it has ever taken me to walk through the city.
Normally, I slip into the dream realm to loosen the bonds of physicality and time to cross large distances quickly. But despite my House’s abundant magic, healing always drains me dry. It was especially difficult because of how much energy I expended trying to keep my body from healing around the arrows before Nadira removed them.
So I walk like a human, clinging to shadows and using what little glamour ability I have left to disguise my heavy steps and wreathe my form in darkness.
Nadira and Eshe are safely back at the palace in Nadira’s room. I hope they are resting, just like I made them believe I would. But as much as I long to rest, I cannot.
That has been the summary of my life these past ninety-nine years.
Not that I can sleep well anyway.
At last, I make it to the narrow street where Jabir and Nadira lived. Even if I didn’t know where it was, the stench alone is enough to tell me exactly where I’m going.
The lone lantern hangs by a blood-streaked door. It burns dangerously low, illuminating the corpse collapsed on the ground.
I remember him now. His real name—his fae name, given to him despite the human blood mingling with the fae in his veins—was Shalfol.
Red light pulses from his robes in an ugly, angry aura. Each step toward the body makes me grimace, and eventually I’m forced to let every last shred of glamour fall away. I step into the light, feel the firelight across my face. Then I brace myself against the door, fighting my unsteady legs, as I lean down and pluck the source of that red glow out of Shalfol’s belt.
A golden egg, encrusted with gemstones and pounding with a wicked spell, sits in my palm. The stench is almost unbearable at this proximity. I know this stench, this magic.
The Wolf made this.
I let it fall to the ground. Summoning my last reserves of strength, I crush it beneath my heel. The gold, paper thin and made brittle from the spell, cracks open. A ghost of a scream tears free from the remnants as red bursts forth in a cloud. Then the spell dissolves, leaving behind nothing but broken gold and jewels.
My magic comes back to me in a wave, like the comforting embrace of a lover. I reassert my glamours with ease.
Now that the spell stench is gone, Shalfol’s blood is the strongest smell in the narrow street. Beyond it, however, if I lean closer to the door . . .
I can smell the distinct tinge of Nadira’s blood coming from inside the abode. I smelled it the night I came for her. Remnants of it coated the walls, the floors, the thin blanket and lumpy cot in her room.
She bled so much here.
The fury that climbs like a clawed animal up my spine nearly overwhelms me. I don’t know the entirety of her story, but I know enough.
Enough to feel the pressing weight of guilt that she will marry me tomorrow.
I never should have brought her here. Never should have involved her in this. Never should have let myself . . . let myself . . .
And left her in Shalfol’s hands? a quiet part of me asks.
I wish I hadn’t given into my foolish whims. I never should have met her. Those apology notes of hers—I knew my very soul called to hers from that first moment. I knew she was broken like I was. And I stupidly gave into the desire to experience, for the first time in almost a hundred years, what it is like to not be alone.
It was my own wretched desire to feel seen and understood that made me bring her here.
I never should have been so selfish.
“I can’t save everyone,” I growl under my breath.
I can’t save everyone.
I let go of a few shadow glamours to draw lines around the building. I mutter the spell under my breath, and a blue glow appears beneath my finger as I drag it around the walls, the shared roof, until I’ve outlined exactly the bounds where Nadira’s blood lies.
Then I take the dying lantern and throw it against the wooden door.
Fire catches, eager and starving. I back away, staying in the darkness as light burns brighter, as flames lick up Shalfol’s clothes. The fire doesn’t cross the lines I drew, but soon the entire building is engulfed.
My business here is done.
I clench my fists and turn my back on Nadira’s former prison. I will not take out my rage on the corpse, no matter how much I long to. He was her kill. His body was hers to desecrate.
The return journey to the House takes even longer than the first. I walk through the broken spells on my gate. And there before me, in the light of the moon, are dozens of dead bodies littering the courtyard.
She killed for me.
Nadira, the woman who hates killing so much she’d do almost anything to avoid it. Nadira, who broke Raha’s arm instead of her neck. Pure wrath had burned in her gaze. Those tortured eyes of hers that always sent my thoughts scattering—it was like every restraint ripped away.
There had to be over a hundred dead bodies. And she killed them all.
She slaughtered them.
For me. After I’d accused her of being a traitor and a liar.
I’m still not sure if I’m shocked, horrified, or in awe. Am I touched or terrified?
I pick my way through skewered bodies, willing the last dregs of my strength not to give out just yet.
No, I’m not terrified. Not of her, not of the sheer power of her magic, not of her capacity for brutality. I knew there was magic buried deep inside her the moment I first laid eyes on her. Its strength, its brand of power, nor its manner of awakening were things I predicted, however. I’d assumed she’d come down with blood sickness if her magic ever manifested. But no—she’s one of the few. One of the lucky ones, if I dare suggest it.
I’m not scared of her.
But I hate that I couldn’t dodge those arrows. I hate that anything drove her to that massive slaughter. Because now it haunts her. Her own hatred of herself was in every step she took when she’d returned to the House.
I make it back to the courtyard Crenfyre has utterly ravaged.
And there, sitting in the window, bathed in starlight, is Nadira.
She doesn’t see me. She just sits there, one long leg hanging out of the window as she stares up at the sky. I let my eyes travel over her beautiful face, memorizing the cut of her cheekbones, the long lashes, the elegantly arched brows, the thick dark hair blowing in her face, the set of her lovely mouth. A mouth I never should have allowed myself to kiss, not in a thousand years.
“Nadira,” I breathe, and her name feels like a goodbye.
Tomorrow, she will become my wife.
Dread as I have known few times in my life sinks into my gut. There is nothing I can do to save her.
She will die.
And it will be my fault.