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Home > Empire of Storms (Throne of Glass #5)(13)

Empire of Storms (Throne of Glass #5)(13)
Author: Sarah J. Maas

“I should die with them,” was the king’s answer.

They reached the bottom of the stairs, the passage now widening into breathable chambers. Rowan again snaked his magic through the many tunnels and stairs. The one to the right suggested a sewer entrance lay at its bottom. Good.

“I was sent here to keep you from doing just that,” Rowan said at last.

The king glanced over his shoulder at him, wincing a bit as the motion stretched his still-healing skin. Where Rowan suspected a gaping wound had been minutes before, now only an angry red scar peeked through the side of his torn jacket. Dorian said, “You were going to kill her.”

He knew whom the king meant. “Why did you tell me not to?”

So the king told him of the encounter as they descended deeper into the castle’s bowels. “I wouldn’t trust her,” Rowan said after Dorian had finished, “but perhaps the gods will throw us a bone. Perhaps the Blackbeak heir will join our cause.”

If her crimes weren’t discovered first. But even if they only had thirteen witches and their wyverns, if that coven was the most skilled of all the Ironteeth … it could mean the difference between Orynth falling or standing against Erawan.

They reached the castle sewers. Even the rats were fleeing through the small stream entrance, as if the bellowing of the wyverns were a death knell.

They passed an archway sealed off by collapsed stones—no doubt from the hellfire eruption this summer.

Aelin’s passageway, Rowan realized with a tug deep in his chest. And a few steps ahead, an old pool of dried blood stained the stones along the water’s edge. A human reek lingered around it, tainted and foul.

“She gutted Archer Finn right there,” Dorian said, following his stare.

Rowan didn’t let himself think about it, or that these fools had unwittingly given an assassin a room that connected to their queen’s chambers.

There was a boat moored to a stone post, its hull almost rotted through, but solid enough. And the grate to the little river snaking past the castle remained open.

Rowan again speared his magic into the world, tasting the air beyond the sewers. No wings cleaved it, no blood scented its path. A quiet, eastern part of the castle. If the witches had been smart, they’d have sentries monitoring every inch of it.

But from the screaming and pleading going on above, Rowan knew the witches were too lost in their bloodlust to think straight. At least for a few minutes.

Rowan jerked his chin to the boat. “Get in.”

Dorian frowned at the mold and rot. “We’ll be lucky if it doesn’t collapse around us.”

“You,” Rowan corrected. “Around you. Not me. Get in.”

Dorian heard his tone and wisely got in. “What are you—”

Rowan yanked off his cloak and threw it over the king. “Lie down, and put that over you.”

Face a bit pale, Dorian obeyed. Rowan snapped the ropes with a flash of his knives.

He shifted, wings flapping loudly enough to inform Dorian what had happened. Rowan’s magic groaned and strained while it pushed what looked like an empty, meandering vessel out of the sewers, as if someone had accidentally loosed it.

Flying through the sewer mouth, he shielded the boat with a wall of hard air—containing the king’s scent and keeping any stray arrows from piercing it.

Rowan looked back only once as he flew down the little river, high above the boat.

Only once, at the city that had forged and broken and sheltered his queen.

Her glass wall was no more than chunks and shards gleaming in the streets and the grass.

These past weeks of travel had been torture—the need to claim her, taste her, driving him out of his wits. And given what Darrow had said … perhaps, despite his promise when he’d left, it had been a good thing that they had not taken that final step.

It had been in the back of his mind long before Darrow and his horse-shit decrees: he was a prince, but in name only.

He had no army, no money. The substantial funds he possessed were in Doranelle—and Maeve would never allow him to claim them. They’d likely already been distributed amongst his meddlesome cousins, along with his lands and residences. It wouldn’t matter if some of them—the cousins he’d been raised with—might refuse to accept out of typical Whitethorn loyalty and stubbornness. All Rowan now had to offer his queen were the strength of his sword, the depth of his magic, and the loyalty of his heart.

Such things did not win wars.

He’d scented the despair on her, though her face had hidden it, when Darrow had spoken. And he knew her fiery soul: she would do it. Consider marriage to a foreign prince or lord. Even if this thing between them … even if he knew it was not mere lust, or even just love.

This thing between them, the force of it, could devour the world.

And if they picked it, picked them, it might very well cause the end of it.

It was why he had not uttered the words he’d meant to tell her for some time, even when every instinct was roaring for him to do it as they parted. And maybe having Aelin only to lose her was his punishment for letting his mate die; his punishment for finally letting go of that grief and loathing.

The lap of waves was barely audible over the roar of wyverns and the innocents screaming for help that would never come. He shut out the ache in his chest, the urge to turn around.

This was war. These lands would endure far worse in the coming days and months. His queen, no matter how he tried to shield her, would endure far worse.

By the time the boat drifted down the little river snaking toward the Avery delta, a white-tailed hawk soaring high above it, the walls of the stone castle were bathed in blood.

9

Elide Lochan knew she was being hunted.

For three days now, she’d tried to lose whatever tracked her through the endless sprawl of Oakwald. And in the process, she herself had become lost.

Three days hardly sleeping, barely stopping long enough to scavenge for food and water.

