Chapter no 54

Empire of Storms

Aedion’s queen was on the reef, Rowan beside her, his father and Fenrys flanking them. Rolfe and most of his men had made it to the opposite side of the narrow bay mouth—atop the reef there.

And through the channel between them… One warship.

One sea dragon.

And three sea-wyverns.

Adult sea-wyverns. The first two … they hadn’t been full-grown.

“Oh, shit,” the sentry beside Aedion on the watchtower began chanting. “Oh, shit. Oh, shit. Oh, shit.”

The sea-wyverns that, Rolfe had claimed, would go to the ends of the earth to slaughter whoever killed their offspring. Only being in the heart of the continent might save you—but even then, waterways would never be safe.

And Lysandra had just killed two.

It seemed they had not come alone. And from the cheering of the Valg soldiers on that remaining warship … it had been a trap. The offspring had been the bait.

They had been only slightly bigger than Lysandra. The adults—the bulls

—were thrice her size.

Longer than the warship now sitting there, archers firing at the men trying to swim ashore in the channel that had become a death trap for the green sea dragon.

The green sea dragon who now stood between the three monstrous creatures and his queen, stranded on those rocks with not even an ember of magic left in her veins. His queen, screaming over and over and over at Lysandra to swim, to shift, to run.

But Aedion had seen Lysandra take on the two offspring.

By the second, she’d been lagging. And he’d seen her change shapes so often these past months to know she couldn’t shift fast enough now, perhaps might not have enough strength left to do it at all.

She was stranded in her form, as surely as his companions were stuck on the reef. And if Lysandra even tried to climb onto shore … He knew the bulls would reach her before she could so much as haul her body out of the shallows.

Faster and faster, those three bulls closed in. Lysandra remained at the mouth of the bay.

Holding the line.

Aedion’s heart stopped.

“She’s dead,” one of the sentries hissed. “Oh, gods, she’s dead—”

Shut your rutting mouth,” Aedion snarled, scanning the bay, slipping into that cold, calculating place that allowed him to make decisions in battle, to weigh the costs and risks.

Dorian, however, got the idea before he did.

Across the bay, hand uplifted and flickering bright as a star, Dorian signaled Lysandra again and again with his power. Come to me, come to me, come to me, the king seemed to call.

The three bulls sank beneath the waves. Lysandra turned, plunging down—

But not toward Dorian.

Aelin stopped shouting. And Dorian’s magic winked out.

Aedion could only watch as the shape-shifter’s shadow soared toward the three bulls, meeting them head-on.

The three wyverns spread out, so huge Aedion’s throat went dry. And for the first time, he hated his cousin.

He hated Aelin for asking this of Lysandra, both to defend them and to secure the Mycenians to fight for Terrasen. Hated the people who had left such scars on the shifter that Lysandra was so willing to throw her life away. Hated … hated himself for being stuck in this useless tower, with a war machine only capable of firing one shot at a time.

Lysandra aimed for the wyvern in the middle, and when only a hundred yards separated them, she veered left.

They broke formation, one diving low, one keeping to the surface, and the other falling back. They were going to herd her. Herd her to a spot where they’d surround her from every angle and then rip her to shreds. It would be messy and vicious.

But Lysandra shot across the channel. Headed— Headed right for the final remaining warship.

Arrows rained down on her.

Blood bloomed as some found their mark through her jade scales.

She kept swimming, her blood sending the bull closest to her, the one near the surface, into a frenzy, pushing himself faster to grab her, bite her—

Lysandra neared the ship, taking arrow after arrow, and leaped out of the water.

She crashed into soldiers and wood and the mast, rolling, writhing, and bucking, the twin masts snapping under her tail.

She hit the other side, flipping down into the water, red blood shining everywhere—

Just as the wyvern on her ass leaped onto the ship in a mighty arc that took Aedion’s breath away. But with the jagged stumps of the masts jutting up like lances…

The bull landed atop them with a crunch that Aedion heard across the bay.

He bucked, but—that was wood now piercing through his back.

