Chapter no 120

Empire of Storms

Yrene’s hands did not tremble as she held them before her.

White light glowed around her fingers, encasing them, shielding them as she picked up the sleeping princess’s hand. It was so slight—so delicate, compared to the horrors she’d done with it.

Yrene’s magic rippled and bent as she reached for the false wedding ring. As if it were some sort of lodestone, warping the world around it.

Chaol’s hand settled on her back in silent support.

She steeled herself, sucking in a breath as her fingers closed around the ring.

It was worse.

So much worse than what had been within Chaol.

Where his had been a mere shadow, this was an inky pool of blackness.

Corruption. The opposite of everything in this world.

Yrene panted through her teeth, her magic flaring around her hand, the light a barrier, a glove between her and that ring, and pulled.

The ring slid off.

And Duva began screaming.

Her body arched off the couch, Sartaq and Kashin lunging for her legs and shoulders, respectively.

Teeth gritted, the princes pinned their sister as she thrashed against them, shrieking wordlessly as Hafiza’s sleeping spell kept her unconscious.

You’re hurting her,” the khagan snapped. Yrene did not bother to look toward him as she studied Duva. The body the princess slammed up and down, over and over.

Hush,” Hasar hissed at her father. “Let her work. Someone fetch a blacksmith to crack open that damned ring.”

The world beyond them faded into blur and sound. Yrene was distantly aware of a young man—Duva’s husband—sprinting up to them. Covering his mouth with a cry; being held at bay by Nesryn.

Chaol just continued to kneel beside Yrene, removing his hand from her back with a final, soothing rub, while she stared and stared at Duva as she writhed.

“She will hurt herself, ” Arghun seethed. “Stop this—”

A true parasite. A living shadow within the princess. Filling her blood, planted in her mind.

She could feel the Valg demon within, raging and screeching.

Yrene lifted her hands before her. The white light filled her skin. She

became that light, held within the now-faint borders of her body.

Someone gasped as Yrene reached her glowing, blinding hands toward the princess’s chest, as if guided by some invisible tug.

The demon began to panic, sensing her approach.

Distantly, she heard Sartaq swear. Heard the crack of wood as Duva drove her foot into the arm of the couch.

There was only the thrashing Valg, scrabbling at power. Only her incandescent hands, reaching for the princess.

Yrene laid her glowing hands on Duva’s chest.

Light flared, bright as a sun. People cried out.

But as quickly as it had appeared, the light vanished, sucked into Yrene

—into where her hands met Duva’s chest. Sucked into the princess herself.

Along with Yrene.

It was a dark storm within.

Cold, and raging, and ancient.

Yrene felt it squatting there. Squatting everywhere. A tapeworm indeed. “You will all die—” the Valg demon began to hiss.

Yrene unleashed her power.

A torrent of white light flooded every vein and bone and nerve.

Not a river, but a band of light made up of the countless kernels of her power—so many they were legion, all hunting out each dark, festering corner, each screaming crevice of malice.

Far away, beyond, a blacksmith arrived. A hammer struck metal. Hasar snarled—the sound echoed by Chaol, right at Yrene’s ear.

Half aware, she saw the black, glittering stone held within the metal as they carefully passed it around on a vizier’s kerchief.

The Valg demon roared as her magic smothered it, drowned it. Yrene panted against the onslaught as it pushed back. Shoved at her.

Chaol’s hand again began to rub down her back in soothing lines. More of the world faded away.

I am not afraid of you, Yrene said into the dark. And you have nowhere to run.

Duva thrashed, trying to unseat Yrene’s grip. Yrene pressed down harder on her chest.

Time slowed and bent. She was dimly aware of the ache in her knees, the cramp in her back. Dimly aware of Sartaq and Kashin refusing to offer

their position to someone else.

Still Yrene sent her magic flowing into Duva. Filling her with that devouring light.

The demon screamed the entire time.

But bit by bit, she blasted it back, blasted it deeper. Until she saw it, curled within the core of her.

Its true form … It was as horrific as she’d imagined.

Smoke swirled and coiled about it, revealing glimpses of gangly limbs and talons, mostly hairless gray, slick skin, and unnaturally large dark eyes that raged as she looked upon it.

Truly looked upon it.

It hissed, revealing pointed, fish-sharp teeth. Your world shall fall. As the others have done. As all others will.

The demon dug claws deep into the darkness. Duva screamed. “Pathetic,” Yrene told it.

