What the hell?”

I glared up at Rhysand, who merely stepped toward the breakfast table. “I’m waiting for an explanation, too,” he merely said to wide-eyed Cassian, Azriel, and Mor.

But I turned to Amren, who was still hissing on the floor. Her red-rimmed eyes narrowed. “How?”

“During the Tithe, the water-wraith emissary said they had no gold, no food to pay. They were starving.” Every word ached, and I thought I might vomit again. He’d deserve it, if I puked all over the carpet. Though he’d probably take it from my wages. “So I gave her some of my jewelry to pay her dues. She swore that she and her sisters would never forget the kindness.”

“Can someone explain, please?” Mor called from the room beyond.

We remained on the floor as Amren began quietly laughing, her small body shaking.

“What?” I demanded.

“Only an immortal with a mortal heart would have given one of those horrible beasts the money. It’s so … ” Amren laughed again, her dark hair plastered with sand and seaweed. For a moment, she even looked human. “Whatever luck you live by, girl … thank the Cauldron for it.”

The others were all watching, but I felt a chuckle whisper out of me.

Followed by a laugh, as rasping and raw as my lungs. But a real laugh, perhaps edged by hysteria—and profound relief.

We looked at each other, and laughed again.

“Ladies,” Rhysand purred—a silent order.

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