Chapter no 108

Empire of Storms

The Queen of the Fae was exactly as Aelin remembered. Swirling dark robes, a beautiful pale face beneath onyx hair, red lips set in a faint smile … No crown adorned her head, for all who breathed, even the dead who slumbered, would know her for what she was.

Dreams and nightmares given form; the dark face of the moon.

And kneeling before Maeve, a stone-faced sentry holding a blade to her bare throat, Elide trembled. Her guards, all men in Ansel’s armor, had likely been killed before they could shout a warning. From the weapons that were only half out of their sheaths, they hadn’t even had the chance to fight.

Manon had gone still as death at the sight of Elide, her iron nails sliding free.

Aelin forced a half smile to her mouth, shoved her raw, bleeding heart into a box deep inside her chest. “Not as impressive as Doranelle, if you ask me, but at least a swamp really reflects your true nature, you know? It’ll be a wonderful new home for you. Definitely worth the cost of coming all this way to conquer it.”

At the edge of the hill that flowed down to the beach a small party of Fae warriors monitored them. Male and female, all armed, all strangers. A massive, elegant ship idled in the calm bay beyond.

Maeve smiled slightly. “What a joy, to learn that your usual good spirits remain undimmed in such dark days.”

“How could they not, when so many of your pretty males are in my company?”

Maeve cocked her head, her heavy curtain of dark hair sliding off a shoulder. And as if in answer, Lorcan appeared at the edge of the dunes, panting, wild-eyed, sword out. His focus—and horror, Aelin realized—on

Elide. On the sentry holding the blade against her white neck. Maeve gave a little smile to the warrior, but looked to Manon.

With her attention elsewhere, Lorcan took up a place at Aelin’s side—as if they were somehow allies in this, would fight back-to-back. Aelin didn’t bother to say anything to him. Not as Maeve said to the witch, “I know your face.”

That face remained cold and impassive. “Let the girl go.”

A small, breathy laugh. “Ah.” Aelin’s stomach clenched as that ancient focus shifted to Elide. “Claimed by queen, and witch, and … my Second, it seems.”

Aelin tensed. She didn’t think Lorcan was breathing beside her.

Maeve toyed with a strand of Elide’s limp hair. The Lady of Perranth shook. “The girl who Lorcan Salvaterre summoned me to save.”

That ripple of Lorcan’s power the day Ansel’s fleet had closed in … She’d known it was a summoning. The same way she’d summoned the Valg to Skull’s Bay. She’d refused to immediately explain Ansel’s presence, wanting to enjoy the surprise of it, and he had summoned Maeve’s armada to take on what he’d believed to be an enemy fleet. To save Elide.

Lorcan just said, “I’m sorry.”

Aelin didn’t know if it was to her or Elide, whose eyes now widened with outrage. But Aelin said, “You think I didn’t know? That I didn’t take precautions?”

Lorcan’s brows furrowed. Aelin shrugged.

But Maeve went on, “Lady Elide Lochan, daughter of Cal and Marion Lochan. No wonder the witch itches to retrieve you, if her bloodline runs in your veins.”

Manon snarled a warning.

Aelin drawled to the Fae Queen, “Well, you didn’t drag your ancient carcass all the way here for nothing. So let’s get on with it. What do you want for the girl?”

That adder’s smile curled Maeve’s lips again.



Elide was trembling; every bone, every pore was trembling in terror at the immortal queen standing above her, at the guard’s blade at her throat. The rest of the queen’s escort remained distant—but it was to the escort that Lorcan kept glancing, his face tight, his own body near-shaking with restrained wrath.

This was the queen to whom he’d given his heart? This cold creature who looked at the world with mirthless eyes? Who had killed those soldiers without a blink of hesitation?

The queen whom Lorcan had summoned for her. He’d brought Maeve to save her

Elide’s breath turned sharp in her throat. He’d betrayed them. Betrayed

Aelin for her—

“What should I demand as payment for the girl?” Maeve mused, taking a few steps toward them, graceful as a moonbeam. “Why doesn’t my Second tell me? So busy, Lorcan. You’ve been so, so busy these months.”

His voice was hoarse as he lowered his head. “I did it for you, Majesty.” “Then where is my ring? Where are my keys?”

A ring. Elide was willing to bet it was the golden one on her own finger, hidden beneath her other hand as she clenched them before her.

But Lorcan pointed his chin toward Aelin. “She has them. Two keys.”

Cold clanged through Elide. “Lorcan.” The guard’s blade twitched at her throat.

Aelin only leveled a cool stare at Lorcan.

