Chapter no 20

Empire of Storms

Rowan Whitethorn just needed a place to rest. He didn’t give a shit if it was a bed or a pile of hay or even beneath a horse in a stable. As long as it was quiet and there was a roof to keep out the driving veils of rain, he didn’t care.

Skull’s Bay was what he expected, and yet not. Ramshackle buildings, painted every color but mostly in cracking disrepair, were bustling as residents shuttered windows and hauled in clotheslines against the storm that had chased Rowan and Dorian into the harbor minutes ago.

Hooded and cloaked, no one had asked them any questions once Rowan had flipped a five-copper mark to the dockmaster. Enough to keep his mouth shut, but not enough to warrant any of the would-be thieves monitoring the docks to come after them.

Dorian had mentioned twice now that he wasn’t sure how Rowan was still functioning. To be honest, Rowan wasn’t, either. He’d allowed himself to doze only for hours at a time over the past few days. The burnout loomed

—steadily fraying his grip on his magic, his focus.

When Rowan hadn’t been wrangling the winds to propel their skiff through the vibrant warm waters of the Dead Islands’ archipelago, he’d been soaring high above to monitor for approaching enemies. He’d seen none. Just turquoise ocean and white sands flecked with dark, volcanic stone. All of it ringing the dense emerald foliage crusting mountainous islands that spread as far as even a hawk’s eye could see.

Thunder grumbled across Skull’s Bay, and the turquoise sea beyond the harbor seemed to glow brighter, as if a distant lightning strike had lit up the entire ocean. Along the docks, a cobalt-painted tavern remained lightly guarded, even with the storm bearing down on them.

The Sea Dragon. Rolfe’s own headquarters, named after his ship, from Aelin’s reports. Rowan debated going right up to it, no more than two lost travelers seeking shelter from the storm.

But he and the young king had chosen another route, during the many hours he’d made good on his promise to teach Dorian about magic. They’d worked for only minutes at a time—since it’d be no use if the king wrecked their little boat should his power slip its leash. So it had been exercises with ice: summoning a ball of frost to his palm, letting it melt. Over and over.

Even now, standing like a stone amid the stream of people hauling in wares from the storm’s fury, the king was curling and relaxing his fingers, letting Rowan glean their bearings while he gazed across the horseshoe-shaped bay to the colossal chain stretched across its mouth—currently beneath the surface.

Ship-Breaker, the chain was called. Crusted with barnacles and draped in scarves of seaweed, it was connected to a watchtower on either side of the bay, where guards would raise and lower the chain to let ships out. Or keep ships in until they’d paid the hefty tolls. They’d been lucky that the chain had already been lowered in anticipation of the storm.

Since their plan for announcing themselves would be … calm.


Which it would need to be, given that the last time Aelin had set foot in Skull’s Bay, two years ago, she’d wrecked that chain. And taken out one of the now-rebuilt watchtowers (Rolfe, it seemed, had added a sister-tower across the bay since then), plus half the town. And disabled the rudders on every ship in the harbor, including Rolfe’s prized one, the Sea Dragon.

Rowan wasn’t surprised, but seeing the scope of the hell she had unleashed … Holy gods.

So Dorian’s announcement of his arrival would be the opposite of that. They’d take rooms at a reputable inn and then request an audience with Rolfe. Proper and dignified.

Lightning flashed, and Rowan swiftly scanned the street ahead, a hand gripping his hood to keep the wind from revealing his Fae heritage.

An emerald-painted inn lay at the other end of the block, its gilded sign clacking in the wild wind. THE OCEAN ROSE.

The nicest inn in town, the dockmaster had claimed when they asked. Since they at least needed to appear like they could make good on the

money they’d offer Rolfe.

And get some rest, if only for a few hours. Rowan stepped toward it, nearly sagging with relief, and looked over a shoulder to motion the king to follow.

But as if the gods themselves wanted to test him, a gust of rain-cooled wind sprayed into their faces, and some sense pricked in its wake. A shift in the air. Like a great pocket of power gathered close, beckoning.

The knife at his side was instantly in his soaked hand as he searched the rooftops, revealing only plumes of rain. Rowan quieted his mind, listening to the city and storm around them.

Dorian swept his dripping hair out of his face, mouth open to speak— until he noted the knife. “You feel it, too.”

Rowan nodded, rain sliding down his nose. “What do you sense?”

The king’s raw power might pick up different feelings, different clues, than what his wind and ice and instinct could detect. But without the training, it might not be clear.

“It feels … old.” Dorian winced, and said over the storm, “Feral.

Ruthless. I can’t glean anything more.” “Does it remind you of the Valg?”

If there was one person who’d know, it’d be the king before him.

“No,” Dorian said, gaze shuttering. “They were abhorrent to my magic. This thing out there … It just makes my magic curious. Wary, but curious. But it’s concealed—somehow.”

