Embers & Light (Chapter 51, Cassian POV)
Notes: Thanks for bearing with me for this! Chapter 52 is just in last rounds of edits and then it's ready for you to read it, but I wanted to post this Cassian POV for chapter 51 before then. Big cheers to all of you who gave your input on what came first, but Cassian POV was somewhat overwhelming!
Cassian had been flying. Circling. Looping the same skies, the same clouds set into the azure, spring blue. Anything to distract himself from the fact that Nesta had gone searching for something where he could not follow.
Where the risk felt so great that Cassian was sure something bad was going to happen.
It had the started soon after Elain’s retelling of her vision. It had begun as a feeling. A nagging bite in his gut warning him that he wasn’t connecting the shards and fragments of their plan thoroughly enough. But Nesta had been beside him, so vulnerable and scared, yet also fierce—determined. And he hadn’t been able to think beyond the new mating bond and her fear, beyond that fist in his mind that pounded to be heard without saying anything at all.
So, that looming feeling had settled inside of Cassian like lead. A weight pressing down, down, down until all Cassian could think about was scooping Nesta up in his arms and flying her far away. Where they didn’t have to think about the greater good. Where they could be safe, just them, hiding away from the world.
But he didn’t, because Nesta would always have independence from him as he did from her. And because this plan… it was all they had. And for Elain to have a vision of Nesta descending Below the Lake… It was a sign from the Old Gods—a message. And Cassian wouldn’t ignore it, not when his people continued to suffer from outdated ideals. The Rebellion might claim to give Illyrians a voice, but in reality it only favoured a small minority.
So, Cassian had said goodbye to Nesta, his mate.
And as Cassian watched Nesta and Frawley descend into the thick of the forest with the manticores at their heels, he’d got that awful feeling again—a sensation of loss, something deep and intrinsic—that went farther than their too-short goodbye.
Only then had Cassian finally understood.
The pain was immediate.
One minute Cassian was scouting high above the empty Lake, flying mostly for something to distract him from the building ache expanding in his bones, the next something had severed inside of him.
It wasn't a clean, swift cut, rather a slow, excruciating tear. A torturous pain that eddied and built, spiralling until it was blinding. Undiluted terror and agony clawed up his sternum and into his throat, and his hands flew to his ribcage, his fingers scrabbling against leather and the star ruby at his chest.
The siphon was scalding to touch, the scarlet of his power screaming, screaming, screaming…
For a few minute seconds, everything seemed to slow down. Time stood thick around them, the wind suddenly syrupy. Cassian saw the last few threads of their braided tie fraying. Saw them as they finally gave way, every fibre slowly failing until—
The mating bond severed completely.
And then Cassian was falling again, a deadweight in the skies, his body frozen, his spine seized in agony. The wind whistled and struck at his ears as steadfast as the crack of a whip, but Cassian was too stricken to use his wings. So, the wind continued to rush up to meet him and he plummeted right through it—towards the ground, towards the empty Lake of Death—
But then the world was shifting and there was no longer water below him but the tops of trees. As if the Lake’s power had transported him to another section of the forest. As if his body, his blood, no longer sang the same tune.
Before, he’d been magnetised to Nesta in a way that he knew had overridden the power of a normal mating bond. Before, he’d been able to find her like Illyrians could travel the night sky like a compass.
But now there was no bond connecting them.
So, Cassian fell.
His body ricocheted off branches, tore through leaves and twigs and something else which pummelled into him with such force bones creaked and cracked.
Then… he hit something soft, malleable. Not only did it cushion his body but the ground seemed to turn elastic, bending with the force of his fall before it threw him back up again and the earth beneath him turned compact again.
Cassian barely resisted the impact of the fall on his body. He didn’t tentatively lift his wings to assess the potential damage. Didn’t twitch his limbs to identify what was dislocated or broken. Because he’d been cast inwards, pulled towards that severed connection inside of his chest. Towards the cause of that pain, that agony, that told him something was so inherently wrong he couldn’t breathe.
Then, everything was silent.
In the hollows of Cassian’s ribcage, everything was too dark. There was no twining of silver, no length of braided tie to follow from his ribcage to his heart. There was only his tattered end of the bond. It gave a feeble spark of ruby, the light calling to its lover, begging it to return.
And in the inky black Cassian spied it—Nesta’s end of the bond—floating away from him, its frayed ends like the sinew and skin found at the end of a torn off limb.
The moment his eyes pinned on it, there was a feeble lick of metallic fire. And Cassian knew that it was a last goodbye, felt it in his bones as Nesta’s deathly magic gave way to sparks—the last faint glow of embers before they faded into the dark.
But Cassian wasn’t prepared to let it go, couldn’t. He lunged for Nesta’s end of the bond, his fist quick and precise—and roared in pain. It was like pressing down onto a wound to staunch the blood flow. His spine shrieked at the violent arch of his back, but it was nothing on the agony of clutching the torn, braided rope that had been blessed upon him.
The pain tore him back to the forest as abruptly as if he’d winnowed. Nausea, violent and surging, wrangled Cassian into rolling onto his side. And then he vomited all over what seemed to be an impossibly soft blanket of moss— again, again—until there was nothing left but the seizing of his bruised, empty stomach.
When it stopped, all was quiet. Not quiet in the sense that the world had fallen into silence. No, the forest still sang and whispered. It was callously full of life, as if it didn’t care that something had just died inside of him.
And all Cassian could do was lay there, listening to the blood pounding in his ears, scenting the moss beneath him, green and earthen with a hint of jasmine. He’d winded himself on the way down and now his lungs had finally shocked themselves back into working, his breath wheezed out of him.
