Chapter no 60

Empire of Storms

Lorcan was still wondering what the hell he was doing three days later. They’d left that plains town far behind them, but the terror of that night lay draped over the carnival caravan like a heavy blanket with each mile the wagons hurried down the roads.

The others hadn’t wised up to how, exactly, they’d survived the ilken— hadn’t realized the ilken were near-impossible to kill, and no mere mortal could have slain one, let alone four. Nik and Ombriel gave him and Elide a wide berth—and only catching their wary, examining stares at the dinner campfire every night revealed they were still piecing together who and what he was.

Elide kept well away from him, too. They hadn’t had a chance to set up their usual tents thanks to fleeing so quickly, but tonight, safely within the walls of a small plains town, they’d have to share a room at the cheap inn Molly had begrudgingly paid for.

It was hard not to watch Elide as she took in the town, then the inn—the keen-eyed observation, the hint of surprise and confusion that sometimes crossed her face.

He used a tendril of his magic to keep her foot stabilized. She never commented on it. And sometimes that dark, fell magic of his would brush up against whatever it was she carried—the gift from a dying woman to a hotheaded assassin—and recoil.

Lorcan hadn’t pushed to see it since that night, though he’d spent a great deal of time contemplating what might have come out of Morath. Collars and rings were likely the start of it.

Whitethorn and the bitch-queen had no idea about the ilken—perhaps about the majority of horrors Elide had shared with him. He wondered what a wall of wildfire would do to the creatures—wondered if the ilken were

somehow training against Aelin Galathynius’s arsenal. If Erawan was smart, he’d have something in mind.

While the others trudged into the ramshackle inn in search of food and rest, Elide informed Molly that she was going on a walk along the river, and headed into the cobblestone streets. And though his stomach was grumbling, Lorcan trailed her, ever the husband wishing to guard his beautiful wife in a town that had seen better days—decades. No doubt caused by Adarlan’s relentless road-building across the continent and the fact that this town had been left far from any artery through the land.

The thunderstorm he’d scented building on the horizon lumbered toward the stone-wrought town, the light shifting from gold to silver. Within minutes, the thick humidity was washed away by a sweep of welcome coolness. Lorcan gave Elide all of three blocks before he fell into step beside her and said, “It’s going to rain.”

She slid a flat glance at him. “I do know what thunder means.”

The walled town had been built on either side of a small, half-forgotten river—two large water gates on either end demanding tolls to enter the city and tracking the goods that passed through. Old water, fish, and rotting wood reached him before the sight of the muddy, calm waters did, and it was precisely at the edge of the river docks that Elide paused.

“What are you looking for?” he asked at last, an eye on the darkening skies. The dockworkers, sailors, and merchants monitored the clouds, too, as they scurried about. Some lingered to tie up the long, flat-bellied barges and latch down the smooth poles they used to navigate the river. He’d seen a kingdom, perhaps three hundred years ago, that relied on barges to sail its goods from one end to another. Its name eluded him, lost to the catacombs of his memory. Lorcan wondered if it still existed, tucked away between two mountain ranges on the other side of the world.

Elide’s bright eyes tracked a group of well-dressed men heading into what looked to be a tavern. “Storms mean looking for shelter,” she murmured. “Shelter means being stuck inside with nothing to do but gossip. Gossip means news from merchants and sailors about the rest of the land.” Those eyes cut to him, dry humor dancing there. “That is what thunder means.”

Lorcan blinked as she followed after the men who’d entered the dockside tavern. The first fat drops of the storm plunked onto the moss-

speckled cobblestones of the quay.

Lorcan followed Elide inside the tavern, some part of him admitting that for all his five hundred years of surviving and killing and serving, he’d never quite encountered someone so … unimpressed with him. Even gods-damned Aelin had some sense of the threat he posed. Maybe living with monsters had stripped away a healthy fear of them. He wondered how Elide hadn’t become one in the process.

Lorcan took in the details of the taproom by instinct and training, finding nothing worth a second thought. The reek of the place—unwashed bodies, piss, mold, wet wool—threatened to suffocate him. But in the span of a few moments, Elide had grabbed herself a table near a cluster of those people from the docks and ordered two tankards of ale and whatever was the lunch special.

