I know what I want to do.
No one noticed me winnow inside the boarded-up gallery and studio space down the street.
And with the boards over the windows, no one noticed the balls of faelight that I kindled and set to floating in the air on a gentle wind.
Of course, with the boards over empty windows, and no occupant for months, the main room was freezing. Cold enough that I set down my supplies and bounced on my toes as I surveyed the space.
It had probably been lovely before the attack: a massive window faced southward, letting in endless sunshine, and skylights—also boarded up—dotted the vaulted ceiling. The gallery in the front was perhaps thirty feet wide, fifty feet deep, with a counter against one wall halfway back, and a door to what had to be the studio space or storage in the rear. A quick examination told me I was half right: storage was in the back, but no natural light for painting. Only narrow windows above a row of cracked sinks, a few metal counters still stained with paint, and old cleaning supplies.
And paint. Not paint itself, but the smell of it.
I breathed in deep, feeling it settle into my bones, letting the quiet of the space settle, too.
The gallery up front had been her studio as well. Polina must have painted while she chatted with customers surveying the hung art whose outlines I could barely make out against the white walls.
The floors beneath them were gray stone, kernels of shattered glass still shining between the cracks.
I didn’t want to do this first painting in front of others.
I could barely do it in front of myself. It was enough to drive away any guilt in regard to ignoring Ressina’s offer to join her. I’d made her no promises.
So I summoned my flame to begin warming the space, setting little balls of it burning midair throughout the gallery. Lighting it further. Warming it back to life.
Then I went in search of a stool.
I painted and painted and painted.
My heart thundered the entire time, steady as a war-drum.
I painted until my back cramped and my stomach gurgled with demands for hot cocoa and dessert.
I’d known what needed to come out of me the moment I perched on the rickety stool I’d dusted off from the back.
I’d barely been able to hold the paintbrush steady enough to make the first few strokes. From fear, yes. I was honest enough with myself to admit that.
But also from the sheer unleashing of it, as if I were a racehorse freed from my pen, the image in my mind a dashing vision that I sprinted to keep up with.
But it began to emerge. Began to take form.
And in its wake, a sort of quiet followed, as if it were a layer of snow blanketing the earth. Clearing away what was beneath.
More cleansing, more soothing than any of the hours I’d spent rebuilding this city. Equally as fulfilling, yes, but the painting, the unleashing and facing it, was a release. A first stitch to close a wound.
The tower bells of Velaris sang twelve before I stopped.
Before I lowered my brush and stared at what I’d created.
Stared at what gazed back.
Or how I’d been in the Ouroboros, that beast of scale and claw and darkness; rage and joy and cold. All of me. What lurked beneath my skin.
I had not run from it. And I did not run from it now.
Yes—the first stitch to close a wound. That’s how it felt.
With my brush dangling between my knees, with that beast forever on canvas, my body went a bit limp. Boneless.
I scanned the gallery, the street behind the boarded-up windows. No one had come to inquire about the lights in the hours I’d been here.
I stood at last, groaning as I stretched. I couldn’t take it with me. Not when the painting had to dry, and the damp night air off the river and distant sea would be terrible for it.
I certainly wasn’t going to bring it back to the town house for someone to find. Even Rhys.
But here … No one would know, should someone come in, who had painted it. I hadn’t signed my name. Didn’t want to.
If I left it here to dry overnight, if I came back tomorrow, there would certainly be some closet in the House of Wind where I might hide it afterward.
Tomorrow, then. I’d come back tomorrow to claim it.
It was Spring, and yet it wasn’t.
It was not the land I had once roamed in centuries past, or even visited almost a year ago.
The sun was mild, the day clear, distant dogwoods and lilacs still in eternal bloom.
Distant—because on the estate, nothing bloomed at all.
The pink roses that had once climbed the pale stone walls of the sweeping manor house were nothing but tangled webs of thorns. The fountains had gone dry, the hedges untrimmed and shapeless.
The house itself had looked better the day after Amarantha’s cronies had trashed it.
Not for any visible signs of destruction, but for the general quiet. The lack of life.
Though the great oak doors were undeniably worse for wear. Deep, long claw marks had been slashed down them.
Standing on the top step of the marble staircase that led to those front doors, I surveyed the brutal gashes. My money was on Tamlin having inflicted them after Feyre had duped him and his court.
But Tamlin’s temper had always been his downfall. Any bad day could have produced the gouge marks.
Perhaps today would produce more of them.
The smirk was easy to summon. So was the casual stance, a hand in the pocket of my black jacket, no wings or Illyrian leathers in sight, as I knocked on the ruined doors.
Tamlin answered the door himself.
I wasn’t sure what to remark on: the haggard male before me, or the dark house behind him.
An easy mark. Too easy of a mark, to mock the once-fine clothes desperate for a wash, the shaggy hair that needed a trim. The empty manor, not a servant in sight, no Solstice decorations to be found.
The green eyes that met mine weren’t the ones I was accustomed to, either. Haunted and bleak. Not a spark.
It would be a matter of minutes to fillet him, body and soul. To finish what had undoubtedly started that day Feyre had called out silently at their wedding, and I had come.
But—peace. We had peace within our sights.
I could rip him apart after we attained it.
“Lucien claimed you would come,” Tamlin said by way of greeting, voice as flat and lifeless as his eyes, a hand still braced on the door.
“Funny, I thought his mate was the seer.”
Tamlin only stared at me, either ignoring or missing the humor. “What do you want.”
No whisper of sound behind him. On any acre of this estate. Not even a note of birdsong. “I came to have a little chat.” I offered him a half grin that I knew made him see red. “Can I trouble you for a cup of tea?”
The halls were dim, the embroidered curtains drawn.
This place was a tomb.
With each step toward what had once been the library, the dust and silence pressed in.
Tamlin didn’t speak, didn’t offer any explanations for the vacant house. For the rooms we passed, some of the carved doors cracked open enough for me to behold the destruction inside.
Shattered furniture, shredded paintings, cracked walls.
Lucien had not come here to make amends during Solstice, I realized as Tamlin opened the door to the dark library.
Lucien had come here out of pity. Mercy.
My sight adjusted to the darkness before Tamlin waved a hand, igniting the faelights in their glass bowls.
He hadn’t destroyed this room yet. Had likely taken me to the one chamber in this house that had usable furniture.
I kept my mouth shut as we strode for a large desk in the cen
ter of the space, Tamlin claiming an ornate cushioned chair on one side of it. The only thing he had that was close to a throne these days.
I slid into the matching seat across from him, the pale wood groaning in protest. The set had likely been meant to accommodate tittering courtiers, not two full-grown warriors.
Quiet fell, as thick as the emptiness in this house.
“If you’ve come to gloat, you can spare yourself the effort.”
I put a hand on my chest. “Why should I bother?”
No humor. “What did you want to talk about?”
I made a good show of surveying the books, the vaulted, painted ceiling. “Where’s my dear friend Lucien?”
“Hunting for our dinner.”
“No taste for such things these days?”