He didn’t look at either Elide or Aelin. Didn’t so much as acknowledge their existence as he went on, “Aelin has two, and probably has a good inkling where Erawan hides the third.”

“Lorcan,” Elide pleaded. No—no, he wasn’t about to do this, about to betray them again—

Be quiet,” he growled at her.

Maeve’s gaze again drifted down to Elide. The ancient, eternal darkness in it was smothering. “What familiarity you use when you speak his name, Lady of Perranth. What intimacy.”

Aelin’s little snort was her only warning sign. “Don’t you have better things to do than terrorize humans? Release the girl and let’s settle this the fun way.”

Flame danced at Aelin’s fingertips.

No. Her magic had been emptied, still hovered near burnout.

But Aelin stepped forward, nudging Manon with the side of her body as she passed—forcing the witch to back away. Aelin grinned. “Want to dance, Maeve?”

But Aelin shot a cutting glance over her shoulder at Manon as if to say,

RunGrab Elide the moment Maeve’s guard is down and run.

Maeve returned Aelin’s smile. “I don’t think you’d be a suitable dance partner right now. Not when your magic is nearly depleted. Did you think my arrival was merely dependent upon Lorcan’s summoning? Who do you think even whispered to Morath you were indeed down here? Of course, the fools didn’t realize that when you had drained yourself on their armies, I’d be waiting. You were already exhausted after putting out the fires I had my armada ignite to tire you on Eyllwe’s coast. It was a convenience that Lorcan gave your precise location and saved me the energy of tracking you down myself.”

A trap. An enormous, wicked trap. To drain Aelin’s power over days— weeks. But Aelin lifted a brow. “You brought an entire armada just to start a few fires?”

“I brought an armada to see if you’d rise to the occasion. Which, apparently, Prince Rowan has done.”

Hope soared in Elide’s chest. But then Maeve said, “The armada was a precaution. Just in case the ilken didn’t arrive for you to wholly drain yourself … I figured a few hundred ships would make for good kindling until I was ready.”

To sacrifice her own fleet—or part of it—to gain one prize … This was madness. The queen was utterly insane. “Do something,” Elide hissed at Lorcan, at Manon. “Do something.”

Neither of them responded.

The flame around Aelin’s fingers grew to encompass her hand—then her arm as she said to the ancient queen, “All I hear is a lot of chitchat.”

Maeve glanced at her escort, and they stepped away. Hauled Elide with them, the blade still at her throat.

Aelin said sharply to Manon, “Get out of range.”

The witch fell back, but her eyes were on the guard holding Elide, gobbling down every detail she could.

“You can’t possibly hope to win,” Maeve said, as if they were about to play cards.

“At least we’ll enjoy ourselves until the end,” Aelin crooned back, flame now encasing her entirely.

“Oh, I have no interest in killing you,” Maeve purred. Then they exploded.

Flame slammed outward, red and golden—just as a wall of darkness lashed for Aelin.

The impact shook the world.

Even Manon was thrown on her ass. But Lorcan was already moving.

The guard holding Elide showered her hair with blood as Lorcan slit his throat.

The other two guards behind him died with a hatchet to the face, one after another. Elide surged up, her leg barking in pain, running for Manon on pure, blind instinct, but Lorcan gripped her by the collar of her tunic. “Stupid fool,” he snapped, and she clawed at him—

“Lorcan, hold the girl,” Maeve said quietly, not even looking toward them. “Don’t get any stupid ideas about fleeing with her.” He went utterly still, his hold tightening.

Maeve and Aelin struck again. Light and darkness.

Sand shuddered down the dunes, the waves rippled. Only now—Maeve had only dared attack Aelin now. Because Aelin at her full strength …

Aelin could beat her.

But Aelin, nearly depleted of her power …

“Please,” Elide begged Lorcan. But he held her firm, slave to the order Maeve had given, one eye on the battling queens, the other on the escorts who weren’t foolish enough to approach after witnessing what he’d done to their companions.

“Run,” Lorcan said in her ear. “If you wish to live, run, Elide. Shove me off—work around her command. Push me, and run.”

She would not. She’d sooner die than flee like a coward, not when Aelin was going to the mat for all of them, when—

Darkness devoured flame.

And even Manon flinched as Aelin was slammed back.

A paper-thin wall of flame kept that darkness from hitting home. A wall that wavered—

Help. They needed help—

Maeve lashed to the left, and Aelin threw up a hand, fire deflecting.

Aelin didn’t see the blow to the right. Elide screamed in warning, but too late.

A whip of black sliced into Aelin. She went down.

And Elide thought the impact of Aelin Galathynius’s knees hitting the sand might have been the most horrible sound she’d ever heard.

