The soft pressure on her body felt familiar, just as the heat of his hands around her waist, holding her close, shielding her from any harm, sharing the warmth of his body. Her own arms curled above his shoulders, fingertips brushing the line of his hair, sometimes toying with its strands, others scraping his scalp lightly. The silk feeling of his long hair, tied loosely, worked as a good distraction from the iced lands.
Nesta thought about her own hair, braided beautifully by Nuala, forgetting for a moment that she had shielded them since Cassian raised to the skies. It was automatic now, after so many months of training, she barely needed to think about it.
It was the next part of Nesta’s training, after Amren discovered - and stormed about - how she had decided to work her physical skills. It has been a matter of time to have her at Nesta’s door.
When the younger tried to say that she was mastering one thing at a time, Amren just threw her against a wall with the strength of an elephant, a glamour so strong that the whole house trembled, and, instead of apologizing, she statemented that it would never happen if Nesta had a shield to protect herself. Which was how she ended up, after one entire week of angry glares and annoying encounters, getting two training programs, 5 days a week.
And Amren has always been the one to kick her ass.
No matter how much her powers had changed, Amren’s personality remained the same, just as her way of teaching, pushing Nesta until her limits and beyond. She could already produce fire of some sort, a blue, cold flame that destroyed everything it touched, she had her mental shields made of light and steel, her physical shields, invisible and efficient, but Amren wasn’t done.
The high fae had decided that Nesta would be able to create an armour of some sort, a second skin made of the same destructive energy she held tightly inside. Obviously, Nesta had no idea of how to do it and Amren only told her to release that power and see what would happen.
Releasing her power wasn’t a challenge, she had created, since her first step out the cauldron, walls after walls to contain it and, after almost a decade being something other than human, she still couldn’t be brave enough to open the damper of her power, to flood the world and drown everyone.
Somehow, after hours of training, Nesta managed to open a slit from her insides and what happened next took away even Amren’s breath.
A white, almost translucid layer started its way, coming from inside her skin, using the joints of her fingers, her knuckles, as passage. It went down, past her nails, covering everything in a bright, smoke-like tissue. It passed the edge of her fingers, slowly curving right after, sharpening like talons.
Nesta had look at it so astonished that Amren had to call her name and tell her to keep going. She pushed, as hard as she could without losing the grip on her control, trying to stay in balance, stepping carefully over that thin line.
The layer moved up, hugging her hand fully, her wrists. The feeling of it was sensational, a rightness that she had never felt -- at least never about her own abilities. Her thoughts drifted to him, the other thing that made her feel right and the power disappeared, a wave of complete exhaustion spreading along her body and mind.
“Good work, girl.” Amren had said, a cat-like smile in her tiny face.
She hadn’t managed get out of the bed in the next day, her insides feeling sore enough to a lifetime. Even after three weeks of practicing the same thing, she could still feel the traces of soreness as her body relaxed on Cassian’s, thinking again about Rhysand’s orders.
He has been silent and pissed after the letter he received. It came from one the illyrian females, one of the small group that completed the challenge, rite, whatever, telling him about how the girls have been kept out of the sparring ring again, how they started to teach the males to ignore them, so they wouldn’t want to learn who to defend themselves, how it all started in one of the most ancient, traditional camps and would affect their surroundings very soon.
Cassian had been dealing with them forever and Rhysand’s benevolence reached its end. That’s why he sent Nesta as his Emissary, why she was dressed in a night court outfit made of pure white, shining like a goddess, a tick line of kajal around her eyes, her eyelids long and seductive. Cruel, sharp and tempting.
Devlon had called her a witch before the war with Hybern, he had feared her for it, and he has always been a progressist of some sort. In those first war camps, where women were treated like nothing, like less powerful and worthy than men, she could be the devastation in the shape of a woman.
“Just let them see you while Cassian says the rules, it will be enough.” Feyre had assured, but Nesta wasn’t worried about herself, she was worried about what they did to those females.
Cassian’s body changed, as if he could feel the anger boiling in her veins, his own response being some sort of preoccupation. She was getting good at this, reading people’s emotion by their scent, was useful.
“You’re concerned.” Nesta pointed, not moving an inch from where her head was resting in his shoulder.
“Yes. I must be.” Cassian’s tone was serious, something she didn’t hear often and his arms tightened around her when he did a loop to avoid an air current.
“My shields are very efficient, if you didn’t notice.” The sharpness in her tone was automatic and she didn’t expect him to laugh.
