Chapter no 100

Empire of Storms

Dawn at the Obsidian Passes

The Lock had crafted the sarcophagus from the mountain itself.

It had taken every ember of its power to bind Erawan within the stone, to seal him inside.

She could feel the Dark King sleeping within. Hear the shrieks of his fell army feasting on human flesh in the valley far below. How long would they continue fighting when word spread that Erawan had fallen?

She wasn’t foolish enough to hope her companions had survived the slaughter. Not this long.

On her knees in the sharp black rock, Elena gazed at the obsidian sarcophagus, the symbols carved into it. They initially had been glowing, but had now faded and cooled, settled into place. When she had stolen the Lock from her father all those months ago, she had not known—had not understood—the truth depth of its power. Still did not know why he had forged it. Only that once, just once, could the Lock’s power be wielded. And that power … oh, that mighty, shattering power … it had saved them all.

Gavin, sprawled and bloody behind her, stirred. His face was so mangled she could barely see the handsome, fierce features beneath. His left arm was useless at his side. The price of distracting Erawan while she’d unleashed the Lock’s power. But even Gavin had not known what she’d been planning. What she’d stolen and harbored all these months.

She did not regret it. Not when it had spared him from death. Worse.

Gavin took in the sarcophagus, the empty, intricate amulet of the Lock in her palm as it rested on her thigh. He recognized it instantly, having seen it around her father’s neck during those initial weeks in Orynth. The blue

stone in its center was now drained, dim where it had once flickered with inner fire. Barely a drop of its power left, if that.

“What have you done?” His voice was a broken rasp from screaming during Erawan’s ministrations. To buy her time, to save their people—

Elena folded her fingers into a fist around the Lock. “He is sealed. He cannot escape.”

“Your father’s Lock—”

“It is done,” she said, shifting her attention to the dozen ancient, immortal figures now on the other side of the sarcophagus.

Gavin started, hissing at his broken body with the sudden movement.

They had no forms. They were only figments of light and shadow, wind and rain, song and memory. Each individual, and yet a part of one majority, one consciousness.

They were all gazing at the broken Lock in her hands, its stone dull.

Gavin lowered his brow to the blood-soaked rock and averted his eyes. Elena’s very bones quailed in their presence, but she kept her chin high. “Our sister’s bloodline has betrayed us,” said one that was of sea and

sky and storms.

Elena shook her head, trying to swallow. Failing. “I saved us. I stopped Erawan—”

“Fool,” said the one of many shifting voices, both animal and human. “Half-breed fool. Did you not consider why your father carried it, why he bided his time all these years, gathering his strength? He was to wield it—to seal the three Wyrdkeys back into the gate, and send us home before he shut the gate forever. Us, and the Dark King. The Lock was forged for us— promised to us. And you wasted it.”

Elena braced a hand on the earth to keep from swaying. “My father bears the Wyrdkeys?” He had never so much as hinted … And the Lock … she had thought it a mere weapon. A weapon he had refused to wield in this bloody war.

They did not answer, their silence confirmation enough.

A small, broken noise came out of her throat. Elena breathed, “I’m sorry.”

Their rage rattled her bones, threatened to stop her heart dead in her chest. The one of flame and light and ashes seemed to withhold, seemed to pause in her wrath.

To remember.

She had not seen or spoken to her mother since she had left her body to forge the Lock. Since Rhiannon Crochan had helped Mala cast her very essence into it, the mass of its power contained within the small witch mirror disguised as a blue stone, to be unleashed only once. They had never told Elena why. Never said it was anything more than a weapon that her father would one day desperately need to wield.

The cost: her mother’s mortal body, the life she had wanted for herself with Brannon and their children. It had been ten years since then. Ten years, her father had never stopped waiting for Mala to return, hoping he’d see her again. Just once.

I will not remember you, Mala had said to them all before she had given herself to the Lock’s forging. And yet there she was. Pausing. As if she remembered.

“Mother,” Elena whispered, a broken plea. Mala Light-Bringer looked away from her.

The one who saw all with wise, calm eyes said, “Unleash him. So we have been betrayed by these earth beasts, let us return the favor. Unleash the Dark King from his coffin.”

No,” Elena pleaded, rising from her knees. “Please—please. Tell me what I must do to atone, but please do not unleash him. I beg you.”

“He will rise again one day,” said the one of darkness and death. “He will awaken. You have wasted our Lock on a fool’s errand, when you could have solved all, had you only the patience and wits to understand.”

“Then let him awaken,” Elena begged, her voice breaking. “Let someone else inherit this war—someone better prepared.”

“Coward,” said the one with a voice of steel and shields and arrows. “Coward to shove the burden to another.”

“Please,” Elena said. “I will give you anything. Anything. But not that.” As one, they looked to Gavin.


But it was her mother who said, “We have waited this long to return home. We may wait a little longer. Watch over this … place a little longer.”

Not just gods, but beings of a higher, different existence. For whom time was fluid, and bodies were things to be shifted and molded. Who could

exist in multiple places, spread themselves wide like nets being thrown. They were as mighty and vast and eternal as a human was to a mayfly.

They had not been born in this world. Perhaps had become trapped here after wandering through a Wyrdgate. And they had struck some bargain with her father, with Mala, to at last send them home, banishing Erawan with them. And she had ruined it.

The one with three faces said, “We will wait. But there must be a price.

And a promise.”

“Name it,” Elena said. If they took Gavin, she’d follow. She was not the heir to her father’s throne. It did not matter if she walked out of this mountain pass. She wasn’t entirely certain she could bear to see him again, not after her arrogance and pride and self-righteousness. Brannon had begged her to listen, to wait. She had instead stolen the Lock from him and run with Gavin into the night, desperate to save these lands.

