Then a left. My breath was a flame ravaging my throat. The second hairpin turn came upon me, and I again used the bit of bone to hurtle around the bend.
My knees and ankles groaned as I fought to keep from slipping in the mud. Only one more turn, then a straight run …
I flipped around the final turn, and the roar of the faeries became different than it had been earlier. The worm was a raging, crashing force behind me, but my steps were steady as I flew down the last passage.
The mouth of the pit loomed, and with a final prayer, I leaped.
There was only open black air, reaching up to swallow me.
I swung my arms as I careened down, aiming for the spot I’d planned. Pain barked through my bones, my head, as I collided with the muddy ground and rolled. I flipped over myself and screamed as something hit my arm, biting through flesh.
But I didn’t have time to think, to even look at it, as I scrambled out of the way, as far into the darkness of the worm’s den as I could get. I grabbed another bone and whirled when the worm plummeted into the pit.
It hit the earth and lashed its massive body to the side, anticipating the strike to kill me, but a wet, crunching noise filled the air instead.
And the worm didn’t move.
I squatted there, gulping down burning air, staring into the abyss of its flesh-shredding mouth, still open wide to devour me. It took me a few heartbeats to realize the worm wasn’t going to swallow me whole, and a few more heartbeats to understand that it was truly impaled on the bone spikes. Dead.
I didn’t entirely hear the gasps, then the cheering—didn’t quite think or feel very much of anything as I edged around the worm and slowly climbed out of the pit, still holding the bone-sword in my hand.
Silently, still beyond words, I stumbled back through the labyrinth, my left arm throbbing, but my body tingled so much I didn’t notice.
But the moment I beheld Amarantha on her platform at the edge of the trench, I clenched my free hand. Prove my love. Pain shot through my arm, but I embraced it. I had won.
I looked up at her from beneath lowered brows and didn’t check myself as I exposed my teeth. Her lips were thin, and she no longer grasped Tamlin’s knee.
Tamlin. My Tamlin.
I tightened my grip on the long bone in my hand. I was shaking—shaking all over. But not with fear. Oh, no. It wasn’t fear at all. I’d proved my love—and then some.
“Well,” Amarantha said with a little smirk. “I suppose anyone could have done that.”
I took a few running steps and hurled the bone at her with all my remaining strength.
It embedded itself in the mud at her feet, splattering filth onto her white gown, and remained there, quivering.
The faeries gasped again, and Amarantha stared at the wobbling bone before touching the mud on her bodice. She smiled slowly. “Naughty,” she tsked.
Had there not been an insurmountable trench between us, I would have ripped her throat out. Someday—if I lived through this—I would skin her alive.
“I suppose you’ll be happy to learn most of my court lost a good deal of money tonight,” she said, picking up a piece of parchment. I looked at Tamlin as she scanned the paper. His green eyes were bright, and though his face was deathly pale, I could have sworn there was a ghost of triumph on his face. “Let’s see,” Amarantha went on, reading the paper as she toyed with Jurian’s finger bone at the end of her necklace. “Yes, I’d say almost my entire court bet on you dying within the first minute; some said you’d last five, and”—she turned over the paper—“and just one person said you would win.”
Insulting, but not surprising. I didn’t fight as the Attor hauled me out of the trenches, dumping me at the foot of the platform before flying off. My arm burned at the impact.
Amarantha frowned at her list, and she waved a hand. “Take her away. I tire of her mundane face.” She clenched the arms of her throne hard enough that the whites of her knuckles showed. “Rhysand, come here.”
I didn’t stay long enough to see the High Lord prowl forward. Red hands grabbed me, holding tightly to keep from sliding off. I’d forgotten the mud caked on me like a second skin. As they yanked me away, a shooting pain shot along my arm, and agony blanketed my senses.
I looked at my left forearm then, and my stomach rose at the trickling blood and ripped tendons, at the lips of my skin pulled back to accommodate the shaft of a bone shard protruding clean through it.
I couldn’t even glance back at Tamlin, couldn’t find Lucien to say thank you before pain consumed me whole, and I could barely manage to walk back to my cell.
No one, not even Lucien, came to fix my arm in the days following my victory. The pain overwhelmed me to the point of screaming whenever I prodded the embedded bit of bone, and I had no other option but to sit there, letting the wound gnaw on my strength, trying my best not to think about the constant throbbing that shot sparks of poisoned lightning through me.
But worse than that was the growing panic—panic that the wound hadn’t stopped bleeding. I knew what it meant when blood continued to flow. I kept one eye on the wound, either out of hope that I’d find the blood clotting, or the terror that I’d spy the first signs of infection.
I couldn’t eat the rotten food they gave me. The sight of it aroused such nausea that a corner of my cell now reeked of vomit. It didn’t help that I was still covered in mud, and the dungeon was perpetually freezing.
I was sitting against the far wall of my cell, savoring the coolness of the stone beneath my back. I’d awoken from a fitful sleep and found myself burning hot. A kind of fire that made everything a bit muddled. My injured arm dangled at my side as I gazed dully at the cell door. It seemed to sway, its lines rippling.
This heat in my face was some kind of small cold—not a fever from infection. I put a hand on my chest, and dried mud crumbled into my lap. Each of my breaths was like swallowing broken glass. Not a fever. Not a fever. Not a fever.
My eyelids were heavy, stinging. I couldn’t go to sleep. I had to make sure the wound wasn’t infected, I had to … to …
The door actually did move then—no, not the door, but rather the darkness around it, which seemed to ripple. Real fear coiled in my stomach as a male figure formed out of that darkness, as if he’d slipped in from the cracks between the door and the wall, hardly more than a shadow.
Rhysand was fully corporeal now, and his violet eyes glowed in the dim light. He slowly smiled from where he stood by the door. “What a sorry state for Tamlin’s champion.”