Chapter no 53

Empire of Storms

There was such quiet beneath the waves, even as the muffled sounds of shouting, of collision, of death echoed toward her.

Aelin drifted down, as she had drifted into her power, the weight of the Wyrdkey around her neck like a millstone—

Deanna. She didn’t know how, didn’t know why—

The Queen Who Was Promised. Her lungs constricted and burned. Shock. Perhaps this was shock.

Down she drifted, trying to feel her way back into her body, her mind. Salt water stung her eyes.

A large, strong hand gripped the back of her collar and yanked, hauling her up in tugs—in steady strokes.

What had she done what had she done what had she done—

Light and air shattered around her, and that hand grasping her collar now banded around her chest, tugging her against a hard male body, keeping her head above the roiling waves.

“I’ve got you,” said a voice that was not Rowan’s.

Others. There had been others on the ship, and she had as good as killed them all—

“Majesty,” the male said, a question and quiet order. Fenrys. That was his name.

She blinked, and her name, her title, her gutted power came thrashing back into her—the sea and the battle and the threat of Morath swarming.

Later. Later, she’d deal with that rutting goddess who had thought to use her like some temple priestess. Later, she’d contemplate how she’d shred through every world to find Deanna and make her pay.

“Hold on,” Fenrys said over the chaos now filtering in: the screaming of men, the groaning of breaking things, the crackle of flames. “Don’t let go.”

Before she could remember how to speak, they vanished into—nothing. Into darkness that was both solid and insubstantial as it squeezed her tightly. Then they were in the water again, bobbing beneath the waves as she reoriented herself and sputtered for air. He’d moved them, somehow— jumped between distances, judging by the wholly different flotsam spinning

around them.

Fenrys held her against him, his panting labored. As if whatever magic he possessed to leap between short distances took everything he had. He sucked in a deep breath.

Then they were gone again, into that dark, hollow, yet squeezing space.

Only a handful of heartbeats passed before the water and sky returned.

Fenrys grunted, arm tightening around her as he swam with the other toward the shore, shoving aside debris. His breathing was a wet rasp now. Whatever that magic was, it was spent.

But Rowan—where was Rowan

She made a sound that might have been his name, might have been a sob.

Fenrys panted, “He’s on the reef—he’s fine.”

She didn’t believe him. Thrashing against the Fae warrior’s arm until he released her, she slid into the cold open water and twisted toward where Fenrys had been headed. Another small sound cracked from her as she beheld Rowan standing knee-deep in water atop the reef. His arm was already outstretched, even though thirty yards still separated them.

Fine. Unscathed. Alive. And an equally soaked Gavriel stood beside him, facing—

Oh, gods, oh, gods.

Blood stained the water. There were bodies everywhere. And Morath’s fleet…

Most of it was gone. Nothing more than black wood splintered across the archipelago and burning bits of canvas and rope. But three ships remained.

Three ships now converging on the ruins of the Sea Dragon as it took on water, looming like thunderclouds—

“You have to swim,” Fenrys growled beside her, his sodden golden hair plastered to his head. “Right now. As fast as you can.”

She whipped her head toward him, blinking away burning seawater.

“Swim now,” Fenrys snapped, canines flashing, and she didn’t let herself consider what was prowling beneath them as he grabbed her collar again and practically threw her ahead of him.

Aelin didn’t wait. She focused on Rowan’s outstretched hand as she swam, his face so carefully calm—the commander on a battlefield. Her magic was barren, her magic was a wasteland, and his … She had stolen his power from him—

Think of that later. Aelin shoved through and ducked under larger bits of debris, past…

Past men. Rolfe’s men. Dead in the water. Was the captain among them somewhere?

She’d likely killed her first and only human ally in this war—and her only direct path to that Lock. And if news of the former spread—

Faster!” Fenrys barked.

Rowan sheathed his sword, his knees bent—

Then he was swimming to her, fast and smooth, cutting between and beneath the waves, the water seeming to part for him. She wanted to growl she could make it herself, but—

He reached her, saying nothing before he slipped behind her. Guarding with Fenrys.