Lorcan slid into the ancient wooden chair beside hers, wondering if the damn thing would collapse under him as it groaned. Thunder cracked overhead, and all eyes shifted to the bay of windows overlooking the quay. Rain fell in earnest, setting the barges bobbing and swaying.

Lunch was dropped before them, the bowls clattering and sending the goopy brown stew splashing over the chipped rims. Elide didn’t so much as look at it, or touch the ales that were plunked down with equal disinterest for a tip, as she scanned the room.

“Drink,” Elide commanded him.

Lorcan debated telling her not to give him orders, but … he liked seeing this small, fine-boned creature in action. Liked seeing her size up a room of strangers and select her prey. Because it was a hunt—for the best and safest source of information. The person who wouldn’t report to a town garrison still under Adarlan’s control that a dark-haired young woman was asking questions about enemy forces.

So Lorcan drank and watched her while she watched others. So many calculating thoughts beneath that pale face, so many lies ready to spill from those rosebud lips. Part of him wondered if his own queen could find her useful—if Maeve would also pick up on the fact that it was perhaps Anneith herself who’d taught the girl to look and listen and lie.

Part of him dreaded the thought of Elide in Maeve’s hands. What she’d become. What Maeve would ask her to do as a spy or courtier. Perhaps it

was good that Elide was mortal, life span too short for Maeve to bother honing her into quite possibly her most vicious sentinel.

He was so damn busy thinking about it that he nearly didn’t notice when Elide leaned back casually in her chair and interrupted the table of merchants and captains behind them. “What do you mean, Rifthold is gone?”

Lorcan snapped to attention. But they’d heard the news weeks ago.

The captain nearest them—a woman in her early thirties—sized up Elide, then Lorcan, then said, “Well, it’s not gone, but … witches now control it, on behalf of Duke Perrington. Dorian Havilliard’s been ousted.”

Elide, the cunning little liar, looked outright shocked. “We’ve been in the deep wild for weeks. Is Dorian Havilliard dead?” She whispered the words, as if in horror … and as if to avoid being heard.

Another person at the table—an older, bearded man—said, “They never found his body, but if the duke’s declaring him not to be king anymore, I’d assume he’s alive. No use making proclamations against a dead man.”

Thunder rattled, almost drowning out her whisper as she said, “Would he—would he go to the North? To … her?”

They knew precisely who Elide meant. And Lorcan knew exactly why she’d come here.

She was going to leave. Tomorrow, whenever the carnival rolled out. She’d likely hire one of these boats to take her northward, and he … he would go south. To Morath.

The companions swapped glances, weighing the appearance of the young woman—and then Lorcan. He attempted to smile, to look bland and unthreatening. None of them returned the look, though he must have done something right, because the bearded man said, “She’s not in the North.”

It was Elide’s turn to go still.

The bearded man went on, “Rumor has it, she was in Ilium, trouncing soldiers. Then they say she was in Skull’s Bay last week, raising hell. Now she’s sailing elsewhere—some say to Wendlyn, some say to Eyllwe, some say she’s fleeing to the other side of the world. But she’s not in the North. Won’t be for a while, it seems. Not wise to leave your home undefended, if you ask me. But she’s barely a woman; she can’t know much about warfare at all.”

Lorcan doubted that, and doubted the bitch didn’t make a move without Whitethorn or Gavriel’s son weighing in. But Elide loosed a shuddering breath. “Why leave Terrasen at all?”

“Who knows?” The woman turned back to her food and company. “Seems like the queen has a habit of showing up where she’s least expected, unleashing chaos, and vanishing again. There’s good money to be had from the betting pool about where she’ll show up next. I say Banjali, in Eyllwe— Vross here says Varese in Wendlyn.”

“Why Eyllwe?” Elide pushed.

“Who knows? She’d be a fool indeed to announce her plans.” The woman gave Elide a sharp look as if to say to keep quiet about it.

Elide returned to her food and ale, the rain and thunder drowning the chatter in the room.

Lorcan watched her drink the entire tankard in silence. And when it seemed the least suspicious, she rose and left.

