A Court of Silver Flames (A Court of Thorns and Roses #4) by Sarah J. Maas



PART ONE

NOVICE





CHAPTER

1

Cassian raised his fist to the green door in the dim hallway—and hesitated.

He’d cut down more enemies than he cared to tally, had stood knee-deep in gore on countless battlefields and kept swinging, had made choices that cost him the lives of skilled warriors, had been a general and a grunt and an assassin, and yet … here he was, lowering his fist.

Balking.

The building on the north side of the Sidra River was in need of new paint. And new floors, if the creaking boards beneath his boots as he’d climbed the two flights had been any indication. But at least it was clean. Definitely grim by Velaris’s standards, but when the city itself had no slums, that wasn’t saying much. He’d seen and stayed in far worse.

He’d never understood, though, why Nesta insisted on dwelling here. He got why she wouldn’t take up rooms in the House of Wind—it was too far from the city, and she couldn’t fly or winnow in. Which meant dealing with the ten thousand steps up and down. But why live in this dump, when the town house was sitting empty? Since construction had finished on Feyre and Rhys’s sprawling home on the river, the town house had been left open to any of their friends who needed or wanted it. He knew for a fact that Feyre had offered Nesta a room there—and had been rejected.

He frowned at the door’s peeling paint. No sounds trickled through the sizable gap between the door and the floor, wide enough for even the fattest of rats to meander through; no fresh scents lingered in the cramped hallway.

Maybe he’d get lucky and she’d be out—perhaps sleeping under the bar of whatever seedy tavern she’d frequented last night. Though that might be worse, since he’d need to track her down there instead.

Cassian lifted his fist again, the red of his Siphon flickering in the ancient faelights tucked into the ceiling.

Coward. Grow some damned balls.

Cassian knocked once. Twice.

Silence.

Cassian almost sighed his relief aloud. Thank the fucking Mother—

Clipped, precise footsteps sounded from the other side of the door. Each more pissed off than the last.

He tucked his wings in tight, squaring his shoulders as he braced his feet apart. A traditional fighting stance, beaten into him during his training years, now mere muscle memory. He didn’t dare consider why the sound of those footsteps sent his body falling into it.

The snap as she unlatched each of her four locks might as well have been the beating of a war-drum.

Cassian ran through the list of things he was to say, how Feyre had suggested he say them.

The door was yanked open, the knob twisting so hard Cassian wondered if she was imagining it as his neck.

Nesta Archeron already wore a scowl. But there she was.

She looked like hell.

“What do you want?” She didn’t open the door wider than a hand’s breadth.

When had he last seen her? The end-of-summer party on that barge in the Sidra last month? She hadn’t looked this bad. Though he supposed a night trying to drown oneself in wine and liquor never left anyone looking particularly good the next morning. Especially at—

“It’s seven in the morning,” she went on, raking him over with that gray-blue stare that always kindled his temper.

She wore a male’s shirt. Worse, she wore only a male’s shirt.

Cassian propped a hand on the doorjamb and gave her a half grin he knew brought out her claws. “Rough night?”

Rough year, really. Her beautiful face was pale, far thinner than it had been before the war with Hybern, her lips bloodless, and those eyes … Cold and sharp, like a winter morning in the mountains.

No joy, no laughter, in any plane of it. Of her.

She made to shut the door on his hand.

He shoved a booted foot into the gap before she could break his fingers. Her nostrils flared slightly.

“Feyre wants you at the house.”

“Which one?” Nesta said, frowning at the foot he’d wedged in the door. “She has five.”

He bit back his retort. This wasn’t the battlefield—and he wasn’t her opponent. His job was to transport her to the assigned spot. And then pray that the lovely home Feyre and Rhys had just moved into wouldn’t be reduced to rubble.

“The new one.”

“Why didn’t my sister fetch me herself?” He knew that suspicious gleam in her eye, the slight stiffening of her back. His own instincts surged to meet her defiance, to push and push and discover what might happen.