A low, deep, throaty sound escaped Cassian’s mouth, blowing hot air down her neck, where his lips almost brushed. The vibration in his body echoed on hers.
“I’m concerned about them. You’re a hurricane, Nesta, there’s not how to be ready for you.”
Cassian’s landing was so soft that she barely felt any impact. She unfurled her arms from his neck, letting he put her in the muddy ground before looking around -- to find dozens of illyrian warriors staring at her, paralyzed.
She had to admit, at least for herself, that Morrigan’s choice of outfit has been adequate. The tight pants, clinging to her body and hugging her slim, long legs, the flat boots, stopping a palm above her knees, the floating shirt that stopped at her hip’s height in the front, flying like a cape in the back, down the curve of her rear.
It was all white, a pure, immaculate tone of white. Besides Cassian’s own armour, she must been looking ethereal, other-worldly.
When she gave her first step forward, at least ten illyrians shot to the skies - away from her, the sound of their wings breaking the sudden silence. She walked slowly, unhurried, Cassian right by her side, not in front of her, not behind her. A team, he was saying without words, two faces of the same coin, even if the first step had been hers, as it had to.
Nesta didn’t know the camp or its logistics, she hadn’t known where she should walk to, but she had the feeling that the camp’s lord would find her rather fast.
Wherever she passed, illyrian males grabbed their wives and kids, shooting to the skies so quickly that they became a mass of black and brown and gold within seconds. All the doors had been closed, the windows now covered with anything they could find fast. A female appeared in one of the windows, trying to catch a glimpse of the High Lord’s new monster, as Amren and Feyre once were.
Those who didn’t disappeared in the sky, hiding the females and the youth, started to form a path in their sides, caught between fearing her, getting ready to fight her and… Marveling at her, Nesta noticed with shock.
Cassian’s hand brushed hers again, only for one short moment, a reassuring touch. She knew she was doing a great job, her mask of indifference and superiority has been mastered since childhood, but she wouldn’t be stupid enough to not feel some sort of distress. If any of those illyrians discovered how little practice she has in corporal fighting, how she never used a blade against someone (they were just starting the knife management at training), how she had no idea how to winnow or perform a glamour or invade someone’s mind…
Nesta ignored the knot in her throat, her steps so confident that none of her concerns would show, her back straight, hands moving gracefully with the balance of her walk.
Her body stopped, an unconscious reaction to the sudden approximation. Five winged males landed three meters in front of them, the leader sinking his feet so strongly that the dirt on the ground raised, staining her outfit, only to disappear thanks to the glamour that Morrigan had casted.
Lord Volo stood unimpressed, his own armour seeming a threat itself with so many battle marks. He was as tall as Cassian, though more lean muscled. His hair was cut low, close to his scalp and greyish strands were raising on his temples, mixing with the black. She analyzed him, all the way down, noticing the siphons in both hands and the middle of his chest, they were brown colored, swirling with cunning energy.
“You’re not welcome.” His command’s voice was clear and steady, attracting Nesta’s eyes to his sharp facial features.
His eyes alternated between both of them, a challenge. Nesta’s head moved by its own, tilting to one side slightly, the move nowhere close to human or high fae - and the look of primal, ancient fury she gave him made one of his men shiver.
To his credit, Lord Volo didn’t reacted.
“Where is our meeting taking place?” Cassian asked in a voice she had never heard, dismissing his commentary entirely. It wasn’t the strong voice he used in the battle field to lead his armies and definitely it didn’t have the amused, light tone he used in home. This one was the voice of someone who didn’t need to speak louder to be heard, who had shown what happens with those who stand in his way. She recalled his smile in the court of nightmares, malicious and ready to spill blood. It made her feel the will of smile herself.
The camp lord jerked his chin in Nesta’s direction, his thick eyebrows moving. Would she join them? Cassian nodded to his unspoken question and in an blink of eye two of his men left, flying first, to clean the way, she was sure.
He turned in his heels, leading the way with sure steps. No matter the look of disgust in his face directed to Cassian, he didn’t assume that he would be attacked from the back.
Nesta’s eyes absorbed her surrounds with hungry, taking mental notes about anything different or useful. The houses had a pattern, built always with two ways out and a door large enough for two, or one with wings. All the houses were closed, the doors locked and the windows protected. She saw no women or children in their ten minutes walk.
A long, wooden table was set in the middle of a tent (that was open in all its four sides, providing shield only from the rain), six chairs were put, all of them made to accommodate wings. There wasn’t refreshments or food, nothing to indicate that they would be receiving guests. As he had statemented: they are not welcome.
