A Court of Mist and Fury Page 52

Above her young, supple body, beneath her black, beautiful hair, her skin was gray—wrinkled and sagging and dry. And where eyes should have gleamed instead lay rotting black pits. Her lips had withered to nothing but deep, dark lines around a hole full of jagged stumps of teeth—like she had gnawed on too many bones.

And I knew she would be gnawing on my bones soon if I did not get out.

Her nose—perhaps once pert and pretty, now half-caved in—flared as she sniffed in my direction.

“What are you?” she said in a voice that was so young and lovely.

Out—out, I had to get out—

There was another way.

One suicidal, reckless way.

I did not want to die.

I did not want to be eaten.

I did not want to go into that sweet darkness.

The Weaver rose from her little stool.

And I knew my borrowed time had run out.

“What is like all,” she mused, taking one graceful step toward me, “but unlike all?”

I was a wolf.

And I bit when cornered.

I lunged for the sole candle burning on the table in the center of the room. And hurled it against the wall of woven thread—against all those miserable, dark bolts of fabric. Woven bodies, skins, lives. Let them be free.

Fire erupted, and the Weaver’s shriek was so piercing I thought my head might shatter; thought my blood might boil in its veins.

She dashed for the flames, as if she’d put them out with those flawless white hands, her mouth of rotted teeth open and screaming like there was nothing but black hell inside her.

I hurtled for the darkened hearth. For the fireplace and chimney above.

A tight squeeze, but wide—wide enough for me.

I didn’t hesitate as I grabbed onto the ledge and hauled myself up, arms buckling. Immortal strength—it got me only so far, and I’d become so weak, so malnourished.

I had let them make me weak. Bent to it like some wild horse broken to the bit.

The soot-stained bricks were loose, uneven. Perfect for climbing.

Faster—I had to go faster.

But my shoulders scraped against the brick, and it reeked in here, like carrion and burned hair, and there was an oily sheen on the stone, like cooked fat—

The Weaver’s screaming was cut short as I was halfway up her chimney, sunlight and trees almost visible, every breath a near-sob.

I reached for the next brick, fingernails breaking as I hauled myself up so violently that my arms barked in protest against the squeezing of the stone around me, and—

And I was stuck.

Stuck, as the Weaver hissed from within her house, “What little mouse is climbing about in my chimney?”

I had just enough room to look down as the Weaver’s rotted face appeared below.

She put that milk-white hand on the ledge, and I realized how little room there was between us.

My head emptied out.

I pushed against the grip of the chimney, but couldn’t budge.

I was going to die here. I was going to be dragged down by those beautiful hands and ripped apart and eaten. Maybe while I was still alive, she’d set that hideous mouth on my flesh and gnaw and tear and bite and—

Black panic crushed in, and I was again trapped under a nearby mountain, in a muddy trench, the Middengard Wyrm barreling for me. I’d barely escaped, barely—

I couldn’t breathe, couldn’t breathe, couldn’t breathe—

The Weaver’s nails scratched against the brick as she took a step up.

No, no, no, no, no—

I kicked and kicked against the bricks.

“Did you think you could steal and flee, thief?”

I would have preferred the Middengard Wyrm. Would have preferred those massive, sharp teeth to her jagged stumps—

Stop.

The word came out of the darkness of my mind.

And the voice was my own.

Stop, it said—I said.

Breathe.

Think.

The Weaver came closer, brick crumbling under her hands. She’d climb up like a spider—like I was a fly in her web—

Stop.

And that word quieted everything.

I mouthed it.

Stop, stop, stop.

Think.

I had survived the Wyrm—survived Amarantha. And I had been granted gifts. Considerable gifts.

Like strength.

I was strong.

I slammed a hand against the chimney wall, as low as I could get. The Weaver hissed at the debris that rained down. I smashed my fist again, rallying that strength.

I was not a pet, not a doll, not an animal.

I was a survivor, and I was strong.

I would not be weak, or helpless again. I would not, could not be broken. Tamed.

I pounded my fist into the bricks over and over, and the Weaver paused.

Paused long enough for the brick I’d loosened to slide free into my waiting palm.

And for me to hurl it at her hideous, horrible face as hard as I could.

Bone crunched and she roared, black blood spraying. But I rammed my shoulders into the sides of the chimney, skin tearing beneath my leather. I kept going, going, going, until I was stone breaking stone, until nothing and no one held me back and I was scaling the chimney.

I didn’t dare stop, not as I reached the lip and hauled myself out, tumbling onto the thatched roof. Which was not thatched with hay at all.

But hair.

And with all that fat lining the chimney—all that fat now gleaming on my skin … the hair clung to me. In clumps and strands and tufts. Bile rose, but the front door banged open—a shriek following it.

No—not that way. Not to the ground.

Up, up, up.

A tree branch hung low and close by, and I scrambled across that heinous roof, trying not to think about who and what I was stepping on, what clung to my skin, my clothes. A heartbeat later, I’d jumped onto the waiting branch, scrambling into the leaves and moss as the Weaver screamed, “WHERE ARE YOU?”

But I was running through the tree—running toward another one nearby. I leaped from branch to branch, bare hands tearing on the wood. Where was Rhysand?

Farther and farther I fled, her screams chasing me, though they grew ever-distant.

Where are you, where are you, where are you—

And then, lounging on a branch in a tree before me, one arm draped over the edge, Rhysand drawled, “What the hell did you do?”

I skidded to a stop, breathing raw. I thought my lungs might actually be bleeding.

“You,” I hissed.

But he raised a finger to his lips and winnowed to me—grabbing my waist with one hand and cupping the back of my neck with his other as he spirited us away—

To Velaris. To just above the House of Wind.

We free-fell, and I didn’t have breath to scream as his wings appeared, spreading wide, and he curved us into a steady glide … right through the open windows of what had to be a war room. Cassian was there—in the middle of arguing with Amren about something.

Both froze as we landed on the red floor.

There was a mirror on the wall behind them, and I glimpsed myself long enough to know why they were gaping.

My face was scratched and bloody, and I was covered in dirt and grease—boiled fat—and mortar dust, the hair stuck to me, and I smelled—

“You smell like barbecue,” Amren said, cringing a bit.

Cassian loosened the hand he’d wrapped around the fighting knife at his thigh.

I was still panting, still trying to gobble down breath. The hair clinging to me scratched and tickled, and—

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