I hissed against the brightness, shielding my eyes. I’d thought it was the middle of the night—I’d completely lost all sense of time in the darkness of the mountain.
Rhysand chuckled softly from where I could vaguely make him out standing along the stone rail. “I forgot that it’s been a while for you.”
My eyes stung from the light, and I remained silent until I could look at the view without a shooting pain going through my head. A land of violet snowcapped mountains greeted me, but the rock of this mountain was brown and bare—not even a blade of grass or a crystal of ice gleamed on it.
I looked at him finally. His membranous wings were out—tucked behind him—but his hands and feet were normal, no talons in sight. “What do you want?” It didn’t come out with the snap I’d intended. Not as I remembered how he’d fought, again and again, to attack Amarantha, to save me.
“Just to say good-bye.” A warm breeze ruffled his hair, brushing tendrils of darkness off his shoulders. “Before your beloved whisks you away forever.”
“Not forever,” I said, wiggling my tattooed fingers for him to see. “Don’t you get a week every month?” Those words, thankfully, came out frosty.
Rhys smiled slightly, his wings rustling and then settling. “How could I forget?”
I stared at the nose I’d seen bleeding only hours before, the violet eyes that had been so filled with pain. “Why?” I asked.
He knew what I meant, and shrugged. “Because when the legends get written, I didn’t want to be remembered for standing on the sidelines. I want my future offspring to know that I was there, and that I fought against her at the end, even if I couldn’t do anything useful.”
I blinked, this time not at the brightness of the sun.
“Because,” he went on, his eyes locked with mine, “I didn’t want you to fight alone. Or die alone.”
And for a moment, I remembered that faerie who had died in our foyer, and how I’d told Tamlin the same thing. “Thank you,” I said, my throat tight.
Rhys flashed a grin that didn’t quite reach his eyes. “I doubt you’ll be saying that when I take you to the Night Court.”
I didn’t bother to reply as I turned toward the view. The mountains went on and on, gleaming and shadowed and vast under the open, clear sky.
But nothing in me stirred—nothing cataloged the light and colors.
“Are you going to fly home?” I said.
A soft laugh. “Unfortunately, it would take longer than I can afford. Another day, I’ll taste the skies again.”
I glanced at the wings tucked into his powerful body, and my voice was hoarse as I spoke. “You never told me you loved the wings—or the flying.” No, he’d made his shape-shifting seem … base, useless, boring.
He shrugged. “Everything I love has always had a tendency to be taken from me. I tell very few about the wings. Or the flying.”
Some color had already come into that moon-white face—and I wondered whether he might once have been tan before Amarantha had kept him belowground for so long. A High Lord who loved to fly—trapped under a mountain. Shadows not of his own making still haunted those violet eyes. I wondered if they would ever fade.
“How does it feel to be a High Fae?” he asked—a quiet, curious question.
I looked out toward the mountains again, considering. And maybe it was because there was no one else to hear, maybe it was because the shadows in his eyes would also forever be in mine, but I said, “I’m an immortal—who has been mortal. This body …” I looked down at my hand, so clean and shining—a mockery of what I’d done. “This body is different, but this”—I put my hand on my chest, my heart—“this is still human. Maybe it always will be. But it would have been easier to live with it …” My throat welled. “Easier to live with what I did if my heart had changed, too. Maybe I wouldn’t care so much; maybe I could convince myself their deaths weren’t in vain. Maybe immortality will take that away. I can’t tell whether I want it to.”
Rhysand stared at me for long enough that I faced him. “Be glad of your human heart, Feyre. Pity those who don’t feel anything at all.”
I couldn’t explain about the hole that had already formed in my soul—didn’t want to, so I just nodded.
“Well, good-bye for now,” he said, rolling his neck as if we hadn’t been talking about anything important at all. He bowed at the waist, those wings vanishing entirely, and had begun to fade into the nearest shadow when he went rigid.
His eyes locked on mine, wide and wild, and his nostrils flared. Shock—pure shock flashed across his features at whatever he saw on my face, and he stumbled back a step. Actually stumbled.
“What is—” I began.
He disappeared—simply disappeared, not a shadow in sight—into the crisp air.
Tamlin and I left the way I’d come in—through that narrow cave in the belly of the mountain. Before departing, the High Fae of several courts destroyed and then sealed Amarantha’s court Under the Mountain. We were the last to leave, and with a wave of Tamlin’s arm, the entrance to the court crumbled behind us.
I still didn’t have the words to ask what they’d done with those two faeries. Maybe someday, maybe soon, I would ask who they were, what their names had been. Amarantha’s body, I’d heard, had been hauled off to be burned—though Jurian’s bone and eye were somehow missing. As much as I wanted to hate her, as much as I wished I could have spat on her burning body … I understood what had driven her—a very small part of her, but I understood it.
Tamlin gripped my hand as we strode through the darkness. Neither of us said anything when a glimmer of sunlight appeared, staining the damp cave walls with a silvery sheen, but our steps quickened as the sunlight grew brighter and the cave warmer, and then both of us emerged onto the spring-green grass that covered the bumps and hollows of his lands. Our lands.
The breeze, the scent of wildflowers hit me, and despite the hole in my chest, the stain on my soul, I couldn’t stop the smile that spread as we mounted a steep hill. My faerie legs were far stronger than my human ones, and when we reached the top of the knoll, I wasn’t nearly as winded as I might once have been. But the breath was knocked from my chest when I beheld the rose-covered manor.
In all my imaginings in Amarantha’s dungeons, I’d never allowed myself to think of this moment—never allowed myself to dream that outrageously. But I’d made it—I’d brought us both home.