Summary: When I went on that hiking trip in Ireland, I didn't expect that I'd be spirited away to a land full of magic and aggressive, ridiculously attractive bat-men. But thanks to my bad luck, it did happen.
To Miss Meep: I'm glad to hear that! I hope you'll like this chapter, too!
To Sualkin: Hehe, there'll be more of Cassian and the boys in this chapter~.
To amrawo: Thank you! I hope you enjoy reading this chapter, too!
It was the first time in half a century that the three of them were flying together, hunting together, and Azriel was relishing every second of it even if it didn't show on his face. The Shadowsinger had thought that it would never happen again, that he'd never see his High Lord and brother in all but blood again.
Yet, here they were, one month after Amarantha had been killed and an incredibly pale Rhys showed up in Velaris.
Their relief had quickly turned into anger and the three males ended up fighting each other. Cassian and Azriel berated Rhys for his stupidity, for going alone to Amarantha's party almost fifty years ago, and for hindering them from leaving Velaris with his spell, lest they risk the city's safety.
After the fight they'd gotten dead drunk and shared what they'd experienced over the past decades. Rhys haltingly told them about the horrors he'd been through, though they could all tell that he withheld a lot. Amren and Mor had joined them by that point.
Amarantha was fortunate that she was already dead, the Shadowsinger thought darkly, considering what he'd had in mind for her for what she'd done to Rhysand, to all of them.
Now they were hunting down the Illyrian war-bands that had betrayed Rhys and joined Amarantha, and, in extension, Hybern's side. They'd travelled to one of the hostile camps Azriel had found and eradicated it – only the children and females were spared – but a small group of warriors managed to escape since they were out hunting when the three of them attacked.
They'd tracked down and dispatched half of the group and were now searching for the other half. In their search the three brothers in arms came across a peculiar piece of land in the Illyrian mountains – a large area that was covered in ashes and burnt remnants of trees instead of snow. The scent of untamed, potent magic still hung in the air even though it had become faint.
Something had incinerated these trees with fire magic.
The ability to control fire was rare, however, and only Beron and his brood and a few more High Fae from the Autumn Court were capable of it. The mere thought of Eris and his brothers invading the Night Court territory made Azriel's blood boil with quiet, icy-cold rage.
It was a very unlikely scenario, though. They were in the midst of the Illyrian mountains and the forest that had been burnt down didn't hold any importance. Additionally, none of his spies had reported that anyone important from the Autumn Court had left their territory. He told his companions about this.
"Who or what did this then?" Cassian wondered.
"Hybern?" Azriel mused though he was doubtful of that.
"Hmm." Rhysand thought about it. "Possible. I can't fathom why they would do something like this, though. Their scouts would have maintained a low profile."
"We should search for tracks," the Spymaster suggested.
And that was what they did. There were two trails that led to and from the ash field as well as paw prints from the creatures that lived in these mountains.
The trails made by boot prints in the snow were what they were interested in. One of the trails had been made by clean boots and led further up the mountains while the other started with dirty imprints. The latter was clearly the one that was made after the forest had burned down.
The boot imprints itself were curious because they were rather small and belonged to only one pair of boots with a strange sole pattern. This meant that there was only one person out here, alone in the Illyrian mountains.
A rather bold move considering the creatures that roamed the mountains at night. Maybe this mystery Fae could winnow?
They decided to follow the newer trail first in the hopes of catching up to whoever had burned down the forest. This was more important than hunting the rogue Illyrians since it was too unusual to be brushed aside. They'd dispose of the traitors afterwards.
As the hours passed while they were flying – they took a few breaks on the ground to eat or drink something Rhysand had stored in his pocket dimension – and getting closer to the Illyrian Steppe, they came across more areas like the first one and tracks from the local creatures.
Had the lone wanderer defended himself against them? That would explain the seemingly random destruction.
During one short break Azriel noticed something else when he looked more closely at the tracks they'd landed next to.
"The Fae we're searching for has wings," he told his companions and pointed at the imprints in the snow.
They must have dragged the tips of their wings through it to leave such marks. The three of them hadn't noticed it when they followed the tracks from the sky.
"Okay, this is getting stranger by the minute," Cassian said. "If the Fae we're looking for has wings, why would they walk all this way and why would they suddenly drag them through the snow? If they were injured, we would have seen some blood on the way."
No Illyrian or any other winged creature they knew of would purposely drag their wings through the snow because they wouldn't want to risk injuring them.
Rhys wore a thoughtful expression as he stared at the tracks.
"What kind of Fae has wings and is able to control fire anyway? I can't think of any," Cassian continued.