Perhaps she spoke the word aloud, for silence fell.

Distantly, that bond flowing away … it thinned. The hand on her back drifted away.

“Utterly pathetic,” Yrene repeated, her magic rallying behind her in a mighty, cresting white wave. “For a prince to prey on a helpless woman.”

The demon scrambled back against the wave, clawing at the dark as if it would tunnel through Duva.

Yrene pushed forward. Let her wave fall.

And as her power slammed into that last remnant of the demon, it laughed. No prince am I, girl. But a princess. And my sisters shall soon find you.

Yrene’s light erupted, shredding and cleaving, devouring any last scrap of darkness—

Yrene snapped back into her body, collapsing against the floor. Chaol shouted her name.

But Hasar was there, hauling her upright as Yrene lunged for Duva, hands flaring—

But Duva coughed, choking, trying to twist onto her side.

“Turn her,” Yrene rasped to the princes, who obeyed. Just as Duva heaved, and vomited over the edge of the couch. It splattered Yrene’s knees, reeking to deepest hell. But she scanned the mess. Food—mostly food, and speckles of blood.

Duva retched again, a deep, choking noise.

Only black smoke broke from her lips. She retched again, and again. Until a tendril dribbled onto the emerald floors.

And as the shadows slithered out of Duva’s lips … Yrene felt it. Even as her magic strained and buckled, she felt the last of that Valg demon vanish into nothing.

A bit of dew dissolved by the sun.

Her body became cold and aching. Empty. Her magic drained to the dregs.

She blinked up at the wall of people standing around the couch.

The khagan’s sons now flanked their father, hands on their swords, faces grim.

Lethal—with rage. Not at Yrene, not at Duva, but the man who had sent this to their house. Their family.

Duva’s face relaxed on an exhaled breath, color blooming on her cheeks.

Duva’s husband tried to surge for her again, but Yrene stopped him with an upheld hand.

Heavy—her hand was so heavy. But she held the young man’s panicked stare. Which had not been on his wife’s face, but the belly. Yrene nodded to him as if to say, I will look.

Then she laid her hands on that round, high womb.

Sent her magic probing, dancing along it—the life within. Something new and joyous answered back.


Its kick roused Duva with an ooph, her eyelids fluttering open.

Duva blinked at them all. Blinked at Yrene, the hand she still laid on her belly. “Is it—” The words were a broken rasp.

Yrene smiled, panting softly, relief a crushing weight in her chest. “Healthy and human.”

Duva just stared at Yrene until tears filled and flowed from those dark eyes.

Her husband sank into a chair and covered his face, shoulders shaking. There was a flurry of motion, and then the khagan was there.

And the most powerful man on the earth fell to his knees before that couch and reached for his daughter. Crushed her against him.

“Is it true, Duva?” Arghun demanded from the head of the couch, and Yrene resisted the urge to snap at him about giving the woman some space to sort through all she’d endured.

Sartaq had no reservations. He snarled at his elder brother, “Shut your mouth.”

But before Arghun could hiss a retort, Duva lifted her head from the khagan’s shoulder.

Tears leaked down her cheeks as she surveyed Sartaq and Arghun. Then Hasar. Then Kashin. And lastly the husband who lifted his head from his hands.

Shadows still lined that lovely face, but—human ones.

“It is true,” Duva whispered, her voice breaking as she looked back to her brothers and sister. “All of it.”

And as everything that confession implied sank in, the khagan gathered her to him again, rocking her gently while she wept.

Hasar lingered by the foot of the couch as her brothers pressed in to embrace their sister, something like longing on her face.

Hasar noticed Yrene’s stare and mouthed the words: Thank you.

Yrene only bowed her head and backed toward where Chaol was waiting. Not at her side, but sitting in his chair next to a nearby pillar. He must have asked a servant to bring it from his suite when the tether between them had grown thin as she battled within Duva.

Chaol wheeled over to her, scanning her features. But his own face held no grief, no frustration.

Only awe—awe and such adoration it snatched her breath away. Yrene settled in his lap, and he looped his arms around her as she kissed his cheek. A door slammed open across the hall, and rushing feet and skirts filled the air. And sobbing. The Grand Empress was sobbing as she threw herself

toward her daughter.

She made it within a foot before Kashin leaped in, grabbing his mother by the waist, her white gown swaying with the force of her halted sprint. She spoke in Halha, too fast for Yrene to understand, her skin ashen against the jet black of her long, straight hair. She did not seem to notice anyone but

the daughter before her as Kashin murmured an explanation, his hand stroking down his mother’s thin back in soothing lines.