Nesta walked past the table, nails scratching lightly the surface until one of the heads of the table. She knew their eyes were in her when she pulled the chair in the right and sat unceremoniously, her face so still, painted with boredom, that she could have been a sculpture.
Cassian didn’t sat and no one of the others. An strategical measure, probably, one she hadn’t considered. Now was too late to raise, though, it would show concern and she catched Cassian’s eyes, the way they burned just for a moment when something inside her twisted. Impressed, the word showed up in her mind abruptly.
“Statistics.” The general required and one of Lord Volo guards, both with two siphons each, delivered him some papers.
Volo threw them across the table, where Cassian had stopped, standing close to Nesta. The Lord started talking at the same moment that Cassian picked up the papers.
“The High Lord kept his words, the delivers arrive one week before the deadline, half of the houses were already built, we have ten more in process.” That was respect, she noticed, he respected Rhysand as High Lord, but apparently not enough to follow all his orders. “A few new established relationships, nothing to your concern. Five new births.”
Nesta could watch Cassian in the corner of her vision field as he passed his eyes quickly thru the topics, absorbing the main information.
“How are the recruits going?”
“As planned. I have one new legion trained and ready for combat.” A male’s pride colored his words, and even the deep features of his face changed, just for a second, with presumption.
“It includes the female legion, I assume?” One of Cassian’s dark eyebrows moved up, a question he already knew the answer.
The camp Lord went ulteriorly still and one of his two guards hissed. Nesta moved kindly, supporting her arms in both sides of the chair, allowing her back to rest as her long braided fell over her shoulder. She watched how Volo’s jaw tightened, how her very presence changed whatever reaction they would have usually.
“No, they are busy with their own functions.”
“Such as?” Cassian demanded immediately.
He gritted his teeth, a pinkish tone crawling up his neck, coloring his cheeks with anger.
“Women didn’t born to fight in wars, they have their duties bearing children and keeping their men satisfied. That’s their doing.”
Every single part of Nesta’s body went taut and she didn’t think she was breathing. How dares him? How can this man open his hideous mouth to underestimate females like this? Her blood heated in her veins and she thought that the wood under her hands cracked. Her heart pounded so loud in her ears that she barely heard herself when she spoke.
“As long as I remember, a woman made all Prythian kneel for five decades. A woman was the responsible for the death of the King of Hybern, and, another one, unleashed herself upon the enemy’s armies saving your asses from complete destruction.” Her voice was like a whip, digging scars in their minds. It was the first time those men heard her voice and Nesta would make sure they would never forget. “The reason you don’t want women to learn how to fight is that they will discover how powerful they are by their own and how useless and insignificant all of you, their said protectors, truly are.”
“Your bitch!” One of the companions groaned, his two green siphons vibrating with energy.
“Watch. Your. Mouth.” Cassian punctuated each word with a killing tone, his own growl reverberating inside his chest.
The commander's face twisted with disdain, he looked sick with so much scorn in his dark eyes. “He doesn’t take orders from a filthy bastar--”
Lord Volo didn’t finish that word.
Nesta’s mind went blank, her consciousness slipping like sand in her fisted hands. Her vision was gone completely, a blurred, dense fog set in front of her eyes, because she didn’t need them, they weren’t a primordial part of the thing she had become.
That slit in her walls, the walls that kept the creature inside, expanded without her command, allowing that unearthly, white light to find its way out. She could feel the layers of power covering her hands, her forearm, and the sensation of it --
Nothing had been so distinguish, so accurate in her life, both mortal and immortal. She could sense everything. The temperature of the air in contrast with the coldness of her skin; the pressure of the gravity, pushing her body down; the taste of the fear in her tongue, making her mouth fill with saliva and a sweet-rotten liquid; the resistance of the prey, fighting her death grip, forcing her teeth to sharp like the talons made of power that extended her nails.
She could feel the heat of those bodies, know where they were, hear the movements they were doing with such a precision. In fact, she could her everything. The blood running inside their veins, the thrum of their heartbeats, the weird sound their muscles made as the cells moved inside the tissue.
But that, all that, was mere peripheral information. Her attention was focused in the soft flesh in her palm, the nails that tried to claw her protected skin, the sounds of profound desperation. They tasted delightful.
Only primal instinct guide her and her mouth opened, pulling in a great amount of air -- and not just it. The energy that coursed thru her body made her moan in pleasure, absorbing the strong, cunning power restrained by her grip. She allowed the energy to settle in her insides, melting the boiling fury in something smoother, something pleasant. That layer of white light started its way up to her arm, reaching her shoulder.