Azriel watched Rhys, suspecting that he might have an idea about what kind of Fae they were dealing with. "You have a hunch, don't you?" the Shadowsinger asked him softly.
Rhysand crossed his arms in front of his chest and furrowed his brows. "It's... It should be impossible. No one has seen one in millennia, everyone thought they were extinct..."
"Out with it, don't keep us in suspense," Cassian was already tired of the cryptic hints.
Rhysand sighed. "A firedrake."
Cassian gaped while Azriel waited for his High Lord to elaborate.
"You have to be shitting me... Weren't dragons huge, scaly creatures several times the size of a regular Fae? How can a firedrake wear boots?" the General of Rhys' armies asked once he'd overcome his surprise.
Rhysand smirked. "There are old records that say they could take on a form that is similar to that of a High Fae."
Rhys shrugged. "That's what the stories say. There haven't been any dragon sightings in over five millennia, so I don't know how accurate they are. I guess we'll find out when we see it."
"See her," Azriel corrected him. "Considering the size of the boot prints the firedrake is either a female or a child."
None of them wanted to imagine a child of any species out here in the steppe.
"Okay then. Maybe this firedrake is a female," Cassian agreed. "That still doesn't answer my questions. Why would she walk all this way rather than fly and why would she suddenly drag her wings through the snow?"
"Maybe she can't use her wings or keep them tucked up for long because of an old injury?" Rhysand speculated.
"There's also the possibility that firedrakes have backward customs similar to Illyrians," Azriel said in a tone of silent loathing. "Maybe her wings have been clipped – in a way that makes her unable to keep them raised for extended periods of time."
There was a moment's silence between the three warriors. They all hated how some of the more traditional Illyrian war-camps still crippled their females even though Rhysand had banned the practice. More camps had been doing it during Amarantha's reign.
"Do you think there's a community of firedrakes that no one knew about somewhere in these mountains?" Cassian asked them, changing the topic.
"Well, we'll find out about that soon, I assume," Rhysand said. "She can't be far now."
"And just in time. I'd hate to be out here during the night."
The sun would set in less than an hour.
"Afraid of being attacked by one of the old horrors that live here, Cass?" Rhys teased him.
"Maybe they're related to the thing that lives at the bottom of the library," Azriel added innocently.
Cassian, one of the strongest Illyrians to ever live, paled at the mention of it. "Oh, shut up, you jerks."
They'd been following the tracks from the sky for almost half an hour when, suddenly, a blue light lightened up the sky in the distance, further down the steppe and in the direction they were headed to. It quickly grew in brightness, illuminating the darkening landscape. The forest was on fire.
"I guess the search is over," Cassian said over the wind. "Any ideas why the fire is blue?"
"Blue flames burn hotter than orange ones," Azriel commented.
He'd heard that from a weapon smith once.
"The stories do mention that dragon fire can burn through almost anything, so that makes sense," Rhys informed them.
"What else do the stories say?" Cassian asked, clearly interested in the topic.
However, before they could continue their conversation, they spotted three familiar shapes hovering right above the burning forest. They were fixated on someone or something on the ground, which was why they didn't see them approach.
"Looks like we also found the bastards we were originally hunting." Cassian smiled grimly.
"I just love it when things drop into my lap like this," Rhys purred, his star-specked darkness flowing out of his wings and hiding them.
"They're fixated on the firedrake, aren't they?" Azriel guessed.
Their High Lord's look in his eyes became distant as he used his daemati abilities on the traitorous Illyrians. "Our firedrake is indeed a female. When they discovered her, they thought they could... have some fun with her. The two who held her down were incinerated before it could get that far, though. Unfortunately, these three injured her wings and leg, so she wouldn't be able to get away from them. They don't dare to approach her, however, because they're unsure whether their shields can protect them long enough to reach the female and the heat of the fire troubles them, too."
An Illyrian's magic shield could protect them from fire, but the heat was another matter, and magical fire or any other magic could break through it if it was strong enough. Even from this distance Azriel could smell the wild magic in the air and feel the heat of the blue flames that burned much hotter than normal ones.
"Traitorous assholes with no honour," Cassian cursed – like Rhysand and Azriel he deeply despised Illyrians or males in general who had no respect for females and tried to do things to them against their will.
Azriel silently agreed, more than ready to dispose of the traitors as well. The possibility that the female was an ally of Hybern was becoming less and less likely though they would question her after they were done with the Illyrians.
When they were close enough to the Illyrians, Rhys let go of the darkness that had hid them. The others immediately noticed them and knew what was in store for them judging by their hostile expressions and body language. The moment the news of Amarantha's death had reached them, they knew that Rhysand would come to kill them one day.
