A Court of Mist and Fury Page 93

Fascinating. I blindly reached again … and dared to run a fingertip along some inner edge.

Rhysand shuddered, a soft groan slipping past my ear. “That,” he said tightly, “is very sensitive.”

I snatched my finger back, pulling away far enough to see his face. With the wind, I had to squint, and my braided hair ripped this way and that, but—he was entirely focused on the mountains around us. “Does it tickle?”

He flicked his gaze to me, then to the snow and pine that went on forever. “It feels like this,” he said, and leaned in so close that his lips brushed the shell of my ear as he sent a gentle breath into it. My back arched on instinct, my chin tipping up at the caress of that breath.

“Oh,” I managed to say. I felt him smile against my ear and pull away.

“If you want an Illyrian male’s attention, you’d be better off grabbing him by the balls. We’re trained to protect our wings at all costs. Some males attack first, ask questions later, if their wings are touched without invitation.”

“And during sex?” The question blurted out.

Rhys’s face was nothing but feline amusement as he monitored the mountains. “During sex, an Illyrian male can find completion just by having someone touch his wings in the right spot.”

My blood thrummed. Dangerous territory; more lethal than the drop below. “Have you found that to be true?”

His eyes stripped me bare. “I’ve never allowed anyone to see or touch my wings during sex. It makes you vulnerable in a way that I’m not … comfortable with.”

“Too bad,” I said, staring out too casually toward the mighty mountain that now appeared on the horizon, towering over the others. And capped, I noted, with that glimmering palace of moonstone.

“Why?” he asked warily.

I shrugged, fighting the upward tugging of my lips. “Because I bet you could get into some interesting positions with those wings.”

Rhys loosed a barking laugh, and his nose grazed my ear. I felt him open his mouth to whisper something, but—

Something dark and fast and sleek shot for us, and he plunged down and away, swearing.

But another one, and another, kept coming.

Not just ordinary arrows, I realized as Rhys veered, snatching one out of the air. Others bounced harmlessly off a shield he blasted up.

He studied the wood in his palm and dropped it with a hiss. Ash arrows. To kill faeries.

And now that I was one …

Faster than the wind, faster than death, Rhys shot for the ground. Flew, not winnowed, because he wanted to know where our enemies were, didn’t want to lose them. The wind bit my face, screeched in my ears, ripped at my hair with brutal claws.

Azriel and Cassian were already hurtling for us. Shields of translucent blue and red encircled them—sending those arrows bouncing off. Their Siphons at work.

The arrows shot from the pine forest coating the mountains, then vanished.

Rhys slammed into the ground, snow flying in his wake, and fury like I hadn’t seen since that day in Amarantha’s court twisted his features. I could feel it thrumming against me, roiling through the clearing we now stood in.

Azriel and Cassian were there in an instant, their colored shields shrinking back into their Siphons. The three of them forces of nature in the pine forest, Rhysand didn’t even look at me as he ordered Cassian, “Take her to the palace, and stay there until I’m back. Az, you’re with me.”

Cassian reached for me, but I stepped away. “No.”

“What?” Rhys snarled, the word near-guttural.

“Take me with you,” I said. I didn’t want to go to that moonstone palace to pace and wait and wring my fingers.

Cassian and Azriel, wisely, kept their mouths shut. And Rhys, Mother bless him, only tucked in his wings and crossed his arms—waiting to hear my reasons.

“I’ve seen ash arrows,” I said a bit breathlessly. “I might recognize where they were made. And if they came from the hand of another High Lord … I can detect that, too.” If they’d come from Tarquin … “And I can track just as well on the ground as any of you.” Except for Azriel, maybe. “So you and Cassian take the skies,” I said, still waiting for the rejection, the order to lock me up. “And I’ll hunt on the ground with Azriel.”

The wrath radiating through the snowy clearing ebbed into frozen, too-calm rage. But Rhys said, “Cassian—I want aerial patrols on the sea borders, stationed in two-mile rings, all the way out toward Hybern. I want foot soldiers in the mountain passes along the southern border; make sure those warning fires are ready on every peak. We’re not going to rely on magic.” He turned to Azriel. “When you’re done, warn your spies that they might be compromised, and prepare to get them out. And put fresh ones in. We keep this contained. We don’t tell anyone inside that court what happened. If anyone mentions it, say it was a training exercise.”

Because we couldn’t afford to let that weakness show, even amongst his subjects.

His eyes at last found mine. “We’ve got an hour until we’re expected at court. Make it count.”

We searched, but the missed arrows had been snatched up by our attackers—and even the shadows and wind told Azriel nothing, as if our enemy had been hidden from them as well.

But that was twice now that they’d known where Rhys and I would be.

Mor found Azriel and me after twenty minutes, wanting to know what the hell had happened. We’d explained—and she’d winnowed away, to spin whatever excuse would keep her horrible family from suspecting anything was amiss.

But at the end of the hour, we hadn’t found a single track. And we could delay our meeting no longer.

The Court of Nightmares lay behind a mammoth set of doors carved into the mountain itself. And from the base, the mountain rose so high I couldn’t see the palace I had once stayed in atop it. Only snow, and rock, and birds circling above. There was no one outside—no village, no signs of life. Nothing to indicate a whole city of people dwelled within.

But I did not let my curiosity or any lingering trepidation show as Mor and I entered. Rhys, Cassian, and Azriel would arrive minutes later.

There were sentries at the stone gates, clothed not in black, as I might have suspected, but in gray and white—armor meant to blend into the mountain face. Mor didn’t so much as look at them as she led me silently inside the mountain-city.

My body clenched as soon as the darkness, the scent of rock and fire and roasting meat, hit me. I had been here before, suffered here—

Not Under the Mountain. This was not Under the Mountain.

Indeed, Amarantha’s court had been the work of a child.

The Court of Nightmares was the work of a god.

While Under the Mountain had been a series of halls and rooms and levels, this … this was truly a city.

The walkway that Mor led us down was an avenue, and around us, rising high into gloom, were buildings and spires, homes and bridges. A metropolis carved from the dark stone of the mountain itself, no inch of it left unmarked or without some lovely, hideous artwork etched into it. Figures danced and fornicated; begged and reveled. Pillars were carved to look like curving vines of night-blooming flowers. Water ran throughout in little streams and rivers tapped from the heart of the mountain itself.

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