Cassian lost it. Then Mor. Then me. And even Az, chuckling faintly.
“You really don’t know how to pee?” Mor roared. “After all this time?”
Amren seethed. “I’ve seen animals—”
“Tell me you know how a toilet works,” Cassian burst out, slapping a broad hand on the table. “Tell me you know that much.”
I clapped a hand over my mouth, as if it would push the laugh back in. Across the table, Rhys’s eyes were brighter than stars, his mouth a quivering line as he tried and failed to remain serious.
“I know how to sit on a toilet,” Amren growled.
Mor opened her mouth, laughter dancing on her face, but Elain asked, “Could you have done it? Decided to take a male form?”
The question cut through the laughter, an arrow fired between us.
Amren studied my sister, Elain’s cheeks red from our unfiltered talk at the table. “Yes,” she said simply. “Before, in my other form, I was neither. I simply was.”
“Then why did you pick this body?” Elain asked, the faelight of the chandelier catching in the ripples of her golden-brown braid.
“I was more drawn to the female form,” Amren answered simply. “I thought it was more symmetrical. It pleased me.”
Mor frowned down at her own form, ogling her considerable assets. “True.”
Elain asked, “And once you were in this body, you couldn’t change?”
Amren’s eyes narrowed slightly. I straightened, glancing between them. Unusual, yes, for Elain to be so vocal, but she’d been improving. Most days, she was lucid—perhaps quiet and prone to melancholy, but aware.
Elain, to my surprise, held Amren’s gaze.
Amren said after a moment, “Are you asking out of curiosity for my past, or your own future?”
The question left me too stunned to even reprimand Amren. The others, too.
Elain’s brow furrowed before I could leap in. “What do you mean?”
“There’s no going back to being human, girl,” Amren said, perhaps a tad gently.
“Amren,” I warned.
Elain’s face reddened further, her back straightening. But she didn’t bolt. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.” I’d never heard Elain’s voice so cold.
I glanced at the others. Rhys was frowning, Cassian and Mor were both grimacing, and Azriel … It was pity on his beautiful face. Pity and sorrow as he watched my sister.
Elain hadn’t mentioned being Made, or the Cauldron, or Graysen in months. I’d assumed that perhaps she was becoming accustomed to being High Fae, that she’d perhaps begun to let go of that mortal life.
“Amren, you have a spectacular gift for ruining dinner conversation,” Rhys said, swirling his wine. “I wonder if you could make a career out of it.”
His Second glared at him. But Rhys held her stare, silent warning in his face.
Thank you, I said down the bond. A warm caress echoed in answer.
“Pick on someone your own size,” Cassian said to Amren, shoveling roast chicken into his mouth.
“I’d feel bad for the mice,” Azriel muttered.
Mor and Cassian howled, earning a blush from Azriel and a grateful smile from Elain—and no shortage of scowling from Amren.
But something in me eased at that laughter, at the light that returned to Elain’s eyes.
A light I wouldn’t see dimmed further.
I need to go out after dinner, I said to Rhys as I dug into my meal again. Care for a flight across the city?
Nesta didn’t open her door.
I knocked for perhaps a good two minutes, scowling at the dim wooden hallway of the ramshackle building that she’d chosen to live in, then sent a tether of magic through the apartment beyond.
Rhys had erected wards around the entire thing, and with our magic, our souls’ bond, there was no resistance to the thread of power I unspooled through the door and into the apartment itself.
Nothing. No sign of life or—or worse beyond.
She wasn’t at home.
I had a good idea of where she’d be.
Winnowing into the freezing street, I pinwheeled my arms to keep upright as my boots slid on the ice coating the stones.
Leaning against a lamppost, faelight gilding the talons atop his wings, Rhys chuckled. And didn’t move an inch.
“Asshole,” I muttered. “Most males would help their mates if they’re about to break their heads on the ice.”
He pushed off the lamppost and prowled toward me, every movement smooth and unhurried. Even now, I’d gladly spend hours just watching him.
“I have a feeling that if I had stepped in, you would have bitten my head off for being an overbearing mother hen, as you called me.”