Rowan sheathed his knife. “Then stay close and keep alert.”



Dorian had never been in such a place as Skull’s Bay.

Even with the heavy rain lashing them as they hunted the source of that power down the main street, he’d marveled at the blend of lawlessness and complete order of the island-city. It bowed to no king of royal blood—yet was ruled by a Pirate Lord who had clawed his way to power thanks to hands tattooed with a map of the world’s oceans.

A map, rumor claimed, that had revealed where enemies, treasure, and storms awaited him. The cost: his eternal soul.

Aelin had once confirmed that Rolfe was indeed soulless and indeed tattooed. As for the map … She’d shrugged, saying Rolfe claimed it stopped moving when magic fell. Dorian wondered if that map now indicated that he and Rowan walked through his city—if it marked them as enemies.

Perhaps Aelin’s arrival would be known well before she set foot on this island.

Cloaked and hooded and thoroughly soaked, Dorian and Rowan made a wide circuit of the surrounding streets. People had quickly vanished, and the ships in the harbor rocked wildly with the waves lapping over the broad quay and onto the cobblestones. Palms thrashed and hissed, and not even gulls stirred.

His magic remained dormant, rumbling when he’d stiffen at a loud noise from within the taverns, inns, homes, and shops they passed. At his side, Rowan plowed through the storm, the rain and wind seeming to part for him.

They reached the quay, Rolfe’s massive prize ship looming out in the heaving waters, sails tied down against the storm.

At least Rolfe was here. At least that had gone right.

Dorian was so busy observing the ship that he nearly slammed into Rowan’s back as the warrior-prince halted.

He staggered back, Rowan mercifully not commenting on it, then scanned the building that had snagged the prince’s attention.

His magic perked up like a startled deer.

“I shouldn’t even be surprised,” Rowan grumbled, and the blue-painted sign clattered in the winds above the tavern entrance. THE SEA DRAGON. Two guards stood halfway down the block—guards not for any uniform,

but for the fact that they were standing in this storm, hands on their swords.

Rowan angled his head in a way that told Dorian the prince was likely contemplating whether it was worth it to chuck the men into the roiling harbor. But no one stopped them as Rowan gave Dorian a warning look and opened the door to the Pirate Lord’s personal tavern. Golden light, spices, polished wood floors and walls greeted them.

It was empty, despite the storm. Utterly empty, save for the dozen or so tables.

Rowan shut the door behind Dorian, scanning the room, the small stairs in the back. From where they stood, Dorian could see the letters covering most of the tables.

Storm-Chaser. Lady Ann. Tiger-Star.

The sterns of ships. Every table was made from them.

They hadn’t been taken from wrecks. No, this was a trophy room—a reminder to those who met with the Pirate Lord of how, exactly, he had gained his crown.

All the tables seemed centered around one in the back, bigger and more worn than the others. Thresher. The enormous slats were flecked with burn marks and gouges—but the lettering remained clear. As if Rolfe never wanted to forget what ship was used as his personal dining table.

But as for the man himself and that power they’d felt … No sign of either.

A door behind the bar opened, and a slim, brown-haired young woman stepped out. Her apron marked her as the barmaid, but her shoulders were back, head high—gray eyes sharp and clear as she scanned them and remained unimpressed. “He was wondering when you two would come snooping,” she said, her accent rich and thick—like Aedion’s.

Rowan said, “Oh?”

The barmaid jerked her delicate chin toward the narrow wood stairs in the back. “Captain wants to see you—in his office. One flight up, second door down.”


Even Dorian knew not to ignore that tone. But the girl just grabbed a glass, held it to the candlelight to inspect for smudges, and pulled a rag from her apron. Twin tattoos of roaring gray sea dragons snaked around her tan forearms, the beasts seeming to slither as her muscles shifted with the movement.

Their scales, he realized, matched her eyes perfectly as she flicked her stare over Dorian and Rowan once more and said coolly, “Don’t keep him waiting.”



Dorian murmured to Rowan as they ascended the creaky, dim stairs, “It could be a trap.”

“Possibly,” Rowan said with equal quiet. “But consider that we were allowed to come to him. If it was a trap, the smarter move would have been to catch us unawares.”

Dorian nodded, something in his chest easing. “And you—your magic is … better?”

That hard face yielded nothing. “I’ll manage.” Not an answer.

Along the second-level hallway, four steely-eyed young men had been stationed, each armed with fine swords whose hilts were fashioned after attacking sea dragons—surely the mark of their captain. None bothered to speak as he and Rowan made for the indicated door.

The Fae Prince knocked once. A grunt was all they got in response. Dorian didn’t know what he expected from the Lord of Pirates.

But a dark-haired man, a day past thirty if that, lounging on a red velvet chaise before the rain-splattered curve of windows was not it.

You'll Also Like