Elide went to two other taverns in the town—followed the same exact pattern. The news shifted slightly with each recounting, but the general consensus was that Aelin was on the move, perhaps south or east, and no one knew what to expect.

Elide walked out of the third tavern, Lorcan on her heels. They hadn’t spoken once since she’d gone into that first inn. He’d been too lost in contemplating what it would be like to suddenly travel on his own again. To leave her … and never see her again.

And now, staring up at the rain and the thunder, Elide said, “I was supposed to go north.”

Lorcan found himself not wanting to confirm or object. Like a useless fool, he found himself … hesitating to push her toward that original path.

She lowered her face, water and light gilding her high cheekbones. “Where do I head now? How do I find her?”

He dared say, “What did you glean from the rumors?” He’d been analyzing each tidbit of information, but wanted to see that clever mind at work.

And some small part of him wanted to see what she’d decide about their splitting ways, too.

Elide said softly, “Banjali—in Eyllwe. I think she’s going to Banjali.”

He tried not to look too relieved. He’d arrived at the same conclusion, if only because it was what Whitethorn would have done—and he’d trained the prince himself for a few decades.

She scrubbed at her face. “How … how far is it?” “Far.”

She lowered her hands, her features stark and bone white. “How do I get there? How do …” She rubbed at her chest.

“I can get you a map,” he found himself saying. Just to see if she’d ask him to stay.

Her throat bobbed, and she shook her head, her black hair flowing. “It’d be no use.”

“Maps are always useful.” “Not if you can’t read.”

Lorcan blinked, wondering if he’d heard her right. But color stained her pale cheeks, and that was indeed shame and despair clouding her dark eyes. “But you …” There had been no opportunity for it these weeks, he realized

—no chance where she might have revealed it.

“I learned my letters, but when—when everything happened,” she said, “and I was put in that tower … My nursemaid was illiterate. So I never learned more. So I forgot what I did know.”

He wondered if he would have ever noticed if she hadn’t told him. “You seem to have survived rather impressively without it.”

He spoke without considering, but it seemed to be the right thing to say. The corners of her mouth twitched upward. “I suppose I have,” she mused.

Lorcan’s magic picked up on the garrison before he heard or scented them.

It slithered along their swords—rudimentary, half-rusted weapons—and then bathed in their rising fear, excitement, perhaps even a tinge of bloodlust.

Not good. Not when they were headed right to them.

Lorcan closed the distance to Elide. “It seems our friends at the carnival wanted to make an easy silver coin.”

The helpless desperation on her face sharpened into wide-eyed alertness. “Guards are coming?”

Lorcan nodded, the footsteps now close enough for him to count how many approached from the garrison in the heart of the town, no doubt

meant to trap them between their swords and the river. If he were the betting sort, he’d gamble that the two bridges that spanned the river—ten blocks up on either side of them—were already full of guards.

“You get a choice,” he said. “Either I can end this matter here, and we can go back to the inn to learn if Nik and Ombriel wanted to get rid of us

…” Her mouth tightened, and he knew her choice before he offered, “Or we can get on one of those barges and get the hell out right now.”

“The second,” she breathed.

“Good,” was his only reply as he gripped her hand and tugged her forward. Even with his power supporting her leg, she was too slow—

“Just do it,” she snapped.

So Lorcan hauled her over a shoulder, freeing his hatchet with his other hand, and ran for the water.



Elide bounced and slammed into Lorcan’s broad shoulder, craning her head enough to watch the street behind them. No sign of guards, but … that little voice who often whispered in her ear now tugged and begged her to go. To get out.

“The gates at the city entrance,” she gasped as muscle and bone pummeled into her gut. “They’ll be there, too.”

“Leave them to me.”

Elide tried not to imagine what that meant, but then they were at the docks, Lorcan sprinting for a barge, thundering down the steps of the quay and onto the long wooden dock. The barge was smaller than the others, its one-room chamber in the center painted bright green. Empty—aside from a few boxes of cargo on its prow.

