Aedion had faced armies, faced death more times than he could count, but this …
Even with what Rowan had done … the enemy ships still outnumbered them.
The battling between ships had become too dangerous, the magic-wielders too aware of Lysandra to allow her to attack beneath the waves.
She was now fighting viciously beside Aedion in ghost leopard form, taking down whatever Fae warriors tried to board their ship. Whatever soldiers made it through the shredding gauntlet of Rowan’s and Dorian’s magic.
His father had left. Fenrys and Lorcan, too. He’d last seen his father on the quarterdeck of one of the ships that had been under his command, a sword in each hand, the Lion poised for the kill. And as if sensing Aedion’s gaze, a wall of golden light had wrapped around him.
Aedion wasn’t stupid enough to demand Gavriel take it away, not as the shield shrank and shrank, until it covered Aedion like a second skin.
Minutes later, Gavriel was gone—vanished. But that magic shield remained.
That had been the start of the sharp turn they’d taken, going back on the defensive as sheer numbers and immortal-versus-mortal fighting took its toll on their fleet.
He had no doubt Maeve had something to do with it. But that bitch wasn’t his problem.
No, his problem was the armada all around him; his problem was the fact that the enemy soldiers he engaged were highly trained and didn’t go down easily. His problem was his sword arm ached, his shield was
embedded with arrows and dented, and still more of those ships stretched away into the distance.
He did not let himself think about Aelin, about where she was. His Fae instincts pricked at the rumble of Rowan’s and Dorian’s magic surging up, then snapping into the enemy flank. Ships broke in the wake of that power; warriors drowned beneath the weight of their armor.
Their own ship rocked back from the one they’d been engaging thanks to the flood of power, and Aedion used the reprieve to whirl to Lysandra. Blood from his own wounds and ones he’d inflicted covered him, mixing with the sweat running down his skin. He said to the shifter, “I want you to run.”
Lysandra turned a fuzzy head toward him, pale green eyes narrowing slightly. Blood and gore dripped from her maw onto the wood planks.
Aedion held that gaze. “You turn into a bird or a moth or a fish—I don’t rutting care—and you go. If we’re about to fall, you run. That’s an order.”
She hissed, as if to say, You don’t give me orders.
“I technically outrank you,” he said, slashing his sword down his shield to clear it of two protruding arrows as they again swung in toward another ship crammed full of well-rested Fae warriors. “So you’ll run. Or I’ll kick your ass in the Afterworld.”
Lysandra stalked up to him. A lesser man might have backed away from a predator that big prowling close. Some of his own soldiers did.
But Aedion held his ground as she rose on her back legs, those huge paws settling on his shoulders, and brought her bloodied feline face up to his. Her wet whiskers twitched.
Lysandra leaned in and nuzzled his cheek, his neck.
Then she trotted back to her place, blood splashing beneath her silent paws.
When she deigned to glance his way, spitting blood onto the deck, Aedion said softly, “The next time, do that in your human form.”
Her puffy tail just curled a bit in answer.
But their ship rocked back toward their latest attacker. The temperature plummeted, either from Rowan or Dorian or one of the Whitethorn nobles, Aedion couldn’t tell. They’d been lucky that Maeve had brought a fleet whose magic-wielders hailed mostly from Rowan’s line.
Aedion braced himself, spreading apart his feet as wind and ice tore into the enemy lines. Fae soldiers, perhaps ones Rowan himself had commanded, screamed. But Rowan and Dorian struck relentlessly.
Line after line, Rowan and Dorian blasted their power into Maeve’s fleet.
Yet more ships flooded past them, engaging Aedion and the others. Ansel of Briarcliff held the left flank, and … the lines remained steady. Even if Maeve’s armada still outnumbered them.
The first Fae soldier who cleared the railing of their ship headed right for Lysandra.
It was the last mistake the male made.
She leaped, dodging past his guard, and closed her jaws around his neck.
Bone crunched and blood sprayed.
Aedion leaped forward to engage the next soldier over the railing, cutting through the grappling hooks that arced and landed true.
Aedion loosed himself into a killing calm, an eye on the shifter, who took down soldier after soldier, his father’s gold shield holding strong around her, too.
Death rained upon him.
Aedion did not let himself think about how many were left. How many Rowan and Dorian felled, the ruins of ships sinking around them, blood and flotsam choking the sea.
So Aedion kept killing. And killing.
Dorian’s breath burned his throat, his magic was sluggish, a headache pulsed at his temples, but he kept unleashing his power upon the enemy lines while soldiers fought and died around him.
So many. So many trained warriors, a scant few of whom were blessed with magic—and had been wielding it to get past them.
He didn’t dare see how the others were faring. All he heard were roars and snarls of wrath, shrieks of dying people, and the crack of wood and the snap of rope. Clouds had formed and gathered above, blocking out the sun.
His magic sang as it froze the life out of ships, out of soldiers, as it bathed in their death. But it still flagged. He’d lost track of how long it had been.
Still, they kept coming. And still, Manon and Aelin did not return.
Rowan held the front line, weapons angled, ready for any soldiers stupid enough to approach. But too many broke past their magic. Too many now steadily overwhelmed them.
As soon as he thought it, Aedion’s bark of pain cut across the waves. There was a roar of rage that echoed it. Was Aedion—
The coppery tang of blood coated Dorian’s mouth—the burnout. Another roar, deep and bellowing, cleaved the world. Dorian braced himself, rallying his magic perhaps for the last time.
That roar sounded again as a mighty shape shot down from the heavy clouds.
A wyvern. A wyvern with shimmering wings.
And behind it, descending upon the Fae fleet with wicked delight, flew twelve others.