And beneath his enormous weight … the ship began to crack and sink.

Lysandra wasted no time in getting clear, and Aedion could barely draw breath as she shot across the bay again, the two bulls so horribly close that their wakes merged.

One dove, the depths swallowing him from sight. But the second one, still on her tail…

Lysandra led that one right into Dorian’s range.

She drew in as close to the shore and looming tower as she could get, bringing the second bull with her. The king stretched out both hands.

The bull raged past—only to halt as ice lashed across the water. Solid ice, such as there had never been here.

The sentries beside Aedion fell silent. The bull roared, trying to wrest himself free—but the king’s ice grew thicker, trapping the wyvern within its

frozen grip. When the beast stopped moving, hoarfrost like scales covered him from snout to tail.

Dorian loosed a battle cry.

And Aedion had to admit the king wasn’t that useless after all as the catapult behind Dorian sprang free, and a rock the size of a wagon jettisoned into the bay.

Right atop the frozen wyvern.

Rock met ice and flesh. And the wyvern shattered into a thousand pieces.

Rolfe and some of his men were cheering—people were cheering from the docks in town.

But there was one bull left in the harbor. And Lysandra was… She had no idea where the bull was.

The long green body thrashed in the water, dipping beneath the waves, near-frantic.

Aedion scanned the bay, rotating in the gunner chair as he did, searching for any hint of that colossal dark shadow—

YOUR LEFT!” Gavriel roared across the bay, magic no doubt amplifying his voice.

Lysandra twisted—and there the bull was, speeding out of the depths, as if he were a shark ambushing prey.

Lysandra threw herself into movement. A field of floating debris lay around her, the sinking ships of their enemy like islands of death, and there was the chain … If she could maybe get on it and climb high … No, she was too heavy, too slow.

She again streaked past Dorian’s tower, but the bull wouldn’t get near. He knew doom awaited him there. He kept just out of range, playing with her as she launched back into the field of debris between the enemy ships. Toward the open sea.

Aelin and the others watched helplessly from the reef outcropping as the two monsters swept by, the bull sending bits of broken hulls and masts into the air—aiming at the shifter.

One struck Lysandra in the side, and she went down.

Aedion shot out of his seat, a roar on his lips. But there she was, blood streaming from her as she swam and swam, as she led that bull through the

heart of debris, then cut back—sharply. The bull followed through the blood clouding the water, blasting through debris that she nimbly dodged.

She’d worked him into a blood-frenzy.

And Lysandra, damn her, led him to the remnants of enemy ships, where Valg soldiers were trying to save themselves. The bull exploded through soldier and wood as if they were veils of gossamer.

Leaping through the water, twining around debris and coral and bodies, the sunlight glinting on green scales and ruby blood, Lysandra led the bull into a dance of death.

Each movement slower as more of her blood leaked into the water. And then she changed course. Heading into the bay. To the chain. And cut north—toward him.

Aedion examined the massive bolt before him.

Three hundred yards of open water separated her from the range of his arrow.

SWIM,” Aedion roared, even if she couldn’t hear. “SWIM, LYSANDRA!

Silence fell across the entirety of Skull’s Bay as that jade sea dragon swam for her life.

The bull gained on her, diving down.

Lysandra passed under the links of the chain, and the shadow of the bull spread beneath her.

So small. She was so small compared to him—one bite was all it would take.

Aedion slammed himself back into the gunner chair, gripping the levers and pivoting the machine as she swam and swam for him.

One shot. That was all he’d have. One gods-damned shot.

Lysandra hurled herself forward, and Aedion knew she was aware of the death that loomed. Knew she was pushing that sea dragon’s heart to near-stopping. Knew that the bull had reached the bottom and now launched himself up, up, up toward her vulnerable belly.

Only a few more yards, only a few more heartbeats.

Sweat slid down Aedion’s brow, his own heart hammering so violently all he could hear was its thunder. He shifted the spear, slightly, adjusting his aim.

The bull raged up from the deep, maw open, ready to rip her in half with one blow.