Maeve did not waste her advantage.

Darkness poured down, pounding again and again. Aelin deflected, but it got past her.

There was nothing Elide could do as Aelin screamed.

As that dark, ancient power struck her like a hammer over an anvil. Elide begged Manon, now mere feet away, “Do something.”

Manon ignored her, eyes fixed on the battle before them.

Aelin crawled backward, blood sliding from her right nostril. Dripping on her white shirt.

Maeve advanced, the darkness swirling around her like a fell wind. Aelin tried to rise.

Tried, but her legs had given out. The Queen of Terrasen panted, fire flickering like dying embers around her.

Maeve pointed with a finger.

A black whip, faster than Aelin’s fire, lashed out. Wrapped around her throat. Aelin gripped it, thrashing, her teeth bared, flame flaring over and over.

“Why don’t you use the keys, Aelin?” Maeve purred. “Surely you’d win that way.”

Use them, Elide begged her. Use them.

But Aelin did not.

The coil of darkness tightened around Aelin’s throat. Flames sparked and died out.

Then the darkness expanded, encompassing Aelin again and squeezing tight, squeezing until she was screaming, screaming in a way that Elide

knew meant unfathomable agony—

A low, vicious snarl rippled from nearby, the only warning as a massive wolf leaped through the seagrasses and shifted. Fenrys.

A heartbeat later, a mountain lion charged over a dune, beheld the scene, and shifted as well. Gavriel.

“Let her go,” Fenrys growled at the dark queen, advancing a step. “Let her go now.”

Maeve turned her head, that darkness still lashing Aelin. “Look who finally arrived. Another set of traitors.” She smoothed a wrinkle in her flowing gown. “What a valiant effort you made, Fenrys, delaying your arrival on this beach for as long as you could withstand my summons.” She clicked her tongue. “Did you enjoy playing loyal subject while panting after the young Queen of Fire?”

As if in answer, the darkness squeezed in tight—and Aelin screamed again.

Stop it,” Fenrys snapped.

“Maeve, please,” Gavriel said, exposing his palms to her.

“Maeve?” the queen crooned. “Not Majesty? Has the Lion gone a bit feral? Perhaps too much time with his unchecked, half-breed bastard?”

“Leave him out of this,” Gavriel said too softly. But Maeve let the darkness around Aelin part.

She was curled on her side, bleeding from both nostrils now, more blood dribbling from her panting mouth.

Fenrys lunged for her. A wall of black slammed up between them. “I don’t think so,” Maeve crooned.

Aelin gasped for air, eyes glassy with pain. Eyes that slid to Elide’s.

Aelin’s bloody, chapped mouth formed the word again. Run.

She would not. Could not.

Aelin’s arms shook as she tried to raise herself. And Elide knew there was no magic left.

No fire left in the queen. Not one ember.

And the only way Aelin could face this, accept this, was to go down swinging. Like Marion had.

Aelin’s wet, rasping breaths were the only sound above the crashing waves behind them. Even the battle had gone quiet in the distance. Over— or perhaps they were all dead.

Manon still stood there. Still did not move. Elide begged her, “Please.


Maeve smiled at the witch. “I have no quarrel with you, Blackbeak.

Stay out of this and you are free to go where you wish.” “Please,” Elide pleaded.

Manon’s gold eyes were hard. Cold. She nodded to Maeve. “Agreed.” Something in Elide’s chest cleaved open.

But Gavriel said from across their little circle, “Majesty—please. Leave Aelin Galathynius to her own war here. Let us return home.”

“Home?” Maeve asked. The black wall between Fenrys and Aelin lowered—but the warrior did not try to cross. He just stared at Aelin, stared at her in that way Elide herself must be looking. He didn’t break that stare until Maeve said to Gavriel, “Is Doranelle still your home?”

“Yes, Majesty,” Gavriel said calmly. “It is an honor to call it such.”

“Honor … ,” Maeve mused. “Yes, you and honor go hand in hand, don’t they? But what of the honor of your vow, Gavriel?”

“I have kept my vow to you.”

“Did I or did I not tell you to execute Lorcan on sight?”

“There were … circumstances that prevented it from happening. We tried.”

“Yet you failed. Am I not supposed to discipline my blood-bonded who fail me?”

Gavriel lowered his head. “Of course—we will accept it. And I will also take on the punishment you intended for Aelin Galathynius.”

Aelin lifted her head slightly, glazed eyes going wide. She tried to speak, but the words had been broken from her, her voice blown out from screaming. Elide knew the word the queen mouthed. No.

