Conversation after conversation echoed in my memory, until I heard Lucien’s words, and everything froze. And that was when I knew.
I couldn’t breathe, not as I replayed the memory, not as I recalled the conversation I’d overheard one day. Lucien and Tamlin in the dining room, the door wide open for all to hear—for me to hear.
“For someone with a heart of stone, yours is certainly soft these days.”
I looked at Tamlin, my eyes flicking to his chest as another memory flashed. The Attor in the garden, laughing.
“Though you have a heart of stone, Tamlin,” the Attor said, “you certainly keep a host of fear inside it.”
Amarantha would never risk me killing him—because she knew I couldn’t kill him.
Not if his heart couldn’t be pierced by a blade. Not if his heart had been turned to stone.
I scanned his face, searching for any glimmer of truth. There was only that bold rebellion within his gaze.
Perhaps I was wrong—perhaps it was just a faerie turn of phrase. But all those times I’d held Tamlin … I’d never felt his heartbeat. I’d been blind to everything until it came back to smack me in the face, but not this time.
That was how she controlled him and his magic. How she controlled all the High Lords, dominating and leashing them just as she kept Jurian’s soul tethered to that eye and bone.
Trust no one, Alis had told me. But I trusted Tamlin—and more than that, I trusted myself. I trusted that I had heard correctly—I trusted that Tamlin had been smarter than Amarantha, I trusted that all I had sacrificed was not in vain.
The entire room was silent, but my attention was upon only Tamlin. The revelation must have been clear on my face, for his breathing became a bit quicker, and he lifted his chin.
I took a step toward him, then another. I was right. I had to be.
I sucked in a breath as I grabbed the dagger off the outstretched pillow. I could be wrong—I could be painfully, tragically wrong.
But there was a faint smile on Tamlin’s lips as I stood over him, ash dagger in hand.
There was such a thing as Fate—because Fate had made sure I was there to eavesdrop when they’d spoken in private, because Fate had whispered to Tamlin that the cold, contrary girl he’d dragged to his home would be the one to break his spell, because Fate had kept me alive just to get to this point, just to see if I had been listening.
And there he was—my High Lord, my beloved, kneeling before me.
“I love you,” I said, and stabbed him.
Tamlin cried out as my blade pierced his flesh, breaking bone. For a sickening moment, when his blood rushed onto my hand, I thought the ash dagger would go clean through him.
But then there was a faint thud—and a stinging reverberation in my hand as the dagger struck something hard and unyielding. Tamlin lurched forward, his face going pale, and I yanked the dagger from his chest. As the blood drained away from the polished wood, I lifted the blade.
Its tip had been nicked, turned inward on itself.
Tamlin clutched his chest as he panted, the wound already healing. Rhysand, at the foot of the dais, grinned from ear to ear. Amarantha climbed to her feet.
The faeries murmured to one another. I dropped the blade, sending it clattering across the red marble.
Kill her now, I wanted to bark at Tamlin, but he didn’t move as he pushed his hand against his wound, blood dribbling out. Too slowly—he was healing too slowly. The mask didn’t fall off. Kill her now.
“She won,” someone in the crowd said. “Free them,” another echoed.
But Amarantha’s face blanched, her features contorting until she looked truly serpentine. “I’ll free them whenever I see fit. Feyre didn’t specify when I had to free them—just that I had to. At some point. Perhaps when you’re dead,” she finished with a hateful smile. “You assumed that when I said instantaneous freedom regarding the riddle, it applied to the trials, too, didn’t you? Foolish, stupid human.”
I stepped back as she descended the steps of the dais. Her fingers curled into claws—Jurian’s eye was going wild within the ring, his pupil dilating and shrinking. “And you,” she hissed at me. “You.” Her teeth gleamed—turning sharp. “I’m going to kill you.”
Someone cried out, but I couldn’t move, couldn’t even try to get out of the way as something far more violent than lightning struck me, and I crashed to the floor.
“I’m going to make you pay for your insolence,” Amarantha snarled, and a scream ravaged my throat as pain like nothing I had known erupted through me.
My very bones were shattering as my body rose and then slammed onto the hard floor, and I was crushed beneath another wave of torturous agony.
“Admit you don’t really love him, and I’ll spare you,” Amarantha breathed, and through my fractured vision, I saw her prowl toward me. “Admit what a cowardly, lying, inconstant bit of human garbage you are.”
I wouldn’t—I wouldn’t say that even if she splattered me across the ground.
But I was being ripped apart from the inside out, and I thrashed, unable to out-scream the pain.
“Feyre!” someone roared. No, not someone—Rhysand.
But Amarantha still neared. “You think you’re worthy of him? A High Lord? You think you deserve anything at all, human?” My back arched, and my ribs cracked, one by one.
Rhysand yelled my name again—yelled it as though he cared. I blacked out, but she brought me back, ensuring that I felt everything, ensuring that I screamed every time a bone broke.
“What are you but mud and bones and worm meat?” Amarantha raged. “What are you, compared to our kind, that you think you’re worthy of us?”
Faeries began calling foul play, demanding Tamlin be released from the curse, calling her a cheating liar. Through the haze, I saw Rhysand crouching by Tamlin. Not to help him, but to grab the—
“You are all pigs—all scheming, filthy pigs.”
I sobbed between screams as her foot connected with my broken ribs. Again. And again. “Your mortal heart is nothing to us.”
Then Rhysand was on his feet, my bloody knife in his hands. He launched himself at Amarantha, swift as a shadow, the ash dagger aimed at her throat.
She lifted a hand—not even bothering to look—and he was blasted back by a wall of white light.
But the pain paused for a second, long enough for me to see him hit the ground and rise again and lunge for her—with hands that now ended in talons. He slammed into the invisible wall Amarantha had raised around herself, and my pain flickered as she turned to him.