I swallowed my curse and brought it out—but didn’t put it down.
“A valiant effort, but useless,” he said. True—so true, when he didn’t even need to take his hands out of his pockets to grip Lucien’s mind.
“How is it that you have such power still and the others don’t? I thought she robbed all of you of your abilities.”
He lifted a groomed, dark brow. “Oh, she took my powers. This …” A caress of talons against my mind. I jerked back a step, slamming into the fireplace. The pressure on my mind vanished. “This is just the remnant. The scraps I get to play with. Your Tamlin has brute strength and shape-shifting; my arsenal is a far deadlier assortment.”
I knew he wasn’t bluffing—not when I’d felt those talons in my mind. “So you can’t shape-shift? It’s not some High Lord specialty?”
“Oh, all the High Lords can. Each of us has a beast roaming beneath our skin, roaring to get out. While your Tamlin prefers fur, I find wings and talons to be more entertaining.”
A lick of cold kissed down my spine. “Can you shift now, or did she take that, too?”
“So many questions from a little human.”
But the darkness that hovered around him began to writhe and twist and flare as he rose to his feet. I blinked, and it was done.
I lifted the iron poker, just a little bit.
“Not a full shift, you see,” Rhysand said, clicking the black razor-sharp talons that had replaced his fingers. Below the knee, darkness stained his skin—but talons also gleamed in lieu of toes. “I don’t particularly like yielding wholly to my baser side.”
Indeed, it was still Rhysand’s face, his powerful male body, but flaring out behind him were massive black membranous wings—like a bat’s, like the Attor’s. He tucked them in neatly behind him, but the single claw at the apex of each peeked over his broad shoulders. Horrific, stunning—the face of a thousand nightmares and dreams. That again-useless part of me stirred at the sight, the way the candlelight shone through the wings, illuminating the veins, the way it bounced off his talons.
Rhysand rolled his neck, and it all vanished in a flash—the wings, the talons, the feet, leaving only the male behind, well-dressed and unruffled. “No attempts at flattery?”
I had made a very, very big mistake in offering my life to him.
But I said, “You have a high-enough opinion of yourself already. I doubt the flattery of a little human matters much to you.”
He let out a low laugh that slid along my bones, warming my blood. “I can’t decide whether I should consider you admirable or very stupid for being so bold with a High Lord.”
Only around him did I have trouble keeping my mouth shut, it seemed. So I dared to ask, “Do you know the answer to the riddle?”
He crossed his arms. “Cheating, are you?”
“She never said I couldn’t ask for help.”
“Ah, but after she had you beaten to hell, she ordered us not to help you.” I waited. But he shook his head. “Even if I felt like helping you, I couldn’t. She gives the order, and we all bow to it.” He picked a fleck of dust off his black jacket. “It’s a good thing she likes me, isn’t it?”
I opened my mouth to press him—to beg him. If it meant instantaneous freedom—
“Don’t waste your breath,” he said. “I can’t tell you—no one here can. If she ordered us all to stop breathing, we would have to obey that, too.” He frowned at me and snapped his fingers. The soot, the dirt, the ash vanished off my skin, leaving me as clean as if I’d bathed. “There. A gift—for having the balls to even ask.”
I gave him a flat stare, but he motioned to the hearth.
It was spotless—and my bucket was filled with lentils. The door swung open of its own accord, revealing the guards who’d dragged me here. Rhysand waved a lazy hand at them. “She accomplished her task. Take her back.”
They grabbed for me, but he bared his teeth in a smile that was anything but friendly—and they halted. “No more household chores, no more tasks,” he said, his voice an erotic caress. Their yellow eyes went glazed and dull, their sharp teeth gleaming as their mouths slackened. “Tell the others, too. Stay out of her cell, and don’t touch her. If you do, you’re to take your own daggers and gut yourselves. Understood?”
Dazed, numb nods, then they blinked and straightened. I hid my trembling. Glamour, mind control—whatever it was he had done, it worked. They beckoned—but didn’t dare touch me.
Rhysand smiled at me. “You’re welcome,” he purred as I walked out.
From that point on, each morning and evening, a fresh, hot meal appeared in my cell. I gobbled it down but cursed Rhysand’s name anyway. Stuck in the cell, I had nothing to do but ponder Amarantha’s riddle—usually only to wind up with a pounding headache. I recited it again and again and again, but to no avail.
Days passed, and I didn’t see Lucien or Tamlin, and Rhysand never came to taunt me. I was alone—utterly alone, locked in silence—though the screaming in the dungeons still continued day and night. When that screaming became too unbearable and I couldn’t shut it out, I would look at the eye tattooed on my palm. I wondered if he’d done it to quietly remind me of Jurian—a cruel, petty slap to the face indicating that perhaps I was well on my way to belonging to him just as the ancient warrior now belonged to Amarantha.
Every once in a while, I’d say a few words to the tattoo—then curse myself for a fool. Or curse Rhysand. But I could have sworn that as I dozed off one night, it blinked.
If I was counting the schedule of my meals correctly, about four days after I’d seen Rhysand in his room, two High Fae females arrived in my cell.
They appeared through the cracks from slivers of darkness, just as Rhysand had. But while he’d solidified into a tangible form, these faeries remained mostly made of shadow, their features barely discernable, save for their loose, flowing cobweb gowns. They remained silent when they reached for me. I didn’t fight them—there was nothing to fight them with, and nowhere to run. The hands they clasped around my forearms were cool but solid—as if the shadows were a coating, a second skin.
They had to have been sent by Rhysand—some servants of his from the Night Court. They could have been mutes for all they said to me as they pressed close to my body and we stepped—physically stepped—through the closed door, as if it wasn’t even there. As if I had become a shadow, too. My knees buckled at the sensation, like spiders crawling down my spine, my arms, as we walked through the dark, shrieking dungeons. None of the guards stopped us—they didn’t even look in our direction. We were glamoured, then; no more than flickering darkness to the passing eye.