"One for each of us?" Cassian asked.
"One for each of us," Rhys confirmed, not bothering to explain himself to the traitors.
Cassian formed red, magical arrows with his seven siphons that contained his immense power and threw them at his chosen target. The other warrior, who possessed only one siphon, hardly stood a chance against him. The fight was over quick, if you could even call it that.
"You damn bastards!" one of the remaining Illyrians yelled after his comrade had fallen and threw his own green magic arrows at them.
They were easily blocked by the large red shield Cassian created in the blink of an eye.
"We'd rather die than serve half-breed abominations like you!" the other traitor added and aimed a magical spear at them.
Azriel didn't even deign him a response before he attacked him, finishing his opponent with Truth-Teller. The Illyrian plunged into the flames, like the one Cassian had killed.
The third Illyrian finally seemed to realize that he wouldn't be able to win or survive this and had the gall to try to escape while screaming that the King of Hybern would kill Rhys and enslave his people.
Rhysand quickly turned him into mist.
"Well, that was underwhelming," Cassian quipped, flicking the blood off his sword with a hand movement.
"What did you expect? We're amazing," Rhysand joked back.
Azriel shook his head at his friends' antics and their enormous egos. "What about the female?"
Rhys flew as close down to the forest ground as he could without being burned or dying of a heatstroke and introduced himself over the fire, telling the firedrake with an appearance similar to that of an Illyrian female that she was safe now and that they could treat her wounds if she wanted once she extinguished her flames.
The female ignored him and crawled away with a bag at her side, her injured and broken wings hanging limply from her back and dragging over the ground.
Azriel winced internally. That couldn't be comfortable.
"Maybe she didn't hear you?" Cassian guessed.
Rhysand frowned. "Maybe."
He tried it again as they followed her from above but received no response.
"Maybe she's deaf?" Cassian wondered.
Or perhaps she didn't want to have anything to do with them, Azriel surmised. Understandable, considering that they must look just like the other Illyrian brutes to her.
"Or our Rhyssie's charm is failing him!" Cassian teased his friend before he yelled his own introduction.
The female hissed something that sounded like a curse, but none of them understood what she said.
"That sounded like gibberish to me," Cassian said, watching the injured female that hadn't looked up at them yet with growing concern. "You think she hit her head?"
Rhysand remained silent and used his daemati abilities to find out why the female wasn't answering them. A few minutes of hovering in the air and waiting later, the mind reader turned to them with an incredulous, almost wondrous expression on his face.
"And?" Cassian asked, getting impatient since that had taken longer than usual.
"She's not from this world," Rhys answered, his voice sounding a little rough.
Azriel was as surprised as Cassian by this revelation but waited for his High Lord's explanation.
"She's not from this world," Rhys repeated.
"I heard you fine the first time. But, Rhys, are you sure? You mean she's like Amren and entered this world through a rip in the fabric between the worlds all those millennia ago?"
Their High Lord shook his head. "No, not like that. She – Stella – has only been in Prythian for a couple of days and there seems to have been a portal, a 'stone circle' as she called it, involved that made the travel between our world and hers possible. From what I've seen in her memories, it was ancient, very powerful magic that brought her here against her will. She didn't even know magic existed until then and has never heard of our world or Prythian before."
"Why would she not know about magic if she can clearly use it?" Azriel asked after he'd processed Rhys' explanation.
"Stella's world is ruled by mortals. It's unlike anything I've ever seen; they have technologies and machines that make up for their lack of magic. As far as she knows, there are no Fae in her world though there are legends about them. She believes she was a mortal until she was unwittingly transported to Prythian and couldn't use any magic before. She thinks this world is responsible for turning her into a monster."
Azriel worked through the information he'd received and settled on a question. "And is this the case? Was she Made by the same magic that brought her here?"
Made like Feyre, the girl who'd freed Rhys and the other High Lords of Amarantha.
"It seems that way, but something doesn't sit right with me. Who or what was powerful enough to create a portal between two worlds? And why did it alter a mortal instead of just transporting her to Prythian? Why would Stella be turned into a firedrake of all things?" Rhysand wondered.
These were good questions indeed.
"Maybe Amren knows more about that," Cass suggested.
"What are we going to do about the female?" the Spymaster asked.
Rhysand thought about his question with a contemplative look on his face.
"Were not going to leave her here, are we?" Cassian asked, his eyes resting on the broken wing of the injured female.
"No, we won't," Rhysand decided. "I'd like to help her."
Azriel suspected that his decision might be partially influenced by the mortal girl who'd freed him and the other High Lords. He couldn't deny that he was curious about the girl, too, but...