I grumbled an answer he chose not to hear.
“Not at home, then?”
I grumbled again.
“Well, that leaves precisely ten other places where she could be.”
Rhys asked, “Do you want me to look?”
Not physically, but use his power to find Nesta. I hadn’t wanted him to do it earlier, since it felt like some sort of violation of privacy, but given how damned cold it was … “Fine.”
Rhys wrapped his arms, then his wings around me, tucking me into his heat as he murmured onto my hair, “Hold on.”
Darkness and wind tumbled around us, and I buried my face in his chest, breathing in the scent of him.
Then laughter and singing, music blaring, the tangy smell of stale ale, the bite of cold—
I groaned as I beheld where he’d winnowed us, where he’d detected my sister.
“There are wine rooms in this city,” Rhys said, cringing. “There are concert halls. Fine restaurants. Pleasure clubs. And yet your sister …”
And yet my sister managed to find the seediest, most miserable taverns in Velaris. There weren’t many. But she patronized all of them. And this one—the Wolf’s Den—was by far the worst.
“Wait here,” I said over the fiddles and drums spilling from the tavern as I pulled out of his embrace. Down the street, a few drunk revelers spotted us and fell silent. Felt Rhys’s power, perhaps my own as well, and found somewhere else to be for a while.
I had no doubt the same would happen in the tavern, and had no doubt Nesta would resent us for ruining her night. At least I could slip inside mostly unnoticed. If both of us went in there, I knew my sister would see it as an attack.
So it would be me. Alone.
Rhys kissed my brow. “If someone propositions you, tell them we’ll both be free in an hour.”
“Och.” I waved him off, banking my powers to a near-whisper within me.
He blew me a kiss.
I waved that away, too, and slipped through the tavern door.
My sister didn’t have drinking companions. As far as I knew, she went out alone, and made them as the night progressed. And every now and then, one of them went home with her.
I hadn’t asked. Wasn’t even sure when the first time had been.
I also didn’t dare ask Cassian if he knew. They had barely exchanged more than a few words since the war.
And as I entered the light and rolling music of the Wolf’s Den and immediately spotted my sister seated with three males at a round table in the shadowed back, I could almost see the specter of that day against Hybern looming behind her.
Every ounce of weight that Elain had gained it seemed Nesta had lost. Her already proud, angular face had turned more so, her cheekbones sharp enough to slice. Her hair remained up in her usual braided coronet, she wore her preferred gray gown, and she was, as ever, immaculately clean despite the hovel she chose to occupy. Despite the reeking, hot tavern that had seen better years. Centuries.
A queen without a throne. That was what I’d call the painting that swept into my mind.
Nesta’s eyes, the same blue-gray as my own, lifted the momen
t I shut the wooden door behind me. Nothing flickered across her face beyond vague disdain. The three High Fae males at her table were all fairly well dressed considering the place they patronized.
Likely wealthy young bucks out for the night.
I reined in my scowl as Rhys’s voice filled my head. Mind your own business.
Your sister is handily beating them at cards, by the way.
You love it.
I pressed my lips together, sending a vulgar gesture down the bond as I approached my sister’s table. Rhys’s laughter rumbled against my shields in answer, like star-flecked thunder.
Nesta simply went back to staring at the fan of cards she held, her posture the epitome of glorious boredom. But her companions peered up at me when I stopped at the edge of their stained and scarred wooden table. Half-consumed glasses of amber liquid sweated with moisture, kept chilled through some magic of the tavern’s.
The male across the table—a handsome, rakish-looking High Fae, with hair like spun gold—met my eyes.
His hand of cards slumped to the table as he bowed his head. The others followed suit.
Only my sister, still studying her cards, remained uninterested.
“My lady,” said a thin, dark-haired male, throwing a wary glance toward my sister. “How may we be of assistance?”
Nesta didn’t so much as look up as she adjusted one of her cards.
I smiled sweetly at her companions. “I hate to interrupt your night out, gentlemen.” Gentlemales, I supposed. A holdover from my human life—one that the third male noted with a hint of a raised, thick brow. “But I would like a word with my sister.”