“Just do it.” His canines began to lengthen. My heart leaped into a gallop. “Don’t come out until morning.”
Stronger, faster, the drums beat, and the muscles in Tamlin’s neck quivered, as if standing still were somehow painful to him.
“Are you going into battle?” I whispered, and he let out a breathy laugh.
He lifted a hand as if to touch my arm. But he lowered it before his fingers could graze the fabric of my tunic. “Stay in your chamber, Feyre.”
“Please.” Before I could ask him to reconsider bringing me along, he took off running. The muscles in his back shifted as he leaped down the short flight of stairs and bounded into the garden, as spry and swift as a stag. Within seconds he was gone.
I did as he commanded, though I soon realized that I’d locked myself in my room without having eaten dinner. And with the incessant drumming and dozens of bonfires that popped up along the far hills, I couldn’t stop pacing up and down my room, gazing out toward the fires burning in the distance.
Stay in your chamber.
But a wild, wicked voice weaving in between the drumbeats whispered otherwise. Go, that voice said, tugging at me. Go see.
By ten o’clock, I could no longer stand it. I followed the drums.
The stables were empty, but Tamlin had taught me how to ride bareback these past few weeks, and my white mare was soon trotting along. I didn’t need to guide her—she, too, followed the lure of the drums, and ascended the first of the foothills.
Smoke and magic hung thick in the air. Concealed in my hooded cloak, I gaped as I approached the first giant bonfire atop the hill. There were hundreds of High Fae milling about, but I couldn’t discern any of their features beyond the various masks they wore. Where had they come from—where did they live, if they belonged to the Spring Court but did not dwell in the manor? When I tried to focus on a specific feature of their faces, it became a blur of color. They were more solid when I viewed them from the side of my vision, but if I turned to face them, I was met with shadows and swirling colors.
It was magic—some kind of glamour put on me, meant to prevent my viewing them properly, just as my family had been glamoured. I would have been furious, would have considered going back to the manor had the drums not echoed through my bones and that wild voice not beckoned to me.
I dismounted my mare but kept close to her as I made my way through the crowd, my telltale human features hidden in the shadows of my hood. I prayed that the smoke and countless scents of various High Fae and faeries were enough to cover my human smell, but I checked to ensure that my two knives were still at my sides anyway as I moved deeper into the celebration.
Though a cluster of drummers played on one side of the fire, the faeries flocked to a trench between two nearby hills. I left my horse tied to a solitary sycamore crowning a knoll and followed them, savoring the pulsing beat of the drums as it resonated through the earth and into the soles of my feet. No one looked twice in my direction.
I almost slid down the steep bank as I entered the hollow. At one end, a cave mouth opened into a soft hillside. Its exterior had been adorned with flowers and branches and leaves, and I could make out the beginnings of a pelt-covered floor just past the cave mouth. What lay inside was hidden from view as the chamber veered away from the entrance, but firelight danced upon the walls.
Whatever was occurring inside the cave—or whatever was about to happen—was the focus of the shadowy faeries as they lined either side of a long path leading to it. The path wended between the trenches among the hills, and the High Fae swayed in place, moving to the rhythm of the drumming, whose beats sounded in my stomach.
I watched them sway, then shifted on my feet. I’d been banned from this? I scanned the firelit area, trying to peer through the veil of night and smoke. I found nothing of interest, and none of the masked faeries paid me any heed. They remained along the path, more and more of them coming each minute. Something was definitely going to happen—whatever this Great Rite was.
I made my way back up the hillside and stood along the edge of a bonfire near the trees, watching the faeries. I was about to work up the courage to ask a lesser faerie who passed by—a bird-masked servant, like Alis—what sort of ritual was going to happen when someone grasped my arm and whirled me around.
I blinked at the three strangers, dumbfounded as I beheld their sharp-featured faces—free of masks. They looked like High Fae, but there was something slightly different about them, something taller and leaner than Tamlin or Lucien—something crueler in their pitch-black, depthless eyes. Faeries, then.
The one grasping my arm smiled down at me, revealing slightly pointed teeth. “Human woman,” he murmured, running an eye over me. “We’ve not seen one of you for a while.”
I tried yanking my arm back, but he held my elbow firm. “What do you want?” I demanded, keeping my voice steady and cold.
The two faeries who flanked him smiled at me, and one grabbed my other arm—just as I went for my knife. “Just some Fire Night fun,” one of them said, reaching out a pale, too-long hand to brush back a lock of my hair. I twisted my head away and tried to step out of his touch, but he held firm. None of the faeries near the bonfire reacted—no one bothered to look.
If I cried for help, would someone answer? Would Tamlin answer? I couldn’t be that lucky again; I’d probably used up my allotted portion of luck with the naga.
I yanked my arms in earnest. Their grip tightened until it hurt, and they kept my hands well away from my knives. The three of them stepped closer, sealing me off from the others. I glanced around, looking for any ally. There were more nonmasked faeries here now. The three faeries chuckled, a low hissing noise that ran along my body. I hadn’t realized how far I stood from everyone else—how close I’d come to the forest’s edge. “Leave me alone,” I said, louder and angrier than I’d expected, given the shaking that was starting in my knees.
“Bold statement from a human on Calanmai,” said the one holding my left arm. The fires didn’t reflect in his eyes. It was as if they gobbled up the light. I thought of the naga, whose horrible exteriors matched their rotten hearts. Somehow, these beautiful, ethereal faeries were far worse. “Once the Rite’s performed, we’ll have some fun, won’t we? A treat—such a treat—to find a human woman here.”
I bared my teeth at him. “Get your hands off me,” I said, loud enough for anyone to hear.