"Is that wise?" the Spymaster asked quietly.
"What the heck, Az," Cassian turned to him. "She's basically a mortal stranded in a foreign world! And she's injured!"
"She can wield highly destructive magic if this forest fire is anything to go by. We also don't know what kind of person she is," Azriel cautioned them, not being a fan of fire for various reasons. "We have to be careful."
"You have a point. Stella can't control her magic, so she might accidentally use it whenever she feels threatened or like her life is in danger. I... might have to take control of that part of her while she's being treated and staying anywhere near the Night Court citizens." Rhysand let out a sigh, not liking that he'd have to use his abilities on someone he wanted to help.
"Where are you going to take her? The Mountain Palace?" Azriel asked him.
The only thing she could burn down there was the palace itself. Azriel also wouldn't mind if she accidentally incinerated the people that lived under that mountain.
"Well, first I have to talk to Stella and actually make her the offer."
They landed just outside the burning forest and at a place from where they could see Stella while Rhysand did just that. They had to wait for the fire to burn out before they could approach her. Stella was in no condition to leave the forest and was sitting down with her bag clutched tightly to her chest as she stared at them with barely hidden suspicion in her bright eyes.
Something stirred in Azriel at the sight of her face though he couldn't see it very well due to the fire and smoke. He barely registered Rhys' words when he informed them how his mental conversation with the female had gone.
"She accepted my offer. She doesn't trust us because of what she experienced in the past few days and she has read rather nasty stories about Fae in her world, but she knows that she's in a precarious state and doesn't have much of a choice if she wants to survive."
"If you say it like that, it makes us sound like the bad guys," Cassian mumbled, wiping some sweat from his forehead.
It was uncomfortably hot here, but Azriel's shadows helped him to stay somewhat cool. Cooler than his companions at least.
By the time the blue flames had turned into normal ones most of the trees had completely burned down and it was night. The air was thick with the metallic scent of Stella's uncontrolled magic and the smell of burned wood and smoke.
In the distance they could hear the creatures of the mountain prowling around.
"This should be safe enough," Rhys said and walked towards Stella. "I'm keeping a lid on her magic and took away some of her pain, just so you know."
Azriel and Cassian followed him across the ashy ground and dying embers, the Shadowsinger remaining ready to bring up his magic shield at any second. Stella fought to get back up on her feet, but didn't seem very steady on them. Even without feeling the pain she seemed exhausted.
The Shadowsinger took in her slender but well-proportioned figure and battered clothes that were burned in some places and made in a foreign design and of an unknown fabric. One of the pants' legs was damaged and he could see blood and even bone peeking out between the flesh.
Her black wings that were so similar to theirs but smaller hung limply down, one of them clearly broken, which displeased Azriel despite his reservations regarding her. Stella's long, black hair was partially covered with ash and two ivory horns peeked out of it, pointing slightly backwards and curling up at the tips.
Her tanned skin was dirt-stained and sweaty and her lips were painted red by dried blood – she must have bitten them. She was exhausted but hid any other emotion apart from her distrust behind a blank mask.
Azriel breathed in her scent just as he took a proper look at her face for the first time and they made eye contact, her piercing azure blue eyes glowing with her power.
Despite her bad physical state she took his breath away.
The Shadowsinger stiffened and his shadows stilled as something clicked into place inside him, as if a question he'd been asking his whole life had finally been answered. A fragile but very present bridge of pale light appeared in his mind, leading to the female in front of him.
Even without experiencing anything like it before, Azriel immediately knew what it was. Every instinct in him screamed it at him.
"Azriel?" Rhysand was the first to notice that there was something amiss.
Azriel couldn't tear his eyes away from her even though his staring clearly unnerved her.
Her. His mate.
He vaguely registered that his High Lord asked him what was wrong with him and this time the Shadowsinger answered in a slightly breathless tone, unable to keep the words in.
"She's my mate."
He couldn't believe that he actually had one and that he'd found her. He certainly wasn't worthy of a mate.
Cassian gaped at him, then at Stella, then at Azriel again. "What the fuck?"
Rhys' eyebrows had shot up at Azriel's announcement. "It seems this day is full of surprises."
Stella furrowed her brows and gave them a look of total incomprehension.
Azriel just paid you a compliment, Rhysand explained via his telepathy when I wondered why his friend had reacted so weirdly to me and wanted to know what he'd said to me.
I couldn't fathom why someone would compliment my dirty, stinky and sweaty self, but maybe these bat-men uh, Rhysand had called them Illyrians, I think, were attracted to that kind of thing. I also wondered why the one with longer hair had gaped at me and his friend.
