A slight hiss echoed across the room, dragging my gaze away. Amarantha was frowning up at Tamlin from her seat. I hadn’t realized we’d been staring at each other, the cavern wholly silent.
“Begin,” Amarantha snapped.
Before I could brace myself, the floor shuddered.
My knees wobbled, and I swung my arms to keep upright as the stones beneath me began sinking, lowering me into a large, rectangular pit. Some faeries cackled, but I found Tamlin’s stare again and held it until I was lowered so far down that his face disappeared beyond the edge.
I scanned the four walls around me, looking for a door, for any sign of what was to come. Three of the walls were made of a single sheet of smooth, shining stone—too polished and flat to climb. The other wall wasn’t a wall at all, but an iron grate splitting the chamber in two, and through it—
My breath caught in my throat. “Lucien.”
Lucien lay chained to the center of the floor on the other side of the chamber, his remaining russet eye so wide that it was surrounded with white. The metal one spun as if set wild; his brutal scar was stark against his pale skin. Again he was to be Amarantha’s toy to torment.
There were no doors, no way for me to get to his side except to climb over the gate between us. It had such thick, wide holes that I could probably climb it to jump onto his side. I didn’t dare.
The faeries began murmuring, and gold clinked. Had Rhysand bet on me again? In the crowd, red hair gleamed—four heads of red hair—and I stiffened my spine. I knew his brothers would be smiling at Lucien’s predicament—but where was his mother? His father? Surely the High Lord of the Autumn Court would be present. I scanned the crowd. No sign of them. Only Amarantha, standing with Tamlin at the edge of the pit, peering in. She bowed her head to me and gestured with an elegant hand to the wall beneath her feet.
“Here, Feyre darling, you shall find your task. Simply answer the question by selecting the correct lever, and you’ll win. Select the wrong one to your doom. As there are only three options, I think I gave you an unfair advantage.” She snapped her fingers, and something metallic groaned. “That is,” she added, “if you can solve the puzzle in time.”
Not too high above, the two giant, spike-encrusted grates I’d dismissed as chandeliers began lowering, slowly descending toward the chamber—
I whirled to Lucien. That was the reason for the gate cleaving the chamber in two—so I would have to watch as he splattered beneath, just as I myself was squashed. The spikes, which had been supporting candles and torches, glowed red—and even from a distance, I could see the heat rippling off them.
Lucien wrenched at his chains. This would not be a clean death.
And then I turned to the wall that Amarantha had gestured to.
A lengthy inscription was carved into its smooth surface, and beneath it were three stone levers with the numbers I, II, and III engraved above them.
I began to shake. I recognized only basic words—useless ones like the and but and went. Everything else was a blur of letters I didn’t know, letters I’d have to slowly sound out or research to understand.
The spiked grate was still descending, now level with Amarantha’s head, and would soon shut off any chance I stood of getting out of this pit. The heat from the glowing iron already smothered me, sweat starting to bead at my temples. Who had told her I couldn’t read?
“Something wrong?” She raised an eyebrow. I snapped my attention to the inscription, keeping my breathing as steady as I could. She hadn’t mentioned reading as an issue—she would have mocked me more if she’d known about my illiteracy. Fate—a cruel, vicious twist of fate.
The chains rattled and strained, and Lucien cursed as he beheld what was before me. I turned to him, but when I saw his face, I knew he was too far to be able to read it aloud to me, even with his enhanced metal eye. If I could hear the question, I might stand a chance at solving it—but riddles weren’t my strong point.
I was going to be skewered by burning-hot spikes and then crushed on the ground like a grape.
The grate now passed over the lip of the pit, filling it entirely—no corner was safe. If I didn’t answer the question before the grate passed the levers—
My throat closed up, and I read and read and read, but no words came. The air became thick and stank of metal—not magic but burning, unforgiving steel creeping toward me, inch by inch.
“Answer it!” Lucien shouted, his voice hitched. My eyes stung. The world was just a blur of letters, mocking me with their turns and shapes.
The metal groaned as it scraped against the smooth stone of the chamber, and the faeries’ whispers grew more frenzied. Through the holes in the grate, I thought I saw Lucien’s eldest brother chuckle. Hot—so unbearably hot.
It would hurt—those spikes were large and blunt. It wouldn’t be quick. It would take some force to pierce through my body. Sweat slid down my neck, my back as I stared at the letters, at the I, II, and III that had somehow become my lifeline. Two choices would doom me—one choice would stop the grate.
I found numbers in the inscription—it must be a riddle, a logic problem, a maze of words worse than any worm’s labyrinth.
“Feyre!” Lucien cried, panting as he stared at the ever-lowering spikes. The gleeful faces of the High Fae and lesser faeries sneered at me above the grate.
Three … grass … grasshope … grasshoppers …
The gate wouldn’t stop, and there wasn’t a full body length between my head and the first of those spikes. I could have sworn the heat devoured the air in the pit.
… were … boo … bow … boon … king … sing … bouncing …
I should say my good-byes to Tamlin. Right now. This was what my life amounted to—these were my last moments, this was it, the final breaths of my body, the last beatings of my heart.
“Just pick one!” Lucien shouted, and some of those in the crowd laughed—his brothers no doubt the loudest.
I reached a hand toward the levers and stared at the three numbers beyond my trembling, tattooed fingers.
I, II, III.
They meant nothing to me beyond life and death. Chance might save me, but—
Two. Two was a lucky number, because that was like Tamlin and me—just two people. One had to be bad, because one was like Amarantha, or the Attor—solitary beings. One was a nasty number, and three was too much—it was three sisters crammed into a tiny cottage, hating each other until they choked on it, until it poisoned them.