Lorcan pocketed the axe he’d thumbed free, and Elide gripped his shoulder, fingers digging into muscle, as he set her over the high lip of the barge and onto the wooden planks. She stumbled a step as her legs adjusted to the bobbing of the river, but—

Lorcan was already whirling toward the reed-slim man who barreled toward them, a knife out. “That’s my boat,” he bleated. He realized who, exactly, he would be fighting as he cleared the short wooden ladder onto the

dock and took in Lorcan’s size, the hatchet and sword now in the warrior’s broad hands, and the expression of death surely on his face.

Lorcan said simply, “It’s our boat now.”

The man glanced between them. “You—you won’t clear the bridges or the city walls—”

Moments. They had only moments before the guards came— Lorcan said to the man, “Get in. Now.”

The man began backing away.

Elide braced her hand on the broad, raised side of the boat and said calmly, “He will kill you before you clear the ladder. Get us out of the city, and I swear you’ll be set free once we’re clear.”

“You’ll slit my throat then, as good as you will now,” the man said, gulping in air.

Indeed, Lorcan’s hatchet bobbed in that way she’d learned meant he was about to throw it.

“I would ask you to reconsider,” Elide said.

Lorcan’s wrist twitched ever so slightly. He’d do it—he’d kill this innocent man, just to get them free—

The man’s knife drooped, then vanished into the sheath at his side. “There’s a bend in the river past the town. Drop me off there.”

That was all Elide needed to hear as the man rushed toward them, untying lines and leaping into the boat with the ease of someone who’d done it a thousand times. He and Lorcan grabbed the poles to push out into the river, and as soon as they were loose, Lorcan hissed, “If you betray us, you’ll be dead before the guards can even board.” The man nodded, now steering them toward the eastern exit of the town, as Lorcan dragged her into the one-room cabin.

The cabin interior was lined with windows, all clean enough to suggest the man took some pride in his boat. Lorcan half shoved her under a table in its center, the embroidered cloth covering it shielding her from anything but sounds: Lorcan’s footsteps going silent, though she could feel him taking up a hiding place to monitor the proceedings from within the cabin; the patter of rain on the flat roof; the thud of the pole as it occasionally knocked into the side of the barge.

Her body soon ached from holding herself still and quiet.

Was this to be her life for the foreseeable future? Hunted and hounded across the world?

And finding Aelin … How would she ever do that? She could go back to Terrasen, but she didn’t know who ruled from Orynth. If Aelin had not taken back her throne … Perhaps it was an unspoken message that danger lay there. That all was not well in Terrasen.

But to go to Eyllwe on a bit of speculation … Of all the rumors Elide had listened to in the past two hours, that captain’s reasons had been the wisest.

The world seemed to still with some unspoken tension, a ripple of fear.

But then the man’s voice was calling out again, and metal groaned—a gate. The city gates.

She stayed under the table, counting her breaths, thinking through all that she’d heard. She doubted the carnival would miss them.

And she’d bet all the money in her boot that Nik and Ombriel had been the ones who’d set the guards on them, deciding she and Lorcan were too much of a threat—especially with the ilken hunting her. She wondered if Molly had known all along, from that very first meeting, that they were liars and had let Nik and Ombriel sell them out when the bounty was too good to pass up, the cost of loyalty too great.

Elide sighed through her nose. A splash sounded, but the boat ambled onward.

At least she’d taken the little bit of stone with her, though she’d miss her clothes, shabby as they were. These leathers were growing stuffy in the oppressive heat, and if she were to go to Eyllwe, they’d be sweltering—

Lorcan’s footsteps sounded. “Get out.”

Wincing as her ankle barked in pain, she crawled from under the table and peered around. “No trouble?”

He shook his head. He was splattered with rain or river water. She peered around him to where the man had been steering the boat. No one there—or in the rear of the boat.

“He swam to shore back at the bend,” Lorcan explained.

Elide loosed a breath. “He might very well run to town and tell them. It won’t take long for them to catch up.”

“We’ll deal with it,” Lorcan said, turning away. Too fast. He avoided her eyes too fast—

She took in the water, the stains now on the sleeves of his shirt. Like … like he’d washed his hands quickly, sloppily.

She glanced at the hatchet at his side as he strode out of the cabin. “You killed him, didn’t you?” That was what the splash had been. A body being dumped over the side.

