55 | Of Steel and Sorrow

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The solstice was over. Winter had officially arrived, and when the evening drew to a close, the Aos Sí packed away their finery and their jubilation to wait for the summer solstice in six months. The English garden and courtyard vanished with the dawn as if they'd never been real, leaving behind the pitted bog and soppy, shaggy vegetation I was used to seeing.

Darius was in the front room when I came out of the bedroom, which I definitely wasn't used to seeing. The Sin was sprawled in his armchair, and he tipped a lazy glance to where I stood frozen in the doorway, then resumed staring into the belly of the black hearth. Cold air came crawling in through the open window with small bits of snow melting on the floorboards.

I'm being ridiculous, I told myself as I held my clean clothes to my chest and continued to the bathroom. Darius had lived in my house in Verweald, and I woke every morning to find him in my living room or rummaging in my fridge. Finding him in his own parlor wasn't odd. It wasn't.

I bathed and changed, exiting the washroom thirty minutes later. The Sin of Pride hadn't moved. He was lost in thought and hidden by the shadows of the chair's wide wings. I went to ask him what he was going to do now, but something about his rigid posture stilled my tongue. He didn't so much as glance in my direction.

I would wait before badgering him. I would give him some time.

I went back into the bedroom, slipped on my shoes, and gathered the lovely Vytian dress under an arm, then headed downstairs.

"Where are you going?"

The words rose from that ancient chair as I paused at the threshold.

Restless, I tapped a foot upon the floor. "I need to return something to someone. Then I'm going to go have breakfast." After that, I haven't a clue. What do we do now, Darius?

The Sin harrumphed, a slither of movement stirring his limbs. "Go visit with your princeling, then let us eat."

I had to bite my tongue to rein in my retort. "Fine," was all I managed before exiting the room.

It was more difficult to find Anzel than I thought it would be. He wasn't in any of his usual haunts, and the fairies I asked for information either hadn't seen him or could only point downward, so down I went. Down and down into the darker, more roughly hewn areas of the manor. God, I hated those cramped corridors more than any other place in Crow's End.

A light-haired Aos Sí with shifty eyes told me exactly where the Vytian prince was and—as I neared the shut double-doors—I began to hear the shriek and clang, clang! of metal striking metal, as if some whirling machinery was inside. Confused and more than a little alarmed, I knocked once and peeked inside.

The clang of metal ceased as the two men in the wide, barren hall faced the entrance. Anzel was there, shirtless and panting and holding a single-edged sword. Elias was there as well, though the older Vytian was fully dressed in a drab tunic and breeches. He wore metal vambraces upon his forearms and held a smaller sword in his right hand.

"Did you need something, love?"

Anzel's words tumbled from his silver tongue with ease, but rage glinted in his metallic eyes. Oh dear. He knew Darius had returned.

The lean, golden skin of the prince's torso was a mirage of constructs. Endless looping lines and arcs, all painted with precision and care, done in such a way to keep them hidden beneath his clothes. Some were almost invisible, only highlighted by the angle of the chandelier above. Others were done in bold, black paint.

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