A Court of Mist and Fury Page 94

The Hewn City. A place of such terrible beauty that it was an effort to keep the wonder and dread off my face. Music was already playing somewhere, and our hosts still did not come out to greet us. The people we passed—only High Fae—were clothed in finery, their faces deathly pale and cold. Not one stopped us, not one smiled or bowed.

Mor ignored them all. Neither of us had said one word. Rhys had told me not to—that the walls had ears here.

Mor led me down the avenue toward another set of stone gates, thrown open at the base of what looked to be a castle within the mountain. The official seat of the High Lord of the Night Court.

Great, scaled black beasts were carved into those gates, all coiled together in a nest of claws and fangs, sleeping and fighting, some locked in an endless cycle of devouring each other. Between them flowed vines of jasmine and moonflowers. I could have sworn the beasts seemed to writhe in the silvery glow of the bobbing faelights throughout the mountain-city. The Gates of Eternity—that’s what I’d call the painting that flickered in my mind.

Mor continued through them, a flash of color and life in this strange, cold place.

She wore deepest red, the gossamer and gauze of her sleeveless gown clinging to her breasts and hips, while carefully placed shafts left much of her stomach and back exposed. Her hair was down in rippling waves, and cuffs of solid gold glinted around her wrists. A queen—a queen who bowed to no one, a queen who had faced them all down and triumphed. A queen who owned her body, her life, her destiny, and never apologized for it.

My clothes, which she had taken a moment in the pine wood to shift me into, were of a similar ilk, nearly identical to those I had been forced to wear Under the Mountain. Two shafts of fabric that hardly covered my breasts flowed to below my navel, where a belt across my hips joined them into one long shaft that draped between my legs and barely covered my backside.

But unlike the chiffon and bright colors I had worn then, this one was fashioned of black, glittering fabric that sparkled with every swish of my hips.

Mor had fashioned my hair onto a crown atop my head—right behind the black diadem that had been set before it, accented with flecks of diamond that made it glisten like the night sky. She’d darkened and lengthened my eyelashes, sweeping out an elegant, vicious line of kohl at the outer corner of each. My lips she’d painted bloodred.

Into the castle beneath the mountain we strode. There were more people here, milling about the endless halls, watching our every breath. Some looked like Mor, with their gold hair and beautiful faces. They even hissed at her.

Mor smirked at them. Part of me wished she’d rip their throats out instead.

We at last came to a throne room of polished ebony. More of the serpents from the front gates were carved here—this time, wrapped around the countless columns supporting the onyx ceiling. It was so high up that gloom hid its finer details, but I knew more had been carved there, too. Great beasts to monitor the manipulations and scheming within this room. The throne itself had been fashioned out of a few of them, a head snaking around either side of the back—as if they watched over the High Lord’s shoulder.

A crowd had gathered—and for a moment, I was again in Amarantha’s throne room, so similar was the atmosphere, the malice. So similar was the dais at the other end.

A golden-haired, beautiful man stepped into our path toward that ebony throne, and Mor smoothly halted. I knew he was her father without him saying a word.

He was clothed in black, a silver circlet atop his head. His brown eyes were like old soil as he said to her, “Where is he?”

No greeting, no formality. He ignored me wholly.

Mor shrugged. “He arrives when he wishes to.” She continued on.

Her father looked at me then. And I willed my face into a mask like hers. Disinterested. Aloof.

Her father surveyed my face, my body—and where I thought he’d sneer and ogle … there was nothing. No emotion. Just heartless cold.

I followed Mor before disgust wrecked my own icy mask.

Banquet tables against the black walls were covered with fat, succulent fruits and wreaths of golden bread, interrupted with roast meats, kegs of cider and ale, and pies and tarts and little cakes of every size and variety.

It might have made my mouth water … Were it not for the High Fae in their finery. Were it not for the fact that no one touched the food—the power and wealth lying in letting it go to waste.

Mor went right up to the obsidian dais, and I halted at the foot of the steps as she took up a place beside the throne and said to the crowd in a voice that was clear and cruel and cunning, “Your High Lord approaches. He is in a foul mood, so I suggest being on your best behavior—unless you wish to be the evening entertainment.”

And before the crowd could begin murmuring, I felt it. Felt—him.

The very rock beneath my feet seemed to tremble—a pulsing, steady beat.

His footsteps. As if the mountain shuddered at each touch.

Everyone in that room went still as death. As if petrified that their very breathing would draw the attention of the predator now strolling toward us.

Mor’s shoulders were back, her chin high—feral, wanton pride at her master’s arrival.

Remembering my role, I kept my own chin lowered, watching beneath my brows.

First Cassian and Azriel appeared in the doorway. The High Lord’s general and shadowsinger—and the most powerful Illyrians in history.

They were not the males I had come to know.

Clad in battle-black that hugged their muscled forms, their armor was intricate, scaled—their shoulders impossibly broader, their faces a portrait of unfeeling brutality. They reminded me, somehow, of the ebony beasts carved into the pillars they passed.

More Siphons, I realized, glimmered in addition to the ones atop each of their hands. A Siphon in the center of their chest. One on either shoulder. One on either knee.

For a moment, my knees quaked, and I understood what the camp-lords had feared in them. If one Siphon was what most Illyrians needed to handle their killing power … Cassian and Azriel had seven each. Seven.

The courtiers had the good sense to back away a step as Cassian and Azriel strolled through the crowd, toward the dais. Their wings gleamed, the talons at the apex sharp enough to pierce air—like they’d honed them.

Cassian’s focus had gone right to Mor, Azriel indulging in all of a glance before scanning the people around them. Most shirked from the spymaster’s eyes—though they trembled as they beheld Truth-Teller at his side, the Illyrian blade peeking above his left shoulder.

Azriel, his face a mask of beautiful death, silently promised them all endless, unyielding torment, even the shadows shuddering in his wake. I knew why; knew for whom he’d gladly do it.

They had tried to sell a seventeen-year-old girl into marriage with a sadist—and then brutalized her in ways I couldn’t, wouldn’t, let myself consider. And these people now lived in utter terror of the three companions who stood at the dais.

Good. They should be afraid of them.

Afraid of me.

And then Rhysand appeared.

He had released the damper on his power, on who he was. His power filled the throne room, the castle, the mountain. The world. It had no end and no beginning.

No wings. No weapons. No sign of the warrior. Nothing but the elegant, cruel High Lord the world believed him to be. His hands were in his pockets, his black tunic seeming to gobble up the light. And on his head sat a crown of stars.

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