When he dared to turn his head, he didn’t even groan. Didn’t make a sound besides his rattled breathing. Battered and bruised, he opened his sticky eyes, the world blurring back into view but all he could see was moss, as if he was submerged in it.
And it was silver.
Behind Cassian, the moss shifted and then swift, practical hands began to work over his body. They checked his pulse, ran over his limbs besides his wings, checking for injuries.
The colonel’s voice was rough. It broke through the ringing in Cassian’s ears. “It looks like you’ve snapped a few bones in your left wing. The cracked ribs are my fault, but it would have been worse if I hadn’t barrelled into you and sent you into this moss.”
Lorrian came into view, jaw tense, his expression granite save for his hazel eyes which glittered, dark and knowing and swimming with conflicted emotions.
The colonel ran a hand through the close crop of his curly hair as if he didn’t know what to do or say. In the end, he only extended his hand and shifted his weight across the whole of his feet, ready to counter Cassian’s wait.
Cassian grunted in pain as Lorrian helped him upright.
Now he was sitting, he could see above the metallic moss. It stretched as far as the eye could see, a carpet running in two directions into the thicket of trees on either side of the clearing. There was something supernatural about it, something undoubtedly Nesta—an insignia that Cassian recognised, as familiar as a heartbeat.
A flare of emerald light tore Cassian’s gaze away from the moss. Cassian shrugged off the touch of his friend’s magic with a shake of his head. There was no point in it anyway. Illyrian magic could only patch up injuries, not heal them—only time could do that. “Leave it.”
There was a soft sigh, the first break in Lorrian’s hardened expression. “Cass.”
But Cassian didn’t want to talk about why he’d fallen. Lorrian already knew. There was only one reason why Cassian would have fallen like a deadweight in the sky. He’d barely missed striking a haphazard cluster of stones crusted with lichen. If it wasn’t for Lorrian barrelling into him and throwing him off course, he’d have more than a few broken bones.
And Nesta? What had happened to her. Had she been ripped into the realm of death without him? Was she even living? Did her heart beat, did the pulse at her throat thrum steadily, did her blood run warm?
“Nesta was here.”
It hurt to croak out her name. That’s how palpable his pain was, his worry. It was as fresh as the needling hurt of his injuries.
Lorrian nodded tightly to indicate he’d made the same conclusion. When he ran his hands through the moss, it glinted like the blade of a knife. “Her power will protect her.”
Cassian wiped the blood from his split lip with the back of his hand, but didn’t speak. Because what could he say? That the bond had been broken and he’d never felt so empty, so alone in his entire life? That it broke him to think of her alone and scared beneath a Lake. That the love he had for Nesta was stronger than ever. That he was terrified that she wasn’t alive, that she wouldn’t come back.
The worry of it all had the nausea surging inside of him. It was an all-consuming sickness and Cassian couldn’t think beyond it, couldn’t concentrate on anything but the sickness and the terror that Nesta was no longer breathing.
The bond might have broken, but if he had to choose between a bond and Nesta’s safety, he’d choose her safety every time.
Panic clogged his throat. When he managed to force the words out, they were choked. “How do you know?”
“You’d know if it hadn’t, Cass.”
Lorrian tapped at the overlapping scales of Cassian’s armour, right over his heart.
“It’s broken,” Cassian said, the words finally cracking out of him. And it didn’t help to say them out loud. It only made the reality of it worse. “It’s just… it’s done. What if—”
A hand came to rest on Cassian’s shoulder, cutting Cassian off. Lorrian’s hazel eyes had tunnelled deep but coalesced into something steady. “Nesta will get the information. You’ll see. Nesta won’t let something like death beat her. She wields it.”
Unlike Frawley whose magic would be a victim to the deathly magic in the forest if she remained too long. Cassian had only been on the forest floor for what he guessed was a few minutes, and he could already feel the effect it was having on his siphons. It felt like the gems were perforated, leaking magic into an atmosphere that gobbled it up.
“Maybe when she comes back Above…” Lorrian began, but he trailed off at Cassian’s shake of the head. The way the threads had been torn apart, the intricate threads of it severed? Cassian couldn’t see any way that they could be knitted back together.
And the fact that Lorrian was still standing? It indicated that wherever Frawley was, she was alive. Because what would have happened if Frawley had descended Below into death? Would their chroi bond have resulted in Lorrian dropping lifeless at Cassian’s feet?
“Better me than you,” Cassian managed to rasp flatly, because it was true.
Another crack fissured through Lorrian’s granite expression, exposing the conflicting emotions clashing beneath it. Not just for Frawley, but for Cassian and Nesta. For the torn mating bond inside of Cassian, both ends tied to his ribcage in a desperate attempt to keep something that could never be fixed.
When Cassian turned inwards, hoping got a glint of something, he only touched upon an endless sense of emptiness. There was no wisp of silver caressing his heart, no ghost of pearlescent light healing the wounds of his emotions.
Lorrian’s hand tightened on Cassian’s shoulder. It ached but Cassian welcomed the pain. Used it to ground himself. “We’ll just have to wait.”
So, they did.
Together, they sat in the knee-high moss, their wings straggled behind them, and waited. They remained that way as their magic continued to dull in their veins, their senses diminishing with it, the forest taking something from them with every breath. They stayed like that, even as their rampant thoughts consumed their every breath. As Cassian’s wing bleated in pain, his body unable to heal itself.
Then, a high-pitched whine came from behind.
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