Silent tears slid down my face and neck, where they dampened the filthy collar of my tunic. As she spoke, I knew I would be forever barred from that immortal land. I knew that whatever Mother she meant would never embrace me. In saving Tamlin, I was to damn myself.
I couldn’t do this—couldn’t lift that dagger again.
“Let me fear no evil,” she breathed, staring at me—into me, into the soul that was cleaving itself apart. “Let me feel no pain.”
A sob broke from my lips. “I’m sorry,” I moaned.
“Let me enter eternity,” she breathed.
I wept as I understood. Kill me now, she was saying. Do it fast. Don’t make it hurt. Kill me now. Her bronze eyes were steady, if not sorrowful. Infinitely, infinitely worse than the pleading of the dead faerie beside her.
I couldn’t do it.
But she held my gaze—held my gaze and nodded.
As I lifted the ash dagger, something inside me fractured so completely that there would be no hope of ever repairing it. No matter how many years passed, no matter how many times I might try to paint her face.
More faeries wailed now—her kinsmen and friends. The dagger was a weight in my hand—my hand, shining and coated with the blood of that first faerie.
It would be more honorable to refuse—to die, rather than murder innocents. But … but …
“Let me enter eternity,” she repeated, lifting her chin. “Fear no evil,” she whispered—just for me. “Feel no pain.”
I gripped her delicate, bony shoulder and drove the dagger into her heart.
She gasped, and blood spilled onto the ground like a splattering of rain. Her eyes were closed when I looked at her face again. She slumped to the floor and didn’t move.
I went somewhere far, far away from myself.
The faeries were stirring now—shifting, many whispering and weeping. I dropped the dagger, and the knock of ash on marble roared in my ears. Why was Amarantha still smiling, with only one person left between myself and freedom? I glanced at Rhysand, but his attention was fixed upon Amarantha.
One faerie—and then we were free. Just one more swing of my arm.
And maybe one more after that—maybe one more swing, up and inward and into my own heart.
It would be a relief—a relief to end it by my own hand, a relief to die rather than face this, what I’d done.
The faerie servant offered the last dagger, and I was about to reach for it when the guard removed the hood from the male kneeling before me.
My hands slackened at my sides. Amber-flecked green eyes stared up at me.
Everything came crashing down, layer upon layer, shattering and breaking and crumbling, as I gazed at Tamlin.
I whipped my head to the throne beside Amarantha’s, still occupied by my High Lord, and she laughed as she snapped her fingers. The Tamlin beside her transformed into the Attor, smiling wickedly at me.
Tricked—deceived by my own senses again. Slowly, my soul ripping further from me, I turned back to Tamlin. There was only guilt and sorrow in his eyes, and I stumbled away, almost falling as I tripped over my feet.
“Something wrong?” Amarantha asked, cocking her head.
“Not … Not fair,” I got out.
Rhysand’s face had gone pale—so, so pale.
“Fair?” Amarantha mused, playing with Jurian’s bone on her necklace. “I wasn’t aware you humans knew of the concept. You kill Tamlin, and he’s free.” Her smile was the most hideous thing I’d ever seen. “And then you can have him all to yourself.”
My mouth stopped working.
“Unless,” Amarantha went on, “you think it would be more appropriate to forfeit your life. After all: What’s the point? To survive only to lose him?” Her words were like poison. “Imagine all those years you were going to spend together … suddenly alone. Tragic, really. Though a few months ago, you hated our kind enough to butcher us—surely you’ll move on easily enough.” She patted her ring. “Jurian’s human lover did.”
Still on his knees, Tamlin’s eyes turned so bright—defiant.
“So,” Amarantha said, but I didn’t look at her. “What will it be, Feyre?”
Kill him and save his court and my life, or kill myself and let them all live as Amarantha’s slaves, let her and the King of Hybern wage their final war against the human realm. There was no bargain to get out of this—no part of me to sell to avoid this choice.
I stared at the ash dagger on that pillow. Alis had been right all those weeks ago: no human who came here ever walked out again. I was no exception. If I were smart, I would indeed stab my own heart before they could grab me. At least then I would die quickly—I wouldn’t endure the torture that surely awaited me, possibly a fate like Jurian’s. Alis had been right. But—
Alis—Alis had said something … something to help me. A final part of the curse, a part they couldn’t tell me, a part that would aid me … And all she’d been able to do was tell me to listen. To listen to what I’d heard—as if I’d already learned everything I needed.
I slowly faced Tamlin again. Memories flashed, one after another, blurs of color and words. Tamlin was High Lord of the Spring Court—what did that do to help me? The Great Rite was performed—no.
He lied to me about everything—about why I’d been brought to the manor, about what was happening on his lands. The curse—he hadn’t been allowed to tell me the truth, but he hadn’t exactly pretended that everything was fine. No—he’d lied and explained as best he could and made it painfully obvious to me at every turn that something was very, very wrong.
The Attor in the garden—as hidden from me as I was from it. But Tamlin had hidden me—he’d told me to stay put and then led the Attor right toward me, let me overhear them.
He’d left the dining room doors open when he’d spoken with Lucien about—about the curse, even if I hadn’t realized it at the time. He’d spoken in public places. He’d wanted me to eavesdrop.
Because he wanted me to know, to listen—because this knowledge … I ransacked each conversation, turning over words like stones. A part of the curse I hadn’t grasped, that they couldn’t explicitly tell me, but Tamlin had needed me to know …
Milady makes no bargains that are not advantageous to her.
She would never kill what she desired most—not when she wanted Tamlin as much as I did. But if I killed him … she either knew I couldn’t do it, or she was playing a very, very dangerous game.