Okay, fine, this Azriel was the most handsome man... male I'd ever seen, even though he had huge wings on his back and shadows curling around him as if they were living things, but that didn't mean that I wanted him to stare at me as if I had two heads.
It was creepy. He was creepy and incredibly dangerous. They all were.
At least I didn't have to fight them like I'd first thought. I still wasn't sure whether accepting Rhysand's offer and help was clever after he'd introduced himself and explained where I was, but I could hear the demonic beasts howling in the distance and darkness was growing in my vision.
Rhysand had taken my pain away with his mind-reading abilities – as if I needed another reason to fear these Fae – but that didn't change that I was injured, starving and exhausted. I doubted that I'd survive another night out here in my state.
Madja, one of my most trusted healers, will treat your wounds, Rhysand informed me.
Since we spoke entirely different languages his telepathy was the only way to communicate, even though I had no idea how that even worked.
Rhysand said that we were going to winnow – apparently, Fae like him could teleport – and that he needed to stay in control of my magical abilities until Madja was done with treating me because I myself didn't have any control over them and he didn't want to risk that one of his people got hurt if I unwittingly used my fire.
I had to admit it made sense and sounded prudent even if the thought of having someone, who was capable of turning people into dust and able to read my mind, take control of a part of me was more than a little terrifying. The invisible claws and presence that I could feel in my mind were unsettling to say the least.
I was still trying to wrap my mind around the fact that I'd really ended up in the world of Fae and that Rhysand was actually the ruler of these lands and his own court.
The Night Court.
The place that was also called the Unseelie Court in the stories I'd read about Fae. Wicked faeries that meant harm to mortals lived there according to the legends. From what I'd experienced so far, that description fit this place.
It didn't help that the High Lord of the Night Court was in the company of the Commander of his armies and his Spymaster. And that the latter of which was still creepily staring at me.
Rhysand had explained that the Illyrians who had attacked me were actually traitors that had sided with his enemy and thus needed to be put down before they could join his army and cause more harm.
I was lucky that he and his companions had arrived just in time to dispatch my attackers but was still suspicious of my saviours and their motives. I couldn't forget how ruthlessly they'd killed.
But out here my death was certain. I needed medical attention and food.
Once more I eyed the three tall, armed, and muscular males that were brimming with power and were so unlike any men I'd ever seen. Like the other Illyrians they had that strange radiance to them, were ridiculously attractive, were wearing the same leather armour and had the same bat-like wings as my would-be-kidnappers, but they didn't have the same hostile air about them.
One of us will have to carry you since we need to fly a part of the way. Who would you be the most comfortable with? Rhysand asked me after talking with his companions.
Wow, we were going to fly? And one of them had to carry me?
That was going to be an experience. I wasn't eager to be carried by a stranger, especially in my state, but I couldn't deny that a part of me was a tiny little bit curious what it was like to fly though the thought also frightened me at the same time. It'd be different than flying by plane.
I eyed the three winged males in front of me – at least Rhysand had given me the choice to decide which one of them should carry me.
The Commander who was called Cassian gave me a friendly smile that softened his handsome but slightly rougher features. Rhysand gave me an expectant look as he waited for my decision, while Azriel's expression was unreadable again, his poker face impeccable compared to mine.
I quickly made my decision and gestured at Rhysand, unsure if pointing at someone was considered rude in this world. He was the only one who could communicate with me, so I hoped the flight with him would be less awkward than it would be with one of the others.
Rhysand gave me a charming smile after glancing at Azriel and receiving a barely noticeable nod from him. I wondered what that was about. Wasn't Rhysand the High Lord and in command?
Excellent choice, he told me and stepped closer.
I held my scorched backpack to my chest as he bent down and carefully lifted me up, one arm in the bend of my knees, the other around my back, just underneath the wings. They hung limply down since I didn't have any strength left to lift them and he avoided touching them.
Azriel and Cassian both placed a hand on Rhysand's shoulder and then we were gone in a flurry of darkness and wind.
A/N: For those who are interested: I have no idea how to accurately describe Stella's horns, but in my imagination they are similar to Maleficent's, only more slender, slightly smaller and smoother because they're similar to ivory.
It's been a while since I've read the books and I only own ACOFAS in the English version, so I hope I've kept the boys in character. Book translations can be weird.
On another note, was it ever mentioned in the books how Amren entered the House of Wind? Did Cassian or Azriel fly her to the balcony, or did she use the stairs? I can't imagine her doing either, lol.
Anyway, I hope you enjoyed the chapter and Azriel's POV!