The Grand Empress just fell to her knees and folded Duva into her arms.

An old ache stirred in Yrene at the sight of that mother and daughter, at the sight of both of them, weeping with grief and joy.

Chaol squeezed her shoulder in quiet understanding as Yrene slid off his lap and they turned to leave.

“Anything,” the khagan said over his shoulder to Yrene, the man still kneeling by Duva and his wife as Hasar at last swept in to embrace her sister. Their mother just enfolded both princesses, kissing the sisters on their cheeks and brows and hair as they held together tightly. “Anything you desire,” the khagan said. “Ask it, and it is yours.”

Yrene did not hesitate. The words tumbled from her lips. “A favor, Great Khagan. I would ask you a favor.”



The palace was in uproar, but Chaol and Yrene still found themselves alone with Nesryn and Sartaq, sitting, of all places, in their suite.

The prince and Nesryn had joined them on the long walk back to the room, Chaol wheeling his chair close to Yrene’s side. She’d been swaying on her feet, and was too damned stubborn to mention it. Even went so far as to assess him with those sharp healer’s eyes, inquiring after his back, his legs. As if he was the one who’d drained his power to the dregs.

He’d felt it, the shifting within his body as mighty waves of her power flowed into Duva. The growing strain along parts of his back and legs. Only then had he left her side during the healing, his steps uneven as he’d gone to lean against the wooden arm of a nearby couch and quietly asked the

nearest servant to bring his chair. By the time they’d returned, he’d needed it—his legs still capable of some motion, but not standing.

But it did not frustrate him, did not embarrass him. If this was to be his body’s natural state for the rest of his life … it was not a punishment, not at all.

He was still thinking that when they reached his suite, mulling over how they might work out a schedule of him fighting in battle with her healing.

For he would fight. And if her power was drained, he’d fight then, too.

Whether on horseback or in the chair itself.

And when Yrene needed to heal, when the magic in her veins summoned her to those killing fields and their bond grew thin … he’d manage with a cane, or the chair. He would not shrink from it.

If he survived the battle. The war. If they survived.

He and Yrene found spots on the sorry replacement for the gold couch— which he was honestly debating bringing back to Adarlan with him, broken bits and all—while Nesryn and the prince sat, carefully, in separate chairs. Chaol tried not to look too aware or amused by it.

“How did you know we were in such trouble?” Yrene asked at last. “Before you linked up with the guards, I mean.”

Sartaq blinked, stumbling out of his thoughts. A corner of his mouth lifted. “Kadja,” he said, jerking his chin toward the servant currently setting a tea service before them. “She was the one who saw Duva leave—down to those tunnels. She’s in my … employ.”

Chaol studied the servant, who made no sign that she’d heard. “Thank you,” he rasped.

But Yrene went one step further, taking the woman’s hand and squeezing it. “We owe you a life debt,” she said. “How can we repay you?”

Kadja only shook her head and backed out of the room. They stared after her for a moment.

“Arghun is no doubt debating whether to punish her for it,” Sartaq mused. “On the one hand, it saved Duva. On the other hand … she didn’t tell him at all.”

Nesryn frowned. “We need to find a way to shield her, then. If he’s that ungrateful.”

“Oh, he is,” Sartaq said, and Chaol tried not to blink at the casualness between them, or her use of we. “But I’ll think on it.”

Chaol refrained from revealing that one word to Shen, and Kadja would have a faithful protector for the rest of her life.

Yrene only asked, “What now?”

Nesryn ran a hand through her dark hair. Different. Yes, there was something wholly different about her. She glanced to Sartaq—not for permission, but … as if reassuring herself that he was there. Then she said the words that made Chaol glad he was already sitting.

“Maeve is a Valg queen.”

It all came out then. What she and Sartaq had learned these past weeks: stygian spiders, who were really Valg foot soldiers. A shape-shifter who might be Lysandra’s uncle. And a Valg queen who had been masquerading as Fae for thousands of years, hiding from the demon kings she’d drawn to this world in her attempt to escape them.

“That explains why the Fae healers might have fled, too,” Yrene murmured when Nesryn fell silent. “Why Maeve’s own healer compound lies on the border with the mortal world. Perhaps not so they can have access to humans who need care … but as a border patrol against the Valg, should they ever try to encroach her territory.”

