I turned, boots slipping on the slick cobblestones. Throwing out a hand to steady me, I gripped the first thing I came into contact with: a fallen chunk of rock from the wrecked house.
But it was the sight of who, exactly, stood behind me, gazing at the rubble, that made me abandon any mortification.
I had not forgotten her in the months since the attack.
I had not forgotten the sight of her standing outside that shop door, a rusted pipe raised over one shoulder, squaring off against the gathered Hybern soldiers, ready to go down swinging for the terrified people huddled inside.
A faint rose blush glowed prettily on her pale green skin, her sable hair flowing past her chest. She was bundled against the cold in a brown coat, a pink scarf wrapped around her neck and lower half of her face, but her long, delicate fingers were gloveless as she crossed her arms.
Faerie—and not a kind I saw too frequently. Her face and body reminded me of the High Fae, though her ears were slenderer, longer than mine. Her form slimmer, sleeker, even with the heavy coat.
I met her eyes, a vibrant ochre that made me wonder what paints I’d have to blend and wield to capture their likeness, and offered a small smile. “I’m glad to hear it.”
Silence fell, interrupted by the merry singing of a few people down the street and the wind gusting off the Sidra.
The faerie only inclined her head. “Lady.”
I fumbled for words, for something High Lady–ish and yet accessible, and came up empty. Came up so empty that I blurted, “It’s snowing.”
As if the drifting veils of white could be anything else.
The faerie inclined her head again. “It is.” She smiled at the sky, snow catching in her inky hair. “A fine first snow at that.”
I surveyed the ruin behind me. “You—you know the people who lived here?”
“I did. They’re living at a relative’s farm in the lowlands now.” She waved a hand toward the distant sea, to the flat expanse of land between Velaris and the shore.
“Ah,” I managed to say, then jerked my chin at the boarded-up shop across the street. “What about that one?”
The faerie surveyed where I’d indicated. Her mouth—painted a berry pink—tightened. “Not so happy an ending, I’m afraid.”
My palms turned sweaty within my wool gloves. “I see.”
She faced me again, silken hair flowing around her. “Her name was Polina. That was her gallery. For centuries.”
Now it was a dark, quiet husk.
“I’m sorry,” I said, uncertain what else to offer.
The faerie’s slim, dark brows narrowed. “Why should you be?” She added, “My lady.”
I gnawed on my lip. Discussing such things with strangers … Perhaps not a good idea. So I ignored her question and asked, “Does she have any family?” I hoped they’d made it, at least.
“They live out in the lowlands, too. Her sister and nieces and nephews.” The faerie again studied the boarded-up front. “It’s for sale now.”
I blinked, grasping the implied offer. “Oh—oh, I wasn’t asking after it for that reason.” It hadn’t even entered my mind.
A frank, easy question. Perhaps more direct than most people, certainly strangers, dared to be with me. “I—what use would I have for it?”
She gestured to me with a hand, the motion effortlessly graceful. “Rumor has it that you’re a fine artist. I can think of many uses for the space.”
I glanced away, hating myself a bit for it. “I’m not in the market, I’m afraid.”
The faerie shrugged with one shoulder. “Well, whether you are or aren’t, you needn’t go skulking around here. Every door is open to you, you know.”
“As High Lady?” I dared ask.
“As one of us,” she said simply.
The words settled in, strange and yet like a piece I had not known was missing. An offered hand I had not realized how badly I wanted to grasp.
“I’m Feyre,” I said, removing my glove and extending my arm.
The faerie clasped my fingers, her grip steel-strong despite her slender build. “Ressina.” Not someone prone to excessive smiling, but still full of a practical sort of warmth.
Noon bells chimed in a tower at the edge of the Rainbow, the sound soon echoed across the city in the other sister-towers.
“I should be going,” I said, releasing Ressina’s hand and retreating a step. “It was nice to meet you.” I tugged my glove back on, my fingers already stinging with cold. Perhaps I’d take some time this winter to master my fire gifts more precisely. Learning how to warm clothes and skin without burning myself would be mighty helpful.
