I ran through the chants in my head, again and again. Not worth it—easing my ravenous hunger was definitely not worth the risk of being enslaved to him in mind and soul.
He let out a low growl. “Unless you’d rather faint?”
“It’s not safe for humans,” I managed to say, offense be damned.
He huffed a laugh—more feral than anything. “The food is fine for you to eat, human.” Those strange green eyes pinned me to the spot, as if he could detect every muscle in my body that was priming to bolt. “Leave, if you want,” he added with a flash of teeth. “I’m not your jailer. The gates are open—you can live anywhere in Prythian.”
And no doubt be eaten or tormented by a wretched faerie. But while every inch of this place was civilized and clean and beautiful, I had to get out, had to get back. That promise to my mother, cold and vain as she was, was all I had. I made no move toward the food.
“Fine,” he said, the word laced with a growl, and began serving himself.
I didn’t have to face the consequences of refusing him another time, as someone strode past me, heading right for the head of the table.
“Well?” the stranger said—another High Fae: red-haired and finely dressed in a tunic of muted silver. He, too, wore a mask. He sketched a bow to the seated male and then crossed his arms. Somehow, he hadn’t spotted me where I was still pressed against the wall.
“Well, what?” My captor cocked his head, the movement more animal than human.
“Is Andras dead, then?”
A nod from my captor—savior, whatever he was. “I’m sorry,” he said quietly.
“How?” the stranger demanded, his knuckles white as he gripped his muscled arms.
“An ash arrow,” said the other. His red-haired companion hissed. “The Treaty’s summons led me to the mortal. I gave her safe haven.”
“A girl—a mortal girl actually killed Andras.” Not a question so much as a venom-coated string of words. He glanced at the end of the table, where my empty chair stood. “And the summons found the girl responsible.”
The golden-masked one gave a low, bitter laugh and pointed at me. “The Treaty’s magic brought me right to her doorstep.”
The stranger whirled with fluid grace. His mask was bronze and fashioned after a fox’s features, concealing all but the lower half of his face—along with most of what looked like a wicked, slashing scar from his brow down to his jaw. It didn’t hide the eye that was missing—or the carved golden orb that had replaced it and moved as though he could use it. It fixed on me.
Even from across the room, I could see his remaining russet eye widen. He sniffed once, his lips curling a bit to reveal straight white teeth, and then he turned to the other faerie. “You’re joking,” he said quietly. “That scrawny thing brought down Andras with a single ash arrow?”
B*****d—an absolute b*****d. A pity I didn’t have the arrow now—so I could shoot him instead.
“She admitted to it,” the golden-haired one said tightly, tracing the rim of his goblet with a finger. A long, lethal claw slid out, scraping against the metal. I fought to keep my breathing steady. Especially as he added, “She didn’t try to deny it.”
The fox-masked faerie sank onto the edge of the table, the light catching in his long fire-red hair. I could understand his mask, with that brutal scar and missing eye, but the other High Fae seemed fine. Perhaps he wore it out of solidarity. Maybe that explained the absurd fashion. “Well,” the red-haired one seethed, “now we’re stuck with that, thanks to your useless mercy, and you’ve ruined—”
I stepped forward—only a step. I wasn’t sure what I was going to say, but being spoken about that way … I kept my mouth shut, but it was enough.
“Did you enjoy killing my friend, human?” the red-haired one said. “Did you hesitate, or was the hatred in your heart riding you too hard to consider sparing him? It must have been so satisfying for a small mortal thing like you to take him down.”
The golden-haired one said nothing, but his jaw tightened. As they studied me, I reached for a knife that wasn’t there.
“Anyway,” the fox-masked one continued, facing his companion again with a sneer. He would likely laugh if I ever drew a weapon on him. “Perhaps there’s a way to—”
“Lucien,” my captor said quietly, the name echoing with a hint of a snarl. “Behave.”
Lucien went rigid, but he hopped off the edge of the table and bowed deeply to me. “My apologies, lady.” Another joke at my expense. “I’m Lucien. Courtier and emissary.” He gestured to me with a flourish. “Your eyes are like stars, and your hair like burnished gold.”
He cocked his head—waiting for me to give him my name. But telling him anything about me, about my family and where I came from—
“Her name is Feyre,” said the one in charge—the beast. He must have learned my name at my cottage. Those striking green eyes met mine again and then flicked to the door. “Alis will take you to your room. You could use a bath and fresh clothes.”
I couldn’t decide whether it was an insult or not. There was a firm hand at my elbow, and I flinched. A rotund brown-haired woman in a simple brass bird mask tugged on my arm and inclined her head toward the open door behind us. Her white apron was crisp above her homespun brown dress—a servant. The masks had to be some sort of trend, then.
If they cared so much about their clothes, about what even their servants wore, maybe they were shallow and vain enough for me to deceive, despite their master’s warrior clothes. Still, they were High Fae. I would have to be clever and quiet and bide my time until I could escape. So I let Alis lead me away. Room—not cell. A small relief, then.
I’d barely made it a few steps before Lucien growled, “That’s the hand the Cauldron thought to deal us? She brought Andras down? We never should have sent him out there—none of them should have been out there. It was a fool’s mission.” His growl was more bitter than threatening. Could he shape-shift as well? “Maybe we should just take a stand—maybe it’s time to say enough. Dump the girl somewhere, kill her, I don’t care—she’s nothing but a burden here. She’d sooner put a knife in your back than talk to you—or any of us.” I kept my breathing calm, my spine locking, and—
“No,” the other bit out. “Not until we know for certain that there is no other way will we make a move. And as for the girl, she stays. Unharmed. End of discussion. Her life in that hovel was Hell enough.” My cheeks heated, even while I loosed a tight breath, and I avoided looking at Alis as I felt her eyes slide to me. A hovel—I suppose that’s what our cottage was when compared to this place.