How close the Valg had unwittingly come when Aelin had fought those princes in Wendlyn.

“It also explains why Aelin reported an owl at Maeve’s side when they first met,” Nesryn said, gesturing to Yrene, whose brows bunched.

Then Yrene blurted, “The owl must be the Fae form of a healer. Some healer of hers that she keeps close—as a bodyguard. Has let everyone believe to be some pet …”

Chaol’s head spun. Sartaq gave him a look as if to say he understood the feeling well.

“What happened before we arrived?” Nesryn asked. “When we found you …”

Yrene’s hand clenched his. And it was his turn to tell them what they had learned, what they had endured. That regardless of what Maeve might plan to do … There remained Erawan to face.

Until Yrene murmured, “When I was healing Duva, the demon …” She rubbed at her chest. He’d never seen anything so remarkable as that healing: the blinding glow of her hands, the near-holy expression on her face. As if she were Silba herself. “The demon told me it was not a Valg prince … but a princess.”

Silence. Until Nesryn said, “The spider. It claimed the Valg kings had sons and daughters. Princes and princesses.”

Chaol swore. No, his legs would not be able to function anytime soon, with or without Yrene’s slowly refilling well of power. “We’re going to need a Fire-Bringer, it seems,” he said. And to translate the books Hafiza said she would gladly hand over to their cause.

Nesryn chewed on her lip. “Aelin now sails north to Terrasen, an armada with her. The witches as well.”

“Or just the Thirteen,” Chaol countered. “The reports were murky. It might not even be Manon Blackbeak’s coven, actually.”

“It is,” Nesryn said. “I’d bet everything on it.” She slid her attention to Sartaq, who nodded—silent permission. Nesryn braced her forearms on her knees. “We did not return alone when we raced back here.”

Chaol glanced between them. “How many?”

Sartaq’s face tightened. “The rukhin are vital enough internally that I can only risk bringing half.” Chaol waited. “So I brought a thousand.”

He was indeed glad he was sitting down. A thousand ruk riders … Chaol scratched his jaw. “If we can join Aelin’s host, along with the Thirteen and any other Ironteeth Manon Blackbeak can sway to our side …”

“We will have an aerial legion to combat Morath’s,” Nesryn finished, eyes bright. With hope, yes, but something like dread, too. As if she perhaps realized what combating would ensue. The lives at stake. Yet she turned to Yrene. “And if you can heal those infected by the Valg …”

“We still need to find a way to get their hosts down,” Sartaq said. “Long enough for Yrene and any others to heal them.” Yes, there was that to account for, too.

Yrene cut in, “Well, as you said, we have Aelin Fire-Bringer fighting for us, don’t we? If she can produce flame, surely she can produce smoke.” Her mouth quirked to the side. “I might have some ideas.”

Yrene opened her mouth as if she’d say more, but the suite doors blew open and Hasar breezed in.

Hasar seemed to check herself at the sight of Sartaq. “It seems I’m late for the war council.”

Sartaq crossed an ankle over a knee. “Who says that’s what we’re discussing?”

Hasar claimed a seat for herself and adjusted the fall of her hair over a shoulder. “You mean to tell me the ruks shitting up the roofs are just here to make you look important?”

Sartaq huffed a quiet laugh. “Yes, sister?”

The princess only looked to Yrene, then Chaol. “I will come with you.” Chaol didn’t dare move. Yrene said, “Alone?”

“Not alone.” The mocking amusement was gone from her face. “You saved Duva’s life. And ours, if she had grown more bold.” A glance to Sartaq, who watched with mild surprise. “Duva is the best of us. The best of me.” Hasar’s throat bobbed. “So I will go with you, with whatever ships I can bring, so that my sister will never again look over her shoulder in fear.”

Except in fear of one another, Chaol refrained from saying.

But Hasar caught the words in his eyes. “Not her,” she said quietly. “All the others,” she added with a stark look at Sartaq, who nodded grimly. “But never Duva.”

An unspoken promise, Chaol realized, among the other siblings.

“So you will have to suffer my company for a while yet, Lord Westfall,” Hasar said, but that edged smile was not as sharp. “Because for my sisters, both living and dead, I will march with my sulde to the gates of Morath and make that demon bastard pay.” She met Yrene’s stare. “And for you, Yrene Towers. For what you did for Duva, I will help you save your land.”

Yrene rose, her hands shaking. And none of them spoke a word as Yrene reached Hasar’s seat and threw her arms around her neck to hold the princess tightly.

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