She was a liar, and a murderer, and a thief, and Aelin had a feeling she’d be called much worse by the end of this war. But as that unnatural darkness gathered on the horizon, she wondered if she might have bitten off more than she and all her fanged friends could chew.
She did not give her fear an inch of space.
Did not do anything but let black fire ripple through her.
Securing this alliance was only part of it. The other part, the bigger part
… was the message. Not to Morath.
But to the world.
To any potential allies watching this continent, contemplating if it was indeed a lost cause.
Today her message would thunder across the realms.
She was not a rebel princess, shattering enemy castles and killing kings. She was a force of nature. She was a calamity and a commander of immortal warriors of legend. And if those allies did not join with her … she wanted them to think of today, of what she would do, and wonder if they
might find her on their shores, in their harbors, one day, too.
They had not come ten years ago. She wanted them to know she had not forgotten it.
Rolfe finished barking orders to his men and rushed aboard the Sea Dragon, Aedion and Dorian hurtling for horses to carry them to their respective watchtowers. Aelin turned to Lysandra, the shifter calmly monitoring all. Aelin said quietly, “Do you know what I need you to do?”
Lysandra’s moss-green eyes were bright as she nodded.
Aelin did not allow herself to embrace the shifter. Did not allow herself to so much as touch her friend’s hand. Not with Rolfe watching. Not with
the citizens of this town watching, the lost Mycenians among them. So Aelin merely said, “Good hunting.”
Fenrys let out a choked sound, as if he realized what she had indeed demanded of the shape-shifter. Beside him, Gavriel was still too busy staring after Aedion, who hadn’t so much as glanced at his father before fastening his shield and sword across his back, mounting a sorry-looking mare, and galloping for the watchtower.
Aelin said to Rowan, the wind already dancing in the silver hair of her warrior-prince, “We move now.”
So they did.
People were panicking in the streets as the dark force took shape on the horizon: massive ships with black sails, converging on the bay as if they were indeed carried on a preternatural wind.
But Aelin, Lysandra close to her, stalked for the towering Sea Dragon, Rowan and his two companions falling into step behind them.
People halted and gawked while they ascended the gangway, securing and rearranging their weapons. Knives and swords, Rowan’s hatchet gleaming while he hooked it at his side, a bow and quiver full of black-feathered arrows that Aelin assumed Fenrys could fire with deadly accuracy, and more blades. As they prowled onto the gently rocking deck of the Sea Dragon, the wood meticulously polished, Aelin supposed that together they formed a walking armory.
Gavriel had no sooner set foot on board than the gangway was hauled up by Rolfe’s men. The others, seated on benches flanking the deck, lifted oars, two men to a seat. Rowan jerked his chin at Gavriel and Fenrys, and the two wordlessly went to join the men, his cadre falling into rank and rhythms that were older than some kingdoms.
Rolfe stalked out a door that no doubt led to his chambers, two men behind him bearing enormous iron chains.
Aelin strode for them. “Anchor them to the mainmast and make sure there’s enough room for them to reach right … here.” She pointed to where she now stood in the heart of the deck. Enough space clear of everyone, enough space for her and Rowan to work.
Rolfe barked an order to begin rowing, glancing once at Fenrys and Gavriel—who each manned an oar themselves, teeth bared as they threw their considerable strength into the motion.
Slowly, the ship began moving—the others around them stirring as well. But they had to be out of the bay first, had to get past the boundary of
Rolfe’s men looped the chains around the mast, leaving enough length to reach Aelin.
Iron would provide a bite, an anchor to remind her who she was, what she was. Iron would keep her tethered when the sheer vastness of her magic, of Rowan’s magic, threatened to sweep her away.
The Sea Dragon inched over the harbor, the call and grunting of Rolfe’s men as they rowed drowning out the din of the town behind them.
She flicked a glance toward either watchtower to see Dorian arrive— then Aedion’s golden hair racing up the outer spiral staircase to the enormous mounted harpoon at the top. Her heart strained for a moment as she flashed between now and a time when she’d seen Sam running up those same stairs—not to defend this town, but to wreck it.
She shook off the icy grip of memory and turned to Lysandra, standing at the deck rail, watching her cousin as well. “Now.”
Even Rolfe paused his ordering at the word.
Lysandra gracefully sat on the broad wooden railing, pivoted her legs over the side … and dropped into the water.
Rolfe’s men rushed to the rail. People in boats flanking them did the same, spotting the woman plunge into the vivid blue.
But it was not a woman who came out.
Below, deep down, Aelin could make out the glow and shift and spread.
Men began cursing.
But Lysandra kept growing and growing beneath the surface, along the sandy harbor floor.
Faster, the men rowed.
But the ship’s speed was nothing compared to the speed of the creature that emerged from the waves.
A broad jade-green snout, peppered with shredding white teeth, huffed a mighty breath then arced back under the water, revealing a flash of a massive head and cunning eyes as she disappeared.
Some men screamed. Rolfe braced a hand on the wheel. His first mate, that sea dragon sword freshly polished at his side, dropped to his knees.