Lorcan halted. Looked over a broad shoulder. There was nothing human in his dark eyes. “If you want to survive, you have to be willing to do what is necessary.”

“He might have had a family depending on him.” She’d seen no wedding ring, but it didn’t mean anything.

“Nik and Ombriel didn’t give us that consideration when they reported us to the garrison.” He stalked onto the deck, and she stormed after him. Lush trees lined the river, a living shield around them.

And there—there was a stain on the planks, shining and dark. Her stomach rose.

“You planned to lie to me about it,” she seethed. “But how would you explain that?”

A shrug. Lorcan took up the pole and moved with fluid grace to the side of the barge, where he pushed them away from an approaching sandbank.

He had killed that man— “I swore to him he’d be set free.” “You swore it, not me.”

Her fingers curled into fists. And that thing—that stone—wrapped in that bit of cloth inside her jacket began to stir.

Lorcan stilled, the pole gripped tight in his hands. “What is that,” he said too softly.

She held her ground. Like hell she’d back down from him, like hell she’d allow him to intimidate her, overrule her, kill people so they could escape—

“What. Is. That.”

She refused to speak, to even touch the lump in her pocket. It thrummed and grumbled, a beast opening an eye, but she didn’t dare to reach out, to so much as acknowledge that strange, otherworldly presence.

Lorcan’s eyes widened slightly, then he was setting down the pole and stalking across the deck and into the cabin. She lingered by the edge, unsure whether to follow or perhaps jump into the water and swim to shore, but—

There was a thud of metal on metal, as if something was being cracked open, and then—

Lorcan’s roar shook the boat, the river, the trees. Long-legged river birds hauled themselves into flight.

Then Lorcan flung open the door, so violently it nearly ripped off its hinges, and hurled what looked to be the shards of a broken amulet into the river. Or he tried to. Lorcan threw it hard enough that it cleared the river entirely and slammed into a tree, gouging out a chunk of wood.

He whirled, and Elide’s anger stumbled a step at the blistering wrath twisting his features. He prowled for her, grabbing the pole as if to keep from throttling her, and said, “What is it that you carry?

And the demand, the violence and entitlement and arrogance, had her seeing red, too. So Elide said with quiet venom, “Why don’t you just slit my throat and find out for yourself?”

Lorcan’s nostrils flared. “If you have a problem with my killing someone who reeked of itching to betray us the moment he got the chance, then you are going to love your queen.”

For a while now, he’d hinted that he knew of her, that he knew of her well enough to call her horrible things, but— “What do you mean?”

Lorcan, gods above, looked as if his temper had at last slipped its leash as he said, “Celaena Sardothien is a nineteen-year-old assassin—who calls herself the best in the world.” A snort. “She killed and reveled and shopped her way through life and never once apologized for it. She gloried in it. And then this spring, one of my sentinels, Prince Rowan Whitethorn, was tasked to deal with her when she washed up on Wendlyn’s shores. Turns out, he fell in love with her instead, and she with him. Turns out, whatever they were doing up in the Cambrian Mountains got her to stop calling herself Celaena and start going by her true name again.” A brutal smile. “Aelin Galathynius.”

Elide could barely feel her body. “What?” was about the only word she could manage.

“Your fire-breathing queen? She’s a gods-damned assassin. Trained to be a killer from the moment your mother died defending her. Trained to be no better than the man who butchered your mother and your royal family.”

Elide shook her head, her hands slackening. “What?” she said again.

Lorcan laughed mirthlessly. “While you were locked in that tower for ten years, she was indulging in the riches of Rifthold, spoiled and coddled by her master—the King of the Assassins—whom she murdered in cold blood this spring. So you’ll find that your long-lost savior is little better than I am. You’ll find that she would have killed that man the same as I did, and would have as little tolerance for your whining as I do.”

Aelin … an assassin. Aelin—the same person she’d been tasked to give the stone to …

“You knew,” she said. “This whole time we’ve been together—you knew I was looking for the same person.”

“I told you that to find one would be to find the other.” “You knew, and you didn’t tell me. Why?”

“You still haven’t told me your secrets. I don’t see why I should tell all of mine, either.”