Lysandra passed into range and leaped—leaped clean out of the water, all sparkling scales and blood. The bull jumped with her, water streaming from his open jaws as they arced up.

Aedion fired, slamming his palms into the lever.

Lysandra’s long body arched away from those jaws as the bull lifted clean out of the water, baring his white throat—

As Aedion’s massive spear went clean through it.

Blood spurted from the open jaws, and the creature’s eyes went wide as he reared back.

Lysandra slammed into the water, sending a plume so high it blocked out the sight of both of them as they crashed into the sea.

When it subsided, there was only the shadow of them—and a growing pool of black blood.

“You … you … ,” the sentry babbled.

Load another one,” he ordered, standing from his seat to scan the bubbling water.

Where was she, where was she—

Aelin was perched on Rowan’s shoulders, scanning the bay.

And then a green head shot from the water, black blood spraying like spindrift as she hurled the severed head of the bull across the waves.

Cheering—riotous, wild cheering—exploded from every corner of the bay.

But Aedion was already up and running, half leaping down the stairs that would take him toward the beach that Lysandra now swam for, her own blood replacing the black ichor that stained the water.

So slow, each of her movements was so painfully slow. He lost track of her as he descended below the tree line, his chest heaving.

Roots and stones wrenched at him, but his Fae-swift feet flew over the loam until it turned to sand, until light broke through the trees and there she was, sprawled on the beach, bleeding everywhere.

Beyond them, out in the bay, Ship-Breaker dropped low, and Rolfe’s fleet swept out to pick off the surviving soldiers—and save any of their own still out there.

He vaguely noted Aelin and the others diving into the sea, swimming hard for land.

Aedion dropped to his knees, wincing as sand sprayed onto her. Her scaled head was nearly as big as he was, but her eyes … those green eyes, the same color as her scales…

Full of pain. And exhaustion.

He lifted a hand toward her, but she showed her teeth—a low snarl slipping out of her.

He held up his hands, scooting back.

It was not the woman who looked at him, but the beast she’d become. As if she had given herself so fully to its instincts, that it had been the only way to survive.

There were gashes and slices everywhere. All dribbling blood, soaking the white sand.

Rowan and Aelin—one of them could help. If they could summon any power after what the queen had done. Lysandra closed her eyes, her breathing shallow.

“Open your gods-damned eyes,” Aedion snarled. She snarled back but cracked open an eye.

“You made it this far. Don’t die on the rutting beach.”

The eye narrowed—with a hint of female temper. He had to get the woman back. Let her take control. Or else the beast would never allow them near enough to help.

“You can thank me when your sorry ass is healed.”

Again, that eye watched him warily, temper flickering. But an animal remained.

Aedion drawled, even as his relief began to crumble his mask of arrogant calmness, “The useless sentries in the watchtower are now all half in love with you,” he lied. “One said he wanted to marry you.”

A low snarl. He yielded a foot but held eye contact with her as he grinned. “But you know what I told them? I said that they didn’t stand a chance in hell.” Aedion lowered his voice, holding her pained, exhausted stare. “Because am going to marry you,” he promised her. “One day. I am going to marry you. I’ll be generous and let you pick when, even if it’s ten years from now. Or twenty. But one day, you are going to be my wife.”

Those eyes narrowed—in what he could only call female outrage and exasperation.

He shrugged. “Princess Lysandra Ashryver sounds nice, doesn’t it?”

And then the dragon huffed. In amusement. Exhaustion, but … amusement.

She opened her jaws, as if she’d try to speak, but realized she couldn’t in this body. Blood leaked through her enormous teeth, and she shuddered in pain.

Brush snapped and crashed, and there were Aelin and Rowan, and his father and Fenrys. All of them soaked, covered in sand, and gray as death.

His queen staggered for Lysandra with a sob, flinging herself onto the sand before Aedion could bark a warning.

But Lysandra only winced as the queen laid a hand on her, saying over and over, “I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry.”

Fenrys and Gavriel, who had maybe saved her life with that amplified shout about the bull’s location, lingered near the tree line as Rowan approached, surveying the wounds.