The one with three faces studied her. “Mala’s bloodline shall bleed again to forge the Lock anew. And you will lead them, a lamb to slaughter, to pay the price of this choice you made to waste its power here, for this petty battle. You will show this future scion how to forge a new Lock with Mala’s gifts, how to then use it to wield the keys and send us home. Our original bargain still holds: we will take the Dark King with us. Tear him apart in our own world, where he will be but dust and memory. When we are gone—you will show this scion how to seal the gate behind us, the Lock holding it intact eternally. By yielding every last drop of their life force. As your father was prepared to do when the time was right.”

“Please,” Elena breathed.

The three-faced one said, “Tell Brannon of the Wildfire what occurred here; tell him the price his bloodline shall one day pay. Tell him to ready for it.”

She let the words, the damnation, sink in. “I will,” she whispered.

But they were gone. There was only a lingering warmth, as if a beam of sunlight had brushed her cheek.

Gavin lifted his head. “What have you done?” he asked again. “What have you given them?”

“Did you not—not hear it?”

“Only you,” he rasped, his face so horribly pale. “No others.”

She stared at the sarcophagus before them, its black stone rooted to the earth of the pass. Immovable. They would have to build something around it, to hide it, protect it.

Elena said, “The price will be paid—later.”

“Tell me.” His swollen, split lips could barely form the words.

Since she had already damned herself, damned her bloodline, she figured there was nothing left to lose in lying. Not this one time, this last time. “Erawan will awaken again—one day. When the time comes, I will help those who must fight him.”

His eyes were wary.

“Can you walk?” she asked, extending a hand to help him rise. The rising sun cast the black mountains in gold and red. She had no doubt the valley behind was bathed in the latter.

Gavin released his grip, the fingers still broken, from where it had rested on Damaris’s hilt. But he did not take her offered hand.

And he did not tell her what he’d detected while he touched the Sword of Truth, what lies he’d sensed and unraveled.

They never spoke of them again.



Moonrise at the Temple of Sandrian, the Stone Marshes

The Princess of Eyllwe had been wandering the Stone Marshes for weeks, searching for answers to riddles posed a thousand years ago. Answers that might save her doomed kingdom.

Keys and gates and locks—portals and pits and prophecies. That was what the princess murmured to herself in the weeks she’d been stalking through the marshes alone, hunting to keep herself alive, fighting the beasts of teeth and venom when necessary, reading the stars for entertainment.

So when the princess at last reached the temple, when she stood before the stone altar and the chest that was the light twin to the dark one beneath Morath, she at last appeared.

“You are Nehemia,” she said.

The princess whirled, her hunting leathers stained and damp, the gold tips on her braided hair clinking.

An assessing look with eyes that were too old for barely eighteen; eyes that had stared long into the darkness between the stars and yearned to know its secrets. “And you are Elena.”

Elena nodded. “Why have you come?”

The Princess of Eyllwe jerked her elegant chin toward the stone chest. “Am I not called to open it? To learn how to save us, and to pay the price?”

“No,” Elena said quietly. “Not you. Not in this way.”

A tightening of her lips was the only sign of the princess’s displeasure. “Then in what way, Lady, am I required to bleed?”

She had been watching, and waiting, and paying for her choices for so long. Too long.

And now that darkness had fallen … now a new sun would rise. Must


“It is Mala’s bloodline that will pay, not your own.”

Her back stiffened. “You have not answered my question.”

Elena wished she could hold back the words, keep them locked up. But this was the price, for her kingdom, her people. The price for these people, this kingdom. And others.

“In the North, two branches flow from Mala. One to the Havilliard House, where its prince with my mate’s eyes possesses my raw magic—and her brute power. The other branch flows through the Galathynius House, where it bred true: flame and embers and ashes.”

“Aelin Galathynius is dead,” Nehemia said.

“Not dead.” No, she’d ensured that, still paying for what she’d done that wintry night. “Just hiding, forgotten by a world grateful to see such a power extinguished before it matured.”

“Where is she? And how does this tie to me, Lady?”

“You are versed in the history, in the players and the stakes. You know the Wyrdmarks and how to wield them. You misread the riddles, thinking it was you who must come here, to this place. This mirror is not the Lock—it is a pool of memory. Forged by myself, my father, and Rhiannon Crochan. Forged so the heir of this burden might understand one day. Know everything before deciding. This encounter, too, shall be held in it. But you were called, so we might meet.”

That wise, young face waited.

“Go north, Princess,” Elena said. “Go into your enemy’s household. Make the contacts, get the invitation, do what you must, but get to your enemy’s house. The two bloodlines will converge there. Already, they are on their way.”

“Aelin Galathynius is headed to Adarlan?”

“Not Aelin. Not with that name, that crown. Know her by her eyes— turquoise with a core of gold. Know her by the mark on her brow—the bastard’s mark, the mark of Brannon. Guide her. Help her. She will need you.”

“And the price?”

Elena hated them, then.

Hated the gods who had demanded this. Hated herself. Hated that this was asked, all these bright lights …

“You will not see Eyllwe again.”

The princess stared at the stars as if they spoke to her, as if the answer were written there. “Will my people survive?” A small, quiet voice.

“I don’t know.”

“Then I will take the steps for that, too. Unite the rebels while I am in Rifthold, ready the continent for war.”

Nehemia lowered her eyes from the stars. Elena wanted to fall to her knees before the young princess, beg her forgiveness. “One of them must be ready—to do what needs to be done,” Elena said, if only because it was the sole way to explain, to apologize.

Nehemia swallowed. “Then I shall help in whatever way I can. For Erilea. And my people.”

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