And what could he do in the water with no magic, against a gaping maw of a sea-wyvern?

She ignored the crushing tightness in her chest and hurtled for the reef, Gavriel now waiting where Rowan had been. Beneath her, the shelf of the coral at last spread, and she nearly sobbed, her muscles trembling as Gavriel crouched so she could reach his outstretched hand.

The Lion easily hauled her out of the water. Her knees buckled as her boots steadied on the uneven coral heads, but Gavriel kept his grip on her, subtly letting her lean against him. Rowan and Fenrys were out a heartbeat later, and the prince instantly was there, hands on her face, slicking back her soaked hair, scanning her eyes.

“I’m fine,” she rasped, her voice hoarse. From the magic or the goddess or the salt water she’d swallowed. “I’m me.”

That was good enough for Rowan, who faced the three ships now bearing down on them.

On her other side, Fenrys had doubled over, hands on his knees as he panted. He lifted his head at her gaze, hair dripping, but said to Rowan, “I’m out—we’ll have to either wait for it to replenish or swim to shore.”

Rowan gave him a sharp nod that Aelin interpreted as understanding and thanks, and she glanced behind them. The reef seemed to be an extension of the black rocky shore far behind, but with the tide out, they’d indeed have to swim in spots. Have to risk what was beneath the water…

Beneath the water. With Lysandra. There was no sign of wyvern or dragon.

Aelin didn’t know if that was a good or bad thing.



Aelin and the Fae males had made it to the reef and now stood knee-deep in water atop it.

Whatever had happened … it had gone horribly wrong. So wrong that Lysandra could have sworn the feral, wild presence who had never once forgotten her had ducked into her long shadow as the world above exploded.

She’d tumbled off the coral, the current cleaving and eddying. Wood and rope and canvas rained onto the surface, some plunging deep. Then bodies and arms and legs.

But—there were the captain and his first mate thrashing against the flotsam that tangled them, trying to drag them down to the sandy floor.

Shaking off her shock, Lysandra swept for them both.

Rolfe and his man froze at her approach, reaching for weapons at their sides beneath the waves. But she ripped away the debris surely drowning them, then let herself go still—let them grab on to her. She didn’t have much time…

Rolfe and his first mate latched on to her legs, clinging like barnacles as she propelled them through the water—past the now-scorched ruin. The work of a minute had her depositing them onto a rocky shelf, and she emerged only long enough to gulp down a breath before diving.

There were more men struggling in the water. She aimed for them, dodging debris, until—

Blood laced the current. And not the puffs that had been staining the water since the ship exploded.

Great, roiling clouds of blood. As if massive jaws clamped around a body and squeezed.

Lysandra launched forward, mighty tail snapping back and forth, body undulating, racing for the three boats bearing down on the survivors. She had to act now, while the wyverns were distracted with glutting themselves.

The stench of the black boat reached her even under the waves. As if the dark wood had been soaked in rotted blood.

And as she approached the closest ship’s fat underbelly, two mighty shapes took form out in the blue.

Lysandra felt their attention lock on her the moment she slammed her tail into the hull.

Once. Twice.

Wood cracked. Muffled shouts reached her from above.

She drifted back, coiling, and slammed her tail into the hull a third time. Wood tore and ripped into her, peeling away scales, but the damage was done. Water sucked in past her, more and more, tearing through the wood as its death-wound grew and grew. She backtracked out of the water’s pull— flipping down, down, down as the two wyverns feasting on frantic men


Lysandra raced for the next ship. Get the ships sinking, then their allies could pick off the struggling soldiers one by one as they swam to shore.

The second ship was wiser.

Spears and arrows whizzed through the water, lancing for her. She dove to the sandy floor, then shot up, up, up, aiming for the vulnerable belly of the ship, body bracing for impact—

She didn’t reach the ship before another impact came.

Faster than she could sense, slipping around the side of the ship, the sea-wyvern slammed into her.

Talons tore and sliced, and she flipped on instinct, whipping her tail so hard that the wyvern went tumbling out into the water.

Lysandra lunged back, getting an eyeful of it as it stared her down. Oh, gods.

