The other creature snorted that pig noise. “I am here on a condition of immunity from the king. If your lady thinks she’s above the king because she rules this wretched land, she’ll soon remember who can strip her powers away—without spells and potions.”
The Attor didn’t reply—and a part of me wished for it to retort, to snap back. But it was silenced, and fear hit my stomach like a stone dropped into a pool.
Whatever plans the King of Hybern had been working on for these long years—his campaign to take back the mortal world—it seemed he was no longer content to wait. Perhaps Amarantha would soon receive what she wanted: destruction of my entire realm.
My blood went cold. Nesta—I trusted Nesta to get my family away, to protect them.
Their voices faded, and it wasn’t until a good extra minute had passed that the two females relaxed. The tapestry vanished, and we slipped back into the hall.
“What was that?” I said, looking from one to the other as the shadows around us lightened—but not by much. “Who was that?” I clarified.
“Trouble,” they answered in unison.
“Does Rhysand know?”
“He will soon,” one of them said. We resumed our silent walk to the dressing room.
There was nothing I could do about the King of Hybern, anyway—not while trapped Under the Mountain, not when I hadn’t even been able to free Tamlin, much less myself. And with Nesta prepared to flee with my family, there was no one else to warn. So day after day passed, bringing my third trial ever closer.
I suppose I sank so far into myself that it took something extraordinary to pull me out again. I was watching the light dance along the damp stones of the ceiling of my cell—like moonlight on water—when a noise traveled to me, down through the stones, rippling across the floor.
I was so used to the strange fiddles and drums of the faeries that when I heard the lilting melody, I thought it was another hallucination. Sometimes, if I stared at the ceiling long enough, it became the vast expanse of the starry night sky, and I became a small, unimportant thing that blew away in the wind.
I looked toward the small vent in the corner of the ceiling through which the music entered my cell. The source must have been far away, for it was just a faint stirring of notes, but when I closed my eyes, I could hear it more clearly. I could … see it. As if it were a grand painting, a living mural.
There was beauty in this music—beauty and goodness. The music folded over itself like batter being poured from a bowl, one note atop another, melting together to form a whole, rising, filling me. It wasn’t wild music, but there was a violence of passion in it, a swelling kind of joy and sorrow. I pulled my knees to my chest, needing to feel the sturdiness of my skin, even with the slime of the oily paint upon it.
The music built a path, an ascent founded upon archways of color. I followed it, walking out of that cell, through layers of earth, up and up—into fields of cornflowers, past a canopy of trees, and into the open expanse of sky. The pulse of the music was like hands that gently pushed me onward, pulling me higher, guiding me through the clouds. I’d never seen clouds like these—in their puffy sides, I could discern faces fair and sorrowful. They faded before I could view them too clearly, and I looked into the distance to where the music summoned me.
It was either a sunset or sunrise. The sun filled the clouds with magenta and purple, and its orange-gold rays blended with my path to form a band of shimmering metal.
I wanted to fade into it, wanted the light of that sun to burn me away, to fill me with such joy that I would become a ray of sunshine myself. This wasn’t music to dance to—it was music to worship, music to fill in the gaps of my soul, to bring me to a place where there was no pain.
I didn’t realize I was weeping until the wet warmth of a tear splashed upon my arm. But even then I clung to the music, gripping it like a ledge that kept me from falling. I hadn’t realized how badly I didn’t want to tumble into that deep dark—how much I wanted to stay here among the clouds and color and light.
I let the sounds ravage me, let them lay me flat and run over my body with their drums. Up and up, building to a palace in the sky, a hall of alabaster and moonstone, where all that was lovely and kind and fantastic dwelled in peace. I wept—wept to be so close to that palace, wept from the need to be there. Everything I wanted was there—the one I loved was there—
The music was Tamlin’s fingers strumming my body; it was the gold in his eyes and the twist of his smile. It was that breathy chuckle, and the way he said those three words. It was this I was fighting for, this I had sworn to save.
The music rose—louder, grander, faster, from wherever it was played—a wave that peaked, shattering the gloom of my cell. A shuddering sob broke from me as the sound faded into silence. I sat there, trembling and weeping, too raw and exposed, left naked by the music and the color in my mind.
When the tears had stopped but the music still echoed in my every breath, I lay on my pallet of hay, listening to my breathing.
The music flittered through my memories, binding them together, making them into a quilt that wrapped around me, that warmed my bones. I looked at the eye in the center of my palm, but it only stared right back at me—unmoving.
Two more days until my final trial. Just two more days, and then I would learn what the Eddies of the Cauldron had planned for me.
It was a party like any other—even if it would likely be my last. Faeries drank and lounged and danced, laughing and singing bawdy and ethereal songs. No glimmer of anticipation for what might occur tomorrow—what I stood to alter for them, for their world. Perhaps they knew I would die, too.
I lurked by a wall, forgotten by the crowd, waiting for Rhysand to beckon me to drink the wine and dance or do whatever it was he wished of me. I was clothed in my typical attire, tattooed from the neck down with that blue-black paint. Tonight my gossamer gown was a shade of sunset pink, the color too bright and feminine against the whorls of paint on my skin. Too cheery for what awaited me tomorrow.
Rhysand was taking longer than usual to summon me—though it was probably because of the supple-bodied faerie perched in his lap, caressing his hair with her long greenish fingers. He’d tire of her soon.
I didn’t bother to look at Amarantha. I was better off pretending she wasn’t there. Lucien never spoke to me in public, and Tamlin … It had become difficult to look at him in recent days.
I just wanted it done. I wanted that wine to carry me through this last night and bring me to my fate. I was so intent on anticipating Rhysand’s order to serve him that I didn’t notice that someone stood beside me until the heat from his body leaked onto mine.