Not for her. Elide wondered if Gavriel’s sacrifice was not only for Aelin’s sake. But for Aedion’s. So the son would not have to bear the pain of his queen being hurt—

“Aelin Galathynius,” Maeve mused. “So much talk about Aelin Galathynius. The Queen Who Was Promised. Well, Gavriel”—a vicious smile—“if you’re so invested in her court, why don’t you join it?”

Fenrys tensed, preparing to lunge in front of the dark power for his friend.

But Maeve said, “I sever the blood oath with you, Gavriel. Without honor, without good faith. You are dismissed from my service and stripped of your title.”

“You bitch,” Fenrys snapped as Gavriel’s breathing turned shallow.

“Majesty, please—” Gavriel hissed, clapping a hand over his arm as invisible claws raked two lines down his skin, drawing blood that spilled into the grass. A similar mark appeared on Maeve’s arm, her blood spilling. “It is done,” she said simply. “Let the world know you, a male of honor, have none. That you betrayed your queen for another, for a bastard get of


Gavriel stumbled back—then collapsed in the sand, a hand shoved against his chest. Fenrys snarled, his face more lupine than Fae, but Maeve laughed softly. “Oh, you’d like for me to do the same, wouldn’t you, Fenrys? But what greater punishment for the one who is a traitor to me in his very soul than to serve me forever?”

Fenrys hissed, his breath coming in ragged gulps, and Elide wondered if he’d leap upon the queen and try to kill her.

But Maeve turned to Aelin and said, “Get up.” Aelin tried. Her body failed her.

Maeve clicked her tongue, and an invisible hand hauled Aelin to her feet. Pain-fogged eyes cleared, then filled with cold rage as Aelin took in the approaching queen.

An assassin, Elide reminded herself. Aelin was an assassin, and if Maeve got close enough …

But Maeve didn’t. And those invisible hands cut the tethers on Aelin’s sword belts. Goldryn thunked to the ground. Then daggers slid from their sheaths.

“So many weapons,” Maeve contemplated as the invisible hands disarmed Aelin with brutal efficiency. Even blades hidden beneath clothes found their way out—slicing as they went. Blood bloomed beneath Aelin’s shirt and pants. Why did she stand there—

Gathering her strength. For one last strike. One last stand.

Let the queen believe her broken. “Why?” Aelin rasped. Buying herself time.

Maeve toed a fallen dagger, the blade edged with Aelin’s blood. “Why bother with you at all? Because I can’t very well let you sacrifice yourself

to forge a new Lock, can I? Not when you already have what I want. And I have known for a very, very long time that you would give me what I seek, Aelin Galathynius, and have taken the steps toward ensuring that.”

Aelin breathed, “What?”

Maeve said, “Haven’t you figured it out? Why I wanted your mother to bring you to me, why I demanded such things of you this spring?”

None of them dared move.

Maeve snorted, a delicate, feminine sound of triumph. “Brannon stole the keys from me, after I took them from the Valg. They were mine, and he snatched them. And then he mated with that goddess of yours, breeding the fire into the bloodline, ensuring I would think hard before touching his land, his heirs. But all bloodlines fade. And I knew a time would come when Brannon’s flames would dim to a flicker, and I’d be poised to strike.”

Aelin sagged against the hands that held her up.

“But in my dark power, I saw a glimmer of the future. I saw that Mala’s power would surge again. And that you would lead me to the keys. Only you—the one Brannon left clues for, the one who could find all three. And I saw who you were, what you were. I saw who you loved. I saw your mate.”

The sea breeze hissing through the grasses was the only sound.

“What a powerhouse you two would be—you and Prince Rowan. And any offspring of that union …” A vicious smirk. “You and Rowan could rule this continent if you wished. But your children … your children would be powerful enough to rule an empire that could sweep the world.”

Aelin closed her eyes. The Fae males were shaking their heads slowly— not believing it.

“I didn’t know when you would be born, but when Prince Rowan Whitethorn came into this world, when he came of age and was the strongest purebred Fae male in my realm … you were still not there. And I knew what I would have to do. To leash you. To break you to my will, to hand over those keys without thought once you were strong and trained enough to acquire them.”

Aelin’s shoulders shook. Tears slid out past her closed eyes.

“It was so easy to tug on the right psychic thread that day Rowan saw Lyria at the market. To shove him down that other path, to trick those instincts. A slight altering of fate.”

“Oh, gods,” Fenrys breathed.

Maeve said, “So your mate was given to another. And I let him fall in love, let him get her with child. And then I broke him. No one ever asked how those enemy forces came to pass by his mountain home.”

Aelin’s knees gave out completely. Only the invisible hands kept her upright as she wept.