She squeezed her eyes shut, trying to ignore the dark stain on the wood

—trying to soothe the sting of his words and seal the hole that had opened beneath her feet. What had been in that amulet? Why had he roared and—

“Your little queen,” Lorcan sneered, “is a murderer, and a thief, and a liar. So if you’re going to call me such things, then be prepared to fling them at her, too.”

Her skin was too tight, her bones too brittle to bear the anger that took control. She scrambled for the right words to hurt him, wound him, as if they were fistfuls of rocks that she could hurl at Lorcan’s head.

Elide hissed, “I was wrong. I said you and I were the same—that we had no family, no friends. But I have none because land and circumstance separate me from them. You have none because no one can stomach being around you.” She tried—and succeeded, if the ire that rippled in his eyes was any indication—to look down her nose at him, even with him towering over her. “And you know what is the biggest lie you tell everyone, Lorcan? It’s that you prefer it that way. But what I hear, when you rant about my bitch-queen? All I hear are the words of someone who is deeply, deeply jealous, and lonely, and pathetic. All I hear are the words of someone who saw Aelin and Prince Rowan fall in love and resented them for their happiness—because you are so unhappy.” She couldn’t stop the words once they started flinging out. “So call Aelin a murderer and a thief and a liar. Call her a bitch-queen and a fire-breather. But forgive me if I take it upon

myself to be the judge of those things when I meet her. Which I will do.” She pointed to the muddy gray river flowing around them. “I’m going to Eyllwe. Take me ashore and I’ll wash my hands of you as easily as you washed the blood of that man off yours.”

Lorcan looked her over, teeth bared enough to show those slightly elongated canines. But she didn’t care about his Fae heritage, or his age, or his ability to kill.

After a moment, he went back to pushing the pole against the river bottom—not to bring them to shore, but to guide them along.

“Did you not hear what I said? Take me to shore.” “No.”

Her rage overcame any sort of common sense, any warning from Anneith as she stormed over to him. “No?”

He let the pole drag in the water and turned his face to her. No emotion

—not even anger lingered there. “The river veered southward two miles ago. From the map in the cabin, we can take it straight south, then find the fastest route to Banjali.” She wiped the rain from her dripping brow as Lorcan brought his face close enough for them to share breath. “Turns out, I now have business with Aelin Galathynius, too. Congratulations, Lady. You just got yourself a guide to Eyllwe.”

A cold, killing light was in his eyes, and she wondered what the hell he’d roared about.

But those eyes dipped to her mouth, clamped tight in her rage. And a part of her that had nothing to do with fear went still at the attention, even as other parts went a bit molten.

Lorcan’s eyes at last found her own, and his voice was a midnight growl as he said, “As far as anyone’s concerned, you’re still my wife.”

Elide didn’t object—even as she walked back into the cabin, his insufferable magic helping with her limp, and slammed the door shut so hard the glass rattled.



Storm clouds drifted away to reveal a star-flecked night and a moon bright enough for Lorcan to navigate the narrow, sleepy river.

He steered them hour after hour, contemplating precisely how he was going to murder Aelin Galathynius without Elide or Whitethorn getting in the way, and then how he was going to slice up her corpse and feed it to the crows.

She had lied to him. She and Whitethorn had tricked him that day the prince had handed over the Wyrdkey.

There’d been nothing inside the amulet but one of those rings—an utterly useless Wyrdstone ring, wrapped in a bit of parchment. And on it was written in a feminine scrawl:

Here’s hoping you discover more creative terms than “bitch” to call me when you find this.

With all my love, A.A.G.

He’d kill her. Slowly. Creatively. He’d been forced to swear a blood promise that Mala’s ring truly offered immunity from the Valg when it was worn—he hadn’t thought to demand that their Wyrdkey was real, too.

And Elide—what Elide carried, what had made him realize it … He’d think about that later. Contemplate what to do with the Lady of Perranth later.

His only consolation was that he’d stolen Mala’s ring back, but the little bitch still had the key. And if Elide needed to go to Aelin anyway … Oh, he’d find Aelin for Elide.

And he’d make the Queen of Terrasen crawl before the end of it.

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