Ressina pointed to a building down the street—across the intersection I had just passed through. The same building she’d defended, its walls painted raspberry pink, and doors and windows a bright turquoise, like the water around Adriata. “I’m one of the artists who uses that studio space over there. If you ever want a guide, or even some company, I’m there most days. I live above the studio.” An elegant wave toward the tiny round windows on the second level.
I put a hand on my chest. “Thank you.”
Again that silence, and I took in that shop, the doorway Ressina had stood before, guarding her home and others.
“We remember it, you know,” Ressina said quietly, drawing my stare away. But her attention had landed on the rubble behind us, on the boarded-up studio, on the street, as if she, too, could see through the snow to the blood that had run between the cobblestones. “That you came for us that day.”
I didn’t know what to do with my body, my hands, so I opted for stillness.
Ressina met my stare at last, her ochre eyes bright. “We keep away to let you have your privacy, but don’t think for one moment that there isn’t a single one of us who doesn’t know and remember, who isn’t grateful that you came here and fought for us.”
It hadn’t been enough, even so. The ruined building behind me was proof of that. People had still died.
Ressina took a few unhurried steps toward her studio, then stopped. “There’s a group of us who paint together at my studio. One night a week. We’re meeting in two days’ time. It would be an honor if you joined us.”
“What sort of things do you paint?” My question was soft as the snow falling past us.
Ressina smiled slightly. “The things that need telling.”
Even with the icy evening soon descending upon Velaris, people packed the streets, laden with bags and boxes, some lugging enormous fruit baskets from one of the many stands now occupying either Palace.
My fur-lined hood shielding me against the cold, I browsed through the vendor carts and storefronts in the Palace of Thread and Jewels, surveying the latter, mostly.
Some of the public areas remained heated, but enough of Velaris had now been temporarily left exposed to the bitter wind that I wished I’d opted for a heavier sweater that morning. Learning how to warm myself without summoning a flame would be handy indeed. If I ever had the time to do it.
I was circling back to a display in one of the shops built beneath the overhanging buildings when an arm looped through mine and Mor drawled, “Amren would love you forever if you bought her a sapphire that big.”
I laughed, tugging back my hood enough to see her fully. Mor’s cheeks were flushed against the cold, her braided golden hair spilling into the white fur lining her cloak. “Unfortunately, I don’t think our coffers would return the feeling.”
Mor smirked. “You do know that we’re well-off, don’t you? You could fill a bathtub with those things”—she jerked her chin toward the egg-sized sapphire in the window of the jewelry shop—“and barely make a dent in our accounts.”
I knew. I’d seen the lists of assets. I still couldn’t wrap my mind around the enormity of Rhys’s wealth. My wealth. It didn’t feel real, those numbers and figures. Like it was children’s play money. I only bought what I needed.
But now … “I’m looking for something to get her fo
Mor surveyed the lineup of jewels, both uncut and set, in the window. Some gleamed like fallen stars. Others smoldered, as if they had been carved from the burning heart of the earth. “Amren does deserve a decent present this year, doesn’t she?”
After what Amren had done during that final battle to destroy Hybern’s armies, the choice she’d made to remain here … “We all do.”
Mor nudged me with an elbow, though her brown eyes gleamed. “And will Varian be joining us, do you think?”
I snorted. “When I asked her yesterday, she hedged.”
“I think that means yes. Or he’ll at least be visiting her.”
I smiled at the thought, and pulled Mor along to the next display window, pressing against her side for warmth. Amren and the Prince of Adriata hadn’t officially declared anything, but I sometimes dreamed of it, too—that moment when she had shed her immortal skin and Varian had fallen to his knees.
A creature of flame and brimstone, built in another world to mete out a cruel god’s judgment, to be his executioner upon the masses of helpless mortals. Fifteen thousand years, she had been stuck in this world.
And had not loved, not in the way that could alter history, alter fate, until that silver-haired Prince of Adriata. Or at least loved in the way that Amren was capable of loving anything.
So, yes: nothing was declared between them. But I knew he visited her, secretly, in this city. Mostly because some mornings, Amren would strut into the town house smirking like a cat.
But for what she’d been willing to walk away from, so that we could be saved …
Mor and I spied the piece in the window at the same moment. “That one,” she declared.
I was already moving for the glass front door, a silver bell ringing merrily as we entered.