It was nearly double her size, made of the deepest blue, its underside white and speckled with paler blue. The body was almost serpentine, wings little more than fins along its sides. Built not for speed or cruising through oceans, but … but for the long, curving talons, for the maw that was now open, tasting the blood and salt and scent of her, revealing teeth as narrow and sharp as an eel’s.

Hooked teeth. For clamping down and shredding. Behind the wyvern, the other fell into formation.

Men were splashing and screaming above her. If she did not get those enemy ships down…

Lysandra tucked her wings in tight. She wished she had taken a bigger gulp of air, had filled these lungs to capacity. Fanning her tail in the current, she let the blood still leaking from where the ship’s wood had pierced her hide drift to them.

She knew the moment it reached the wyverns.

The moment they realized she was not just an ordinary animal. And then Lysandra dove.

Fast and smooth, she plunged into the deep. If they had been bred for brute killing, then she’d use speed.

Lysandra swept beneath them, passing under their dark shadows before they could so much as pivot. Toward the open ocean.

Come on, come on, come on

Like hounds after a hare, they gave chase.

There was a sandbar flanked by reefs just to the north. She aimed for it, swimming like hell.

One of the wyverns was faster than the other, swift enough that its snapping maw rippled the water at her tail—

The water became clearer, brighter. Lysandra shot straight for the reef looming up out of the deep, a pillar of life and activity gone still. She curved around the sandbar—

The other wyvern appeared in front of her, the second still close on her tail.

Clever things.

But Lysandra threw herself to the side—into the shallows of the sandbar, and let momentum flip her, over and over, closer and closer to that narrow spit of sand. She dug her claws in deep, slowing to a stop, sand

spraying and crusting her, and had her tail lifted, her body so much heavier out of the water—

The wyvern that had thought to catch her off guard by swimming around the other way launched itself out of the water and onto the sandbar.

She struck, fast as an asp.

Its neck exposed, she clamped her jaws around it and bit down.

It bucked, tail slashing, but she slammed her own onto its spine.

Cracking its back as she cracked its neck.

Black blood that tasted of rancid meat flooded her throat.

Dropping the dead wyvern, she scanned the turquoise seas, the flotsam, the two remaining ships and harbor—

Where was the second wyvern? Where the hell was it?

Clever enough, she realized, to know when death was upon it and to seek an easier quarry.

For that was a spiked dorsal fin now submerging. Heading toward… Toward where Aelin, Rowan, Gavriel, and Fenrys stood atop the reef,

swords out. Surrounded by water on all sides.

Lysandra plunged into the waves, sand and blood washing away. One more—just one more wyvern, then she could wreck the boats…

The remaining wyvern reached the coral outcropping, gathering speed, as if it’d leap from the water and swallow the queen down whole.

It didn’t get within twenty feet of the surface.

Lysandra hurled into it, both of them hitting the coral so hard it shuddered beneath them. But her claws were in its spine, her mouth around the back of its neck, shaking, yielding wholly to the song of survival, to the screaming demands of this body to kill, kill, kill

They tumbled into open water, the wyvern still fighting, her grip on its neck loosening—

No. A warship loomed overhead, and Lysandra dug down deep, rallying her strength one last time as she spread those wings and flapped up

She slammed the sea-wyvern into the hull of the boat now above them. The beast roared its fury. She slammed it again, and again. The hull snapped. And so did the sea-wyvern’s body.

She watched the beast go limp. Watched the water rush into the cleaved belly of the ship. Listened to the soldiers aboard begin shouting.

She eased her claws from the beast and let it drift to the bottom of the sea.

One more ship. Just one more…

She was so tired. Shifting afterward might not even be possible for a few hours.

Lysandra broke the surface, drawing down air, bracing herself. Aelin’s screaming hit her before she could submerge again.

Not in pain … but warning. One word, over and over. One word for her.


Lysandra craned her head toward where the queen stood atop the reef. But Aelin was pointing behind Lysandra. Not at the remaining ship … but the open water.

Where three massive forms raged through the waves, aiming right for


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