Fenrys spotted Aedion’s glance, spotted the warning wrath on his face if either of them got near the shifter, and said, “That was one hell of a shot, boyo.” His father nodded in silent agreement.

Aedion ignored them both. Whatever well of magic his cousin and Rowan had depleted was already refilling. The shifter’s wounds knitted closed, one by one. Slowly—painfully slowly, but … the bleeding stopped.

“She lost a lot of blood,” Rowan observed to none of them in particular. “Too much.”

“I’ve never seen anything like that in my life,” Fenrys murmured. None of them had.

Aelin was trembling, a hand on her friend—face so white and drawn that any harsh words he’d reserved for her were unnecessary. His queen knew the cost. It had taken her so damn long to trust any of them to do anything. If Aedion roared at her now, even if he still yearned to … Aelin might never delegate again. Because if Lysandra hadn’t been in the water when things had gone so, so badly…

“What happened?” he breathed, catching Aelin’s eye. “What the hell happened out there?”

“I lost control,” Aelin said hoarsely. As if she couldn’t help it, her hand drifted to her chest. Where, through the white of her shirt, he could make out the Amulet of Orynth.

He knew then. Knew precisely what Aelin carried. What would have snagged Rolfe’s interest on that map of his—similar enough to the Valg essence to get him to come running.

Knew why it had been so important, so vital, she risk everything to get it from Arobynn Hamel. Knew that she had used a Wyrdkey today, and it had almost killed them all—

He was shaking now, that rage indeed taking over. But Rowan snarled at him, low and vicious, “Save it for later.” Because Fenrys and Gavriel had tensed—watching.

Aedion growled right back at him. Rowan gave him a cold, steady look that said if he so much as began to hint at what their queen carried, he’d rip out his tongue. Literally.

Aedion shoved down the anger. “We can’t carry her, and she’s too weak to shift.”

“Then we wait here until she can,” Aelin said. But her eyes drifted to the bay, where Rolfe was now being helped onto those rescue ships. And to the city beyond, still cheering.

A victory—but very nearly a loss. The remnants of the Mycenians, saved by one of their long-lost sea dragons. Aelin and Lysandra had woven ancient prophecies into tangible fact.

“I’ll stay,” Aedion said. “You deal with Rolfe.”

His father offered from behind him, “I can get some supplies from the watchtower.”

“Fine,” he said.

Aelin groaned, getting to her feet, but stared down at him before she took Rowan’s extended hand. She said softly, “I’m sorry.”

Aedion knew she meant it. He still didn’t bother replying.

Lysandra groaned, the reverberations running up his knees and straight into his gut, and Aedion whirled back to the shifter.

Aelin left without further good-bye.



The Lion lingered in the brush, keeping out of sight and sound as the Wolf watched over the dragon still sprawled across the beach.

For hours, the Wolf remained there. While the outgoing tide cleared the harbor of blood. While the Pirate Lord’s ships sent any remaining enemy bodies to the crushing blue. While the young queen returned to the city in the heart of the bay to handle any fallout.

Once the sun had begun to set, the dragon stirred, and slowly, her form shimmering and shrinking, scales were smoothed into skin, a snout melted back into a flawless human face, and stumpy limbs lengthened into golden legs. Sand crusted her naked body, and she tried and failed to rise. The Wolf moved then, slinging his cloak around her and sweeping her into his arms.

The shifter didn’t object, and her eyes were again closed by the time the Wolf began striding up the beach to the trees, her head leaning against his chest.

The Lion remained out of sight and held in the offer of help. Held in the words he needed to say to the Wolf, who had downed a sea-wyvern with one arrow. Twenty-four years old and already a myth whispered over campfires.

Today’s events would no doubt be told around fires in lands even the Lion had not roamed in all his centuries.

The Lion watched the Wolf vanish into the trees, heading for the town at the end of the sandy road, the shifter unconscious in his arms.

And the Lion wondered if he himself would ever be mentioned in those whispered stories—if his son would ever allow the world to know who had sired him. Or even care.

You'll Also Like