“He took the blood oath without question. And I knew that whenever you were born, whenever you’d come of age … I’d ensure that your paths crossed, and you’d take one look at each other and I’d have you by the throat. Anything I asked for, you’d give to me. Even the keys. For your mate, you could do no less. You almost did that day in Doranelle.”

Slowly, Aelin slid her feet under herself again, the movement so pained that Elide cringed. But Aelin lifted her head, lip curling back from her teeth.

“I will kill you,” Aelin snarled at the Fae Queen.

“That’s what you said to Rowan after you met him, wasn’t it?” Maeve’s faint smile lingered. “I’d pushed and pushed your mother to bring you to me, so you could meet him, so I could have you at last when Rowan felt the bond, but she refused. And we know how well that turned out for her. And during those ten years afterward, I knew you were alive. Somewhere. But when you came to me … when you and your mate looked at each other with only hate in your eyes … I’ll admit I did not anticipate it. That I had broken Rowan Whitethorn so thoroughly that he did not recognize his own mate— that you were so broken by your own pain you didn’t notice, either. And when the signs appeared, the carranam bond washed away any suspicion on his part that you might be his. But not you. How long has it been, Aelin, since you realized he was your mate?”

Aelin said nothing, her eyes churning with rage and grief and despair.

Elide whispered, “Leave her alone.” Lorcan’s grip on her tightened in warning.

Maeve ignored her. “Well? When did you know?”

“At Temis’s temple,” Aelin admitted, glancing to Manon. “The moment the arrow went through his shoulder. Months ago.”

“And you’ve hidden it from him, no doubt to save him from any guilt regarding Lyria, any sort of emotional distress …” Maeve clicked her tongue. “What a noble little liar you are.”

Aelin stared at nothing, her eyes going blank.

“I had planned for him to be here,” Maeve said, frowning at the horizon. “Since letting you two go that day in Doranelle was so that you could lead me to the keys again. I even let you think you’d gotten away with it, by freeing him. You had no idea that I unleashed you. But if he’s not here … I’ll have to make do.”

Aelin stiffened. Fenrys snarled in warning.

Maeve shrugged. “If it’s any consolation, Aelin, you would have had a thousand years with Prince Rowan. Longer.”

The world slowed, and Elide could hear her own blood roaring in her ears as Maeve said, “My sister Mab’s line ran true. The full powers, shifting abilities, and the immortality of the Fae. You’re likely about five years away from Settling.”

Aelin’s face crumpled. This was not a draining of magic and physical strength, but of spirit.

“Perhaps we’ll celebrate your Settling together,” Maeve mused, “since I certainly have no plans to waste you on that Lock. To waste the keys, when they are meant to be wielded, Aelin.”

“Maeve, please,” Fenrys breathed.

Maeve examined her immaculate nails. “What I find to be truly amusing is that it seems I didn’t even need you to be Rowan’s mate. Or really need to break him at all. A fascinating experiment in my own powers, if anything. But since I doubt you’ll still go willingly, not at least without trying to die on me first, I’ll let you have a choice.”

Aelin seemed to be bracing herself as Maeve lifted a hand and said, “Cairn.”

The males went rigid. Lorcan turned near-feral behind Elide, subtly trying to drag her back, to work around the order he’d been given.

A handsome, brown-haired warrior walked toward them from the cluster of escorts. Handsome, if it weren’t for the sadistic cruelty singing in his blue eyes. If it wasn’t for the blades at his sides, the whip curled along one hip, the sneering smile. She’d seen that smile before—on Vernon’s face. On so many faces at Morath.

“Allow me to introduce the newest member of my cadre, as you like to call them. Cairn, meet Aelin Galathynius.”

Cairn stepped up to his queen’s side. And the look the male gave Elide’s queen made her stomach turn over. Sadist—yes, that was the word for him,

without him even saying one himself.

“Cairn,” Maeve said, “is trained in abilities that you have in common. Of course, you only had a few years to learn the art of torment, but … perhaps Cairn can teach you some of the things he’s learned in his centuries of practicing.”

Fenrys was pale with rage. “Maeve, I beg you—”

Darkness slammed into Fenrys, shoving him to his knees, forcing his head to the dirt. “That is enough,” Maeve hissed.

Maeve was smiling again when she turned back to Aelin. “I said you have a choice. And you do. Either you come willingly with me and get acquainted with Cairn, or …”

Those eyes slid to Lorcan. To Elide.

And Elide’s heart stopped as Maeve said, “Or I still take you—and bring Elide Lochan with us. I’m certain she and Cairn will get along wonderfully.”

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