And then the situation changed, her focus changed. Callous, sure hands were on her, in a part of her body that wasn’t covered by that armour of energy, a part that was bare for him. Cassian’s hands cupped her face carefully, his warmth burning its way thru her frenzy.
“Nesta. Nes-ta.” Her name, over and over, like a praise, leaving his mouth and some thread, some string curled around her heart answered immediately.
His thumbs started to brush the sides of her face kindly, caressing her cheeks, small, slow circles to bring her back. Back to him.
Her walls started to raise again in the same moment she gained some of her reason back, fighting her way in the middle of that unsettling desire. She hadn’t reach the end of whatever she was doing and that ancient, wild and cruel part of her demanded and demanded and demanded --
“Nesta, sweetheart. I need to see your eyes. Look at me, Ness.” Cassian’s voice raised above that demand and she focused on him, his hands, that thing, deep inside her guts, that make her want to bury herself on him and never stop.
She felt his scent, the smell of wood and fire and Cassian. Her vision came back in one go, fog covering her eyes disappearing to leave her pupils contracted, absorbing all the scene at once.
The roof was gone, only the tend's pillars available to be seen. There was a shield, a half-translucide, half-white wall, containing the two guards of the camp lord, not that they were putting any sort fight, their eyes stuck in the thing in Nesta’s front.
Lord Volo has been caught by the neck, Nesta’s hand gripping him tightly, talons made of light digging in deep, the layers in out-stretched arm starting to fade.
When her eyes catched Lord Volo’s face, her grip loosened, her shield disappeared, the glimmer of her skin ending abruptly. He was drained, his hair almost completely white, his skin pale and crumpled, his siphons completely empty.
She turned to Cassian, her eyes wide with terror, her face down. Why were his hands still on her? He should be miles away, he should shot to the skies like those smart illyrians she saw all day. Even with the thought, she couldn’t bring herself to move away from his touch.
“Look at me, sweetheart.” He repeated, using his hands on her face to bring her chin up.
What she saw in his eyes changed everything. He wasn’t afraid of… Whatever she was, he wasn’t getting ready to leave her behind. He wanted her, intensely, profoundly, he wanted her so much, for so long, that it hurt.
Her insides felt molten and her body trembled when he brushed his right thumb in her lower lip. She hadn’t realize how ragged her breathing was, how the coldness of her limbs had been gone, how her mind was slowly becoming hers again, and soon she could be able to think all this thru -- but Nesta didn’t need to think, not for this, she only needed to give in to what her body and soul had begged her for years.
Nesta’s hands felt empty and she brought them up to his chest. His muscles tensed, his erratic heartbeat thrumming under her palms, his body so hot that was almost fever-like. His eyes didn’t leave hers and she could see the hunger, the want, the devotion. He had offered his life to defend her, years ago, and it didn’t change a bit.
The hands in his fighting leathers clenched, gripping a hand full of tissue and pulling down.
When his lips touched hers, Nesta couldn’t keep her eyes open. Her hands tightened, keeping him as close as possible when the feeling of him devastated her. His lips were full and hot and every cell on her body sung in pleasure.
Cassian’s hands on her face slid slowly, trailing a way to her hair and she raised on her tiptoes to deepen the kiss. She couldn’t stand just that light brush of lips, just the chastity of it. His reply was immediate, angling his head in the opposite way of hers, moving together in such a perfect rhythm that she wanted to purr. Has never been one time in her life when she wanted to purr.
The tip of Nesta’s tongue darted out, following his lower lip and he blew hot air inside her parted mouth when she mimicked it in his upper lip. Cassian’s mouth captured her fiercely at that, experient and urgent and right, right, right. He felt so damn right holding her.
A sound called their attention at the same time and Cassian, pulled away efficiently, his warrior eyes searching for threats, even if his arms followed a path down her back. Reluctantly, Nesta withdrew her own gaze from his flushed face and blown pupils.
Several illyrians had gathered around them, in a very safe distance, and the guards were staring at Lord Volo from a few meters away, unsure if they should risk getting in Nesta’s sight to drag their commander away.
Cassian only gave them one minute more of his gaze, as if any moment he wasn’t spending ogling her wasn’t worthy. Both of them looked down, at the fallen camp lord at their feet.
“You have one month.” The general’s voice reverberated in Nesta’s body in the most unexpected way, heat pooling in her core as he passed one muscled arm around her slim waist. “Considerate it a warning.” He added before scooping her in his arms and spreading those powerful wings, sending both to the blue immensity.