She’d turned south once—to backtrack and shake it off her trail. She’d wound up heading a day in that direction. Then west, toward the mountains. Then south, possibly east; she couldn’t tell. She’d been running then, Oakwald so dense that she could hardly track the sun. And without a clear view of the stars, not daring to stop and find an easy tree to climb, she couldn’t find the Lord of the North—her beacon home.

By noon on the third day, she was close to weeping. From exhaustion, from rage, from bone-deep fear. Whatever took its time hunting her would surely take its time killing her.

Her knife trembled in her hand as she paused in a clearing, a swift, nimble stream dancing through it. Her leg ached—her ruined, useless leg. She’d offer the dark god her soul for a few hours of peace and safety.

Elide dropped the knife into the grass beside her, falling to her knees before the stream and drinking swift and deep. Water filled the gaps in her belly left by berries and roots. She refilled her canteen, hands shaking uncontrollably.

Shaking so hard she dropped the metal cap into the stream.

She swore, plunging into the cold water up to her elbows as she fumbled for the cap, patting the rocks and slick tendrils of river weed, begging for one solitary break—

Her fingers closed on the cap as the first howl sounded through the forest.

Elide and the forest went still.

She had heard dogs baying, had listened to the unearthly choruses of wolves when she’d been hauled from Perranth down to Morath.

This was neither. This was…

There had been nights in Morath when she’d been yanked from sleep because of howls like that. Howls she’d believed were imagined when they didn’t sound again. No one ever mentioned them.

But there was the sound. That sound.

We shall create wonders that will make the world tremble.

Oh, gods. Elide blindly screwed the cap onto the canteen. Whatever it might be, it was closing in fast. Maybe a tree—high up a tree—might save her. Hide her. Maybe.

Elide twisted to shove her canteen into her bag.

But a warrior was crouched across the stream, a long, wicked knife balanced on his knee.

His black eyes devoured her, his face harsh beneath equally dark, shoulder-length hair as he said in a voice like granite, “Unless you want to be lunch, girl, I suggest you come with me.”

A small, ancient voice whispered in her ear that she’d at last found her relentless hunter.

And they’d now both become someone else’s prey.

Lorcan Salvaterre listened to the rising snarls in the ancient wood and knew they were likely about to die.

Well, the girl was about to die. Either at the claws of whatever pursued them or at the end of Lorcan’s blade. He hadn’t yet decided.

Human—the cinnamon-and-elderberries scent of her was utterly human—and yet that other smell remained, that tinge of darkness fluttering about her like a hummingbird’s wings.

He might have suspected she’d summoned the beasts were it not for the tang of fear staining the air. And for the fact that he’d been tracking her for three days now, letting her lose herself in the tangled labyrinth of Oakwald, and had found little to indicate she was under Valg thrall.

Lorcan rose to his feet, and her dark eyes widened as she took in his towering height. She remained kneeling by the stream, a dirty hand reaching for the dagger she’d foolishly discarded in the grass. She wasn’t stupid or desperate enough to lift it against him. “Who are you?”

Her hoarse voice was low—not the sweet, high thing he’d expected from her delicate, fully curved frame. Low and cold and steady.

“If you want to die,” Lorcan said, “then go ahead: keep asking questions.” He turned away—northward.

And that was when the second set of snarling began. From the other direction.

Two packs, closing in. Grass and cloth rustled, and when he looked, the girl was on her feet, dagger angled, face sickly pale as she realized what was happening: they were being herded.

“East or west,” Lorcan said. In the five centuries he’d been slaughtering his way across the world, he’d never heard snarls like that from any manner of beast. He thumbed free his hatchet from where it was strapped at his side.

“East,” the girl breathed, eyes darting to either direction. “I—I was told to stay out of the mountains. Wyverns—large, winged beasts—patrol them.”

“I know what a wyvern is,” he said.

Some temper snapped in her dark eyes at his tone, but the fear washed it away. She began backing toward the direction she’d chosen. One of the creatures loosed a keening cry. Not a canine sound. No, this was high-pitched, screeching—like a bat. But deeper. Hungrier. “Run,” he said.

She did.

Lorcan had to give the girl credit: despite the still-injured leg, despite the exhaustion that had made her sloppy these past few days, she bolted like a doe through the trees, her terror likely leeching away any pain. Lorcan leaped the wide stream in an easy movement, closing the distance between them in mere heartbeats. Slow; these humans were so damned slow. Her breathing was already ragged as she hauled herself up a hill, making enough noise to alert their trackers.

Crashing from the brush behind them—from the south. Two or three from the sound of it. Big, from the snapping branches and thudding of footfalls.

The girl hit the top of the hill, stumbling. She stayed upright, and Lorcan eyed the leg again.

There was no point in having tracked her for so long if she died now. For a heartbeat, he contemplated the weight in his jacket—the Wyrdkey tucked away. His magic was strong, the strongest of any demi-Fae male in any kingdom, any realm. But if he used the key—

If he used the key, then he’d deserve the damnation it’d call down upon him.

So Lorcan flung out a net of his power behind them, an invisible barrier wafting black tendrils of wind. The girl stiffened, whipping her head to him as the power rippled away in a wave. Her skin blanched further, but she continued, half falling, half running down the hill.

The impact of four massive bodies against his magic struck a moment later.

The tang of her blood as she sliced herself open on rock and root shoved itself up his nose. She was nowhere near fast enough.

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