Lysandra dove, and she let them see the long, powerful body that broke the surface bit by bit as she plunged down, her jade scales gleaming like jewels in the blinding midday sun. See the legend straight from their prophecies: the Mycenians would only return when the sea dragons did.
And so Aelin had ensured that one appeared right in their gods-damned harbor.
“Holy gods,” Fenrys muttered from where he rowed.
Indeed, that was about the only reaction Aelin could muster as the sea dragon dove down deep, then swam ahead.
For those were mighty fins—wings that Lysandra spread beneath the water, tucking in her small front arms and back legs, her massive, spiked tail acting as a rudder.
Some of Rolfe’s men were murmuring, “A dragon—a dragon to defend our own ship … The legends of our fathers…” Indeed, Rolfe’s face was pale as he stared toward where Lysandra had vanished into the blue, still clutching the wheel as if it’d keep him from falling.
Two sea-wyverns … against one sea dragon.
For all the fire in the world would not work beneath the sea. And if they were to stand a chance of decimating those ships, there could be no interference from beneath the surface.
“Come on, Lysandra,” Aelin breathed, and sent a prayer to Temis, the Goddess of Wild Things, to keep the shifter swift and unfaltering beneath the waves.
Aedion chucked off the shield from his back and slammed into the seat before the giant iron harpoon, its length perhaps a hand taller than him, its head bigger than his own. There were only three spears. He’d have to make his shots count.
Across the bay, he could just make out the king taking up a position along the battlement on the lowest level of the tower.
In the bay itself, Rolfe’s ship rowed closer and closer to Ship-Breaker’s lowered chain.
Aedion stomped on one of the three operating pedals that allowed him to pivot the mounted launcher, gripping the handles on either side that positioned the spear into place. Carefully, precisely, he aimed the harpoon toward the very outer edge of the bay, where the two branches of the island leaned toward each other to provide a narrow passage into the harbor.
Waves broke just beyond—a reef. Good for breaking ships against—and no doubt where Rolfe would plant his ship, in order to fool Morath’s fleet into skewering themselves on it.
“What the hell is that?” one of the sentries manning the gunner breathed, pointing toward the bay waters.
A mighty, long shadow swept under the water ahead of the Sea Dragon, faster than the ship, faster than a dolphin. Its long, serpentine body soared through the sea, carried on wings that might have also been fins.
Aedion’s heart stopped dead. “It’s a sea dragon,” he managed to say.
Well, at least he now knew what secret form Lysandra had been working on.
And why Aelin had insisted on getting inside Brannon’s temple. Not just to see the king, not just to reclaim the city for the Mycenians and Terrasen, but … for Lysandra to study the life-size, detailed carvings of those sea dragons. To become a living myth.
The two of them … Oh, those crafty, scheming devils. A queen of legends indeed.
“How … how…” The sentry turned toward the others, babbling among themselves. “It’s gonna defend us?”
Lysandra approached Ship-Breaker, still lowered under the surface, twirling and arcing, banking along rocks as if getting a feel for her new form. Getting a feel for it in whatever little time they had. “Yes,” Aedion breathed as terror flooded his veins. “Yes, she is.”
The water was warm, and quiet, and ageless.
And she was a scaled shadow that set the jewel-colored fish darting into their coral homes; she was a soaring menace through the water that made
the white birds bobbing on the surface scatter into flight as they sensed her passing below.
Sunbeams streamed in pillars through the water, and Lysandra, in the small part of her that remained human, felt as if she were gliding through a temple of light and shadow.
But there—far out, carried on echoes of sound and vibration—she felt them.
Even the larger predators of these waters flitted off, taking to the open seas beyond the islands. Not even the promise of water stained red could keep them in the path of the two forces about to collide.
Ahead, the mighty links of Ship-Breaker sagged into the deep, like the colossal necklace of some goddess leaning down to drink the sea.
She had been reading about them—the long-forgotten and long-dead sea dragons—at Aelin’s behest. Because her friend had known that strong-arming Rolfe with the Mycenians would only get them so far, but if they were to wield the power of myth instead … its people might rally around it. And with a home to finally offer them, among these islands and in Terrasen…
Lysandra had studied the carvings of the sea dragons at the temple, once Aelin had burned away the dirt on them. Her magic had filled in gaps the carvings didn’t show. Like the nostrils that picked apart each scent on the current, the ears that unraveled varying layers of sound.
Lysandra swept for the reef just beyond the parted lips of the island. She’d have to retract the wings, but here … here she would make her stand.
Here she would have to unleash every wild instinct, yielding the part of her that felt and cared.
These beasts, however they were made, were only that: beasts. Animals.
They would not fight with morals and codes. They would fight to the death, and fight for survival. There would be no mercy, no compassion.
She would have to fight as they did. She had done so before—had turned feral not just that day the glass castle had shattered, but the night she’d been captured and those men had tried to take Evangeline. This would be no different.
Lysandra dug her bone-shredding, curved talons into the reef shelf to hold her position against the current’s nudging, and peered into the silent blue stretching endlessly ahead.
So she began her death vigil.